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Old men behaving badly

December 20th, 2011

John Howard’s endorsement of Ian Plimer’s children’s version of his absurd anti-science tract Heaven and Earth has at least one good feature. I can now cut the number of prominent Australian conservatives for whom I have any intellectual respect down from two to one.[1] Howard’s acceptance of anti-science nonsense shows that, for all his ability as a politician, he is, in the end, just another tribalist incapable of thinking for himself. [2]

Although not all the tribal leaders are old men, an old, high-status man like Howard is certainly emblematic of Australian delusionism . Like a lot of old, high status men, he stopped thinking decades ago, but is even more confident of being right now than when he had to confront his prejudices with reality from time time. Like other delusionists, Howard has no scientific training, shows no sign of understanding statistics and almost certainly hasn’t read any real scientific literature, but nonetheless believes he can rank clowns like Plimer and Monckton ahead of the real scientists.

The situation in the US is similar but even more grimly amusing, with the sole truthteller in the entire Republican party, Jon Huntsman, recently reduced to waffling (in both US and UK/Oz senses of this term) because he briefly looked like having a chance to be the next non-Romney. This tribal mindlessness is reflected in the inability of the Republican Party, at a time when they ought to be unbackable favorites in 2012, to come up with a candidate who can convince the basis s/he is one of them, but who doesn’t rapidly reveal themselves as a fool, a knave or both.

And, as evidence of the utter intellectual shamelessness of delusionism, you can’t beat the campaign against wind power, driven by the kinds of absurd claims of risk that would be mocked, mercilessly and deservedly, if they came from the mainstream environmental movement.

The global left is in pretty bad shape in lots of ways. Still, I would really hate to be a conservative right now.

fn1. Now (2014) down to zero. Turnbull has proved he lacks any real substance.

fn2. I’m not saying that all Australian conservatives are mindless tribalists. There’s a large group, epitomized by Greg Hunt and now Malcolm Turnbull, who understand the issues quite well, but are unwilling to speak up. Then there is a group of postmodern conservatives of whom Andrew Bolt is probably the best example, who have passed the point where concepts of truth or falsehood have any meaning – truth is whatever suits the cause on any given day.

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  1. Dan
    December 20th, 2011 at 09:14 | #1

    Who’s the remaining one?

  2. December 20th, 2011 at 09:27 | #2

    Thank you John, just one thing, you say
    . . . Howard has no scientific training, shows no sign of understanding statistics and almost certainly hasn’t read any real scientific literature, but nonetheless believes he can rank clowns like Plimer and Monckton ahead of the real scientists.

    That’s not a ‘but nonetheless’, that’s a ‘and thus’.

    Howard, like Johannes Bjelke-Petersen before him, wears his deliberate ignorance as an impermeable shield. He WILL not know.

    George Orwell’s 1984′s The Party knew it long ago. “Ignorance is Strength”.

  3. David Irving (no relation)
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:15 | #3

    My guess would be Harry Clark, Dan.

  4. Oliver Townshend
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:25 | #4

    Maybe Malcolm Fraser?

  5. gerard
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:28 | #5

    I would have thought that after the huge number of errors and lies in Plimer’s ridiculous book was exposed that he would go into hiding, along with his humiliated supporters. Once again I had forgotten that these people are incapable of shame.

  6. Freelander
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:28 | #6

    Where’s your sensitivity? Within Howard’s culture, ignorance is knowledge. Who are we to question his traditional learning, and his other ways of knowing? We shouldn’t be so culturally imperialist as to judge him with our science and rationality centric (and, need I say, patriarchal) value system.

  7. gerard
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:29 | #7
  8. Oliver Townshend
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:55 | #8

    As this was a kids book, maybe Plimer thinks teenagers are can do his peer review? (I’m sure one will…)

  9. Troy Prideaux
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:08 | #9

    … and maybe it’s just one for the “fiction” shelves.

  10. Troy Prideaux
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:15 | #10

    Surely the University of Adelaide have some questions to answer for employing such a comprehensively discredited and high profile phony scientist.

  11. David Irving (no relation)
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:23 | #11

    Troy, I believe Pliemer is quite sound on mineralogy (excepting varieties of asbestos … )

  12. Troy Prideaux
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:33 | #12

    @David Irving (no relation)
    So make him shut up about areas of science that are (1) obviously outside his expertise and (2)which he obviously has a clearly biased approach to reporting about.
    Surely he’s not doing the institution any credibility favours?

  13. John Quiggin
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:36 | #13

    I don’t think Harry is really a conservative any more, but I added “prominent” to say that I was talking mostly about politicians and the professional commentariat. I definitely don’t count Fraser as a conservative.

    There is one currently active politician on the conservative side who has taken a sensible line on the climate issue, despite the consequences.

  14. kymbos
    December 20th, 2011 at 12:07 | #14

    Turnbull!

    And huzzah for use of the word ‘knave’ – capital effort, old chum.

    Pip-pip!

  15. December 20th, 2011 at 12:08 | #15

    Plimer has ripped the tactic straight form the creationist playbook, indeed the title of his book is an exact match for the notoriously flatulent creationist film called “Expelled”.

    Both products are aimed at children and conservatives, pepper spraying a bunch of deceptive memes

    It is a “teach the controversy” approach:

    http://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/teach-the-controversy-former-pm-howard-takes-a-leaf-from-the-creationist-playbook/

    Re Bolt, Plimer is also well into post-modernist truth relativism.

  16. John Quiggin
    December 20th, 2011 at 12:24 | #16

    It’s interesting that when Plimer was on the side of science against the creationists, he was generally viewed as something of an embarrassment. I remember reading his book at the time – I expected to be onside but found to be, at best, an incoherent rant.

    By contrast, now that he’s switched sides, the anti-science side has embraced him uncritically. I don’t think he’s improved in the meantime

  17. Savvas Tzionis
    December 20th, 2011 at 13:01 | #17

    I purchased Plimer’s book back in the early 90′s, read it once, and then completely forgot about it until I found it in my bottom draw about 15 years later. In the interim, Plimer had ‘switched sides’ so I was curious to see if there was anything in his original book that provided clues as to his ‘development’.

    I re-read two pages, was COMPLETELY bored…. and never got the chance to make that analysis. :)

  18. Freelander
    December 20th, 2011 at 13:19 | #18

    @John Quiggin

    Yes. It was sad to see support for his defense against creationism simply because then he was on the right side. The conclusion being right doesn’t make any argument in support right.

  19. December 20th, 2011 at 14:19 | #19

    @John Quiggin

    Whats that quote about fighting monsters? Be very careful when you in case you become one…

    I have to say, it must take enormous cognitive dissonance by Plimer.

  20. bruced
    December 20th, 2011 at 17:06 | #20

    John, I’d take issue with “Like other delusionists, Howard has no scientific training”. Unfortunately, scientific training is no barrier to delusion and denial. A celebrated case of old-man-denial occurred with Lord Kelvin, the top-most English scientist of his day, who denied a young Ernest Rutherford’s gold foil alpha-scattering results at a Royal Society meeting in ~1907. And of course there are the many geologists, particularly American, who fought long and hard against ideas of continental movement. As the great physicist Planck said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” or paraphrased “Science advances funeral by funeral.”
    But I think we should go back to the Greek Thucydides for “When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.”. Sadly human nature does not change. Plimer, Howard et al are just a warning to us to beware the illogic of old age. And some get there earlier than others.
    HAve a great Christmas and may logic and reason rise in the New Year

  21. Freelander
    December 20th, 2011 at 21:30 | #21

    @bruced Unfortunately, you are right. Too often being clever simply provides the tools, not for discovering the truth, but instead for hiding the truth from oneself and others under higher grade bs. That’s why I learnt long ago not to expect too much success from trying to convince people with rational argument.

  22. Mel
    December 20th, 2011 at 21:38 | #22

    There is much truth in what “bruced” says. It is a recurring theme in science that the oldies, even those who we acknowledge as geniuses, become grumpy old farts and opposed to radical new theories. This years Nobel Prize for chemistry illustrates the point. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/05/nobel-prize-chemistry-work-quasicrystals

  23. John Quiggin
    December 21st, 2011 at 05:34 | #23

    It’s certainly true that scientific training isn’t an absolute protection against this kind of silliness – Plimer himself shows this.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the examples you cite are at all comparable – of course scientists can be wrong, and stubborn in error, but neither Kelvin nor the opponents of “continental drift” committed the absurd errors that are rampant in Plimer’s work. In the geological case, the major conversion didn’t rely on funerals, but on the discovery of plate tectonics around 1960, which provided the previously missing mechanism for drift. After that, only a handful of sufferers from emeritus disease remained in opposition.

  24. Robert (not from UK)
    December 21st, 2011 at 07:48 | #24

    @Watching the deniers

    Re monsters, there are two quotes I can think of. One is Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” (From BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL.)

    The other is from the eminent South-African-born, English- and Portuguese-resident poet Roy Campbell: “We become what we fight.” (Sorry, haven’t been able to trace the exact source for that one.)

  25. December 21st, 2011 at 09:54 | #25

    John Quiggin :It’s certainly true that scientific training isn’t an absolute protection against this kind of silliness – Plimer himself shows this.
    On the other hand, I don’t think the examples you cite are at all comparable – of course scientists can be wrong, and stubborn in error, but neither Kelvin nor the opponents of “continental drift” committed the absurd errors that are rampant in Plimer’s work. In the geological case, the major conversion didn’t rely on funerals, but on the discovery of plate tectonics around 1960, which provided the previously missing mechanism for drift. After that, only a handful of sufferers from emeritus disease remained in opposition.

    I think JQ is making a good point here, especially in regards to Kelvin.

    We had to wait almost another century before having sufficient understanding of physics/chemistry before we had a true understanding of the age of the sun. Kelvin thought both the sun and earth relatively young (by our understanding), thus contradicting the time scales needed for evolution to operate and produce the extensive radiation of species we currently see.

    Kelvin thought the sun no more than 20 million years: but our scientific understanding of nuclear fusion was some time off before we fully appreciated a sufficient quantity of hydrogen could power a star for billions, and billions*** of years.

    I would note that Kelvin, like most individuals of the time, was a committed Christian. Not a believer in the flood, but adopted a kind of theistic evolution after Darwin’s book was published.

    It reminds us that individual scientists are very much human. Which is why the scientific method exits – to negate and overcome the very human prejudices of individuals.

    When one speaks for the whole of geologic even, and the whole of science – as Plimer attempts to do – one can see the breath taking arrogance of his endeavor.

    Michael Behe was a qualified chemist (PhD) and one of the major luminaries of the intelligent design movement (ID). His book, “Darwin’s black box” was one of the core texts of ID.

    Francis Crick is a committed evangelical Christian who see’s the language of god in the human genome.

    But then I think we are straying into the philosophy of science (shades of Kuhn, Popper, Feyerabend and Laoktos). Those familiar with combating creation science would be aware of the so called demarcation problem – where to draw the line between science and pseudo-science.

    Plimer and the denial movement quite clearly fall on the side of “pseudo-science”.

    Like creationism and intelligent design, it makes no actual predictions about the world. It has not delivered one concrete fact that has added to the sum of human knowledge. It offers no testable theories.

    The denial movement, like creationism, is negative programme. Climate change denial is a nothing but a cluster of empty, negative memes. There’s nothing of substance there.

    Like all pseudo-science, AGW denial has a strange parasitic relationship with actual science. Its practitioners cherry pick facts from actual research, and either mis-represent those facts or simply lie in attempt to play “gotcha”.

    *** Using my best Carl Sagan voice here

  26. David Irving (no relation)
    December 21st, 2011 at 09:59 | #26

    Further to Prof Q’s aside on continental drift, some of the support for it came from satellite geodesy, which demonstrated the continents were, in fact, moving. As an example, Cape York Peninsula was detected to have moved several centimetres between sets of measurements at several geodetic stations in the middle of last century.

  27. silkworm
    December 21st, 2011 at 10:08 | #27

    In the movie Zardoz, Sean Connery quotes Nietzsche: “He who fights too long against dragons, becomes a dragon himself”.

  28. Doug
    December 21st, 2011 at 15:20 | #28

    On the issue of the campaign against wind power, we are now being treated to the spectacle of supposedly pro-business governments in NSW and Victoria turning off significant streams of investment in wind energy – this is truly bizarre

  29. gerard
    December 21st, 2011 at 16:17 | #29

    Markets and Climate Change: A Case of Cognitive Dissonance

    Earlier this month, Nicholas Stern — respected U.K. economist and author of the famed Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change — cast a spotlight on what he calls a “profound contradiction at the heart of climate change policy.”

    On one side, the world’s governments have pledged to hold temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). To have even a 50/50 shot at meeting that target, humanity has a “carbon budget” of about 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. The more we exceed that budget, the more the 2 degrees target slips out of reach. Here’s the thing, though: The world’s proven fossil fuel reserves, if burned, would create about 2.8 trillion tonnes of CO2, double that carbon budget. If countries are serious about 2 degrees, they must be planning to leave a lot of fossil fuels in the ground. Right?

    On the other side, however, the world’s top fossil fuel companies are valued at some $7.42 trillion (including the top 100 listed coal companies and the top 100 listed oil and gas companies). They are valued at this level because of proven fossil fuel reserves to which they have access. In other words, their valuation carries the implicit assumption that they will burn the fossil fuels available to them.

    Markets are assuming that fossil fuel companies will burn the fossil fuels that the world’s governments have, at least implicitly, said they cannot burn. That’s the “profound contradiction.” So what are markets thinking?

    Well, either they think a full-fledged carbon capture and sequestration solution is going to spring into being overnight (spoiler: they don’t think that) or they just don’t think countries are serious about climate change. They think it’s going to be business as usual. “If this is the case,” says Stern …

  30. rog
    December 22nd, 2011 at 05:21 | #30

    In the US the debate over payroll tax is showing up the inherent weaknesses of the GOP, a party run by angry white southerners who will do anything to wreck democracy. Their ultimate failure will reflect badly on the Lib/Nat coalition who seem equally crazy.

  31. Ken Fabian
    December 22nd, 2011 at 05:28 | #31

    There has to be more than one Lib or Nat MP that believe climate is a serious issue. That the others would keep mouths closed in order to not upset the apparent electoral popularity of anti-climate policy their party and leaders shows a remarkable lack of good judgement.

    I’ve been trying to get letters to editors published that have a go at Howard and others over being so offended by the word “denier”. With McMichael et al (in Lancet) putting a figure of 160,000 excess deaths from climate change in a single year (2000)- and not even attempting to put numbers to future famines, forced migrations and conflicts arising – the ultimate death toll from the ongoing success of faux skepticism invites much worse comparisons than to Holocaust Denial.

    I think my style as well as substance are too confrontational and provocative for publication, but I find a kind of deep anger growing inside me at those who knowingly and deliberately (and for gain of one sort or other) are actively campaigning to prevent serious action to limit the damage from climate change. The real world loss of life that the success of climate science denial can and will result in leaves me appalled and sickened.

    I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate it on the grounds of freedom of ideas or speech. Strip those protective veils away and Climate Denial is revealed to be a very ugly and dangerous beast.

    (Previously commenting here under my pseudonym of Ken Fabos – I’ve decided that the old warnings about real names on the Internet aren’t so scary and I’m not ashamed of my opinions. Not to say I haven’t said some dumb things along the way.)

  32. Troy Prideaux
    December 22nd, 2011 at 08:03 | #32

    @Ken Fabian
    “There has to be more than one Lib or Nat MP that believe climate is a serious issue. That the others would keep mouths closed in order to not upset the apparent electoral popularity of anti-climate policy their party and leaders shows a remarkable lack of good judgement.”

    Ken, I remember last month listing to an interview that Lindy Burns had with Julia Gillard on the Melbourne ABC drive program. I can’t directly recall her exact remark (as I was driving) but she seemed to suggest that at least the idea of taking action within parliament was more universal than the impression we get.

    http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2011/11/10/3361063.htm

  33. December 22nd, 2011 at 08:52 | #33

    Gerard, with reguards to that long quote, $7.42 trillion is only enough to buy two and a bit years of world oil production, so it seems fossil fuel company’s can’t be valued on the basis of extracting all fossil fuel reserves available to them.

  34. James Haughton
    December 22nd, 2011 at 08:52 | #34

    A simple check of any dictionary which gives a history of the word use (ie Oxford and most others) shows that “denier” was being used as a descriptor of people who reject established facts long before the Holocaust happened. This is one of those memes which relies on people not thinking.

  35. Troy Prideaux
    December 22nd, 2011 at 09:11 | #35

    Forget my comment #32 and the link. Should’ve waited to check the link. duh…

  36. Jim Birch
    December 22nd, 2011 at 09:47 | #36

    Contrary to what we might vainly imagine, the human mental apparatus was not optimised by evolution for the determination of truth.

    In the first place, truth was generally too expensive for hominids attempting to thwart starvation and environmental dangers of the Pleistocene. Run a six month double-blind trial on the health effects of eating these berries? Collect and analyse a few of decades of data on tribal warfare strategies and outcomes? Die waiting? No, thanks. We’ve evolved to love low cost answers: gossip, habit, seat-of-the-pants intuition, or perhaps tribal mythologies that have (yet) not wiped out their adherents. Most seductive of all are those key bits of information – the revealing sign – that allow a lot of complicated thinking to be completely avoided, for example, one sentence in a thousand (emails) that appears to lays a motive bare.

    So why would evolution create this big resource-hungry brain if not to get things right? The answer is that it often doesn’t matter whether you’re right provided enough people believe you. We’re designed to compete more for followers than truth. If you can originate new mythologies, or become a guardian of successful mythologies, you’ll improve your status in the tribe which could well be worth the cost of ownership of that extra kilo of high maintenance brain tissue. And so, it feels good to be listened too. Sexual selection trumps Truth. The final triumph of hubris is that evade detection and to sound convincing we must really believe our own BS.

    Science offers great scope for reliable determinations but from a biological perspective this is a completely new way of working and one that doesn’t come naturally. It is a discipline that requires us to guard against our built-in biological propensities. Some people can do this some of the time but others just can’t manage it or may have forgotten how. Plimer and Howard may be wearing suits and ties, but their aging brains are wandering around naked in Palaeolithic Africa where just sounding right was probably enough.

  37. Freelander
    December 22nd, 2011 at 10:15 | #37

    human mental apparatus was not optimised by evolution [full stop]

  38. Ken Fabian
    December 22nd, 2011 at 13:16 | #38

    @James Haughton
    Sure, denier is a word not confined to Holocaust Denial but organised campaigning to prevent action on climate change is something much worse than pretending horrors of the past didn’t happen – they are stopping us from preventing predictable horrors of the future.

    When I call them Deniers they can take the comparison to Holocaust Denial as given. Which may be why my letters won’t get published in mainstream papers. That and maybe the mention of crime against humanity.

    For those in positions of public trust, that know the science is almost certainly correct yet oppose all action to reduce emissions and do it for some form of gain … I think that is an apt and accurate description. Tell me why I am wrong.

  39. Fran Barlow
    December 22nd, 2011 at 15:31 | #39

    @Ken Fabian

    I can honestly say Ken that when I use the term “denier” in this discussion, I’m not thinking at all of the holocaust revisionists. I regard persistentassertions by the deniers that those who do are “godwinning” as lame attempts at diverting discussion from what is germane. Sure they are like h*locaust deniers in their obstinate refusal on cultural grounds to engage with observable reality, but I don’t see them as N@zis or even sympathetic to them in virtue merely of their ludicrous claims. Interestingly, they do godwinning of proponents of mitigation policy on a regular basis — most spectacularly in the case of Monckton recently. In the case of Bolt this is a regular theme. Those climate change science deniers do love projection — it’s perhaps the single most common feature of their propaganda, apart perhaps from conspiracy theory.

  40. Ken Fabian
    December 22nd, 2011 at 18:54 | #40

    Fran, mostly, for most deniers I don’t think it’s that appropriate a comparison either but most hold their views because people they trust in politics, commerce, religion and media are misleading them. They are doing so without regard for the real expections of excess mortality far in excess of the Holocaust. Some of those leaders know better, although not knowing but doing it anyway is, for those in high positions of trust like MP’s, quite unforgivable too.

    I think those who throw out the accusation that they are being unfairly compared to Holocaust deniers invite a bit of retaliatory name calling and I’m tired of hearing Deniers use the accusation pre-emptively and tired of being expected to be apologetic about it. They aren’t deliberately out to see tens or hundreds of millions die unnecessarily but by preventing serious action to prevent such outcomes there has to be some culpability.

    Given the potential for enormous numbers of excess deaths from unmitigated climate change I don’t think a bit of name calling is that outrageous. How does that compare to, say urging people to murder Bob Brown and Julia Gillard by drowning?

    In the face of a climate “tsunami” to be attacking the equivalent of the tsunami warning service deserves some serious condemnation.

  41. hc
    December 23rd, 2011 at 03:56 | #41

    I think the intellectual scandal that comprises climate change delusionism has influenced and changed people’s political views. It has impacted on mine. Howard was a skillful, tenacious politician but that’s obviously not enough and indeed beyond a point can get in the way – core values based on intellectual integrity need to back up the tenacity and skills. Howard’s endorsement of Plimer and McKitrick creates credibility issues across the whole range of his views.

    The Liberal Party needs a leader like Malcolm Turnbull who has the integrity but perhaps not the political skills – but this seems a distant possibility.

  42. Ken Fabian
    December 23rd, 2011 at 05:35 | #42

    I can’t help but see Climate Science Denial as an incredibly effective tool used to prevent, dilute or delay serious policy. But at the same time it is a serious vulnerability for those who use it; their position is ultimately irrational and dangerous.

    This isn’t an academic exercise; the kind of world we make, it’s prosperity and it’s security are dependent on the choices we collectively make about climate and emissions. Our kids and grandkids will wear the consequences and this decade looks like being pivotal.

    I am not an advocate of violence – the results can be and usually are unpredictable and counterproductive – but I am becoming more inclined to be verbally combative. The opponents in this include some influential heavyweights who won’t and don’t play fair and the pretence that it is an open debate about freedom of ideas and freedom of speech is a dangerous cover for making some very selfish, shortsighted and dangerously irresponsible choices. The best weapon to slap them down with is the truth. (Although ridicule can work pretty good too).

    People like Plimer lend Denial an air of scientific credibility and people like Howard are giving the likes of Plimer a legitimacy and public credibility they don’t warrant. The combination is very effective and I don’t want to see us have to wait until ever growing real world impacts to do the persuading. Given the success of Denial to date I’m not convinced even that will do it. It seems like there are sound science based reasons to believe that by the time those impacts are obvious to everyone the seeds of much worse impacts will already be sown, watered and fertilised. Irreversible warming will be in the pipeline.

    What Howard is doing is irresponsible and dangerous. The success of him and his ilk using Denial for short term political gain will ultimately add to the excess mortality climate change will bring. I don’t see why that should not be pointed out, bluntly.

    By choosing to take offense at the word “denier” – as he pre-emptively has done – he reveals a chink in the Denier armour; given all the potential for hundred of millions of excess deaths from letting the fossil fuel juggernaut continue accelerating some very ugly comparisons can start to look quite appropriate. Not necessarily the comparison to those who committed genocide but to those who chose to look the other way.

    I actually doubt that Howard, any more than Bolt, Monckton or others, has really thought it through; the complaint about “denier” just seems to be an effective bit of rhetoric. It’s a bit of rhetoric I don’t have any problem throwing back in their faces.

  43. Fran Barlow
    December 23rd, 2011 at 05:49 | #43

    @Ken Fabian

    I should clarify Ken that nothing I’ve said above should be read as entertaining trolling by deniers that we who support a robust and ubiquitous approach to mitigation of emissions have something to apologise for in calling them deniers.

    Indeed, I’ve made the point several times in arguments in person with such people that merely raising this claim invites the view that they have nothing of substance to say on the substantive policy or its underlying rationale. I’ve insisted upon and got on most occasions a withdrawal of the claims and an apology for raising them. On the couple of occasions when people have declined, I’ve simply refused to engage further with them, and called them reckless for refusing to discuss seriously this critical area of policy.

  44. Ken Fabian
    December 23rd, 2011 at 06:28 | #44

    Fran, I’m probably just getting more combative the clearer I see how dangerous it is to treat this as an academic game. People will die in large numbers if we don’t get this right and do it soon.

  45. Freelander
    December 23rd, 2011 at 12:13 | #45

    @Ken Fabian

    That is becoming exceedingly clear. The increased moisture in the atmosphere world wide is already resulting in a massive increase in torrential rain which as well as causing flooding can also destroy crops.

    The deniers are mad and totally dangerous and their activities are already resulting in significant numbers of deaths. And so far we haven’t even had a full one percent average temperature increase.

    Our leaders better get serious on the issue and get serious fast!

  46. Fran Barlow
    December 23rd, 2011 at 16:56 | #46

    Others may have seen this — it dates from February — but it’s one for the scrapbooks of people keeping up with the fashion in climate delusion/denial.

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/02/lord-monckton-attacked-from-all-sides-by-climate-sceptics

  47. Ken Fabian
    December 23rd, 2011 at 20:06 | #47

    Fran, you said – “Those climate change science deniers do love projection”.

    I’m not alone in noticing Denier accusations tend to be reflections of their own less than sound position. The line about ‘house of cards’ keeps coming to mind; for all the apparent gains of climate deniers here in Australia they’ve built their edifice on shaky ground. I don’t want to have to wait until after a couple of el Nino induced bushfire catastrophes to do the shaking. I’m kind of disappointed that too many clear thinkers appear to have given up on directly confronting the BS’ers and think the debate is about which solutions and how much they cost rather than the strength of human motivations. Denial BS is a great de-motivator and the ‘real but not that urgent or serious’ form perhaps the most effective form. Maybe because it appeals to the moderate and the reasonable.

    Too many attacks on Denier BS appear to just bounce off, but I think the very irrationality of their position makes them vulnerable. The endorsements of esteemed leaders like Howard or Pell give them legitimacy whilst playing on economic fears give them potency but my gut feeling is that they are more vulnerable than they appear. The sane and rational side in this has been on the defensive too long and renewed efforts, with gloves off are overdue.

  48. Fran Barlow
    December 24th, 2011 at 07:50 | #48

    @Ken Fabian

    I’m not alone in noticing Denier accusations tend to be reflections of their own less than sound position.

    Take a look at each of their most persistent trolls. It’s an almost exact list of what they do — ‘ ad hominem’, godwin, ‘scientific fraud’, ‘social engineering’, ‘religious belief’, ‘appeal to authority’, ‘political/cultural agenda’, ‘bait and switch’, ‘elite interest’, “chicken-little’ etc. Each of these exactly describes their movement and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this is precisely what gave them the idea of accusing those of us supporting evidence-based policy. The ‘now-they-call-it-climate-change-instead-of-global-warming‘ troll is an especially good and risible example of their tendency to project their methodology onto us.

    In one candid moment some years back (which IIRC I quoted here and at LP) one of their number admitted that misdirection was a key strategy for defeating policy in this area.

  49. Charles
    December 24th, 2011 at 15:24 | #49

    The question is; who left the plane of reality first; academia or the right wing.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/

  50. Charles
    December 24th, 2011 at 15:36 | #50

    of course scientists can be wrong, and stubborn in error,

    “Science advances funeral by funeral.” (Planck?)

  51. Charles
    December 24th, 2011 at 15:50 | #51

    Jim Birch
    December 22nd, 2011 at 09:47 | #36
    Reply | Quote

    Contrary to what we might vainly imagine, the human mental apparatus was not optimised by evolution for the determination of truth.

    It’s interesting where AI research has got to. Emotion is an important part of intelligence. Why to we run, love and believe n God, none of it is based on a long and considered review of the facts.

  52. Dan
    December 24th, 2011 at 18:33 | #52

    To put it bluntly, we are screwed.

    How screwed remains to be seen. I note that we have screwed the developing world worse than we have screwed ourselves, as per usual.

    Has anyone else read Clive Hamilton’s latest?

  53. adelady
    December 24th, 2011 at 20:37 | #53

    “People will die in large numbers if we don’t get this right and do it soon.”

    Ken, I’m very much afraid that staring into this abyss tells you that large numbers of people will die even as we start to do the right thing. Because we’ve not done the preventive thing which would have been to reduce emissions as of 30 years ago.

    As a side note. For all those who people who ‘blame’ the new surge in emissions on China – just stop and think for a minute. The advanced economies could have continued, expanded and developed low emissions technologies as they were first emerging 30 years ago. Had they done that, which particular mix of technologies would China be using now.

    So we failed to build our own fence on top of this particular cliff. In doing so, we made it difficult for others to build their fence. And now we’re squabbling over how many ambulances are needed at the bottom of the cliff and who’ll pay for them. And how dare you suggest we spend even more scarce funds on re-landscaping that clifftop!

    The question now is not that many people will die. They will. It is that we can prevent more unnecessary deaths on top of that number.

  54. Donald Oats
    December 24th, 2011 at 21:21 | #54

    I wish to correct the record: this is actually Plimer’s second book for children, concerning climate change.

    Skimmed through a copy at a Dymock’s book shop in Rundle Mall; barely any pictures except for some graphs near the end, and a lot of messy words. Hardly the stuff to ignite a teenager’s imagination, which is the point of the book, I would have thought. On second thoughts, maybe this is the dumbed down one to reach the masses, one for the journalists at the Australian to use as “evidence”.

    Finally, the fact that Howard has aligned himself with these clowns is no surprise to me—I’ve always found Howard’s use of the English language to be very legalistic when he discussed the issue of AGW during his tenure as Prime Minister of Australia. Difficult to know his real opinion on the subject of climate change, until now, that is. Whoever said that clowns are funny?

  55. Fran Barlow
    December 24th, 2011 at 22:56 | #55

    @Donald Oats

    Whoever said that clowns are funny?

    He’s got to be one of those sad clowns one hears of. Perhaps someone will do an opera about him and Plimer.

  56. Wooster
    December 24th, 2011 at 23:35 | #56

    Wow!…a forum that isn’t infested with climate change “skeptics”.

    It is strange how they always link to sites that are the province of people whose area of expertise is other than climate science. …and then they call you names. It seems the exclusive province of the denier to label one an “idiot” or such like.

    This article by Naomi Klein is right on the money.
    http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate

  57. Troy Prideaux
    December 25th, 2011 at 21:57 | #57

    @Dan
    No I haven’t.

    The smartest people I personally know all pretty much say exactly what you said – word for word.

    And a very Merry Xmas all, no that cheerful note.

  58. Donald Oats
    December 26th, 2011 at 00:53 | #58

    @Fran Barlow

    Been reading one of Peter Medawar’s book reviews, a particularly ferocious one, for the book “The Phenomenon of Man”; the author was Teilhard. Medawar’s words seem apposite here, for reasons I shall leave unstated:

    I do not propose to criticize the fatuous argument I have just outlined; here, to expound is to expose.

    How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man?

    1. The Phenomenon of Man is anti-scientific in temper (scientists are shown up as shallow folk skating about on the surface of things), and, as if that were not recommendation enough, it was written by a scientist, a fact which seems to give it particular authority and weight. Laymen firmly believe that scientists are one species of person. They are not to know that the different branches of science require very different aptitudes and degrees of skill for their prosecution. Teilhard practised an intellectually unexacting kind of science in which he achieved a moderate proficiency. He has no grasp of what makes a logical argument or of what makes for proof. He does not even preserve the common decencies of scientific writing, though his book is professedly a scientific treatise.

    I have read and studied The Phenomenon of Man with real distress, even with despair. Instead of wringing our hands over the Human Predicament, we should attend to those parts of it which are wholly remediable, above all to the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived.

    *Ouch!*

    If one is sufficiently impish to engage in a game of title and author substitution, the above quote would have a grimly satisfying fit. Medawar did not suffer fools or deceivers. The above quoted pieces are in Ch1 “The Phenomenon of Man” pp 9–10, from Peter Medawar, “The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice, and Other Classic Essays on Science”, Oxford University Press, 1996.

  59. Fran Barlow
    December 26th, 2011 at 12:53 | #59

    @Fran Barlow

    Ta Donald … most apt

  60. John Brookes
    December 26th, 2011 at 19:07 | #60

    @Ken Fabian
    (and for gain of one sort or other) – I think most of them just have an ideological bent which leads them to denialism. They view people who think action on climate change is necessary as deluded…

  61. Ken Fabian
    December 27th, 2011 at 05:27 | #61

    John Brookes, I suspect the decision making criteria of commerce and industry – relative costs, competitiveness and profitability – have insinuated themselves into the position held by the political voices representing the interests of commerce and industry. ie the political Right. On those criteria it might even be considered logical and reasonable to decide that climate science denial and opposition to emissions reductions are the ‘correct’ choices and that the tools of marketing and lobbying are the appropriate ways to prevent an ‘avoidable’ burden of costs that a shift to a low emissions economy demands.
    Our institutions of science are our most successful sorters of truth from belief and whilst perfect academic Truth may forever be elusive, Science is by far superior to institutions such as religion, the judiciary and the courts – or markets – to foresee consequences.

  62. Ken Fabian
    December 27th, 2011 at 05:46 | #62

    @adelady
    I would actually like to see those who are Right leaning but who have a degree of trust in Science to regain their voices and that theydemand their ‘side’ lose the dangerously irresponsible promotion of BS about climate for short term gain – I think I’d prefer that, simply as a matter of being more effective and productive, than attempting to persuade them to switch political allegiances.

    Surely Malcolm is not alone. Surely amongst ‘loyal’ Nats and Libs there are some very worried people who have real concerns for the legacy that will be left for future generations through their parties choosing the short term expedient of promoting BS and attacking our fundamental and essentially conservative institutions of Science and Academia.

  63. 2 tanners
    December 30th, 2011 at 20:18 | #63

    Having met the man, while having never agreed with his politics, I am nevertheless profoundly dismayed at Mr Howard’s declaration. He has his moral code and an incredible memory for facts and statements made. He is sharp, very sharp, and does not suffer fools gladly although as a consummate politician he tends to disguise this well in public. As a result, I do not believe he has been taken in.

    And that is what dismays me the most. I do not pretend to know the reason for his statement but I have to wonder: whose advantage is he seeking? Certainly not that of his grandchildren.

  64. frankis
    December 31st, 2011 at 11:39 | #64

    “Howard scored As in English and modern history in the Leaving Certificate and Bs in Latin, chemistry and economics. He failed general maths”: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/09/17/1095394004427.html

    Gloss it all you like, or talk if you must in reverent tones of his political acumen and blah blah blah, the simple fact is that John Howard – is that who we’re talking about? – is and was a bit of a dunce. Innumerate, scientifically unschoolable. So we’re surprised to see him promoting a charlatan like Plimer? Howard doesn’t have the capacity to understand anything of the scientific arguments around climate change, he’s dependent on nothing more substantive than his political instincts.

  65. alfred venison
    December 31st, 2011 at 18:00 | #65

    dear John Brookes/Ken Fabian
    i think they fear, above all, ‘socialism by stealth’, for, as i see it, within the context of any considered & concerted world-wide response to climate change, aspects of socialism begin to make sense. again. and, having successfully fought the genie of socialism to a standstill, high-capitalism now profits greatly from a one-world system, with no viable alternatives, and is steadfastly determined that no competing system like socialism, theoretical or practical, shall ever again be allowed to exist as a feasible, let alone legitimate, alternative to organising human affairs, even if only in people’s minds. and, most emphatically, not ‘through the back door’ of any considered & concerted collective response to climate change, however well-intended or, even, necessary. they seem unwilling to ever wittingly acquiesce to any considered & concerted collective response to climate change, because they see that any such program on climate, will necessarily give rise to intellectual & material conditions propitious to a return ‘through the back door’ of the socialist alternative they dread more than anything, especially because it begins at last, in the present context, to make sense.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  66. paul of albury
    December 31st, 2011 at 23:42 | #66

    alfred venison – to sum up, they’d prefer to be dead than red?

  67. alfred venison
    January 1st, 2012 at 16:54 | #67

    dear paul of albury
    its not so much they’d rather be dead than red, although what i’m suggesting is a species of that line. it seems to me more like they’d rather be top capitalists in a diminished world, then take even a small risk of possibly giving an opening to socialism through present action to prevent that diminishment of the world. it seems that to these people any action on climate, that is not an epiphenomenon of business as usual, is action that will advantage socialism in the eyes of the masses and their organic intellectuals as a viable alternative.

    imagine, should climate change action also be embraced by the top capitalists, and during discussions about it on, say, nat’l tv talk shows, someone with charisma were to ask “in light of the acute criticality of the acknowledged emergency, why are we not doing something more, collectively, as a nation, in response?” imagine the multiplier effect. imagine the effect of a nation of sheep, infected through tv talk shows (of all things) with the bacillus of socialism, demanding action on clear & present climate (weather) dangers?

    i think its misguided to assume these people are just anti science or don’t understand it. for some undoubtedly that’s true. but for others, its like they damn well know already what kind of future world their present prevarications will result in. its their answer to socialism emerging as a viable alternative in response to climate change. all their work in the present is simply to ensure that the emergence of co-operative solutions is stifled and measures are taken to ensure that they will still be on the top in the future they’re engineering to emerge. a future where authoritarian solutions will appear the norm and they will be the party and sector to provide them. the alternative, to respond now with co-operative solutions before its too late is an unacceptable risk of socialism to them.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  68. Ken Fabian
    January 2nd, 2012 at 06:52 | #68

    Alfred I think the resistance to dealing with the climate problem gets clothed in the rhetoric of ideology but that at it’s core more basic motivations are at work. Greed and fear mostly – greed from those most directly effected for the lost revenues from (excluding the externalities) very profitable ways of doing business and fear more generally of facing profound change that (excluding the externalities) looks likely to be very costly and difficult. I think the choice to dismiss and ignore those externalities reflects both the inability for those without deep knowledge and expertise to make the assessment of how real or serious the problem is and that overriding fear of change and lost prosperity. That fear not only undermines the resolve to act, it undermines rational decision making. Of course it’s irrational to believe all our leading scientific institutions are engaged in a scam or that a couple of mineral geologists have superior understanding of how climate works. And it’s irrational to think the commercial decision making criteria and policy influencing methods of commerce and industry are appropriate for dealing with – or avoid dealing with – the world endangering problems an understanding of climate reveals.

    The organised response to undermine efforts to act early or effectively has gained a momentum of it’s own and I’m not sure any real world impacts of climate change will, by themselves, be sufficient to derail the fossil fuel juggernaut. Yet climate science denial is irrational and that remains it’s weakness.

  69. Wooster
    January 2nd, 2012 at 07:53 | #69

    Following on from your post, Ken. Clive Hamilton delivered this paper to a conference in Brussels in 2010 – on the why some resist the truth about climate change. It’s quite an interesting read.

    http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/media/why_we_resist_the_truth_about_climate_change.pdf

  70. Dan
    January 2nd, 2012 at 08:03 | #70

    It would be wonderful to have a big-time industrialist come out and speak the truth, which goes:

    ‘I don’t care much about the climate change I am making a fairly significant contribution to, because me, my family, and the people I know will be fine, and in the interim I want to make a motza or at least not get out-competed by people more unscrupulous than I. Après moi, le déluge – literally.’

  71. Ken Fabian
    January 3rd, 2012 at 07:02 | #71

    Dan – that sounds a bit like Doonesbury’s Honest Man. Fictional of course.

    I think that those who hold positions of trust are betraying that trust when they lend their authority to climate science denial. People like Minchin, Abbott, Howard etc don’t know and can’t know that climate science is wrong but they surely should have sufficient good judgement to know when to seek expert advice. And to know the difference between shills and scientists. From our elected representatives, in who’s good judgement we must trust, it’s not a matter of freedom of ideas and opinions and freedom to express them; there is a global problem beyond all previous experience and some are lending their influence and authority to organised efforts to prevent timely action to limit the damage.

    The cost in human lives of failure to address the problem may be beyond calculation but taking McMichael et al in Lancet as a conservative baseline excess mortality arising from climate change is probably already past the million mark. Which is why I think the word ‘Denier’ with those alleged implication of Holocaust Denial is probably too mild a comparison for what organised, knowing promotion of BS about climate science is doing. It’s global success will kill more people than all the genocides of history. I don’t know what else to call that but a crime against humanity.

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