The Australian‘s War on Science 40

Malcolm Colless, writing in The Australian declares that human-caused global warming is a beat-up, just like human-caused ozone depletion. I swear I’m not making this up. Look:

Remember, it was not so long ago that we were confronted with the unnerving prospect of being fried like eggs on a hotplate as a result of a widening hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere.

The hole is apparently still there, although it has stopped expanding and has, in fact, started shrinking. Coincidentally, it is now playing second fiddle to global warming in the climate change debate.

Apparently Colless is unaware of something called the Montreal Protocol which phased out the production of ozone depleting substances. The Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2006 published by NOAA, NASA, UNEP, WMO and the EC concluded:

The Montreal Protocol is working: There is clear evidence of a decrease in the atmospheric burden of ozone depleting substances and some early signs of stratospheric ozone recovery.

You’d have to be a journalist working for The Australian to bring up a case where a international treaty is successfully solving an environmental problem and try to use it as an argument for inaction.

Colless then criticizes the government for relying on peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Addressing parliament last week on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Greg Combet, assisting Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, made it quite clear that the government would have no truck with this. “For practical purposes we can be sure that human activities are responsible for global warming,” he said.

“Publication in newspapers and blogs is no substitute for the careful processes of scientific rigour,” Combet added dismissively. But the reality is that these and other public forums are carrying much of the informed debate about this issue, which will have a profound economic impact on the lives of Australians in metropolitan and regional areas of this country.

Combet makes the extraordinary statement that the government will give no credibility to any challenge to its policy on global warming unless it is done through major peer-reviewed scientific journals. This would, of course, remove differing scientific opinion from the public arena.

So Colless thinks that the evidence for these differing scientific opinions is so weak that it can’t survive peer review? Or what? Can anyone figure out what he is trying to say? Why is Colless employed as a journalist?


  1. #1 eNeMeE
    August 17, 2009

    Why is Colless employed as a journalist?

    Generates revenue, I imagine.

    My respect for journalism continues to wither away – the few good jounalists are far outnumbered by the mediocre ones (which ends up being very, very bad when something other than stenography is required) and certainly out-columned (if not outnumbered) by the complete cranks and liars.

  2. #2 Park
    August 17, 2009

    Quite a boneheaded article. Could he have picked two better examples where organised and concerted human effort averted a human constructed problem? Joining the dots would seem too tough a task for some of the journalists at the Oz. To be fair Colless is a freelance and to be fair the Oz editor bought this steaming heap.

  3. #3 Nils Ross
    August 17, 2009

    Muddying the waters is a beautiful thing when you don’t want people to see the bottom.

  4. #4 Paul Norton
    August 17, 2009

    By a quaint coincidence, Colless’s tripe on the ozone layer appears just as I am preparing a lecture for my online course in which I present the global policy response to ozone-depleting substances as a global environmental policy success story.

  5. #5 Steve S
    August 17, 2009


    This comment is off topic, and a bit long, but I hope still acceptable.

    This morning I came across the following boneheaded quote in comments on an ABC website:

    Name for me 5 scientific papers that present irrefutable proof that manmade emissions of carbon dioxide have caused significant warming – not the output of computer software unless you can demonstrate that the software is accurate for clouds and eNSO events, and not opinions especially of those who create or use such software.

    This theme about the Climate models is often repeated by deniers. My lay understanding is that computer models are used in a wide variety of scientific endeavours. One I am aware of is in the modeling of galaxies in Astronomy.

    My question (at last) is: are there any books or articles on the use of computer models across a range of the sciences? If not, it seems to me to be a worthwhile project for someone. Your day job, Tim, would make you a likely person to co-ordinate such a project.

  6. #6 David Irving (no relation)
    August 17, 2009

    Nobody could possibly be as stupid as Colless appears to be and still be capable of breathing, so the only possible conclusions are that he is either a deliberate liar, or insane.

  7. #7 John Mashey
    August 17, 2009

    Steve S:
    For anyone who wants a quick introduction in understanding the importance of modeling to modern science, I strongly recommend:

    William J. Kaufmann III, Larry L. Smarr, Supercomputing and the Transformation of Science, 1993.

    It’s a little old, but it’s clearly-written, beautifully-illustrated, and the general ideas still apply. Many libraries have it, or you can get one from Amazon for ~shipping cost. Of course, modern microprocessors are ~comparable to 1993-vintage supercomputers 🙂

    Larry used to run NCSA in Illinois, i.e., source of the Mosaic web browser, etc.

    BUT, and this is important, basic climate analysis really does not need serious models. By happenstance, tamino wrote an excellent article just today: Not Computer Models.

  8. #8 clarencegirl
    August 17, 2009

    Malcolm Colless appears to be a freelance journalist who still has a consulting business listed in ASIC online files.
    Perhaps he has a client who is unhappy with the general acceptance of human-induced global warming?

  9. #9 Pete Bondurant
    August 17, 2009

    My piss is literally boiling right now. Is this knob Colless actually critising Combet and the goverment for holding the scientific method in higher regard than blog comment threads and op-ed columns? This is one of the most scientifically illiterate & offensive assaults on expertise that I have seen in a while. How can someone function with such a poor grasp on logic? What a handicap this guy must have.

  10. #10 Ian Enting
    August 17, 2009

    The ozone hole is a great example of a real scientific debate. The debate between natural circulation variations, sunspot cycles and chlorine from human emissions was quickly settled by actual measurements by about 1988 or earlier. However “A public and political debate continues in some quarters, based largely on the same flawed and outdated arguments that Maduro and Schauerhammer present” Quote from Maureen Christie’s book The Ozone Hole (CUP,2000) which shows how on a smaller scale public discussions of ozone showed the same characteristics as CO2 – allegations of scientific conspiracy, junk science being circulated outside peer-reviewed literature etc. Also a good discussion on what `scientific consensus’ means.

  11. #11 Mark Byrne
    August 17, 2009

    Malcolm Colless is Poe right?

    Has there been a clearer example of media disinformation in the previous 39 documented cases of The Australia’s war on science?

  12. #12 Pete Bondurant
    August 17, 2009

    Good to see Colless’s article is being soundly shat on over at the Oz’s comments section.

    I really liked this one from Dave of Brisbane

    Malcolm, I worked in the IT industry before and during the Y2K issue. The Y2K bug was real, but also overstated by a slightly hysterical media at the time. Without the accelerated Y2K remediation projects that were undertaken by large financial bodies and governments there would have been no advancements in technology that we take for granted today such as real time online banking and online flight check in etc.. The simple fact was that none of these organisations were going to move forward just because it would make life easier for their customers while incurring great cost for them. So while it is very easy to be a sceptic and pour derision on climate change issues, the fact remains that there will be a lot more good to come out of the debate than if we just stick to what we know and plod on. It is slightly ironic that you are guilty of scaremongering about job losses and interest rates in this article, while deriding Rudd for his scaremongering. As to the ozone hole, it is only shrinking because we have phased out CFCs since the Montreal agreement in 1987. There is nothing wrong with a bit of scepticism, but it still needs to be tempered with an open mind or you run the risk of becoming a fully paid up member of the flat-earth society 😉

  13. #13 Steve Chamberlain
    August 18, 2009

    In the interests of fairness and equality (ahem) I should point out that Fairfax has its share of … ummm… “open-minded” columnists. Witness The Devine Right’s Blatherings over the weekend, which ticks all the required boxes:-

    * accusations of bias in science and the mainstream debate – check;
    * “evidence” of public debate being stifled – check;
    * names of anti-AGW scientists (Carter, Kininmonth, Evans etc.) prominent throughout – check;
    * bolstering anti-AGW “argument” by lauding one or more of abovementioned – check;
    * attempts to discredit AGW theory by making slandering one or more CSIRO/ Dept Climate Change scientists (Prof. Will Steffen in this case) – check;
    * mention as many times as possible the questioning of AGW by “other scientists” (unnamed, but there must be thousands) thus implying (1) The Science Isn’t Settled and (2) The Debate is Being Stifled by Alarmists – check;
    * IPCC indulging in scaremongering – check;
    * debate on economic impacts and effects on unemployment stifled – check;
    * mentions Sen Stephen Fielding lots of times – check;
    * Australia only 1% of the problem – check;
    * mention climate change “alarmists” – check.
    NB score double bonus points if the article mentions McCarthyism – check.
    Strangely, Devine has gone back to exalting Carter in recent months, rather than Plimer (who was her hero a few months back). I wonder why…? 😉

  14. #14 Donald Oats
    August 18, 2009

    I remember the political arguments concerning the CFC threat to the ozone layer, but only dimly appreciated the broader context of hard-right pugilism against what they saw as a return to centralised control (the thin end of the global communism wedge) of economic issues. The hard-right perceived any restriction or ban upon industry using CFCs as an “evil” development. The hard-right’s political fallacy was to treat an inherently scientific problem as a “trojan horse” for a political agenda of their idea of what a left wing opponent is. The hard-right’s characterisation of left-wing has grown steadily to incorporate centre-left and centre-right politics as well.

    I am only too aware of how the hard-right see the issue of human-induced global warming, so it is not surprising to see the Australian fighting it as though the people who accept human-induced global warming are, at their core, pinko commies.

    This paranoia, at any hint of government control over industry operations, seems to be entrenched among a big block of Murdoch journalists and editors. It is just plain stupid for grown men and women to behave like this day after day.

  15. #15 mark
    August 18, 2009

    Another example of a journalist who can’t tell the difference between the media and reality.

  16. #16 Gaz
    August 18, 2009

    Is it just my imagination, or was this story more thoroughly trashed than usual for a denialist piece in The Australian?

    The ratio of alertists* to denialists seems to have shifted in favour of the former. Whether that’s because the balance of comments is shifting or The Australian’s moderation policy has changed, I have no idea. I do recall unsuccesfully trying to post comments there a few months but today’s got through fairly quickly.

    *I have taken to heart former Australian prime minister John Howard’s exhortation to be “alert but not alarmed”. Hence I am an alertist but not an alarmist.

  17. #17 frankis
    August 18, 2009

    Further to Steve Chamberlain’s #13 I think it’d be fair to say that not only is the piece from Fairfax’s Ms Devine even more antiscientific and offensive than The Australian’s latest, but the Fairfax site also has no comments enabled. You just get to cop it sweet there, your opinion only to be heard if you win the lottery for one of the few letters to the editor to be published daily.

    I was impressed like Gaz by the number of critical comments the Oz has published after Colless; maybe Fairfax should consider either losing offenders like Miranda or, at least, catering for irate reader response as does The Oz.

    One up for The Oz (amazingly)!

  18. #18 Brent Hoare
    August 18, 2009

    I think there’s general agreement Colless is either an idiot or a provocateur, but please let none of us be deluded that the Montreal Protocol has ‘fixed’ the hole in the ozone layer. As an article and editorial in [Nature]( last week points out: “Twenty years after the Montreal Protocol came into effect to regulate substances that deplete the ozone layer, the annual ozone hole above Antarctica shows no signs of recovery.”

    The Montreal Protocol has prevented the atmospheric concentrations of chlorine from getting worse by getting rid of CFCs in developed countries (but the black market will ensure they are readily available in developing countries for years to come unless more is done soon), and because the CFCs are enormously powerful greenhouse gases (5000-11,000 time more powerful than CO2, in round figures) Montreal has done 5 times more to abate emissions than Kyoto will in the first commitment period.

    Ozone recovery will take place in a very different atmosphere from that which existed before the Montreal Protocol, as the Nature article explains, and there is every reason for Australia to get serious about recovering CFCs, and phasing out the use of high GWP HCFCs and HFCs through strengthening the Montreal Protocol at the next Meeting of the Parties in Egypt in November – to address both ozone and climate issues and the still poorly understood interactions between these indisputably anthropogenic interferences with our planet’s imperiled atmosphere.

  19. #19 Martin Vermeer
    August 18, 2009

    Steve S:

    Name for me 5 scientific papers that present irrefutable proof that manmade emissions of carbon dioxide have caused significant warming

    Who cares! It’s the warming still to come that’s the problem. And why ‘irrefutable proof’? Is that what a field commander would wait for before responding to an enemy move?

    It’s the “frame” of hypothesis testing that we should fight here, as it is prima facie silly. The alternative hypothesis is dead, Tyndall got that over and done with already in Darwin’s days. The proper frame is parameter estimation, i.e., risk management. And models are one tool amongst many for this.

  20. #20 Mark
    August 18, 2009

    > Name for me 5 scientific papers that present irrefutable proof that manmade emissions of carbon dioxide have caused significant warming

    1) Why must they be scientific papers? Many thousands can be raised and have been but all have been deemed “wrong”. Anything is refutable if you don’t care about being correct (rather than just “right”).

    a) Mann 1998. Hockey Stick.
    b) Annamm 2007. Observational sensitivity for CO2 in the atmosphere
    c) Mauna Loa CO2 measurements.
    d) Annual report of Exxon-Mobil

    a shows how temperature changes. Proof of warming period lately.
    b shows how CO2 has changed the temperature.
    c shows how much extra CO2 is there (combine with a and b to show this is sufficient to explain the gross warming signal)

    So far we have irrefutable proof (though see above for the insanity clause on irrefutable) that CO2 is causing the warming.

    d shows how much CO2 we humans are producing. More than enough to explain the extra CO2 in the atmosphere with enough left over to make the sea acidic.

    2) Show me 5 papers that show me irrefutable proof that DNA is the engine of life.

    You can’t. Because the subject is so big that you can’t get them all in one paper. So each element of the proof is built up in separate papers.

  21. #21 Martin Vermeer
    August 18, 2009
  22. #22 Gareth
    August 18, 2009

    Steve S notes a comment at the ABC that contains:

    Name for me 5 scientific papers that present irrefutable proof that manmade emissions of carbon dioxide have caused significant warming…

    Meanwhile, by some strange synchronicity, NZ crank Roger Dewhurst pops up at my place at the weekend and asks:

    Just name 5 published scientific papers that show irrefutable proof of manmade warming – not the output of dodgy computer software, not opinion (especially not of those who wrote or use that software)…

    I wonder if they are by some chance related?

  23. #23 Mark
    August 18, 2009

    > There is no basis for Mark’s (b) and (c) as there is no evidence for CO2 at Mauna Loa raising temperature there;

    Yes there is. What do you think mauna loa is measuring? CO2.

    The Mann stick shows that temperatures are rising very quickly.

    > and (d) is only a proxy for the rising energy use with associated heat efflux

    No it isn’t.

    It’s a direct measurement of how much fuel Exxon Mobil has sold.

    What do you think has happened to the fuel they’ve sold?


    Stored away in vaults so rich people can look at it?

    > His (a) refers to the bogus hockey stick

    You see, any idiot can refute any evidence.

    All they have to do is say it’s bogus.

    > As for his (d) there is also no evidence for falling global oceanic pH aas a result of Exxon’s CO2 byproducts

    So where has Exxon Mobil’s products gone, then?

    > it goes up and down almost hourly everywhere and there is no clear trend anywhere or globally.


    Why are the reefs dying? Bleached. Acidifying waters.

    Carbonic acid.

    What do you think goes into making seawater a dilute carbonic acid?


  24. #24 cce
    August 18, 2009

    There is no “irrefutable proof” that additional greenhouse gases are causing the warming, which is why the IPCC limits their statement to “very likely” (90% or greater probability). There is no “control earth” to make comparisons.

    There are, however, any number of papers showing very good evidence that continued CO2 emissions will cause dangerous warming starting with Plass and Kaplan (seperately) in the ’50s, through Manabe and Wetherald in the ’60s and any number of papers written in the last three decades.

    Annan and Hargreaves wrote a seminal paper constraining climate sensitivity to between 2 and 4 degrees using only observational evidence.

    They uses temperature rise of the 20th Century, recovery of temperatures following explosive volcanic eruptions, and the temperature rise since the last glacial maximum (LGM). They base their conclusions on these papers:

    20th Century Warming

    Knutti, R., T. F. Stocker, F. Joos, and G.-K. Plattner (2002), Constraints on radiative forcing and future climate change from observations and climate model ensembles, Nature, 416, 719–723.

    Gregory, J. M., R. J. Stouffer, S. C. B. Raper, P. A. Stott, and N. A. Rayner (2002), An observationally based estimate of the climate sensitivity, Journal of Climate, 15 (22), 3117–3121.

    Andronova, N. G., and M. E. Schlesinger (2001), Objective estimation of the probability density function for climate sensitivity, Journal of Geophysical Research, 108 (D8),22,605–22,611.

    Forest, C. E., P. H. Stone, A. P. Sokolov, M. R. Allen, and M. D. Webster (2002), Quantifying uncertainties in climate system properties with the use of recent climate observations, Science, 295 (5552), 113–117.


    Wigley, T. M. L., C. M. Amman, B. D. Santer, and S. B. Raper (2005), Effect of climate sensitivity on the response to volcanic forcing, Journal of Geophysical Research, 110 (D09107).

    Frame, D. J., B. B. B. Booth, J. A. Kettleborough, D. A. Stainforth, J. M. Gregory, M. Collins, and M. R. Allen (2005), Constraining climate forecasts: The role of prior assumptions, Geophysical Research Letters, 32 (L09702).

    Yokohata, T., S. Emori, T. Nozawa, Y. Tsushima, T. Ogura, and M. Kimoto (2005), Climate response to volcanic forcing: Validation of climate sensitivity of a coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model, Geophysical Research Letters, 32 (L21710).


    Ballantyne, A. P., M. Lavine, T. J. Crowley, J. Liu, and P. B. Baker (2005), Meta-analysis of tropical surface temperatures during the Last Glacial Maximum, Geophysical Research Letters, 32 (L05712).

    Bintanja, R., and R. S. W. V. de Wal (2005), A new method to estimate ice age temperatures, Climate Dynamics, 24, 197–211.

    Taylor, K. E., C. D. Hewitt, P. Braconnot, A. J. Broccoli, C. Doutriaux, J. F. B. Mitchell, and PMIP-Participating-Groups (2000), Analysis of forcing, response and feedbacks in a paleoclimate modeling experiment, in Paleoclimate Modeling Intercomparison Project (PMIP): proceedings of the third PMIP workshop, edited by P. Braconnot, pp. 43–50, Canada, 1999.

    Crucifix, M., and C. D. Hewitt (2005), Impact of vegetation changes on the dynamics of the atmosphere at the Last Glacial Maximum, Climate Dynamics, 25 (5), 447–459.

    Claquin, T., et al. (2003), Radiative forcing of climate by ice-age atmospheric dust, Climate Dynamics, 20, 193–202.

    von Deimling, T. S., H. Held, A. Ganopolski, and S. Rahmstorf (2005), Climate sensitivity estimated from ensemble simulations of glacial climate, Climate Dynamics, (Submitted).

    Finally, there is a “clear trend” in ocean pH at three measuring locations, evident in AR4 WGI figure 5.9.

  25. #25 bi -- IJI
    August 18, 2009

    Shorter Tiddles:


  26. #26 Dave Andrews
    August 18, 2009


    You mention Manabe and “dangerous warming”. My understanding is that he was actually quite sceptical about how serious a problem global warming was.

  27. #27 Fran Barlow
    August 18, 2009

    And one may add Mark@24 that there is biological evidence of increased mercury toxicity in marine creatures in the North Atlantic flowing from the effluent of coal combustion being absorbed in the ociean. That effluent didn’t magic itself there without the accompanying CO2

  28. #28 Tim Curtin is a Joke
    August 18, 2009

    Is Tiddles actually Tim Curtin?

  29. #29 sneezy
    August 18, 2009

    No mere Lambert could restrain TC to his caged thread! TC’s blistering lack of comprehension needs to be set freeee! By TC’s idiosyncracies shall ye know him, goeth he by the name tiddles or diddlysquat, TopCat or whatever. Dood!

  30. #30 Bernard J.
    August 18, 2009

    TCIAJ and sneezy beat me to the punch – I too would lay odds that ‘tiddles’ is Tim Curtin disobeying the Deltoid rules.

    How’s your [understanding of thermodynamics]( developing, Curtin?

  31. #31 Steve Chamberlain
    August 19, 2009

    But wait, there’s more ‘balance’ from Fairfax… In today’s episode, Bob Carter Writes a Letter.

    “Peter Steinberg (Letters, August 18) says: “The vast majority of specialists in the field say we have a major [global warming] problem, that it is caused by humans, and it is probably getting worse”. This is untrue.”

    Has Prof Carter outstayed his welcome at The Oz? Is The Oz too left-wing these days for Our Bob?

  32. #32 cce
    August 19, 2009

    Here are Manabe’s estimates of climate sensitivity from Barton Paul Levenson’s compilation.

    Manabe and Wetherald 1967 2.36
    Manabe 1971 1.9
    Manabe 1975 2.3
    Manabe and Wetherald 1975 2.93
    Manabe and Stouffer 1979 4
    Manabe and Wetherald 1980 3
    Wetherald and Manabe 1986 4
    Wetherald and Manabe 1989 4
    Manabe and Stouffer 1993 3.5

    These figures are right in line with the consensus.

    If anyone has quotes of Suki Manabe (who is still quite alive, last publishing in 2007) saying that these values don’t imply a serious problem, I’d like see it.

  33. #33 Gaz
    August 19, 2009

    Bi – IJI)

    Maybe he’s just too busy counting sparrows…

  34. #34 Jacobson
    August 19, 2009

    And Plimer thinks Pacific island nations are seeing changes in sea level due to “vibration consolidating the coral island sand”. I kid you not.

  35. #35 Paul UK
    August 19, 2009

    >And Plimer thinks Pacific island nations are seeing changes in sea level due to “vibration consolidating the coral island sand”. I kid you not.

    I could say ‘unbelievable!’ but i guess it has been said so many times now, it has lost its impact.

    Maybe ‘I don’t believe it!’ would be better as Plimer has ‘One Foot in the Grave’.

  36. #36 Jimmy Nightingale
    August 19, 2009

    Here’s War on Science #41 Tim.

    Bjorn Lomborg’s little voodoo economics piece in the Oz today:,25197,25954076-7583,00.html

  37. #37 James Haughton
    August 19, 2009

    Some signs that the Australian’s actual science journalists are fed up in the Higher Education supplement. [A story ostensibly about moon rocks](,25197,25815719-27703,00.html) contains gems like:
    “Before the Apollo missions, a dearth of data left much room for speculation. A lunatic fringe resembling the greenhouse sceptics of today often managed to get outlandish theories into the scientific literature.”
    “With the perspective of a planetary scientist, he watches in horror as our species destroys its biosphere in the geological blink of an eye.”

  38. #38 Donald Oats
    August 19, 2009

    There is a highly organised campaign going on now, with respect to the anti-AGW members. They seem to have got themselves networked and are going for broke in the USA and other similar countries, like the UK, Australia, NZ, etc. They are getting airtime and radio time, newspaper column inches, editorial favouritism, book launches at parliament (South Australian H&E launch at parliament house in North Terrace – unbelievable!), letters-to-the-editor frequent contributions published, widespread upgrading of their websites to have a much higher level of professionalism, etc. I’d say that they are drowning out the climate scientists in the media quite well – from their perspective, that is.

  39. #39 jodyaberdein
    August 20, 2009

    Is that the same ‘the world will run out of food unless we continue to increase CO2 emmissions’ Tim Curtin?

  40. #40 Dano
    August 20, 2009

    Is that the same ‘the world will run out of food unless we continue to increase CO2 emmissions’ Tim Curtin?

    When the chimps use this argument, remember we have data that show otherwise (won’t matter to screeching chimps, but maybe to the few % undecided).



New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.