Tag Archives: Climate Change

Hobbling Australian Universities

He was a small man. At 5’8″ I’m no giant myself, but even I looked down on this lanky character. Yet, a decade on, I still remember that smug leer he would wear in response to my stress. He was the manager of another department, a life long friend of the store manager and my tormentor as a retail trainee.

If I knew then the career trajectory I would later take, his bullying would have had less of an impact.

As a trainee, I reported to the head office with frequent reviews of my traineeship. My experience was far from unique, talking with other trainees from other stores when we had our theory lessons.

Anonymously, I decided to report this back where it would be on record and could be audited.

However, as inappropriate as it was, eventually, by my handwriting, I was discovered. In the proceeding conversation, I was informed that my report would be seen by the independent auditors (which was my intention) and that I was risking the possibility of others enjoying this excellent opportunity I currently had.

And so, in that small oppressive room in the basement of my store (the door closed, of course), with two people from the head office looking at sternly at my from across the table, I took it back…

To go on and enjoy that smug leer.

Is it really possible to discuss uncomfortable criticisms about a boss in front of them? Arguably answering this question has been one of the hallmarks to the success of any religion; with the pretext of some invisible Big Brother overhead, capable of unthinkable punishment, why challenge the orthodoxy?

Gagging the free agent

The new government closed the Climate Commission. Of all the discussions relating to that, what interests me most is in response to the governments claim that Australian universities and the CSIRO are enough to provide the scientific evidence regarding climate change.

The response to this questions their ability to do so with the various political pressures placed on such institutes.

I don’t doubt the reality of this concern. Funding being a major concern, for one thing. Budget cuts seem forever on the horizon… Why would an institute want to be very vocal on a topic that the current boss seems at odds with? Especially when this boss is willing to close down vocal scientific organisations?

Politically correcting reality?

This is a real concern. Can we really have much confidence in the potency of Australian universities if their contribution to scientific endeavour and communication are, at least in part, stunted by political favour?

Micheal Mann once noted that a glacier was neither a Democrat or Republican, it just melts. Science is about precision and accuracy of our interpretation of the universe, regardless of its emotional or political ramifications.

How can a scientific institute possibly hope to function if it needs to place emotional or political pressures before precision and accuracy? It may as well offer Bachelors of Science in “Everything is okay” and “Don’t worry, you’re immortal”.

The school of good feelings and bad jokes

As it stands, it seems that Australia finds many of its so-called prime research institutes at the table, expected to respond to an emotional position before power brokers. For many reasons, I can’t help but feel they are stepping away, even if only a little, from uncomfortable conclusions opposing the position of these power brokers.

The smug leer is, as it was for me in retrospect, the least of anyone’s concern. We threaten to lose all respect in ourselves and our research if we allow political or emotional pressures to undermine the process. Research cannot be expected to place politics or emotions before rigour and still command respect.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

All Terrain Gas Analyser System (A.T.G.A.S.)

A little something I finished putting together for a PhD student. We borrowed the chamber, but if I were to build one from scratch, I’d make the chamber a little differently, minimising the production further.

Industry is shifting away from an Abbott styled “future”

The Australian Financial Review surprised me with a scathing article in reply to Tony Abbott. So much so that I was left wondering if Mr Abbott is even too out there for industry. It is great to see that Marcus Priest, in his post, Smoke and mirrors with carbon figures, just is not buying the claims.

In reply to the fear propagation about rising carbon pricing modelled over the coming decades, Priest wrote;

“Even if it ever reaches this level – which is debatable– companies are expected to reduce their carbon intensity offsetting the rising price.”

Which of course, is the aim of carbon pricing. It’s not expected that industries would be emitting as much greenhouse gases per unit of output in 2020 or 2050 as they are today, meaning that it is not a reasonable comparison.

And I could not help but chuckle when the director of the company that Tony Abbott was claiming to be hindered by the carbon tax was quoted;

“The industry and the communities it supports have a very bright future under carbon pricing,”

But it is not like Mr Abbott often lets reality get in the way of a good camp fire story about the carbon tax to scare the audience…

Infographs: 2013 Australian Federal Election -The Proposed Dam Plan

I have a new page devoted to my media on the upcoming federal election.

dams

Please feel free to download these infographs and repost them elsewhere. The same goes for the posts (link or repost).

How much will your 2013 vote pollute?

This is great for anyone who would like to know just how much their vote may pollute…

carbon ratingClick here to have a look at the parties.

Anti-science arguments: How do we respond?

I’ve been very interesting with the problem of responding to anti-science. This is mostly due to the frustration that arises from taking them seriously only to be subjected to a cheap magic show rich with fallacious arguments. Diethelm and McKee (2009) provide excellent examples, including;

“The normal academic response to an opposing argument is to engage with it, testing the strengths and weaknesses of the differing views, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties obey certain ground rules, such as a willingness to look at the evidence as a whole, to reject deliberate distortions and to accept principles of logic. A meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects these rules.”

In seeking out certainty in reality, this objection to the best developed tools for obtaining high quality empirical data remains baffling. Moreover, anti-science provides no serious alternative, but instead dynamite to the dam walled placed up against the baseless ideation popular prior to the enlightenment.

Of course ignoring anti-science outright is not the answer as the anti-fluoridation campaign illustrates; while in essence it is fringe and largely based upon “Nazi chemical mind control” fears, packaged right, it has the power to infiltrate communities, leading to a decrease in dental health with no additional benefits, as has been witnessed in various towns in Queensland, Portland, Oregon and elsewhere.

We need to respond.

However, as Christopher Monckton illustrated with climate change, taking them seriously comes with the inherent risk of lending undue credit; he is now regarded as an “expert” in some quarters due solely to the fact that he has publicly debated with scientists and seemed to have won. That his waves failed to reach the shores of scientific endeavour is telling nonetheless.

What to do?

Recently, I analysed the components of an anti-science speech to show how it does not aligned within the same arena of critical thought to scientific methodology and thus presents a sideshow distraction rather than a rebuttal. Yet, what to do with a wordplay debate?

I provided the following basic questions to use to assess the quality of someone’s argument;

  1. Does the article in question refer solely to genuine scientific material?
  2. Does this material genuinely bring into question the validity of given conclusions held in the highest certainty within the scientific community?
  3. What have other genuine scientific material made of this conclusion?

Here, I will look at the comments of “Dan” who is an individual I’ve spotted haunting both NewAnthro and Watching the Deniers of late to give some suggestions.

Dan’s Stand

Dan takes an anti-science approach to climate science. This is not to poison the well, but a factual stances he must admit to simply because his position rejects the standing position held with high confidence within the scientific community, namely, he rejects the conclusion that CO2 can impact on the global climate.

His argument hinges on looking at the global temperature anomaly and atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1800 to today. He claims that no warming in the global temperature anomaly exists beyond 2001 while concentrations of CO2 continue to increase, which he uses to base his position.

His argument against the standing position within the expert community of climate science hinges on a quote he found on Wikipedia by, Richard Horten, editor of the Lancet, which is critical of the peer review process.

The Analysis

To answer the three questions above;

  1. No; Dan refers to Wikipedia and his own blog posts.

It fails on step one. Furthermore, rather than illustrating how the conclusions drawn within climate science are wrong, he instead attacks the review process. Yet, if the science is wrong and he knows it is, he should be able to illustrate as much, for the validity of a conclusion does not sit on the opinions of people, but on the merit of the finding. His argument does not challenge the the scientific conclusion itself.

Mainly, he relies on three fallacies; the single cause, composition and authority.

Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent energy. My old site at Calperum, SA

Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent heat. My old site at Calperum, SA

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to measure the volume of a pool by a sole measurement of the depth of the shallow end, it is a failure of understanding to assume that climate change is restricted to the temperature anomaly.

Add energy to a pot of water and the temperature will increase. Eventually, around 100°C, the rate of temperature will reduce, even if the energy input continues. This is because the energy is now going into a physical process not measured by a thermometer; the conversion of liquid to gas.

Climate change is dynamic, with energy going into the atmosphere, but also the oceans and ice, leading to latent heat; ice melt and water vapour, both ignored by thermometers, but measured by other methodologies, such as physical measuring and eddy covariance measurements respectively.

His quote also assumes that, as one person in a health journal is critical of peer review, we have evidence enough that the entire process is flawed. The quote itself is somewhat fallacious – ad populum – and how it is applied is fallacious through authority and composition.

As previously noted, rather than fault the conclusions, he attempts to fault the entire scientific process with this one small quote.

How to respond?

I know first-hand that pointing out these faults do nothing to the argument being presented – shifting goalposts may be applied or semantics may come into the debate, alongside repetition of the same fallacious claims. Eventually, the moral high ground will come up and your efforts will have been a waste as the individual goes on to continue the same debunked claims elsewhere unmoved by your exchange.

It may be useful to respond concisely;

Do the following claims by Dan seriously challenge climate science?

“No warming over the past decade while CO2 levels increase…” – No; warming is only one part of climate change, with energy also being taken up in processes not measured by thermometers, eg. latent heat.

“Richard Horten says peer review doesn’t work…” – No; in no way does this even critique the empirical evidence base for anthropogenic climate change, but is a fallacy of composition based upon appeals to authority, serving no purpose but to subvert critical reflection of the evidence base at hand.

Otherwise, praise the commentator on their prowess and let them know how much you’re looking forward to their radical findings overturning modern science as we know it – surely they will receive their much owed Nobel Prize once their ground breaking research is published in a respected science journal. After that, walk on.

You can waste your life replying to nonsense – fiction is limited only by imagination and our species is capable of many generations worth of imagination. Or less eloquently put;

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The package that is our other candidate for leadership

Someone beat me to it. I was compiling videos to release something like this after an election date was called. That said, this video contains a lot of footage I hadn’t come by yet!

Enjoy!

Anti-Science Communication: It does not deserve to be placed with non-fiction

Regardless of the chosen subject, from climate to fluoride, the anti-science community pose themselves as a credible counter-weight in the public debate. In one regard, they are correct, but certainly not how they would like you to believe them to be.

There are obvious stepping stones between science and mainstream media, each having a valuable position in public discourse.

  • The first stepping stone is clearly the peer-reviewed scientific method itself. This happens among experts on a given subject well trained to critique and re-evaluate methods and data to test their merits and thus the confidence that can be drawn to a given conclusion.
  • The next stepping stone is a passive form of science communication. This form of communication demands some level of understanding of the science and the capacity to simply convert findings into a language that can be understood to a wider audience.
  • The final stepping stone converts that information into answers responding to the question, “What does it mean to us?”This stepping stone in science communication is the least expert on the topic of science, but is valuable because such individuals are likely to have good understanding on related subjects, such as policies and politics and can place this understanding, drawn from the science into a much broader context.

Where Does Anti-Science come into it?

The anti-science community sits on this third stepping stone, dressing itself up as the middle step which they want their readers to believe actually challenges the first one!

Take for instance Chris Monckton; he talks almost exclusively about what the subject means to us. In his world view, it means a resurgence of a hidden communist party out to take over the world and kill off six people out of seven. This message he dresses with graphs that are supposed to come from the peer-review process (suggesting that he represents the second stepping stone) and somehow challenge the standing confidence in basic principles within the climate science community.

Look at Merilyn Haines; she too speaks of values. She may refer to the odd science paper, which in itself would be an ill-fitting argument, but then wraps it up in anecdotal evidence, fear propagation and inaccuracies (such as the claim that fluoridated water is toxic or that the studies have not been done). It is entirely about what fluoridation means to us, but she pretends to accurately relay the science without bias and then suggests that it somehow challenges the standing conclusions in the body of science on public health.

Take any given anti-science communicator and you will find the same thing. Values – such as control / freedom, family health, prosperity etc – dressed up with unfounded assertions about the reality of scientific understanding. This begs the reader to be convinced of the validity of a counter-conclusion – one that avoids the scrutiny of expert peer-review completely!

Challenging the Denier

For those who choose to respond, it’s a doomed action. How can one prove that Monckton’s invisible enemies do not exist? How can one prove Merilyn’s sister did not get a skin condition from washing in the fluoridated water of Townsville?

Without first proving the invisible to simply not exist at all, how can you reply to the inaccuracies of the full package, which includes their “scientific” argument, in such a way that supporters of this anti-science would re-think their position?

This is why the creationism movement has persisted for so long; because the proof of a god will remain as elusive as the orbiting teapot – how can you prove it wrong? Clever anti-scientists have realised this and so market their message on their own imaginary threat or friend and in doing so render all counter-measures mute.

What we need to remember is that their fundamental argument is not on either of the stepping stones they pretend it to be. It does not challenge the science, because it avoids the scientific process like the plague. It is not the second passive form of science communication, because it is devout to desired values and clearly does not represent the science (it means to challenge the science and so obviously cannot).

It is the third step and based on, you guessed it, anti-science; a counter-argument to unfavourable conclusions drawn within the scientific method, devoid of the same level of scrutiny.

As a movement, it has no legs. It doesn’t draw upon reasonable sources of reliable information. It is untenable, beyond all doubt. Acknowledgement of these anti-science movements for what they are is the only method to respond. We must stop thinking it’s reasonable to see fairies at the bottom of the garden when human ingenuity has all but removed any possibility of such fantasy.

Check out: How does anti-science communication stand up to analysis?

The difference between Howard and Abbott: Which is the dinosaur?

image

I just spotted this on social media.

Abbott’s Invisible Best Plan for Emission Reduction

On Monday, Tony Abbott told the crowd, “‘Just ask yourself what an emissions trading scheme is all about. It’s a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.”

However, a few years ago, and still visible on his own website, he wrote, “Then there’s the question of the best mechanism for reducing emissions on which an international agreement might be reached. There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government. It enables an increasing market price to be set for carbon through capping volumes of emissions.”

Consistency…?