Fools rush in …

Most people misrepresented by the tabloid press have little recourse. Defamation actions are slow, risky and don’t in any case produce a proper retraction. The Press Council and similar bodies are self-defence clubs for the media. And letters to the editor are a waste of time, if they are printed at all.

But if you’re a major celebrity like George Clooney, your response is newsworthy. After the Mail Online published a false claim about his impending marriage, followed by a weaselly apology, Clooney called them out, making it clear that this website (and its associated print version [1]) have the same degree of credibility as the National Inquirer and similar rags.

Of course, anyone who was paying attention already knew that. The Daily Mail runs all kinds of nonsense, from baseless gossip about the famous, to anti-science on all kinds of topics, from antivaxerism to “Frankenfoods” nonsense about GM crops [2], to climate denialism.

My guess is that most readers are aware of this, much like followers of professional wrestling. They enjoy malicious/salacious gossip that panders to their prejudices. If some it is true, so much the better. If not, it’s still entertaining.

Only a fool would actually believe anything printed in this rag. But climate denialism makes fools out of its adherents, who have to believe a nonsense conspiracy theory to make any kind of sense of their position. So, it’s not so surprising that people who would correctly dismiss 90 per cent of what’s published in the Mail credulously reproduce what it prints on climate change.

The leading sucker in this respect is Andrew Bolt (unless he’s in on the joke, too in which case his readers are doubly suckered). But he’s followed by the usual suspects, notably including the Oz, Tim Blair and Miranda Devine.

fn1. Apparently the Mail tries to maintain a multiple branding model in which the print version is supposed to lie only occasionally while the online version lies all the time. I can’t see this working for long.

fn2. As previously discussed, there are plenty of serious issues around GM food. But the kind of nonsense implied by terms like “Frankenfoods” has been thoroughly debunked by now.

Literally, Catallaxy on a bad day

A while back, I commented that the Oz was turning into a dysfunctional group blog, like Catallaxy on a bad day[1]. Now, it appears this piece of mild hyperbole has become literally true. The Oz has turned into a print version of Catallaxy, recycling their posts in support of tobacco industry propaganda. This really is Catallaxy at its predictable worst. The IPA, well represented there, started its career in science denialism with attacks on health scientists and, in particular, denial of the dangers of passive smoking. Like so many other tobacco industry fronts, it diversified into climate denial in the 1990s, using the same tricks and tropes.

I’m not sure if Catallaxy is the only blog source for the new Oz. The papers obsessive coverage of the AWU/Gillard case, which is looking rather quaint given the revelations of much more recent and clear-cut corruption on both sides of politics, seems to be a mixture of in-house stuff and lifts from the various extreme wingnut blogs devoted to the issue. In any case, it’s hard to tell the difference.

fn1. As previously agreed, no personal attacks on Catallaxy members, please.

Identity Crisis

In the latest issue of Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute Quarterly, Adam Creighton, economics correspondent at the Oz, “explains why most Australians pay no net tax”. That’s a striking conclusion, so I checked it out. Creighton has discovered that most Australians get about as much back in transfer payments and public services as they pay in taxation. The poor get a bit more, and the rich a bit less.

To save Creighton some work in future, can I suggest he consider the budget identity constraint “Expenditure = Income”. Since the government spends on services and transfer payments roughly the same amount as it raises in tax revenue[1], it’s obvious that, for the average Australian the same identity must hold, with income renamed as “tax paid” and expenditure as “transfer payments and public services”.

Next up: Why there is no net travel into the CBD

fn1. Taking account of the seignorage from inflation, returns on assets, intertemporal transfers through debt etc, this rough equality becomes an identity. Please, no arguments about deficits, and especially about MMT. The point of this post is a really simple, and doesn’t need this kind of complication.

Peak euphemism? #Ozfail

We’ve been used to imagining the global supply of euphemisms as limitless, but if Dennis Shanahan keeps at it, the world will be running short by the time the Abbott government leaves office. In a single column (Google it) he manages to refer to “accusations of broken promises”, “the shift on the Gonski education promise”, “the repudiation of Labor’s Gonski education promises”, “The management of the Gonski “unity ticket” on education funding”, ” accusations of broken promises” (again), “The readjustment of expectations on Gonski” “the painful Gonski process” and “a cusp of credibility”. Given his leader’s penchant for three word slogans, perhaps a three-letter word starting with “L” might be what Shanahan is reaching for here.

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.

#MyDadHatedBritain …

… is trending on Twitter, thanks to the appalling UK Daily Mail, which ran a full length attack on the late Ralph Miliband, socialist academic and father of Opposition Leader Ed Miliband. On the strength of a scathing diary entry Miliband wrote as a 17-year old refugee, and his opposition to the Falklands War, the Mail claimed that Miliband “hated Britain”. Illustrating the proverb about glass houses, the attack only served to draw attention to the fact that whereas Miliband served in the Navy in World War II, the Mail backed Hitler and the Blackshirts throughout the 1930s, and has continued to push racist hatred ever since (unsurprisingly, it has seized on the spurious notion of “political correctness.” [1]

The Mail’s attack on Miliband has divided the UK right into three groups (google x+Mail+miliband)

* Those who have condemned this appalling and dishonest slur, including Michael Heseltine and Nick Clegg
* Those who have stuck to a weaselly line scripted by Tory minders that “of course Miliband should defend his father” such as David Cameron, William Hague and Boris Johnson
* Those who have backed the Mail all the way, notably including James Delingpole, Rod Liddle and Michael Gove[2]

It’s notable that all those I’ve listed in the third group are prominent climate delusionists. As we’ve seen again recently, the Mail is the source for many of the lies about climate change that are reproduced in the Murdoch press[3]. This is, as they say, no coincidence. Climate delusionism isn’t a mistaken belief about the world, it’s an expression of tribal hatred, all the more effective because most of those who push it know, at some level, that their arguments are false. Putting forth such arguments is an expression of tribal solidarity, like asserting that Obama was born in Kenya. Naturally, the tribal haters love the kind of stuff that the Mail dishes out.

Hopes are often disappointed, but it does seem as if the global party of stupid is starting to reap the whirlwind it has sown. The continued publication of delusional nonsense has produced a rightwing base that embraces delusional strategies like the US shutdown, or attacks on a man’s dead father, in the belief that everyone else will share their positive reaction.

fn1. It’s also being claimed that the father of Mail editor Paul Dacre didn’t serve, but this (sauce for the gander) claim hasn’t been verified AFAIK. Another tidbit is that the Mail was the target of Churchill’s Stanley Baldwin’s famous jibe that it sought “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
fn2. Gove hasn’t stated this, but he has tried to stop schools teaching anything about climate change. He has the additional motive that his wife has a highly paid job with the Mail.
fn3. It’s a striking commentary on the weakness of people like Bolt and Oz “environment reporter” Graeme Lloyd that, as well as being incapable of telling the truth, they also seem to be unable to come up with original lies.

“We got it wrong”, says Oz, but they’re still wrong

Along with many others, I pointed out the absurdity of Graham Lloyd’s piece in the Oz, headlined “We got it wrong, says IPCC”. The Oz has printed a “correction”

blaming their absurd error on “the production process”. In the sense that the processes of the Oz, from the hiring of general editor Chris Mitchell and environment “reporter” Graham Lloyd, combined with uncritical reproduction of claims by discredited sources like David Rose “produced” the error. I guess this is true. But, this is part of a consistent pattern. Errors like this have been produced routinely in the past, and will continue to be produced in the future. Regular, but inadequate, retractions are part of this process.

Can’t quote, can’t link

I’ve often observed that the best way to understand Murdoch publications, notably the Oz, is to think of them as dysfunctional rightwing blogs. They’re prone to spectacular meltdowns when subject to the same kind of criticism they happily dish out.

Unattractive as the Oz group are when on the defensive, they are even uglier when celebrating a win. The Murdoch-LNP election victory last week was the signal, among other things for an outburst of climate delusionism on a grand scale. Amid a large pile, it’s hard to go past this piece by Graham Lloyd, with the blaring headline “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”.

Those who remember the conventions of 20th century media might read on expectantly, waiting to find a quotation (perhaps a little mangled) from the IPCC or someone associated with it. But there is no quote at all. The opening para says

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment reportedly admits its computer drastically overestimated rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in the previous IPCC report in 2007. (emphasis added)

. That would be pretty startling if true. After all, historical temperatures are usually estimated with thermometers, not computers. And while some warming delusionists have tried to claim biases associated with urban heat islands (the most recent effort, led by Anthony Watts, was a total fizzle) an IPCC admission that the planet had only warmed half as much as we thought would be a big story indeed.

Of course, no one from the IPCC is quoted, and we are left with the mysterious “reportedly”. The next para suggests that the report comes from that reliable source, the UK Daily Mail. But having failed 20th century journalistic ethics, the Oz can’t manage that most elementary of blogging functions, a hyperlink. So, it’s necessary to do some digging and discover the source is a column by the egregious David Rose. To cut a long story short, Rose is confusing the historically observed rate of warming since 1950 (an annual rate of 0.12 degrees per decade, almost exactly as reported in 2007) with estimates of the likely future rate of warming (generally about 0.2 degrees per decade). Lloyd continues with more errors than I can be bothered with. More gory details, and further links here.