The Australian's War on Science 55: Michael Asten responds

Michael Asten has sent me a response to my comments on his opinion piece (See also John Quiggin on that piece). My reply is at the end of this post.

I thank Tim Lambert for his interest in my commentary article, and for the opportunity to provide a response.

First the title, "The Australian's War on Science". Eye catching but a little harsh. I don't compile stats but I note that two days before my Commentary last Friday the Oz ran a post-Cancun Commentary from Julian Hunt carrying a pro-AGW perspective. And when the Oz published a Commentary of mine last April on significance of medieval warming, I noted that of about 6 climate-related Commentaries over a few months to that time, three were pro-AGW items from Penny Wong, James Hansen and Ziggy Switkowski. Within a 1-sigma confidence, I call that balance.

Secondly, yes I made an error in my piece on Friday. At the time of publication I sent my workings and references to two of our leading climate scientists, and they were quick to point out the error, and provide further references. Since you have technically-minded readers, let me expand on my correction. Riva's work observed mass transfer of ice from continents to sea-water, from which he calculated sea level rise of 1 mm/yr for the short interval 2003-2009. My error was in failing to add in oceanic thermal expansion. Using work published by Domingues et al (Nature 2008) and extended in time on the CSIRO website we can estimate sea-level change oceanic thermal expansion; depending on whether we use a multi-decade value or just the tail for the last decade, we have values of order 0.7 or 1.7 mm/yr to add to Riva's 1mm/yr. This falls short of model predictions of rates which I read from Jevrejeva's graphs. Given the thermal expansion data, I am suggesting the discrepancy between model and observation is in the range 1.5 to 3.2, replacing my original statement of a factor of five. My point was, and still is, that a discrepancy exists, and scientists need to be able to investigate the discrepancies without fear of treading on political toes as happened with economist Clive Spash (see the first half of my commentary here).

Thirdly you refer to my interpretation of Pearson's data on global CO2-temperature changes through the Eocene-Oligocene event. At the time of publication (9 Dec 2009) I both emailed and talked with Pearson, and gave him alternative contact details for The Oz for his response, which was published promptly and in full. (Quite unwarlike on their part, don't you think?). However you have omitted to mention that I responded to Pearson's criticisms in a subsequent Commentary of 29 Dec 2009

The essential point; it was Pearson's data, and my reinterpretation of inferences to be drawn from his data. I don't accept that that constituted misrepresentation, and Pearson's gloss over the discrepancy between a 50 kyr observed CO2 change, versus his model prediction of a 500kyr change, remains a valid point of discussion. It is no adverse reflection on his (or any other scientist's) work to review results and argue alternative inferences. But if we are discouraged or actively prevented from doing so, our society will be the poorer.

First, Asten didn't compile stats on opinion pieces in The Australian, so I did. I used Factiva to find all the opinion pieces published in The Australian with the subject "Climate Change" in the first four months of the year. Asten felt that they were balanced, with about 3 on each side. In fact, they were extremely unbalanced with only four on the scientific consensus' side and twenty-three pieces on the other side. (Dates and authors are listed listed at the end of this post.) I didn't include unsigned editorials in the count -- if I had, the result would have been even more unbalanced. And even if the opinions had been balanced, this would be a false balance, misleading readers of The Australian about the science.

Second, the CSIRO website that Asten references states that sea level is rising at 3.3 mm/year. But Asten ignores the CSIRO number for sea level rise so he can manufacture a discrepancy.

Third, saying that the bits of Pearson's work that you referenced were accurately quoted is not an adequate defence against Pearson's charge of misrepresentation because:

[Asten] ignores a vast amount of geological data to the contrary and our clear and fully referenced statement that the world at this time was 'warmer than today, with no evidence for sustained continental ice caps in the northern hemisphere, and possibly West Antarctica, until much later'.

Here is the lists of articles mentioned above:

4 articles supporting mainstream science: 20/3 Ziggy Switkowski, 11/3 James Hansen (opposing ETS), 23/2 Oliver Sartor, 2/2 Penny Wong

23 articles opposing mainstream science: 24/4 Richard Lindzen, 21/4 Tom Switzer, 17/4 13/1 Frank Furedi, 17/3 27/1 20/1 Janet Albrechtsen, 15/3 17/2 28/1 Bjorn Lomborg, 27/2 13/2 6/2 30/1 23/1 Christopher Pearson, 20/2 Terry McCrann, 18/2 21/1 Alan Moran, 16/2 David Henderson, 13/2 Graham Young, 6/2 Tony Abbott, 6/1 Christopher Monckton, 2/1 Garth Paltridge

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By Jeffrey Shallit (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Everyone knows that if you place a 1 gram weight and a 1 kg weight on a balance they will balance since there is one weight on each side.

"Riva's work observed mass transfer of ice from continents to sea-water, from which he calculated sea level rise of 1 mm/yr for the short interval 2003-2009. My error was in failing to add in oceanic thermal expansion. Using work published by Domingues et al (Nature 2008) and extended in time on the CSIRO website we can estimate sea-level change oceanic thermal expansion; depending on whether we use a multi-decade value or just the tail for the last decade, we have values of order 0.7 or 1.7 mm/yr to add to Riva's 1mm/yr."

So the question is whether Riva included the Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets, or only the non-ice-sheet glacial melt? If the latter, then that explains the discrepancy between the bottom-up sea level rise estimate and the satellite SLR estimations.

-M

> Everyone knows that if you place a 1 gram weight and a 1 kg weight on a balance they will balance since there is one weight on each side.

Though you will find you have to lean on the scales to do that...

>Part 1
Part 1 is worse. Take words and numbers from science publications that you don't understand; claim they also support your "alternate hypothesis" that ignores the physical mechanisms we do understand; blow off complaints from the scientists whose work you're pointing to as the data source -- it's an interesting way of getting material for a newspaper column. But why do you think it's doing science? This is fairies-in-the-garden-did-it thinking.

Dear sir,

Thank you for your complaint that our paper called you a child murderer who enjoys cross dressing and clubbing seals. However, we also published an editorial the next day that stated you were not a child murderer or a cross dresser and that those seals were criminals and deserved to be clubbed. As you can see, our coverage is balanced.

We have included a subscription form for your convenience.

Sincerely,
The Editors

Dear Mr. Asten, will this correction be seen on this blog only or is there going to be a correction printed in The Australian with the same visibility as your original opinion piece?

Hi Tim, excellent. In future you might conscript some of us to help you research claims about balance. (I would help if I had some time, and if I thought my help would make a difference I'd make time.) This part doesn't read very well: "saying that the bits of Pearson's work that you referenced were accurately not an adequate defence".

*[Typo fixed. Thanks ]*

Asten's retraction is totally inadequate. For example, where is does his claim of a discrepancy between model and current SLR come from now? Tim nailed him on this yet Asten side steps the issue.

And in his published retraction Asten gets it all wrong again

>*The discrepancy is smaller than I give (ie, a factor of two to 2.5 rather than 5)*

Where does factor of 2.5 come from? Asten's number is wrong. Asten's poorly interpolated a SLR figure (which didn't appear in Jevrejeva 's paper is 4.2 to 5.4:

>*these models also show predicted sea-level change rates of 4.2mm-5.4mm a year for the first decade of the 21st century.*

Tim, a far more competent source repeated Asten's dodgy method and [found that](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/the_australians_war_on_science_…) a rise of 3mm-6mm a year.

Which is on the mark of the current observed trend of 3.2mm/yr.

So not only does Asten get his OpEd (incompetently) wrong by forgetting thermal expansion, but his correction is still wrong, relying on wrong arithmetic, wrong assumptions and his incorrectly estimated figures.

>*yes I made an error in my piece on Friday. At the time of publication I sent my workings and references to two of our leading climate scientists, and they were quick to point out the error,*

Publish first, fact check second.

And still get your correction wrong!

Here's something that rarely gets pointed out: scientists live with peer review day in and day out. Not only do they submit papers to peer reviewed journals, but they also go through peer review within their own teams.

Journalists are supposed to do the same. After all, that's what copy editors are for. But Asten did a whole bunch of calculations without getting them checked?

Good enough for blog science! And The Australian!

C'mon. The guy claims he used "model predictions of rates which I read from Jevrejeva's graphs" for his arithmetic.

This sounds sadly familiar.
-- Wegman digitized a copy of the "cartoon" from the first IPCC report and got bogus numbers. http://rabett.blogspot.com/2010/10/dummys-guide-to-strange-scholarship-…
-- Goddard over at WTF thought "I could make an estimate of the ice volume by counting and numerically integrating pixels." And got bad numbers.

Poor guy, he misses the point... "balance"?

Right, let em publish some flat earth pieces. Then they can proudly claim balance between the "Round-ists" and "Flat Earthers". I mean, isn't that the job of a brave journalist?

How about they get some people denying the effectiveness of vaccines in the interest of "balance".

The OZ is a disgrace.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

While Chris Mitchell states that the Australian's editorials on climate change "would make it clear that for several years the paper has accepted man-made climate change as fact" this is not so evident on the opinion pages as reflected in Timâs figures above.

And balance in the letters-to-the-editor page is epitomised in todayâs Australian.
There is a response from Professor Neville Nichols to Michael Astenâs article.
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/erroneous-claim/story-fn55…
And under the heading âIdeological onslaughtâ a congratulatory letter for publishing Jona Novaâs article.
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/ideological-onslaught/stor…

>*Poor guy, he misses the point... "balance"?*

poor guy typical damage limitation, he misses the point... "balance" widens the scope to attemp detract from his errors.

Saddly, he gets even his claims of "balance' wrong, and just adds to his mounting list of false claims.

(But even "balance" is an improper paradigm as pointed out by several posters already, I guess Asten is just balancing some facts with some errors).

And lets not forget Asten's use of the claims he was making. He was constrcuting a bazar narrative trying to associate climate science with Nazis. Perhaps he was so caught up in his narrative that that he was blinded to his errors.

What was the cognitive trap the Nazis fell for?

Top marks as usual for Tim â a nice piece of revealing research. Once again The Australian is shown-up for its lack of balance.

When it comes to accuracy on matters of sea level rise, why would anyone accept the views of Asten/The Australian over the accurate, transparent and peer reviewed measurements of CSIRO?

I admit to being pleasantly surprised that Asten has made a polite attempt to defend his claims.
I am still more surprised that Asten didn't claim that Tim's behaviour was in no way analogous to the SA brown shirts who smashed up jewish shops and then murdered their owners in the streets of Nazi Germany, but that the brown shirts are a cautionary tale of what happens when you let people like Tim defend the orthodoxy, not that he's in any way making a comparison. But he's still got time to do so, since retracting his original abuse seems to be beyond his capacity.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Asten writes:

>*My point was, and still is, that a discrepancy exists, and scientists need to be able to investigate the discrepancies without fear of treading on political toes*

I.e. Asten refused to face the fact that the discrepancy he refers to is entirely fabricated by his own improper use of and misreading of charts. Compounded by his inaccurate "estimate" of sealevel change rather than reading the observed data on sealevel change.

By digging deeper, Asten is not saving face. Asten is actually trying to manufacture fear of improper science by practicing science improperly. Those he challenges have not made the same mistake.

Asten's finger-counting is even sloppier than it appears in Tim's rebuttals.

There has been several decades-worth of investigation of human impoundment of water, and how this affects sea level rise - see, for example, [Chao 1995](http://www.gcmrc.gov/library/reports/physical/hydrology/Chao1995.pdf), [Gornitz et al 1997](http://www.dvgu.ru/meteo/library/19970224.pdf), [Sahagian 2000](http://www.dvgu.ru/meteo/library/3746988527.pdf), [Chao et al 2008](http://www.ncu.edu.tw/~ncu5680/deans/class/eng/2008-Impact%20of%20Artif…) and [Fiedler and Conrad 2010](http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/FACULTY/conrad/papers/Fiedler_Conrad_GRL…).

Dam construction is currently not as significant as it was in the twentieth century, and hence the masking of sea level rise by impoundment is likely to decrease in the future. To the extent that the difference in sea level rise may affect particular areas, ignoring this factor is just one more oversight in a piece that claims to have scientific credibility.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Philip Machanick (#19): thanks for the link to the piece by Joanne Nova. So, this nonsense is written by a former "associate lecturer in science communication at the Australian National University"? Now, that makes me fear for the quality of "science communication" in this country.

The Australian's War on Science 55: Michael Asten responds

Tim, should that be "The Australian's War on Science 56"?

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

What someone needs to do is go to a local library and pull out lots of issues of the Oz, and look at the climate stories that appear on the first three pages and to assess their stance, use some metric to measure the stance of the headline and the top two-thirds of the article.

Sometimes reasonable articles from the scientific consensus POV are published in the education supplement, but bias is reflected in positioning, headlines and the POV of the first part of the article.

By yadda yadda (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Philip @19, i've dwelt a bit in codling's cesspit, so the hypocrisy in the article is completely expected: while she accuses McKnight of basing his argument on an argument-from-authority premise, she does precisely the same thing in her article and on her blog.

By yada yada (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

@23: it's on a par with "science communicators" in general. Although there are a few honourable exceptions, non-scientist writers about science are generally pretty bloody awful (for example: Chris Mooney, David Bloor, Bruno Latour...).

Thankfully, the rise of the scientist-authored science blogosphere is increasingly cutting out the middlemen.

By Wanderfound (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

If by mistake you shake hands with these guys/girl(s), always count your fingers. Trust, but Verify - always, verify!

This sham balance claim is an infuriating gambit, hardly novel though. Asten in his article makes claim-by-dismissal that the scientific crowd, working at desks or in field camps dotted around the world, are somehow like the Nazis. Gimme a break, man! Once the professional scientific community is compared to the Nazis by a writer claiming to be the counterbalance in the scientific debates on the validity of AGW, and human-induced climate change more generally, well we can all pack up and go home. Cracked-pottery is no foil to oppose climate scientists with; show up with evidence and a careful analysis (quick check, did Mr Asten do that? Er, nope!) and you just might get taken seriously enough to be read in the peer reviewed literature, and discussed. Maybe even get someone interested enough to spend the time, effort, and money to investigate the validity of the claims made by attempting to reproduce the results independently. That's the halting progress science usually takes in the field. Tough.

Instead, Asten throws up the "compare on flimsy grounds with the Nazis and their atrocities" attack strategy, and last time I checked, this strategy adds nothing to the so-called "balance". In fact, it subtracts mightily from the author's credibility and simply exposes Asten's insincerity.

With my remaining two fingers: Asten, I salute you!

By Donald Oats (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

My point was, and still is, that a discrepancy exists, and scientists need to be able to investigate the discrepancies without fear of treading on political toes as happened with economist Clive Spash (see the first half of my commentary here).

This paragraph, right here, is one of the stupidest things I've read in a long time. Stupid, because the author should really know better.

Ignoring the fact that the "discrepancy" is much smaller than he originally estimates, the author claims that scientists are prevented, by some political imperative, in investigating discrepancies between model predictions and data. This is so far off base its laughable. I know personally many good scientists who spend their days trying to figure out the reasons for why models don't get everything right, and more importantly, rather than making snide remarks in the Oz, actually improve the model representation of climate. If there is a political imperative in climate science today, it might just be shifting resources into improving models (particularly in terms of sea level rise).

Asten could have found this out if he'd taken a short walk across campus to the very good weather and climate [research group](http://www.monash.edu.au/research/climate/) at Monash, or down the road to [CSIRO Aspendale](http://www.csiro.au/places/Aspendale.html) where alot of work on sea level rise is conducted, and knocked on some doors. Perhaps offered to collaborate on a project on historical sea-level rise or something. Or perhaps just shut-up and listened to all the interesting work being done on improving our understanding of climate and it's representation in models. Or the difference between a "prediction" and "what is happening right now".

But that would be useful. And hard. It's far easier to snipe on the side lines (in a major newspaper) and compare his Monash colleagues to Nazis.

/rant

>*Ignoring the fact that the "discrepancy" is much smaller than he originally estimates*

Even wosre Chris, Asten is ignoring the fact that the discrepancy is [non existent](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/the_australians_war_on_science_…). The model is calibrated to current observed sea level rise.

>*Asten has ignored the fact that Jevrejeva's model is fitted to observed changes in sea level, so it is no surprise that it agrees with observations. They write that sea level is "in excellent agreement with available observations".*

I'm going to defend Asten here. My impression is that he's very fond of the Nazis, in general, so he meant to pay a compliment by comparing atmospheric scientists to them.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 27 Dec 2010 #permalink

I would encourage people to read Chris Mooney's books for themselves and find out that equating him to Jo Nova is pretty much despicable Rush Limbaughism.

Also, you'd be cutting out the ignorant middleman, "Wanderfound" in this case. And that's been said to be a good thing.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 27 Dec 2010 #permalink

I've started reading James Hansen's Storms of my Grandchildren and if you want to see real political interference in science, read this. He has been denied funding for going against political interests, had his research findings distorted by political interests and had his media releases edited by the previous Bush administration.

And the evidence for this sort of interference from the other side? Other than loosely worded stolen emails that when tracked back to reality show no impropriety in multiple investigations, nothing. Zilch.

Meanwhile how many investigations into the denial team have there been? The only one I am aware of is a Danish government investigation into Lomborg's highly erroneous first book for scientific fraud, which essentially failed because he isn't a scientist.