Archive April 2010

Thinking of our grandchildren Ken Perrott Apr 30

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Book Review: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James Hansen

Price: US$16.50*
320 pages
Bloomsbury USA (December 8, 2009)

Climate change contrarians and deniers love to hate James Hansen. He’s up there alongside Al Gore, Michael Mann and Phil Jones. And of course their hatred is no more justified in Hansen’s case than it is for the others.

Others criticise Hansen for his ’activism.’ His willingness to warn politicians and the population in general of the dangers we face if we continue with a ’business as usual’ approach to fossil fuel and CO2 emissions. They suggest this could discredit his science. Scientists must always be objective and should limit their pronouncements to the scientific facts alone.

This is not an old problem for scientists — remember their activism after the first use of nuclear weapons and the beginning of the nuclear arms race. Scientists often confront ethical issues arising out of their work.

Enlivening the science

This book does reflect these two features of Hansen’s contribution, though. The scientific and the ’activism.’ This helps enliven the story. Rather than just presenting the dry scientific facts, the information is woven into a narrative.

Starting with Hansen’s appearance before a Vice-Presidential Climate Task Force in 2001 we get to learn about other appearances. Both before political committees and publicly at conferences and in the media. We hear of Hansen’s doubts and self-criticism of his effectiveness in these situations. He covers the arguments used by his detractors such as Richard Lindzen, and their style of presentation. We also get to learn about the political attempts to silence him. Manoeuvres by the White House to censor reports and prevent communicatiing the science of climate change. (’NASA press releases related to global warming were sent to the White House, where they were edited to appear less serious or discarded entirely’). The role of the Public Affairs office of NASA in this which even went so far as altering a mission statement on the NASA website. (The first line ’to understand and protect our home planet’ was removed in 2006 after Hansen used it to support his actions).

But even the science has a narrative about it. We learn about the areas where knowledge is lacking, recent new discoveries, and so on.

Hansen’s comments on the science

I liked his willingness to provide opinions on the science. For example he turns out to be hard on models, despite using them. He makes clear that they have limitations as well as specific capabilities and their sensible use should always keep these in mind. Hansen suggests that evidence for anthropogenic climate change and mechanisms of global warming has come most usefully from palaeoclimate studies, followed by ongoing modern observations and thirdly by computer models.

Hansen describes our lack of information on aerosol forcing in climate change. He had been instrumental in including aerosol measurements in the planned Climsat satellite mission . Unfortunately this was never launched and we still lack sufficient information in this area.

His analysis of the palaeoclimate evidence and the lessons we can draw from it is interesting. We see many disciplines coming together to produce evidence for different events (such as the methane release causing the Palaeocene-Ecocene thermal maximum about 55 million years ago). And the overall conclusion is the atmosphere CO2 has been the major, but no the only, driver of global temperature changes.

Debunking an old denier myth

The fact that natural climate oscillations in the record  precede changes in temperature (see figure) is an old story climate change deniers like to quote as ’evidence’ CO2 cannot cause global warming. This is one of the first bits of palaeoclimate evidence Hansen discusses. He describes how natural climate changes arise from, for example, perturbations in the earths orbit or tilts in the earth’s spin axis. One of the feedback effects from a temperature increase is the release of CO2 from the oceans. This then becomes a major driver for further temperature increases by the greenhouse effect.

Nowadays, humans provide new sources of CO2 emissions which can themselves initiate temperature increases. Human derived sources currently emit at a rate 10,000 times greater than the planet’s natural sources. Human made effects now dominate over the natural forcing. And this means the ’global cooling trend needed to cause the slow feedbacks that would take earth into its next ice age no longer exists.’ ’Humans, by rapidly burning fossil fuels, have caused global warming that overwhelms the natural tendency toward the next ice age.’

Differences with IPCC

Hansen has had differences with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and his criticisms have at times led to problems with officials and journal editors. Some of this relates to his warnings about the stability of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and the fact this wasn’t considered in determining lower limits of greenhouse gas concentrations. I suspect that with time more scientists are coming over to Hansen’s view on this. He has also been less than glowing in his comments on the effect of international agreements like the Kyoto Treaty and the proposals considered as Copenhagen.

Hansen is clear that historically greenhouse gases have played a key role in climate changes. Usually by feedback mechanisms rather than direct initiators. However, today greenhouse gases have an initiating role. The resulting changes are rapid. And the prime cause is the release of emissions from fossil fuel. So he clearly focuses his arguments on the fossil fuel. As he expresses it, humanity must do all it can to leave these fuels in the ground. Unfortunately a ’business as usual’ approach will inevitably lead to their complete extraction. There is pressure to recover even the most recalcitrant fuels, fuels like shale oil, which turn out to be more polluting.

He considers improvements in energy efficiency (quite effective) and other energy sources such as clean coal (CO2 capture and storage — which he considers as not economically practical) and nuclear power. On the later he supports a return to research into new reactors which are more efficient and produce less waste.

Cap and Trade or Fee and Dividend?

Hansen argues strongly against the cap and trade approach being adopted by most countries and internationally. This goes back to his experience interacting with politicians and policy makers. As he sees it the problem is Washington. Special interests have too much power. This influence bureaucrats and inevitably policies are manicured to serve those special interests rather than the people. He thinks this is particularly true of the cap and trade approach.

In contrast Hansen argues for a Fee and Dividend approach. This involves increasing the price of fossil fuels at source, with a fee or tax. On the other side the collected revenue is returned to the whole populations. Personally he argues for a green cheque — a payment to each individual. However, others prefer the revenue is used to reduce payroll tax.

He argues this method would enable the increase of fossil fuel prices, thus encouraging decline in their use and investment in alternatives. On the other hand the green cheque would reduce the effect on the individual. They would have an interest in reducing use of fossil fuels and increasing alternatives, such as power saving. There would be a personal interest, rather than a knee-jerk opposition. And there would be less chance for gerrymandering by special interests.

Personally, I don’t have the political or economic skills to evaluate the different approaches. However, I am attracted to Hansen’s ideas and it is a pity there isn’t more public debate about these issues. Really that is where the debate should be — how to handle the problems of climate change. Instead the deniers have tended to dominate and work to discredit the science. Shooting the messenger rather than acting on the message.

This is a great book, both for the lay person and those more familiar with the science. While he does get technical at times he warns the reader and suggests they jump the section if they feel it is beyond them. This advice from an author is always useful, I find.

While being scientifically informative and sound Hansen does bring the issue down to the politics and economics of solutions. And he drives home an ethical message.  Because, as the title makes clear, this book is about his grandchildren. Actually all our grandchildren. If we do nothing, allow ’business as usual,’ they face a bleak world. ’Business as usual’ will probably mean rising sea levels. This together with the storms and unstable weather systems resulting from climate change will present them with a chaotic world.

And that’s only the natural global chaos. Just image the social and political results!


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Science, values and ethics Ken Perrott Apr 28

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There is an unfortunate common perception that scientists are cold, hard people. That they are only interested in objective facts and are emotionless. And especially that science as a process is not creative and does not encourage the development of an ethical outlook. Consequently there is an attitude that while we can learn about the nature of reality from science and scientists we can learn nothing about ethics or the appreciation of reality.

Some people even claim that for this we must turn to religion. Although they never seem to be able to explain how on earth religious leaders can offer any better knowledge of ethics than scientists, boot makers, mechanics. or cooks.

I think most scientists would object to this common perception. So I was pleased to see this recent article from Agnosticism / AtheismValues of Godless Science: Modern Science Does Not Need Religion or Gods for Values. It’s worth a read so I reproduce it below:

Modern, Godless Science is not Value-Free:

It is commonly claimed by both critics and supporters that modern science is value-free. This is false, though it is true that science lacks many of the values traditionally ascribed to religion and doesn’t make any value judgments about the use of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, the very ability of science to function as it does, and so successfully, is dependent upon a set of very important values. Some of those values are explained here.

Work & Discipline:

Science is a difficult field to be successful in. Nothing gets done in science without a great deal of hard work, long hours, and the discipline necessary to work those long hours. Very little in science can be described as ’glamorous’ – most scientific work involves poring over large amounts of data and tiny details that would make most people’s eyes just glaze over. This work is necessary, however, because it builds the foundations for new discoveries.


Every profession depends upon its members being honest for the profession to function. In science this requirement can be even more important. Many scientists work independently and their results are then incorporated into the work of other scientists. Faulty data can thus take on a life of its own, infecting the honest work of researchers around the world. Fortunately there are systems in place to catch and eliminate cheating, but they don’t always catch problems immediately.


One of the most important values of science is the use of reason. Problems aren’t assumed to be solved by tradition, faith, or simply trusting someone’s word. The use of reason helps ensure that explanations and solutions are based upon reality rather than upon personal preference, what is politically correct, or what is ideologically convenient. Reason can of course be misused, but no more so than anything else – and thus far, reason has proven to be more reliable than anything else.


Although it’s common for scientists to work alone, science isn’t really a solitary profession. Scientists are part of a larger scientific community, one which encompasses both those in the same field and those involved in other aspects of scientific research. All are interlinked, such that the results reached by anyone may help the work of others. The community also helps ensure the reliability of everyone’s work because to be properly scientific, research must be reviewed by peers.

Questioning Authority & Critical Thinking:

Although there are authority figures in science like there are in every profession, this authority is not absolute. Scientists are encouraged to question and challenge the claims and results which authority figures offer. After all, the next biggest name in science will be someone who can prove that an earlier theory was wrong, or at least incomplete, and therefore that current authority figures have been mistaken. Every scientist has a vested interest in questioning authority.


It’s common to think of scientists as focused on logic, but a very good imagination can be more necessary to being a good scientist. Imagination is important because it allows one to think of new possibilities which may not be evident from the raw data alone. Imagination also allows one to develop new explanations which also aren’t immediately supported by the data, and this provides an impetus to look for the data. Often, it’s imagination that draws a person to science in the first place.

Progress & Improvement:

One important feature of science is that it is never static. No explanation is ever final or complete and there is always new data that has be to explained, so there is never any feeling that the work of scientists is finished. This means that scientists are always looking towards improvement and progress at all times. Science works for the betterment of humanity and society, helping us all move forward rather than simply being content with where we are now.

Methodology Over Conclusions:

One value of science which many can miss is the emphasis on focusing on proper methodology over conclusions. What this means is that work must not be done for the sake of reaching particular and favored conclusions. Instead, one must focus on following the proper scientific methodology and reasoning. This helps guarantee that one is more likely to arrive at the correct conclusions and correct explanations, regardless of what they may be. Imagine if other fields, like politics, worked this way.

Godless Science and the Enlightenment:

Modern science is largely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and that, in turn, was a period when religious institutions and ecclesiastical authorities began to really lose their power over most aspects of people’s lives. The Enlightenment was thoroughly secular in that it did not derive its impetus or principles from religious tradition or authority. The most fundamental values of godless science are thus also the values of modernity: skepticism, empiricism, and secularism. It’s not a coincidence that science and modernity developed side-by-side: godless science has reinforced secular modernity while secular modernity has provided the atmosphere in which godless science could thrive.

What this means is that it isn’t possible to defend one without also defending the other. Secular modernity won’t be able to proceed very far without the reinforcing support which godless science is able to provide; godless science won’t be able to continue helping us understand the world around us without the atmosphere created by secular modernity. Not only do they need each other, but we need them as well: secular modernity provides the freedom and room for people to follow their consciences and explore their religious beliefs; godless science has become invaluable to our survival as a species.

Science is often maligned for being godless, but godlessness is largely why science is successful: being godless means that science is not beholden to any religious ideology or perspective. If it were, then it wouldn’t be truly free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Science is also often maligned for lacking values, but science has many values – it’s just that they are values which are fundamental to our secular, godless modernity. It is this which most upsets critics because those values are proving their superiority to the religious values which anti-modern ideologues would rather promote.


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Climate scientist sues newspaper for false reporting Ken Perrott Apr 23

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Here is a press release I picked up last night:

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – April 21, 2010) – University of Victoria Professor Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, launched a lawsuit today in BC Supreme Court against three writers at The National Post (and the newspaper as a whole), over a series of unjustified libels based on grossly irresponsible falsehoods that have gone viral on the Internet.

In a statement released at the same time the suit was filed, Dr. Weaver said, I asked The National Post to do the right thing — to retract a number of recent articles that attributed to me statements I never made, accused me of things I never did, and attacked me for views I never held. To my absolute astonishment, the newspaper refused.”

Dr. Weaver’s statement of claim not only asks for a Court injunction requiring The National Post to remove all of the false allegations from its Internet websites, but also seeks an unprecedented Court order requiring the newspaper to assist Dr. Weaver in removing the defamatory National Post articles from the many other Internet sites where they have been re-posted.

“If I sit back and do nothing to clear my name, these libels will stay on the Internet forever. They’ll poison the factual record, misleading people who are looking for reliable scientific information about global warming,” said Weaver.

The suit names Financial Post Editor Terence Corcoran, columnist Peter Foster, reporter Kevin Libin and National Post publisher Gordon Fisher, as well as several still-unidentified editors and copy editors. It seeks general, aggravated damages, special and exemplary damages and legal costs in relation to articles by Foster on December 9, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web”), Corcoran on December 10, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web II”) and January 27, 2010 (“Climate Agency going up in flames”), and Libin on February 2, 2010 (“So much for pure science”).

The Statement of Claim was filed April 20, 2010 at the BC Supreme Court Registry at the Vancouver Courthouse: Weaver v Corcoran and others, SCBC No.102698, Vancouver Registry.

via Climate Scientist Sues National Post for Libel.

The 48 page statment of claim is available to download (Weaver vs Corcoran.pdf).

Do I detect a trend? Could Ian Wishart and Richard Treadgold be legally forced to track down and remove defamatory reports internationally arising our of Treadgold’s discredited “paper” Are we getting warm yet? (see New Zealand’s denier-gate)?

See also:
News from the front: scientists directly challenge claims of fraud through defamation/libel laws
Climate change deniers wallets threatened


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Climategate, Lord Monckton and Monty Python Ken Perrott Apr 23

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Christopher Monckton is held in awe by some of the more naive climate change deniers. For a more objective assessment of his abilities and reliability have a look at these videos.

Debunking Lord Monckton Part 1.

Debunking Lord Monckton Part 2

See also: Monckton requires religious certification for scientists?


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Climate change deniers wallets threatened Ken Perrott Apr 22


Apparently climate scientist Michael Mann has threatened legal action* against Minnesotans for Global Warming (M4GW) over their  video “Hide the Decline.” This used the comment from the “climategate” emails to portray a dishonest and slanderous picture of Mann. The video has been heavily promoted by climate change deniers and conservative  groups, news outlets and blogs internationally. Several conservative NZ bloggers promoted the video.

So far I have only seen the M4GW press release which is somewhat cavalier. However, they have taken the video down from YouTube. When asked why he removed the video, M4GW’s Elmer Beauregard said “Right now, the last thing I need is a lawsuit. I can barely afford my electric bill.” The fact that they have replaced it with another revised one, “Hide the Decline 2,’ suggests they had something to fear from Mann’s “cease and desist” order.

Science confirmed sound

All the inquiries into the “climategate” affair are confirming that, despite questions over freedom of information requests,  there was no inappropriate scientific behaviour involved. In fact, it was rather silly to believe that any had occurred given that this is one of the most scrutinised and reviewed areas of science.

So, if this legal threat develops further courts would likely find in Mann’s favour. These irresponsible climate change denial campaigners may face the financial reality of their slanderous behaviour.

Legal action by scientists is unusual. Perhaps we are naive but the usual response to criticsm is to present evidence. However, the “climategate” campaign has brushed aside evidence and reason. It has been basically hysterical and nasty. Honest scientists have been abused, misrepresented and defamed with seemingly no conscience.

NZ denial campaign

We have seen the same situation in New Zealand. A conservative cabal of climate change denial conspiracy theorists (eg. Ian Wishart and Richard Treadgold), conservative bloggers, the ACT Party and right wing political groups such as The Climate Science Coalition, the Climate Conversation Group , and the Centre for Political Research have coordinated their activity recently. They attacked New Zealand NIWA scientists by producing and circulating a dishonest  report. This claimed that scientists ’created a warming effect where none existed.’ That ’the shocking truth is that the oldest readings were cranked way down and later readings artificially lifted to give a false impression of warming.’ And ’we have discovered that the warming in New Zealand over the past 156 years was indeed man-made, but it had nothing to do with emission of CO2 — it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.” (see New Zealand’s denier-gate).

So, perhaps this is the future. Now that the “climategate” hysteria is settling, now that inquiry after inquiry shows no evidence of scientific misbehaviour, perhaps the chickens can come home to roost. Perhaps those responsible for the nastiest aspects of this hysterical campaign can face the financial consequences of their behaviour.

I say – bring it on! And wouldn’t it be nice if some of those in New Zealand who participated and encouraged this nasty campaign faced similar threats to their back pockets.

*Update: Here is the letter sent by Mann’s lawyers.

See also:

Climategate Figure Threatens Lawsuit Over Satirical YouTube Video ‘Hide the Decline’.


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Climategate summed up Ken Perrott Apr 21

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They say a picture can tell a story. I think this one is pretty good. Its by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle From the Cartoonist Group.

Thanks to Mind of Dan, Climategate: the scandal that wasn’t, Part 2


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Superstition — inevitable? Ken Perrott Apr 19

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There are some great photographs at The Big Picture ( of launches to, and activities on, the International Space Station (ISS). Have a look at Journeys to the International Space Station.

I quite like this one because of the strange contrast between a religious blessing and the technical manifestation in the Soyuz rocket.  This is really an example of how even rational humans will indulge in superstitious actions. Especially before a trip, a sporting or theatrical performance and similar activities.

Bruce Hood, author of SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable talks about this sort of apparent superstitious activity by otherwise rational people. He relates how some of his colleagues have a ritual they go through before sending of a manuscript to a journal. This seems to happen, he suggests, whenever people undertake an activity over which they don’t have full control.

Bruce was interviewed by D. J. Grothe in the For Good Reason podcast recently. Entitled Why We Believe in the Unbelievable it’s worth listening to. He argues that many superstitions are inevitable, but this doesn’t in any way reduce the need for scepticism.

During the interview Hood mentions the superstitious customs around manned (peopled) Soyuz launches. One of the space tourists, Charles Simonyi mentioned the custom of cosmonauts urinating on the wheels of the bus before the launch. (From Holy Water to urine!). Also there is the custom that the commander of the unit kicks each cosmonaut in the backside as they enter the vehicle! Yes, I often worry about the Russians too!

Anyone who has watched a Soyuz launch will have noticed the mascot the cosmonauts always carry. It hangs in the capsule just like a the stuffed dice some people hang above their car windscreen. It’s usually a stuffed toy like a bear or a duck and does indicate when the capsule reaches orbit and things start floating.

Thinking about Holy Water – I thought recently that this is probably the ultimate homeopathic preparation. Water diluted with water. And these can be dangerous if they are used in place of proper treatment.

In his book Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, Massimo Pigliucci relates how the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia advocated a miracle cure for AIDS:

“The treatment consists of priests hurling water to the faithful (and the recalcitrant), while at the same time beating them with wooden crosses, for good measure. Interestingly, while men must be totally naked, women can wear panties, though the medical principle behind this gender-based discrimination is not entirely clear. The priests are also – unconscionably – telling  people that they can’t use standard “Western” medication because the interfere with thew action of the holy water.”

Some superstitions may be harmless but this sort certainly isn’t.

See also: Supersense Blog


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Libel Reform campaign continues Ken Perrott Apr 16

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For the back story to this photograph have a look at Suppressing science, A victory for Simon Singh and BCA libels Simon Singh? For the article that upset the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) see Beware the Spinal Trap. Better still, have a look at the original article which is now back up on the Guardian web site.

Simon Singh with 2-week old son Hari – like the T-shirt

Twitter erupted with messages of congratulations last night when news started coming through that the BCA had thrown in the towel. This has been  a high profile case which has highlighted the danger of UK libel laws to science journalists and others.  But as Hari’s T-shirt, and the story below from The Libel Reform campaign (BCA drop libel case against Simon Singh) show this isn’t over yet. There will be legal action to recover costs and the libel laws have to be changed:

The British Chiropractic Association has today dropped its libel case with science writer Simon Singh. This follows the Court of Appeal ruling on 1st April that Singh’s article on chiropractic was comment not fact.

Simon Singh has been fighting his case for two years and has spent more than 200,000 pounds. He will never recover all his costs. He said: ’It still staggers me that the British Chiropractic Association and half the chiropractors in the UK were making unsubstantiated claims. It still baffles me that the BCA then dared to sue me for libel and put me through two years of hell before I was vindicated.  And it still makes me angry that our libel laws not only tolerate but also encourage such ludicrous libel suits. English libel law is so intimidating, so expensive, so hostile to serious journalists that it has a chilling effect on all areas of debate, silencing scientists, journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and everyone else who dares to tackle serious matters of public interest. In the area of medicine alone, fear of libel means that good research is not always published because those with vested interests might sue, and bad research that should be withdrawn is not pulled because the authors might sue the journal, and in both cases it is the public that loses out because the truth is never exposed. My victory does not mean that our libel laws are okay, because I won despite the libel laws – we still have the most notoriously anti-free speech libel laws in the free world.’

Simon Singh:’The good news is that all three main parties this week committed to a libel reform bill in the next Parliament. But libel reform has to be radical. Cutting costs by a half means that a trial will not cost 1 million pounds but cost 500,000 pounds, but this is still extortionate. Costs need to be cut by a factor of 10 at least. Moreover the current libel law still means that libel tourists can sue in London on spurious grounds, big companies can still bully lone journalists, we still lack a robust public interest defence and we still have an unfair burden of proof on writers. It is important to remember that another libel case involving medicine continues – Dr Peter Wilmshurst is a consultant cardiologist who is being sued for libel for raising serious concerns about the data relating to a new heart device. If Dr Wilmshurst loses his case then he will be bankrupted. It is ridiculous that a respected researcher such as Dr Wilmshurst, someone who has devoted his life to medicine, should be put under such pressure just for speaking his mind. Our libel laws discourage doctors, scientists and journalists from speaking out. It is only when Peter has hopefully defended his libel case that I will be able to celebrate. It is only when English libel law has been reformed that I will be able enjoy today’s victory. Unless our libel laws change urgently and radically, I will not be the last journalist hauled through the libel courts and who will have to face financial disaster and two years of hell simply for raising an important and valid matter of public interest.’

Simon Singh:’One of the good things to come out of the last two years is that the chiropractic profession has been put under intense scrutiny. One in four chiropractors in the UK is now being investigated for making allegedly misleading claims, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against many chiropractic claims and the British Chiropractic Association has removed many claims from its website. None of this would have happened if I had backed down and the BCA has successfully silenced my article.’

Simon Singh:’The case is not quite over, because we still have to argue over costs. Having backed down and dropped the case, I expect the British Chiropractic Association to pay my legal bill of 200,000 pounds. I fully expect the BCA to argue that they should not pay all my costs, but I think it is the very least that they should do because this entire legal battle has been instigated by the BCA. I will never get back the two years that I have wasted on this case when I should have been writing a new book and I will never get back all the time I should have had with friends and family, which instead was replaced with continual stress, anxiety and ridiculously tedious legal documents. Fortunately the case has ended when my son Hari is only three weeks old, so I can now relax and enjoy being a father. My wife is a journalist and she been fully supportive throughout, and without her backing and the support of family, friends, scientists, bloggers and many others I suspect I would not have had the morale to keep fighting this case until the end.’

See also:
A pivotal moment for free speech in Britain
British Chiropractic Association drops shameful libel case against science writer who criticised them
British Chiropractors’ Association drops case against Simon Singh
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine


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RIP Antony Flew Ken Perrott Apr 16

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If only!

Several Christian apologetics blogs have commented on Antony Flew’s recent death (see Antony Flew 1923-2010, Antony Flew dies at 87, Theology Geek, and Professor Antony Flew — Obituary…).

The unfortunate aspect of these blogs is that they indulge in a little bit of “body snatching.” Not that this didn’t happen before Flew’s death.

Here is a post I wrote on in February last year (The Antony Flew controversy).

I had not heard of Antony Flew before last year’s  controversy around his book There Is a God.

The headlines gave the message — Flew was an atheist who had changed his view and now believed in a deist god. And New Zealand Christian blogs picked this up (e.g.,  Christian News NZ;; Fruitful Faith). My reaction was  — ’So what?’ People change their beliefs all the time.

But a few articles in  the New York Times (I’m a Believer and  The Turning of an Atheist) indicated that the controversy was not about Flew’s ’conversion’ but about the authority of the book’s authorship. The conclusion seems to be that Flew, being somewhat disadvantaged by his advanced age, had been ‘taken advantage off’ by his evangelical co-authors. A similar controversy erupted about Flew’s authorship of a critical review of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion promoted by the Christian apologist site

I found the controversy frustrating because there were no authoritative comments by Flew himself. This might be explained by his well known technophobia and therefore unwillingness to communicate electronically. It could also have resulted from his new evangelical friends controlling his access to the media.

Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas

Now I have had a chance to make my own assessment and draw my own conclusions. The Christian apologist Gary Habermas recently posted videos of a discussion involving himself, Antony Flew and N. T. Wright. Held at Westminster Capel last March, the discussion centred around Flew’s conversion and his attitude towards evolution and Richard Dawkins.

I think the videos do illustrate the probable situation Flew is in and the degree to which his book and statements have been manipulated.

I won’t give you my own conclusion but urge you to view these videos before making up your own mind.

The videos are in the Windows Media file format (mwv):

PART I (6 MB)     PART II (5 MB)     PART III (8 MB).

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Officially a fake scandal from science perspective Ken Perrott Apr 15


Well, the latest report from inquiries into the “climategate” affair confirm that the scientific conclusions of climate scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), University of East Anglia stand on “solid ground.”

The report is clear – relatively short and well worth reading. (Download Report of the International Panel set up by the University of East Anglia to
examine the research of the Climatic Research Unit
Here are the conclusions:

  1. ” We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.
  2. We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of temperature specialists.
  3. It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is  unfortunate and seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in government.
  4. A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties should stay with those who collected it.”

On the CRU’s tree-ring work the report says:

“we are satisfied that the CRU tree-ring work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation and unjustified selection of data are not valid.”

And on the criticisms made of the CRU:

“From our perspective it seems that the CRU sins were of omission rather than commission. Although we deplore the tone of much of the criticism that has been directed at CRU, we believe that this questioning of the methods and data used in dendroclimatology will ultimately have a beneficial effect and improve working practices”

Points for action

Reviews like this can be very useful for science groups. After all, cases of scientific fraud are very rare but there are always procedures and habits that can be exposed and therefore corerected. After all, scientists are human, aren’t they.

In this case archival and record keeping procedures may have been understandably rather informal and this has probably been largely attended to. The comment on use of professional statisticians is, I think, worthwhile. In my career I was lucky to have statisticians on hand and always found their uinput valuable. But I often reviewed papers where authors handled statistical analyses themselves and sometimes the papers suffered for it.

The UEA, in their response to the panels criticisms, welcomed the report and undertook to consider how they could improve the use of professional statisticians. This could well involve some financial investment and should be welcomed by CRU staff.

Two other inquiries, by British members of parliament and Pennsylvania State University, have also cleared the scientists of misconduct. Two further inquiries, one led by former British civil servant Muir Russell and the other conducted by British police, are still under way.

The Russell inquiry (reports next month) is basically into issues around how the UEA carried out their responsibilities under freedom of information (FoI) legislation.  I suspect their report will be the most critical of  the CRU and UEA. It may even recommend, or result in, disciplinary actions. Hopefully though it’s recommendations will enable development of policies to improve compliance and even make a step towards demanding some responsibility on the part of those making FoI applications.

The police inquiry is ongoing. I really hope this one has a success. If they do this could be even more damning for denier organisaytions and could well lead to legal actions.

So – as any objective observer would have already concluded, the scientific integrity of climate scientists remains intact. There may yet be findings indicating inappropriate atitusded towards FoI requests. BGut there is still the criminal activity behind the hacking and release of the climategate emails.

I think that the real story lies there. And if it is finally exposed it could be big.

See also:
CRU cleared of scientific malpractice — so much for ’climategate’
Jones cleared of charges of scientific malpractice: there goes deniers claims of fraud
Scientists cleared of malpractice in UEA’s hacked emails inquiry | Environment |
Lord Oxburgh panel clears CRU of malpractice but calls for better data practices
Climategate’ inquiry clears scientists of malpractice
Panel rules out malpractice by climate scientists
Lord Oxburgh Inquiry Clears UEA Scientists of Malpractice
Response by the University of East Anglia to the Report by Lord Oxburgh’s Science Assessment Panel
Climategate: Officially a Fake Scandal
Climategate scientists chastised over statistics
Experts respond: Climate researchers were ’dedicated if slightly disorganised’


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