More on Duffy

Some more responses to Michael Duffy’s wrongheaded column. Gavin Schmidt’s letter in yesterday’s SMH:

The opinion piece by Michael Duffy contains multiple errors of fact and plenty of errors of interpretation (“Truly inconvenient truths about climate change being ignored”, November 8-9). …

Realclimate is not “alarmist”. Posts frequently debunk overheated claims in the media as well as criticising disinformation efforts. Acknowledging that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that its concentration is rising rapidly due to human activities may be alarming, but it is not alarmist.

Rajendra Pachauri’s assessment of the temperature record is in line with the assessment in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so it is unsurprising that he should repeat what the organisation he heads has concluded. Pachauri is discussing longer time scales than a year or 10 – over such short periods simple weather “noise” is responsible for temperature fluctuations that do not reflect underlying climate change. Duffy’s suggestion that a temperature drop in the past year is significant is equivalent to assuming that because one or two spring days are cooler than a week before, summer won’t occur. …

Duffy clings to short-term irrelevancies that have not stood up to peer review, while at the same time arguing that such a short-term view of the science will be misleading.

So should judgments about science be based on assessments of decades of work that has survived multiple levels of scientific review, or on short-term fluctuations of a single columnist’s opinions? It can’t be both.

And Clive Hamilton in Crikey

In his Saturday column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Duffy launched an outrageous attack on IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri accusing him of wilfully misleading the public by ignoring evidence that average global temperatures have plateaued in recent years. He claimed Pachauri had fudged the figures and implied that this was all the more unforgivable because at the time he was accepting an honorary degree from the University of New South Wales.

Duffy’s article recycled uncritically the latest piece of denialist clap-trap circulating on the internet and occasionally breaking in to the serious press. It follows a pattern whereby a denialist somewhere notices an apparent contradiction in the mainstream science, inserts a crowbar into the crack then tries to bring down the climate science edifice. Although the real scientists soon point out the error the clap-trap continues to circulate, confusing the public and giving the impression that scientists cannot makes up their minds.

In this case the apparent levelling out of global temperatures in the last few years is interpreted as disproving global warming. In truth such an interpretation is possible only by someone who cannot grasp the simple idea that a long-term trend is consistent with short-term fluctuations.

The alleged cooling of the earth over the last few years can be “shown” only by fiddling the figures, specifically, by measuring change using 1998 as the base year. That year experienced a huge spike in global temperatures; subsequent years reverted to the pattern of gradual warming. So the highest average temperature ever recorded, the 1998 spike, is used by denialists to claim there is no warming at all.

But the worst aspect of Duffy’s article is his reference to the authoritative UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre in support of his claim. In fact, the misuse of recent warming figures by denialists such as Duffy so irritated the Hadley Centre that in August it took the unusual step of issuing a media release categorically refuting the claim.

Bluntly titled “Anyone who thinks global warming has stopped has their head in the sand”, it explained in the simplest terms what the data really show — a long-term warming trend.

Over the last two years the La Nina event has masked the underlying trend but even so 11 of the last 13 years have been the warmest on record. And over the decade to 2007 the globe warmed by 0.09°C.

Duffy must have seen the Hadley Centre’s website and therefore knew that the interpretation he put on the figures in his Herald article was utterly wrong. Yet he made the claims anyway, at once defaming Rajendra Pachauri and misleading his readers about the Hadley Centre’s data.

Duffy often criticises post-modern social scientists for their repudiation of objective truth. Yet for him and his fellow denialists scientific truth is malleable, contingent and contestable. His anti-scientific fundamentalism has less regard for the scientific method than the most committed constructivist on any university campus.

And what John Ioannidis thinks of folks like Duffy misusing Ioannidis’ work:

This is a very important issue that you are raising. I was not aware of this, but it is hard to understand how some people may use my work to fuel attacks against science per se. HIV/AIDS denialism, global warming denialism, and evolution denialism/intelligent design have nothing to do with science, they are dogmas that depend on beliefs, not on empirical observation and replication/refutation thereof. Perhaps we should just take it for granted that such “currents” may try to use anything to support their views. I think that one of the strongest advantages of science is that its propositions can be tested empirically and they can be replicated, but also refuted and contradicted, and improved. Obviously, this cannot be the case with any dogma, so all my research makes absolutely no sense in the setting of dogmatic belief. Science should gain respect in the wider public, especially because of its willingness to test and refute its hypotheses, in contrast to any type of dogma. In a letter to PLoSMed following my 2005 paper (2007;4:e215), I recently clarified that “Scientific investigation is the noblest pursuit. I think we can improve the respect of the public for researchers by showing how difficult success is.” Obviously this has nothing to do with dogma (religious, political, corporate, or otherwise) that really needs no hard work and by definition cannot be countered in its absurdity.

(Thanks to reader Boris for the last link.)


  1. #1 (((Billy)))
    November 12, 2008

    Unfortunately, most inhabitants of earth (I can’t speak for other planets) are not only not scientists, but have a poor understanding of how science works. Few of the (well-educated) people I work with will actually take the trouble to investigate the evidence against absurd denialist claims. They just decided that if the scientists cannot agree, then it must be such an iffy proposition that I (and everyone else) should just ignore it.

  2. #2 Mark
    November 12, 2008

    Clive Hamilton: “11 of the last 13 years have been the warmest on record.”

    That makes no sense. Should that be “the 11 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 13 years”?

  3. #3 greenfyre
    November 12, 2008

    Re: Moron Duffy

    Great stuff. The Skeptic Tank has been updated.

  4. #4 Ezzthetic
    November 12, 2008

    Duffy often criticises post-modern social scientists for their repudiation of objective truth. Yet for him and his fellow denialists scientific truth is malleable, contingent and contestable.

    I made exactly that point in the comments section to Duffy’s first column.

    It’s fascinating how conservative critics of post-modernism, and its supposed relativisation of values, are only too happy to claim that on matters of science, about which they are thoroughly illiterate, their opinion is as good as anyone’s.

  5. #5 Ezzthetic
    November 12, 2008

    Great stuff. The Skeptic Tank has been updated.

    I imagine there must be an entire server dedicated to Andrew Bolt?

  6. #6 David Irving (no relation)
    November 13, 2008

    Not quite a server, Ezzthetic, but half a website:

  7. #7 Brain
    November 13, 2008

    Man-made global warming has easily been disproven. Nobody is in denial about anything except the kinds of people who typically post at absurd blogs like this one.

    Not only are there (at least) over 30 problems with “man-made global warming”–oh, which, very conveniently, is on hiatus until at least 2016 (and, which is also caused by Martians on Mars), but there are now well over 30,000 reputable professional scientists who will tell you so–and that’s just from ONE petition.

    I realize that there are some people who (correctly) don’t believe Al Gore’s and James Hansen’s power-mad motives and anti-humanist nonsense who also aren’t very good at science. Just like there are also people who can’t fix a car who still aren’t stupid enough to accept that cars are powered by invisible frogs.

    Being truly good at science means, among other things, possessing the ability to ask the right questions. Anyone who believes the AGW garbage simply does NOT possess this critical, vital ability.

  8. #8 Gaz
    November 13, 2008

    Hi Brain,

    I used to know a really tall guy. Everyone called him “Shorty”.

    Funny how things like that work.

  9. #9 Mike Houlding
    November 13, 2008

    Bravo Brain !
    Please also see

  10. #10 MarkG
    November 13, 2008

    “Man-made global warming has easily been disproven.”
    So, quantum mechanics is wrong then? I must have missed the memo. Who do I send my physics degrees to for a refund?

  11. #11 Majorajam
    November 13, 2008

    Had denialist stupidity been around for the stone age there’d be tributes in ancient cave paintings to its awesome might. If Einstein had been around to witness it, he’d have realized that compound interest is only the second most powerful force in the universe. Had the Aryans had gotten but a taste, the Zeus of their imagination would’ve bent stone by force of cognitive dissonance rather than hurling lightening bolts. Truly, we live in extrodinary times.

  12. #12 z
    November 13, 2008

    “Man-made global warming has easily been disproven.”

    D’oh! How could I not have seen it before?

  13. #13 Ken
    November 14, 2008

    I find it heartening that leading scientists like Gavin Schmidt are writing to the mainstream media when they get it wrong. The editor’s mailbag at the Australian ought to be overflowing with letters of correction from leading scientists. Scientists please take the time to make such efforts – it may seem a small thing, but such letters, printed, would reach greater numbers than critiques on blogs, and reach the same people who would have been reading the original piece.