Sometimes the best way to start the week is with a good laugh — an eruptive bellow, in my case. Do not read any further while handling or consuming hot drinks, because it’s that man again: NZ’s favourite astrologer, “moon man” Ken Ring, reinventing science (again) in service of his weird view of the world. As regular readers will recall, Ringworld is a place full of oddities, but even as a connoisseur of Ken’s creative interpretations of physical reality I was reduced to fits of giggles by a couple of his recent articles, as published at his Yahoo News blog. Here’s what set me off — the fourth paragraph of an extended rant about scaremongering:
Volcanoes throw CO2 into the air and it drifts slowly down. Rain brings most CO2 back into the sea, with the rest combining to form weak acid carbonates which embed in rocks. Earthquakes enable rocks to reach the sea and eventually underneath new volcanoes, the cycle taking millions of years. There are enough volcanoes every day beneath the sea and above to keep CO2 at a constant average of 350 parts per million of the atmosphere, across many centuries.
A constant average of 350 ppm? The planet has spent most of the last few million years in a series of ice ages, with CO2 levels around 180 ppm. During the short interglacial periods, CO2 peaked at about 280-300 ppm — until we came along and started liberating fossil sunshine and boosted that to 390+ ppm. Ken’s just making stuff up, again. There’s much more to amuse in the piece, as Ken reinvents developmental psychology, but for the real fun, you have to dig a few weeks further back in his blog archive…
Back in November, when the Oil Free Seas flotilla was protesting about Anadarko’s drilling off the west coast of the North Island, Ken felt it necessary to expound on oil production. But not in any ordinary way, not our Ken. Here are the opening paragraphs. If you can get through this without fits of giggles, you’re a better man than I am, even if you’re a woman (pauses to wipe tears from eyes):
Andarko’s deep sea drilling off the southeast of NZ has again brought out the debate about depletion of earth’s oil reserves. As ever, it is emotionally charged nonsense.
If you put a tiny seed the size of a grain of rice in the ground and wait, it will grow into a sizable plant, even a tree. Taking the products of ANY plant or tree and compressing them, yields oil. The miracle of gardening is that you can end up with a bucketful, all from that one tiny seed. The world is not running out of seeds, so we can ask where the oil in every plant came from.
It is impossible to get a bucketful from a seed, so the oil comes from hydrocarbons in the ground before the seed was planted. The cycle is germination, bloom, rot and decomposition: hydrocarbons create plants which create oil which breaks back down to hydrocarbons.
Where do the buckets come from? Which came first, the bucket or the oil? But wait! It gets better:
The fossil fuel argument says there are hydrocarbons in the earth due to the decomposition of plants and animals. But the argument omits explaining where the plants and animals came from.
There are two possibilities. Either hydrocarbons came with the formation of the earth 4.5 billion years ago and vegetation evolved later (geological science), or plants and animals were created at the same time as the earth (religion), and upon dying put hydrocarbons into the earth which eventually became oil fields.
If plants and animals came first, created by God, then by consumption and proliferation the end result is Doomsday. If hydrocarbons came first and created life then sustainability is assured. Geology says vegetation did not evolve until 4.5 million years ago, which is only within the last 0.1% of earth’s geological history. As for animals, the prokaryotes are the simplest form of cell-life, and appeared about a billion years after the earth was formed.
Vegetation only evolved 4.5 million years ago! Utter lunacy, of course, but Ken ploughs on. For him, the answer lies in the soil.
So how can oil be a fossil fuel? We should be discussing if we are running out of hydrocarbons in soil, and soil on the planet, for which of course there is no evidence.
Ring’s thesis appears to be that oil is made in the soil, and is entirely renewable. This is not what oil exploration geologists believe, but that is if of no matter in Ringworld:
There will always be oil where there is soil and even where there is not. [...] Crude oil is renewable and is being renewed naturally right now. Oil fields are commonly found around volcanism, because the explosive pressures of eruptions can and do fuse hydrocarbons together.
And there’s me thinking that oil and gas were normally found in sedimentary basins — geological structures not normally associated with volcanism. But what do I know? In Ringworld, all things are possible. It’s just a pity that only one man lives there…
New Zealand’s favourite astrologer, the self-appointed “long range weather forecaster” Ken Ring — who is wrong about everything — has not been having a good start to the year. He’s having trouble reconciling NZ’s record drought with the forecasts he’s been making. Here’s Ring on February 26th, in an opinion piece headlined Hang on farmers, rain is coming, published at Yahoo News:
So the question being asked is whether or not a drought is imminent. The answer is no.
The entire North Island has been declared a drought zone this morning.
Every time anyone other than Ring takes a look at his forecasts, they are found to be useless1. But Ring is working hard to rewrite history to his advantage. His Yahoo News column was posted on Feb 26th, but the same article seems to have been posted to his website a few days earlier2. He’s revisited the piece, and added some notes in red attempting to justify his failed forecasts. But there’s one other change he’s made. Here it is:
So the question being asked is whether or not a lingering drought is imminent. The answer is no.
Of such little dishonesties are Ring successes made. He remains a charlatan, and is — as ever — wrong about everything.
Self-proclaimed weather guru Ken Ring is wildly astray in his January predictions for the South Island hydro lakes region, in his 2013 weather almanac. His summary for January, based on lunar patterns, says “the driest regions for the South Island for January may be the hydro lakes”.
But Environment Canterbury flood controller Tony Henderson said the 500mm of rain in the Waitaki and Rangitata river catchments over four days was “probably the most we’ve had over the summer in several decades”.
This weekend a few of the struggling residents of earthquake-hit Christchurch have moved out of the city hoping to escape another dangerous quake, a shock foretold by Ken Ring, a New Zealand astrologer who makes a living producing ’long range weather forecasts’ for NZ, Australia and Ireland based on the movements of the moon. Ring claims that his moon methods predicted last September’s magnitude 7.1 Canterbury earthquake, and the M6.3 aftershock on Feb 22 that killed at least 182 people and devastated much of the central city and eastern suburbs.
But Ring’s methods don’t work. He can’t predict the weather, he can’t predict earthquakes, he is demonstrably ignorant of basic atmospheric and earth science – and yet apparently sane and rational people take him seriously. Are people simply gullible, especially those traumatised by two major quakes, the loss of lives and the incessant aftershocks? Or have the NZ and Australian media, all too happy to give Ring’s weather predictions, fishing forecasts and views on climate change air time and column inches, created an Ã¼ber crank, a monster beyond their control who is now responsible for scaring thousands while callously building his book sales and brand?
I first started looking at Ring’s work five years ago, when I conducted a six-month audit of his weather predictions for New Zealand. I discovered that his forecasts were rubbish, little better (and often worse) than predictions based on climatology. You can read the full story in the Ringworld section of my old farm blog. In the course of that exercise I discovered that Ring’s predictions had been looked at by meteorologists and climate scientists, who also found them to be useless. In fact, everyone who has ever taken a systematic look at Ring’s weather predictions has found they don’t work.
What prompted me to examine Ring’s weather predictions in the first place were the blatantly nonsensical claims about climate and atmosphere he made in comments at the old NZ Climate ’Science’ Coalition web site, back in the days when they allowed comments. One that really stood out was Ring’s assertion that carbon dioxide, because it is ’heavier than air’ is constantly falling out of the atmosphere, and therefore can’t be warming the earth. This was back in 2005/6, and he was repeatedly told he was wrong. Unfortunately he seems to be a slow learner: here he is repeating the same nonsense in August last year, from his Youtube channel (warning: do not drink hot fluids while watching):
There are many choice moments in that little diatribe, but here are a couple of my favourites:
There is no way CO2 could get up there [35,000ft] even if it wanted to – it’s twice as heavy as air. CO2’s molecular weight is 44 and that of air is 29. CO2 sinks. If CO2 went up in the air the plants wouldn’t get it, plants would have to extend themselves hundreds of feet into the air to get the stuff.
What about giant redwoods, Ken. Or forests on hills? Why don’t all the mice die?
It [CO2] is so heavy that it gets into the holes in the rocks, it gets into caves, the miners used to get suffocated by it because it displaced the oxygen which is why they took canaries down…
Excuse me while I stop banging my head on the desk… Life’s too short to enumerate all the errors in Ken’s little video blog, but even a cursory viewing should be enough to tell anyone with the merest smidgen of scientific understanding that Ring is talking rubbish.
Ring is also comprehensively wrong about the way that plate tectonics drive earthquakes. Last month, flushed with the attention he was getting about his ’successful’ predictions, he published an article on his web site entitled Earthquakes cause fault lines, not vice versa. In this astonishing piece he reinvents the earth sciences:
The 4 September earthquake happened 12 km underground. Current geology wants us to believe that a mighty loose cannon of a 650 kiloton ball of energy, from 12 km away, hurtling surfacewards, has some sort of steering mechanism that seeks out old fault lines to surface through. Imagine an H-bomb the size of that which destroyed Hiroshima, heading towards Christchurch from 12 km away. Now imagine 43 such bombs in one explosive package of energy and you have the size of the 4 September earthquake. Would a 650 kiloton monster earthquake have bothered to set itself within the confines of a previously carved faultline? It is a little hard to imagine why it should be so respectful. Earthquakes can and do go where they choose. If there is a fault line there already, then a shake may shake that too and an observer will say the fault line was active. If there is no fault line the earthquake will make one.
Classic Ring, and classic crank thinking. He doesn’t know enough to understand how tectonics drive earthquakes, so he makes stuff up that confirms his own world view.
Ring has a long history of predicting earthquakes, and of making false claims to be successful. The Silly Beliefs web site has a very detailed section dealing with Ring’s forecasting efforts and his many failures, but more recently my fellow Sciblogger David Winter (who has also shown that Ring can’t predict the weather) used Canterbury earthquake data to show that Ring’s earthquake predictions are no use.
In all these cases, Ring uses the same basic tactics. In fact he’s built a career out of them. He sprays out a huge number of very vague predictions or forecasts, and then interprets them after the event to be successes. Failures are ignored or denied. Thus his claim to have successfully predicted the Feb 22 quake is based on this paragraph, published on his web site on Feb 14th:
Over the next 10 days a 7+ earthquake somewhere is very likely. This could also be a time for auroras in the northern hemisphere and in the southern tip of NZ. It may also be a time for whale strandings because of increases in underwater earthquakes. The 7+ is sure to be somewhere in the “Ring of Fire”, where 80% of all major earthquakes seem to occur, and NZ is at the lower left of this Ring. The range of risk may be within 500kms of the Alpine Fault.
Within 500 km of the Alpine Fault covers most of New Zealand. ’Somewhere in the Ring of Fire’ between the 14th and the 24th means, in Ring-speak, Christchurch. And he got the magnitude wrong. Nevertheless, he claims a successful prediction.
The day after the Christchurch earthquake he didn’t predict that killed 182 people, Ring published an article on his website with the following (taken from a Google cache I saved to disk):
The 19-21st of March will then be the next potent date.
19 March – Time: at 10am,
20 March – Time: at 11.30am
The Alpine Fault itself seems to be fairly inactive at the moment. Our pick for an epicentre, if a March earthquake should occur, is some geographical point between Hanmer and Amberley. Geonet should be asked where stresses are currently happening. It seems strange that so far no interviewer has sought to ask them. However it could be anywhere in NZ, or it may not even happen at all.
Since then, he has altered the page on his web site, to to make a much less definite prediction. As it happens, I live on a major fault line between Amberley and Hanmer Springs – the Boby’s Stream Fault. Investigations by Canterbury University geologists have shown that the fault ruptures on average every 900 years, moving 2 âˆ’ 3 metres when it does so, producing enough energy to deliver the Christchurch area a nasty shake. The last event was about 300 years ago. The fault is certainly still active. My house is within 20 metres of the fault line, expressed as a cliff. The fault runs through the middle of my vineyard, which is why my as yet unreleased Pinot Noir is called The Faultline (not the most marketable of brands at the moment, sadly). At 11-30 am tomorrow, I shall be standing on my cliff top admiring the view. In Christchurch, Environment Minister Nick Smith will be joining the Christchurch Skeptics for a lunch in an old stone building (The Sign Of The Kiwi) to demonstrate their contempt for Ring’s fakery. And Ken Ring will be sitting in his house near Auckland, talking to fools on his Facebook page. Whether there’s a quake or not, he’ll claim success.
These predictions, made by an arrogant, ignorant, and foolish astrologer have somehow persuaded members of my community – friends and neighbours – that there is a real risk of a major earthquake in North Canterbury some time over this weekend. Some have left home, others have admitted being unsettled by the ’moon man’ and his predictions. For people who have already lived through two major earthquakes, suffered the knife-edge uncertainty of repeated aftershocks, stressed and traumatised by the loss of loved ones, the sort of ’opinions’ offered by Ken Ring are the worst kind of medicine.
But the real responsibility for the stress being foisted on my friends is not Ring’s – charlatan and hypocrite though he is – it lies with the people who give him credibility, the newspapers who publish his weather columns and fishing hints, the radio stations that give him air time, and the TV stations who have credulously interviewed him or reported his earthquake predictions and their impact on the Canterbury population. Every mention of Ring, every Marcus Lush saying ’you got that one mate’, even the well-meaning attempt by TV 3’s John Campbell to reveal Ring’s mendacity has served to build the moon man’s brand.
Ring is a fool, but he is only influential because a compliant media have made him so. Now is the time to treat him with the respect cranks really merit: contempt. He deserves to be ignored by everyone, and the media outlets that continue to give him a platform should be vilified. And the next time I see his bloody weather almanac stacked in the ’science’ section of a bookshop, I swear I won’t be responsible for my actions.
Interestingly, the non-existent moon at perigee/earthquake link is being referenced approvingly at several of the more credulous climate sceptic sites – it says a lot for the intellectual standards they’re prepared to endorse and adopt:
There is no reason to predict that anything added to the air is ever going to change climate. To change climate a country has to suddenly find itself at a different latitude. That means the earth must be knocked off its orbit of rotation. The only thing capable of that might be on the scale of a planet or comet colliding with Earth. One volcano won’t do it. [Source]
As we discovered in the early days of Hot Topic, Ring is apparently a follower of Charles Hapgood. See this post for more. The word lunatic springs unbidden to my mind…
The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has bought a shiny new supercomputer. For $12.7m they’re getting a IBM Power 575 that will be the fastest climate machine in the southern hemisphere, 14th fastest in the world — and it will get an upgrade in 2 years which will double its speed. Sounds like a good deal to everyone but NZ’s climate cranks. Bryan Leyland, “chair of the economics panel” of the NZ CSC rushed to issue a press release:
’It is a national scandal that NIWA are squandering $12.7 million of taxpayers’ hard earned money on yet another supercomputer. In spite of buying a Cray T3A supercomputer several years ago, their predictions of the climate have been spectacularly wrong. They failed to predict the 1998 El Nino event, the cooling that has been noticeable since 2002 and the increased cooling that has been recorded over the last two years.”
A NIWA spokesman was quick to point out that they bought the Cray in 1999, so would have been hard-pressed to use to it predict an El NiÃ±o in the preceding year, but Leyland’s outburst is mainly interesting for two reasons: it’s an amusing public parade of ignorance (a bit like standing in the middle of Wellington wearing a dunce’s hat shouting “Look at me!”), and because he recommends that NIWA give up climate modelling and instead rely on the work of a British forecaster called Piers Corbyn. Let’s start with Leyland’s take on climate models.
Leyland starts by repeating the “cooling since…” crank meme, and complains that climate models failed to predict a fall in temperatures. There is no “cooling”, so Leyland is wrong before he even starts, but he’s also wrong about climate models. Climate models don’t forecast year-to-year variations in global temperature, they’re used to project climate states — the statistics of climate — for future periods under different greenhouse gas scenarios. These statistics are derived from multiple runs of single models, and by averaging across lots of different models. Individual model runs, however, reproduce the range of natural variations, as you can see in this chart from RealClimate:
In comparison with the range of global temperatures covered by the individual model runs (all the coloured lines) the actual annual temps look quite smooth. Leyland then demonstrates a nice turn of phrase:
What this tells us is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the climate models that they are using in their existing computer. The $12.7 million new computer will simply give them more wrong answers even faster than before. It will do nothing to solve the fundamental problem – that, all over the world, climate models have dismally failed to predict the climate.
In fact, climate models around the world do a pretty good job of modelling the climate system. They’re not perfect, but they get the big picture right. And we can be confident that as the atmospheric greenhouse gas loading increases, the climate system will change. The world will warm, ice will melt and weather patterns will change. NIWA’s new computer will help us to get a better picture of what might happen here — and that’s an essential component of preparing for the change that’s inevitable. Leyland, however, wants us to return to the dark ages:
NIWA should also take notice of the better than 80% accuracy of weather predictions produced by Piers Corbyn at Weather Action in the United Kingdom. For several years, he has successfully predicted severe weather events in United Kingdom months in advance and recently he has expanded this to hurricane prediction in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Before NIWA get any money for yet another supercomputer they should be forced to explain exactly why a small organisation with desktop PCs has consistently outperformed all the supercomputers running climate models all over the world.
Corbyn is a controversial figure in the world of British weather forecasting, in much the same way that Ken Ring is controversial over here. Ring makes forecasts based on astrology and the movements of the moon, whereas Corbyn claims to use a system based on “solar weather“. Both make claims for accuracy that are hard to substantiate. Corbyn is a paid-up member of the Heartland-funded climate denier community, and is on record (here) as concurring “fully with Christopher Monckton and his conclusions” on the hockey stick controversy, which should tell you all you need to know about Corbyn’s stance on climate change. I’ve not attempted to see how successful Corbyn’s forecasting technique actually is (though Stoat and James Annan have both had “discussions” with him, and I dissected Ring’s forecasts in detail here), but I doubt he’s “consistently outperformed” anything. It’s good enough for Leyland though, presumably on the basis that any support, however weak, is good support:
To many climate scientists, the answer is obvious. Piers Corbyn bases his predictions on solar effects, not man-made greenhouse gases. It is high time that NIWA gave up its greenhouse gas induced delusions and followed suit.
When the day comes that the laws of physics are repealed for being too left-wing, Leyland may be able to make a case. In the meantime, the really important question is why Leyland is so unpatriotic? New Zealand has its own fringe forecaster who thinks that global warming isn’t happening and who is prepared to expound at length on the subject. Why is a British heliophile preferred to our very own lunar enthusiast? Perhaps Ken has fallen foul of the tall crank syndrome, or is astrology a star too far for a Heartland-approved crank to espouse? I think we should be told…