The relative rationality of Malcolm Roberts

Among other interesting results, the recent election gave a Senate seat to One Nation member Malcolm Roberts. Roberts is notable for his expressed belief that global warming is a fraud produced by a global conspiracy of bankers seeking to establish a worldwide government through the United Nations.

Unsurprisingly, Roberts has copped a lot of flak for these statements. But his position seems to me to be more credible than that of the average “sceptic”.

I’ll take, Don Aitkin as an example of the kind of sceptic generally seen as more credible than conspiracy theorists like Roberts. Among other indicators of credibility, Aitkin has an AO, he’s a former Vice-Chancellor, and was Chairman of the Australian Research Grants Committee (predecessor of the Australian Research Council) and a member of the Australian Science and Technology Council. His own academic background was in history and political science. As far as I can tell he has no training or research background in either statistics or natural science of any kind.

Given his background, you’d expect Aitkin to be aware of the years of training required to become an academic expert in any field, and the ease with which amateurs can get things badly wrong. But in his writing on climate change he expresses supreme confidence in his own ability to assess the work of thousands of scientists and pronounce it wanting. As he says

here wasn’t much abstruse science in the global warming issue. A bit of radiative physics, a bit of solar physics, a lot of data of various kinds, large GCMs — global circulation models — and a good deal of extrapolation

All in an afternoon’s work for a retired academic administrator, it seems. No wonder VCs are so highly paid!

Unsurprisingly, we discover that what Aitkin actually disliked was

the message: a set of policies about curbing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels.


So, according to Aitkin, the entire discipline of climate science, backed up by every major scientific organization in the world, is engaged in a transparent fraud, has, in the service a political agenda, published false research, easily seen through by a retired political scientist and his circle of emeritus colleagues. They have succeeded in persuading every national government in the world to sign on to agreements based on this fraud misrepresentation of the facts. And to what end? To change the way we generate electricity, or maybe to shift a few research grants from one field to another. The disproportion between effort and goal is akin to using a nuclear-powered piledriver to crack a peanut.

And the same, more or less, is true of most of the relativel respectable “sceptics”. There simply isn’t enough payoff to explain the gigantic effort that’s gone into constructing the global scientific consensus on climate science.

By contrast, once you accept Malcolm Roberts’ premises, the rest makes sense. Suppose there is a gigantic conspiracy to establish a world government. Then suborning a few thousand scientists and dozens of scientific academies, all the weather bureaus in the world and the entire mass media (except for the Murdoch press) would be child’s play. The only question is when the black helicopters will land.

292 thoughts on “The relative rationality of Malcolm Roberts

  1. @John Quiggin

    The talking points that monkton and co use are irrelevant afaict to the real discussion they are having, which is who is the smartest man in the room. Spangled drongo and the Neville drongo on DonAitkin’s site, have decided Don is smarter than them so they defer to his special knowledge and isn’t the obsequious pandering cute? Don seems to accept it as his due.

    It is the effort they expend that convinces them that they do have a point to make.

    They use whatever it takes to win an argument because at some level they feel inadequate and this is an opportunity to show off their specialness that has never before been acknowledged.

  2. CollinS,

    The key proponent of this is Lynne Hinton. Here she is being interviewed and talking about the programme and how it works

  3. BilB It’s not too much empathy that I have.

    It is rationality that leads me to the conclusion that climate change deniers are damaged people in need of our understanding and help as is anyone else who has a condition that limits their ability to participate fully in the happiness and satisfaction that life offers to people who love their neighbour, man and woman, and are prepared to be the first to do unto others.

    You know tit for tat? How can we build a society in which most people would do the good thing – is it tit or tat? – first rather than the one we have now in which most people would do the bad thing first off?

    I try not to comment when I’m aware that I am unable to be rational which is not to say that my posts are always rational. I do like irrationality sometimes. I know my insights into own self are necessarily biased but I have worked on not learning not to respond to deniers with the disgust and outrage that I do feel for them or for the harm that they do.

    You don’t see the unempathetic me. It helps to have psychologists as friends – free therapy. 🙂

  4. @Julie Thomas

    Doesn’t “tit for tat” imply one bad act for another? Often, it has the further implication that both acts are petty. On the other hand “quid pro quo” means something given or granted in return for something else. The further implication is that the values are roughly equatable. Occasionally, quid pro quo might have a negative implication more like the meaning of giving payola.

    As for a way for getting more people to be good (and defining what good is), well that’s the biggest social question isn’t it? It starts with being kind rather than cruel and encouraging the former over the latter. That’s just a motherhood and apple pie statement from me of course. Cruel people, like Trump, are made by systems which give them too much power. Step one, never give any individual too much power relative to the power of all other individuals. Flatten hierarchies and wealth pyramids as much as possible (certainly much, much more than our current system). Where competency or merit require hierarchies (as they pragmatically do for the best possible results) ensure that hierarchy power largely subsists only in the arena of the competency, with proper checks and balances, and that otherwise the citizen is still equal to all other citizens. Ensure that reward for merit is more about peer recognition and not so much about higher salaries. Ensure that more money (already flattened anyway by measures as above) does not buy more justice. Easy to say. Tricky to get our society from here to there.

  5. Having spent hours reading this post and all the associated comments, I can draw only one conclusion.

    Economists are entitled to their views but they should never pretend to be experts on science. After all, economists’ ability to predict the future has always been notoriously flawed. One would think that this would make them sceptical of scientists who claim to be able to do so. But apparently not in this case.

    Good scientists are always sceptical. Scientists (and economists) committed to scenarios based on climate models, have lost their objectivity, and therefore should not be trusted.

  6. @Peter S

    Somtimes future events are hard to predict. Sometimes they can be reliably predicted with great accuracy. Scientists regularly make reliable predictions of astronomical events such as eclipses, for example; likewise, any decent chemistry teacher makes predictions of the effects of combining chemicals every working day. We all make predictions of a mundane kind every day with considerable accuracy and reliability. I set my alarm with confidence about its future behaviour; the fire safety inspectors certify my fire alarm on the basis of confident predictions of future behaviour. Anybody who says we can never predict the future is talking rubbish.

  7. It is interesting how John Quiggin doesn’t have a shade of doubt about climate science, but was able to foretell the fiasco of Y2K before it happened, or more correctly before it didn’t happen. See the link to his 1999 article at the end of his July 4th post this year.

    One could almost substitute global warming for Y2K and the article would still read quite sensibly. One wonders why John scoffs at the Y2K computer experts yet believes the so called climate experts with their dismally underperforming computer models? Funny how computers feature in both scenarios, perhaps all you have to do is mention that you use computers and people think you are some sort sage.

    I think the sensible statement that John used in his July 4th anti-militarism post could also apply to climate change.

    “Instead, for non-existential and currently hypothetical threats, the appropriate response is to “fix on failure”[^2], dealing with problems in the most cost-effective manner as they emerge.”

  8. @dlb

    A couple of points here.

    1. The Y2K fiasco didn’t happen, in the main, precisely because the problem was foreseen and remedial action was taken in many important computer systems before the date 01/01/2000 ticked over. Extensive protocols were followed to locate and correct date fields and date processing routines where necessary. It was a real issue. People who don’t think it was a real problem waiting to happen don’t understand the basics of programming.

    Whether the Y2K preemptive fix protocols were more costly administratively than waiting for things to fail and then fixing them is another issue. In the case of a government system like the pensions system, waiting for things to fail and then fixing them was not a political option. A failed pension run or a welfare system crash for several days causes a big stink politically and these payment delaying events do affect people dependent on such payments.

    2. Avoiding damaging climate change is many orders of magnitude more important than avoiding a failed pension run or a welfare system crash. It is worth putting efforts into understanding human-induced climate change, whether it is happening (it is) and how to ameliorate it if we can. The climate system is not something we can “fix on failure” at least not within 1,000 to 10,000 years at least. The “fix on failure” cost for coastal cities inundated worldwide (rebuilding on higher ground) will be a massive burden on economies equivalent at least to fixing the ravages of a world war. Other things will not be fixable at all if global warming hits 5 degrees C or more. Our agriculture system will largely fail for example.

    3. The CC climate change models are now working and predicting matters reasonably well. The real world data is following model predictions within acceptable margins of error. If you don’t understand that all science is about modelling reality then you don’t understand science. Modern computer models in a number of fields (not just climate science) have become accurate and dependable. They are a tool which extends modelling capacity.

    4. Your post simply reveals how little you know about the topic. It’s like a homeopath telling the members of the The Royal Australasian College of Physicians that they don’t know anything about human physiology. It’s laughable. Which other hard sciences do you doubt? To be consistent you would have to doubt and reject them all; physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and so on.

  9. @Peter S
    I am commenting on the basis that your comments were made in good faith, though i suspect you aren’t.

    Perhaps you were a bit distracted during your reading because JQ made it clear that its not his opinion on climate, but rather, the scientist’s opinion, thousand’s of people who have been examining this for decades.

    You are correct, economic models are often not very good. They should be clearly distinguished from scientific models, that do not need to factor in the “animal spirits” of the human mind.

    The climate models are checked against the real world data, and what do you know, there is a good correlation. If you think it’s a conspiracy, I can’t help you.

    Go and do some reading chum, for your grandkid’s sake.

  10. @dlb
    Given the known physical properties of carbon dioxide, an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must have the direct effect of making the temperature of the planet higher than it would otherwise have been.

    Computers and computer modelling don’t come into that: it was definitively established long before the first computer was built.

  11. I had better modify my statement on Y2K above.

    1. Arguably, a Y2K fiasco did occur in the sense that the “event” was over-prepared for and over-spent on prior to the fact, taking a whole of economy perspective.

    2. In relation to government welfare systems, this was an area I had an involvement in at the time. Y2K preparations, changes to date fields and date processing where necessary. Date fields, starting with client date of birth, but including a number of other dates, are important for client eligibility. The possibility of many records (e.g. pension records) not paying legitimate benefits in a pay run was real and indeed very probable. The possibility of an entire system pay run crashing and delaying processing runs further was higher than zero though it’s hard to say how real this danger was. Politically and socially, these risks could not be ignored. Ancillary systems were also checked in the interests of thoroughness and possible interactions with the main system.

    A post 01/01/2000 fiasco was indeed possible in social security payments without these checks, re-coding efforts and testing efforts done in the main income security system well before 01/01/2000. In systems like this, the Y2K work was precisely what made the event a non-event when the day came. Y2K was not all hype. Some of the issues were real. Wholesale or blanket criticism of all Y2K projects is not warranted.

  12. @Peter S

    Scientists committed to scenarios based on climate models, have lost their objectivity, and therefore should not be trusted.

    This is obnoxious, false and defamatory.

    Bloggists who are committed to dreams not based on climate models have no objectivity and are living in cloud cuckoo land.

    They also threaten the fate of humanity.

  13. @dlb
    Just to second others here, your charge that ‘climate models are woefully underperforming’ is in itself woefully underperforming, and woefully over-repeated.

    It’s really tragic that your position on AGW is based on this profound error. It makes anything else you offer redundant.
    It shows that if you’ve been misled, and inevitably will be a misleader. Build your position on a falsehood, and the conversation is impossible.
    I’d guess confidently that you are using the RSS TMT data set compared with model ensembles, as promoted by rejectionists bloggers. RSS has many problems, which are explicitly discussed by it creators. Even more importantly, RSS and UAH are not comparing apples with apples, and are stictched and compensated proxy derivations sampling different parts of the mid-atmosphere, not exclusively the surface.

    Again, look at this comparison of CMIP5 RCP 4.5 model ensemble with surface observations to date as seen by five peer-reviewed research groups
    This is a like-for-like comparison: surface temps with surface temp projections.
    Comparing a satellite trace with surface projections is simply invalid.
    Please exercise some scepticism next time.

  14. @Peter S

    Scientists (and economists) committed to scenarios based on climate models, have lost their objectivity, and therefore should not be trusted.

    This is just assertion…there is no argument behind it from you.
    Where have you convinced the world, and yourself, that use of modelling destroys objectivity? Climate science acknowledges uncertainty is using multiple scenarios…an acknowledgement that future CO2 emission paths are not known. Surely that is a sign of objectivity informing choices?
    And why is it an issue of personal trust at all? Models are tools, used with caution. Nobody ‘trusts’ models, as they are known to be…models. No one is ‘committed’ to model scenarios, they use them cognisant of the fact that modelling is an important tool when you don’t have a spare identical unindustrialised planet for comparative purposes, and cognisant of teh fact that other events may intercede to change outcomes. It’s a complex area that is misrepresented by simplistic insistence about trust and objectivity.

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