Archive March 2010

Swiftboating science Ken Perrott Mar 15


“Swiftboating” is a new term for me – and for science, I guess. But it is part of US political jargon.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Swiftboating . .  is used as a strong pejorative description of some kind of attack that the speaker considers unfair or untrue–for example, an ad hominem attack or a smear campaign.

The term comes from the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth (formerly “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” or SBVT) and that group’s widely publicized campaign against 2004 US Presidential candidate John Kerry.

Originally, terms like “swiftboating”, “Swift Boating”, “Swift Boat tactics”, etc. were mostly used by people who disapproved of the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth. It is now in mainstream use. Some American conservatives have strongly objected (see below) to the criticism of SBVT implied by such negative usage.”

It appears, mainly, to be a tactic of political conservatives. So it’s not surprising they describe the process differently. This from Conservapedia:

Swift-boating is an idiomatic catchphrase generally taken to mean exposing hard truths about Democrats who have distorted the truth or lied about their own activities.

Here on Conservapedia, the term is used to mean exposing hard truths about liberal editors who censor, distort the truth, or engage in deceit.”

So – its a synonym for “character assassination” and “smear.” With particular connotations of calling into question one’s honourable status.

Swiftboating climate scientists

Paul Krugman may have been the first to use the term to describe political attacks on climate scientists. In his New York Times Op Ed Swift Boating the Planet he describes a situation which today is unfortunately very common:

“John Kerry, a genuine war hero, didn’t realize that he could successfully be portrayed as a coward. And it seems to me that Dr. Hansen, whose predictions about global warming have proved remarkably accurate, didn’t believe that he could successfully be portrayed as an unreliable exaggerator. His first response to Dr. Michaels, in January 1999, was astonishingly diffident. He pointed out that Dr. Michaels misrepresented his work, but rather than denouncing the fraud involved, he offered a rather plaintive appeal for better behavior.”

So today honest climate scientists are accused of fraud, of carrying out a hoax. Locally climate change deniers like the Climate Science Coalition, Ian Wishart and bloggers like Poneke and WhaleOil are swiftboating NIWA scientists.

There is an hysterical international campaign against climate scientists and specifically the International panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Phil Jones in the UK and Michael Mann in the US. Sure, Phil Jones and his university still face several inquiries – but no wrong doing, and particularly no violation of scientific ethics, has yet been proven. Michael Mann has been cleared of all charges investigated to data. Not that this makes a difference to the lynch mob mentality of the swiftboaters.

And the more hysterical elements of the current anti climate science hysteria and extending their swift boating to science in general.

Big backers

The political swift boating campaigns generally have big backers in the background. Think tanks, politcal parties and commercial interests.  And this is also true of the climate change swift boaters, despite their attempts to present a grass root image on the internet – a process known as astroturfing.

Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, recently wrote (see Advice to Climate Scientists on how to Avoid being Swift-boated and how to become Public Intellectuals):

“a.Very, very wealthy and powerful interests are lobbying the big media companies behind the scenes to push climate change skepticism, or in some cases (as with Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp/ Fox Cable News) the powerful and wealthy interests actually own the media.

b. Powerful politicians linked to those wealthy interests are shilling for them, and elected politicians clearly backed by economic elites are given respect in the US corporate media. Big Oil executives e.g. have an excellent rollodex for CEOs, producers, the bookers for the talk shows, etc. in the corporate media. They also behind the scenes fund “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute to produce phony science. Since the AEI generates talking points that aim at helping Republicans get elected and pass right wing legislation, it is paid attention to by the corporate media.”

The climate change, and anti-science, swiftboating in New Zealand is no different. It has its political links and big backers. The denier groups The Climate Science Coaltion and the Climate Conversation Group work very closely with the ACT Party. Parliamentary questions are staged to coincide with their anti-science attacks. These groups and the ACT Party are also closely connected to the local right wing think tank The Centre for Political Research. And the latter is linked to the usual overseas conservative organisations like The Heartland Insitute and conservative media like The American Thinker.

What can we do?

Well, scientist obviously won’t resort to the same tactics. They are not going to swifboat the nati-science lobby. If they did they would no longer be scientists.

But here is Advice to Climate Scientists on how to Avoid being Swift-boated and how to become Public Intellectuals by Juan Cole:

“Every single serious climate scientist should be running a blog. There is enormous thirst among the public for this information, and publishing only in technical refereed journals is guaranteed to quarantine the information away from the general public. A blog allows scientists to summarize new findings in clear language for a wide audience. It makes the scientist and the scientific research ‘legible’ to the wider society. Educated lay persons will run with interesting new findings and cause them to go viral. You will also find that you give courage to other colleagues who are specialists to speak out in public. You cannot depend on journalists to do this work. You have to do it yourselves.”


“If you just keep plugging away at it, with blogging and print, radio and television interviews, you can have an impact on public discourse over time.  . . . Going public also makes it likely that you will be personally smeared and horrible lies purveyed about you in public (they don’t play fair– they make up quotes and falsely attribute them to you; it isn’t a debate, it is a hatchet job).  . . . .  But if an issue is important to you and the fate of your children and grandchildren, surely having an impact is well worth any price you pay.”

Climate scientists and evolutionary biologists may currently be the main victims of this swiftboating. But soem of this hysteria does leak over into a general attack on science.

Juan Cole’s advice is relevant to all scientists.


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Chris Mooney interviews Michael Mann on ’climategate’ Ken Perrott Mar 12

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This is an interesting interview (download MP3). Michael Mann has been vilified by climate change deniers. His work on the so-called “hockey stick” graph  is still being misrepresented despite being validated by the US National research council and other researchers.

He’s a bit of a lone voice at the moment but really worth listening to. Point of Inquiry recently interviewed him and describe the interview this way:

“In response to growing public skepticism–and a wave of dramatic attacks on individual researchers–the scientific community is now bucking up to more strongly defend its knowledge. Leading the charge is one of the most frequently attacked researchers of them all–Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann.

In this interview with host Chris Mooney, Mann pulls no punches. He defends the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, and explains why those who attack it consistently miss the target. He also answers critics of his ’hockey stick’ study, and explains why the charges that have arisen in ’ClimateGate’ seem much more smoke than fire.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. His research focuses on the application of statistical techniques to understanding climate variability and change, and he was a Lead Author on the ’Observed Climate Variability and Change’ chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report. Among many other distinguished scientific activities, editorships, and awards, Mann is author of more than 120 peer-reviewed and edited publications. That includes, most famously, the 1998 study that introduced the so called ’hockey stick,’ a graph showing that modern temperatures appear to be much higher than anything seen in at least the last thousand years. With his colleague Lee Kump, Mann also recently authored the book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. Finally, he is one of the founders and contributors to the prominent global warming blog,”

via Michael Mann – Unprecedented Attacks on Climate Research | Point of Inquiry.

Download MP3

See also:
Spinning exoneration of Dr. Michael Mann Into ’Whitewash’
Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of ’hockey sticks’
Freedom of information and responsibility


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Science bloggers talk teaching Ken Perrott Mar 11

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Three of SciBlogs NZ bloggers are collaborating on a new blog directed at teaching. I wish them well – it’s an important area.

Science bloggers in New Zealand have a much higher profile since the SciBlogs platform was launched last October. I am aware of a large number of teaching blogs out there, some independent, others collaborating. Hopefully Talking Teachers will be accepted as an important component of the teaching blogosphere. Hopefully too it will highlight and encourage the connections between science and teaching.

See a blog for talking teaching at BioBlog for more information. And if you are involved in teaching bookmark Talking Teaching.

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Great photo of the Solar Corona Ken Perrott Mar 10

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This photograph of the sun’s corona is a real beauty. it was captured by Miloslav Druckmüller and colleagues from Brno University of Technology, Czech Republic, during an eclipse on July 22, 2009. They were located on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

For further image details, equipment used and a spectacular high-resolution photograph, visit Miloslav Druckmüller’s eclipse webpage.

Thanks to Discovery News (see The Intricate Beauty of the Solar Corona). Have a look at their description, which includes:

Although the sun’s atmosphere is many times hotter than the sun itself, it is also many times thinner. As a result, it produces very little light and it can only be observed if the glare of the sun is blocked out. In this fantastically detailed photograph, the moon has covered the disk of the sun from sight, allowing the solar corona to glow.

You may also be interested in this application for iPhones and iPod Touch3DSun. This has been developed in cooperation with NASA scientists. Tony Phillips gives this description:

“3D Sun” lets you carry a virtual window onto today’s sun, right in your pocket. Open this app anytime to see what’s happening today on the sun’s ever-changing surface. See when major solar flares erupt on the sun’s surface. Track sunspots that reveal the churning activity inside the sun’s fiery inferno.

News alerts ­ provided by a Ph.D. trained astrophysicist ­ inform you of important solar events. Optional push notifications will alert you of the most important events even when “3D Sun” is not running.

Great for aurora watchers who want to be notified of when they should look up!”


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Clear science communication Ken Perrott Mar 08


Book review: Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public by Cornelia Dean

Price US$13.57
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (October 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0674036352
ISBN-13: 978-0674036352

I bet you can name some good science communicators. People like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Carolyn Porco, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Krauss among others

They stand out, don’t they? Probably because the rest of us are bad science communicators. We picture scientists as ponderous, given to continual qualification, lovers of jargon, bad speakers (as well as bad dressers) and not interested in communicating with the non-expert anyway. We don’t even want to communicate effectively with fellow scientists for a different speciality or research area.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. There are many scientists, particularly younger ones, who recognise science communication is important. Some of these probably consciously try to pick up relevant communication skills, and/or practise these in internet and other public settings.

Perhaps more importantly, there are many scientists who recognise science communication is important.

Responsible citizenship and science literacy

Cornelia Dean begins her book by stressing this importance. ’Nowadays, people cannot fully function as citizens unless they understand developments in these fields.’ She is referring to many fields influence our day-to-day lives which involve science or technology. Only an informed public can decide about social policies on reasonable and rational grounds.

Think about it. ’Climate change, improving our aging infrastructure, the protection of endangered species, weapons of mass destruction, health care policy,’ and so on.

This doesn’t come naturally. We are an irrational species. ’Patterns of irrational thinking (are) so persistent they seem to be hardwired into the human brain. Unfortunately in politics, business, and elsewhere, there are plenty of people prepared to profit from these weaknesses.’ Yes, most people do respect science. But even that gets used against them. Advertisers, politicians and propagandists try to cloak their arguments in the rhetoric of science. Pseudo-science is rampant — and profitable.

So, Dean argues that scientists have an ethical obligation to inform the public. Hence the social importance of their communication skills.

An overview

This is a brief and general book. It covers most areas of science communication. Readers wanting a deeper insight into specific areas will need to supplement their reading. However, the overview is important for scientists starting out on a communication path, or wishing to explore other, unfamiliar, avenues of communication

I like the way the book includes communication with journalists, public relations people, etc. Even where a scientist uses other intermediaries to communicate their message to the public there are important skills and understanding involved.  She recognises that scientists and journalists have different tasks and roles and both parties should understand this. Specifically the scientist should recognise the journalist’s need for sound bits, for clear messages and summaries. That they are also interested in accuracy but may see this differently, because of their role, to the way a scientist does.

She gives practical advice. What steps scientists should take to prepare for an interview? How they should ensure accurate recording of their message? This practical advice is continued throughout the book into different areas. Preparing and taking part in radio and TV interviews. How to dress for TV. Social relations with reporters and interviewers, etc. Thanking reporters for a good article.

Direct communication

Cornelia Dean runs through various forms of direct science communication. Here the scientist may not have anyone to help them and the practical advice she offers is important. The book is up-to-date on the different forms of communication. She even mentions Youtube with her description of the recent rap videos produced by the young CERN science writer Kate McAlpine. These provided a surprisingly accurate explanation of the Large Hadron Collider and the planned physics experiments.

She describes the particular requirements and communication style involved in communicating science on the internet using web site and blogs. Personally I felt she could have provided more detail in her description of science blogging — especially as it is an increasingly popular format. However, that may reflect my closer involvement with blogging than other areas she covers.

The book gives a good overview of the printed media and the specific requirements of each for science communication. From ’letters to the editor’ to ’Op Ed’ columns. (Apparently Op Ed is derived from the fact these columns were traditionally on the page opposite the Editorial page). She argues that scientists have more scope than they think for contributing essays to such columns and magazines. Perhaps New Zealand scientists should be considering contributing to magazine essays and newspaper Op Ed columns

Book writing gets a chapter (starting with the advice ’Don’t think about writing a book unless you really cannot help yourself). So does appearing as an expert witness in legal situations and providing expert information in policy making venues.

Dean briefly considers other communication venues in the penultimate chapter (Other Venues).  Science Café, film-making, science festivals, and ’outreach’ in general. I am sure she could have expanded each of these become separate chapters in a much larger book.

The book does provide an extensive overview of the subject. The glaring omission for me was the book review! I have the impression that in the UK and USA this is an important format for discussing new, important or controversial areas of science and its relationship with society. I also notice that several science bloggers in New Zealander are producing such reviews. Oh well, perhaps someone else has written a useful book on the book review.

A social service and a career enhancer

Communication is not just a social service or duty for scientists. More and more it is an important skill for their professional success. Communication with peers at conferences and with papers is no longer enough. More and more we need to communicate with the non-specialist. With industry stakeholders in our science area. With policy makers and consultants. So even from an ambitious, selfish view, communication is an important scientific skill.

Another reason communication skills are important to professional success is possible institutional recognition of the value of that communication. Obviously that is still not common but in time we may well see blogging, participation in science festivals and writing for newspapers and on-line as important for assessment and promotion. ’It would be nice if scientists who write about their work on blogs or craft articles for an outreach web site could see those efforts valued on an equal footing with the hours they spend coding software, for instance.’

Finally, I like the way that Cornelia Dean stresses the individual responsibility scientists have to communicate. At a time when science is under attack from religious, political and commercial organisations it is important for scientists to take a role in public life. To make available evidence-based science related to critical issues we face.

She discusses the public and political roles available. But also the less public participation in government offices, newsrooms and education. Even referring to the physicist Leon Ledermen’s idea that young scientist should be required to spend some time in such social areas. A kind of ’tax’ or tithing a social responsibility accompanying the advantages a scientific education brings to the individual.

A bit harsh if imposed. But a nice idea anyway.

In summary and in Cornelia Dean’s words: ’We need to adopt a broader view of what it means for researchers to fulfill their obligations to society. It is not enough for them to make findings and report them in the scholarly literature. As citizens in a democracy, they must engage, and not just when their funding is at stake.’


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Institute of Physics in hot seat Ken Perrott Mar 05


The UK Institute of Physiscs (IOP) is currently the darling of the climate change deniers, but has upset its own members. The Guardian has found their submission to the UK Parliamentary “Climategate” Hearing was prepared by a small clique, including a well known climate change denier. Now members are protesting. Some may even resign. The IOP may be forced to withdraw their submission.

Climate change politics can be a poisoned chalice for scientists. Trained to deal with objective reality and to test statements and ideas against that reality they are ill-equipped to confront the prejudice, misinformation, emotion and outright nastiness of the political world.

Unfortunately “climategate,” the hysterical anti-science campaign organised around the release of selected stolen emails from the Climate Research unit of the University of East Anglia, is beginning to bring that political world to the scientists themselves.

UK Parliament “climategate” hearings

Looks like the staid old IOP may become the latest victim of “climategate.” Mind you, they did bring it on themselves with their submission to the recent Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry (see IoP’s evidence submission). They succumbed to politicking in their own ranks and used decidedly authoritarian, undemocratic procedures in preparing their submission. This has caused a backlash from members, and reporters from the UK Guardian have been exposing the kerfuffle. The Institute’s leadership have been forced to backtrack a little on their submission and may yet be forced to withdraw it, at least in part.

Never mind – the climate change deniers loved the submission. Reading those sources your wouldn’t have known that it was only one of 55 submissions representing all points of view. It was heavily promoted in the denier echo chamber on twitter and blogs – even in New Zealand. The local popular blog, Kiwiblog, uncritically reproduced sections (see Institute of Physics on Climategate).

Perhaps, though, this promotion has gone too far. Lord Mockton’s climate change denial organisation, SPPI, has now reproduced the submission, given it a pretty cover and made it available from their own web site. An “official document” in their reprint series! I should think this will be the kiss of death, credibility wise, and cause even more consternation to institute members.

Who wrote the submission?

The Guardian reports that the evidence for the submission “was drawn from an energy industry consultant who argues that global warming is a religion” (see Climate emails inquiry: Energy consultant linked to physics body’s submission). They also found “the submission was approved by three members of its science board, but would not reveal their names. The Guardian contacted several members of the board, including its chairman, Denis Weaire, a physicist at Trinity College Dublin. All said that they had little direct role in the submission.”

Three members out of 14! (Governance Science Board).

The Guardian was “unable to find a member of the board that supports the submission. Two of the scientists listed as members said they had declined to comment on a draft submission prepared by the institute, because they were not climate experts and had not read the UEA emails. Others would not comment or did not respond to enquiries.” (See  Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry).

Apparently the report was prepared by the IOP’s Energy Group and the Environment Group was left out of the loop! While environmental and climate scientists generally overwhelmingly accept the IPCC conclusions from their review of climate science, energy and mining scientists are usually less accepting. Understandable given their commercial environment. Terry Jackson, the founder of the IOP Energy Group and Director of the Independent Climate Research Group in Bangor  (a denier group) publicly promotes naive climate denial arguments (see Sammy’s right, man is not responsible for global warming, Pouring cold water on global warming, and Scientists see signs of global cooling). This might provide an idea of the orientation of those physicists who approved the submission.

The IOP’s “clarification” to members

After protests from members the IOP produced a statement “clarifying” their position (see IOP and the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of climate data). It said:

“the Institute’s position on climate change is clear: the basic science is well enough understood to be sure that our climate is changing — and that we need to take action now to mitigate that change.”


“these comments, focused on the scientific process, should not be interpreted to mean that the Institute believes that the science itself is flawed.”

However , members were not satisfied. The Guardian reported “the statement appears to contradict sections of the original submission, which suggests the emails showed scientists had cherry-picked data to support conclusions and that some key reconstructions of past temperature cannot be relied upon.” (See Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry).

And several IOP members have written open letters of protest. Andy Russell (see Dear Institute of Physics…) detailed his objections to the submission and finished with:

Finally, I am confused as to why the Energy group was tasked with preparing the statement and not the Environmental Physics group, who would have been more aware of the particular issues in this case.

I realise that a small clarification has been issued but if the IoP continues to stand by this statement then I will have no other option but to reconsider my membership of your organisation.

Ian Hopkinson (see A letter to the Institute of Physics) made the following specific complaints:

1. Item 1 mis-represents the current scientific practice of sharing of data and methodologies. Currently methodologies are generally shared by publication in scientific journals not by the explicit sharing of computer source code. Raw experimental data from third parties is not routinely shared. To imply that the researchers at CRU are acting out of step with current practice is false.
2. Item 4 specifically casts doubt on the historical temperature reconstructions based on proxy measures whilst not acknowledging that such reconstructions have been repeated by a range of research groups using a range of methodologies, as described in the IPCC 2007 report.
3. Item 5 accuses the researchers at CRU of “suppression” of the divergence between proxy records and the more recent thermometer based record. This is ridiculous, the CRU has published on this very divergence in Nature.
4. Item 6 makes no recognition of the un-usual circumstances that CRU found themselves in, subjected to a large number of Freedom of Information requests, culminating in the publication of a substantial fraction of their private e-mail correspondence.
So, an ongoing saga. I wonder if IOP members will be calling for their own inquiry into unethical behaviour in the leadership. (That’s all we need – another “climategate” inquiry!)
Are we going to see the IOP withdraw their submission to the parliamentary committee?
And how are they going to explain the republication of the submission as a reprint of Mad Mocktons SPPI denier group?
See also:

The IOP fiasco

Physicists’ message to world leaders in Copenhagen: Institute of Physics Press Release


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Climate science for you and me Ken Perrott Mar 03

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Book review: Climate Change 101: An Educational Resource by Andy Reisinger

Price: NZ$45.00
ISBN: 978-1-877347-34-4
Publisher: Institute of Policy studies (November 2009)
Paperback: 303 pages

This book is a much-needed authoritative introduction to the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. It is readily accessible by the interested lay person, as well as by students and professionals. Those interested enough to take part in public discussion around this issue will appreciate the book.

Independently of the whole ’climategate’ hysteria there have been calls within the science community for reconsideration of the role and operation of the International panel on Climate Change. There is concern that its reports need to be more frequent and less conservative. I hope such a consideration also pays attention to ways of communicating findings to the public. The recent announcement of a review of the IPCC’s work provides an opportunity for this.

The IPCC was formed to provide the best scientific information possible to governments. Governments, not their citizens. So the basic reports are extensive (three volumes totalling about 3000 pages). And most policy makers rely on the Synthesis Report (103 pages), referring to the basic volumes only to check details when necessary.

The whole process and findings of the IPCC are transparent. Anyone can read the reports on-line, or download pdf copies, or refer to the primary publications reviewed. But who bothers? We are just bombarded with (and possibly confused by) too much information and detail.

An authoritative text

Andy Reisinger is the first author to make the IPCC reports themselves move accessible, at least locally if not internationally. Sure, there are many books discussing the science of climate change but this is authoritative because if is based mainly on the IPCCs 4th assessment report. It makes frequent references to the appropriate sections of these reports. The book also includes information from the scientific literature that has appeared since then (2007). This helps to bring the findings up to date.

The author has close experience with the work of the IPCC. From 2006 to 2008 he managed production of the Fourth Assessment Synthesis Report. Currently he is a senior research fellow with the NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington.

The book starts with simple explanation of climate, climate science terms and popular fallacies. Mantra like ’cooling since 1998’ and ’urban heat islands.’

The rest of the book is divided into the same subject areas as the IPCC reports – The Physical Science Basis (Working Group 1 — WG1), Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability(WG2) and Mitigation of Climate Change (WG3). This division probably means that readers will concentrate mainly on the section they are most interested in. The background science of climate change is presented first. Then the social science relating to humanity’s vulnerabilities and ability to adapt to climate change. And the economic, political and social policies involved in adaption and or mitigation measures. I can see the book being used by students and professionals in a range of specialities.

I naturally gravitated towards the physical science chapters. However, I did enjoy reading the sections more related to economic, social and political aspects. These gave me an appreciation of those other areas of research that I do not normally encounter, and their importance.

’Settled science’ — not so

The overwhelming impression for the reader is that our current assessment of climate change is far from extreme — either in presentation or in possibilities.

The style of presentation is balanced and conservative. This will come as a surprise to anyone influenced by political charges of extremism. Those used to terms like ’alarmist,’ ’warmist,’ etc. Information is discussed in terms of probabilities, often statistically calculated. The inherent uncertainties of computer modeling are clearly expressed. Areas of ignorance are stressed. Nothing is hidden or over-claimed. I often came across the term ’poorly understood’ — and appreciated the honesty.

This reflects the objective style of the IPCC reports themselves. Far from the ’settled science’ mantra used by denier groups to discredit climate science.

There are of course some minor faults. More use of colour in the figures would have helped their interpretation — shades of grey are not always clear. Fig 1.4 displays sea levels but the caption refers to temperature.

The major fault is a lack of index. I find this surprising for a book with technical content, one that students, professionals and interested lay persons will use. All readers who wish to use this book for reference purposes will lament the omission.

I hope the publishers have received plenty of feedback on this fault and correct it for the next printing. Perhaps they could also consider inclusion of a glossary.

Hope, importance of science and human rights

I have mentioned the overall impression of objectivity, conservatism, honesty and lack of exaggeration. Another message I got was one of hope. We are so used to hearing the doomsday predictions. However, the book discusses projections based on different economic and social scenarios. Some of these are not alarming, nor expensive. At the lower levels of mitigation some projections even showed economic benefits, rather than costs. This is the positive, but often ignored, side of climate change. Personally I think the future technological changes which help us to adapt and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are going to bring enormous benefits to humanity. Provided we don’t kill off science and rationality as some of the extremists in the denier groups appear to want.

Discussing the political, social and economic issues also brought hope to me the importance of social and political freedoms, as well as promoting science and rationality. Clearly those societies which are most backward socially and politically will be in the worst position to adapt to climate change. They will be most affected by population pressures, ignorance and autocratic social, religious and political structures.

On the other hand those societies which are freer, where women are liberated and have access to education and reproductive health facilities and knowledge, and which accept the importance of science and technology, are in a better position to adapt.

I like that the book stresses that science can only inform. And it makes clear that useful information is coming from social and economic sources as well as the physical sciences. But when it comes to policies and politics ethical questions outside the province of science arise. Questions like what responsibility we have for any mess we may be leaving our grandchildren? What responsibility developed nations have for the plight of developing nations? What responsibility we as New Zealanders (who will only be slightly affected by climate change), have for negotiating policies aimed at solving the global problem?

Politics and international negotiation

The last Chapter, ’Global response and Challenges for the Future’ deals with these issues. With the nature and structure of the international negotiations we hear so much about. These negotiations must appear confusing to the lay person. I have even heard the Copenhagen Conference described as an IPCC conference! Quite wrong.

So this is a useful chapter dealing with the history and structure of international negotiations on this issue. The role of the World Climate Conferences, the World Meteorological Organisation, The UN Environment Programme and the International Council of scientific Unions. It describes how the UN General assembly established the IPCC and described its tasks.

The chapter draws a clear distinction between the science role of the IPCC and the political role of these international negotiations and conferences within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Perhaps if more people understood this the IPCC might be less of a target for those with political bitches.

In a rare departure from cold objectivity, and fitting right at the end of the book, Reisinger warns about the results of doing nothing. He says:

’I often think about having to stand up at some stage, several decades from now, and answer the questions:

‘What did you do when you became aware of the problem?’

‘Do you think you did the right thing, personally, given what was known even then about climate change?’

I do not think that saying it was a problem of others will sound terribly convincing to anybody.’

So a useful book. One that will be essential for students and professionals working or studying in this area. But also one the interested lay person will appreciate and use.

If only there was an index.


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February ‘10 — NZ blogs sitemeter ranking Ken Perrott Mar 03

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Recently I have been posting periodical rankings of NZ blogs based on daily visits averaged over the previous 7 days. This time I am posting the ranking based on monthly visits for the month of February 2010. The 7 day rankings are still available any time at NZ blogs average daily visits.

This monthly ranking has 144 blogs, 12 fewer than the 7 day ranking. This is because monthly figures are not available for sites using the Bravenet counter.

The blogs are listed in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers for February, 2010.

While monthly rankings don’t change as frequently as the 7 day rankings the longer time may be more useful because small fluctuations average out.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any.

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Visit Rank Blog Visits/month Page Views/month
1 The Dim-Post 46802 76476
2 No Right Turn 30715 40524
3 Notes from the bartender 30447 36190
4 Sciblogs 26343 45442
5 A cat of impossible colour 23801 34666
6 Tales from a godless monkey 23175 133330
7 TUMEKE! 21836 25432
8 roarprawn 14846 21741
9 Homepaddock 12962 18059
10 The Wellingtonista 11035 18119
11 The Hand Mirror 10204 13422
12 Einstein Music Journal# 10200 14158
13 Poneke’s Weblog 9916 13909
14 Home education Foundation 9647 9647
15 Offsetting Behaviour 8006 11859
16 eyeCONTACT 7990 12612
17 In a strange land 7914 11349
18 Canterbury Atheists 7663 10639
19 Reading the Maps 7661 10820
20 Open Parachute 7576 9689
21 MacDoctor Moments 6541 9342
22 Halfdone 6389 7857
23 MandM 6134 10278
24 The visible hand in economics 6107 9241
25 Hitting Metal With A Hammer 5801 7671
26 Prostablog 5728 6858
27 Today is my birthday 5604 8170
28 Put ‘em all on an island# 5177 6474
29 fisheye perspective 5022 7536
30 OpenUReyes 4698 9154
31 The Dropkicks 4681 6533
32 Anti-Dismal 4510 10676
33 Code for Life 4283 5571
34 Neuseeland 4188 9608
35 Quote Unquote 4003 5600
36 Otagosh 3833 5649
37 Thinking Matters Talk 3479 6222
38 Humanitarian Chronicle 3258 5276
39 Open Parachute @Sciblogs 3206 3927
40 Scepticon 3185 3883
41 Workers Party 2999 4768
42 from the morgue 2836 4497
43 The Fundy Post 2775 3513
44 Sustain:if:able Kiwi 2679 4856
45 Liberation 2575 3940
46 Socialist Aotearoa 2559 3168
47 Cluttercut 2245 3212
48 Show your workings 2146 3069
49 Clint Heine and Friends 2142 3114
50 Unity Blog 1953 2625
51 Bill Bennett 1901 2694
52 Capitalism is bad 1891 2780
53 Goings on at the Madbush Farm 1858 2420
54 Woman Wandering 1753 2281
55 Mars 2 Earth 1656 3220
56 Rodney’s Aviation Ramblings 1626 2120
57 Ozy Mandias Warning 1612 2806
58 Webweaver’s world 1532 1919
59 Dad4justice 1505 1797
60 Pointless and adsurb 1424 2160
61 Bibliophilia 1418 1914
62 Cimba7200’s thoughts 1408 1874
63 Lost Soul 1306 2396
64 Canvassing for opinion 1287 1610
65 Tararua District Library 1200 1421
66 KiwiSmith Family 1156 2233
67 Derek’s blog 1142 1570
68 Glenview 9 1126 1386
69 goNZo Freakpower Brains Trust 1112 1506
70 Media Fetish 1097 1571
71 Joe Hendren 996 1265
72 Hooked on thinking 983 2471
73 Anarchia 951 1236
74 ICT Teaching and Learning 907 1202
75 Journey to a mini me 847 1494
76 Samuel Dennis 778 856
77 Aotearoa: A wider perspective 732 819
77 The Well read Kitty 732 819
79 Heart felt 727 1164
80 Blessed Economist 718 970
81 Palmerston North.ifo 678 1280
82 Family integrity 660 1006
83 I am Johnny King 636 890
84 Put up thy Sword! 631 799
85 Millenium X 548 849
86 No excuses. Just write 530 783
87 At home with Rose 521 690
88 Green is good 512 627
89 Life is not a race to be finished first 489 776
90 Towards Liberty, Prosperity and a civil Southland 475 686
91 The Thorndon Bubble 445 651
91 I’m a bit of a geek 445 610
93 Tha Fatal Paradox 421 632
93 Toni Twiss 421 631
93 BookieMonster 421 808
96 Earth is my favourite planet 420 526
97 UpStage 404 791
98 Surfr 386 608
98 jo russ photo diary 386 561
100 Porirua EMO 382 580
101 Phrenic Philosophy 379 467
102 Tangled up in purple 342 442
103 global village governance 340 432
104 Neil Stockley 336 419
105 Home School Nations – NZ 334 579
106 Fuller’s watch 331 438
107 The Home Office 312 427
108 Tash McGill 307 433
108 Stitchbird 307 622
110 A developing Geneticist 291 407
111 Prior Knowledge 287 317
112 Discovery Time 269 551
113 Looking in the square 263 470
114 Primal Subversion 259 351
115 Deep(ish) Thought 255 312
116 Frontlawn 241 296
117 Mad Young Thing 239 303
118 Nathanael Baker 223 275
119 Rob’s Blockhead Blog 210 288
120 Relatively science 199 242
121 Dragonsinger 183 296
122 Migrating fish swim 151 177
123 Something Interesting to read 146 235
124 Scott & Sarah Kennedy 145 231
124 Island in the Pacific 145 239
126 In this moment 130 172
127 Anna’s blog/pterodaustro dreams 115 200
128 And all these things 113 149
129 The Sidestrip 111 207
130 SageNZ 104 115
131 Here I stand 96 127
132 Easter Island blog 92 204
133 Rest Area 300 m 90 206
134 ObservatioNZ 84 105
135 Heidi’s Ocean blog 81 105
136 Think Beyond 79 94
137 Roger Nome’s progressive Politics 73 86
138 Lolly Scramble 62 69
139 Things I like to do 50 63
140 Beehive Buzz 43 69
141 The quiet world project 38 50
142 Flannelgraph 33 45
143 Rambling Reflections 30 35
143 Boganette 30 39


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Richard Dawkins — wrong again! Ken Perrott Mar 02

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And once again, he admits his mistake and apologises! Have a look at  ‘An Apology’ by Richard Dawkins.

I admire people who can acknowledge their mistakes. People who won’t, but will go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify a mistake, are really behaving like children. Their egos are overriding their logic.

This time Richard is apologising for the way he and his team handled the reorganisation going on at the website. The changes being made to the forum on this site have upset some participants, some rather emotional and outrageous statements were made and staff reacted defensively. Richard himself responded to these attacks in what he himself describes as “insensitive ‘Outrage‘ post, which was written in the heat of the moment.” He is apologising for the tone of his post, as well as mistakes made in handling the changes. He has also introduced some changes to the reorganisation of the forums to accommodate some of the concerns expressed.

I am really not interested in the details of this incident. The internet is a bit like driving a car – it seems to bring out the worst in people. Forums and blog discussions are notorious for bad, childish and rude behaviour. I really should try and keep away from them. But I think Richard’s apology and his attempts to accommodate valid concerns reflect one of the characteristics of this man that many people admire.

I used to be very critical of Dawkins (see Putting Dawkins in his place) and avoided reading his books. Shame on me, I know. I was behaving a bit like those very vocal critics of Dawkins who attack him for his book The God Delusion but refuse to read the book!

Once I did start reading Dawkins I was impressed, both by his writing and his honesty. Perhaps it was worth waiting 30 years to read the celebratory edition of his The Selfish Gene. It sets a great example. Dawkins notes mistakes and errors in his first edition and corrects them, together with some back story, in the notes of the later edition.

It was a great example to me of the scientific ethos of honesty.

Now just imagine of some of our local climate change deniers acknowledged their “mistakes” when they are caught cherry-picking data, distorting information or outright lying. And imagine if those deniers responsible for the current attacks on NIWA scientists publicly acknowledged their attacks were based on huge errors on their part. And then apologised for their behaviour.

I guess that’s like asking pigs to fly.


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Freedom of information and responsibility Ken Perrott Mar 01

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Prepare for another round of “climategate,” misinformation and distortion of climate change news. This time conservative news media, denier organisations and bloggers will be concentrating on the current inquiries taking place in the UK. These will be considering issues related to the illegal hacking and release of emails from the Climate Research Unit and the University of East Anglia. One of these is the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry which hears oral submissions this week.

Already we have seen some selective and biased reporting of written submissions and I am sure this will continue. However, there are important issues at stake to do with freedom of information (FOI), harassment of scientists and the responsibility of those making freedom of information requests or using publicly available data. I hope the inquiries will deal with the underlying principles as well as making determinations on the specific cases considered.

Clearly many of the FOI requests made to the CRU were malicious. The UEA submissions says:

“In July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU. These amounted to 61 requests out of a 2009 total of 107 related to CRU, compared to annual totals of 2 in 2008 and 4 in 2007 (University totals for those years were 204, 72 and 44 respectively).”

I wonder if the requesters were building up to something?

(Graphics thanks to Going on a Bear Hunt).

Malicious FOI requests in New Zealand

The recent FOI request made to NIWA by the NZ Climate Science Coalition (CSC) was also surely malicious (and timed to coincide with “climategate). The CSC is a climate change  denier group which works closely with the ACT Party and the local right wing think tank The Centre for Political Research. The latter is also linked to the usual oveseas conservative organisations like The Heartland Insitute and conservative media like The American Thinker.

The CSC pretend they are only trying to keep NIWA honest. That they are doing “peer review.” But the quality of their discredited report “Are we warmer yet?” indicates they are not capable of scientific review (see NZ’s denier-gate, Peer Review for the Climate ’Science’ Coalition and NZ sceptics lie about temp records, try to smear top scientist).

They admit their interest is political not science. And the FOI requests and other demands on NIWA are clearly of the “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” type.

The CSC’s agenda is to discredit honest New Zealand scientists. Not peer review.

Now I hope the UK parliamentary review will consider this malicious aspect of many FOI requests and make recommendations for its treatment.

Public data and responsibility

Most people welcome the idea that data should be publicly available or accessible. I think research institutions are moving in that direction as they get their databases off paper and on-line.

But, surely with availability should come responsibility. This is a problem with denier organisations and individuals who consistently misrepresent data or use it selectively. The local deniers, the CSC, did this with the publicly available NIWA data. They presented the data in an irresponsible format (denying the need for site adjustments) and drew the wrong conclusions. Their report was then used to attack NZ scientists and to attempt to discredit their database. They used the data for political, not scientific, purposes.

I don’t know how such groups can be encouraged to behave responsibly. But surely they should be exposed to some of the same requirements our scientists must adhere to with this data. Requirements of peer review and transparency.

Unethical behaviour of local deniers

For example, how did the NZ CSC produce their report? Ask them and their answer will depend on the day of the week. On the one hand they claim that they did not have any scientific input or checking of their “research paper.” Later they did talk about a “science team” being involved – but the team wished to “remain anonymous.” They also acknowledge some science checking after their member Vincent Gray admitted to having that responsibility and acknowledged being mistaken in not having picked them up on their claim that no site adjustments were necessary.

While their rejection of the need for site adjustments was their biggest “mistake” there also appears to be something wrong with the data they used or its manipulation in the “paper.” I have asked them for information on their methodology and been told to go away. They also say that a snowball has more chance of surviving in hell than I have getting one of the “science team” to discuss things.

The refusal of the CSC to enable scrutiny of the methods used in their report may not be illegal, but it is unethical. It also indicates that they have a low confidence in the scientific credibility of the report. They are certainly in no moral postion to criticise the work of scientists in the manner they have.

So what about the requesters of official information also having responsibilities. Perhaps their treatment of data should be open to the same inspection normally given scientific reports. Perhaps they should have the same obligations to reveal data and methodologies that scientists are under.

The imposition of a “level playing field”, a requirement that requesters permit the same level of transparency required of scientists, might help limit malicious FOI requests.

See also:
The Independent Climate Change Email inquiry.
Correspondence between University of East Anglia and the Information Commissioner’s Office
The Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament:
The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia
Submitted memoranda from over 50 individuals and organisations.


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