The Australian's War on Science 75: Plimer vs Plimer

The Australian has continued its war on science by printing an extract from Ian Plimer's new book, How to Get Expelled from School. The extract is largely plagiarised from this press release on a recent paper in Science by Funder et al finding large fluctuations in Arctic sea ice over the last 10,000 years. Plimer did change this passage in the press release

In order to reach their surprising conclusions, Funder and the rest of the team organised several expeditions to Peary Land in northern Greenland.

to this:

In order to reach their unsurprising conclusions, Funder and the rest of the team organised several expeditions to Peary Land in northern Greenland.

Plimer contradicts his alteration of the plagiarised text in his next paragraph:

What is interesting about this study is that the new understanding came from getting away from computer modelling and doing fieldwork in pretty inhospitable areas.

Is it a "new understanding" or is it "unsurprising"? And while this sentence is original, it's also wrong -- the study's estimate that Arctic ice was 50% less 7000 years ago came from computer modelling. Plimer would have known this if he read the paper instead of just the press release. He perhaps would also have noticed that the paper begins with this:

Global warming will probably cause the disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean during this century

But Plimer's plagiarism and errors on Funder's work doesn't qualify the article for an entry in The Australian's War on Science. No, what qualifies the piece is this nonsense:

As snow falls, it traps air. This air is preserved as the snow becomes an ice sheet. This air remains trapped and uncontaminated in ice, otherwise it cannot be used to measure past atmospheres. Antarctic ice core (Siple) shows that there were 330 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air in 1900; Mauna Loa Hawaiian measurements in 1960 show that the air then had 260ppm carbon dioxide.

Either the ice core data is wrong, the Hawaiian carbon dioxide measurements are wrong, or the atmospheric carbon dioxide content was decreasing during a period of industrialisation.

What is wrong is the number Plimer gives for Siple -- the correct value for 1900 is 297ppm (green dot in the graph below) AND the number he gives for Mauna Loa -- the correct value for 1960 is 317ppm (red dot in the graph below).


And guess where the graph comes from? It's figure 5 in HTGEFS and it's on the same page and immediately following the passage where he gives the incorrect numbers from Siple and Mauna Loa. Plimer is famous for contradicting himself, but this may have set a new record.

Plimer doesn't bother with providing citations for any of his claims in HTGEFS, so it's often hard to determine whether he just made stuff up or copied it from some random website, but two wrong numbers is enough of a fingerprint to find the source. It's
an editorial by Jack Schmitt, published by SEPP on their website. Schmitt wrote:

For example, the Siple Antarctic ice core indicates that carbon dioxide reached a level of about 330ppm in about 1900. Comparison with the 1960 initial Mauna Loa measurement of 260ppm suggests that either (1) the Siple data is just wrong, or (2) there was a drop of about 60ppm in carbon dioxide level between 1900 and 1960, or (3) it takes 80-some years for the carbon dioxide gas system to close.[4]

Plimer copied Schmitt's wrong numbers but somehow forgot to copy Schmitt's third possibility, that it takes 80 years for the carbon dioxide gas system to close. This third possibility is the one that's been well established as correct, so Plimer has managed to add a third error to Schmitt's pair. Whether he did this deliberately or through incompetence, I cannot say.

Long time readers will recognize that Schmitt is just repeating Jaworowski's long-discredited argument that ice cores provide unreliable measurements of past CO2 levels. Jaworowski's argument has even been debunked at Watts Up With That. This is one of the websites that Plimer recommends as a good source of information about climate science, so you would have hoped he would have noticed.

More like this

So does the plagiarism rise to the point where Ian Pilmer might lose his academic post?

By very1silent (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

The "chemical" measurements in Figure 5 have a murky genealogy but go most probably back to one Ernst Beck, who compiled old measurements made, e.g., in European city centres (!) before it was realized that this doesn't exactly give you the background concentration...

Idiots the lot.

By Martin Vermeer (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

@ verysilent

One does wonder if that is a point: how many falsehoods is it necessary for the Uni of A to take note?

No one should deny Plimer's right to express an opinion. But he is using the fig leaf of his qualifications to give credence to his denial of science. But that would be "the big conspiracy" at work, shutting down "dissent'.

Never mind that Plimer's book is full of errors, fabrications and outright lies.

I've got a copy of Plimer's "Telling Lies for God" still on my bookshelf, indeed I bought it when it was first released.

Here's some revealing snippets from an [old ABC interview about TLfG](

I note in the interview Plimer talking about scientific fraud and the very behaviour he is engaged in:

*"I've had to read their scientific writings, and itâs very clear that the leaders of the creationist movement on the one hand are writing in the scientific literature that the planet is billions of years old, and on the other hand writing that the planet is thousands of years old for their lay audience. Now I argue that thatâs scientific fraud.â*

More Plimer vs Plimer?

Plimer latest gig: telling lies for conservatives.

HTGEFS has no citations or sources? And it's supposed to be increasing children's knowledge? Utterly shameless.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

Are we to understand that any editor also can't read a graph?

(And can the book's proud launcher, former PM Howard, read a graph, do you suppose?)

That smattering of 'chemical' black dots really doesn't add much in the way of information to it, but it sure does help out in muddying the water, doesn't it? Claiming a '1-3% accuracy' for this bedragggled assortment is perhaps technically correct for each localised site they were generated; claiming that's any meaningful proxy for the atmosphere in general is just risible. Why bother?

I figure we know why...

> Plimer doesn't bother with providing citations for any of his claims in HTGEFS... Creationists and those who fact-checked his previous work's citations **can** teach an old dog new tricks - better not to cite than to be trivially caught out!

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

From the University of Adelaide (my alma mater) where Plimer is Professor of Mining Geology.

"...examples of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. Plagiarism, which includes:
i. presenting work that is not your own in any format, without appropriate attribution or reference to the original source
ii. paraphrasing or copying work that is not your own, without due acknowledgement by way of reference to the original work
iii. adopting the ideas of others, or the structure of an existing analysis, without due acknowledgement by way of reference to the original source."

Plimer should be required to do the University's online "Avoiding Plagiarism" learning module.…

The University also has a site license to Turnitin - "a web-based tool which provides an online plagiarism prevention service"

Plimer should also be required to submit the manuscript to his book and publish the results.

On SkS I recently saw a figure showing the readership of various Australian papers. The Australian is ranked quite low for being the flagship of News Ltd. Also, study results shown at SkS suggest it's not the worst (to my surprise, given the awful content documented in Tim's 75 posts in the War on Science series). My question is, why does Deltoid target this paper? Does a large proportion of the other papers reprint the material?

Just a heads up on Plimer + Galileo Movement. Quote from SourceWatch's page:

The Galileo Movement bought 300 copies of Ian Plimer's controversial denialist book, How To Get Expelled From School - A guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters and offered them to Australian schools for free. Case Smit stated that any fair-minded school should be open to hearing "both sides of the argument"

Full story, which includes more outlandish claims from Pliemer: Geologist's climate call challenge

SteveL, The Australian is targeted because no other paper in Australia campaigns so heavily *against* the science. No other paper has an editorial position of climate denialism. It may not have the largest readership, but it's read by the people who count which makes it hugely influential. Murdoch doesn't run it at a loss for nothing.

tl;dr version: something something al gore conspiracy

Case Smit stated that any fair-minded school should be open to hearing "both sides of the argument"

And here we see again the irony of duplicating Creationists' (sorry 'Intelligent Designers') own tactics. 'Teach the controversy!'

Anthony David @ 12:

Interesting link. "Ian Plimer, professor of geology at the University of Newcastle (and now chair of the department of geology at the University of Melbourne)". And now at the University of Adelaide. He does change jobs rather frequently. Definitely a fickle man.

One thing puzzles me, esp about the lack of citations. Surely a book that's meant for schools should have companion material for teachers - and *that* should most certainly have citations as well as suggested lesson plans and links to other resources.

I suggest that it's not meant for schoolroom use at all. It's meant as ammunition for certain parents to use against proper science teaching and individual teachers. Just as much of the creationist material is meant to do.

@MikeH: Good luck with getting U of Adelaide to take action. I complained about Plimer's conduct in 2010, with this result:

The University acknowledges that individual staff members may express their opinions or interpretation of scientific data and research in their area of expertise. The University feels that this issue, which may be perceived as controversial, is an accepted part of the freedom of debate in higher education.

Yours sincerely,

Professor James A McWha
Vice-Chancellor and President

I brought to his attention (and that of the Melbourne VC, who weaseled out of taking action because Plimer is "emeritus" there, i.e., retired) the charges against Michael Mann and Phil Jones (both subsequently exonerated) for much lesser alleged offences than telling deliberate lies.

I'm a great supporter of freedom of expression and academic freedom but deliberately misleading the public goes beyond accepted norms of academic freedom and should constitute misconduct. I am pleased that I have no association with the University of Adelaide, where academic fraud appears to be part of the accepted "freedom of debate".