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. “What data do you pay special regard to, and why?”

    1. The irrationality and ‘individuality’ of the cognitive patterns exhibited by deniers is obvious and is consistent with the personality ‘disorders’ that psychiatrists have constructed to categorise behaviour that is ‘dysfunctional’.

    2. There is no evidence that questions the rationality and ability of climate scientists to cooperate and work cooperatively as scientists do in other areas of research.

    But BilB he can’t change. It isn’t in his cognitive or emotional repertoire and he has no motivation to change his ‘personality’; he has such a lot invested in the construction of himself as a superior thinker and someone who can think outside the box of convention that constrains ordinary people. Would anyone buy his books if he admitted he had been wrong?

  2. @Don Aitkin


    If you had the chance would you re-word this?

    “… without reference to the views of academies of science, the fabled 97 per cent of climate scientists, or ‘consensus’. What data do you pay special regard to, and why?”

    Is this the standard you would set forward for a lay person to state whether or not he or she trusted or accepted another field of science? Namely, “… without reference to the views of academies of science.” Could I, who am not a graduate in any of the medical sciences, state whether or not I trust and accept the medical sciences, in whole or in significant parts, without reference to the views and knowledge of the universities, academies, fellows and practitioners?

    Your next sentence lacks important elements. It should run as follows. “What data, what explanatory consistencies, what models and what predictive successes, do you pay special regard to, and why?”

    The call for data alone exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is and how it proceeds. Science proceeds via the scientific method, of which you are probably superficially aware. I say “superficially” because if your understanding was not superficial you would not make the obvious gaffes you do make. I won’t give an exposition of scientific method here. You can read, for example, the Wikipedia entry and the entry in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on “Scientific Method”.

    Briefly, “To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence (or data) subject to specific principles of reasoning.” – Wikipedia.

    The last phrase “subject to specific principles of reasoning” is crucially important. The call for “data” without further specification of methods and principles of reasoning is quite futile. As I said above, explanatory consistencies, models and predictive success (or lack of it) are all bound up in the proper application of the scientific method. Climate science is supported by a consistent structure of explanatory consistencies in the hard sciences of chemistry and physics.

    Rather than the onus of proof being on J.Q. or anyone to show you the data (and the explanatory consistencies, models and predictive performances of climate science), the onus is on you to show the data and consistencies, models and predictions which you claim prove that all the academies of science are wrong and that you are right.

  3. I’ve always been curious about the existence of cancer clusters.

    But now I wonder if we are starting to witness a “educated white man stupidity cluster” in the leafy acreage suburbs west of Brisbane.

    Apparently Malcolm Roberts lives in Pullenvale (presumably in a bunker with a big tinfoil hat on the top) and this from the LNP resources spokesperson (who lives next door in Brookfield)….

    Could one of you academic types look into it?

  4. @Julie Thomas

    Although I am one of the harshest critics here of Don Aitkin, it behoves me to remember that I “do a Don Aitkin” when it comes to economics. That is to say, I question the orthodox academies and orthodox economics in many particulars. I also do this as a layperson. What might be my justification?

    1. Economics, or more correctly Political Economy, is more contestable than hard science. These fields are not hard sciences.

    2. Although I question the orthodox schools, I follow, albeit in my own syncretistic fashion, other significant, if unorthodox schools.

    Questioning orthodoxy does involve dangers. One can be lead astray by crank enthusiasms. I have made my share of mistakes in this regard. One needs an overall correcting mechanism which must consist both of specific principles of reasoning (a philosophy of logical and metaphysical principles) and of a willingness to debate with others and admit errors or ignorance when necessary. At the some time, a certain amount of stubbornness is required. It can be a mistake to be too easily argued out of a position just as it can be a mistake to be totally inflexible and refuse to countenance any other arguments.

  5. Given that we are dealing with a vast global conspiracy, involving hundreds of government bodies, more university departments, thousands of scientists, in multiple disciplines, I have a couple of questions:
    1. where are the whistleblowers?
    2. Where are the wannabe whistleblowers who have been knocked off (by the ruthless mad scientist “Lex Luthor” cabal? (in between plotting murders they contemplate how snowflakes are created).
    I guess even FOX news is in league with the cabal which is why they don’t report it (Rupert is, in fact, a vegan greenie loon, fooled you!)
    I mean honestly this ranks with the faking of Elvis’ death as the greatest hoax of all time. FFS.

  6. I have noted the correspondence between you and Don Aitkin -neither of whom are clearly not climate scientists..the world has been warming in a series of pauses and rises for the last 300 yrs and particularly in the late 20th Century… the greenhouse gas C02 has increased since mid 19th century by 40%, worldwide glaciers have been retreating since the late 18th century, the science is complicated and I find accusations of conspiracies theories etc ridiculous although there are enthusiasts on both sides that will use any argument to boost their cause. However, I find personal vibes by many in the debate a reflection on individuals that does no credit to them or the scientific community, as I presume that scientists are doing their best to describe what they see.

    Climate science looked very settled in the late 20th century but there are now problems appearing, some of which I list today. The debate is not so much about CO2 whose physics is fairly clear but the role of Clouds and water vapour. Even the IPCC reported a 50/50 division of opinion on clouds(iPPC;2007). If clouds are not as positive as in the models over the last 40 years the projections need to be revised downwards.

    recently I wrote a short book on the subject: Mirrors and Mazes: a guide through the climate debate (cf website or Amazon books). There are real problems in the sea level area. Below I list my concerns.

    IN 1979 scientists faced concerns that increasing greenhouse gases would warm the planet to the extent that the environment and our very existence would be threatened.

    With that in mind, the American Academy of Science held a mid-year meeting that lasted a week under the world famous meteorologist Dr Jule Charney. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a climate sensitivity index that would give a range of temperature increases if carbon dioxide levels doubled. After looking at the best computer models available (one from a Japanese scientist Dr Syukuro Manabe, and another from Dr James Hansen of NASA fame) they decided they could only specify a range from 1.5C to 4.5 C with an average of 3C.

    Since that time computer climate models have used this climate sensitivity index around this 3C. Within this sensitivity C02 is around 1C, water vapour around 0.7C and clouds around 1,3C- although there are variations in different models. Obviously clouds are critical given these methods. Using the sensitivity of 3C, the models over the past 37 years have predicted acceleration of sea level and increased severity and frequency of storms and a dangerous increase in world temperatures.

    We are now faced with a real problem and a need for a revision of the climate sensitivity index.

    FIRSTLY. There has been no acceleration of sea level in the tide gauge records but a steady rise around 15-17cm/100 years (cf. Ist 1990 Meeting of the IPCC Sea level committee chaired by Professors Warrick and Oerlmans, the IPCC 1995 meeting, the 2011 US Army Corp of Engineers analysis of tide gauges in America, Europe and Australasia over the last 120 years, the NOAA analysis of 200 tide gauges in the USA and Atlantic and Pacific Islands in 2016). The only acceleration of sea level reported in the last 120 years comes from the NASA satellite system that started in 1992 that produced results 2 to 3 times higher than good tide gauges. This result around 30cm/100 years has been used by the IPCC 2014 and many scientists. BUT NASA has publicly admitted real problems and has proposed to replace this problematic system with a new system called Geodetic Antenna in Space (GRASP) to get around instrumentation problems in the present satellite system.In NASA words ” the level of error contaminates climatological data records such as measurement of sea level height from altimetry systems and was appropriately recognised as a limiting source by the NRC decadal report and by GGOS (Global Geodetic Observing System) –Dr Yoaz Bar Server et al; 2012- Caltech Jet Propulsion Lab 2012. Consequently, there is no point talking about sea level acceleration when the data comes from a satellite system that the NASA sea level satellite design team itself has reported as giving dodgy data.

    SECONDLY. There has been no increase in either the frequency or severity of storms. There has been increased damage solely because of the dramatic rise in coastal populations worldwide. Data on the frequency of storms is available from many countries for the last 100 years. Since 1970, wind severity has been mapped every 6 hours in the Southern Hemisphere tropics and Northern Hemisphere tropics and there is no trend at all while CO2 levels rose throughout that period.

    THIRDLY. There has been no continuous temperature rise as predicted by the climate models. Temperatures have risen in 3 periods: – 1860-1880, 1910-1940, 1975-2000. Consequently, it is now clear that in the last 150 years there have been 70 years of temperature pauses whereas carbon dioxide levels increased exponentially throughout the whole period. In addition while the carbon dioxide changes were increasingly higher in each warming period, the warming gradients/ decade in each warming period were around 0.16C per decade. This is agreed by Professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia and is seen as a real problem. This date is at odds with the climate sensitivity index in the models that predicted warming gradients would accelerate.

    These three problems alone indicate that the climate sensitivity index set in 1979 in good faith is far too high and the revision of the climate models is urgently needed. Unfortunately there are many scientists who are unwilling to acknowledge there is a real problem with their climate models.

    A revision of climate science is urgently needed and perhaps the best mechanism for that are Parliamentary committee enquiries in many countries. We cannot expect institutions to change when many are in control of scientists who are convinced that the acceleration of climate is real and proven.

    My very best wishes,

    Dr Howard Brady Canberra August 2016 (Alumnus Scientist of the Year 2011 -Northern Illinois University for contributions to Antarctic Science)

  7. @Ikonoclast

    ” It can be a mistake to be too easily argued out of a position just as it can be a mistake to be totally inflexible and refuse to countenance any other arguments.”

    This is true in my construction of reality. But I do not agree that you ever do a Don Aitkin. My view of your questioning of the orthodoxy is that it is ‘rational’ and as far as I can understand or define rationality you do use as you say, the correcting mechanisms, you do have a willingness to debate with others and you certainly do admit errors and/or ignorance.

    All evidence of a ‘balanced’ and functional way of interacting with the universe according to the knowledge I have about human behaviour and psychological ‘health’. I’m more than sceptical about ‘diagnosis’ and the way the DSM categorises people. and other aspects of psychological science but these things are being addressed within the system. I think.

    Perhaps the basis of my assertions about climate change deniers, their particular personality variables and lack of ability to be ‘rational’ and in fact their need to be ‘an individual who sees more than ordinary people do’ is that I have a climate change conspiracy theorist brother. Very funny I think, that he shares a name with a well known climate science researcher.

    I spend a lot of time trying to understand how he turned from someone who shared my hippie beliefs back in the ’70’s to a libertarian – sorry glibertarian – and even a eugenicist, sometime during the ’80’s. He assured me last time we talked not to worry about global warming because an ice age is on the way.

  8. Dr Brady:

    the world has been warming in a series of pauses and rises for the last 300 yrs

    No, it would be only possible to say ‘nearly 200 years’ with real confidence

    Since that time computer climate models have used this climate sensitivity index around this 3C.

    No, climate sensitivity to CO2 is an emergent property of coupled ocean/atmosphere GCMs. Simple models may use a sensitivity as an input, depending on the purpose of the experiment, but complex GCMs projecting and hindcasting global mean temperature do not use a sensitivity as an input. A sensitivity is one of the outputs.
    Your FIRSTLY and SECONDLY are not realistic summations of the state of play, and THIRDLY
    ,we do not expect that global temperature rise will be smooth and continuous. Modern GCMs simulate internal variability very well. Overall rise is predicted under increasing CO2…and it will be a wobbly path, but upwards overall…just as we have seen.

    Now it’s time to contemplate what Dr James Hansen achieved with his knowledge and the modelling tools of 1981:

  9. @Ikonoclast
    Yes, it’s bizarre…why would one insist on ignoring domain authority?
    Don’t tell me Don is confused about his logical fallacies? ‘Appeal to domain expertise’ is not ‘argument from authority’.

  10. @Dr Howard Thomas Brady

    These three problems alone indicate that the climate sensitivity index set in 1979 in good faith is far too high and the revision of the climate models is urgently needed.

    Again, you are laboring under a complete misconception of how complex GCMs work.

  11. Is there a denialist convention in town? When people insist on showing off their name badges it is good to do some research. Here is a comment on Howard Thomas Brady from 2011…

    “Science blog Deltoid looked into Brady’s qualifications, finding that the “climate change researcher” was actually the retired CEO of oil company Mosiac, his position at Macquarie University appeared to be honorary, and his only “publications” on climate change were “are a couple of letters to the editor in Sydney Morning Herald where he was just as dismissive of sea level change as his now.””

    …an assessment which was involked by this article

    Thanks for your contribution, Howard, but I for one don’t agree with your arguments at all. From my research the primary impact of global warming is the increased rate of evaporation of water in the tropical band with all of the subsequent consequences, which are many. The immediate impact being for events such as the present Louisiana flooding following extensive flooding in Europe and many other countries. The secondary impact is that of fires in many areas. What is the connection there?…Air that goes up rapidly also must descend producing large areas of hot clear air with high wind levels. A further impact (my personal theory) is that the increased air flows cause more air to feed the arctic high system which is causing the fluctuations in the northern hemisphere polar jet stream. I have to say that it is good to see a lot more research going into these effects.

    I believe your first point, which defies logic given the increased amount of water flowing out of Russia and from Greenland (though non polar glacial releases will vary as they retreat further), has been refuted, and I believe your third point, from the information I have seen, is flat out wrong. A few years ago the denialists were arguing that “it was all to do with solar variation”, well solar activity has softened marginally at present, yet the global average temperature along with the ocean surface temperatures continues to rise.

    Good on you for taking an interest in all of this, but as your conclusions contradict those whose job it is to study the state of the planet full time, I think you are clearly missing something in your understanding, which I hope is not an intentional blindsiding given your past professional connection with the oil industry if that is in fact true.

  12. @Don Aitkin

    I should have added, without reference to the views of academies of science, the fabled 97 per cent of climate scientists, or ‘consensus’. What data do you pay special regard to, and why?

    Why would you not pay regard to all the data?
    What is wrong with the IPCC process? It’s an earth system analysis, everything is under scrutiny. Irreducible complexity, you can’t just pick and choose the bits you like.
    This is where Don is a bit confused. He keeps giving undeserved weight to minutiae, and to any nonsense papers he can find to support his doubts…’but, this!’ or ‘but, that!’…there will be counter-intuitive events and progresses, but only real analysis will tease out the whys.

  13. Julie Thomas, I share your opinions about Libertarians and cognitions. I first started to consider this when attempting to understand the opinions of TerjeP on this blog site. It became evident to me that there was an issue for libertarians in recognising the impacts their extreme policy notions would have on others. Consecutively in business I have had direct dealings with several sociopaths and and one full blown psychopath (business partner unfortunately). My conclusion is that the underlying issue is about empathy levels which are largely established by brain structure (contribution from researchers attempting to understand the nature of extreme conservative thinking), and it is these empathy levels that set the basis for our cognitions. I can now see the basis for our entire political structure as being a consequence of the community wide empathy profile.

    I have a libertarian brother and I can see the basis for his thinking right back to early childhood. Can you see a history of low empathy in your brother?

  14. @Nick

    Don is talking about you behind your back on his site. How’s that for a lack of manners and understanding of proper behaviour?

    It’s really weird the way people from this clusterf*k of quirky great white men who know things others don’t, want to lure you into their parlours before they can relax and concentrate on the issues and have a proper ‘debate’. Are they anxious out of their comfort zone?

  15. @Jim
    Dr Christian Rowan MP:

    “There is no doubt that whilst climate change is real and has occurred over thousands of years, what has always been in scientific dispute is the extent of man’s contribution.”

    Textbook denialism-speak.
    I only hope that Dr Rowan has been so busy in his own profession that he is just a bit behind the pace. Couldn’t he get around to reading IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers? Or get a staff member to have a look on his behalf?
    The claimed dispute about anthropogenic contribution is not going on within science, no matter what talking points the Minerals Council might be sending to his office.

  16. @Julie Thomas
    Oh, that’s perfectly OK…we all do it.
    I just wouldn’t go over to Don’s for a chat, because the ‘progress’ would be slow and predictable. Don’s laid out the progress of his interest in the subject, and it’s red flags aplenty…he has fallen in with a bad bunch 🙂

  17. Don Aitkin :
    I should have added, without reference to the views of academies of science, the fabled 97 per cent of climate scientists, or ‘consensus’. What data do you pay special regard to, and why?

    I pay special regard to the known physical properties of carbon dioxide.

    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.

  18. Don’s invitation is really about increasing activity on his blogsite. Hits and comment counts are used as an “indication” of interest and support for the “denialist cause”, not to mention bolstering their egos. Low empathy people get pleasure from the manipulation and control of other people, that is their primary reward system.

  19. @Julie Thomas
    OK. I looked…I am apparently a bit rude. And I have ‘the truth’.

    And he still doesn’t know anything about choosing baselines, and persists with an unsupported conspiratorial framing about 1951-80. Sigh….if he would set everything else aside, and look at that one small claim/musing of his. If he could really give it a dispassionate inquisition, he’d change his view. It’s not controversial. It’s not something to have an opinion about. Just read the fine print. The important thing about a baseline is that the data is good, and the period conforms to the WMO climate definition term, thirty years…it’s just a practical standard.

    If you choose 1901-1930 as a baseline, fine….there’s just more warming apparent above those years climate. He seems to believe that pre 1940 warming is difficult to attribute and thus not athropogenic, or has no anthropogenic component. Certainly there is much more confidence in attribution of post 1950s warming, that’s no secret…though through the pseudo-skeptic eye it looks like dodging the issue, predictably.
    He really needs to look at AR5 WG1 Chapter 10. There is detailed discussion of early 20th C warming on page 887, concluding things were pretty much as concluded in AR4 on the issue:
    “In conclusion, the early 20th century warming is very unlikely to be due to internal variability alone. It remains difficult to quantify the contribution to this warming from internal variability, natural forcing and anthropogenic forcing, due to forcing and response uncertainties and incomplete observational coverage.”

  20. @BilB

    I see a lack of empathy and sociopathic behaviour in all of my family to a greater or lesser extent. But I only began to see this because I did a psych degree when I was 30 something with 4 of my own aspie children and the experience of having lived alternative lifestyles.

    It is only recently that anything was known about so-called high-functioning autism – or aspies – and I think we are only beginning to understand this ‘type’ of human functioning and wrok out that it is not an aberration or a disorder of human brains but something entirely ‘normal’.

    It is generally accepted that aspies have no empathy but I and a few of my working psych friends think it is more complex. From my own experience, I’d say that I have too much empathy and I have to shut it down somehow or be overwhelmed by the emotions I experience in response to seeing people or animals hurting.

    The reason I can’t and other aspies can’t look some people in the eye is I think because we are able to read the raw emotions too well but do not know how to respond appropriately – and this depends on the context – to these emotions.

    One theory I have about my brother’s conversion is that when he read Ayn Rand it worked for him as he felt he was giving too much and others were taking advantage of his abilities, and libertarian ism provided a way of limiting the empathy and obligations he felt for and toward the people in his community.

    Hippies were deliberately emphatic but it became difficult for men in particular to live up to these ideals and maintain self-respect in the ’80’s with the rise of consumerism, neo-liberals, alpha males and the greed is good message.

    So I’m blaming the social dynamics of the last few decades for creating a set of boundary conditions or an attractor state that influenced or attracted only some people – because this is a probabilistic universe – to adopt an ideology that they would not have found attractive with a different set of social conditions.

  21. As early as 2009, and probably much earlier, J.Q. wrote in this blog about the pointlessness of engaging climate science denialists. As true today as it ever was. I only do it as a hobby to work on personal skills at detecting and debating logical fallacies.

  22. @BilB
    Indeed Dr Brady has played his part in The Australian newspapers War Against Science.
    It was a pretty weird moment, in an article supposedly dedicated to the findings in Phil Watson’s paper, to find the commentary dominated by Dr Brady… a man with no connection to the study field or the paper. Watsons’ department stepped in protest, and was ignored.
    The most interesting thing about science in the Australian media is the way The Australian newspaper has systematically sought to inject nonsense and deceit into discussion of climate science. It amounts to a thorough abuse of journalistic privilege.

  23. Low empathy people get pleasure from the manipulation and control of other people, that is their primary reward system.

    Eh, “empathy” is more complex than that.

    There’s a difference between knowing and caring. Mostly when we talk about empathy impairment we’re talking about an impairment in the ability to understand what other people are thinking: it means you might hurt people without realising it, but it doesn’t — at all — mean that you don’t care. You[1] might not be able to tell whether or not a person’s hurt by what you’ve said or done unless they tell you, but that doesn’t mean you’re OK with their being hurt.

    There are some people who Just Don’t Care, of course. Some of them can even tell perfectly well that they’re doing things that hurt other people, they Just Don’t Care. Some people say they don’t care but really they do and they lie to mask their own pain and some people… all sorts.

    [1] As far as anyone can tell, I’m within scope of “normal” for this sort of thing, but only just. But some of my best friends &c, and so forth. Julie’s got better knowledge than I have, of course.

  24. @Collin Street

    I’m not sure why you say I have better knowledge; I’ve learned things from your comments that I didn’t know and that fit in with my own speculations. That is reassuring. One can be too close to things to be able to see them clearly.

    Unless one believes in original sin I think that we have to assume that no human is born to be bad and to not care about their fellow man.

    I wonder if the snowflake generation so scorned by the right that we are apparently raising are the result of the growing awareness of the benefits for everyone that happen when we develop the capacity for empathy that all of us must have, because we did not evolve as groups of single men who rose fully formed from the hand of god and competed for women and for alpha status, or in nuclear families based on the idea of each man as the head of the household and the representative of God on earth.

  25. Collin Street, you are confusing and cross mixing fundamental empathy with intellectual empathy. Whereas the both reside within us fundamental empathy (or lack of it) can only be over ridden intellectually with great effort and practice, in my opinion. Intellectual empathy can be casually suspended, not so with fundamental empathy. Fundamental empathy ranges from hyper empathy to zero empathy (psychopaths). Women have naturally more empathy than men as evidenced in the ratio of sociopathic women to sociopathic men 1:7 . Empathy states can vary through a life time, and can be affected by environment. Again, in my opinion.

  26. @jrkrideau
    BTW thanks for the description of the spangled drongo . I had not realized that it was a bird and was assuming it was some kind of weird Australian slang possibly related to dingos.

    That’s not where this usage comes from though. Apparently there was a legendary racehorse in Melbourne early last century. His claim to fame was that he didn’t win a single race out of 31 starts. So a cartoonist acquired the habit of using the horse’s name, Drongo, when illustrating cartoons about dopey politicians. And the legend lives on.

  27. @BilB
    You seem very sure the science about climate change should not be contested by we mortals.
    I have been assured by the Climate Change Authority that:
    1. water vapour is the dominant “greenhouse” gas,
    2. “greenhouse” gases cause an increase in surface temperatures both during the DAY and night.

    However, we know that humid cities have cooler DAY temperatures than drier cities at the same latitude and altitude. Water vapour in the atmosphere is evidence of surface cooling – transfer of latent heat. Think desert locations which are calm, have very low humidity levels but extremely hot DAY temperatures, eg Marble Bar Aust., Furnace Creek USA. Peak DAY temperatures coincide with the lowest relative humidity.

    Why then are DAY temperatures hotter when the levels of the main “greenhouse” gas, water vapour, are lower?

  28. Why then are DAY temperatures hotter when the levels of the main “greenhouse” gas, water vapour, are lower?

    … the difference between “heat” and “temperature” is pretty fundamental, you know.

    “Absorbs heat easily” means “it absorbs a lot of heat energy for a given increase in temperature” means “it heats up slowly“.

  29. @Ross Handsaker

    I have been assured by the Climate Change Authority that 1. water vapour is the dominant “greenhouse” gas,
    2. “greenhouse” gases cause an increase in surface temperatures both during the DAY and night.

    As a Member of the Climate Change Authority, I very much doubt that you have received any such assurances. The role of the Authority is to make recommendations on climate policy, not to disseminate the findings of climate science. There are plenty of good summaries available, from the IPCC for example.

    Similarly, this blog is not the place to debate climate science – if you think you have proved thousands experts wrong, why don’t you submit your analysis to Nature or Science.

  30. @John Quiggin
    “I very much doubt that you have received any such assurances”. Before making this statement perhaps you should have checked with the Climate Change Authority where you would have found my emails and the CCA responses dated Dec.1 and 2, 2015 (Kath Rowley).

    I take your point that this blog is not the place to debate climate science. My apologies.

  31. @Ikonoclast
    “You are somewhat off-beam on the effects of water vapour as a greenhouse gas”. I was referring ONLY to the effect on DAY temperatures. Your reference at skepticalscience does not mention DAY temperatures.

  32. Ross Handsaker,

    You are asking questions and looking for answers, that is good. Mortals should be involved in the discussion on climate change, but science is not a product of public debate or rhetorical argument.

    Water Vapour…there is lot more of it at low altitudes and therefore it is significant in capturing solar energy, but more importantly, transporting that energy. However the principle gases with the ability to alter the stability of the earths energy balance are CO2 and Methane. CO2 release is the one with which humans affect Global Energy uptake, and CO2 and Methane are the two gasses that nature releases at various times and in various ways that do the same although at a lower rate and over far longer periods. The consequence of the increased human released CO2 has been warming of the oceans with a subsequent increase in water vapour in the air. So it is a water vapour chicken and a CO2 egg, which came first?…..human industry CO2 release. It is all very simple.

    2. Yes indeed even moreso by percentage at night as the dominant energy flow direction is from the surface to space. CO2, methane and water vapour all act to retain that heat for a longer period, hence the “greenhouse” terminology.

    3. Humid cities do not have cooler day temperatures so much as the temperature is very stable at an average ie the temperature does not fluctuate. The humidity has a damping effect so the the maximum temperature will be lower than the high of a dry city day but higher than the low of a dry city day, and warmer through the night.

    The energy content of humid air is higher than dry air. This is why Global Average Tenmperature is a poor determinant of Global Warming.

    But…..and here is a challenge for you as a researcher…..there is one other property of humid air that makes it the principle driver of Climate Change (as distinct from Global Warming).

    See if you can find out what it is.

  33. @Ross Handsaker
    “However, we know that humid cities have cooler DAY temperatures than drier cities at the same latitude and altitude. Water vapour in the atmosphere is evidence of surface cooling – transfer of latent heat. Think desert locations which are calm, have very low humidity levels but extremely hot DAY temperatures, eg Marble Bar Aust., Furnace Creek USA. Peak DAY temperatures coincide with the lowest relative humidity.

    Why then are DAY temperatures hotter when the levels of the main “greenhouse” gas, water vapour, are lower?”

    Well, it seems to me that you answered your own question. In a location with water (the necessary ingredient for humidity), a lot of the sun’s energy goes into evaporating the water, rather than heating up the ground and air. So it doesn’t get as hot. But the extra heat is still there, as latent energy in the water vapour. And as long as the heat is still there, and is still partially blocked from leaving by water vapour and other ghg’s in the atmosphere, we’ll have a warming world.

    So you are pretty well on the right track.

  34. Debates on climate science, as opposed to discussions of different forms of climate denial, should be taken to the sandpits.

  35. @Ross Handsaker
    There is no conflict or contradiction in what the CCA has told about the properties of GHGs, and the local surface atmospheric behavior you describe.

    Seems like a lot of people who have problems with AGW should first learn their ‘principles of planetary climate’…if they had a good handle on the way our kind of atmosphere works, on a planet with our characteristics [mainly ocean, tilted a bit with a funny orbit], at our distance from our sun, they’d be less confused about global and regional climate and weather

  36. Malcolm Roberts is getting away Scott free in this discussion, but he is the nutter that we have to cope with for three years. To experience denialism of the same calibre have a look here

    …but only go there if you have a solid knowledge base, and a strong stable personality, this is not a site for the weak of mind, who tend to become trapped as you will appreciate if you read any of the comments.

  37. @Ross Handsaker We obviously interpret “the CCA assures me” differently. However, it’s great that one of our secretariat staff members has been willing to set you straight on basic climate science. The Authority is well informed about the findings of climate science, but we don’t , as an Authority make such findings ourselves, let alone make ourselves look silly by disputing them.

  38. @BilB
    Nova’s piece ticks all the crank boxes:

    ‘NASA data is tampered with’….it just has to be.

    ‘Satellites are ‘more accurate”, which ignores just how fiddled they are to get their proxy results…and they are not comparing the same bit of atmosphere.

    Those who defer to domain expertise and the IPCC’s collation of scientific knowledge are ‘groupthinkers’… I guess those who agree madly with each other at Jo’s are all ‘individuals’ and ‘independent thinkers’.

    ‘Since the year 2000 humans have put out 30% of their CO2, and there is nothing to show for it’….except a surface station trend of about 0.15C/decade, and sea level rise trend of 3mm/annum plus….Jo is a breath holder.

    ‘Greg Hunt tries to shut down BOM enquiries’…which ignores the fact they had one into the national temperature network, and it vindicated BOM.

    The dull anatomy of rejectionism.

  39. @BilB
    Oh, I see what you mean about the comments:
    Brian Cox is an ‘arrogant overeducated idiot’ who should return to being a popstar, because physics is in a shambles. What would they think of Don Aitkin and his distinguished educational life?

    For people who are blessed to be infallible, they seem to be getting little pleasure out of it.

  40. There is a DonA connection with Nova as it seems he goes there for the latest “science”. Don’t be tempted to feed them, Nick.

  41. Climate science denialists are like the princess in the story of the princess and the pea. If they detect one pea of coverage for climate science under twenty mattresses of mainstream media denialist blather then they complain of the horrendous and unfair bias in the media in favour of “pernicious” climate science.

    I note that all Delingpole can do is heap vituperative insults on people who are more intelligent and learned than himself. He’s a very busy man.

  42. Eli Rabbett well belled this mob: climate change rejectionists. They deny that anthropogenic global warming is real; they don’t care if it is true or not, they are only interested in the proxy war that is really about a political contest of ideologies. If the show had started out differently, these very same climate change rejectionists would fain to be climate change town-criers, beating their political opponent over the head with a metaphorical plank that just happened to be solid. As it stands, they are beating their opponents over the head with the heat and sound of fury feigned, mere bellows of smelly wind. The rejectionists are b***sh*tters, they really couldn’t give a t*ss whether they have assembled the facts or a phantasm of fallacies. It’s as febrile as it is infantile.

  43. Aha, it was weird Australian slang (albeit from a horse not dingos) and a bird.

    Thanks very much. It has a nice insulting sound to it. Pity no one will understand it here— well except my neigbour, Pete, who is originally from Melbourne.

  44. Have you looked at Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts’ website? (he uses that form of his name as recently as 2013, and perhaps later.) The guy is obsessed, and he is effing bonkers, I think that much is clear. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of his “detective” work.
    It is a discombobulating shemozzle, just for example, one of his eye-openers: “UN IPCC relies upon big tobacco’s tactics and methods to confuse.” This jars particularly if you’ve read “Merchants of Doubt”, by Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History of Science at Harvard, not exactly an infamous bastion of greenie Marxist OWG types.

    Moving on to the science, from my reading, there is a >10% chance of Earth’s temp rising by 6 C or more, if so, good luck to our great-grandkids, they will need it.

    Let us all hope Senator Roberts can be electorally shuffled off in a short manner to a happy place where he howls at the moon at night, and chases his vestigial tail during the day (without harm to man or beast). Good times for the People, and for the former Senator.

  45. @Joe


    I found this put-down by VC Univ Queensland

    Fifth, and with respect to your broader claims about the lack of empirical evidence that informs the science of climate change and your demand for specific references, we can point you in the direction of the latest assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( Working Group 1, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. After an extensive process of reviewing the available scientific literature, the IPCC has clearly concluded that the majority of peer-reviewed scientific literature supports the existence of anthropogenic climate change. We recommend that you write to the IPCC secretariat if you have any concerns about the scientific consensus that they have formed as a part of their rigorous process.

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