Home > Environment > Science vs the right: Part 2 (Australia)

Science vs the right: Part 2 (Australia)

April 30th, 2004

Update 30/4As this one still seems to be alive, having veered from the Murray to libertarianism to the appropriate mode of address for yours truly, I thought I’d move it back up to the top of the page

The most important representative of party-line science in Australia is the Institute of Public Affairs[1], which models its approach closely on that of rightwing thinktanks in the US[2]. It has promoted critics of scientific research on passive smoking , funded by the tobacco industry, (for an IPA defence of this practice, read here), critics of scientific research on global warming (funded by the fossil fuel industry), and has more generally bagged scientists and research organisations whose research produces commercially inconvenient findings. Targets have included the World Health Organization, the National Health and Medical Research Council and of course, the International Panel on Climate Change, as well as many individual scientists.

The mode is identical to that of Milloy and Tech Central Station. Where the general scientific basis is strong (as in arguments about the safety of GM foods) opponents are assailed as anti-scientific irrationalists. Where it is weak (as in the cases of smoking and global warming) the IPA demands equal time for sceptics, even sceptics who have done no original research and have no relevant qualifications. The strategy is one of selective citation of evidence that supports a predetermined outcome, mixed with protestations of support for open inquiry and the scientific method. As far as I know, the IPA has never found a case where the evidence supports more environmental regulation, or even a continuation of existing regulations.

The latest target of the IPA, and one close to home for me[3], is the sustainable management of the Murray-Darling Basin.

The IPA scored a short-lived win when they managed to convince the House of Reps committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Committee that “scientists had greatly exaggerated their claims that the Murray River’s health was declining.” The Committee majority (mainly rural Coalition MPs) relied for this finding on the arguments of the IPA’s Jennifer Marohasy and on those of Lee Benson, a consultant employed by Murray Irrigation Limited, dismissing the work of dozens of scientists currently doing research for the Murray-Darling Basin Committee, and many hundreds who have worked on different aspects of the problems of the Basin over several decades.

This triumph didn’t last long. Even though the main arguments (we should do nothing until all the uncertainties are resolved, that is, never) are much the same as in the case of global warming, no-one outside the rural rump was silly enough to buy them this time. Howard quickly announced that the report would be consigned to the dustbin, where it belonged.

I’ve previously responded to the main piece of evidence produced by the IPA, claiming that because management by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (in the form of salinity mitigation works and a cap on diversions) has managed a temporary reversal of the trend towards increasing salinity levels, it’s safe to disregard the recommendations of the very same Commission regarding the need for a return of flows to the system. Those interested in the MDBC’s analysis can read a full report here (PDF file) or look at the projections graphed here

Rather than repeat myself on this, I’ll look at another example showing the way the IPA approach to science works, that of passive smoking. No-one, not even the IPA, denies that smoking causes cancer. And you would have to be quite stupid to believe that the many known carcinogens in tobacco smoke suddenly become harmless because they’re inhaled second-hand rather than first-hand. There’s no-one that stupid at the IPA.

Rather, their approach is that of a defence lawyer faced with overwhelming evidence of her client’s guilt. From this perspective it doesn’t matter that the client is guilty – what matters is whether the prosecution can prove it and convince a jury to convict. The duty of the defence lawyer, on this view, is to make the prosecution’s task as difficult as possible by blackguarding and harassing the witnesses, raising as many doubts as possible, producing spurious ‘expert witnesses’, and making emotional appeals to the jury[4].

This can be pretty effective in the case of passive smoking. After all, it’s quite difficult to get really solid evidence on how much people have been exposed to second-hand smoke. And if you can invent spurious epidemiological principles, the task becomes even easier (the post refers to Milloy, but Philip Morris also backed the IPA in similar efforts). But in the long run, the truth will out, and you don’t hear so much about passive smoking from the IPA these days.

Once you’ve seen the tactic at work in a clear-cut case like that of passive smoking (or, in retrospect, CFCs and the ozone layer) it’s easier to see through it in other contexts.

fn1. The IPA has repeatedly made personal attacks on me, and I’ve responded as vigorously as you might expect. So readers should be aware that I’m not making a neutral observation here. Still, I’m confident that what I’ve written is an accurate summary, without any intentional distortions or omissions. In particular, I’m not aware of any scientific issue the IPA has approached in a spirit of open-minded inquiry, to the point of publishing conclusions inconsistent with their ideological commitments and the financial interests of their backers. If one is pointed out, I’ll be happy to acknowledge it (OK, I won’t be happy, but I will acknowledge it).

fn2. In fact, the IPA was founded in 1944, well before most of the US thinktanks. But it had a chequered history, starting out as a front group/slush fund for business interests associated with the Liberal Party and going into a long decline over the 1960s and 1970s, before emerging in its present form some time in the 1980s.

fn3. The Federation Fellowship I was awarded last year was for research on this topic. This award, coming from a government I had repeatedly criticised, inflamed the IPA to new fury, especially when I took the award and continued the criticism. The IPA view is that an honest man is one who, once bought, stays bought.

fn4. The Rumpole books, especially The Golden Thread present as good a defence of this view as I’ve seen. I’m doubtful that it’s appropriate in a system of criminal justice, and I’m certain that it has no place in science or science-based policy analysis.

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  1. Tom Davies
    April 24th, 2004 at 02:16 | #1

    On Chimps and HIV, there was an report on Radio National on Thursday (?) morning stating that the type of SIV in chimps in the area in which the polio vaccine research was done is very different to the SIV which HIV is descended from.

    On Lomborg, the authors of the Scientific American rebuttal were, IMHO, their own worst enemies due to the clubby, condescending tone they adopted.

  2. Dano
    April 24th, 2004 at 10:30 | #2

    Jeff Harvey:

    I sign my posts with a capital ‘D’ – that is not me in this thread – but you actually are replying to many things I’ve said in the past (but not too often here, and you say it better than I do).

    And Tom Davies hits the nail on the head – although if you look at some responses of scientist’s work attacked by the fossil fuel lobby, you’ll see a much more measured tone…

    D

  3. d
    April 24th, 2004 at 11:50 | #3

    This is little d speaking not DANO.

    I’d like to suggest there are Left wing contributers to policy debate flaws who are worthy of dissection. One is “biotech gadfly” Jeremy Rifkin (Foundation for Economic Trends). The science he uses in books like Algeny is downright shoddy. He obviousy does’t understand the role of Entropy in biology actually is, while writing extensively about it. Perhaps even Q might criticise Rifkin’s anti-tech anti-globalisation stance. Stephen J Gould (not a noted right-winger) was able to critique Rifkin in NYRB (?) without being abusive (said it was a shame that his arguments were shoddy, ‘cos the issues were important), and even though I probably feel towards Rifkin like Q does (apparently) about Milloy and others, I am bound by my own ethics to try and discuss what Rifkin says without personal abuse.
    David Suzuki is another worth discussing, in a different category – a scientist whose contact with real science has faded away. I suspect to much exposure to a marijuana culture! Still doesnt stop him from presenting himself as a geneticist.

  4. John Quiggin
    April 24th, 2004 at 12:00 | #4

    d, I think both Rifkin and Suzuki are charlatans. I should write something on one or both sometime – keep reminding me.

    Tom D, as I think you can see from Jeff Harvey’s comments, Lomborg is a skilled debater, a key part of whose technique is to maintain an air of sweet reasonableness while telling lies that infuriate his opponents. Having fallen for this to to some extent myself, I try nowadays to be careful in dealing with him.

  5. d
    April 24th, 2004 at 12:02 | #5

    Links to readable story on Congo Chimp controversy. This issue may now be resolved.
    VACCINE HIV ORIGIN THEORY NOW DEAD

    Nice thing for scientists is that its OK to be a sceptic, and they love killing testable speculations, but the methods must be ethical, not the riducule that political theorists seem to delight in.. They can treat iconoclasts (like Lomborg) with decency, and we can all gain from that approach.
    URL

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/news/20040421/02/

    and April 22 Nature, also

    VACCINE HIV ORIGIN THEORY NOW DEAD

  6. d
    April 24th, 2004 at 14:32 | #6

    Jeff Harvey

    I checked out the Lomborg errors site you mention. Rather odd that the Danish Government’s recent repudiation of the DCSD judgement is not obviously highlighted by them or by you, isnt it ? That repudiation was rather forthright.
    d

  7. Louis Hissink
    April 24th, 2004 at 21:28 | #7

    Do all of you actually understand what you write here, or is it all political polemic?

  8. Harry Clarke
    April 25th, 2004 at 09:15 | #8

    A lot of polemic here. Let me take an example. Lomberg’s claims need to be assessed and dealt with. He can’t be labelled in some way and dismissed.

    His claims on the lack of species extinctions for example use a non-populational based definition of ‘species’ that few conservation biologists would today accept. Few species have gone extinct according to his definition but many local populations clearly have and this has reduced global biodiversity from the viewpoint of allowing natural selection to occur.

    Julian Simon uses the same species idea and ends up with the same erroneous judgement.(He compounds the error by arguing that flourishing non-native introduced species populations in the US increase biodiversity!)

    This is a deliberately specific point but shouldn’t this discussion be specific? What are the arguments? Why the ongoing desire to label particular groups to shortcut critiquing their views? There is time for debate.

  9. April 28th, 2004 at 10:48 | #9

    PK writes, “Your claims appear to be wrong. You’re saying his book isn’t good enough to pass peer review, my understanding is that it did.”

    Sorry to get into this discussion late, but as far as I know, you’re wrong, PK. “Peer review” involves independent experts (hopefully)thoroughly reviewing a paper/publication, and providing recommended changes. The paper is then not published until the changes are made to the satisfaction of the reviewers. As far as I know, that didn’t happen with “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

    PK also writes, “Comparing GW sceptics to creationists is certainly claiming to be an authority on the subject. If you’re a non-expert, who are you to claim which side is correct? Some GW sceptics certainly have a much higher level of expertise than you, yet you feel free to ridicule them. Isn’t this a claim of authority?”

    Hmmm…it appears that Mr. Quiggin never answered this question? What about that, Mr. Quiggin? Did you ever call GW “sceptics” “creationists”?

    If so, this “sceptic” will be happy to debate you (and all of your friends, scientists especially) on global warming.
    :-)

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

    http://markbahner.50g.com

  10. John Quiggin
    April 28th, 2004 at 11:10 | #10

    Mark, as regards creationists, I think PK is referring to this post. Taking GW sceptics as a group, I think there has been a notable unwillingness to respond to new evidence, comparable to that of the creationists.

    On PKs more general claim, I think there are in fact only a handful of scientists who are
    (a) global warming sceptics in any sense of the term;
    (b) not subject to obvious conflicts of interest; and
    (c) significantly more qualified than I am to write on this topic (I have publications in internationally refereed journals on a range of statistical and economic issues relevant to the debate, but I don’t claim to be an expert on the specifics of climatology).

    In fact, I’d say that the only examples satisfying (a)-(c) I’ve mentioned on this blog are Richard Lindzen and John Christy (both very moderate as sceptics go) and I don’t think I’ve ever ridiculed either of them.

  11. April 28th, 2004 at 13:55 | #11

    “On PKs more general claim, I think there are in fact only a handful of scientists who are

    “(a) global warming sceptics in any sense of the term”

    I don’t understand. What does “…global warming sceptics in any sense of the term…” mean?

    “(b) not subject to obvious conflicts of interest”

    Do you consider a scientist like Michael Oppenheimer who gets his salary from Environmental Defense and who works to get the U.N. involved in climate change research to have a “conflict of interest?”

    http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~step/people/oppenheimer.html

    “In the late 1980′s, Dr. Oppenheimer and a handful of other scientists organized two workshops under the auspices of the United Nations that helped precipitate the negotiations that resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (signed at the 1992 Earth Summit) and the Kyoto Protocol.”

    How about a scientist who gets the majority of his salary from a government?

    “(c) significantly more qualified than I am to write on this topic…”

    You, and quite a number of other people, seem to be very confused about true science. “Qualifications” mean squat in true science. In true science, all that matters is who is right.

    The IPCC’s methane atmospheric concentration, CO2 emission, CO2 atmospheric concentration, and temperature projections for the 21st century are wrong. They could be termed laughably wrong, except that their purpose was to fraudulently obtain large sums of money. Do you consider *that* to be a “conflict of interest”?

  12. John Quiggin
    April 28th, 2004 at 14:09 | #12

    “(a) global warming sceptics in any sense of the term

    By this I mean to include people like Christy who agree that human-induced global warming is taking place, but think it will be modest and not very damaging, as well as those who say that the hypothesis is not proven (Lindzen ?) and those who deny it outright (Singer, Baliunas and many others, mostly nonscientists).

    On the other points, my post was a response to a specific point made by PK and cited by you. Your reactions go off into more general issues without addressing the original point. I’ve discussed these general issues quite a few times and will no doubt do so again, in which case I’ll try to respond.

  13. April 29th, 2004 at 03:23 | #13

    John Quiggin wrote, “I think there are in fact only a handful of scientists who are
    (a) global warming sceptics in any sense of the term;”

    He later defined and gave examples of “global warming sceptics”:

    “By this I mean to include people like Christy who agree that human-induced global warming is taking place, but think it will be modest and not very damaging, as well as those who say that the hypothesis is not proven (Lindzen ?) and those who deny it outright (Singer, Baliunas…”
    So you’ve named 4 people.

    By your definition and examples I would add Pat Michaels, Robert Balling, Willie Soon, and Frederick Seitz. That’s 4 more, for a total of 8. But those are simply the people you probably already know. By your definition and examples I would also add:

    Chauncey Starr, Douglas Hoyt, C.R. de Freitas, Nathaniel Guttman…and many, many more. In fact, I could name literally **thousands** more. Apparently, you are unaware of Frederick Seitz’s global warming petition project:

    http://www.oism.org/pproject/

    The petition says, in part:

    “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

    That petition has been signed by more than 17,000 people, according to the above website. The website characterizes the signers as follows:

    Signers of this petition so far include 2,660 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists (select this link for a listing of these individuals) who are especially well qualified to evaluate the effects of carbon dioxide on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

    Signers of this petition also include 5,017 scientists whose fields of specialization in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and other life sciences (select this link for a listing of these individuals) make them especially well qualified to evaluate the effects of carbon dioxide upon the Earth’s plant and animal life.

    So, Mr. Quiggin, apparently either your hand has many thousands of fingers, or you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    My guess is that you don’t know what you’re talking about. My reasoning is that you are apparently unaware of a rather famous petition signed by multiple thousands of scientists who would apparently meet your definition of a “sceptic.”

    But an even more important clue that you don’t know what you’re talking about is that you are apparently under the assumption that science is somehow determined by “consensus.” That is a complete crock, as most people who actually know about science will tell you. In *real* science, it is completely irrelevant whether “believers” outnumber “skeptics” by 2 to 1, or 1000 to 1, or 1 million to 1, or 1 billion to 1, or 6.3+ billion to 1. As I wrote yesterday, science is about who is right (and who is wrong).

    Mr. Quiggin continues, “On the other points, my post was a response to a specific point made by PK and cited by you. Your reactions go off into more general issues without addressing the original point.”

    Let’s review the “original point” and subsequent discussion:

    1) Your post on December 18, 2003 appeared to find a similarity between a group of people engaged in global warming debate and Creationists. (You never wrote which group that was, but both PK and I infer you were referring to “Sceptics.”)

    2) Yesterday you wrote, “Taking GW sceptics as a group, I think there has been a notable unwillingness to respond to new evidence, comparable to that of the creationists.”

    3) Since you don’t seem to have any clue of what the population of “GW sceptics” is like, your assessment of them “as a group” seems likely to be flawed. (A bit comparable to a fellow in one of my high school classes, who had probably met a handful of black people, offering the opinion that, “black people smell bad.”)

    4) You also wrote yesterday that you think there are only a handful of scientists who are: a) global warming skeptics, b) not subject to obvious conflicts of interest, and c) are significantly more qualified than you are regarding global warming.

    5) Today, I have pointed to a list of several thousand scientists who signed a petition which ought to qualify them as “sceptics” by your definition. So either you were mistaken, or you think that essentially all of them have “obvious conflicts of interest,” or you think pretty highly of your qualifications regarding global warming.

    There, that about covers it, I think. :-)

  14. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2004 at 07:53 | #14

    I’d point you to criterion (b), no obvious conflicts of interests. As regards purely financial conflicts of interest, those of Balling, Baliunas, Michaels and Soon are well-known. Singer and Seitz are extreme ideologues who deny not only global warming but also the contribution of CFC’s to global warming, but even if you don’t choose to count this as a conflict of interest, and disregard the fact that neither has done any relevant research for years, you’re still left with only a handful.

    I’m aware of some of the less prominent names you mention, and I think you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel already. Guttman, for example, signed the Leipzig declaration in 1995, but I’m not aware of anything he’s done since on this topic. Starr is a long-retired (over 90) nuclear physicist and advocate for electric power – he has no obvious expertise relevant to global warming.

    Coming to the Oregon petition, I do indeed assert that I am as well or better qualified to comment on global warming than the vast majority of signatories of this petion. most of whom are no more qualified than the average educated layperson (towards the end of the exercise OISM started taking signatures from arts graduates, which was fair enough, given the irrelevance of the qualifications of most of the “scientist” signatories). You can read my analysis
    here.

    It’s quite a while since anyone mentioned this discredited exercise, and this suggests you might want to bring yourself up to speed with the debate before proceeding further.

  15. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2004 at 08:17 | #15

    PS to Mark Bahner: I’ve generally found repeated use of “Mr” as a title, as in “Mr Quiggin says this”, not to be conducive to civilised debate. I’d prefer that you use “John” or “John Quiggin” or even just “Quiggin.”

    If you insist on giving me a title, please use the correct one. I worked hard to get it.

  16. April 29th, 2004 at 13:20 | #16

    Re PS. Oops – should I infer that my use of abbreviations such as “JQ” is an irritant?

  17. John Quiggin
    April 29th, 2004 at 13:28 | #17

    On the contrary, PML, initials are fine by me – it’s just “Mr.” that gets my goat.

  18. Harry Clarke
    April 29th, 2004 at 23:47 | #18

    I think I can remember Bob Gregory years ago swinging around in his chair at a seminar at the ANU and asking for a response to someone’s presentation from “Mr Quiggin” (you were in the audience and clearly had a view you wanted to express!).

    The ‘Mr’ wasn’t at all grating or offensive, at least from my perspective, more like a ‘wise old man of the sea’ shot that was a bit humorous but also respectful.

    Its not the ‘Mr’ John but the background tone. The issue is whether one is joining in the pleasure of a conversation or launching an attack.

  19. Brian Bahnisch
    April 30th, 2004 at 09:32 | #19

    Harry, I thought it was the “Mr” PLUS the background tone. I certainly found it discordant and grating.

    But thanks John for clarifying how you would prefer to be addressed. The blogosphere seems conducive to a greater informality than other environments, but one can never be sure. In general terms I think people’s preferences about how they wish to be addressed should be respected.

  20. John Quiggin
    April 30th, 2004 at 09:43 | #20

    Of course, among friends, anything goes. Those who are accustomed to calling me “Q”, “Prof Q” or even “Captain Haddock” are welcome to continue doing so.

  21. April 30th, 2004 at 13:12 | #21

    John Quiggin writes, “I’d point you to criterion (b), no obvious conflicts of interests.”

    Heh, heh, heh! John, I don’t know whether to scream or to laugh. Since you probably can’t hear my screams way Down Under, I have to laugh.

    You are so completely self-unaware! Pat Michaels has “well-known” “purely financial conflicts of interest.” But Michael Oppenheimer working for Environmental Defense while pushing for the Kyoto Protocol apparently doesn’t bother you a bit! :-)

    I don’t doubt at all that you truly can’t see a contradiction there. In fact, I don’t doubt at all that you truly can’t see any contradiction between the membership of the IPCC being given (not to mention flown around the world to attend those nice conferences!) literally hundreds of millions (if not billions!) of dollars to tell us about global warming, and them coming up with a bunch of absolutely ridiculous projections that no one short of a True Believer (i.e. a “creationist”) would accept.

    And you, Dr. Quiggin, apparently ARE a True Believer! (But of course, you’re so self-unaware, you don’t even know it!) :-) Quoting you from an opinion piece you wrote in the Australian Financial Review:

    “Under ‘business as usual’ projections, average temperatures are likely to rise by 3 to 5 degrees this century, with potentially catastrophic results.”

    But Dr. Quiggin, how do you know whether the projections you are giving are at all realistic? The answer, of course, is you don’t! (Hint: You don’t, because they’re not.)

    You have never taken the time to evaluate whether the projections you’re quoting are realistic. What you’re doing is quoting from the (IPCC TAR) BIBLE! Sound familiar? No, of course it doesn’t, because you’re so totally cluelessly unaware.

    Dr. Quiggin concludes with this zinger: “It’s quite a while since anyone mentioned this discredited exercise, and this suggests you might want to bring yourself up to speed with the debate before proceeding further.”

    Unbelievable. And I’ll bet you don’t even see that as an arrogant statement!

    Tell you what, doc, here’s what we can debate. “Resolved:

    1) The IPCC TAR atmospheric methane projections are a crock,

    2) The IPCC TAR CO2 emission projections are a crock,

    3) The IPCC TAR atmospheric CO2 projections are a crock, and finally (and most importantly),

    4) The IPCC TAR temperature projections are a crock.

    I can assure you I don’t need to be “brought up to speed” before the debate begins. My opening statement for the Affirmative is available at:

    http://markbahner.50g.com (Best when viewed with popup blocker. ;-) )

    P.S. I didn’t realize you were a professor of economics, or I would not have used “Mr.” My apology on that account.

    P.P.S. As an economist, you may be interested in this. Your predictions on the subject would be welcome:

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2003/12/economic_growth_1.html

  22. John Quiggin
    April 30th, 2004 at 13:25 | #22

    To Mark Bahner: As I’ve never cited, or even heard of, Michael Oppenheimer, I don’t know why you keep going on about him.

    More generally, having had the chance to read several of your contributions, I don’t think a continued exchange would be very constructive at present. Feel free to continue commenting, but, if you do, try to avoid the rather offensive tone you’ve adopted so far.

    Readers who want to follow up the issues Mark has raised might do well to visit his website.

  23. April 30th, 2004 at 13:56 | #23

    For what it’s worth, I find it impertinent of strangers to address me by my first name uninvited – yet that is precisely what the public service instructs its staff to do. There is no understanding that a first name basis is friendly only because it goes with friendliness; what they are doing is actually pushy. From starngers, I prefer “Mr” until we get closer, if ever, and presuming on it is making that less likely ever to happen.

    Oh, I suspect Captain H, aliter Prof JQ, might be interested in reading Brad de Long’s recent piece on calvinist values among academics, how tenured professors esteem their positions as a sign of virtue and so on.

  24. John Quiggin
    April 30th, 2004 at 15:35 | #24

    PML, I am indeed interested, but the piece was actually written by my co-blogger Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, then linked by Brad.

  25. PK
    May 1st, 2004 at 01:39 | #25

    John. I’d like to reply to these too…

    “(a) global warming sceptics in any sense of the term;”
    You’re taking the majority rules argument here. While I’m not sure this is even true, let’s take a step back and use the same argument with economics. The majority of economists working these days aren’t social democrats. Will you now admit that, as free-marketeers seem to be in the majority, they must be right?

    “(b) not subject to obvious conflicts of interest; and”
    Are you seriously going to argue that many non-sceptics aren’t in the same boat? Once again you’re using double standards.

    “(c) significantly more qualified than I am to write on this topic ”
    John – you’re an economist, not a scientist. Even Milloy actually has a science degree. Or are you saying the truth or falsehood of global warming is a question better left up to economists?

    I actually agree that non-specialists should be allowed to join the debate. It’s you who’s repeatably argued that they shouldn’t. I’m asking you to meet your own standards.

  26. John Quiggin
    May 1st, 2004 at 10:31 | #26

    PK, I don’t assert that because the majority believes something it’s necessarily true. Indeed, even if everyone believes something it may not be true. At this stage, I’m merely establishing the factual proposition that, in the case of global warming, hardly anyone qualified to make a judgement supports the sceptical position.

    On (b), I agree that many non-sceptics are in the same boat. I don’t normally put a lot of weight on the views of, say, scientists who work for Greenpeace. But that still leaves a very large number of people with no axe to grind on either side, and of these, all but a handful favor some form of the global warming hypothesis.

    On (c), as I’ve already pointed out, many of the crucial issues concern things like time-series analysis, price responses and so on. In studying these things, I’ve familiarised myself with the scientific literature on a number of related points. So, while no-one can be an expert on every aspect of the problem, I am substantially better qualified than Milloy or the vast majority of signatories of the Oregon petition. (you’re welcome to compare our CVs if you want). To see the relevance of the kind of time-series analysis I’m talking about, visit Tim Lambert’s blog.

    Finally, while it’s true that the majority of the economics profession holds views more free-market than my own, the division on issues like privatisation is nothing like as overwhelming as you imply. To get a comparable degree of consensus as exists wrt global warming you’d need to look at something like a proposal to institute Soviet-style central planning. And, if such a proposal were put forward, I think it would be relevant to observe that economists were (almost) unanimous in their opposition. That said, the economists might still turn out to be wrong.

  27. May 2nd, 2004 at 00:02 | #27

    John Quiggin writes, “To Mark Bahner: As I’ve never cited, or even heard of, Michael Oppenheimer, I don’t know why you keep going on about him.”

    Bgah?!! Aaiiyeeeee!

    Well then, don’t you think, to use your own pseudo-civil phrase, “…you might want to bring yourself up to speed with the debate before proceeding further”?!

    Aaiiyeeeee!

    1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10

    No, this simply isn’t worthwhile, and not worth continuing.

    Maybe I should have even done this before even posting, but it seemed…well, self-centered.

    I’m an environmental engineer. I have a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering (Air Pollution Option).

    For the last 15 years, I’ve been doing environmental analyses. Mostly it’s been conventional pollutants (particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides) and so called “hazardous air pollutants” (e.g. mercury), but I’ve done stuff related to global warming (modeling the reductions in CO2 expected to be achieved by advanced automotive technologies).

    Due to my interests (my absolute favorite courses as an undergraduate were Advanced Energy Systems and Solar Energy Engineering) and my education and experience, I would absolutely *****LOVE***** for global warming to be the biggest problem ever to face humanity. If it was, I would be set for life.

    But…I have actually ***looked*** at global warming. And in my experienced, informed, and considered (but not necessarily correct!!!!) opinion:

    The projections in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) for methane concentrations, CO2 emissions, CO2 concentrations, and most importantly temperatures, constitute the greatest fraud in the history of environmental “science.”

    I am *****PISSED!**** Discussing it and thinking about it have made me sooooooooooo angry I think may have literally made me sick.

    This may seem inconceivable to everyone who reads this. But think about it. I imagine most of the people on this blog are professionals, and many are either social or physical scientists. Suppose some people in YOUR profession engaged in the biggest fraud in the history of your profession.

    Environmental engineering and environmental science are very honorable professions. But right now, environmental science has cancer. And the worst part about it is that many, many people–even within the profession–don’t know it.

    I came to this weblog because–well, I don’t know where exactly I came from–because I read somewhere that twisted, or slanted, or whatever you want to call it, “science” was being discussed. I put “science” in quotations, because there is no twisted or slanted TRUE science.

    I apologize once again to you, Dr. Quiggin, for not first checking out who you were. But knowing what I know (that the IPCC TAR’s projections are the greatest fraud in the history of environmental “science”) and reading the ignorant* things you’ve written about global warming, I got carried away.

    (*”Ignorant” only regarding global warming! And I do NOT consider that a character flaw. You are “rationally ignorant” as I understand the term…economics NOT being my field.)

    Dr. Quiggin continues, “More generally, having had the chance to read several of your contributions, I don’t think a continued exchange would be very constructive at present.”

    Well, I can think of something you could get out of continued exchange. You wrote, in the Australian Financial Review:

    “Under ‘business as usual’ projections, average temperatures are likely to rise by 3 to 5 degrees this century,…”

    I don’t know your profession, so I’m just guessing. But your statement in the Australian Financial Review is probably something like:

    “Under ‘business as usual’ projections, wheat is likely to exceed the price of copper by 2030, and exceed the price of silver by 2100…”

    Now, would you ever write that in a public place (except making it clear you were joking)?

    I understand that you were just passing on something said by experts. But suppose even some experts had told given you the projections about wheat, copper, and silver…would you ever pass on such projections, in effect “endorsing” them to the readers? Of course not! Because you actually KNOW something about the validity of the projections!

    Dr. Quiggin–I will take you up on your kind offer, and call you John from now on–concludes with, “Readers who want to follow up the issues Mark has raised might do well to visit his website.”

    http://markbahner.50g.com

    Thank you. Readers, keep in mind that “Mark’s Global Warming Website” was voted “Best website on global warming on the Internet!” (by the family and friends of Mark Bahner). :-) (“Needs some editing work and finishing” was voted by Mark Bahner’s dad.) ;-)

    My website was an attempt to address everyone from the least informed layperson up to people who, like me, actually do environmental analyses for a living.

    I think it’s possible for essentially any intelligent and interested lay reader to understand exactly why the IPCC TAR’s projections are garbage.

    (I think!!!!)

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

    P.S. I’m very busy writing proposals right now. So I don’t know whether I’ll be able to comment for the next few days or even a week or more. But if I DID comment, this is the sort of thing I’d comment:

    John Quiggin writes, “PK, I don’t assert that because the majority believes something it’s necessarily true. Indeed, even if everyone believes something it may not be true. At this stage, I’m merely establishing the factual proposition that, in the case of global warming, hardly anyone qualified to make a judgement supports the sceptical position.”

    My comment would be: “That’s completely irrelevant, John. The IPCC TAR’s projections are garbage. Read my website. Think for yourself. You, as an interested layperson, CAN see that the projections are garbage.”

    THAT’S the sort of comment I’d have… ;-)

  28. May 2nd, 2004 at 00:02 | #28

    John Quiggin writes, “To Mark Bahner: As I’ve never cited, or even heard of, Michael Oppenheimer, I don’t know why you keep going on about him.”

    Bgah?!! Aaiiyeeeee!

    Well then, don’t you think, to use your own pseudo-civil phrase, “…you might want to bring yourself up to speed with the debate before proceeding further”?!

    Aaiiyeeeee!

    1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10

    No, this simply isn’t worthwhile, and not worth continuing.

    Maybe I should have even done this before even posting, but it seemed…well, self-centered.

    I’m an environmental engineer. I have a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering (Air Pollution Option).

    For the last 15 years, I’ve been doing environmental analyses. Mostly it’s been conventional pollutants (particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides) and so called “hazardous air pollutants” (e.g. mercury), but I’ve done stuff related to global warming (modeling the reductions in CO2 expected to be achieved by advanced automotive technologies).

    Due to my interests (my absolute favorite courses as an undergraduate were Advanced Energy Systems and Solar Energy Engineering) and my education and experience, I would absolutely *****LOVE***** for global warming to be the biggest problem ever to face humanity. If it was, I would be set for life.

    But…I have actually ***looked*** at global warming. And in my experienced, informed, and considered (but not necessarily correct!!!!) opinion:

    The projections in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) for methane concentrations, CO2 emissions, CO2 concentrations, and most importantly temperatures, constitute the greatest fraud in the history of environmental “science.”

    I am *****PISSED!**** Discussing it and thinking about it have made me sooooooooooo angry I think may have literally made me sick.

    This may seem inconceivable to everyone who reads this. But think about it. I imagine most of the people on this blog are professionals, and many are either social or physical scientists. Suppose some people in YOUR profession engaged in the biggest fraud in the history of your profession.

    Environmental engineering and environmental science are very honorable professions. But right now, environmental science has cancer. And the worst part about it is that many, many people–even within the profession–don’t know it.

    I came to this weblog because–well, I don’t know where exactly I came from–because I read somewhere that twisted, or slanted, or whatever you want to call it, “science” was being discussed. I put “science” in quotations, because there is no twisted or slanted TRUE science.

    I apologize once again to you, Dr. Quiggin, for not first checking out who you were. But knowing what I know (that the IPCC TAR’s projections are the greatest fraud in the history of environmental “science”) and reading the ignorant* things you’ve written about global warming, I got carried away.

    (*”Ignorant” only regarding global warming! And I do NOT consider that a character flaw. You are “rationally ignorant” as I understand the term…economics NOT being my field.)

    Dr. Quiggin continues, “More generally, having had the chance to read several of your contributions, I don’t think a continued exchange would be very constructive at present.”

    Well, I can think of something you could get out of continued exchange. You wrote, in the Australian Financial Review:

    “Under ‘business as usual’ projections, average temperatures are likely to rise by 3 to 5 degrees this century,…”

    I don’t know your profession, so I’m just guessing. But your statement in the Australian Financial Review is probably something like:

    “Under ‘business as usual’ projections, wheat is likely to exceed the price of copper by 2030, and exceed the price of silver by 2100…”

    Now, would you ever write that in a public place (except making it clear you were joking)?

    I understand that you were just passing on something said by experts. But suppose even some experts had told given you the projections about wheat, copper, and silver…would you ever pass on such projections, in effect “endorsing” them to the readers? Of course not! Because you actually KNOW something about the validity of the projections!

    Dr. Quiggin–I will take you up on your kind offer, and call you John from now on–concludes with, “Readers who want to follow up the issues Mark has raised might do well to visit his website.”

    http://markbahner.50g.com

    Thank you. Readers, keep in mind that “Mark’s Global Warming Website” was voted “Best website on global warming on the Internet!” (by the family and friends of Mark Bahner). :-) (“Needs some editing work and finishing” was voted by Mark Bahner’s dad.) ;-)

    My website was an attempt to address everyone from the least informed layperson up to people who, like me, actually do environmental analyses for a living.

    I think it’s possible for essentially any intelligent and interested lay reader to understand exactly why the IPCC TAR’s projections are garbage.

    (I think!!!!)

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

    P.S. I’m very busy writing proposals right now. So I don’t know whether I’ll be able to comment for the next few days or even a week or more. But if I DID comment, this is the sort of thing I’d comment:

    John Quiggin writes, “PK, I don’t assert that because the majority believes something it’s necessarily true. Indeed, even if everyone believes something it may not be true. At this stage, I’m merely establishing the factual proposition that, in the case of global warming, hardly anyone qualified to make a judgement supports the sceptical position.”

    My comment would be: “That’s completely irrelevant, John. The IPCC TAR’s projections are garbage. Read my website. Think for yourself. You, as an interested layperson, CAN see that the projections are garbage.”

    THAT’S the sort of comment I’d have… ;-)

  29. Andrew
    May 3rd, 2004 at 00:46 | #29

    If Mark Bahner wishes to retain credibility with the interested lay-people who read this blog he would do well to avoid making comments that make him look foolish

    To respond in such an hysterical manner to some (pardonably) tetchy responses does not auger well for the strength of the argument he may be able to present.

    I find it difficult to believe that he obtained a masters while being unable to respond to criticism without the typewritten equivalent of hyperventilation.

    I’ll go back in my box and keep reading now.

  30. May 3rd, 2004 at 04:26 | #30

    “If Mark Bahner wishes to retain credibility with the interested lay-people who read this blog he would do well to avoid making comments that make him look foolish…”

    Do you have an example?

    “To respond in such an hysterical manner to some (pardonably) tetchy responses does not auger well for the strength of the argument he may be able to present.”

    Presumably, this is direct to my response to John Quiggin’s suggestion to me that “”…you might want to bring yourself up to speed with the debate before proceeding further.”

    That was more than mildly offensive to me, as I’ve spent literally hundreds (if not more than a thousand) hours of my own time studying global warming. That is in addition to the hundreds (if not more than a thousand) hours I’ve spent working on projects that deal with global warming.

    I’m “up to speed” on global warming, and don’t take kindly to suggestions that I’m not (unless directed towards something specific where I agree that I lack knowledge).

    By the way, I fail to see the logic in using a person’s level of emotion as a criterion for determining whether a person is correct. A person can be passionately right or wrong.

    “I’ll go back in my box and keep reading now.”

    If it’s reading about global warming, this is a good place to start:

    http://markbahner.50g.com
    :-)

    If it’s about economic growth in the 21st century, Google ranks this location as #1:

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2003/12/economic_growth_1.html
    :-)

    D-oh! I see I got busted to #2! ;-)

  31. May 3rd, 2004 at 04:30 | #31

    Sigh. Back to proposals. :-(

  32. May 5th, 2004 at 12:12 | #32

    OMG WTF LOL! Has the cutesy-wutesy language of MSN chat invaded the world of science now? Does the site have cute moving gifs on it? ;-) Emoticons R Us! :-P

  33. d
    May 8th, 2004 at 18:51 | #33

    Q
    Just when I thought this thread was dead, the ever reliable Philip Adams kicks it back to life. As we all know, Adams is the protypical Right winger, and in today’s Australian weekend magazine he goes on about the evils of GM crops and the science behind them. In the article, Adam’s seems to say Barry Commoner’s Harpers magazine commentary on how modern science has got the role of DNA all wrong is actually top notch intelligent comment. It seems Adams hasn’t read either Reason magazine’s Ron Bailey or Tech Central’s 2002 criticisms of Commoner. (Those are easily found by a Google search).Commoner’s misguided ideas on GM crops are very similar to those of Greenpeace who also seem to be regarded as wise eco-gurus by Adams.
    Ooops I made a mistake, Adams isnt a right winger, he’s actually another lefty who spouts scientic nonsense.
    Ooops – another mistake, TCS publish only nonsense according to Prof. Q. I wonder where they got it wrong in pulling Commoner up – its not easy to see though because Commoner is quite clearly in error.

  34. John Quiggin
    May 8th, 2004 at 20:46 | #34

    d, as I said in the post, with specific reference to Tech Central Station as a model.

    “Where the general scientific basis is strong (as in arguments about the safety of GM foods) opponents are assailed as anti-scientific irrationalists. Where it is weak (as in the cases of smoking and global warming) the IPA demands equal time for sceptics, even sceptics who have done no original research and have no relevant qualifications”

    TCS are happy to tell the truth whenever it suits their case, and equally happy to lie when the truth is inconvenient.

    But all this reminds me that I’ve been planning a post on Greenpeace and GM and will have to get round to it before long.

  35. Brian Bahnisch
    May 9th, 2004 at 16:46 | #35

    Note to John and d.

    Can you please check out Dr David Murray who recently appeared on Ockham’s Razor on Aunty here and here.

    Murray says that he sees a valid use for GM in crops, but raises seemingly important issues of concern and thinks some of the early releases were not considered with sufficient care.

    I also heard a story on the ABC from a Canadian farm leader who said that canola could not be successfully separated, that they had found that the GM yields were not greater than non-GM and that financial returns from GM were less than for non-GM. I looked but couldn’t find the story on “Bush Telegraph” for that day although all the other stories were there.

    Shortly after I heard a comment from the relevant British Minister who said all GM proposals need to be looked at separately and with care in each jurisdiction. I think this is what Murray is saying although there can be argument about procedure and what constitutes due care.

    Finally, there was an exceedingly interesting interview by Terry Lane with Dr Richard Jefferson, Founder and Chief Executive of CAMBIA, the Centre for the Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture in Canberra on ‘Open source genetics’, a scheme which would limit the monopolistic commercial exploitation of the intellectual property involved.

    Go to it guys, I’ll be interested in the results!

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