Home > Science > Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

April 29th, 2009

Reading the latest delusionist nonsense at the Oz (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

Readers may recall that what I actually wrote in the Fin last week was

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

Interestingly, not even the keenest delusionists in the comments thread managed to construe this as a suggestion that amateur climate ‘science’ was actually a serious threat to the real thing. I’ll be interested to see how they manage to endorse or excuse Kininmonth here, and if any of them are actually willing to admit that one of their seemingly more reputable authorities (unlike the usual run of drama critics, dotty peers, retired mining executives and so on, Kininmonth has held an impressive range of positions and even, though mostly in the distant past, published some real peer-reviewed research ) has either been deliberately doctoring quotes or is incapable of basic comprehension.

In the spirit of sceptical inquiry, I’m not jumping to conclusions about the Oz itself on this one. Opinion editors rarely fact check their columnists, and on one memorable occasion back in the Tom Switzer era, reader Terje Peterson managed to elicit a correction from Janet Albrechtsen after a team effort here demonstrated that one of her columns was based on a misreading of statistics.

In the hope of a double, I’ve written to the Oz, asking for a correction in the following terms:

In “Cold facts dispel theories on warming” William Kininmonth attributed to John Quiggin the claim that “mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs” . Quiggin does not hold this view, and the article in question referred to such claims, propagated by Kininmonth and others in the pages of The Australian, as displaying “a large dose of delusion.”

So, we’ll see what they have to say. Either way, anyone who thought Kininmonth deserved to be taken more seriously than, say, Lord Monckton > , will have to think again.

Update Wednesday’s Fin ran a letter from Kininmonth with the same doctored quote. Of course, there is almost no factchecking of letters, so I don’t blame the Fin for this and, if I can make some space, I can always reply in my next column. This is a reminder that the Oz still has time to redeem itself by running a correction. No word yet on this.

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  1. Alice
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:18 | #1

    Oh Smiths #50

    My suggestion not to buy was the last one left… and I agree so much with this comment of yours below (but at times our only ultimate power seems to be in the ability to say no and not to buy – Id like to see a mass movement along those lines but Im not hopeful and Murdoch keeps getting away with his own rampant version of extreme conservatism. Its a joke – unbiased reporting in Australia??? – it doesnt exist and it wont while ever the old B breathes.

    Your comment;

    “dont forget – pushers of the free choice bandwagon – that murdoch through organs like the australian has the power to propel nations to war,
    next time you choose to see the Australian in humorous terms consider the iraqi body count”

    I tried my best to mount a campaign against that filthy misleading war Smiths. You dont know how much I tried. I even went on SBS (with Brockley) and spoke against it and Im not fond of sticking myself out there normally. I was there with the other 400,000 in Hyde Park…and still the Coalition who were in power didnt listen to the people and what they wanted. All they did was increase the police, dogs and helicopters.

    Imagine that? The biggest demonstration in Australia’s history and Howard ups his dog and helicopter squad. It wasnt even a union demonstration. It was ordinary non political people people outraged. It was a strange government we had. Very strange indeed.

  2. Ikonoclast
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:26 | #2

    I post this for those who want climate change questions answered in layman’s terms.

    The engine will not allow me to post the IPCC Climate Change FAQs’ http address so go to here;

    ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm

    and select “Frequently asked Questions”.

  3. SeanG
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:29 | #3

    Thanks.

  4. Alice
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:34 | #4

    Jack
    you appear to have coined a new phrase “If anything the media-academia complex is even more narrow-minded nowadays.”

    There is nothing academic about the media Jack – not these days – its only spin “academia” they buy and print = when was the last time a real scientist had his work covered but the IPA are in weekly (you want to talk about the coverage left liberalism gets versus the looney tune right???? Zip, zero, zilch – its all free market, right wing, overzealous, AGW, Anti science, – anyone can be an expert you dont need no degree – upstart garbage).

    Your term Jack, sounds like “military industrial complex” conveniently converted to “media-academia complex.” Aint no such thing Jack and Ill call that one.

    There is no “media academia complex”. The media is at war with academia. Sad but true in this country. Nasty little Newscorp editors with a big chip on their shoulder and a hymn sheet.

  5. April 30th, 2009 at 19:44 | #5

    It certainly is a major problem.

    These deliberate denialist dissemblers damage democracy daily.

    Obviously a lot of people realise this and find it objectionable, but Murdoch’s Minions care not a jot for your disdain. They have a highly paid job to do, they “own” the debate.

    Pop over to “StopMurdoch” when you get a moment and either take up some of the ideas for action, explain why they won’t work, or provide your own brilliant ideas for what can be done.

    If you do absolutely nothing you lose your right to whinge about how crap their journalistic standards are.

  6. Tim Macknay
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:47 | #6

    SeanG, a book I would highly recommend is ‘Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat’ by A. Barrie Pittock, from CSIRO publishing. It’s a great overview of the science, policy and politics of climate change, written for the layman by one of Australia’s top climate scientists (Pittock was head of CSIRO’s Climate Impact Group in the 1990s).

  7. Alice
    April 30th, 2009 at 19:53 | #7

    Oh and Smiths#50
    Let me tell you about the SBS interview. They came looking in the anti war demonstrations for a north shore housewife who had never demonstrated before. Got to have an angle. They found it in me. It was true. What made me not only demonstrate but get an active group going where I lived?

    Murdochs damn newspapers and his media on the push to war in Iraq. Thats what. It was sickening. I realised with crystal clarity exactly how dangerous news propaganda can be in marshalling wrong headed hate and victimisation and division in a society.

    I later read about Manning Clarks emergence from a German metro station the very night after Cristallnacht where he recalled seeing angel faced young german soldiers still with the guns in their hands and the streets covered in the glass from smashed shop windows at their doing.

    Clark said it was only then he realised that evil existed. I had the same thoughts about the Murdoch press in the lead up to Iraq. His newspapers inflamed and divided the Australian people. Propaganda and misuse of media is an immensely dangerous animal in the wrong hands. Murdoch has the wrong hands. Iraq was all wrong, Murdoch was part of it and a lot of Australian people were drawn to take positions against even their own friends and family. He caused a rift a mile wide in our society and one fuelled by hatred.

  8. rog
    April 30th, 2009 at 20:24 | #8

    Unfortunately Alice it was later proved that Clark was not present during Kristallnacht, the facts were not important to the story

  9. Jill Rush
    April 30th, 2009 at 20:38 | #9

    Well no apology and almost last in the letters queue but at least the point was made that your views were misrepresented Prof Q. However the lauding letters published for climate denialists in the lead were a stark contrast. It seems that now if anyone thinks that people are in any way responsible for global warming it is just because of a massive ego problem.

  10. SeanG
    April 30th, 2009 at 20:41 | #10

    Considering that we cannot generate much power efficiently from green sources compared to, say, nuclear power. Should we be moving towards nuclear to reduce our carbon emissions?

  11. David C (aka Smiley)
    April 30th, 2009 at 21:14 | #11

    And then I had this dream that my whole family were just cartoon characters and our success had led to some crazy propaganda network called Fox News.

    That’s about the only worthwhile thing I’ve heard from the Murdoch empire in recent years. And it proves that not all of his employees are sycophants.

  12. David C (aka Smiley)
    April 30th, 2009 at 22:24 | #12

    SeanG,

    Lots of fairly sane people like Tim Flannery, James Lovelock, and Barry Brook are saying the same thing.

    I’m about half way through Tom Blees’s book “Prescription for the Plant” in which he makes the case that nuclear energy can be produced safely with the added advantage of removing hazardous and weapons grade nuclear waste from our stockpiles when using IFR technology. It’s not a technical book yet it highlights some of the bad statistics and shrill arguments put forward by anti-nuclear and pro-alternative energy lobbies.

    For example he points out the common practice by pro-solar lobbyists of quoting areas measured in kilometres squared or miles squared instead of square kilometres or square miles. It appears to be an intentionally deceptive practice to hide the real scale required when substituting solar technology for our current systems.

    Mind you I have a feeling that some politicians who have pushed the idea of converting to nuclear energy in recent times may be a bit disappoint when they learn that there is already enough fissile material above ground to power civilisations needs (using the IFR technology) for the next century.

  13. May 1st, 2009 at 01:10 | #13

    Ahh, yes…

    Is the “Uranium Institute” a sub-branch of the “Pond’s Institute”? Or is it the other way around?

    Or are they both separate divisions of the marketing department of the “Institute for Public Affairs”?

    So hard to keep up these days.

  14. paul walter
    May 1st, 2009 at 03:23 | #14

    I think I know the adfertorial you are all talking about.
    The graceless anonymous response to a mildly pc Media Watch commentary about tendentious tabloid terminology involving asylum seekers was totally our of proportion and dare I suggest, as paranoid as it was ignorant and un self-reflexive.
    Included in this perverse misuse of prime editorial space was my old friend Marilyn Shepherd, pitched right into the eye of the linguistic hurricane, for daring to email them asking them for what she feels to be a fair go for refugees, a group of people she empathises for deeply considering their real-world plight. She is a humble and cheerful, if noisy person with more decency in a toenail all the Murdoch hacks combined. From from the school of hard knocks herself, she understand suffering in a way the pampered Murdoch pussies could never begin to grasp, having copped her fair share of adversity in the past, and more besides.
    But, for people cocooned as much from reality and the consequences of their own egos and common morality as the overpaid, pretentious Murdoch black propagandists, a person down now only signifies as some one to be kicked in the guts whilst there.
    I can assure all Marilyn has, laughing fit to bust, emerged on the other side of this fetid blast of ill-tempered flatus. What a tragi-comic thing, when an elephant is troubled by a mouse!
    Perhaps individuals of sufficient mettle can make a difference, after all!
    Much too tough a hide to bothered by ill-informed bigots like the crank who wrote the editorial.
    But what a capricious vandalism of precious print space, when the real world and its stories are passed up, ignored, for the rubbish filling that space.

  15. May 1st, 2009 at 05:37 | #15

    I’ve emailed William with a reference to this blog article.

  16. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 06:43 | #16

    50 proved by who Rog? The denialists?

  17. Ikonoclast
    May 1st, 2009 at 06:59 | #17

    William Kininmonth’s quoting of John Quiggin out of context in a manner which exactly reversed the meaning was either;

    (a) deliberate; or
    (b) illustrative of incompetence and carelessness with truth.

    The thinking public are getting completely sick and tired of the outright campaign of falsehoods being run by the anti-science right in their attempt to deny and silence scientific enquiry. Their sole motive is to ignore the signs of long-term damage to the biosphere for the purposes of pursuing short term financial gain.

  18. smiths
    May 1st, 2009 at 11:00 | #18

    alice i am glad you did everything you could,

    i too walked as part of the largest most widespread demonstration in earths history,

    despite what the official histories might say, that was the day that really changed everything,

    it was the day that millions of ordinary people around the world who thought they lived in democracies realised they didnt,

    and it is for things like that people like albrechtson, sheridan and murdoch should never be forgiven

  19. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 12:32 | #19

    I agree Smiths – it was only then when we went to Iraq that I realised that newspapers (what I thought were reasonably innocuous daily newspapers before that) could be an outright instrument of war and lies with no real reason, explanation or logic. That was the time my belief that the general goodwill of Australians was able to be twisted. But it can happen in any country any time.

    I will never (in my life) forget Murdochs diagrams of tanks, planes and the arrows of war strategy diagrams as we were little in the generals tent, as if designed for little boys paying games. Thats how it happened.

  20. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 12:39 | #20

    Smiths#69 “should never be forgiven” I agree – ugly divisive voices hiding their true intent behind a tatty thin false veil of freedom and the fear they whipped up in others. Warmongers. No less.

  21. David Irving (no relation)
    May 1st, 2009 at 13:05 | #21

    Rog @ 50, yeah, yeah, we know Manning Clark wasn’t actually there, it was his missus’ eye-witness account that made him realise evil existed.

    Point well missed.

  22. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 13:38 | #22

    Yeah yeah Rog
    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2007/s1863641.htm

    What you all forget is that long after his detractors names are forgotten, Manning Clark will long be remembered as Australia’s greatest historian. The attempts to discredit Manning Clark (he wore a fake Order of Lenin star badge to a party…….WOW. Big Woop. For that he was a communist? So were lots of others pre 1960 and as if it matters – it WAS a free country.)

    All of his discreditting and the smear campaign that went on before this delightful man died after producing the best series of history books this country had ever known for most of his life was just a filthy dirty little smear campaign whipped up by political fanatics and wetnursed by the professionally jealous who werent in the same league and will never be.

    Jealousy is a curse.

    Professor Clark was a lovely gentle historian, also beloved by his students. There are many reminiscences about that. I wont let you put Manning Clark down. A great Australian and a much greater Australian than his measly small minded detractors.

  23. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 14:10 | #23

    per Stuart MacIntyre.

    “The controversy Manning Clark attracted in his lifetime has carried over into posthumous attacks on his reputation. In 1993 his former publisher Peter Ryan produced an extraordinary denunciation. In 1996 the Brisbane Courier-Mail published an eight-page feature alleging that Clark had been awarded the Order of Lenin for services as a Soviet agent. In his Australia Day speech of 2006 the prime minister blamed him for propagating the black armband view of Australian history. Contrary to these allegations, Clark was not an apologist for the left: indeed, as he embarked on his life’s work that resulted in the six-volume History of Australia he specifically rejected the radical view of the national history. Hence the response to the first volume from Brian Fitzpatrick, the leading radical historian: ’may all the muses except Clio bless him’.”

    Thats 6 wonderful volumes. Nothing compared. He didnt deserve the petty rubbishy smear campaign.

    Oh and I note the wretched rag The Australian is till trying to run with the story as a revivalist piece in…get this everyone…….December 2008.????

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,24756835-7583,00.html?from=public_rss

    Give it up.

    Everyone knows who really lies and distorts facts to suit their measly narrow minded one track political view (Yes, its The Australian AGAIN).

  24. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    May 1st, 2009 at 14:40 | #24

    I am curious to know what Jack Strocchi thinks of his beloved Paul Sheahan’s flipflop on climate change. He is now, after reading this week’s book, a denier. (The book seems to be not unlike Sheahan’s of about 15 years ago, a kind of right-wing Pilgeresque explanation of the way the world operates. Sheahan’s sold well too.)

  25. Mike
    May 1st, 2009 at 14:47 | #25

    “In fact support for the republic peaked about 15 years ago, when Keating was shoving his elitist views down everyones throats.”

    in fact, republican support has been articially suppressed by John Howard shoving his elitist views down people’s throats . . .

  26. paul walter
    May 1st, 2009 at 20:45 | #26

    Alice, you don’t remember Media Watch, going back maybe five year to a decade, when Chris Mitchell was shown up as one those runing an orchestrated culture wars smear campaign with historian Manning Clark the target?
    A salvo in the black armband campaigns invoked to justify everything from the overiding of Wik and Mabo; everything from appropriation of Aboriginal property rights, to the death of Civil Society particularly Keynesian welfare; to the gelding of public broadcasting and “broadsheet” education( for want of a better term ).
    So, in this era when big busines wants unfettered access to fossil fuels for cheap power and for export and allied problems like Murray-Darling over allocations and destruction of incresingly rare old growth native forests, likewise a campaign is started invoking stuff from hired hands like William Bogong-moth and Plimer.
    It’s nothing to do with the science; everything to do with vested interests intent on shifting public opinion, regardless of whether inquiry and science raises questions or not.
    But I can understand why Quiggin is feeling aggreived. To call bloke an “economist”, well, that’s as pretty much below the belt as you can get…

  27. Alice
    May 1st, 2009 at 21:06 | #27

    Ha ha Paul! Poor JQ. An economist! But a good one (lord help us. Look what else is out there parading as economists!)
    I know about the culture wars. The culture of smear and harassment of innocent people by some pretty dark, sneaky and dubious types I might add.
    We live in Australia – if I hadnt read about the history of it (widely) I would never have believed it. Some people are desperate arent they?

    Freedom of speech and freedom of thought and freedom of political belief or religious belief and independence of academia so that a country can gather the best of its intelligence without interference of commercial interests?

    Nope, not here in Australia. All our high ideals got thrown in a garbage bin somewhere. Its a backwoods of narrow minded vindictiveness.

  28. SeanG
    May 1st, 2009 at 23:11 | #28

    ProfQ,

    Do you support nuclear power in Australia? If we take a reality-based approach to our energy needs, what is the best and most efficient and green way of delivering energy to Australian households and businesses?

  29. paul walter
    May 1st, 2009 at 23:23 | #29

    Speaking of economics, wonder if JQ will do a thread starter on the Defence White Paper.
    They’ve just cracked down on the unemployed again, yet we are set to go bust in readiness for the next round with the Yellow Peril?

  30. May 2nd, 2009 at 08:30 | #30

    # 75 Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer Says: May 1st, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I am curious to know what Jack Strocchi thinks of his beloved Paul Sheahan’s flipflop on climate change. He is now, after reading this week’s book, a denier. (The book seems to be not unlike Sheahan’s of about 15 years ago, a kind of right-wing Pilgeresque explanation of the way the world operates. Sheahan’s sold well too.)

    Well, u-humm [clears throat noisily, stalling desperately for time]…I am flattered that Lord “Dolly” condescends to consider my opinion on these weighty matters of state. But I had rather hoped he had better things to do with his time.

    Its no secret that I have been a big fan of Sheehan’s work over the years. On “anthropological” matters he is utterly sound and can be relied on to expound his brand of populist unconventional wisdom at the drop of a hat. Good red-meat, all grist to the mill of we foaming-at-the-mouth Cultural Right-wingers.

    And until recently he has also been a reliable source of conventional wisdom on ecological matters. But just the other day he blotted his copybook. To be fair he did not go the whole way and actually endorse Pilmer’s conclusion. What he did endorse was Pilmer’s attacks on climate change “conformity and orthodoxy”:

    Heaven And Earth is an evidence-based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.

    This is not a hanging offence. But its “not a good look” either.

    But thats not a good enough reason to consign the rest of Sheehan’s work to the trash can of ideological history. The Left still needs to be called to account for opening up a front in the war on science.

    In fact there is a quite good symmetry between Right- and Left-wing denialism and delusionism in matters of science here. The “Old Right” are undoubtedly delusional about ecological matters. But the “New Left” (+ “no enemies to the Left” camp followers – no names no pack drill), are almost as bad in anthropological matters.

    How else do you explain the fact that James Watson, the founder of modern genetics, was forced to recant and resign after violating a politically correct taboo on a contentious matter in the genetics of race. Ditto Larry Summers for over-stepping the same sort of line in the genetics of gender.

    And just last month Steve Rose, a notorious Marxist biologist, was suggesting that the scientific establishment should shut-down research into the biological basis for racial disparities. Instead of being hooted off stage he was, to the shame of Science Magazine, given a forum for airing this disgraceful view.

    Way to go to promote the open-ended pursuit of truth.

    Chris Mooney, a vehement critic of the Right, acknowledged that many Left-wingers could be as biased in the social sciences as Right-wingers were biased in the natural sciences:

    Harvard celebrated cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker…explained to me how this political reality tends to wall of certain areas of inquiry that might be seen as supporting conservative viewpoints: When its academics who wield the power, the political bias will be on the Left.

    Obviously the New Left et al have to do some pretty serious soul searching about their commitment to science in areas where Paul Sheehan has courageously covered over the years. (And been vindicated too: hows ATSIC going these days, eh?)

  31. Alice
    May 2nd, 2009 at 08:40 | #31

    80# Hmmmmm Paul Walter – I worried about that too. A fiscal stimulus set to flow straight out and stimulate the US military industry and the US (hardware imports to us).? Now is not exactly a good time.

  32. Alice
    May 2nd, 2009 at 10:20 | #32

    80# Paul. At least I read today that some will be built in Adelaide but it is still a worry to know that it was opposed by the Treasurer.

  33. paul walter
    May 3rd, 2009 at 00:39 | #33

    Re Alice, #83. You can bet if the little shagger had been a croweater he wouldn’t have opposed it.
    Or if it had meant more damage done to the Murray Darling.

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