SciBlogs

Archive June 2010

Ridiculing ridiculous science commentary Ken Perrott Jun 30

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Sometimes it’s pointless to debate rationally with critics. When their approach and arguments are ridiculous it may be better to ridicule them rather than treat them seriosuly.

Simon Jenkins, Guardian columnist

It seems some British scientists have decided to do this with one of The Guardian’s columnists, Simon Jenkins. The last straw was a silly article of his Martin Rees makes a religion out of science so his bishops can gather their tithe. In this he made childish attacks on The Royal Society and its President Lord Martin Rees, the Large Hadron Collider, the BBC for running science programmes, the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, investment in science education, science advise on the H1N1 flu virus, nuclear power and “mad cow” disease, and so on.

This is how Jennifer Rohn describes Jenkins:

Those of you not immersed in the UK science media scene are missing out on a national treasure. I mean, of course, none other than the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins who, although he claims no special expertise or experience in science, feels free to denounce it on a regular basis. No area seems exempt from his scorn: whether scientists are involved in analyzing climate change, ash clouds, BSE or swine ‘flu, they are probably up to no good.

All this was just not rational – it was ridiculous and ripe for ridicule.

So some British scientists have started to produce satirical articles parodying Jenkins style. In fact last Monday became the official “Spoof Jenks Day” when people were encouraged to produce articles and blog posts spoofing Jenkins.  This was kicked off by physicist Jon Butterworth (see A Mammoth of Research). Others soon followed and UCL cell biologist Jennifer Rohn has been aggregating them in her blog post In which evil boffins seek revenge at  Mind the Gap.

Here are a couple of intriguing titles – with short extracts:

Get over it, scientists: your cushy days are numbered by cell biologist Jennifer Rohn

People often point to journalists as being fallible, and I’d be the first to hold up my hands and admit, yes, what I write isn’t half bollocks. But ever catch a scientist criticizing one of his peer’s talks at a conference or – God forbid – recommending the rejection of one of his manuscripts in a scientific journal?

Simon Jenkins collects his tithe by science writer Brian Clegg

All over London there are “mammoths of tripe.” Costing hundreds of millions of pounds, these are “newspaper offices” whose editors pay large sums of money to “interesting” and “cutting edge” columnists. Ask not the value of the tripe these individuals pour out. The columnists jeers at the idea of value. These are outpourings of bile that are justified by the writer’s faith rather than any appeal to reason.

Urgent new priority for UK science by Imperial College structural biologist Stephen Curry

In a dramatic move today, the Government responded to an unprovoked attack on scientists from Guardian writer Simon Jenkins by announcing radical new priorities for UK science.

Revealing the policy shift, science minister David Willets said*, “We have to re-purpose the scientific effort of the country to address the urgent problem of recovering the missing half of Simon Jenkins’ arse.”

Bloody scientists think they know everything by blogger Rantarama

Y’know, someone had to come out and say it. Everyone else was too scared. But not Simon Jenkins. Oh no. He’s standing up to those bloody uppity scientists, driving around in their posh cars, wearing silk lab coats, and looking at atoms or whatever through their solid gold microscopes. No more! he cries. No more of your telling people how things work, using only facts and evidence to back up your ridiculous claims.”

Please help Simon by blogger Telescoper

Simon was quite bright as a small child, but things started to go wrong for him  early on in life. He was bullied at Public School by a vicious gang of ’nerds’ who forced him to look at their calculations. Later, a terrifying incident with a pipette in a chemistry lesson left him emotionally scarred. He started to have paranoid delusions and  nightmares about Men in White Coats and, more recently, Mammoths. He began to suspect all scientists were after his money. His behaviour became obsessive. Now, every gadget fills him with terror.  His actions are bizarre and unpredictable. He is no longer able to cope with everyday life and needs constant supervision.

Dictatorial scientists want us to marvel at their “magic” by post-doctoral astronomer Niall Deacon

This weekend scientists were again attempting to ’engage with society’ by encouraging us to see a dark smudge on the moon. This shameless attempt to co-opt the populace at large is yet the latest shallow, empty publicity stunt from the ’scientific community’.

Journalists, you are fallible. Get off the pedestal and join the common herd by statistician and Nature Network blogger Bob O’Hara

So journalists are human after all. They are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even scientists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity, especially when a cheque or a plane ticket is on offer. As for self-criticism, that is for you, not me.

There’s currently over 20 articles on the list.

An unexpected result has been activity on twitter – short, sharp parodies written in the Jenkins style. Have  search for the #spoofjenks tag.

I’m off to read more of these parodies.

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Truth getting it’s boots on! Ken Perrott Jun 27

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Sharon Begley introduced her Newsweek article Newspapers Retract ‘Climategate’ Claims, but Damage Still Done with:

‘A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on, as Mark Twain said (or ’before the truth gets a chance to put its pants on,’ in Winston Churchill’s version), and nowhere has that been more true than in “climategate.”‘

Yes, reaction to the “climategate” scandal and resulting climate denial offensive has been slow coming. Inevitable, I guess, becuase it has required investigation and reporting. We had the Pennsylvania State University inquiry which cleared Michael Mann (see Spinning exoneration of Dr. Michael Mann Into ’Whitewash’) and the UK parliamentary and independent Royal Society inquiries which cleared Phil Jones and the Cimatic Research Unit at University of East Anglia (see Climate scientist Phil Jones exonerated and Officially a fake scandal from science perspective).

Now some of the main stream media newspapers are withdrawing articles they previously published misrepresenting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate scientists and climate science in general. The UK Sunday Times published a correction acknowledging they had misreported the “Amazongate” story, had misreported Dr Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds and leading specialist in tropical forest ecology. They had in fact changed their story after it had been checked by Lewis and admit their changes “did not give a fair or accurate account of his views.”

Similarly the German Frankfurter Rundschau has withdrawn a story attacking the IPCC over “Africagate.” What is the moral of all this – don’t trust any “climategate” story?

Lies sometimes survive exposure

However, these retractions haven’t come easily. They were the result of shoddy, if not completely biased, journalism and/or editing (see ’AmazonGate’: how the denial lobby and a dishonest journalist created a fake scandal and Sunday Times admits ‘Amazongate’ story was rubbish. But who’s to blame?). The Sunday Times retraction only came after Dr Lewis made a complaint to the Press Council which was upheld. And the retractions have taken months to occur. As Sharon Begley says it is just simply psychology that people will often continue to believe a lie even after the truth has arrived.

Well – I guess it helps that these newspapers have published retractions and apologies. But what about all those blogs (including several New Zealand ones) and conservative newspapers and websites throughout the world who faithfully repeated the lie – but remain silent now?

That’s not ethical.

See also:

British Newspaper Apologizes to Climate Scientist – NYTimes.com

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A question of expertise and credibility Ken Perrott Jun 25

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In my last post Climate scientist’s register, I mentioned the new paper Expert credibility in climate change. Several other bloggers have described the findings in the paper, particularly the finding that 97—98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the IPCC conclusions and that the “relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [the conclusions] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers”.

The paper analysed the publication record of the two groups to get a handle on the expertise and credibility of group members. I have pulled out the data and combined them into the graph below. This summarises the difference in expertise between scientists accepting the IPCC conclusions on human contribution to climate change (convinced researchers = red bars) and those who reject the IPCC conclusions (unconvinced researchers = blue bars).


Briefly, approximately  80% of the unconvinced group had fewer than 20 climate publications while less than 10% of the convinced group had fewer than 20 climate publications. The mean number of publications in the unconvinced group was 60 (median 34) , half that for the convinced group – 119 (median 84).

When the investigation was restricted to the 50 most-published researcher in both groups the mean number for the unconvinced group was 89 (median 68) and for the convinced group 408 (median 344).

Considering citation numbers for each researcher’s most cited paper this was a mean of 105 for the unconvinced group and 172 for the convinced group.  To avoid anomalies when single papers are considered the paper also considers citation numbers for the 2nd to 4th most cited papers for each researcher. The mean for the unconvinced group was 84 and for the convinced group 133.

For more information on methodology and results you can download the paper here – Download “Expert credibility in climate change.”

See also:
Sceptics face yawning credibility gap
New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for ’balance’

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Climate scientist’s’ register? Ken Perrott Jun 24

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A comment from Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), on the syndicated version of Open Parachute raised the question of how much scientific support there is for the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Of course his group campaigns against the IPCC so he is trying to “prove” overwhelming scientific opposition to the conclusions (the ICSC was one of the sponsors of the recent Heartland Climate Conference).

Tom Harris, Ex. Dir. ICSC

His current campaign is a Climate Scientists’ Register. This is a petition listing people prepared to sign up to the declaration “We, the undersigned, having assessed the relevant scientific evidence, do not find convincing support for the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, dangerous global warming.” He currently has 109 signatures.

Reminds me of the Discovery Institute’s Darwin Dissent petition (see Who are the ’dissenters from Darwinism’?, Dissenters from Darwinism in context and Scientific dissent from . . . science?).

We know science is not determined by petitions and such “registers” are not a reliable way of judging consensus. But in the battle for public opinion they do have some influence. That’s why groups like the Discovery Institute and the ICSC produce them.

So many retired climate scientists?

As these people have been prepared to have their name on a public list it is worth making some judgment of their likely credibility in the field of climate science. Should we listen to them, or are the authors of the papers reviewed by the IPCC more credible.

At this stage I will only make a general comment about one feature of the “register.” That is  the large proportion  of retired people on this list.

In Beware the retired scientist I described a survey comparing “climate sceptics and climate scientist who generally supported the IPCC conclusions.  As a group the sceptics tend to be older and many more of them will actually be retired, compared with those who worked on the IPCC documents.”

Now Tom’s “register” is meant to be restricted to “climate science experts” and he provides professional information for each to support this claim. His criteria seems rather loose in some cases but there is information indicating many are retired. I pulled out all that I could find listed as retired, emeritus or formerly in a specific job. Probably missed a few as some information is rather vague, many are consultants (often a sign of retirement) or work for a blog or think tank.

My rough survey found approximately 35% of the people on Tom’s register are retired!

In my previous article I commented that the age and publication record indicated:

“that climate sceptics are more likely to be divorced from peer review, familiarity with the literature and current findings  and the discipline of consulting colleagues. And maybe they can be influenced by commercial interests, or even just the fact that in the current political climate large numbers of people are willing to see them as authorities and uncritically accept and parrot their articles and statements.”

I think we can say the same about Tom’s “register.”

Please note – I am not knocking retired scientists. I am one myself. But because of my own experience I often think about the role retired scientists play in political issues and their motives for doing so.

The battle for minds

Now, how will Tom use his “register.” We already have one example.

The Conservative examiner produced the article Scientists–carbon dioxide is not causing climate change based on a press release from Tom Harris about his “register.” This of coarse implies the scientists generally have come to that conclusion (not true). The article promotes that interpretation by saying:

“For the past 2 years the ICSC has been on the cutting edge of climate science research.  That research has led the group to not only question but debunk the commonly-accepted notion that man-made carbon emissions are the leading contributor to climate change.”

It gives the false impression that the opinion that people on the register have signed up to is the result of “cutting edge climate research” - by active researchers! Again not true.

And of course this headline gets taken up by the climate denial echo chamber and communicated via Twitter and conservative blogs and newspapers.

Update

A new study has  just been published analysing  the scientific credibility of climate researchers who support the conclusions on anthropogenic climate change outlined by the IPCC compared with researchers unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change. It’s worth a read (see Expert credibility in climate change). Or read a summary at Climate Progress.

This study reports that 97—98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the IPCC conclusions and that the “relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [the conclusions] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers”.

See also:
Beware the retired scientist?
Expert credibility in climate change
New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for ’balance’

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Kids — it’s OK to be different! Ken Perrott Jun 23

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Book Review: Why Don’t We Go to Church? by Gail Miller (Author), Rosalind Eagle (Author), Angela Seear (Illustrator).

Price: US$8.99; International US$10.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 51 pages
Publisher: Art Bookbindery; First edition (May 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0986587605
ISBN-13: 978-0986587603

Book website: Why Don’t We Go To Church?

Adults, even parents, are probably unaware of most of the issues children face in their day-to-day interactions with their social groups. Often school children confront moral issues, social pressures and hostility which they don’t discuss with their parents. Even those lucky children who have open, non-judgemental parents may not share their worries because of shame or perceived social disapproval.

I think this is common for children from families where parents are known for being “different.” Their political, religious or social views may not accord with those common in society and the kids can take some flack for that. In today’s pluralist society many children must have to face these sort of dilemmas because they interact with children who very likely have different religious or cultural backgrounds.

Problems of children with atheist parents

Despite the relatively large proportion of non-religious families today the children of atheist parents probably have to confront this problem of being “different” more often than most. And they probably get less assistance in dealing with this because their families are less likely to belong to a community which can reinforce the respectability of atheist views.

So I see a valuable role for books like “Why Don’t We Go to Church.” It’s written for the 9 to 12 year old which I think must be the age group where this sort of problem is most common. It’s also an age where children are open to learning from books. And one thing I have learned about atheists is that they love books and encourage the same love in their children.

In this story Dan loves dinosaurs. This interest leads to him thinking of a great idea for his school science project – “The Primeval Soup.” At the same time he is developing a friendship with Alex, one of his “cool” classmates.  So when Alex disapproves of his project because he believes “God started life on Earth with Adam and Eve,” Dan worries that he may lose his new friend.

He goes to Alex’s home for games and a meal. This is an uncomfortable experience for Dan because they pray before their meal and have a bible lesson afterward. Alex’s parents question Dan about his family’s religion and the fact that he doesn’t attend a church. They offer to take him.

All this leaves Dan feeling angry towards his family for being different. Fortunately Mum and Dad are open and understanding.  They explain how people can come to different beliefs about gods, and encourage Dan to make up his own mind about such things. As Dad puts it: “Children often believe what they are told but they need to keep an open mind and make their own decisions when they get older. It’s good to be able to read but you need to questions what you are reading or being told.”

They reassure him about his science project. Evolution is a scientific fact even though some people don’t like it. And they are happy for Dan to go to church with Alex’s family so he can learn for himself.

So Dan goes to church with Alex and his family. The experience was “strange” in parts, and interesting in others. However he is probably not interested enough to go again.

Her completes his Primeval Soup science project and wins third place in his class. Despite his apprehension the other kids enjoy his presentation (and the lollies that came with it). And although Alex still disagrees he is happy to be Dan’s friend.

So a happy ending for Dan. But the young reader learns to be non-judgmental, and to accept that others won’t always agree even about facts like evolution. It’s OK to be different and to make up your own mind.

Important lessons and a very nice book for children of atheist parents.

See also: One for the kids

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Twinning with Venus Ken Perrott Jun 22

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Saw this on Universe Today and thought it was quite nice (Nancy is Now on Venus).

It’s actually an article about naming craters on Venus. But what struck me is that the crater Nancy it discussed is on a plain called the Hinemoa Planitia.

I just wasn’t aware of the connection with New Zealand. Does that give us some sort of twin status?

For non-locals here is  a brief description of The Legend of Hinemoa from Te Ara, An Encyclopedia of New Zealand

“Tutanekai lived on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, where of an evening he and his friend Tiki used to play — the one on a ’horn’, the other on a ’pipe’. The sound of this music could be heard across Lake Rotorua at Owhata and it charmed the beautiful and noble-born Hinemoa who lived there. When Tutanekai visited the mainland with his people, he met Hinemoa and they fell in love. The young man had perforce to return to his village, but the lovers arranged that every night he would play and that Hinemoa would follow the sound of his music to join him.

“Tutanekai kept up a nightly serenade but Hinemoa’s people, suspecting something was afoot, had hidden all the canoes. The maiden, however, was not to be deterred and, selecting six large, dry, empty gourds as floats, she decided to swim to the island. Guided by the strains of her loved one’s music, Hinemoa safely reached the other shore and landed near a hot spring, Waikimihia, in which she warmed and refreshed herself — the pool is on Mokoia Island to this day. Just at that moment Tutanekai sent his servant for water. This man disturbed the girl who, pretending to be a man, spoke in a gruff voice and, when she learnt his errand, begged for a drink from the calabash which she smashed as soon as she had had her fill. The servant then went back and reported to Tutanekai what had happened. He was ordered back again and again, each time with the same result, until all the calabashes were broken. The now irate young man himself went down to the pool and to his joy discovered Hinemoa. Like all good stories, the legend has a conventional ending — they lived happily ever after.”

by Judith Sidney Hornabrook, M.A., National Archives, Wellington.

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Avoiding grown-up discussion Ken Perrott Jun 21

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Cosmologist Sean Carroll has announced a break from blogging on Cosmic Variance. I picked up this news from Jerry Coyne‘s blog Why Evolution is True! (also the title of his book) (see Sean Carroll says goodbye).

Like Jerry, I think that is a great pity. I find Sean Carroll’s blog posts interesting. I don’t necessarily always agree – as, for example, in his debate with Sam Harris on morality. But they are clearly written and refreshing to read. His lecture’s on cosmological questions are fascinating and I am looking forward to reading his recently published book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.

However, Sean does say his hiatus will not be permanent (see Downshifting). And other contributors to the Cosmic Variance blog will continue.

I agree with Jerry that Sean’s last major post, ’Reluctance to let go’, was impressive. It’s worth reading in full – but here’s an extract:

“There’s a movement afoot to frame science/religion discussions in such a way that those of who believe that the two are incompatible are labeled as extremists who can be safely excluded from grownup discussions about the issue. It’s somewhat insulting – to be told that people like you are incapable of conducting thoughtful, productive conversations with others – and certainly blatantly false as an empirical matter – I’ve both participated in and witnessed numerous such conversations that were extremely substantive and well-received. It’s also a bit worrisome, since whether a certain view is ’true’ or ’false’ seems to take a back seat to whether it is ’moderate’ or ’extreme.’ But people are welcome to engage or not with whatever views they choose.

“What troubles me is how much our cultural conversation is being impoverished by a reluctance to face up to reality. In many ways the situation is parallel to the discussion about global climate change. In the real world, our climate is being affected in dramatic ways by things that human beings are doing. We really need to be talking about serious approaches to this problem; there are many factors to be taken into consideration, and the right course of action is far from obvious. Instead, it’s impossible to broach the subject in a public forum without being forced to deal with people who simply refuse to accept the data, and cling desperately to the idea that the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t getting any warmer, or it’s just sunspots, or warmth is a good thing, or whatever. Of course, the real questions are being addressed by some people; but in the public domain the discussion is blatantly distorted by the necessity of dealing with the deniers. As a result, the interested but non-expert public receives a wildly inaccurate impression of what the real issues are. . . . . “

“How great would it be if we could actually have serious, productive public conversations about the implications of these discoveries? For all that we have learned, there’s a tremendous amount yet to be figured out. We know the rules by which the world works, but there’s a lot we have yet to know about how to live within it; it’s the difference between knowing the rules of chess and playing like a grandmaster. What is ’life,’ anyway? What is consciousness? How should we define who is a human being, and who isn’t? How should we live together in a just and well-ordered society? What are appropriate limits of medicine and biological manipulation? How can we create meaning and purpose in a world where they aren’t handed to us from on high? How should we think about love and friendship, right and wrong, life and death?

“These are real questions, hard questions, and we have the tools in front of us to have meaningful discussions about them. And, as with climate change, some people are having such discussions; but the public discourse is so badly distorted that it has little relationship to the real issues. Instead of taking the natural world seriously, we have discussions about ’Faith.’ We pretend that questions of meaning and purpose and value must be the domain of religion. We are saddled with bizarre, antiquated attitudes toward sex and love, which have terrible consequences for real human beings. . . . . “

“Rather than opening our eyes and having the courage and clarity to accept the world as it is, and to tackle some of the real challenges it presents, as a society we insist on clinging to ideas that were once perfectly reasonable, but have long since outlived their usefulness. Nature obeys laws, we are part of nature, and our job is to understand our lives in the context of reality as it really is. Once that attitude goes from being ’extremist’ to being mainstream, we might start seeing some real progress.”

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A competition for Aussie science blogs Ken Perrott Jun 18

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I wonder how many science blogs there are in Australia. How do the numbers compare with New Zealand?

Anyway it looks like organisers of the Australian National Science Week are taking their local blogger seriously. They have launched a competition to determine the National Science Week 2010 blogger. All Australian-based science blogs are eligible and anyone can nominate their favourite blog (or their own blog).

NOTE: Nominations close 28 June 2010.

The Prize

Besides being named the official National Science Week 2010 blogger the winner will receive a four-day blogging trip to their choice of events during National Science Week (14 — 22 August). As the official National Science Week 2010 blogger the winner will have the opportunity to blog about the events they attend, the people they meet and some of the interesting things they learn.

Seems like a great idea.

Have a look at  Big Blog Theory for more information and the nomination form.

Can anyone suggest suitable blogs to nominate?

How about?:
Watching the Deniers
Deltoid
10 Days of science
Australian Science Media Centre
Homologous Legs
Moth incarnate

NominateClick here to nominate your favourite science blog. Nominations close 28 June 2010.

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Apologies would be nice Ken Perrott Jun 18

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Blimey! This whole climate change issue is so political – you have to be very careful what you say.

Climate scientists, especially, are being quoted out of context, or even misquoted. Remember the distortion of Phil Jones’ comment on the increase in global temperature in the last decade not being statistically significant?

I guess that’s the nature of a political mind set which wishes to find evidence (or distort evidence) to support a preconceived position. Rather than derive a conclusions from the facts. (I might start calling that the “theological” method).

Mike Hulme

The Deep Climate blog discussed a recent distortion of a quote from Mike Hulme, professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA). This was just a warning that it was counterproductive to make excessive claims of consensus. The IPCC reviews of the literature on climate change draws conclusions about the overall picture but this does not mean that every single statement in these reports is signed off by every single author of the papers reviewed, or every single reviewer. (The quote is in his review paper Climate Change: what do we know about the IPCC?)

Seems a quite reasonable comment to me.

But climate deniers have latched on to his comments, taken out of context, to produce headlines like The IPCC consensus on climate change was phoney, says IPCC insider. This from Lawrence Solomon - executive director of a right-wing, anti-science group Energy probe. He uses the out of context quote to argue that scientific claims of human caused global warming are supported by only a few dozen experts.

And the denier echo chamber took over. Twitter deniers rapidly reproduced ther claim with tweets like “The IPCC consensus on climate change was phoney, says IPCC insider’ Mike Hulme; U of East Anglia”; “That’s big! A prominent IPCC member says there is no general agreement on whether global warming exists”; and “The IPCC consensus on climate change was phoney, says IPCC insider.” The bloggers got onto it. For example Gateway Pundits, another Conservative US blog, declared: Top UN Scientist: There Never Was Consensus on Global Warming — Only a Few Dozen Believed It.

It even got to New Zealand. The local blog Not PC trumpeted Only a few dozen’ IPCC ’experts’ support their so-called consensus! And Richard Treadgold at the Climate Conversation Group breathlessly exclaimed:

“This is as stunning as the release of the CRU emails and I think it will prove just as disastrous to the case for dangerous AGW. We want this news spread quickly around the country, and I don’t think we can count on the MSM helping us!”

Of course, none of these twitterers or bloggers bothered to check out the article from which the quotes were taken. Bugger the context – they had their story.

Unfortunately for them Mike Hulme responded with a statement “correcting misleading newspaper and internet blog reports of the Hulme and Mahoney paper on the IPPC.” (see ). He says in this:

“I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone — it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead.”

He also makes clear that his comments on consensus claims are relevant to situations like sea level rise where many think the IPCC reports are too conservative.

Mike has further clarified his comments with another statement. he makes clear his crticisms were not of the IPCC and states:

“for the record … I believe that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

And that is the IPCC position.

I guess it’s too much to ask that Richard Treadgold and Not PC apologise for their inaccurate reporting? Yeah, right.

See also:

The Much Maligned Mike Hulme
Mike Hulme says Lawrence Solomon story was phoney

Thanks to Deep Climate: Mike Hulme sets Solomon and Morano straight

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Alarmist con Ken Perrott Jun 16

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Book Review: AIR CON: The Seriously Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming by Ian Wishart

Paperback: 296 pages
Price: US$16.93
; NZ$29.90
Publisher: Howling At The Moon Publishing; first edition (May 4, 2009)
Language: English
SBN-10: 0958240140
SBN-13: 978-0958240147


LEGAL NOTICE: Criticisms of individuals in this review reflect the author’s honest opinion, for reasons outlined in the text or generally known at the time of writing.


You might think ’alarmist’ is a cheap shot. Aren’t I just mimicking this book’s constant use of such disparaging and emotional terms to discredit climate science and scientists? But I think I am justified. After all the author’s message is alarmist – but about the politics, not the science.

Just like Chicken Licken, who frantically told everyone who would listen the sky was falling in, Ian Wishart is raising a political ’alarm.’ He is frantically trying to convince everyone there is a plot to impose a ’world government’ on us. And the findings of climate science are just a con. An invention of a greenie, communist, capitalist cabal to foist this on an unwilling population.

This One World Government intends to redistribute wealth from the west to the developing countries and ’bomb humanity back to the stone ages.’ And he can prove it. He has multiple quotes (in some cases as with the ’bombing back to the stone ages,’ unattributed) and multiple authorities.

You have to do a bit of interpreting of the quotes. ’Global issues demand global solutions’ becomes a ’push for a de-facto world government.’ Statements in the 1994 UN Development Program’s ’Human Development Report’ are presented as ’barely hidden references to a future world government run by the UN’

He quotes Yale University’s plans for its Climate and Energy Institute which ’will provide seed grants, support graduate study, sponsor conferences and workshops, and foster interdisciplinary research spanning from basic atmosphere science to public policy.’ Then he tells you what that ’really means.’:

’Make no bones about it, they’re aiming to beat you down so much with terrifying bought and paid for ’scientific’ studies that the gray matter inside your own skull turns to mush and you simply surrender, pay the new taxes and sell your children to them for medical experiments.’

And you have to be a bit shameless to accept his authorities. Two of his chapters start with prominent, highlighted, quotes from William Jasper’s book The United Nations Exposed — published by the John Birch Society.  This is an extreme right-wing US political group younger readers may not be aware of. Formed at the end of 1958 it accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a possible “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.” In the 1960s it was in the forefront of opposition to desegregation and has always campaigned for US withdrawal from the United Nations. My generation saw it as an openly racist organisation akin to the Klan.

With friend like these ….?

A political agenda making use of science

So, that is Wishart’s agenda. And he gives the science of climate change, or at least his distortion of it, a prime role in this:

’In my view, anthropogenic global warming theory is nothing more than a propaganda stunt; manufacture the appearance of a crisis, then present the public with a solution. Climate change theory, driven by the UN IPCC, is the UN’s Trojan Horse gift to the citizens of the world.’

Oh well, I guess we have become used to people attacking science for political reasons. And perhaps we can understand those who concerned about possible economic results of legislation like New Zealand’s Emission Trading Scheme. Wishart has been happy to ally himself with political groups, such at the NZ ACT Party and the Centre for Political Research campaigning against such policies. But his particular political agenda is one of the most extreme.

So, he devotes the rest of the book to making climate science and climate scientists part of a political conspiracy fitting his agenda. He uses the “tried and true” methods of many other climate change deniers and contrarians. One could do a detailed analysis, show the mistake and distortions behind each claim. John Abraham usefully did this with one of Christopher Monckton’s speeches (see Don’t trust Monckton!). But here I will simply highlight some of the general methods Wishart uses to discredt the science and the scientists.

Weather — climate confusion

This is one we always get when a region goes through some cold weather. Wishart does admit at one point he is referring to ’weather events’ rather than climate trends but it doesn’t stop him quoting at length typical newspaper reports of ’an unusually severe winter.’ He does the old trick of claiming ’the planet is cooling down’ because ’temperatures have dropped from their 1998 highs’. And of course ’CO2 and methane emissions have surged upwards’ ’proving’ these have nothing to do with global temperatures!

The figure below (not from the book) shows how he tries to ’hide the incline.’

At one stage he even says ’Between January 2007 and Febhruary 2008, global temperatures plummeted – -  wiping out on paper virtually an entire century’s gains due to ‘global warming’’

That’s an incredibly naïve confusion. Talk about ignoring the wood for the trees and comparing oranges and apples. He has confused variation at a monthly level with temperature trends measured over several decades! Again the figure shows his distortion.

Similarly when he discusses the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic ice cap he would rather stress short-term variation (especially increases in ice coverage) and ignore the long term trend (see figure below – again not from the book).

He also juggles oranges and apples with his claim that of all the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere every year, only about 3.4% is caused by humans.’ He loves to quote IPCC sources for this figure but he is comparing the ’orange’ of new CO2 inputs into surface pools (atmosphere, oceans, biomass)  from the earth (in this case fossil fuels) with the ’apple’ of total emissions from these surface pools to the atmosphere (which are balanced by uptake of atmospheric CO2 into these surface pools.

The correct comparison is the fossil fuel carbon contribution from human activity (6.4 GtC/y) with that from other sources within the earth such as weathering and volcanic activity (0.2 GtC/y) (see Figure 7.3 from the IPCC Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).

When we compare oranges with oranges we can see why the IPCC attributes the current rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 ’most probably’ to anthropogenic activity.

Scientific support – or otherwise.

One of the most egregious bits of distortion in this book is the attempt to claim most scientists oppose the IPCC conclusions on global warming and humanity’s role. He claims: ’the numbers of scientists prepared to publicly and visibly speak out against global warming hysteria seriously outnumber those who publicly list themselves as believers.’ Ignore the purple prose and the fact that petitions don’t determine scientific truths. He is claiming the overwhelming scientific support for the IPCC conclusions is a lie!

We can see some of the manipulation he uses to get this conclusion from his quoting of two polls — the Oregon Petition and the Doran and Zimmerman survey.

Wishart uncritically quotes a reference to 31,000 scientists who signed the Oregon petition. Have a look at the video which describes the fraudulent nature of this petition which, anyway, contains names of only 39 climate scientists!

On the other hand he does dig deeper to dispose of the survey conducted by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman - Examining the scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Here he searches for the most favourable (to him) figure —  ’18%….  don’t believe that “human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures”. But he ignores completely that 97% of those active in climate science research did accept human activity as a significant factor! Instead, he wants to place more trust in the economic geologists only 47% of whom accepted human causes — for reasons which are probably obvious (see Global warming is real — climatologists).

Playing hockey with authorities

As one might expect, Air Con presents the party line on Michael Mann (’another of the global warming religion’s high priests’) and the ’hockey stick’ graph (’the infamous hockey stick, it was utterly wrong,’ ’fake’ and ’widely discredited’).

I have been into this issue previously (see Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of ’hockey sticks’). It is not fake and is not discredited — far from it.  However, here I will only add that Wishart exposes his manipulation of evidence by using the brief and non-objective Wegman report ’Ad Hoc Committee Report on the ’Hockey Stick’ Global Climate Reconstrutions.’ The blog Deep Climate is currently exposing this as politically inspired. But he completely ignores the authoritative and far more substantial report of the US National Research Council ’Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years.

Mind you, the book’s biased use of authorities is really obvious by its preference for quotes from contrarians, non-scientific bloggers (even a commenter on a blog) and politicians as support for his scientific claims. People like Vincent Gray, Christopher Monckton, US Senator Inhofe and journalists Andrew Bolt and Christopher Brooker. Even Investigate Magazine. And well known climate change denial blogs like TBR.cc, Junk Science, Watts Up With That, and Climate Audit. And of course material from Fix News, The Heartland Institute and their climate conferences.

And the quotes! I am used to groups pushing an anti-science message such as creationists, quote mining and using excessive quotes. They will even go so far as quoting Darwin or Dawkins to disprove evolution! Have a listen to the Discovery Institute’s podcasts hosted by creationist apologist Casey Luskin. His constant use of ’quote,’ ’close quote’ is distracting. I keep wishing he would use Victor Borges ’Phonetic Punctuation’ method of pronouncing quote marks!

My first impression when I opened Air Con was the number of quotes. So I decided to analyse the proportion of space devoted to quotations.  Seventy % of one chapter (’Unsettled Scientists’) are quotes! The book as a whole is about 43% quotes. I can understand why authors must use quotes — but why so many? To my mind excessive quoting undermines credibility.

A problem of style

I also found the book’s style tiresome. Partly because I reject the message. But I am used to books on scientific issues presenting objective information and basing conclusions on this. Here Wishart is using an approach I think of as ’theological’. He starts with the conclusions and then selects, or distorts, the scientific ’evidence’ to support his own agenda.

Compare this with the style of the IPCC Reports, or Andy Resiinger’s book  Climate Change 101: An Educational Resource which summarises information from the IPCC report. Even Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren.’ Besides being objective these later books do not resort to name-calling or slurs. Nothing like Wishart’s ’lying like a flatfish,’ ’scientists make things up,’ ’numbnuts of the loony left,’ ’true believers,’ ’new anointed,’ criticism of an individual as agnostic bordering on atheist’ or scientists who are ’high priests’ of the ’global warming religion,’ ’the global warming gravy train,’ accusing scientists of trying to ’brainwash’ people, describing New Scientist as a ’bastion of global warming worship’ which tells ’outrageous fibs’ which are ’bogus,’ and so on.

(By the way, I always find it strange how some of the theologically inclined (which includes Wishart) think that accusing their opponents of belonging to a religion is a put down. Interesting psychology there!)

I don’t expect such language and ad hominen attacks from scientific sources — and of course they do nothing to provide any credibility to the book. I found this constant derogatory tone tiresome.

A new edition

Finally, I have only seen the first edition of this book. Wishart launched a new edition in May containing extra material relating mainly to the ’climategate’ emails fiasco. Given the style and message of the first edition we can imagine what this extra material is like. I am not aware of any effort to correct the mistakes and distortions littering this first edition.

Conclusions

While this book won’t appeal to those genuinely interested in the science of climate change, or those familiar with the normal style of popular scientific writing, it will still have an audience. Unfortunately there are plenty of people who do search for material like this to support their preconceived biases. So I am sure climate change deniers and contrarians will lap it up.

If only those people would consider the moral lessons of the Chicken Little myth. Wikipedia suggests:

’it could well be a cautionary political tale: The Chicken jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate them for his own benefit, sometimes as supper.

Another moral interpretation is that if one wishes to convince a populace of imminent doom, choose the dumbest individual and convince them that “the sky is falling”! In turn, this individual will convince others based upon the belief that more intelligent beings will be persuaded by the dumber being.”

I leave you to suggest who is the ’fox’ and who the ’dumber being’ in the Air Con fable.

But I can’t recommend the book to anyone else, except perhaps those interested in the connection between conspiracy theories, paranoia about a ’one world government’ and the denial of scientific issues like climate change, evolution, etc.

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