On page 19 of Heaven and Earth we find Plimer making this remarkable claim about one of the authors of the IPCC’s 2nd Assessment Report’s chapter on the impacts of global warming on health:

Other authors were environmental activists, one of whom had written on the health effects of mercury poisoning from land mines. If a land mine explodes, the last thing one thinks about is the health effects of mercury poisoning.

Yes, that’s just crazy. Let’s see what Plimer’s source, Paul Reiter’s submission to a House of Lords committee says:

One of these activists has published “professional” articles as an “expert” on 32 different subjects, ranging from mercury poisoning to land mines, globalization to allergies and West Nile virus to AIDS.

Writing an article on land mines and a different one on mercury poisoning is not the same as writing about the effects of mercury poisoning from land mines. Plimer obviously misread Reiter, but rather than checking to see if this extraordinary story was true, because it felt it helped his cause he accepted as gospel truth and stuck it in his book. This, alas, exemplifies his approach to evidence in his book.

And you should take Reiter’s claims that IPCC authors are unqualified with a large boulder of salt.


  1. #1 Duae Quartunciae
    April 25, 2009

    I’ve long had a lukewarm reaction to Plimer.

    Plimer is quite well known in the creationism wars. He wrote a fun little book some years ago, called Telling Lies for God, which hammers creationists. But his own research and argument was shoddy, which undermines the whole thing. His reaction on being corrected on a few matters by Jim Lippard was telling. See Criticisms from an Obscure Corner of the World. Jim also links to Jeffrey Shallit’s review (I’ve updated the link here) which points also to very second rate conduct from an academic who should know better.

    Plimer is, apparently, a geologist of some note; but the high standards he would be expected to apply in his professional work he seems to abandon when he starts to tackle pseudoscience.

    Whether he’s criticising pseudoscience, or promulgating it.

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    April 25, 2009

    Why hasn’t this man been elected to the House of Representatives? He’s clearly qualified.

  3. #3 Busterguy
    April 26, 2009

    I, too, have respected Ian Plimer in the past for his strong if unconventional defence of evolutionary science against Creationism. See this snippet of his infamous 1988 Sydney debate against a visiting fundamentalist Duane Gish (whom he accused of being Satan and offered to let electrocute himself)for a hint of his take-no-prisoners approach:

    But I’m struggling to understand what his motivation is in climate change. See also his much more recent views on environmentalism as a religion: is there a common thread here?

    He criticises environmentalists for promoting catastrophism yet in his previous book said he wouldn’t be surprised if sea level rises “a few metres” this century and causes “untold suffering”, and that the world will plunge into a new Ice Age within the next few centuries, with attendant pandemics of disease, famine, warfare and the total global collapse of cities. My catastrophe is better than your catastrophe? Or is it more than my science is better than your religion?
    As well, he denounces the IPCC chapter on the role of humans in forcing climate change because it is written by only five independent scientists. Yet, in a disturbing panel discussion on ABC Radio the other day Plimer asserted that his new book was peer-reviewed by five scientists.
    My five scientists are better than your five scientists?
    I thought that relativity theory was written by just one independent scientist; that the structure of DNA was worked out by a mere two independent scientists; that penicillin was purified by only three independent scientists . . .

  4. #4 Glaxon
    April 26, 2009

    I heard the interview on ABC radio as well. I didn’t pick up on Plimer claiming it was reviewed by five scientists. Mostly I was listening in slack-jawed amazement at his ranting of bias at the ABC and how Vernon (the other interviewee) dare criticise his choice of endorsements on the back cover. Perhaps he snuck it in amongst the abuse.

    I suppose I could go and listen or read the transcript, but I can’t be arsed. No. Let me rephrase that. If Plimer has to rely on Martin Durkin to shore up his argument he has no credibility on this topic and I have better things to do with life than listen to the ravings of yet another denying fantasist.

  5. #5 Chris O'Neill
    April 26, 2009

    Plimer is quite well known in the creationism wars.

    I remember seeing him on the news after one of his court cases when he was talking about how much it cost him and how he was nearly bankrupt. He talked about how expensive and mediocre his lawyers were in a magazine interview. It seemed he wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on and left himself wide open to incompetent legal services. Perhaps he’s not a person who’s good at paying attention to detail and a bit reckless as a result.

  6. #6 Duae Quartunciae
    April 27, 2009

    I don’t know about his legal services. Maybe he should have been advised the case was a loser; or maybe he ignored advice and went ahead anyway. It was a singularly ill-considered lawsuit against a trivial target with no good legal basis. (On the matter of trade practices.) Plimer (and Fasold) sued Alan Roberts, arguing that Roberts violated the Trade Practices Act by selling videos and books making scientifically false claims. Quoting a report from Times Higher Education after the case:

    Justice Sackville warned that great caution should be used in seeking to restrain statements of religious or ideological belief, at least when commercial gain was not the prime motive.

    “Unless caution is exercised, there is a serious risk that the courts will be used as a means of suppressing debate and discussion on issues of general interest to the community,” he said.

    Ironically, Plimer now is enjoying the protection of this same sensible precedent. Plimer makes a lot of false claims in his book, some of them outright screaming pseudoscience. He is legally permitted to make them and to profit from sales of the book.

  7. #7 Savvas Tzionis
    April 27, 2009

    He should stick to his former job as the singer, Charlie Rich. LOL

  8. #8 Chris S.
    April 27, 2009

    Reminds me of a project I heard about whilst I was in Cambodia – apparently funded by one of the UN agencies that drive around in big expensive 4x4s over there (I forget which one now).

    An investigation into the womens rights (or lack of) with respect to land mine clearance.

    You couldn’t make it up.

    I’d also like to note that there may well be post-detonation effects from landmines. To stretch the point nearer to breaking – if a dirty bomb goes off do we only need to worry about the effects of the explosion?

  9. #9 James Haughton
    April 27, 2009

    Chris S, what’s so absurd about considering women’s rights wrt land mine clearance?
    Example: There is always going to be pressure in rural communities to “clear my land first”. Village leaders (who are almost all men) could easily direct scarce clearing resources away from fields owned by the poorest households, who are usually female-headed.
    Example: Many children in Cambodia (and Laos) are permanently injured by land-mines as they attempt to gather scrap metal. Care for these disabled children usually falls to their mothers. IIRC, female children are also less likely to get access to gov’t programs for prosthetic limbs than males.

  10. #10 Chris S.
    April 28, 2009

    James Haughton.

    I’m wary of dragging this thread too far off topic so I’ll try to be brief.

    You raise some good points here some of which I haven’t previously considered. What got my goat at the time was the researcher in question was on a retainer of several $1000s for ~17 days a month. In Cambodia land mine clearance has been very successful, more people were killed by lightning than by mines in 2007. However the UN is now known there for paying over the odds for shoddy, more or less pointless work – it is well known in SE Asian ex-pat communities (and, no doubt elsewhere) that if you want to make a quick buck get into the UN. The above research seemed indicitave of the fact that if you came up with a snappy title that ticked the right boxes (the UN (quite rightly) love equal opportunity) then you were able to dip into the gold mine.

    To be honest this area is well out of my field & I’ll admit that my views on this are probably highly coloured by the views of the long-term ex-pats that I was with at the time. But then, if anyone knows what’s going on it’s likely to be people who have lived there for 10+ years and circulated in the highest diplomatic circles is it not?

  11. #11 ianhilliar
    April 29, 2009

    I just dont get it. Tim Lambert, a computerscientist, tells us we shouldnt believe the likes of Paul Reiter, a real scientist, of the Pasteur Institute? Paul is an expert on tropical diseases such as malaria and other mosquitoe born diseases. He has carried out extensive fieldwork in tropical and temperate countries, while Tim sits behind a desk taking potshots. Ian Plimer is also a real scientist, not a computer generated one,who has a long history of really good empirical science.He is extremely well regarded for his work in Australia and in Europe. Tim is a computer modeller. At UNSW. And deltoid. Please read Paul’s submission to the House of Lords on Tims helpful link . Why should Dr Reiters claims be taken with a large boulder of salt? And while we are at it, what has belief got to do with science? Reading this blog, it would appear that Tim’s whole raison d’etre is to attack real scientists ,because their empirical science does not agree with his computer models

  12. #12 Barton Paul Levenson
    April 29, 2009

    ian, Plimer’s “real science” is geology, not climatology. He has no more qualifications to talk about climatology than Tim Lambert does, and since Tim was able to point out mistakes Plimer made, one must infer that Tim is more qualified. Q.E.D.

  13. #13 Tim Lambert
    April 29, 2009

    Ian hilliar, the blue underlined text in a my post is something we call a “link”. If you click on it, it will explain why you chould take those claims of Reiter with a large boulder of salt.

  14. #14 BPT
    May 6, 2009

    Ever heard of the Bronze Cooling Age? How about the Roman Warming? Or, the Dark Ages? We are not weather gods, and parroting Toyota’s marketing points for the hip Prius crowd doesn’t make the “global warming” faith a good religion.

  15. BPT writes:

    Ever heard of the Bronze Cooling Age?

    Well, no. What the hell was “the Bronze Cooling Age?”

    How about the Roman Warming?

    Oh, yeah, that’s one of those terms the climate denialists throw around to try to prove the present warming isn’t unprecedented in the last 800,000 years.

    Or, the Dark Ages?

    A historical period, generally considered to date from the fall of the western Roman Empire in 476 AD to the Little Renaissance in the early 1200s. It has nothing to do with literal darkness; it’s a comment on the state of learning after the great imperial universities collapsed. Did you think it had something to do with the climate?

    We are not weather gods, and parroting Toyota’s marketing points for the hip Prius crowd doesn’t make the “global warming” faith a good religion.

    What is the global warming “faith?” and who, aside from climate deniers trying to score cheap rhetorical points, says it’s a “religion” at all?

  16. #16 Luna_the_cat
    May 11, 2009

    Chris S., re. off-topic “women’s rights + landmine clearance” — not only is James Haughton correct that women (and girls who are deliberately sent out to clear fields for their families, as girl children are the least valued members of society!) are disproportionately affected, they DO have less access overall to medical therapy and prostheses — not least because the culture has traditionally taught that it is shameful for girls, especially, to display wounds, illnesses, deformities and disabilities. Many are simply too embarrassed to present themselves to male staff at medical clinics. (This is being addressed by setting up clinics staffed by women only, as well as education programmes. But culture changes only so fast.)

    …There are a lot of situations where finding out more about it is necessary to make sense of why there is concern.

  17. #17 Hugh Denton
    May 29, 2009

    BPL – to say that because one can point out the mistakes of another makes them more qualified than the other is ludicrous. A law student may find mistakes of reasoning or fact in a paper by Kirby J, but of course that does not make them more qualified than Kirby J in matters of jurisprudence.

    Tim, I followed your link re Reiter and was disappointed to find that you’d taken a handful of excerpts from the author’s work and spliced in your rebuttal. A handful of errors is enough to condemn a man’s entire professional word? I’d like to see everything you’ve written subject to such intense scrutiny suffered by someone who dares espouse a view different to that of the IPCC “conclusions.” No doubt, following your reasoning, we’d have to take this blog with a boulder of salt. Good thing we do.

  18. #18 Ian Dunross
    May 29, 2009

    Of course the ABC is bias. Slanted toward a left-wing, pro environmental view. When a former ABC journalist runs for a centre or right of centre party, I’ll review my position.

  19. #19 Ian Dunross
    May 29, 2009

    Here are some facts which may make some interesting reading for all those climate change converts:

    Are the scientists and economists who ask these questions just a fringe group, outside the scientific mainstream? Not at all. A 2003 survey of 530 climate scientists in 27 countries, conducted by Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch at the GKSS Institute of Coastal Research in Germany, found

    * 82 percent said global warming is happening, but only

    * 56 percent said it’s mostly the result of human causes, and only

    * 35 percent said models can accurately predict future climate conditions.

    Only 27 percent believed “the current state of scientific knowledge is able to provide reasonable predictions of climate variability on time scales of 100 years.”

    That’s a long ways from “consensus.” It’s actually pretty close to what the American public told pollsters for the Pew Trust in 2006:

    * 70 percent thought global warming is happening,

    * only 41 percent thought it was due to human causes,

    * and only 19 percent thought it was a high-priority issue.

  20. #20 bluegrue
    May 29, 2009

    Ian Dunross,
    if you cut and paste 90% of your post verbatim [without indication that you are quoting – much less whom you are quoting -](http://www.heartland.org/events/NewYork08/index.html) it is called plagiarism.

    It’s worth noting, how the Heartland Institute’s president Joseph L. Bast glosses over the fact, that the US population’s low concern is [rather unique within the western world](http://pewresearch.org/pubs/234/the-heat-over-global-warming), and also ignores the large divides within the US along [party lines](http://pewresearch.org/pubs/282/global-warming-a-divide-on-causes-and-solutions) as well as [religion](http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1194/global-warming-belief-by-religion), which indicates motives other than scientific understanding. All of the above from studies by the Pew trust.

    As for the Bray/von Storch survey of 2003, how much can you trust the results of a survey [whose anonymous online participation access has been compromised by being posted to a skeptics mailing list](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2005/05/bray.php)?

  21. #21 Chris O'Neill
    May 29, 2009

    Ian Dunross:

    Here are some facts which may make some interesting reading for all those climate change converts

    I have no idea why you think an incompetent survey by social scientist Bray recycled by the Heartland institute would be interesting to anyone.

  22. #22 anthony
    May 29, 2009

    Here we go Ian:

    Eoin Cameron

    Grant Woodhams

    review at will.

  23. #23 Ian Dunross
    May 29, 2009

    What a regional West Australian and a renowned geolgist have to do with your point escapes me Anthony. But I would be happy to hear your explanation.

    Incompetent in your and Tim Lambert’s eyes Chris. Given the hysteria surrounding this debate, I would think it necessary and wise to password protect such a survey. As to the sample of scientists, how are we to expect that the sample of scientists who contributed to the IPCC report is fair, yet this survey sample isn’t. History has shown the UN to be more than capable of pushing an agenda. Remember too that this report had its conclusions altered not by scientists but by policy makers.

    Just as you suggest the sample of the survey was limited to sceptics, the IPCC was limited to believers. Why else would there be no internal dissent from those involved in writing the report? Oh, that’s right, because there are no holes in the anthropological climate change theory, what hyperbole. To suggest that there are not questions still to be answered about this theory is incredulous.

    Finally Chris, so Bray is a research scientist at a German coastal research institute? I fail to see how this befits a description as a social scientist.

  24. #24 Bernard J.
    May 30, 2009

    Oh look!

    On the [Ian Plimer and the health effects of mercury poisoning from land mines](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/04/ian_plimer_and_the_health_effe.php) we see trollshit:

    [Posted by: Hugh Denton May 29, 2009 4:16AM](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/04/ian_plimer_and_the_health_effe.php#comment-1664633)

    followed by:

    [Posted by: Ian Dunross May 29, 2009 4:24AM](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/04/ian_plimer_and_the_health_effe.php#comment-1664637),

    and on the [An astronomer reviews Ian Plimer’s book](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/an_astronomer_reviews_ian_plim.php) thread we have:

    [Posted by: Hugh Denton May 29, 2009 1:19AM](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/an_astronomer_reviews_ian_plim.php#comment-1664496)

    followed by:

    [Posted by: Ian Dunross May 29, 2009 1:45AM](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/an_astronomer_reviews_ian_plim.php#comment-1664530)

    Great strategic thinking. As [Tim pointed out](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/an_astronomer_reviews_ian_plim.php#comment-1665291), they share the same IP address.

    Some trolls just aren’t very smart, are they? It must be embarrassing to have them on one’s ‘side’…

  25. #25 bluegrue
    May 30, 2009

    >Given the hysteria surrounding this debate, I would think it necessary and wise to password protect such a survey.

    The survey ___was___ password protected, which you would know if you had cared to read. The link, user name and the password were posted to a climatesceptics mailing list. The survey was anonymous and hence this leak compromises the results.

  26. #26 bluegrue
    May 30, 2009

    >Finally Chris, so Bray is a research scientist at a German coastal research institute? I fail to see how this befits a description as a social scientist.

    Because the focus of Bray’s work is not dealing with the workings of climate, but with public perception and the politics of climate change, see his [publication list](http://coast.gkss.de/staff/bray/Pubs.html).

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