24 May, 2011

The Prime Minister’s Respect for Science

The Hon. Julia Gillard, yesterday, explained that she accepts expert, scientific advice:
“The science is in, climate-change is real.  The science is clear:  man-made carbon pollution is making a difference to our planet and our climate. [...]
“When I first met Ian Frazer, and he told me he had a cervical cancer vaccine that could cut the rates of cervical cancer for women and girls, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about cancer to second-guess what he was telling me was right.
“He was right; he’s a scientist.  We’ve got climate scientists here who are telling us exactly the same about the nature of global warming and the climate of our planet.”
What admirable deference to expertise!
Similarly, when I met William McBride and he told me that he could prove that Debendox caused birth defects, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about medicine or statistics to second-guess what he was telling me was right; he’s a renowned scientist, and wouldn’t manufacture data.
Likewise, when I met Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, and they told me that they had a method of producing power from table-top cold fusion, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about physics or electromagnetism or low-energy nuclear reactions to second-guess what they were telling me was right; they’re scientists, and wouldn’t deceive.
Comparably, when I met William Farr, and he told me that cholera was transmitted by air, and that there was a deadly concentration of miasmata near the banks of the Thames, and intimated that John Snow was a dangerous, denialist crackpot in the pay of big tobacco, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about epidemiology or the miasma theory to second-guess what he was telling me was right; he’s an assistant commissioner and a scientist, and couldn’t possibly be wrong.
Furthermore, when I met Tommaso Caccini, and he told me that he could prove that Galileo’s heretical letter on sunspots was demonstrably false, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about logic or theology or observation to second-guess what he was telling me was right; he’s a qualified expert, and wouldn’t err.
So too, when I met Claudius Ptolemaeus and he told me that he could accurately represent our geocentric universe as a set of nested spheres, I didn’t pretend to myself I knew enough about astrology to second-guess what he was telling me was right; he’s a scientist, and couldn’t be mistaken.

They were all right.  They are scientists.  We have many experts here who are telling us exactly what we want to hear about the nature of things and the overwhelming necessity for the Government to heed only their expert advice.  Nothing can go wrong.

UPDATE (7 June, 2011):  Debendox, mentioned above was marketed in the US as Bendectin; see the comment by Tucci, below.

23 May, 2011

What Flannery Thinks

Four Lies in Four Sentences

From the conclusion of The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses, by the Climate Commission:
As you’ve read in this report, we know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause.*  The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Australia and around the world with less than 1 degree of warming globally.  The risks of future climate change – to our economy, society and environment – are serious, and grow rapidly with each degree of further temperature rise. Minimising these risks requires rapid, deep and ongoing reductions to global greenhouse gas emissions.§ [p. 60]
The rear and front covers of the report.

* lie 1.  † lie 2.  ‡ lie 3.  § lie 4.

22 May, 2011

Big Tobacco and Global Warming

An unofficial transcription of a part of “The Drum”, on ABC TV, with John Barron hosting a discussion with Waleed Aly, Chris Berg, Naomi Oreskes and Tom Switzer, last Tuesday:

John Barron:  Now to a book which, rather happily, draws together a couple of the stories we’ve been looking at today: tobacco and climate-change.  In Merchants of Doubt, Professor Naomi Oreskes reveals [if you accept her conspiracy-theory—a better choice of word would be “asserts”] that scientists favoured by the climate-change-sceptics are not only using the playbook from the tobacco industry’s defence against health lawsuits back in the 1970s, in many cases it’s the same scientists that wrote the playbook:  they’re back.  Naomi Oreskes is in Australia to attend this week’s Sydney Writer’s Festival, and she’s with us on “The Drum”.  Welcome.
Naomi Oreskes:  Thank you. Nice to be here.
John Barron:  Now first of all, who are these shadowy, or not-so-shadowy figures, that the scientists that were involved with big tobacco in the ’70s and are now in the climate-change denial business today.
Naomi Oreskes:  Well, in our book, Merchants of Doubt, what we asked the question was, who are these scientists who say there’s no global warming,  that it’s just caused by natural variability?  And we were able to, through historical research, trace these people back to their origins in a think-tank created in 1984 called the George C. Marshall Institute.  But, even before that, we found that the key people in the story including the founding chairman of the board of the Marshall Institute, a man by the name of Frederick Seitz, had worked in the 1970s and ’80s with the US tobacco industry.
John Barron:  Now, are these scientists who have legitimate, honestly-held doubts in the finest Rigorous Traditions of Science, or are they in some way compromised or corrupted?
Naomi Oreskes: Well, I don’t know if I would put it exactly either of those.  I mean, they were real scientists, that’s partly how they had credibility, it’s partly why people listened to them.  They were physicists, Frederick Seitz was a President of US National Academy of Sciences, so they were real scientists, and that was key to the story.  But, of course, that was what the tobacco industry had recognised, that if their claims that the science regarding tobacco was uncertain—that we didn’t really know if tobacco was hazardous—for that claim to be credible it wouldn’t really do for a tobacco industry executive to say it, because most of us would be smart enough to realise that was not a credible claim.  But if they could find scientists, prestigious scientists, who would say, “Well, we’re not sure about the the science,” that would have much more credibility with the public, and especially with the journalists. because a lot of this was about targeting journalists.  So the tobacco industry actively recruited scientists to support their position about tobacco; and, subsequently, we see the Marshall Institute and other groups actively recruiting scientists to claim that there’s no global warming.
John Barron:  Talk a bit about the rôle of the media, whether it was in the ’70s with tobacco and cancer or in more recent times with climate-change, the media tends to either want to give both sides of the argument equal air-time to set up a conflict on a panel show or, maybe just, to be fair and balanced.  In some cases, though, the media organisations have proprietors or editors who have taken a view, that are trying to push an agenda.  What did you find?
Naomi Oreskes:  Well, so, both of those; so, one of key things we talk about in the book is how the tobacco industry and then later these other organisations, like the Marshall Institute, have a conscious and explicit strategy to exploit the media ideal of balance.  They know that journalists want balance. [!]  They know that journalists want to present both sides of issues, and they know that journalists want to be objective; and so they exploit that, and they say, “Well, we have another view, you need to give us equal time for our position.”  And because journalists don’t realise that their view is not in fact supported by real science, journalists succumb to this.  And so the exploitation of journalists is really a key part of this strategy; and, again we saw that in tobacco debates back in the ’70s and ’80s, and then we see the same strategy being used throughout the 1990s, into the present day, with respect to climate change and a host of other issues as well that we talk about in the book.
John Barron:  Interesting example in the papers here in Australia today:  on the one hand, The Sydney Morning Herald, in reporting on comments from one of the top UN officials on climate change was reporting along the lines of “there is growing body of evidence to suggest that the climate change is responsible for the extreme weather events that have led to floods and hurricanes and so on.”  The Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch, was reporting slightly differently, saying—using the same quotes—but with headlining along the lines of you know, “there’s no proof that these floods in Queensland and elsewhere are linked to climate-change.”  Same quotes being used, very different stories, very different headlines.
Naomi Oreskes:  Yeah, and the mantra, “there’s no proof,” was really invented by the tobacco industry, and this is one of the things we talk about in the book.  So, early on, the tobacco industry realised that this was a very effective strategy because, of course, it was true, because in science you can never really prove anything, you can never—it’s not, science isn’t like mathematics or logic, you can’t prove something is true.  What you can simply do is evaluate the evidence and say what is the most reasonable expectation or explanation based on what we know, based on the laws of physics and chemistry, based on all of the evidence.  And so, today, we have a situation where climate scientists have predicted for a long time that global warming would lead to an increase in extreme weather events: they predicted floods, they predicted hurricanes, they predicted cyclones, and now we are seeing all of these things that were predicted ten, twenty, thirty years ago, or even longer—all of these things are coming true.  So the most reasonable explanation is that, in fact, scientists have correctly understood the laws of nature and that this is in fact evidence for the very things that we should expect. But, of course, Rupert Murdoch and others can say, as the tobacco industry did before them, “there’s no proof”—and they’re not lying when they say that; but they are giving the public a very distorted view of the scientific evidence.
John Barron:  Tom Switzer, to you on this as well; how would you characterise your approach to climate change and mankind’s rôle in it, because it’s not as simple as being sort of a denier or a sceptic, you’ve looked at this in some depth?
Tom Switzer:  I try not to get too bogged down on the science, because I’m not an authority on it, but I would describe myself as an agnostic on the science.  I think that there is still a lot of uncertainly, although I readily concede there has been some warming of the planet over the last twenty or so years.  But, interestingly, in the IPCC models, there is a great deal of uncertainty, because the rate of the warming has not increased to the extent that the IPCC models suggested it would in the 1990s; there has been some tapering off.  Now, to the extent that that’s true, that does lead one to believe that there is more uncertainly.  But, on the issue of one-sided media campaigns—look, I think the Australian media have done themselves a disservice.  Day in and day out, in this country, we have front-page news stories, broadcast on the ABC, about the carbon debate.  And yet, with the exception of about two, maybe three columnists, the news of the Canadian election has hardly been mentioned, and this is a significant result.  This was a Canadian, conservative Prime Minister gaining seats on the back of opposing a carbon tax or an ETS.  Now, this was significant news for Australia, because Canada and Australia have very similar types of economies—they’re very resource-rich—and this hardly got picked up at all in the mainstream press.  Now, that was a classic case of how, that your argument goes both ways.  And I would argue that, in this country, especially during the time of ’07 and ’08 and ’09, it was conducted in a heretic-hunting and anti-intellectual environment where sceptics were hardly heard; and, indeed, it was not only impermissible to question the science, a lot of the time, it was impermissible to question the response.  You know, I think this debate can go both ways.
Naomi Oreskes:  May I respond to that?
John Barron: Of course.
Naomi Oreskes:  I can’t understand really what you mean when you say, “I’m an agnostic.”  I mean, to me to say that you’re an agnostic—  Excuse me, I listened to what you said so, please, let me speak.
Tom Switzer:  Yeah, sure.
Naomi Oreskes:  To say you’re agnostic about the science to me only makes sense if you in fact have not been paying attention or don’t understand the science, because the scientific evidence is now overwhelming, and anyone who’s paid attention to it, anyone who understands it, anyone who understands the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere knows that scientists predicted climate change from increased green-house gases and deforestation going back to the 1950s.  They have built models—of course, models are representations of the natural world, they are not the world itself—so, of course, there will always be uncertainties about the details, but the overall picture is overwhelmingly clear, and it’s exactly what scientists have predicted.  And if you talk about the IPCC forecasts—my graduate-students and I have studied this—we’ve looked at what these scientists have predicted on this issue over the past fifty years, and we find that in most cases scientists have actually underestimated the change:  we see sea-level rising faster than predicted; we see overall global temperatures rising faster than predicted; we see sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean rising faster than predicted.  So, if anything, scientists have been conservative on this issue!  And now we are seeing the changes all around us.
Tom Switzer:  In your book, do you focus on any kind of scandals that have been affiliated with the IPCC, such as the glacier-gate, do you talk about that?
Naomi Oreskes:  Well, that happened after our book was finished.  But I think the so-called glacier-gate was a typographic error.  The IPCC reports are thousands of pages long.  In any human activity, in any human institution, of course, there will be some mistakes.  I’m sure there are some mistakes in your work too, but you haven’t had teams of people—
Tom Switzer:  Of course, but I’m not—
Naomi Oreskes:  Excuse me, but you haven’t had teams of people scouring it.  I actually think that the fact that the IPCC report is thousands of pages long, and the only errors that were found—
Tom Switzer:  It was a pretty significant error—
Naomi OreskesNo, it was a typographical error!
Tom Switzer:  No, it was more than that; it was based on dodgy research, from a travelling document, c’mon—
Naomi OreskesNo, studies have showed that in fact it was a typographical error
Tom Switzer:  Please—
Naomi Oreskes:  So—no, not please—it was a typographical error
Tom Switzer:  The IPCC Chairman nearly resigned over the matter!  This was a pretty serious issue, wasn’t it, Chris?
Naomi Oreskes:  Excuse me, the IPCC chairman was the choice of the Bush administration—
John Barron:  Let’s take a time out on that particular point because there’s a more, philosophical issue I’d like to get your thoughts on, Waleed.  Do you think that, given that, as Tom says, he’s not a scientist—I’m not a scientist, we do have a scientist here [referring, laughably, to Prof. Oreskes], but most of us are not scientists—, are people more inclined to believe one side or the other?  Conservatives seem to be more sceptical, progressives seem to be more willing to accept the fact [!] that we need to do something about man-made climate change.  You can almost sort of, you know, pick it by post-card or political affiliation.
Waleed Aly:  You can go further.  What I found interesting is that often you can match someone’s attitude to the science of climate-change with their attitudes on social issues as well. There’s this really interesting mix. What I think that demonstrates is that, for most people, this is not about the science at all:  they will cherry-pick the scientific discourse that suits their purposes, whether it’s from a blog or it’s somewhere else, or from a paid scientist; but they will shape the scientific data that they get or they choose to match their overall world view...

UPDATE (by Deadman):  See “Secondhand Smoke, Lung Cancer, and the Global Warming Debate”, by S. Fred Singer, at American Thinker, from 19 December, 2010—which John Barron (or anyone else at the ABC) could have read before interviewing Prof. Oreskes, if he were a journalist who wanted “to present both sides of issues” or who wanted “to be objective” and not a biassed, awarmist shill:
The tobacco smoking issue has also become a favourite tool for discrediting climate skeptics.  A prime example is the book Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes and Eric Conway, which attacks several well-known senior physicists, including the late Dr. Fred Seitz, a former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society, and (most recently) Rockefeller University.
No matter what the environmental issue—ozone depletion, acid rain, pesticides, etc.—any and all scientific opposition based on objective facts is blamed on an imagined involvement with tobacco companies.  None of this is true, of course.  Oreskes and Conway claim to be academic historians, yet they have consistently ignored factual information, have not bothered to consult primary sources, have never interviewed any of the scientists they try to smear, and generally have operated in a completely unprofessional way.
Oreskes’ and Conway’s science is as poor as their historical expertise.  [...]  As an aside, when not engaged in smearing scientists by linking them to the tobacco lobby, Oreskes’ and Conway’s book claims that opposition to environmental regulation of greenhouse gases and other “pollutants” is based on anti-communism!
The ultimate aim of these attacks, at least in my case, has been to discredit my work and publications on global warming.  I am a nonsmoker, find SHS to be an irritant and unpleasant, have certainly not been paid by Philip Morris and the tobacco lobby, and have never joined any of their front organizations.  And I serve on the advisory board of an anti-smoking organisation.  My father, who was a heavy smoker, died of emphysema while relatively young.  I personally believe that SHS, in addition to being objectionable, cannot possibly be healthy.
So what is the truth about SHS and lung cancer?  I am neither an oncologist nor a chemical toxicologist, but I do know some statistics, which allows me to examine the EPA study without bias.  I can demonstrate that the EPA fudged their analysis to reach a predetermined conclusion — using thoroughly dishonest procedures.  EPA “scientists’ made three major errors: 1) They ignored “publication bias.” 2) They arbitrarily shifted the statistical “confidence intervals.” 3) They drew unjustified conclusions from a risk ratio that was barely greater than 1.0.  […]
So what does it all mean?  The issue is not whether SHS be healthy; it obviously is not.  One issue is the use of the “tobacco weapon” to attack the credibility of climate scientists—in place of using scientific arguments.  It bespeaks of the desperation of those who don’t have any valid scientific arguments and wish to avoid public debate.  (Imagine, if you will, Oreskes attacking the validity of the notorious “hockey stick” temperature-curve by linking its author, Michael Mann, to tobacco company Philip Morris, instead of describing his faulty use of statistics.)
The other issue is the conduct of science and the integrity of the science process:  the intrusion of government political agenda—worthy or not—on the way science is done and reported to the public.  The corruption of science in a worthy cause is still corruption, and it has led to its further corruption in an unworthy cause—the ideologically driven claim of anthropogenic global warming.
UPDATE II (8 June, 2011)See also “Naomi Oreskes, Conspiracy Queen”, by Norman Rogers, at American Thinker, and Nicolas Nierenberg’s ’blog, particularly here.

UPDATE III (21 June, 2011)See “Science and Smear Merchants” by S. Fred Singer, at American Thinker:
Professor Naomi Oreskes of the University of California in San Diego, claims to be a science historian.  One can readily demonstrate that she is neither a credible scientist nor a credible historian; the best evidence is right there in her recent book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, coauthored with Eric Conway.  Her science is faulty; her historical procedures are thoroughly unprofessional.  She is, however, an accomplished polemicist, who has found time for world lecture tours, promoting her book and her ideological views, while being paid by the citizens of California.  Her book tries to smear four senior physicists – of whom I am the only surviving one.  I view it as my obligation to defend the reputations of my late colleagues and good friends against her libelous charges.
Oreskes is well-known from her 2004 article in Science that claimed a complete scientific consensus about man-made global warming; it launched her career as a polemicist.  Her claim was based on examining the abstracts of some 900 published papers.  Unfortunately, she missed more than 11,000 papers through an incorrect Internet search.  She published a discreet “Correction”; yet she has never retracted her ideologically based claim about consensus.  Al Gore still quotes her result, which has been contradicted by several, more competent studies (by Peiser, Schulte, Bray and von Storch; Lemonick in SciAm, etc).
Turning first to the her science, her book discusses acidification, as measured by the pH coefficient.  She states that a pH of 6.0 denotes neutrality (page 67, MoD).  Let’s be charitable and chalk this off to sloppy proofreading.
Elsewhere in the book (page 29), she claims that beryllium is a “heavy metal” and tries to back this up with references.  I wonder if she knows that the atomic weight of beryllium is only 9, compared to, say, uranium, which is mostly 238.  A comparison of these two numbers should tell anyone which one is the heavy metal.
Her understanding of the Greenhouse Effect is plain comical; she posits that CO2 is “trapped” in the troposphere – and that’s why the stratosphere is cooling.  Equally wrong is her understanding of what climate models are capable of; she actually believes that they can predict forest fires in Russia, floods in Pakistan and China – nothing but calamities everywhere – and tells climate scientists in a recent lectureIf the predictions of climate models have come true, then why don’t people believe them?
 Perhaps because people are not gullible.
UPDATE III (24 June, 2011)See “Circuitous attempts to smear AGW skeptic scientists”, by Russell Cook, and also JoNova’s “Oreskes’ clumsy, venomous smear campaign: busted”.

18 May, 2011

Good News from New Satirist

The alleged science-magazine New Pscientist continues to publish articles which, though at times droll, are seemingly meant to be taken seriously; read, for instance, “Greenland ice in no hurry to raise seas”, by Michael Marshall:
Good news is rare when it comes to the Greenland ice sheet.  Yet a model that accurately mimics the way the ice responds to rising temperatures by slipping and sliding into the sea suggests the resulting rise in sea levels may be smaller than feared.
In its 2007 forecasts of sea-level rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change famously excluded contributions from the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets because the physics were too poorly understood and complex to model.  As a result, the IPCC’s estimate that seas could rise by 18 to 59 centimetres by 2100 is almost certainly too low.  Indeed, levels are already rising faster than the models predicted.
Using data from the last decade, Stephen Price of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has shown that his modelled ice sheet moves in the same way as the real one does.  In particular, the model accurately reproduces how disruptions to the edge of the ice sheet leads to a large initial movement, which is followed by several decades of smaller movement.
Price has calculated that changes which the ice sheet experienced between 1997 and 2007 in response to a thermal disruption in the early 2000s will eventually lead to a rise of 0.6 centimetres.  Assuming that similar thermal disruptions happen every decade, the moving ice sheet will raise sea levels by about 4.5 centimetres by 2100.
That is about half of a widely quoted previous estimate of 9 centimetres, calculated by Tad Pfeffer at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and colleagues. But Pfeffer's study was a worst-case scenario, in which all the processes driving sea-level rise were pushed to their absolute limits (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1159099).
Pfeffer says Price’s study is a more plausible estimate of what might actually happen.  “They use a much more realistic scenario,” he says, “and their model is really grounded in physics.”
Notice that levels “rising faster than the models predicted” inevitably lead “to a rise of 0.6 centimetres.”  Oh, no!  Notice too that Tad Pfeffer admits that his own, alarmist, exaggerated predictions were not “really grounded in physics.”  Actual observations, of course, shew that the seas have not been rising—and will not rise—by anything near as much as the semi-illiterate hacks of Pseudo-Scientist and other alarmist publications have been shouting and fearing all these years.  See the post, “No Acceleration of Global Sea-Level”, below.
See also “Fake Sea Level Rise Approved by NASA in Climate Fraud”, by John O’Sullivan:
NASA researchers admit adding fake inches to sea level rises.  Skeptics denounce desperate attempt to salvage government global warming policies.
In a disturbing development in the ongoing global warming fiasco the U.S. government-funded Sea Level Research Group has been given a green light from NASA to exaggerate sea level rises [... so] policy makers can falsely blame humans for adding to natural rises in sea levels.

10 May, 2011

Environmentalist Organisation Not a Charity

Greenpeace, a misanthracist organisation which uses misinformation, as well as ignorant but paid mendicants on city streets, to extract funding from the credulous or guilt-ridden, cannot be registered as a charity in New Zealand, the High Court has ruled:
Greenpeace appealed against a 2010 ruling by the Charities Commission which found its promotion of “disarmament and peace” was political rather than educational and while it did not directly advocate illegal acts, Greenpeace members had acted illegally.
In his judgment Justice Paul Heath found the commission was correct in its judgment and turned down the Greenpeace appeal.
“Non-violent, but potentially illegal activities (such as trespass), designed to put (in the eyes of Greenpeace) objectionable activities into the public spotlight were an independent object disqualifying it from registration as a charitable entity,” the judge said.
Greenpeace’s pleas for disarmament and peace could be seen as an independent purpose and its political activities were not necessary to educate members of the public on the key issues of Greenpeace, Justice Heath said.
UPDATE (6 August):  SeeGreenpeace’s Fear Machine” at No Frakking Consensus.