Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Science > The Bureau fights back

The Bureau fights back

February 27th, 2011

The idea that the Bureau of Meteorology is part of a global conspiracy to destroy Australia’s economy impose communist world government (or in some more prosaic versions, to increase its funding[1]) sounds like the basis of a bad comedy sketch. But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, this claim is put forward, in apparent seriousness, by numerous anti-science advocates in Australia (Andrew Bolt, Jennifer Marohasy, and Warwick Hughes are leading examples) and implicily accepted by many others.

Now, as Graham Readfearn (h/t Tim Lambert) points out, the Bureau is fighting back.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven and Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

The Director of the Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers has now responded at an estimates hearing, demolishing Plimer’s bogus claims and pointing to numerous scathing reviews of his trashy and dishonest book. Ayers is great value, but the real fun in reading the Hansard transcript comes from the frantic attempts of Senators MacDonald and Boswell to stop him talking.

Update This post was critical of the Australian Academy of Science for what I’ve seen as a “missing in action” response to the attacks on climate science in Australia. In response, Martin Callinan of the Academy points me to this ABC Radio Interview with AAS President Kurt Lambeck, in which he gives a very critical review of Plimer’s book. I’ll also link to the AAS pamphlet, which is very good. That said, I don’t retract my main point which is that the Academy needs to take a much more vigorous line against the attacks on science and individual scientists which have become a pervasive feature of Australian political commentary.

It’s great to see the Bureau taking a leading role in the defence of science. Sadly, some of those who should be speaking out, most notably the Australian Academy of Science, have been missing in action. The AAS has issued a fairly bland statement of support for the mainstream scientific consensus, but has failed to defend its members against the scurrilous attacks mounted on them, let alone to expose people like Plimer, who use the status derived from (highly profitable) research in geology to boost the credibility of their utterly bogus claims about climate science.

It’s also amusing to see leading figures on the political right like Pell, McDonald and Boswell expose themselves as gullible fools, along with most of the rightwing commentariat. While not everyone on the right thinks this way (as witness Turnbull’s near-victory over Abbott a year or so ago), the number willing to raise their voices in defence of science remains tiny.

fn1. Advocates of the conspiracy theory tend to shift between global communist and grant-grubbing theories, in a manner reminiscent of the (possibly apocryphal) Tasmanian politician who promised voters that, if they supported Federation they would build a glorious new nation under the Southern Cross and get higher prices for their apples.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:
  1. James Haughton
    February 27th, 2011 at 19:23 | #1

    Perhaps the realisation that what?

    An incomplete thought, now deleted

  2. Ikonoclast
    February 27th, 2011 at 19:26 | #2

    I think it sounds like the basis of a good comedy sketch. But Poe’s Law would probably sink the sketch.

  3. Andrew
    February 27th, 2011 at 20:04 | #3

    An ending right up there with the Stars and Stripes Forever lyrics: Be kind to your web-footed friends, / For a duck may be somebody’s mother, / Be kind to your friends in the swamp / Where the weather is always damp. / You may think that this is the end, / Well, it is.

  4. paul walter
    February 27th, 2011 at 21:29 | #4

    yes this is the
    proposition 21 thing or some plebicite attempted in California on the notion that enviromental legislation and scientific thinking were the thinking of people who also adhered to concepts like Darwinism even urging that religion is some thing to be kept out of science classes.
    It was to do with either the Aryan nation types out west, or a fear camapaign by conservatives, or even a greens left attack on conservative values, if you follow that line ofpolitics. This is depending who you read and chose to interpret it.
    The the notion that had it that greens and communists who wanted to cut the birthrate wanted to also induct a cull upon the over populated earth I found risable, given so many others are in favour of population increase in a poverty stricken, resource depleted discreet environment like planet earth, yet seem reluctant to leave to live in some Bhopal type environment when it so right for so many others in so many harsh places?

  5. wilful
    February 27th, 2011 at 21:35 | #5

    well I thought it was still far too polite and restrained. Dr Ayers was still terribly professional.

    Can i ask why the F George Pell is allowed to spout an opinion about cliamte science? i mean, why would anyone give him any oxygen on that matter?

  6. Uncle Milton
    February 27th, 2011 at 21:39 | #6

    Who is Warwick Hughes?

  7. February 27th, 2011 at 23:26 | #7

    Wilful! Do you dare to question God’s representative on Earth (in Sydney, at least)?

    Thou’lt be smote!

    The spaghetti will hit the fan, and it will be ugly.

  8. jquiggin
    February 28th, 2011 at 06:50 | #8

    @Uncle Milton

    He’s a “freelance scientist” who seems to be the main Australian source for Bolt and Marohasy.

  9. Uncle Milton
    February 28th, 2011 at 07:33 | #9

    Who is Warwick Hughes?

    @jquiggin

    According to Google Scholar he had a couple of co-authored papers published in climate journals in the 1990s, of what quality (either the papers or the journals) I am not qualified to say. His affiliation was the now defunct free market think tank the Tasman Institute.

  10. PB
    February 28th, 2011 at 08:03 | #10

    “build a glorious new nation under the Southern Cross and get higher prices for their apples.”

    According to Mungo McCallum (can’t remember the reference) it was “…and meat will be cheaper”.

  11. jquiggin
    February 28th, 2011 at 08:55 | #11

    This source gives

    http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/archives/ozid/federation1901_1.html

    A Tasmanian Federalist said:
    “Gentlemen, if you vote for the Bill you will found a great and glorious nation under the bright Southern Cross, and meat will be cheaper; and you will live to see the Australian race dominate the Southern seas, and you will have a market for both potatoes and apples…”
    From B.R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth, 1889-1900, 1913, p. 356

  12. JamesH
    February 28th, 2011 at 10:06 | #12

    I wish Kevin had been half that eloquent.

  13. Tony G
    February 28th, 2011 at 10:33 | #13

    “utterly bogus claims about climate science.”

    Quiggin you have lost the plot, not all science is bogus like the dismal surmised one you profess to be an expert in.

    You are not an expert in the surreptitiously surmised climate sciences.

    You might be an expert in one surmised science, but that doesn’t mean you are an expert in all surmised sciences, especially any of the surmised climate sciences. So keep your bogus opinions in areas outside your expertise to yourself.

    You’re banned, Tony. As commenters have already responded, and this one is pretty funny, I’ll leave it unchanged. Anything more you post will be (at my discretion) deleted, disemvowelled or just edited to bring out its true silliness – JQ

  14. rog
    February 28th, 2011 at 11:12 | #14

    I think that Plimer’s book contains sufficient to interest many scientists

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/ian-plimer-heaven-and-earth/story-e6frg8no-1225710387147

  15. PeterS
    February 28th, 2011 at 13:30 | #15

    John, I am driven to assume that you delete all the rational anti-climate change responses, leaving only the likes of the above (#13, #14), in order to denigrate the argument.

    Or, is that all there is?

  16. Chris Warren
    February 28th, 2011 at 14:27 | #16

    PeterS :John, I am driven to assume that you delete all the rational anti-climate change responses, leaving only the likes of the above (#13, #14), in order to denigrate the argument.
    Or, is that all there is?

    No.

    #13 denigrates Tony G.

    #14 pursues the argument.

  17. Jim Birch
    February 28th, 2011 at 14:47 | #17

    @PeterS
    This isn’t a climate science journal. If you really dispute mainstream climate science, that’s where to go. Go play with the big boys. Climate science is known to be complex and imperfect but fixing it is too complex for this blog.

    AFAIK JQ’s position has always been the science gets settled in the appropriate place. He – and a lot of us – believe that the process of science is the way to getting the best possible answers. It’s not that science is always 100% correct, but just that it beats the alternatives. When you look at the AGW opposition, who generally can’t do high school physics or basic statistics (let alone actual climate science), who regularly misquote or just plain make things up, or believe in fabulous conspiracies, it’s pretty obvious that they are scientific incompetents. Even if, by some freak chance, they were to jag something actually useful, this isn’t the place to either present it, or validate it. It would just sound like yet another incompetent rant.

    The political and policy issues around climate change are right on topic for this blog but anyone who wants to endlessly dump extraneous arguments can go elsewhere. None of us has the endless resources of time and energy required to satisfy these people. It’s like arguing with Mormons. You wouldn’t want to do that forever, would you?

  18. TF42
    February 28th, 2011 at 14:52 | #18

    @rog, perhaps replace ‘interest’ with ‘amuse’ or ‘annoy’, and reading between the lines that reviewer was annoyed!

  19. PeterS
    February 28th, 2011 at 14:54 | #19

    OK, Chris, I apologise to Prof. Ashley.
    Didn’t follow the link before mouthing off. :(

  20. PeterS
    February 28th, 2011 at 15:06 | #20

    Jim Birch, I was trying to make a feeble joke about the quality of denialist responses, and I really stuffed it up.
    Sorry about that.

  21. rog
    February 28th, 2011 at 15:13 | #21

    I am wondering who will be advising the Coalition on climate change and who the Coalition will reference for their climate change policy. If as their website indicates and the libs are no longer disputing climate change, the question would have to be what are they going to do about it? Planting 20 million trees wont do much, who is going to water them and then count them in 10 years time?

    Where is the CBA?

  22. Chris Warren
    February 28th, 2011 at 15:32 | #22

    @rog

    Planting trees should not be lampooned. As they mature they suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, and this is what is needed. Judging from a paper on the Amazon I have read recently, there may be complicated positive albedo effects as well.

    Planting millions of trees, with population controls, less animal agriculture, less fossil fuels, renewable energy, are all necessary. Timber buildings also have less carbon footprint than concrete buildings.

    Large Amazonian-sized new forests on stale agricultural land has benefits, and can provide suitable jobs for low skilled workers, crafts-people, and even forestry graduates.

    Australia’s species diversity will also be protected.

    I suspect that planting 200 million native trees will only cost a half a Collins Class submarine.

    You do not have to fertilize or prune native forests.

  23. Tony G
    February 28th, 2011 at 16:41 | #23

    You can call me a “scientific incompetent” if you like, but the “scientific” part is redundant. I’m an all-rounder.

    Comment has been edited for clarity and amusement value – JQ

  24. jquiggin
    February 28th, 2011 at 17:08 | #24

    @PeterS

    Poe’s Law at work. Remember that all such jokes need to be enclosed in irony alerts

  25. PeterS
    February 28th, 2011 at 17:45 | #25

    I have long campaigned for an Irony font. Perhaps reverse italic would do …

  26. rog
    February 28th, 2011 at 17:46 | #26

    @Chris Warren

    To be clear I commend tree planting as a restorative measure however this seems to be the only plank to the Libs platform. There is also a failure rate in tree planting that needs to be quantified.

    Trees need to be managed and as each year progresses more trees need to be planted to offset emissions. That then brings into the equation – where are they to be planted? Most forested lands are already being managed as forests, inland country was always lightly timbered and residential street trees are prohibitively expensive and ultimately destined to failure. One way would be to compulsorily acquire residential or lightly farmed coastal land, but I can’t see that being popular with constituents.

    You end up by going to the source – carbon.

  27. paul walter
    February 28th, 2011 at 19:25 | #27

    Ritual Disemvowelment?
    Phwoar, can hardly stand to watch the gory event.
    Tony, that you are scientifically incompetent as well as in other things brings the rest of us great relief, for obvious reasons. Must of us have had to work hard to be incompetent at just some things; to achieve a clean sweep across the board, we regard as a monumental achievment and humbly salute due diligence.

  28. February 28th, 2011 at 20:36 | #28

    Pr Q said:

    Poe’s Law at work.

    Poe was not the original legislator and he has changed the ideological signs to suit the times. He cribbed “his” law from Malcolm Muggeridge, whose eponymous law, passed in the late fifties, was originally aimed at the more ludicrous elements of the liberal intelligentsia. The law states that:

    there is no way that a writer of fiction can compete with real life for its pure absurdity.

    May I make a constructive suggestion: the only people who should be considered as authoritative sources on science are those who have completed university level statistics course. I just fall over the line on that score. I daresay Pell doesn’t.

    Of course that leaves Plimer to continue his Quixotic campaign against mainstream science. Perhaps compassion is the best response to his folly.

  29. Freelander
    March 1st, 2011 at 04:59 | #29

    I suppose a weakness for fairy tales, fancy dress and flagellation (the bible, religious attire and Opus Dei) could lead to a measure of AGW skepticism.

  30. Jim Birch
    March 1st, 2011 at 08:04 | #30

    @PeterS
    Well, you got me :)

  31. Jim Birch
    March 1st, 2011 at 09:30 | #31

    @PeterS
    There is an obscure irony mark, a backwards question mark (unicode U+2E2E)

    = ??

    see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony_punctuation

    It is difficult to enter from a computer keyboard – cut and paste, or special key codes – but I think we could drive it into general usage??

  32. Jim Birch
    March 1st, 2011 at 09:34 | #32

    Drat, looks like johnquiggin.com doesn’t like it.

  33. Chris Warren
    March 1st, 2011 at 14:26 | #33

    TEST

    |

  34. Chris Warren
    March 1st, 2011 at 14:31 | #34

    Test

    » » double right angle quote
    « « double left angle quote
    < single right arrow
    • • bullet
    ♥ or ♥ ? black heart
    ♦ or ♦ ? black diamond
    ♣ or ♣ ? black clubs (shamrock)
    ♠ or ♠ ? black spade
    ∞ ? infinity symbol
    — — long dash

  35. Keith
    March 2nd, 2011 at 13:40 | #35

    So alleging that someone else is alleging a conspiracy is in fact legitimate debate.

  36. stockingrate
    March 3rd, 2011 at 20:34 | #36

    PR Q your AFR article today on this was excellent. It gave credit to Director of the Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayer (who really stands out in Australian discourse by actually speaking as a Public Servant – not as a government’s servant). The skewering of the anti science right in Australia was very amusing. Importantly not only did the article not retreat to the partisan simplicity of tarring all on the right with the same brush it called for the pro-science right to speak up.

  37. Jim Birch
    March 4th, 2011 at 08:54 | #37

    @stockingrate
    The Hansard (pdf) John linked to is worth reading too. Search for Ayers to skip to the action. It’s quite an interesting look at the detail of an interface between climate science, politics, and parliamentary committee process. Ayers plays a very straight bat – as a public servant appearing before a parliamentary committee must – but produces some direct and forceful hits, sounding almost naive while appearing to have carefully studied The Art of War.

    http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S13568.pdf

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