The Mail on Sunday's own goal for delusionism

I’ve been struck by the fairly straight reporting of the IPCC Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. Even Graham Lloyd at the Oz could find only one para for delusionist Benny Peiser[1] in his report, headlined “Science solid on global warming, IPCC declares“. What happened to the much anticipated delusionist counterattack?

I think we have the Daily Mail to thank for the no-show. As readers will recall, the Mail ran a story by David Rose under the headline “‘World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said”. This was obviously absurd, and the Mail was forced to retract, but not before the story had been circulated throughout the denialosphere, notably including Bolt, the Oz, and the Torygraphs (both UK and Oz). The Oz eventually retracted, but Bolt didn’t bother. This misfire made it pretty much impossible to get much traction out of the modest adjustments that were actually contained in the report, such as reducing the lower bound estimate of climate sensitivity to 1.5 degrees (it was increased from 1.5 degrees to 2.0 degrees in the Fourth Assessment Report0

What’s interesting here is the fact that such obvious nonsense as Rose’s article got such a credulous reception. The idea that estimates of warming since 1950 could be out by a factor of two, or that a few years of additional data could change them substantial is entirely implausible, and a “confession of error” unsupported by a quote ought to raise alarm bells. Multiple levels of stupidity are needed to explain this. First, the majority of delusionists are simply innumerate, and ignorant of the most basic facts about data (we saw this with the claims about “no significant warming” since 1993). Second, the confirmation bias that affects everyone is magnified to a pathological extent in the parallel universe created by the right. Third, the tribal character of the movement means that there are no incentives to correct error. Presumably there are at least some delusionists who must have thought the “confession of error” story too good to be true. But no one would have thanked them for raising doubts. Whereas real climate scientists disagree vigorously among themselves (though all but a handful agree that the evidence for the basic fact of human-caused climate change is overwhelming), “sceptics” never criticise any claim on their own side, however absurd.

Most obviously, Judith Curry who was quoted in Rose’s article (not as a source for the bogus claims) must have realised it was nonsense. But she implicitly endorsed it, after its publication, but before its retraction. Note that, while saying the article quoted her accurately and would not be welcomed by the IPCC, Curry carefully avoids mentioning taking a position on its main claim, which she must have known to be false (she mentions the dispute briefly, at the bottom of here post, but offers no opinion). This is fairly typical of her, and her role-model Richard Lindzen.

But in this case, it was too clever by half. A smart delusionist if one existed would have jumped on Rose’s error and used it to build up some credibility for the future.

fn1. Peiser is, or was, a social anthropologist, and, according to Wikipedia, is currently a visiting fellow (not a real job, I suspect) at the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university[2]). He’s therefore eminently qualified to represent the delusionist viewpoint on issues of physical science and the interpretation of statistical evidence.

fn2. To be boringly clear, I’m fully aware that Buckingham is an accredited institution with lecturers, degrees and so on, legally entitled to call itself a university. It’s still not a real university.

75 thoughts on “The Mail on Sunday's own goal for delusionism

  1. OK PrQ … sorry about that, but I just had to know what the naughty word was … please delete all of my previous tries in the mod queue and the parts that have appeared.

    @rog

    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.

    In any event, it seems to me that the right least of all has standing to object to the kind of alarm-sounding that they assert against climate science. These are, after all, folk who sound alarms without sound cause as a matter of their political paradigm on virtually a daily basis.

    Even if we move away from climate science and climate policy — where they assert that the harm is non-existent or radically overstated and the resultant policy settings likely to lead to anything between economic collapse and a return to pleistocene era usages — there is everything else.

    In the USA, the Affordable Care Act — a modest measure aimed at both controlling health costs and giving a measure of protection from the costs of maintaining health for non-privileged folk – has been dubbed “Obamacare” — a “job-killer” in which “death panels” will snuff out the lives of silver-haired grandmothers. So grave is the threat according to the right that funding for the US government must be obstructed, on the basis that the majority of congress is conniving at the collapse of the US economy. If that’s not “alarmism” with prejudice on behalf of privileged elites, it’s hard to know what would be.

    And we can add the case for massive military expenditure, which by their own reckoning in every capitalist state is the foundation for huge numbers of astonishingly well paid jobs. The armed forces are there, it is nebulously said “to protect the interests of {fill in your capitalist country of choice}. This is said more than two decades after the end of the “Cold War” which was supposed to be followed by “a peace dividend”. Apparently not, because there are new threats which nothing short of enormous expenditures and a dreadful toll in human casualties — prices that utterly dwarf anything being done in the hope of mitigating CO2 emissions — must be undertaken. Ironically, the US military may actually have bodies that could be called “death panels” — since they control the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, S***lia and Afghanistan — literally deciding who must die by their hand. The right is silent on this but keen to sound the alarm in the ongoing “war on terror”. Few if any on the right in this country are less enthusiastic about this source of threat.

    And so it goes. We have had here assertions of “budget emergency” “boats crisis” “debt crisis” “Whyalla (and several other places) wipeout” “Government chaos” none of which have had any substance at all and which, post-election have produced no crisis abatement measures or even further comment — except to backpedal and duplicate what the last regime did. Clearly, when the right speaks of “alarmism” it is merely projecting its own willingness to tell self-serving lies onto us.

  2. Having just read todays Herald Sun for one of my ‘know our enemy’ efforts ,I am wishing for a time when like minded people cant effectively control enough of the information flow needed to win elections . You would have to think the unfolding internet revolution should help ,but the pace is slow compared to average life expectancy .

    I think our military budget is about 100million per day . Why is this always beyond public debate ? We spent 10 billion on the 2 mid east wars and have only achieved negative outcomes (which we will be paying still more for well into the future) .We are watching the raid decline of Western civilisation ,we have hitched our wagon to the American empire . Arrogance ,greed ,wasted opportunity.

    This mood is the reward I normally get for reading the Herald Sun.

  3. sunshine :
    I think our military budget is about 100million per day . Why is this always beyond public debate ?

    Because we buy most of our military kit from the US – that’s why it’s beyond public debate! If we actually supported manufacturing here so we had the capability to produce military, aerospace and other high-end capability, the bean counters would be constantly screaming for cutbacks and rationalization of our defense spending.

  4. @sunshine

    Tying two things together:

    Recent developments in media control/ownership and regulation (largely taken directly from a post on “Article19″‘s site):

    The draft Media Law of Somalia was passed by the Council of Ministers on 11 July 2013 (Draft Law).

    There is a Technical Expert Committee on Re-drafting the Somali Media Law, set up by the Deputy Minister of Information, Abdishakur Ali Mire, following the international criticism of the Draft Law.

    The Draft Law clearly violates international human rights law on freedom of expression, particularly Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Although the Draft Law has some positive aspects, such as the proclamation on media freedom and safeguards for transparency of media ownership, it reinforces the state control over the media by allowing censorship of state media, giving powers to the Ministry of Information to authorise private media and requiring permission for the operation of foreign media. Moreover, the Draft Law contains blank and vague prohibitions on expressions like “harming the country, the people or the religion.” Last but not least, it sets out a media regulator, the National Media Council, which is not independent.

    If you replace “Ministry of Information” with “Rupert Murdoch” you realise they have better protections from media-manipulation and lies than we do!

  5. @sunshine

    Just confirmed Fran’s observation. Here was what I wrote (with the offending terms fixed) –

    Tying two things together:

    Recent developments in media control/ownership and regulation (largely taken directly from a post on “Article19?‘s site):

    The draft Media Law of Somxlia was passed by the Council of Ministers on 11 July 2013 (Draft Law).

    There is a Technical Expert Committee on Re-drafting the Som*li Media Law, set up by the Deputy Minister of Information, Abdishakur Ali Mire, following the international criticism of the Draft Law.

    The Draft Law clearly violates international human rights law on freedom of expression, particularly Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Although the Draft Law has some positive aspects, such as the proclamation on media freedom and safeguards for transparency of media ownership, it reinforces the state control over the media by allowing censorship of state media, giving powers to the Ministry of Information to authorise private media and requiring permission for the operation of foreign media. Moreover, the Draft Law contains blank and vague prohibitions on expressions like “harming the country, the people or the religion.” Last but not least, it sets out a media regulator, the National Media Council, which is not independent.

    If you replace “Ministry of Information” with “Rupert Murdoch” you realise they have better protections from media-manipulation and lies than we do!

  6. Australia has a record of heavy military spending that reaches back long before the US alliance. In the 1920s and 30s Australia was already outspending the other countries in the old empire by a long way:

    In 1927-28, the figure for Australia was £1 5s 5d per head ; Canada 5s 7d ; New Zealand, 14s 1d ; South Afric a 11s 4d (counting the European population only) ; and Great Britain , £2 12s 2d. The Australian figure was 6s a head more than it had been in the last year before the 1914-18 war and was a good deal higher than most countries of her population.

    The US kit theory does not work.

  7. Fran Barlow :

    While I know full well the connotation the Rose-types put on “alarmism” — a caricature in which people sound the alarm without cause in order to swindle people — whether one sounds an alarm or blows a whistle, such folk are needed when there is indeed cause. It’s pure cant — and not with an initial K — to assert that because taking the prospective harm seriously might lead to some momentary advantage for some, that the sound of the alarm was a scam.
    In any event, it seems to me that the right least of all has standing to object to the kind of alarm-sounding that they assert against climate science. These are, after all, folk who sound alarms without sound cause as a matter of their political paradigm on virtually a daily basis.

    A month after a (highly successful) political campaign by the right in which election literature was bandied around warning of an unstoppable flood of boat people and the imminent bankruptcy of Australia, a right-winger warns of the left’s use of political alarmism.

    This is so deliciously ironic. This is Pilbara levels of irony. You could add trace amounts of vanadium, nickel, chromium and manganese and make surgical steel out of JR’s comment.

  8. Writing in New Matilda Sarah Burnside indicates that alarmism is a matter of opinion

    ?.in the Financial Review last Friday, Laura Tingle noted that Forrest had been “utterly silent” about the WA government’s recent decision to increase mining royalties, which would “hit the core of his business”. When asked why he had not complained about this decision, Forrest explained: “the royalties I pay will go to teachers, nurses, hospitals, roads etcetera … the MRRT has been whipped into place by a government desperate to plug a hole which has appeared in their budget caused by their own actions”. Tingle suggested dryly that this distinction had “just the slightest smack of partisan politics about it”.

  9. I think Greg Hunt the Minister for Accelerated CO2 is heading for a massive reality check. He could barely wait a week to disband the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Commission almost putting Pr Q on the dole. Last week he fast tracked CSG drilling proposals before landholders could establish water quality standards. This week he’s chomping on the bit to repeal carbon tax. That safely assumes the senators for sporty motoring etc will lend support.

    What if Direct Action is a massive dud? For example if budgetary constraints stop general revenue going into it. Secondly nobody can agree what the emissions benchmarks are or how to measure soil carbon. Even if it was properly thought out big investors are not going to spend billions on energy infrastructure if the rules change every couple of years. It’s going to be interesting watching the Coal-ition squirm their way out of the problems ahead.

  10. @Hermit

    Direct Action will be a massive dud. Everybody in Canberra will know it is a massive dud. The LNP will (when they have time off from attending weddings and Abbot’s own personal Lycra-led economic recovery) line up to swear on a stack of Bibles that it is working just fine.

  11. I think Greg Hunt the Minister for Accelerated CO2 is heading for a massive reality check.

    Hunt waved bye-bye to reality years ago.

  12. With the Senate we have now the carbon price and ETS are gone and direct the action thing is stillborn.
    That’s the most likely outcome.

  13. Given we have a coal miner and a motoring enthusiast as the balance of power in the senate, I don’t see that there’ll much further interest in Greg Hunt’s portfolio; in fact, he may as well be missing in action. He could surprise us all and put a bill forward that is a major positive step towards addressing AGW, for all the difference it would make.

    [And it would be a hell of a surprise.]

  14. The scope for delusional denialism is rapidly decreasing, at least on the environemntal front

    The next wave of delusionaism is that Australia does not need manufacturing. In todays news I hear the …………………………….intensely dumb comment……………………….”well manufacturing is declining anyway so we may as well get rid of it altogether”. This was in the reporting of the failure of “carrot and stick” dealings with GM Holden.

    WTffffffffffffF!!

  15. I suppose that if one is a coal-go cultist and believes that the demand for and price of exported coal is only going to increase then I suppose it would also follow that Australian manufacturing is unnecessary as the high dollar that will result will let us buy anything we want from overseas. Of course coal-go cultism requires a rather large disconnect from reality. Fortunately banks like to not lose money and so a number of large coal mining project have been abandonned.

  16. That argument, RB, might have some substance if the proceeds of the coal were to be evenly divided amoungst all Australians, but in the present concept of mining that is not what happens at all. What we have are a handful of rich fat cats who collect all of the funds, who whinge endlessly about how hardly done by they are, and who also now presume to tell us how to live our lives through media and politics.

    There was some equity whe state owned coal was used by state owned power generators to provide cheap electricity that we all had access to. But somewhere along the line that state owned coal was handed over to a handful of individuals for their own personal exploitation, and I don’t recall getting that memo.

  17. If you think they whinge now, BilB, wait until the price of coal drops to $40 a tonne. But then a number of them will be out on their posteriors when that happens, so just maybe it will result in a modicum of humility being developed? (In the meantime I am currently combining swine DNA with that of eagles.)

  18. Let climate science be settled. How much will global warming cost is the correct question.

    The chances of India, China and the rest of the Third world agreeing for forego or even slow economic development to fight global warming is zero even before you consider the international collective action, verification and free rider problems.

    Adaptation and richer is safer are the only games in town.

    I found the best writer on global warming to be Thomas Schelling. Schelling has been involved with the global warming debate since chairing a commission on the subject for President Carter in 1980. He is an economist who specialises in strategy so he focuses on climate change as a bargaining problem. Schelling drew in his experiences with the negotiation of the Marshall Plan and NATO.

    International agreements rarely work if they talk in terms of results.

    They work better if signatories promise to supply specific inputs – to perform specific actions now. Individual NATO members did not, for example, promise to slow the Soviet invasion by 90 minutes if it occured after 1963.

    NATO members promised to raise and train troops, procure equipment and supplies, and deploy these assets geographically. All of these actions can be observed, estimated and compared quickly. The NATO treaty was a few pages long.

    The Kyoto Protocol commitments were made not about actions but to results that were to be measured after more than a decade.

    Climate treaties should promise to do certain actions now such as invest in R&D and develop carbon taxes that return the revenue as tax cuts. If the carbon tax revenue is fully refunded as tax cuts, less reliable countries, in particular, have a additional incentive to collect the carbon tax properly to keep their budget deficits under control.

    The only case for even a token carbon tax is to avoid EU green tariffs on exports. We may as well collect the revenue for ourselves rather than let the EU get it. It is safe to say that green tariffs are more likely in the USA than carbon trading.

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