The Australian's War on Science IV

I only wrote my last post on the Australian's War on Science a couple of days ago and already there's more attacks on science from them.

First we have this news article:

Professor Henderson said yesterday the report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, handed down on February 2, was "alarmist".

He said it had mislead Western governments over rising temperatures, and warned the cost of mitigation measures would be felt severely in Australia, unless it adopted a "balanced" view. ...

Professor Henderson said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri was "alarmist" and his report "a heavily biased piece of speculative alarmism". ...

Actually, the IPCC report presents a mountain of evidence in support of its conclusions. Henderson doesn't present any evidence at all; he just dismisses it as "alarmism".

He criticised Australian of the Year and climate change author Tim Flannery, who last year told an audience in London that "one summer, towards the end of this century, there will be no more polar ice or polar bears".

Professor Henderson said yesterday that polar bear numbers were in fact up, and that they "have never had such a good time as what they have now".

Did I mention that Henderson is an economist? Presumably the next time that the Australian wants an expert opinion on the economy they will consult an expert on polar bears. Why do experts think that polar bears are threatened?

The bears, which can grow to about 8 feet (2.5 meters) long, depend on sea ice for their survival. They hunt their primary prey, the ringed seal, from the ice. They also travel, mate, and sometimes give birth on the ice.

But the ice is melting.

Scientists with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, reported that in September 2005 the sea ice had shrunk to its lowest level on record.

If the melting trend continues, the Arctic could see ice-free summers by 2040, according to a Canadian climate model. Other models suggest open Arctic waters by the end of the century.

So the scientific evidence supports Flannery and not Henderson. And this evidence is not a secret, so how come Henderson didn't know about it?

And if that wasn't enough, the Australian then printed an opinion piece by Janet Albrechtsen that attacked peer review:

"And the peer review process means drawing peers form the same global warming orthodoxy milieu as the authors"

Ian Musgrave responds:

This is a bit of a jaw dropping statement, and either displays a lack of understanding of science, or science envy. Then again, this is a standard HIV denialist and creationist canard. They like to portray peer-review as a closed club where only like minded thinkers get a look in. It's not true of course. Peer review does have its weaknesses and limitations, but it is our way of ensuring quality control. Papers are reviewed to ensure that the right methods have been used, and data is not misinterpreted or over interpreted, not that it adheres to a party line. The other day I reviewed a paper that had conclusions favorable to my own hypothesis, but the paper had omitted a key piece of evidence. I recommended that the paper not be published without that piece of evidence, no matter that the paper supported my ideas.

Nexus 6 takes Albrechtsen to pieces and also explains the meaning of the verb "to albrecht":

The verb "to albrecht" meaning to lift and twist - entered the language a couple of years ago when we reported columnist Janet Albrechtsen lifting and twisting academic sources to suit her purposes.

More like this

This is our legacy handed on from the American conservatives. The flight from reality for political purposes is more marked among conservatives than the pomo illusion was ever among the left.

Perhaps some confusion on conflating "peer review" with the Magna Carta's guarantee of trial by jury "of peers" -- i.e. noblemen adjudicating noblemen?

Or is this a typical American's misunderstanding of what Churchill called "The History of the English-speaking Peoples?"

As a non-scientist, it seems to me the back-and-forth of contrasting papers elaborating different theories to explain the same (or related) evidence is more important that peer review itself. Peer review seems like a kind of moderation that really only weeds out the stuff that is unlikely to contribute significantly to the testing and development of new and existing theories.

The tired old misrepresentation the Australian pasted into their article is wrong not only in its description of peer review, but in its implied assumption that peer review is the sole mechanism for separating reliable work from unreliable work. But it's just one of many.

Now Tim, You correctly point out that Henderson is an economist.Implying that he is not qualified to comment. Do we disregard anything that Nicholas Stern says because he is similarly unqualified?

I've always found it ironic that governments ignored the scientists when they tried to explain global warming, but when an economist got into the act suddenly they sit up and take notice. The Australian also got an economist, not a scientist, to balance out a report on the launch of Ray Evans anti-global warming book. Why do economists have authority in newspapers? It's not like thier predictions are more accurate than climate scientists (not by a long shot). The main problem with Henderson is that his comments are fact free.

Economists are very good at making predictions. They have predicted 11 out of the last 3 recessions. Perhaps that is why they are drawn to climate science: the "predictions" are so far away that it will never come back to bite them in the bum, unlike say unemployment figures.

Economists are very good at making predictions. They have predicted 11 out of the last 3 recessions.

Actually, this off-hand dismissal of economics is a decent analogue to the off-hand dismissal of climatology. In both cases, there are phenomena that are very difficult to predict accurately (in the case of economics, the business-cycle; in the case of climate science, the specific weather feedbacks from the climate). And in both cases, the difficulty is taken by certain people as a license to dismiss the respective disciplines altogether.

"Do we disregard anything that Nicholas Stern says because he is similarly unqualified?"

Stern didn' deal with the science he dealt with the economics,Hendo's quite welcome to do likewise.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 03 Mar 2007 #permalink

Tyler : Despite the difficulty to predict accurately they all seem so certain. Now why do you think that is?
Take the above statement quoted by Tim Lambert above "If the melting trend continues, the Arctic could see ice-free summers by 2040, according to a Canadian climate model."
In one statement you have 2 qualifications and reliance on a model. It is as next to useless as you could possibly get.It is not science just meaningless rhetoric.

Hi all
What about the shrinking icecaps on Mars!
Is this Martian induced global warming or can it be explained by the Hockey Stick.
Or will this miss the pinko based mass media.

Regards fro New zealand (coldest summer for 14 years)
Peter Bickle

By Peter Bickle (not verified) on 03 Mar 2007 #permalink

Not the Matian ice caps again. Doesn't anyone do their homework. The change in the Southern (not northern) ice cap is a regional one, mostlikley due to changes in dust storm cover (Yes, I am an amateur astronomer).

And "In one statement you have 2 qualifications and reliance on a model." This is the creationist gambit, becuase ther is some uncertainty, the creationists (and apparently global warming deniers as well) inflate this to mean it is completely uncertain. However, that is the way scientists talk. When we make statements, we always qualify them. Even if we are certain about something to ten decimal places. Now in the above case, there is now evidence that the ice will melt even faster (becasue of cracking of the glaciers and melt water lubrication of the glacier bedrock), so the model could be wrong, and we be ice free a lot faster than predictions. Error bars cut both ways.

Ian G. One again you are an unreliable source: Stern relied heavily on the "science", it is in his Chap One for what it is worth. How would we be doing if Newton had said "it is very likely" that there could be something approximating to gravity, or mutatitis mutandis with Einstein. "Very likely" is not science, you won't even find the IPCC Law in any physics or chemistry textbook, precisely because it lacks either empirical verification or mathematical precision. Both Svensmark et al 2006 and Harrison & Stephenson 2005 produce empirical data (the latter's data support Svensmark 2000) that at least modifies the IPCC "90% or so Law", both are in the peer reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society (anybody here ever heard of Newton and the RS?)

Can Tim Lambert verify that the IPCC's Law has not been based on cited laboratory experiments with Svensmark-type controls for about 100 years?

"Both Svensmark et al 2006 and Harrison & Stephenson 2005 produce empirical data (the latter's data support Svensmark 2000) that at least modifies the IPCC "90% or so Law""

Sure. Ignoring every one of the following facts, any one of which on its own makes Svensmark's observation climatically insignificant:

1. the particles generated in Svensmark's experiment are orders of magnitude too small to be Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN);

2. over the oceans where the hypothesis is focussed, there are huge numbers of condensation nuclei related to sea salt particles, there is no demonstration that this number of CCN might be increased in any significant way;

3. even if more CCN are made, it would need to be shown that this changes cloudiness in a place where there is already no shortage of CCN;

4. if you're going to hypothesise that a decrease in cosmic rays has caused some of the warming in the last 30 years you first need to show that there has actually been a decrease in cosmic rays in the last 30 years, there hasn't.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

"Ian G. One again you are an unreliable source: Stern relied heavily on the "science","

Tim C., he reported the findings of climate scientists, he didn't purport to do original work or take it upon himself to pronounce the vast majority of scientists working in the field as incorrect.

As for your profoundly ignorant comment regarding the role of probability in science, I take it that quantum mechanisms isn't science and nor chaos theory. For that matter nor is is celestial mechanics. (Ever hear of the three-body problem, Tim?)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-body_problem

Furthermore, we aren't talking about a "law" here, we're talking about the application of numerous different laws to predict the future state of a physical system. Even if all those laws are wholly deterministic, the accuracy of predictions depends upon the accuracy of our measurement of the variables in the first place (amongst other things).

While we're discussing the history of science, I refer you to Millikan's oil-drop experiment for an illustration of how real science actually works. Millikan miscalculated one of the variables in the experiment (the viscosity of the liquid he used) and ended up with a figure for the mass of the electron we now know to be out by a whopping 1%.

He still got the Nobel though.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil-drop_experiment

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

> ended up with a figure for the mass of the electron
> we now know to be out by a whopping 1%.

Electric charge.

That'll teach me not to post at 3 AM.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

"The flight from reality for political purposes is more marked among conservatives than the pomo illusion was ever among the left."

They don't even have the common decency to deny it any more.

"Putnam now acknowledges he had no personal knowledge of any Pelosi request. He said he was commenting on an anonymously-sourced story in The Washington Times and additional coverage from CNN.

"This was a classic case where the media got out in front of us," Putnam said. "Did we jump on it? Yes."

And he is unapologetic about that. He calls the Pelosi plane story, whatever its legitimacy, "the first break [Republicans] have had from the media in driving our message since before the Mark Foley story broke."
http://www.tbo.com/news/nationworld/MGB16WIUDYE.html

Tim Curtain wrote: How would we be doing if Newton had said "it is very likely" that there could be something approximating to gravity, or mutatitis mutandis with Einstein.

The same as the physicsts who are uncovered the evidence for the top quark, and those who are getting excited about evidence for the Higgs Boson which is now emerging from the statistical murk. The same as those making decisions to take drugs to Phase II and Phase III clinical trials, or to decide to stockpile Relenza or Tamiful to combat a influenza epidenic. With the latter, we are not very certain at all, the the consequences of us being wrong are so devestating we are acting anyway.

The Arctic may be ice free by 2040, it may take longer, it may take shorter, or the asteroid Apophisis may hit us in 2036 (very unlikely, but the consequences of it hitting us makes planning for it of paramount importance). Science doesn't do asboulte truth, we always have the possibility of revision built into our pronouncements, and we are allways less than 100% certain.

"Very likely" is not science.

This shows you don't understand science. Statistical inference is the heart of modern scientific enterprise, and a brief perusal of any modern scientific paper will show how we work with less than perfect knowledge.

To return to Tim C.'s unique view of science, I really, really hope his doctor never tells him there's a 90% chance that a tumor is cancerous.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 04 Mar 2007 #permalink

Jeremy Roberts is the same reporter that has recently become the darling of HIV Denialists.

What? The HIV Denialists have given up on Michael Fumento? I'm shocked, SHOCKED! I tell you.

Hey! I thought war couldn't be waged on an abstract noun!?

Albrecht?

*snort*

h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s

I'm glad I'm wearing my belt, else I'm sure my sides would have split.

Keep up with the catchy Marr-isms and you'll have them rolling in the aisles!

Lambert, you use economists over in Australia. In the U.S., right-wingers gravitate toward science policy pundits, like Roger Pielke Jr., and think tank experts from Cato and the Marshall Institute.

I'm wondering why the Australian journalists seem to ignore think tank people. Don't you guys have them?

I would urge anyone with an interest in the climate warming controversy (and it is a controversy despite our host's protestations) to read this site, in particular the comments. Even if, like me, you lack scientific expertise, you will soon realise that 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Lambert, than are dreamt of in your philosophy'!

http://www.climateaudit.org/

Thom wote: I'm wondering why the Australian journalists seem to ignore think tank people. Don't you guys have them? We have them, but we don't have many and they have played a low profile in the climate change discussion, to my knowledge (at least at the level of newspaper reports).

David Duff wrote: http://www.climateaudit.org/
Mavin the paranoid android voice: "I've seen it, it's rubbish"

And whilst I'm here, pray tell me what is rubbish about this from the FAQ on the Climate Audit site:

"Does your work disprove global warming?

We have not made such a claim. There is considerable evidence that in many locations the late 20th century was generally warmer than the mid-19th century. However, there is also considerable evidence that in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the mid-19th century was exceptionally cold. We think that a more interesting issue is whether the late 20th century was warmer than periods of similar length in the 11th century. We ourselves do not opine on this matter, other than to say that the MBH results relied upon so heavily by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2001 report are invalid."

Oh for zarquons sake, they are still banging on about the MBH98 results, they really need to get a life. Look, it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference if the MBH results were completely wrong, the conclusions about warming remain the same (read the article for details). Here is a Dummies Guide to the Hockey stick, to help get things in perspective. Rememeber, McIntyre was the co-author of a paper that put a major warm period in the middle of the little ice age, so he should be a little more careful in calling things invalid (see above links which explain why the FAQ extract is nonsense).

David Duff: OK, I'll bite, you think there is a controversy - what things are controversial and what are the implications for global warming?

In regards to CA, while I have had interesting and useful discussions over there I will note that I have also suffered more personal abuse on that site then on any other site I post on.

By John Cross (not verified) on 06 Mar 2007 #permalink

From ABC Background Briefing's, transcript from parlimentary question time:

Malcolm Turnbull: This is the strategy of the Opposition Mr Speaker. What they are seeking to do is to create a massive scare campaign. We are talking about, at the higher limit, a sea level rise of 58 centimetres over 100 years. At the lower level, 18 centimetres.

He is responding to a question about erosion. I think he has ignored the IPCC's conscious exclusion of glacier melting. Can someone who has read the IPCC summary please comment on whether our Environment Minister has mislead parliiment here ?

"Lambert, you use economists over in Australia. In the U.S., right-wingers gravitate toward science policy pundits, like Roger Pielke Jr., and think tank experts from Cato and the Marshall Institute.

I'm wondering why the Australian journalists seem to ignore think tank people. Don't you guys have them?"

In the US Bill Kristol and a group of wealthy Republicans have spent twenty years manufacturing an array of fake "think tanks" that can be counted on to provide "balance" on contentious issues like "Does 2 + 2 = 4?" provided there's a dollar in it.

By and large in Australia, with the exception of the IPA (on the right) and the Australia Institute (on the left), our think-tanks tend to adhere to the old fuddy-duddy notion that their role is to disseminate facts not advance political agenda.

So they're a lot less useless for the Murdoch press' astroturfing exercises.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 06 Mar 2007 #permalink

The fact that Ian appears to be a fan of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" must not allow us to colour *our* opinions of *his* opinions!

Still, being a scientific fellow himself, he will allow an interested laymen like me to express his consternation that the MBH98 (to say nothing of the MBH91) figures which have been defended to the death (I only exagerate a little) by HAFs (Hot Air Fanatics) world-wide and which played such an important part in the various IPCC reports, are now discarded without so much as a shed tear or two. He will also forgive me, I am sure, for now doubting even more the earnest protestations of the HAFs that the end of the world is nigh! I mean, if that's how they treat their own supporting statistics, what are we to make of the remainder?

John, it is a regretable fact that that there are a plethora of eye-ball-swivelling, mouth-foaming loonies on *both* sides which is some sort of indication (in this scientific company I would not dare to use the word 'proof) that a "controversy" does indeed exist.

David Duff wrote, "I would urge anyone with an interest in the climate warming controversy (and it is a controversy despite our host's protestations) to read this site, in particular the comments".

AGW is only a controversy because of huge amounts of corporate money that have been invested into the anti-environmental 'slush fund'. This money has been used to twist and distort the empirical evidence in order to bolster a pre-determined worldview and political agenda. Amongst the vast majority of scientists, including me, there's no controversy at all except that which has been manufactured. David, your controversy exists in a microcosm.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 08 Mar 2007 #permalink

I have worked as a professional economist, have a masters degree in the field, and now read some of the climate science textbooks (with the equivalent of a first year undergrad knowledge of physics and chemistry) let me try to delineate the differences, as I understand them between a climate scientist and an economist:

- a climate scientist builds her models from a known set of physical principles, and a series of data observations which are collected (sometimes quite laboriously) in the real world.

We all agree what CO2 concentrations, temperature in degrees Kelvin, water vapour concentrations *mean*

- an economist lives in a world of made up variables (inflation, unemployment, prices, money supply -- all differ radically depending on who is calculating them, in which country at which time). The central economic number (GDP) is entirely made up (it's inventor, Simon Kuznets, famously said 'right within plus or minus 20 per cent.')

An economist then makes up theories (increasing the money supply increases inflation), which cannot be demonstrated in the lab, mostly, nor replicated by anyone else. We don't know if lower unemployment causes inflation (we used to think it did) or if government action has any long term effect on either unemployment or inflation (until the 1960s, we thought it did, then from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, no self respecting young economist thought it had any long term effect, now we are again not so sure).

You can see that we can put a lot more confidence in the prediction of a climate scientist (whose models obey physical laws about the universe that scientists have been developing and refining for over 300 years) than an economist (which is a made up universe, effectively).

By Valuethinker (not verified) on 30 Mar 2007 #permalink

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Australia.

You are in the middle of a 7 year drought?

This has been described by politicians as 'the once in one thousand year drought'.

Yet:

- no one seems to ask the question-- 'what if this is normal, and past experience of regular rain was abnormal'?

ie what do you do if this is how it is going to be, for the foreseeable future? ie this is the new norm, as scientists tell us it has been, at periods in the past?

- your conservative politicos, at least, don't seem to ask the obvious question

'what if this is the global warming our scientists warned us about'?

It's like poisoning someone with Polonium, and then when they die wondering if their father ever had stomache cancer.

It just seems to entirely miss the point.

By Valuethinker (not verified) on 30 Mar 2007 #permalink