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Lavoisier, again

November 29th, 2004

Tim Lambert links to a not-very-flattering profile of the Lavoisier Group, whose members appear to be mostly elderly gentlemen who believe that, if we all wish hard enough, Tinkerbell will summon the ghost of Lavoisier and make that nasty global warming go away.

Connoisseurs of the Australian network of right-wing front groups will not be surprised to find the inevitable Ray Evans, former executive officer of WMC, President of the HR Nicholls Society, Secretary of the Bennelong Society and Treasurer of the Samuel Griffith Society has found time in his busy life to act as secretary of, and main contact for, the Lavoisier Group.

The front groups I used to deal with thirty years ago, Concerned Stalinists for Peace and so on, made a bit more of an effort than these guys, who even, according to commenter Julian Russell, share the same IP address. I feel sorry for the handful of genuine sceptics who’ve been sucked into this deplorable scam.

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  1. R J Stove
    November 30th, 2004 at 09:30 | #1

    On one of the few occasions in recent years when I (a former, and unwitting, useful idiot of the Evans nomenklatura) had a sufficiently strong stomach to attend an Evans-subsidised “discussion” in Melbourne, the air was thick with Stalinoid invective. Its high, or low, point occurred when an entirely decent social democrat – present, incidentally, in the room – was howled down, by an Evans toady who’d overindulged in the old familiar juice, as “objectively pro-fascist”. (I hadn’t heard that sort of language since dear old Vyshinsky was strutting his stuff at the 1930s’ show trials. The social democrat in question just happens to have spent four years in uniform during WW2.)

    Nor is this nomenklatura at all backward in coming forward when it comes to taking taxpayers’ handouts. (The Sunday Age on 10 August 2003 had a cover story on this topic ["Attack on covert project for IPA"]. Unfortunately the relevant issue no longer appears to be online, unless you’re prepared to pay money.)

  2. Biill O’Slatter
    November 30th, 2004 at 09:49 | #2

    These people are entitled to their views . However the more correct question is whether they are can correctly claim to be presenting science and to the amount of funding they are receiving from various sources including government . The only antidote to this , as you have done Quiggers ,is to publicly scrutinise them . It is also something that Four Corners of old would tackle , but I am afraid the ABC has fallen on hard times being rogered by Howard .

  3. Jim
    November 30th, 2004 at 10:41 | #3

    Encouraging to see your acknowledgement of the existence of “genuine” sceptics – what differentiates them from the Lavoisier crowd?

  4. November 30th, 2004 at 10:44 | #4

    It is not a scam to be involved in (or even help run) more than one group. It is not a scam for people to establish separate groups for separate issues. It is not a scam for those separate groups to share an IP address. The only thing deplorable here is your use of the word “deplorable”.

  5. dk.dk
    November 30th, 2004 at 11:27 | #5

    Yeah John, it’s only fifty bucks, and they’ve just about all got AOs… but then again so does Rodney Adler

    Seriously though, Jim, a genuine skeptic is someone who acknowledges that scientific opinions on matters as complex as global warming need to be evaluated on their merits – not on the bearing it has on their particular stock portfolio, for example. Of course Lavoisier is only there to ‘ask questions’ about greenhouse science, so at least we won’t see any nasty propagandizing now, will we?

  6. Katz
    November 30th, 2004 at 11:31 | #6

    To misquote Oscar Wilde, the Lavoisier Group appear to be a case of the unspeakable in pursuit of the unheatable.

  7. R J Stove
    November 30th, 2004 at 11:45 | #7

    Bill O’Slatter’s right; these people are entitled to their views. And I doubt if anyone would dispute the idea that a person is entitled to be involved in, or run, as many groups as he wants. (Still, if he wishes to be taken with some intellectual seriousness we surely have the right to expect that he’ll be reasonably candid about his bankrolling of them. What price, say, a Centre for North Korean Studies that depended entirely on handouts from Kim Jong Il?) I just worry when such individuals (a) start bellowing ad hominem Vyshinskyite invective instead of calmly addressing issues, and (b) use my taxes while protesting about how brave, and independent of Big Government, they are.

  8. d
    November 30th, 2004 at 11:49 | #8

    Can someone explain how this example of “birds of a feather” is much different from Prof q’s enthusiasms for the views of the Australian Greens?

  9. Steve
    November 30th, 2004 at 12:38 | #9

    “These people are entitled to their views”

    Of course they are. So is JQ. What’s your point?

    JQ is not saying they are not entitled to a point of view.

    While I wouldn’t use the word ‘deplorable’, or the word ‘illegal’, i do think it is a marketing technique that cries out to me that the quality of their material is probably very low, and that I would be being scammed if I bought into their agenda.

    Surely your BS filter is good enough to deal with this? If not, you need to watch more TV. When you learn that wearing lynx deoderant does not result in sex with two women at once, and that you shouldn’t necessarily ought to be congratulated for buying meadow lea margerine, then you are on the path to recovery.


  10. Bill O’Slatter
    December 1st, 2004 at 08:09 | #10

    The point is a little more subtle than you perceive Steve .Political debate should be undertaken without deceit and on a level playing field. THe deceit involved in this case is that the Lavoisier group claims to be objective and scientific. It is funded by industry. Similar scams have been done by the tobacco and drug industries .As in a democracy these people can express their opinion the best method to deal with them is to expose the funding of their organisations to the widest possible audience . That way innocents e.g Ian Plimer don’t get drawn into their web.Another more sinister example is “Professor” Peter Saunders .

  11. simon
    December 1st, 2004 at 09:39 | #11

    Chalk another win up for confirmation bias and the file draw problem. Ever wondered why apparently rational intelligent people believe in creation ‘science’ and the young Earth? If you select your information from biased sources to fit your ideology you can call anything into question.

    I have no trouble with individuals having debates over values but individuals like Andrew Bolt and Michael Duffy won’t accept, the consensus views of mainstream scientists in their fields of expertise. It speaks volumes about their integrity when they have to source their information from lobby groups and fringe science.

  12. December 1st, 2004 at 09:57 | #12

    This is rather pathetic. There is nothing wrong with being funded by industry. Q is funded by government, but I do not dismiss everything he says for that reason (I dismiss him for entirely other reasons — joke).

    I believe that smoking should be allowed in restaurants (at the discretion of the owner). If a tobacco company offered my money to finance the ALS (www.libertarian.org.au), I would take it. My views haven’t changed. But you would all then dismiss me as being an opinion for hire. I guess that’s the easy way out when you can’t actually address the arguments.

    For a think-tank or organisation, it makes sense to seek funding from groups that are sympathetic to your views. I find it ironic that people who attack Bolt for not caring about facts have trouble with simple logic (disclosure: I don’t read Bolt, so cannot defend or support him). In most cases, the money goes to people who already hold certain views… it is not the money that creates their views. Pretty obvious really — unless you want to come to the more sinister conclusion that all right-wing people are corrupt and evil. Sigh.

  13. December 1st, 2004 at 11:18 | #13

    If a tobacco company funded you, that may or may not affect your views. What would be appropriate in that case is that if you are writing about tobacco-related matters, you disclose that you have received funding from a tobacco company. That lets readers take that into account when evaluating your arguments.

    The problem with front organisations like Lavoisier, Bennelong and Junkscience.com is that they conceal these ties are try to appear independent. That’s misleading.

  14. derrida derider
    December 1st, 2004 at 14:28 | #14

    Bill O’Slatter –
    You should know that “Professor” Peter Saunders is in fact Professor Peter Saunders (he, inter alia, held tenure at the University of Southampton). His academic quals are at least as impressive as the other Professor Peter Saunders (of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW). Also the CIS is (unlike the IPA and the Lavoisier Group) very open about its sources of funding. Both of which you could have found out by a quick Google search before you attempted a casual slur.

    I say this as an opponent of most of the policy positions of Saunders and no friend of the CIS’ ideology.

  15. Jason Soon
    December 1st, 2004 at 15:41 | #15

    Yes, DD, thanks for educating Bill O’Slatter about his appalling slur. As someone who is affiliated with and supportive of the CIS’ overall agenda but is not enthusiastic about the thrust of Prof. Peter Saunders’ welfare reform and family policy views (you might be surprised Billy boy, but we don’t even always think alike in these think-tanks) I too would like to add that I too regard Saunders as a scholar of great integrity and qualification (even Don Arthur agrees).

  16. d
    December 2nd, 2004 at 07:50 | #16

    I’ve just read the ` not-very-flattering profile of ‘.The only thing not flattering about the column is, it is consistent of the S.M.H. to publish tripe.

    take, `most scientists…’ Actually, a very large no of scientists debunk the `climate change ‘ claims because they are based on bogus science, with which `climate modelling’ is consistent as charlatanism- might as well consult a chicken oracle.

    Also Downright rot is:

    It is the most rapid warming the planet has seen in 10,000 years.
    And the other statments in that paragraph.

    Unlike Melissa Fyfe, I won’t reflect on her motives for regurgitating drivel and her smarmy ad hominem comments but, as a `journalist’, she’s no better than an average school girl fed on intellectual mush.

    Bye the bye, I am not the d of a postabove signed of as d.

  17. snuh
    December 2nd, 2004 at 07:57 | #17

    having now consulted my chicken oracle, i can confirm that human-induced climate change is no socialist plot.

  18. simon
    December 2nd, 2004 at 09:26 | #18

    I find it ironic that people who attack people who are attacking Bolt for not caring about facts, use fallacies and not logic in their arguments.

    Your point about money going to groups that already hold that view is a red herring and that anyone is saying that ‘all’ right-wing’ people are corrupt and evil is a straw man.

    Bigger Sigh!

    The fact that they are paid by industries who have an economic/profit agenda is secondary, it is that they won’t do objective science that is the primary concern.

    Lobby groups can have their views, and fund studies, but to have credibility it must be done independently and not in-house. I wonder why those studies by tobacco scientists on smoking and cancer didn’t stack up? Hmmmm

    The reason the money goes to them is because views are fixed and predictable. You get what you pay for. They fit/misrepresent/leave out the facts to fit their theory/stance not fit their theory to the facts as good science would do.

    If you and Bolt think this a good way to found your opinions on biased lobby groups and not mainstream scientists with a scientific consensus in their field of expertise, fine but your credibility is about as high as those tobacco scientists.

    BTW D it’s easy to get any number of scientists outside of climatology to claim it’s bogus science. You will find there are many non-biologist scientists making the same claim about evolution. Oh and I forgot, Lomborg has just debunked the myth that the planet is facing environmental problems and that everything is nearly as bad as those nutty scientists from the biology and the earth sciences are making out. They should have known better to make pronouncements on areas that they have expertise in.

    Secondly show me the text that has said that all right-wingers are corrupt and evil. As I said I have no problem with people who have conservative values. I do however have a trouble with anyone -left or right-who selectively chooses their sources of information to fit their ideological agenda especially when it goes against mainstream science.

  19. d
    December 2nd, 2004 at 09:27 | #19

    Just to check, just in case you are disgreeing snuh and you hold to the claims, something might be noted: `human-induced climate change’ is rot: the sum total of human generated `greenhouse gases’ is something in the order of .00034% in other words, it is rather sensible to say zero, nothing it all, zip, not worth creasing the brow over.By contrast, the claim by Fyffe is rot that-

    `It is the most rapid warming the planet has seen in 10,000 years.’
    In the 13-12th century b.c for example, there was amjor climatic shift of Europe and the Middle East which issued into a devestating period lasting some decades, in the order of 50-880 years of unbroken drought over the Middle East and around the Meditterranean coutnries, and a warm climate over Europe. That is not the only example during the past ten thousand years. So, Snuh how does the chicken oracle machine deal with that, since the explanation is not due to man but physics – which also touches on the vileness of Fyffe and her stupid remarks against engineers. She is a fith rater out of class for the below average.

  20. John Quiggin
    December 2nd, 2004 at 09:59 | #20

    d, the only reference to engineers in the article is the statement, in the intro and sourced to Ray Evans in the body of the article, that the members of the Lavoisier Group are mostly retired engineers and scientists from the mining, manufacturing and construction industries. There are no “stupid remarks against engineers”.

    Rather than spouting poorly-digested contrarian talking points, how about taking the trouble to make them coherent: 0.00034% of what, for example? In what sense is it insignificant?

    How rapid was the warming to which you refer? How do time scales of “some decades” suddenly morph into 880 years?

    And why, if the evidence is so strong, do no reputable climate scientists agree with you? Even relative sceptics like Lindzen and Christy don’t make claims like yours.

  21. December 2nd, 2004 at 10:05 | #21

    Simon — the irony (and sighing) continues! You haven’t pointed out any flaw in my logic.

    You say that the more important point is about how objective they are. That may be more important to you — but that is not what I was writing about. The rest of your comment seems directed at what you thought I said… not what I said.

    Without knowing you — I have little doubt that you allow bias to influence your thinking just like most (perhaps all) people. Personally, I don’t look for unbiased commentry. I simply look for commentry, try to understand the bias, then evaluate the argument.

  22. Uncle Milton
    December 2nd, 2004 at 10:30 | #22

    “Actually, a very large no of scientists debunk the `climate change ‘ claims”.

    How big is this very large number? I suspect the number of scientists who are professionally qualified to assess the evidence and who debunk climate change is actually very small.

    But I could be wrong. Mind you, a very large number of people think that Elvis Presley is still alive.

  23. Old Engineer
    December 2nd, 2004 at 11:09 | #23

    Interesting thread – high on emotion, low on facts in some cases! There’s a beaut doc from the weatherpeople:


    gives the lie to d’s assertions (“yes, d there is an anthropogenic warming effect”).

  24. December 2nd, 2004 at 12:17 | #24

    JQ attacks Lavoisier and yet uses economic snake oil to defend Kyoto by using “discounts” . Pot, meet kettle.

  25. Bill O’Slatter
    December 2nd, 2004 at 13:13 | #25

    The CIS which started out as the passion of a lone illeducated crude libertarian (Lindsay) is now extremely well funded and tied in with the American Right with all its trappings.”Professor” Peter Saunders in fact held tenure at the University of Sussex . He is an emeritus Professor from that University.Full story any one ?

  26. Ken Miles
    December 2nd, 2004 at 14:16 | #26

    Personally, I’m not worried about industry funding, but I do think that it should be disclosed (disclaimer: I’m indirectly funded by industry). My perception is that the energy industry has moved further and further away from the skeptic’s position, and much more in line with the scientific position (there are a couple of exceptions to this).

  27. Ken Miles
    December 2nd, 2004 at 14:48 | #27

    How big is this very large number? I suspect the number of scientists who are professionally qualified to assess the evidence and who debunk climate change is actually very small.

    Your right. The number of climatologists who can be classed as skeptics is extremely small.

  28. simon
    December 2nd, 2004 at 15:09 | #28

    Let’s see. I raised the point about questioning Bolt’s integrity because he sources his information from biased lobby groups and won’t accept, the consensus views of mainstream scientists in their fields of expertise

    (Now I’ve assumed because I raised/’attacked’ Bolt that you are talking about my failure to use simple logic.)

    You countered that I had trouble with simple logic ‘because it is not the money that creates their views’ therefore just because they are funded by vested interests, it doesn’t invalidate their claims, Bolt is justified in sourcing his information from them and my attack is baseless.

    It is clear from my other posts I’m talking about conformation bias both for Bolt and the lobby groups, not conflict of interest or compromised integrity by financial means. So by raising the money issue which is irrelevant to my argument you have committed the red herring fallacy.

    If that is not what you talking about please enlighten me.

    BTW I very much doubt anyone looks for ‘biased’ commentary, except when you want to get a laugh from Fox News.

    And yes more than likely that it impossible to escape some sort of bias in our thinking process; but that is why people who are aware of confirmation bias try to limit it, use critical thinking skills and avoid sources that don’t proscribe to the scientific method and what that entails.

    I repeat I don’t have a problem with conservatives or think them evil or corrupt (Bifurcation fallacy), some conservatives are actually concerned about environmental matters and global warming. Other’s however justify their anti-environmental stance -translated don’t place environmental regulations on business- on these biased lobby groups when there are strong consensus positions by qualified scientists within their fields. And I find that dishonest especially when they accuse the other side of irrational unsubstantiated claims.

  29. Ken Miles
    December 2nd, 2004 at 15:39 | #29

    Encouraging to see your acknowledgement of the existence of “genuine” sceptics – what differentiates them from the Lavoisier crowd?

    In my readings, I’ve come across two scientifically qualified “genuine” climate change skeptics; John Christy and Roger Pielke Jr.

    The difference between them and the rest is that they manage to combine intelligence, knowledge and honesty. The rest of the climate skeptics appear to be missing one or more of the above traits.

  30. Alex
    December 2nd, 2004 at 16:11 | #30

    As are more than a few of the climate change proponents, to balance the picture.

  31. d
    December 2nd, 2004 at 16:30 | #31

    typo- 80 years.

    50-80 years.

    Soil strata of the period is white, powdery, indicative of high temperature throughout the period, intense heat.

    The Nile river was reduced to nothing much better than a bog, as also the Euphrates, the shift having inpacted upon Northern Africa. Whole familes as in extended families perished.
    It explains what was a mystery, destruction of cities over that time frame, from Greece to the Middle east.
    Ugarit is a case in point: the city ceased at thta period. The geological strata for is conistent , dessicated soil.

    Into that that period, Egptn. Pyramid builders refuse to work , they were upper calss as it were, they were not been paid. They were paid in grain which they then traded. Price of grain, doubled, qaudrupled, and kept on rocketing up.

    Kings of Hatti, Babylon, others, write to Pharaoh requesting grain supplies- their cities have none. Pharoah replies, can’t, we are running out too.

    In Jordan defile, the first cisterns into solid rock were sunk in order to find water.

    Greeks unite in attmepts to invade Eygptand Canaan.

    The climate of Europe is a factor conditioning that of the Middle East, with, for that a period, about the same time interval between the shifts in Europe and its occurrence over the Meditteranean and Mid.East. Once the shifts had occurred, the effect of warming was rapid as the time of duration indicates. 50-80 years, that is strikingly fast, rapid, as the evidence demonstrates.

    `Why don’t climate scientists agree with you? ‘ I’m not particualry bothered whether they do or not,I’m working from the solid , extensive evidence which paleontologists, geologists,have amassed examining glaciers,rivers to soil strata, trees, as well as the bonus of documentary evidence uncovered by archaeologists.

    Now, that is one period of a number periods in which climate change occurred. the mini-ice age of the 5th century c.e. is another example.

    So, the rub is, climate changes have occurred which do not at all fit assumptions of the man causes it explanation, and contradict claims and the simplistic modelling of climate, which fails even to reduplicate whether patterns which have occurred, let alone reduplicate major shifts as the above instance.

    Perhaps that’s why the modeller’s club of boosters are silent on such past instances, their models simply do not generate even past events as regularities yeilded by the models in testing, — is that it? … thus only demonstrating even further on what a heap of rubbish the models are built upon.

    On `greenhouse gases’, man’s contribution is just that, in effect, zero. Man barely manages to register as a factor.

    It seems to be a descent , moreover, into absurdity to assert, man can alter, effectivley, physics by emitting a bit of, say, Co2 . A notion of causality which requires a return to the rubbish of determinism but with the novelty tacked on, man as some sort of inadvertant puppeteer. An absurdity heightened by what the record shows, climate shifts have occurred as a regular phenomenon and, therefore, the probability of shifts occurring is regular, irrespective of whether any more occur or not,whatever the probability might be, and man cannot do a blessed thing about that.

  32. Ken Miles
    December 2nd, 2004 at 17:00 | #32

    Alex, while I wouldn’t be surprised if your claim is true, I was wondering if you could provide some examples of scientific qualified proponents of global change who meet that criteria?

    Having followed some of the hysterical attacks on Micheal Mann, I’m considerably skeptical about claims of scientific dishonesty on the scientists who perform research.

  33. Ken Miles
    December 2nd, 2004 at 17:07 | #33

    On `greenhouse gases’, man’s contribution is just that, in effect, zero. Man barely manages to register as a factor.

    Humanities contribution to greenhouses gases has been considerably more than “zero”.

    Carbon dioxide, for example, has risen from 280 ppm to a bit over 370 ppm – all thanks to humans.

  34. December 3rd, 2004 at 10:15 | #34

    I’m quite sure ALL educated scientists accept that Man CAN affect the microweather – e.g. Urban Heat Islands, Jet Trails from Planes, heavy chemicals in the atmospere etc. There are all localized changes to our atmospher as a result of Mankind and are well proven and beyond doubt.
    We thus know that we can change the atmosphere with either positive or negative consequences.

    This doesn’t prove Global Climate change, but in general when we are generating a large number of small modifications to the atmosphere, it is resonable to assume that the sum of such changes results in a global change.

    That of course if very different to science of global warming – which doesn’t look for localized affects but rather starts with the big picture. It is a scientific theory born out of our observations of the planet venus early in the 1900s, and also of our understanding traditional european greenhouse (used for growing plants :)

    No scientist can resonably argue that greenhouses do not occur, they can only argue that Human kind is not responsible. But given that we know we can bring about other localized changes to our atmosphere, it is resonable to assume that our CO2 emmisions will have an affect.

  35. Alex
    December 3rd, 2004 at 10:52 | #35

    Ken Miles, re scientists who are proponents of climate change but may be lacking one of the virtues of intelligence, knowledge and honesty, suggest you check out the Union of Concerned Scientists for a start (http://www.ucsusa.org/). The ideal of the scientist as a dispassionate, impartial researcher disappeared long ago, I’m afraid.

  36. December 3rd, 2004 at 11:04 | #36

    It’s nice that you were talking about that Simon… I wasn’t. You’re not the only person in the world to accuse Bolt of bias and you’re not the only person to have commented in this thread. I was simply responding to the point about the causal link between funding and ideology. If that doesn’t apply to you, then you don’t really need to defend yourself.

    I didn’t say I looked for biased information. And it is easy to get bias into good scientific work. Also — you seem to indicate that you do respect some conservatives… so long as they agree with you! Um. Yeah.

  37. Ken Miles
    December 3rd, 2004 at 11:39 | #37

    Alex, if you want to convince me, your going to have to do better than that. An actually checkable example would be a good start.

  38. Ken Miles
    December 3rd, 2004 at 11:58 | #38

    It is a scientific theory born out of our observations of the planet venus early in the 1900s, and also of our understanding traditional european greenhouse (used for growing plants :)

    I think that you got a bit mixed here.

    It was John Tyndal in the 1860s who (basing his work on earlier work done by Joseph Fourier) stated:

    As a dam built across a river causes a local deepening of the stream, so our atmosphere, thrown as a barrier across the terrestrial rays, produces a local heightening of the temperature at the Earth’s surface. [water vapour] is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man. Remove for a single summer-night the aqueous vapour from the air… and the sun would rise upon an island held fast in the iron grip of frost.

    The role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas was expanded upon by Svante Arrhenius in 1896 who was researching possible causes of ice ages. In addition to investigating the consequences of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, he also looked at the consequences of humans adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

    The Venus work was done in the mid-twentieth century, while everybody knew that Venus would have a greenhouse effect, nobody expected it to be as strong as what it is. This all came to light when spectroscopy evidence from Mariner 2 was examined.

    You can find more on the history of global warming here.

  39. December 3rd, 2004 at 12:11 | #39

    Thanks Ken, its a great link and what it goes to show is exactly how long we have known about Greenhouse gases for. People of today seem less accepting of science then people in the 1930s.

    The sceptics will have us believe that global warming was imagined by drugged out hippies in the 1970s, but it has a long history of documentation by many reputable scientists over the last 100 years.

  40. Alex
    December 3rd, 2004 at 12:17 | #40

    OK, Ken, suggest you go here http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/climate/ and read a few of the back issues debunking various excesses by climate change extremists (in the PDF file archives). Also check out the backgrounds of the editors/contributors, so you won’t jump to conclusions about their qualifications to comment.

  41. James Farrell
    December 3rd, 2004 at 12:41 | #41

    Alex, I followed your suggestion to check out their backgrounds. I can’t guarantee that the information here is right, but it’s about what I expected.

  42. Alex
    December 3rd, 2004 at 13:01 | #42

    Useful link, thanks James. Obviously quite a few people don’t think much of PM’s credentials. However, he is a climatologist, and that suggests to me that his critique of some of the more extreme statements of climate change pessimists should not be dismissed out of hand. Suggest you read a few of the back issues as I suggested to Ken. Don’t think that I’m suggesting that the mainstream view of climate change scientists is wrong – far from it. Just that *some* scientists are making public statements driven more by ideology than fact, and drawing on an over-reliance on the more pessimistic scenarios produced by climate models that all climatologists agree are still a long way from being able to predict long-term climate change with any degree of certainty.

  43. December 3rd, 2004 at 13:13 | #43

    There is no doubt we are changing the climate. How much, and how far we have to go before we reach the Greenhouse precipice is what is in question amongst scientists.

  44. Alex
    December 4th, 2004 at 12:19 | #44

    Among many other things. I don’t think we understand very much about the carbon cycles at all. For example, how much research has been done on the role of soil as a carbon reservoir? Very little. It’s only in the last ten years or so that it has even been realised that it is a significant factor. So much so that ploughing might be responsible for more carbon released into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels. Tiny changes in average soil depth can lead to huge changes in the amount of carbon locked up in the soil. But we know nothing about changes in average soil depth, even in industrialised nations.

    My point? Our knowledge is at such rudimentary levels in so many aspects of this subject that, as usual, we tend to resort to quasi-religious dogmatism. Not very helpful, but until there is a great increase in our knowledge, apparently inevitable.

  45. Simon
    December 4th, 2004 at 16:39 | #45

    Well then John if you are sincere that’s OK then, but the point still stands if they get money from the industries that stand to gain from favourable results, without some sort of independent mechanism or review process, then at the very least their work is suspect.
    Conflict of interest, supposed to be a key concept for business, law and government. Why is that John?

    Also I didn’t say you looked at biased sources, but that in general no one would claim they do.

    And yes John, I will even respect conservatives. That is if they agree with me that one should use critical thinking, avoid relying on biased or compromised information sources and not only aware of confirmation bias and the file draw problem but actively seek to counter it. Otherwise a rational debate is near impossible and a waste of time.

    BTW funnily enough I also agree with a lot of libertarian views, but I find that with the few libertarians I have talked with they are super skeptical about anything that says humans have adversely effected the global environment when the evidence for the reverse is overwhelming. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, not bias from industry funded lobby groups and individuals like Lomborg making uninformed pronouncements from outside the relevant disciplines.

  46. Alex
    December 4th, 2004 at 18:56 | #46

    Ken Miles and others, I propose to you the name of another qualified and *genuine*? climate change sceptic – Richard Lindzen. If you’re interested in what he has to say, check here


    However, you may consider he is tainted because he accepts payments from oil companies ;)

    Of course, some would say that William Kininmonth, former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre, qualifies as *genuine*. But he’s one of the Lavoisier Group, so that automatically disqualifies him, I suppose.

  47. Ken Miles
    December 4th, 2004 at 19:32 | #47

    Alex, in my first sentence on the first post that I made on this thread I stated that industry funding doesn’t worry me. Could you please not misstate in future?

    My problem with Richard Lindzen is a simple one; what he says in non-scientific publications is frequently very different to what he says in scientific publications. Tim Lambert has an example of this here.

    Kininmonth is different. Whereas Lindzen can mount a arguement, Kinimonth simple creates strawman.

  48. December 4th, 2004 at 19:33 | #48

    Simon — you’ll be happy to meet me then. “Agnostic” is probably a better description of me than “skeptic”. I think we don’t know enough. But if I was forced to guess on current knowledge I would take the (unsurprising) position that (a) temps have increased a little in recent decades; and (b) humans may well have something to do with this.

    I also thought that Saddam had WMDs and that he may well pass them to terrorists. However, I wasn’t sure. Also, on closer inspection I concluded that the costs of the war were larger than the costs of Saddam. I’m not asking you to agree… but I find the kyoto-iraq analogy interesting. Especially because people who support or oppose both are very rare, and they are both based on fear and multi-billion dollar government programs. Strange. :)

  49. Ken Miles
    December 4th, 2004 at 19:37 | #49

    Among many other things. I don’t think we understand very much about the carbon cycles at all. For example, how much research has been done on the role of soil as a carbon reservoir? Very little. It’s only in the last ten years or so that it has even been realised that it is a significant factor.

    Would you like to back this statement up with evidence?

    Incidently, by evidence, something published in a peer reviewed scientific journal would be good.

  50. Ken Miles
    December 4th, 2004 at 19:46 | #50

    Incidently, on the question of consensus within the scientific world… from an essay in this weeks Science reports the results of a examination of over 900 scientific papers on climate change. It groups them into three categories:

    * explicit endorsement of the consensus position
    * evaluation of impacts
    *mitigation proposals
    *paleoclimate analysis
    *rejection of the consensus position

    Out of the 900 odd papers, exactly zero fit into the last category. As the author states:

    Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts,
    developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic
    change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point. This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and
    the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists,
    and others may have the impression of confusion,
    disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

  51. Alex
    December 4th, 2004 at 20:07 | #51

    Sorry, Ken, no misquoting intended. It’s not easy to keep track of everything everyone has written on a long thread.

    As regards Kininmonth, my raising of him was meant to elicit a comment on his sincerity, not whether you thought he was right or not.

    Finally, you asked some time ago for evidence of anthropological climate change proponents who were lacking one of the virtues of intelligence, knowledge and honesty. You disputed my raising of the Union of Concerned Scientists as a relevant example. Maybe you should read the article by Lindzen I linked to earlier. He also mentions Stephen Schneider, another prime example. A quote from Schneider “To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have…. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest.”

  52. Ken Miles
    December 6th, 2004 at 10:27 | #52

    Alex, the Schneider quote is the last refuge of those without an argument. The context of the quote has been removed. Considerable portions of the quote have been removed. The full version is available here:

    On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people, we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest .I hope that means being both

    What followed this quote was a discussion about how to do “both”; ie. use of analogies etc.

    However, since you brought it up, do you actually have an example of Schneider doing something dodgy? I’ve come across this quote a multitude of times, but never has the quoter been able to back it up with an actually checkable example.

    Your reference to the UCS isn’t convincing. Lindzen asserts that a newspaper ad in the 1980′s didn’t include a reference to nuclear power as a possible solution. Without seeing the petition (I can’t even find a 1989 petition – maybe he refers to the 1992 Warning to Humanity petition?) and the ad, I can’t make any sensible judgment – however, my experience with Lindzen is to not trust what he says without reading the sources – the link which I supplied above is the reason why.

  53. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 10:40 | #53

    Sorry, Ken, but in my view Schneider is condemned by his own words. He says “I hope that means being both (effective and honest)”. But immediately before that he says “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have”. If that’s what he did, then in my opinion that is dishonest, however effective it may have been.

  54. John Quiggin
    December 6th, 2004 at 11:11 | #54

    Alex, I think you need to give this one a fair bit more thought. If you search on Schneider you’ll find a lot of posts by me on this topic, including more on the context of the quote

    Yours is the common reaction among people who’ve reacted to the doctored quote, then seen the corrected version. But ask yourself: if the correct version is self-condemnatory, why is the quote never presented in full by Schneider’s critics?

  55. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 11:23 | #55

    thanks John, I took up your suggestion. The second quote the search came up with was this “here’s my bottom line. He’s an alarmist who tends to overstate and overdramatization [sic] environmental threats, and he doesn’t always argue fairly,…”.

    Says it all really.

  56. Ken Miles
    December 6th, 2004 at 12:00 | #56

    If that’s what he did, then in my opinion that is dishonest, however effective it may have been.

    But Alex, you haven’t provided any evidence that this is what he did.

  57. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 13:06 | #57

    Ken, let me get something straight. Do you (a) actually believe that Schneider didn’t follow through with his stated agenda (in which case maybe you should check with JQ, who says he did) or (b) agree with me that he did, but like the idea of swanning off to have a latte with your mates, while sniggering over conning another RWDB into a tedious and pointless afternoon trawling through thousands of Google references?

    My point is that I don’t think that there is a huge amount of difference between the left and right over what Schneider and his followers have done, the debate is more over whether it was justified or not. So in challenging me to produce the evidence of his sins, you are simply setting up a straw man.

  58. December 6th, 2004 at 13:16 | #58

    Alex, you implied that Schneider was dishonest, a characterization that JQ specifically rejected. Lindzen, on the other hand, is a liar.

  59. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 13:55 | #59

    JQ may have rejected that characterization, but if I think it’s dishonest for a scientist to “overstate and overdramatize environmental threats” that is surely my prerogative. I repeat my point that what is really at issue is whether what he and others have done is justifiable or not. You and Ken (and JQ) apparently think it is, I do not.

  60. John Quiggin
    December 6th, 2004 at 14:04 | #60

    Dishonesty is a much more damaging accusation than overstatement, Alex. People on this blog regularly suggest that I’m overstating and overdramatizing concerns about the current account deficit. Maybe they’re right and maybe not, but I don’t take offence.

    If they said I was lying about it to promote a political agenda, I’d flame them to a crisp.

  61. December 6th, 2004 at 14:21 | #61

    Alex, do you think it is justifiable for Lindzen to lie about the findings of the NAS panel?

  62. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 14:34 | #62

    Sorry, John, you’ve lost me. If you consciously overstate something – for example, you say that man-induced global warming will lead to a rise in temperature of 5 degrees by the end of this century, when you know full well that the evidence points to something less than that – then you are being dishonest. This is what Schneider seems to have set out to do, and according to you he did so. On the other hand, when people accuse you of overstating concerns about the current account deficit, they are usually using shorthand to say they don’t agree with your concern. They are not saying that you actually know that the evidence is more equivocal than you suggest, but you are promoting an extreme position to further your political ends. There may be a few who take the latter view, but you haven’t given them any reason to think so by overtly stating a political agenda.

    There is a big difference in motive between your raising of concerns about the current account deficit and Schneider’s alarmism. And Schneider made clear his agenda right from the start.

  63. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 14:35 | #63

    Tim, no.

  64. December 6th, 2004 at 14:43 | #64

    Alex, please can you tell us where Schneider said that GW will lead to a rise of 5 degrees by 2100?

  65. John Quiggin
    December 6th, 2004 at 14:49 | #65

    Alex, I didn’t assert that Schneider *consciously* overstates things – I think he is just one of those people who tends to see the worst case as more likely than it actually is.

  66. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 15:03 | #66

    Tim, don’t be daft. That was a hypothetical.

    JQ, I never said that you accused Schneider of consciously overstating things. I pointed out that he said that was what he intended to do. Then I drew attention to your comment that he had, in fact, overstated things. This might not pass in a philosophy tutorial, but it will do for me.

  67. December 6th, 2004 at 15:11 | #67

    Alex, let me get this straight. You are certain that Schneider is dishonest, but you can’t actually point to any dishonest statement that he has made. Do I have it now?

  68. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 15:21 | #68

    So Tim, the alternative is? Are you proposing that Schneider said he was going to deliberately overstate his case, then when he subsequently overstated his case (I’m happy to take JQ’s word on that) he forgot that he had deliberately intended to, and it was just a case of overenthusiasm?

  69. Ken Miles
    December 6th, 2004 at 15:54 | #69

    Tim, I think I’ve narrowed it now.

    Schneider is hypothetically dishonest.

  70. Ken Miles
    December 6th, 2004 at 16:10 | #70

    Alex, my point about Schneider is that I just don’t know if he is dishonest.

    I really don’t place much stock in the quote. He could have worded it better, but my interpretation was that it is hard to explain scientific concepts to the public without radical simplification and a gripping angle. It should be noted that one of Schneider’s research interests is scientific communication.

    However, whether or not my interpretation is correct, the quote itself is irrelevant – Schneider could have said “I have no ethical problems with lying for a good cause and I also eat puppies”, and it still wouldn’t make him dishonest unless you could demonstrate him lying.

  71. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 16:28 | #71

    Ken and Tim, JQ has a useful summary of common ground (which it might be more productive to focus on) here

    I would have no trouble agreeing with that summary in so far as it deals with what is happening and going to happen.

    As to Schneider’s lying or not, I didn’t accuse him of that. I referred to him exaggerating deliberately, which I categorised as dishonest, in my opinion. Not the same as telling an outright lie, imho.

    BTW, Tim, although I only mentioned 5 degrees temperature rise as a hypothetical, I note that JQ’s summary says that Schneider is in the camp that postulates a 3.5-5 degree rise by the end of the century.

  72. Ken Miles
    December 6th, 2004 at 16:51 | #72

    Alex, I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect that John is incorrect in labeling Schneider as being at the upper end of the spectrum. I’ve only seen Schneider disagree with the IPCC on one substantive issue (whether or not probabilities of likely effects should be examined), and likely temperature rise isn’t it.

    In 1997 Schneider has stated that the climate sensitivity (this is a measure of how the earth reacts to a doubling of CO2 concentrations) is 3 degrees C plus or minus 1.5 degrees with the best numbers being 2-3 degrees C.

    This would put him in line with the IPCC’s estimates.

  73. simon
    December 6th, 2004 at 21:34 | #73

    First to John- it’s fine if lay people want to be agnostic about GW or the environment but unless you have a substantive case for not believing what those qualified in their fields are saying, wouldn’t you think the safer bet is to let them direct what we should do rather than those whose main concern is their profit margin?

    I not qualified in these fields so look at respected mainstream science media/publications who publish peer reviewed scientists qualified in their fields. Luckily enough I find reading publications like New Scientist, Scientific America, Ecos-CSIRO interesting. I think I would have a good case that doing this regularly would give you a better estimation of what is going on in the earth sciences and climatology than any coal or oil lobbist has to say.

    The scientific community isn’t infallible and peer review is perfect but it is a hell of a lot better than relying on groups with conflict of interest or people, who even while qualified in some other profession lack a complete understanding of the subject to make an informed judgment.

    BTW your page is down.

    As far as Schneider goes, even if was dishonest to some degree as far as getting the publics attention does that invalidate the foundational claims of IPCC’s. Personally speaking though, I think he hurt his own cause. Given the trouble the world is are having with fresh water, even small changes in precipitation patterns is going to cause huge problems. So offering ‘scary’ or extreme scenarios is unnecessary.

    Whether you like it or not, either you will be paying through the nose for your water or drinking your recycled piss in Asutralia within 50 years.

  74. Alex
    December 6th, 2004 at 21:45 | #74

    I suppose this is rather than paying through the nose for your piss and … oh, never mind.

  75. December 7th, 2004 at 08:49 | #75

    Simon: but unless you have a substantive case for not believing what those qualified in their fields are saying, wouldn’t you think the safer bet is to let them direct what we should do rather than those whose main concern is their profit margin?

    The scientists (or military people) are not good at public policy. They are good at science and war. Actually… I am a professional public policy analyst, so I guess I should ask why you don’t simply accept my conclusions regarding Kyoto? :)

    I do not distrust people simply because they make a profit. And the scientific community makes a huge profit from global warming scares.

  76. Alex
    December 7th, 2004 at 12:36 | #76

    simon, I agree with you that the global warming alarmists may have hurt their own cause. Schneider himself may have realised this and moderated his earlier views (or his presentation of them), judging by the balanced testimony he gave in 1997 (I presume to a Senate committee) which Ken Miles linked to above. The problem with scientists exaggerating the dangers of global warming (or anything else) is that public policy makers tend to become aware of the exaggerations, and subsequently apply a discount to other evidence on the subject. Further, this tends to spread to scientists in other fields as well, lowering the reputation of science generally.

    John, as to your point that the scientific community makes huge profit from global warming scares, I don’t think there is actually much evidence of this. Funding for climatology research has not increased as a result of the global warming issue, rather the reverse if anything (certainly in the US, which probably spends as much on research as the rest of the world combined). And as I noted above, it’s hardly promoting your cause, even if you do get increased funding, if nobody wants to listen to what you say. However, I agree that public policy should be left in the hands of those charged with it, rather than scientists. It may be frustrating to scientists that politicians have to deal with the possible, rather than the perfect, but that’s politics.

  77. julz
    February 27th, 2005 at 10:13 | #77

    this is a crap site!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    im surprised its still working, it is no help at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…

  78. John Quiggin
    February 27th, 2005 at 12:06 | #78

    Before I delete this moron, can anybody determine if this is some new form of spam, or just random abuse from someone with a defective keyboard ? It fails the Turing Test, but that’s far from decisive evidence.

  79. Tom Davies
    February 27th, 2005 at 12:26 | #79

    A disappointed chemistry student with urgent homework? :-)

  80. Paul Norton
    February 28th, 2005 at 08:41 | #80

    The insurance industry doesn’t think it can afford scepticism about climate change.


  81. Fyodor
    February 28th, 2005 at 09:05 | #81


    “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

    If you want people to insure their homes against storm damage, do you:

    a) donwplay the risk of volatile weather, thereby reducing the incentive to insure; OR
    b) exaggerate the risk of volatile weather, thereby increasing the incentive to insure?

    The source for the article, Munich Re, is the world’s largest reinsurer, i.e. the company that picks up the tab for lots of catastrophe losses. They have a significant incentive to encourage the purchase of insurance.

    The figure for insured losses is a bad indicator for the volatility of weather given it only measures damage to INSURED property, most of which happens to be located in North America, Europe and Japan. Specifically, the single largest natural hazard to insured property is windstorms – one bad hurricane season in the North Atlantic (like we had last year) can generate massive insured losses, but have little connection with weather volatility elsewhere on the planet.

    The article also didn’t mention that the years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 were unusually benign for natural catastrophes, both in total economic losses and insured losses. But good news isn’t always newsworthy, is it?

  82. Greg Byrne
    July 10th, 2005 at 13:31 | #82

    Regarding Ray Evans (H R Nicholls Society and Lavoiser Society) the output of has hardly been prodigious. Labour market reform has hardly gone one notch since Fraser lost in 1983 and even if the govt is not signing Kyoto it is talking about limiting emissions on what I believe are spurious environmental grounds. I know that many people on the right are disappointed with Evans’ efforts and believe he should move over and let someone else have a go.

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