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An interesting reversal

January 22nd, 2010

Janet Albrechtsen, who previously endorsed Lord Monckton’s conspiracy theory that the draft Copenhagen agreement were designed to bring in a world government has backed away, admitting that his rants about Hitler Youth and similar make it unsurprising that neither Kevin Rudd nor Tony Abbbott would see him during his Australian tour (I delayed in responding to my invitation, and it was pulled).

Albrechtsen has previously shown more willingness to admit error than the average pundit, and this piece counts in her favour. Still, it’s disappointing to see her continuing to suggest that the utterly unqualified and ludicrously wrong Viscount is “powerful” when he talks about the science. She quotes him confronting an activist, and asking

whether she is aware that there has been no statistically significant change in temperatures for 15 years. No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has in fact been global cooling in the past nine years? No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has been virtually no change to the amount of sea ice? No, she does not.

Perhaps the activist does not know these things because none of them are true, at least not in the sense that is implied. For example, as predicted by climate models, the dramatic reduction in Arctic sea ice has not not been mirrored in the Antarctic, so with a little ‘virtual’ fudge Monckton’s claim is, kind of, true. The point about statistical significance may be restated as saying that the variability of temperature about the upward trend is sufficiently great that 15 observations is not quite enough to reject the null hypothesis of no change with 95 per cent confidence (when I did stats, the standard number for a decent-sized sample was 30 observatons, but the trend in temperatures is strong enough that we don’t need so many). And the claim about global cooling is typical cherry picking, now out of date. 2009 was warmer than either 2000 or 2001, but Monckton was presumably using the relatively cool 2008 as his endpoint, or maybe the exceptionally warm El Nino year in 1998 as his starting point.

Albrechtsen is no more qualified than Monckton on these points. But she ought to ask herself whether it makes sense to rely on the statistical judgement of a former political advisor (to climate arch-conspirator Margaret Thatcher no less) whose political judgement is so obviously flaky.

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  1. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2010 at 06:29 | #1

    2009 was warmer than either 2000 or 2001, but Monckton was presumably using the relatively cool 2008 as his endpoint, or maybe the exceptionally warm El Nino year in 1998 as his starting point.

    Not only that, he would have been using HAD‘climategate’CRU data for 1998. NASA-GISS puts 2005 ahead of 1998. HADCRUT uses relatively few stations above the 23.5 DegN so it fails to capture as much of the polar warming. This is one of the problems of using such short trendlines.

    Either way though, Monckton was cherrypicking.

  2. January 23rd, 2010 at 08:59 | #2

    Having had so little good to say about Albrechtsen, at last I have something to go on. Has Marohasy done anything similar re Monckton?

  3. stuart
    January 23rd, 2010 at 11:27 | #3

    I’m intrigued as to how he argues that “there has been no statistically significant change in temperatures for 15 years” and then, the very next line states that “there has in fact been global cooling in the past nine years”

    One of these has too be wrong!

  4. John H
  5. Megan E
    January 23rd, 2010 at 12:23 | #5

    I’m not entirely sure Albrechtsen’s article was a reversal at all. Rather, it seemed that she was merely asking the reader to excuse Monckton’s lunacy and to instead focus on the “facts”. This may well be fine if any of Monckton’s facts held an iota of truth. However I doubt very much that Janet has looked into any of Monckton’s facts in detail (such as in his Physics & Society article), or any critiques of these facts. Despite this she is happy to defend herself as a “healthy skeptic”.
    If Albrechtsen came across a person on the street who claimed he had a cure for HIV and won a nobel prize, would she stop to listen to his views on global warming? According to her, to do so would be genuinely open minded. I think any normal person might perhaps question the legitimacy of this person’s claims. My comment on the article web page making this point mysteriously never appeared, in place of 24 comments praising Janet for “fighting the good fight”.

  6. wilful
    January 23rd, 2010 at 12:46 | #6

    I would like to think that Planet Janet and the rest of the loons that infest the Oz were irrelevant for Australia’s political debate – but unfortunately for some reason they seem to get a good eharing frm other media outlets, who echo and amplify their nonsense.

    Still, at least Stutchbury is about the only person in Australia who thinks that the stimulus package didn’t work.

  7. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    January 23rd, 2010 at 13:13 | #7

    I think the stimulus package didn’t work.

  8. Gus
    January 23rd, 2010 at 13:13 | #8

    I picked precisely the same point as you and submitted a comment noting that if we avoid cherry picking by comparing the average temperature for the noughties to that of the nineties we find that the average temperature has increased markedly. The Australian did not print the comment, but was able to print plenty of comments from Albrechtsen/Monckton supporters. Its pitiful to wash the desmise of a once significant newspaper.

  9. Grim
    January 23rd, 2010 at 17:05 | #9

    John,

    You refer to Margaret Thatcher as “climate arch-conspirator”. Could you expalin that claim please ?

    Margaret Thatcher was aware of, and took action about, climate change quite early (by international standards) as you can see in this piece from, yes, that publication, The Australian:
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/thatcher-saw-climate-threat/story-e6frg7ax-1111119033099

  10. Nick R
    January 23rd, 2010 at 17:42 | #10

    I wonder how sincere denialists are when they are making claims such as those printed above by Monckton. Do they simply have a gut feeling that climate science is wrong and feel that their own scientific fraud is acceptable in an ends-justify-the-means way? It is hard to believe that they are unaware of the scientific fraud they routinely commit, so this seems the most plausible (and forgivable) explanation to me. If this is they way they think, it is telling that they prefer their own instincts to such an overwhelming mountain of research.

  11. jquiggin
    January 23rd, 2010 at 18:02 | #11

    @Grim
    That’s exactly what I mean. If, like Monckton, you view climate change as a fraudulent conspiracy, then Maggie was an arch-conspirator. I quoted this very speech not long ago.

  12. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2010 at 18:05 | #12

    @Nick R

    A much more plausible explanation is that their responses are instantiatons of identity politics. Particularly amongst the Americans but to some extent amongst the British and reactionaries here, one sees what I’d call SSA or socio-spatial angst.

    They fear their fellows and counter-define themselves against all non-specific others (especially if they are socially remote), are protective of their personal space and treat their perceived domain with an OCD-like possessiveness.

    Hence the themes about untrustworthy elites, “gubmint”, gun advocacy, taxes, nanny state, “scientists”, computer modellers, evolution, fundamentalist christianity, gay marriage, regulation, free enterprise, conspiracies the authenticity of rural life etc …

    The fact that these concerns are at times contradictory inb their logic underlines that what they are doing is an artefact of culture — an existential question — rather than reason in its usual sense. They like their world how they like it and that is that and those damned socialist liberal gun-grabbing greenie gaia-loving feral freaks from the cities are going to ruin my life …

  13. Nick R
    January 23rd, 2010 at 18:31 | #13

    Fran- I strongly agree with you that much of the motivation seems to come from some sort of anti-intellectual identity politics, and that the movement seems to counter-define itself in terms of what it fears/resents/dislikes…

    What I do not quite get is how somebody like Monckton or Plimer justifies their position to themselves. They are surely aware that the arguments about global cooling since ’98 and the like are rubbish, so why do they continue to rely on them? Is their partisanship so strong that they don’t care if catastrophic global warming occurs so long as they get to stick it to the ‘elites’? Or do they genuinely (based on some superior gut instinct) think AGW is a hoax and not care that they are perpetrating scientific fraud with their own counter arguments?

  14. Louis Hissink
    January 23rd, 2010 at 18:32 | #14

    Actually AGW is an excellent example of scientific incompetence.

    As for a world government, well I tend to take Maurice Strong at his word, unless the assembled here now start refuting Strong’s views.

  15. Grim
    January 23rd, 2010 at 20:19 | #15

    @John

    Thanks for the clarification. I read your point as the opposite of what you intended.

    It does show, I think, how useful it might be to have a few ‘senior’ politicians who personally have a scientific background. What a pity that neither Australia, the USA nor the UK actually have any.

  16. Grim
    January 23rd, 2010 at 20:24 | #16

    @Nick R

    I am firm, thou art obstinate, he is pig-headed. I don’t know about Monckton, but I have met Plimer personally – back a few years ago, to be sure – and he never struck me as somebody who needed to ‘justify’ himself to himself: if he thought it, then it must be true.

    I think there’s even a few politicians who are like that.

  17. Alice
    January 23rd, 2010 at 21:05 | #17

    @Louis Hissink
    Hissink – says

    “Actually AGW is an excellent example of scientific incompetence.”

    Im sorry you are so blind you think the science is all wrong. I feel for you. Its hard to swallow the facts and the full ramifications I know. If you can successfully convince yourself the science is all wrong then you only get to buy yourself an extension of denialist time.
    Good luck with that.

  18. pablo
    January 23rd, 2010 at 21:07 | #18

    I think Plimer is well aware of the scientific inconsistencies, but after his white knight battles with the creationists he misses the limelight and AGW simply provided him with a chance to get back into the saddle. Add a little cantankerous ageism to that formula and you have it. A pity the University of Adelaide, Plimer’s emmeritus perch, doesn’t open some discussion about academic fraud.

  19. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2010 at 21:17 | #19

    @Nick R

    What I do not quite get is how somebody like Monckton or Plimer justifies their position to themselves.

    I suspect both Monckton and Plimer are principally malignant narcissists with relevance deprivation syndrome, so in this case Alice may well have made the right call. Plimer figures he will cash in his name for book royalties and speaking payments.

    Monckton was involved with a fraudster some time back involving “white asbestos” (look it up) and his attachment to honesty cannot withstand a passing breeze.

  20. wilful
    January 23rd, 2010 at 21:18 | #20

    Alice, have you not come across Louis Hissink before? He’s a definite character, he has some, erm, interesting theories about the way the world works.

    he’s a nutter

  21. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2010 at 21:18 | #21

    Oops … that was Pablo who made the call on Plimer …

  22. pablo
    January 23rd, 2010 at 22:26 | #22

    Yeah Fran, you wonder if the ‘source book’ for all things psychological, the US DSM4 – I forget what the letters exactly read – might have a listing for your ‘relevance deprivation syndrome’. If not with the ageing of the population so beloved of our Kevin, there might be a lot of it going around. Should we be worried?
    Incidently I read somewhere that Monckton was charging large sums of money for speaking engagements which would surely expose the gent as a fraudster. Glad to see JQ’s ‘debate’ fell through. Also has anyone seen Marohasy since going walkabout last October?

  23. Donald Oats
    January 24th, 2010 at 00:19 | #23

    @pablo
    DSM IV = “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, IV”

    Basically it is a big book of “disorders” with each of the possible indicators listed and alternative “diagnoses”. If you are an expert psychiatrist then interpretation of the book might be achievable. I have no idea why “Statistical” appears in the title as it doesn’t appear in the contents.

    For the curious – do not read extracts from the DSM IV without supervision; it will make you start to wonder if maybe, well you know, maybe you are mad… :-)

  24. Donald Oats
    January 24th, 2010 at 00:39 | #24

    I disagree with your optimistic – charitable, in fact – reading of Ms Albrechtsen’s opinion piece on Monckton. The main problem is one of modus operandi: she agrees with Monckton’s pseudo-science and mal-science, without the slightest scepticism concerning Monckton’s claims at all. She has in the past attacked mercilessly people who have good grounds for claiming that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is the theory that best fits the evidence for the last century or so of human emitted greenhouse gases increasing the globally averaged surface temperature. I’m still waiting for her to interview a couple of scientists and to try and understand just what they are saying, and what warrants their claims. Maybe then I will accept that she has changed her position slightly.

    My reading of this particular piece by her is that she is actually trying to give Monckton some slack by saying that his propensity to exaggerate when attacking his perceived opponents, is of course regrettable, but in no way does this tendency carry over to his treatment of the climate science theories and facts. So, excuse him when he goes troppo, and just listen to the bits where he throws around some numbers or fictoids. I dunno, perhaps Janet A. heard one of his OTT rants and thought hmmm, better give his public persona a bit of a cleansing.
    I’m with @Megan E on this.

  25. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2010 at 06:41 | #25

    @pablo

    IIRC they are up to DSM_V …

    I actually wrote to them suggesting SSA

  26. Alice
    January 24th, 2010 at 09:04 | #26

    @Donald Oats
    Im with you and Megan on this Donald – Albrechtsen is a media moll for the hard right.

    Dont ever forget forget her role as a war monger for Iraq, her vicious verbal attacks on public institutions in this country such as the ABC and our universities and public servants in general (while happily sticking her hand out for a board position at the ABC along with the odious Windschuttle), academics, the national library, the arts industry.. dont forget her role in supporting and barracking for the starvation of funding to these public institutions in Australia under the now discredited neoliberal orgy.

    She also attempted to conjure up fear of “lefties” to sell the neoliberal agenda, creating an an enemy within whilst at the same time silencing those who disagreed with John Howards policies such as talk of selling off the ABC and the idiotic workchoices, in an ideological war of John Howards own creation along with her sister /clone /murdoch media queen, Miranda “the Divisive” Devine.

    The two ugly stepsisters? The two evil antiscientists? Or just the two evils?

    Like Huginn and Munninn, the two ravens who appraised the god Odin of what was happening on earth because he had given away his eye….. Albrechsten and Devine served their master well.

  27. Alice
    January 24th, 2010 at 09:33 | #27

    @Donald Oats
    I fully agree Don – Albrechsten is a shrewd little raven and she is
    “she is actually trying to give Monckton some slack by saying that his propensity to exaggerate when attacking his perceived opponents, is of course regrettable”

    Yes, the propensity to exaggerate is a trite little foible Monckton has, a slip, an unfortunate stutter, a regrettable little tick (such a shame)….but we really should all be good little children and cross our hands over our hearts and listen to the lord when it comes to AGW.

    JQ – your view is too charitable I think. You have tried to see some signs of reason (?truth?honesty) in a person…. when in the case of Albrechtsen…it just aint there.

  28. Jill Rush
    January 24th, 2010 at 09:41 | #28

    I thought it was an odd article because it did seem to indicate a softening in attitude in some ways. However the attack on the poor person who didn’t know Monckton’s facts made me think that it was a deliberate ploy to get her readership back up again. The tenor of comments below her article suggests that the subtlety was lost on many readers.

    Like Donald I think that Planet Janet thought that the over the top nature of the Monckton comments may alienate people and they would dismiss his messages which she really agrees with.

    It isn’t necessary to go too deep into psychology to work out why the denialists exist. There are those who are making a nice living, thank you, from this stance because there are others who are deeply worried about what a change in behaviour requires and how it will impact on their personal fortunes. They will pay handsomely to be reassured. Snake oil salesmen are not a new phenomenon.

    The deep denialists are very likely at some distance from nature and natural cycles, like expensive toys and don’t like to be made to feel guilty. There are many who adopt the “whatever it takes” approach to life and its all about the economy. After all the frog in the cauldron doesn’t leave a warm, pleasant environment until it is too late because the change in temperature is incremental.

  29. Ken
    January 24th, 2010 at 13:48 | #29

    I have to agree with Donald and others; this isn’t about acknowledging any kind of error or recognising the difference between science and attacks on science. She is just acknowledging that that Monckton is such a wingnut that he could actually do more harm to the cause than “good” without outright dismissing what he says. I suspect for Janet there is no such thing as genuine quality science, just science that supports (or in the case of climate science) shows up the gross inadequacies of a political ideology.

  30. Donald Oats
    January 24th, 2010 at 15:50 | #30

    Mind you, Pr Q’s point is valid, in the sense that she is more willing to admit error than the other neocons and gaggle of similarly opined op-article writers. Take Bolt for instance – just what would it take for him to not only have some doubt over his faith that AGW is bollocks (his opinion, not mine), but to also freely acknowledge that in one or more of his articles? Short of a few decades of balmy 60C days in his town of Melbourne I can’t think of anything likely to do the trick.

    [Some possibly sarcastic remarks follow: (MA)]
    I know I’ve said this before but boy I just can’t fathom JA – and the gaggle – in their need to attack scientists and public servants day in, day out. They cry from the rooftops that the (relatively poorly remunerated, compared to Monckton, Plimer, etc) academically employed climate scientists are somehow rolling back the Enlightenment through their “almost religious belief in AGW” (JA and the gaggle’s sentiment, not mine). Since the Enlightenment was in large part the work of scientists of the day, it eludes me how they come to the conclusion that today’s scientists are the errant ones, not the ones drawing massive talking fees for false facts and the like.

    Perhaps JA and the gaggle feel that the funding arrangements of today’s crop of academic scientists tie them too strongly to the whims of the funding source(s). JA and others have certainly implied that by the big deal they make about it, eg “scientists are only after the grant money”, and “they have to say AGW is serious otherwise the government won’t fund them”, and other similar hypotheticals. Well, in Australia, the irony is that the economic rationalists in Labor, led by John Dawkins, were responsible for plonking our universities into the free market cauldron – and then fanned the flames! I would have thought JA and company would have applauded climate scientists chasing new “contracts”, new “clients”, and buying and selling data to the highest bidder, subject to confidentiality to protect the seller’s product, of course. I guess not.
    [End of sarcastic remarks]

  31. Alice
    January 24th, 2010 at 19:32 | #31

    @Donald Oats
    Good point made in final para Don…yes, academics do have to chase grant money and private sector money and all those free market gods (any market for any knowledge at all will apparently do..even false knowledge and bad knowledge, lies and misprepresentaions.. as the university of Adelaide proves by providing a perch for and promoting Plimer.

  32. Skir
    January 25th, 2010 at 08:29 | #32

    Agree with Donald and Alice.

    There is a stinking hypocrisy here from the neo-liberals free marketeers. They demand academic science engage more directly with the markets, but indulge in hyperbolic accusations of said scientists being compromised by chasing the dollar (but only, of course, when they produce scientific results the neo-libs don’t like).

    Pretty shabby, hollow nonsense.

    And as to Albrechtson herself and her views on, well, anything really… Meh. Been ignoring her nasty ideological drivel for years, and stopped buying The Oz nearly ten years ago, don’t even read it when offered a free copy.

  33. January 25th, 2010 at 14:02 | #33

    What Skir said.

    Who cares what Albrechtson says?

  34. January 25th, 2010 at 15:48 | #34

    In a new low for the Australian media, today’s online SMH has a headline describing Monkton as a scientist.

  35. Alice
    January 25th, 2010 at 19:20 | #35

    @Peter Wood
    Seriously – did anyone see Monkton on the ABC tonight saying “climate scientists are scaring the children”…bug eyed and a real loony aristocrat…

    Thats what all those centuries of inbreeding produces…!!

  36. Keith
    January 25th, 2010 at 21:34 | #36

    How’s that beat up going ? What’s that ? You don’t want to write about it ?

  37. Donald Oats
    January 26th, 2010 at 08:31 | #37

    @Peter Wood
    Yes, I saw that too, and was rather grumpy after that!
    On the other hand, perhaps if I ever get another letter published in the Neocon Gazette – something I said about their newspaper might have upset the letters editor :-P – I may well sign off as a CEO or President, maybe as Chief Economist for the RBA (in a non-operating, unofficial capacity). Just make it up, who cares anyway!

    @Alice, I missed that but now I’ll walk around all day with the mental image of a severe close-up of the Lawd, eyes wild and hair unkempt, going “…Climate scientists are scaring the children!”
    The horror, the horror!

  38. David Allen
    January 26th, 2010 at 11:06 | #38

    Our ABC was running Monckton stories on the radio the other day in a very straight way which would lead the listerner to assume he was a credible authority on the subject. They ran some Monckton audio dismissing the IPCC report because of the glacier error. In the same way I might say that if your car has a dent in the bumper then cars do not exist!

    Good going ABC.

  39. Freelander
    January 26th, 2010 at 14:23 | #39

    @David Allen

    The ABC was running so much of Monckton you would have thought they were sponsors of his tour or had an interest in its financial success. The ABC nowadays has a decidedly Liberal bias, no doubt the result of Howard successfully eliminating its ‘Labor bias’.

    The journalism on ABC radio can also be quite poor. For example, when promoting Monckton the ABC described the Himalayan claim in the IPCC report as a “key finding”. They are so stupid that they seem to believe whatever the last person they talked to told them.

  40. January 27th, 2010 at 07:48 | #40

    Perhaps the activist does not know these things because none of them are true

    LOL, those were my thoughts exactly when I read that!

  41. rdb
    January 27th, 2010 at 08:21 | #41

    Michael Tobis’s essay Not Evil, Just Wrong (Mostly) at “Only In It For The Gold” may interest

    The first is the presence of evil in the climate debate. That is the topic of this essay.

    The second is the distinction between the nature of evil in science vs its nature in politics. I will return to this question later.

    Let me be clear. As the movie title (incorrectly I think) claims about President-elect Gore, it is possible to be “not evil, just wrong” about issues of substance. I believe most of the people who are participating in the attacks on climate science are doing so more or less in good faith, having been led down a path of bizarrely twisted interpretations of who we climate scientists are, what we do, and how we got to where we are. The question is who has been doing the leading.

  42. snuh
    January 28th, 2010 at 20:37 | #42

    in the herald today i read miranda devine describe monckton as “the world’s most effective global warming sceptic” and oh how i laughed.

  43. Alice
    January 29th, 2010 at 22:01 | #43

    @David Allen
    Yes Our ABC seems to have regressed to something not quite a C.

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