Stats and Musings: Behind the Scenes of New Anthro

As most bloggers would naturally do, I keep an eye on my stats over time. This allows me to better understand my readership and tailor my work so that it both achieves the purposes of my own goals while merging with what my readers prefer to read.

This only goes so far, obviously. For, if I wanted a higher readership, I’d probably forgo my natural writing style for short, bombastic pop articles, with a couple cute kittens and “memebase” references to boot…

A couple persistent features have stood out to me over the near four years of my writing.

The first of which is that my readership is twice as likely to be from the US than Australia. Unlike many of my counterparts, I don’t actually spend a great deal of energy following the goings-on across the Pacific. My writing is largely about environmental governance and Australian politics. I’m intrigued that, no matter how I break down my stats, it always returns two US hits for every Aussie one.

The second interesting feature – and one that intrigues me more – is that good ol’ Donna Laframboise without fail draws in the crowd. For committed sceptics, she is fairly obscure. Unlike the batty Monckton, Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova and Anthony Watts, she appears (at least to me) nowhere near as prominent. Her arguments are even fairly pathetic – even for denialists.

I mean;

  • Climate scepticism is free speech: Yes, however opinion is no substitute for critical evidence derived by experts. You’re opinion does not deserve equal consideration because it is not equally explored via critical methodology.
    .
  • We can’t predict weather in a month, but we think we can predict climate a century from now:  No we don’t. Apart from the fact that weather isn’t climate (ie. weather is the physically observable noise overlaying a climate signature visible only through statistical analysis) no-one pretends to predict weather or climate accurately. If she had read the IPCC reports as she claims to have done, she would have noted the effort gone to within them to explain certainty. The could also be said about understanding the genuine science behind meteorology rather than just listening to the local news weather presenter.
    .
    Certainty is the point most exploited by the committed sceptic because they don’t understand it. It’s like odds in betting on a sporting event BUT not the result of one blokes guess against the punter, rather the result of a community of highly skilled experts teasing out reality. Rather than a spread, like you have with sports betting, the odds tend to be very close to 1:1 for one idea and the rest 1:1000+. That climate change cannot result from our greenhouse contribution fits into the latter. No punter, who actually read and understood the methodology and uncertainties – or even understood the physical chemistry of greenhouse gases – would make such a stupid bet. Yet, this is exactly the bet the commit sceptic wants us to make.
    .
  • The authors to the IPCC reports had a lot of internal kafuffle and political and advocacy involvement: So…? This is disingenuous. What does it say about the quality of the peer-reviewed literature on which the conclusions are drawn? Not a lot. What about the independent reviews by independent experts who have provided another tier of review, which find it sound? Why are the only people who seriously question the validity of the reports they type who hang out, present and/or a funded by deeply conservative think tanks, like the Heartland Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs and create straw-men, such as Donna’s criticism?
    .
  • Greenpeace are funded by the fossil fuel industry: Um… okay. lol

Donna’s arguments are pretty weak at best and she certainly doesn’t attract the mainstream media like Nova, Bolt, Monckton and Watts so it is intriguing that she rates higher in the New Anthro than her more noisy peers. Hopefully she reads this and her head inflates just a little.

Of course no-one rates as high – no topic at all rates as high – as another person; Gina Rinehart. However, that’s not so interesting really. She is an oddball with oodles of cash – she is entertaining.

Soap Box Superstars: Let them Speak

I must admit, I’ve been lazy in contributing to the wider scientific communication network over the last year. I was once in continual contact with a wide range of communicators, scientists and advocates, however with my attention focused elsewhere throughout mid-2011 to mid-2012 and in some ways allowing the endless swarm of trolls burn me out, my heart just wasn’t in it.

The people whom have been patiently keeping tabs on my site through this period (for which I am very thankful) would have noticed a return to regular posting. My plan is a new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a set time, with random posts around that. I am also keen to build up the former connections I once had as well as many more.

With that in mind, in resurfacing to the subject matter – that is (in my case), issues that impact our immediate future – I have found that the arena is becoming dirtier and, well, more pathetic.

The actions behind the whole Climate-gate saga where nothing more than a criminal act; private information was stolen from research facilities. For all the hype and bung “nails in the coffin”, all that happened was theft and unfounded noise. One would have thought, if there was indeed a genuine case of fraudulent behaviour, such material would be teeming with it. That we have a couple quotes, taken out of context illustrates the point I return to again and again – committed sceptics are in no way interested in the science.

But it gets worse.

I only recently learnt about the hacking and theft of private material from the forum of Skeptical Science and again the same pathetic quote mining. Geez; someone said we need a conspiracy to save humanity, OMG – the crazy environmentalists are duped by, I don’t know, bankers, the devil, Zombie Stalin, in the grand scheme to produce the one world government… this one quote proves it all!!!

No it doesn’t. It was one of the cuff comment that wasn’t really entertained and even if it was; these are people writing on one website… come on, get over it.

A perfectly valid reply to Jo Nova’s equivalent (not to mention, hysterical) comic.

Entertainers of this delusion are simply looking for confirmation to their warped perception of the world. This proves the whole conspiracy! When you have no expectations, when you don’t have a strong ideology to prop up, you have no need for confirmation bias. It’s a wonderfully liberating place to be – although, I must admit it is isolating.

This is because the same types of events are occurring against the contrarians. This has happened to Jo Nova (from what I’ve heard, twice in the last year) with her site being bombarded by traffic and shut down.

Now this act too demonstrates no interest in the science. The science may never have actually come into it at all, instead it is purely a battle between the two major political wings; a battle that has resorted to cyber terrorism and has long included bullying. It’s increasingly an affront to free speech as much as the Islamic backlash, insisting global adherence to religious law.

I’m not really in favour of the petition against letting Anthony Watts pollute the air ways with his nauseating brand of hype and misinformation or the online petition in response to the, somewhat typical, thoughtless rant of the near senile Alan Jones.

In the spirit of free speech, I say; let them speak! Let every last loud mouth, zealot, hypocrite and idiot stand on a soap box and record their thoughts and values.

If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have the brilliantly funny video presentations by Peter Hadfield and the world would be a poorer place for it.

Think about it; by letting every last people write or present themselves, they are effectively telling their decedents what kind of person they are. The black and white photos from rallies against racial equality look horrid by today’s standards. We can judge them, as we do the Westboro Baptist Church, for what they were and what people like Monckton, Alan Jones and Watts write and say. We have the right to object to their rubbish, which itself is recorded.

What I feel is being overlooked is the true cause for all this angst (in those who counter the contrarian position); the proliferators of nonsense and ideology have lulled us to confuse “equal” for “fair”. They demand “equal” time to sprout their contempt for reason, when what they deserve is “fair” time.

To quote Eugenie Scott;

“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”

Fair air time for Anthony would be a 30 second bite, in which he can say, “I don’t like it,” following a 30 minute presentation of the best information we now have due to critical investigation by the leading experts on the matter. We should be petitioning for fair weighted media on the important subjects – weighted by its empirical credibility and not political popularity. That’s the fight worth fighting.

Outside of this, as I’ve hinted throughout this post, we should have a laugh at what is really funny: Many of these people actually believe there is a secret agenda to create a one world socialistic government! Many of these people actually believe in various conspiracies dating back to the Middle Ages – even John Tyndall must be involved somehow! Many of these people still believe the warming trend in the data is entirely the result of urbanisation encroachment on weather stations! Many of these people actually believe that an invisible superhero is the sole agent behind our climate (the seasons too were in this boat until we understood the tilt in the Earth’s axis)…

These, and many more similar arguments, are hilarious. We should acknowledge just how far off the spectrum into some dark and dank extreme pocket they arrive from. By taking them seriously – without credible empirical evidence – we unfairly give them weight, in fact, equal weight.

I’m totally against censorship and all in favour of transparency and fairness. Let everyone share their thoughts, demand empirical evidence and weigh their ideas accordingly, just don’t resort to this juvenile warfare.

Echo Chambers Are Ruining Scientific Communication

Fairly early on, in my venture into the blogosphere space, I used to follow a scientific communicator with avid interest. Everything he wrote seemed so painfully obvious that it was difficult not to be drawn into his perspective… Well, almost everything.

One passing sentence he wrote sounded a little funny to me. So I did what many people would do; I asked for further clarification.

Up until that point, the only comments I had provided to his space were trivial points of approval. I’d even quoted his writing in what could rightfully perceived as advocating his views, which until that point, I was in complete agreement with. But I saw a new side following my simple question.

As far as it can be said within the blogosphere, I was “shouted out” of the conversation. Note; I hadn’t posed any real criticism, but merely questioning the views of the author was perceived as such and was treated with hostility.

I saw introduced to the echo chamber.

You would think, as I initially started out attempting to do what many science communicators have also tried – clarify the needlessly hotly debated (publically and politically but not so much within the science community) subject of anthropogenic climate change – that my first encounter with an echo chamber would be at such places like WUWT or Jo Nova’s space. Indeed both are notorious echo chambers, as I later witnessed firsthand. However the first encounter was a blog I largely agreed with by a writer who knows the science.

No-one is free from potential creation of an echo chamber.

This has worried my in the latter months of the now retired space of MothIncarnate and now New Anthro but more so for Gen[A]. I’m not interested in only attracting a readership (and authorship as I’m hopeful that both New Anthro and Gen[A] attract greater input by the readers) which only agrees with the views of the space and shouts out opposing ideas, but equally, I’m not interested in a game of Hathos or entertaining those trolling in their desperate need for attention.

It’s a tightrope between an echo chamber and opening the floodgates to debate for debate’s sake.

We often hear repeated ad nauseam the same old debunked climate change scepticism or unreasonable fear of a western economic collapse as a result of action. However, it’s very difficult to tell which is the misinformer and the misinformed or the fear-monger and the genuinely worried.

Arguably, it’s a much smaller group, who are beyond reason or are intentionally misinforming, that perpetuates a pointless discussion which not only leaves the general public saturated and disengaged (which also assists their purpose) but also sets the scene for a greater divide; what too often is labelled as “my side and your side”, as though it were a sport.

When the genuinely interested, albeit misinformed, approaches such an echo chamber, ultimately, they will feel more at home with a space such as WUWT or Nova, because their views, questions and fears are less likely to be shouted down than an echo chamber such as that spoken about above.

In short, we do ourselves and the science a great injustice by applying a hard and sharp rule of rejecting anyone and everyone who disagrees.

I’ve tried throughout to engage with everyone who has appeared on any of my posts, in comment threads I’ve contributed to and even those whom I’m made aware of via pingbacks. In some instances, I’ve gone to great lengths on what I can now see were merely merry-go-rounds by people whom are obviously just trolls seeking attention. It is easy, after all, to stir up such a person as myself to continue a silly debate, if you push the right buttons.

Run thin from all of that, I found myself disinterested in engaging with such people, but also worrying about the potential creation of an echo chamber.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have occurred on New Anthro as yet.

However, I caution that if we wish to remain effective scientific communicators, we must remember that nothing is beyond question in science; anyone is invited to test the theory of gravity as much as the greenhouse effect until they’ve taken “planking” to a new level or cooked themselves silly (preferably not doing such a test on our communal atmosphere, of course).

We mustn’t, therefore, take ourselves so seriously – it’s not an ideology but only sound advice based on the best possible evidence collected from the most stringent investigative methodology we have yet derived.

The word “only” is key – it’s really up to all of us whether or not we accept such methodology, but not to disregard the evidence without a sound understanding of the scientific approach undertaken (eg. you have the right to personally feel that evolution is rubbish, but not state the evidence is lacking without sound understanding of the fields of science applied).

Asking questions and debating rigorously are part of scientific exploration. We must be careful never to shout someone down, but to engage with them positively and enthusiastically. It won’t take long to work out if the other is genuinely interested in the science or is fighting from an ideological perspective and selectively plucking a small handful of points that fit their view.

We can spend a small amount of time working out which is which.

Those who fall into the latter group too shouldn’t be treated with hostility – it only makes those who lash out look foolish. However, you can laugh and walk away as you would someone who insists that the Earth is flat or only six thousand years old. In doing so, they lose attention, they lose the Hathos game play but most importantly, we can effectively defuse the war of this insane divide. “My side and your side” is the advent of the climate change sceptic which entrenches the people involved on both “sides” and wrongly inflates the small amount of contrary scientific evidence that the climate sceptic insist to be correct.

It needs to be put in perspective as does the whole crazy sport that has resulted from it. We will not achieve this through echo chambers.

If we wish to do science any justice, we need to get off our soap box and remember that science is about finding the “most likely” not absolutes. We should engage and lose interest when we realise that the conversation has stepped out of developing conclusions based on the evidence and into finding evidence that supports the held conclusions. Otherwise we are no better than the hostile climate sceptic, in fact, we’re worse; we risk shouting down reasonable, yet misinformed individuals whom may have only required a little of our time.

Hathos: Fuel for the Climate Debate and Bolt’s Pay Cheque?

I just noticed this morning that someone wrote the following on the whiteboard in the tearoom (I won’t use a photograph so as not to identify the writer):

Hathos:
As inextricable fascination with something you hate.
eg. Andrew Bolt’s writing.

It’s the kind of thing that I sometimes come by that makes me wish that I had more interesting in languages as a child. More importantly, it struck up two thoughts that have since brewed away in my head, until the lunch break opportunity to pen them down.

Firstly, maybe this is part of the problem we face discussing the science within the public debate over climate and sustainability. I’ve heard a number of people make sport analogues, even some of the more childish deniers refer to, “my side” / “your side”, yet this strikes me as even closer to the mark to such nonsense.

Is it that we are naturally drawn to hathos or is it’s existence a sign of a weaken culture, susceptible to such a virus? Either way, hathos runs wild within the public climate debate, to the point that it seems the drug that many of the contributors are hooked on.

Many of the more trolling characters, that time and time again write the same debunked denial arguments appear to be employing this technique simply because they realise that it will gain them attention. For instance, if any of us were to venture to any given science related blog and write, “Climate change is a myth developed to create a one world government! You all need to grow up!” and link to either Jo Nova or Anthony Watts bag of hot-air, we can be assured to get a response.

It doesn’t take a genius (as I’m sure none of the deniers are) to work out that employing hathos can be a useful tool for gaining attention if you’re feeling isolated.

Likewise, if you have a distaste for any form of establishment, you’re very likely going to dislike discussions over how we must alter our activity to simply endure (behavioural change required for prosperity is so great that it’s not even worth mentioning to such people). Hathos will be the root as to why you just cannot leave the science blogs alone… damn those warmists! …I wander what they’re up to today…

The emotionally fuelled noise, in many respects devoid of intelligent debate (that is to say, it takes two for a debate, so even if one provides the science, the other is in most cases deaf to reason) that energises this public debate is, as I’ve long said, a sideshow form of entertainment, that I now believe is the result of hathos.

Secondly, clearly the distaste for the hack writing of Andrew Bolt goes far and wide among the academic community!

The Freeway of Unacceptable Risk

A dreary Friday morning. The speed limit on the Mount Barker freeway, city bound direction, are reduce, although no-one around me seems to have noticed. Suddenly, around the next bend, traffic has come to a near standstill and those around me test their breaks suddenly.

For the next 10kms, we move an average of 20km/h. The reason; a two car collision on the lower side of the tunnel. On the uphill side of the road, one lane has also been made useless, so as a fire truck can park while an assessment of the scene can be made. Luckily, in this situation, no-one seems to have been severely injured. I’ve often said, “from driver to idiot: just add water!”

However, this is not the entire case. It seems almost as likely that a crash can occur in dry conditions. What we have on the freeway is a perfect example of one of the major dysfunctions of society that ultimately makes life worse for everyone else.

The reckless speeding, shoving into partial gaps and tail-gating are only too frequent on the freeway.  It’s a ridiculous combination of arrogance and ignorance. Even while we’re all reduced to a snails pace, some bozos sneak down the closed lane as long as possible, to jump the cue. Self-importance prevailing.

In a better world, each of us would have well maintained vehicles, adhere to the speed limits and keep safe braking distances between us and the car in front (in a perfect world, the need for a personal vehicle would be greatly reduced by Transit/Pedestrian Orientated Developments). We would all get to where we’re going with greatly reduced personal risk and tardiness.

However, in the real world, we accept far too much abuse of reasonable policies, designed to make life better for all, in the name of the individual.

I’m late / in a hurry!”

“It’s my money and my car, why should I get the car serviced?”

Me Me Me: another fatality.

We wouldn’t shove our way through a crowded mall, even if it got us to our destination sooner, because we are made more accountable for our actions. Yet, behind the wheel of a 1.5ton heap of metal, hurtling down the road at 120km/h, many of us feel sufficiently removed enough to become selfish. One persons act of arrogant, self-importance / bravado, raises the likelihood of negatively effecting the lives of countless others around them.

Fear of being late for work could very likely lead to being absent from work for yourself and others while making many hundreds of others late at the same time. It also raises the risk of fatality, altering the lives of many others forever.

Yet, why am I saying this? It’s all so perfectly simple that it shouldn’t need to be explained. I witnessed another needless collision this morning and am no stranger to having another vehicle less than 2m behind my own whilst travelling at 110km/h. I know that my life may not be worth much to them, but it means a great deal to me. For that reason, I’m not one to risk my own life, but are subjected to risk because of the thoughtless actions of others.

The reason I raise this point on my blog is because it seems to fit hand-in-hand with the unreasonable objection to environmental management. We often hear that, “greenies are trying to take the rights away from the individual.”

This is of course, complete nonsense. Arguing that it’s silly to exploit that land, fish communities, ground water or forests as quickly as possible, to make cash quick and, “boost the economy”, is nothing more than suggesting that we should abide by the road rules, so we all get to work on time, with lower risk of mortality. Grabbing it all up, as quickly as we can right now, will lead to unrecoverable environments that are of no worth to future generations. Working with the land, rather than forcing it into submission leads to a resource that continues, year after year, to provide valuable returns. It also provides environments that are healthier and more enjoyable.

While I crept past the two ruined vehicles, police, fire and ambulance vehicles and the relating people, I couldn’t help but feel that their scene was a metaphor to the future that creators of hot air, such as Christopher Monckton, Donna Laframoise, Jo Nova, Andrew Bolt, Anthony Watts and many others would lead us to. They argue that the scientific evidence threatens your freedom; your rights. You have, they tend to say, the right to go as hard and fast as you want. Just as with the evidence behind roadway safety, the science holds up compelling evidence to suggest that the risk is simply too great – and also there’s already an unacceptable rate of roadkill because of our driving (ie. extinction and habitat loss rates).

By not servicing and improving the car, not abiding by suggestions of what is acceptable and unacceptable risks, all in the name of self-importance, in getting to work a mere 3mins earlier, we’re simply asking for a crash. Who the hell would want to be responsible for that?

Where Does Science Blogging Lead?

In reality, how far reaching are science blogs?

Personally, I know that almost no-one I work with or in my social life makes a regular habit of reading or writing blogs.

As for reaching further – providing a reference source for other interested parties, I suspect that the vast majority of the blogging community keep tabs only on blogs that they like and agree with and at least one of the blogs that they love to hate. It’s sport.

Unfortunately the more famous may actually find themselves with a regular reader; some hack journalist, who faithfully propagates the post to a wider audience. As scandals and authority-bashing sells, these mediocre journalists are drawn to the less accurate / evidence-based blogs, such as Watts Up With That?

We’ve all been witness to this in one form or another.

~

You can be rich with evidence and informative; some people will thank you and some will be too overwhelmed to read.

You can be lighter on the technical evidence, more engaging and dynamic – linking to further reading and conversational in your approach; some people will thank you and add to the value of the post with their comments and some will argue that you’re completely wrong and not worth the debate.

You can forgo the technical element all together, suppose it as given, based on referred literature and argue simply on sound reason; you may be luck enough to have a single comment that states that your argument is weak and baseless.

In all cases however, come the next visit, it’s likely that your reader has already moved on from the last post – you could, if you had a wide enough vocabulary, probably write the same  post in various forms and none would be the wiser. And as stated above, if you bother to read the tabloid rags, the most you’ll find in relation to all this is some cheap call for blood based on nonsense.

Yet the science blogging community is passionate about this environment of discussion. I guess it’s one of the only places where an angry individual has an outlet to attack a seasoned professional in some field (a faceless victim, one could argue, and the desire to inflate ones ego). It also brings together those from around the world, who are outraged that modern science challenges their scripture, into a community determined to undermine reason.

It is largely a hive of irrationality, mixed with well meaning informers, stewing itself in activity without focus or progress. Maybe it is just like other blogging communities and is merely entertainment with the stolen title of “science” (I do not agree with this however; there are a number of absolutely fantastic professionals who not only produce a plethora of literature that furthers our understanding of the world and greater universe, or teaches tomorrows scientists, but do both and maintain brilliant blogs at the same time!).

Still, I cannot help but feel that much of the science blogging actually is a discredit to science in general. The number of self-important writers who are eager to tell anyone who will listen that they are soon to write an Earth shattering book, or that the science is wrong because of what they have published (note that Microsoft Word now comes standard with the option to save a document as a .pdf and that these “published” people have merely provided a link to their document somewhere online and consider this enough to inflate). The fact that the sensational nonsense often makes its way into the media further reinforces this delusion of authority over experience, trial and error, peer-review and the other tools that hang from the belt of scientific methodology. Access to data and a spreadsheet seems to be enough for such self-proclaimed experts.

Another clear example is that in the comment threads of serious and informed blogs, such as SkepticalScience and Global Warming: Man or Myth? you find number individuals who openly scoff at the science. What kind of discussion are such individuals looking for, or truth to a subject, if they maintain that the science is rubbish?

It’s like someone who continuously knocks medical science and medicine on a daily basis, preferring to rely on natural therapy, who then is quick to demand medicine to be injected into their system after a violent gastro bug has caused many hours of continuous vomiting. It’s two-faced and counter-productive.

Returning to my original question; how far does scientific blogging reach? Does it reach it’s mark, or help to address critical issues, such as sustainability, stressed ecosystems, human health and a changing climate? So far, all I have witnessed is a whole heap of noise clouding reason and very little objective progress.

Monckton and the Confusion of Stage Show Denial

I hadn’t realised, until this ever day, an interesting fact regarding the posts of the Moth Incarnate Blog. Of all the many thousands of words and various graphics that I have produced over the past nine months, by a large stretch, the posts of enduring popularity – which on lazy days can count for nearly my entire hit count – are the couple of commentary posts relating to John Abraham and Christopher Monckton. Were I a shallow, stats-driven writer (believe me, the readership here is, unfortunately, low at best), I could easily focus on more sensational spits between reason and misinformation, highly dramatising each blow sent, each eye poked and each dirty word said, or implied… but I may as well use such skills (or in truth, lack there of) for producing scripts for some brain-melting midday soap. Hell, at least I’d be getting paid, I suppose.

Is there any clearer indication that this “climate debate” is nothing more than an entertaining past-time for a large proportion of the blogosphere than that the Abraham vs. Monckton episode still works the search engines?

Anyone who still holds any delusions of Christopher Monckton’s credibility in climate science has either been living under a rock for much of 2010 or is so deep within some paranoid fantasy that Christopher seems sensible… as sensible as little green men controlling the UN to lead the world into new age of oppression, slavery and ultimately part of the spread placed out for our galactic overlords (enter L. Ron Hubbard…). In that regard, I’m a much happier bloke than I was when I set out on this blog – that people where taking Monckton seriously was incredibly disturbing to me. However, as much as many others have wasted so much time going to great lengths to untangle his lies, we see no real ramifications to Chris, personally, for his spread of misinformation. But enough of that.

Over at Watching the Deniers, in a comment stream the other day, an individual whom I can only describe as a troll said something that actually struck me as being dead right, “…the public is saturated and they don’t want to hear about it anymore. So perhaps the deniers are losing now, but the war is already won.”

Indeed, I’ve been wondering where the interest has gone. For, with the scandals debunked (ie. Climategate, exaggeration of the errors in the IPCC’s 4th report etc) and with the aggressive, self-righteous louts of denial de-fanged and dismissed, why is it that the science is now communicated to a much emptier and unenthusiastic space? Most Aussies roll their eyes when they hear about Gillard’s ridiculous climate change committee, but otherwise, few seem to want to talk about climate change at all – or even sustainability. This is incredibly concerning seeing as we’re witnessing many records being broken this year; be it ice loss, coral bleaching events, the global temperature anomaly… We’re also around the apex of peaking oil – probably the most important of the fossil fuels for current human activities. The picture should merit for more action than a simple shrug of the shoulders.

Yet, the bozo troll above most likely got one thing right about the denial movement. Many celebrated deniers probably knew, at least at a subconscious level, that eventually they would be found out – I mean, the hero of denial was a bloody puzzle maker (and what a horrid puzzle he developed to keep many great minds busy for many months). Yet the whole affair, especially over the past year, did it’s job in smothering the public in the climate debate. I think the weak will that we witnessed in Copenhagen and closer to home (Rudd’s back-flipping on tackling climate change, for instance) also helped to provide disillusionment. In short, most felt let down, confused and eventually fed-up with talking about climate change altogether.

Yet, I do not feel that we few who continue to discuss the host of challenges facing this coming century are merely beating a dead horse. A better analogy would be that we’re trying to push a stubborn mule. Sure, the blasted animal might move if it saw the dust storm on the horizon, but at that point, it would be unlikely to outrun the wall of fast approaching sand.  What we need to do is get the ol’ carrot on a stick. Again, I make the call that industry is the only major driver left capable of providing the carrot.

The prevailing paradigms all come back to fast-turnover consumerism. This exposes itself in everything – from electrical devises that have a short lifespan than a pair of shoes, well, from tires having a shorter life span that most peoples shoes if the truth be known, to excessive personal waste and poor quality housing (cheap, pretty, thin-walled suburbia that employs none of the learnt tricks of yesteryear passive heat management and durability, but instead increases the rate of sprawl and requires almost constant climate control). Buy up! Buy up fast!

There are numerous ways around this.

Would people pay more, at least over time, for higher quality, durable technology that is upgradeable and ultimately reclaimable/recyclable (may also include some reward to the user, not unlike the bottle return depots of South Australia)? I believe so.

Would people pay less (at first, possibly a small amount more, but within a decade definitely less) for locally grown produce and other produce that reduces manufacturing costs by reducing and simplifying packaging? I believe so.

If local councils, instead of forking out for new infrastructure in new development plots, paid to upgrade the infrastructure of the neighbouring developed area, promoted apartment construction, localising of industry, better public transport to other close by business districts and used that undeveloped area for minor agriculture, manicured parks and rehabilitated native environments, would they provide an area more attractive, liveable, and economically healthier than the current sprawl mentality? I believe so.

The following graphic always stuck in my mind:

The suggested energy curve of our species, but certainly a good representation of our relationship with fossil fuel oil

This also should represent the current consumerism paradigm. The ideas are already around us, but seemingly as distant to the general public as the buzz of discussions that enriched many European coffee houses of yesteryear. Unfortunately what has created this rift is a stage show, as ludicrous as Monty Python’s ‘Confuse a Cat’, that came in the form of Christopher Monckton, Anthony Watts, Jo Nova, Donna Laframbiose, Andrew Bolt and many others. Now, not only are the general public uninterested, but we who still discuss the problems facing our future seem to feel the need of going around in circles, continuously addressing the same tired lines of denial.

The troll made a valid point. We all fell for the side show of denial. It’s not a new technique; we who employ scientific reasoning encourage debate and free-speech and thus must make time for other ideas. Stephan Lewandowsky made an excellent point yesterday about the contradictions in denial and to adopt another Monty Python quote, we must “stop it! It’s just getting silly!”

It’s clear that denial is baseless and we should feel the right to ignore nonsensical arguments and instead move on to the next phase (a place that we were arguably at already a few years ago) and start asking how are we going to meet this future?

~

How anti-science the debate truly is

Anybody who follows my blog more likely than not also follows Skeptical Science.

That said, I realise that this post is not really needed, but I wish to further highlight what John has already done and comment on an excellent post created by Matthew Glover at Renegade Conservatory Guy.

Click the image to obtain a .pdf version.

This graphic by Matthew clearly demonstrates the amazing contrast between the scientific consensus, media coverage and ultimately the confusion carried over into the public. It shows one of the sources of my frustration (the main reason why I began this blog to begin with) and the recent posts that I’ve targeted at horrible inaccuracies by hack journalists and is also without a doubt some of Mike’s fuel at Watching the Deniers (before I had his blog on my reader, I hadn’t even heard of Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt, but that is the result of my selected ignorance of pop-media).

A few months ago, a scientifically ignorant economist haunted this space for a week or so and in that time, I commented on his own space. As I tend to subscribe to the comment streams that I add to, I’ve noticed that very recently similar comments to those that flood Watt’s up with that (especially the few Monckton posts of late) or typical to Andrew Bolt’s blog and are no doubt those shared by another denialist, Pete, who pops up from time to time to let me know just what the novels have explain to him to be the “real story” behind this climate scare. With all of these characters, the point is that they are unperturbed to learn that there is a very strong consensus among the related experts. It seems to do little but bury them ever more firmly against the evidence.

As the economist and later Pete made obvious to me, they will selectively choose grey literature (the former choosing swindle economy rags and the latter, novels that reinforce the climate conspiracy) regardless of how much research is offered for them to digest. In both cases, they have developed a Strawman argument that roughly goes; paleo-climate is wrong (generally, the hockey stick is flawed) therefore all climate concern is baseless. You can offer papers on physical chemistry, to cover our understanding of greenhouse gases. You can provide papers that show atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases has changed and that the signature of temperature change shows an amplified greenhouse effect. You can more on beyond this to my main area of interest and show the observed bio-physical responses to climate change…

Soon you realise that you’re merely talking to a brick wall that has a guise of being informed and certainly open to learn, but in reality ignores all the available information that is contrary to their already held views.

These hardcore fanatics are obviously in the minority, however, it is clear that, like them, the vast amount of public perception is the result of media opinion and other grey literature. It doesn’t help when this includes the scientifically illiterate “Bolt’s” of the world who continually write the most appalling anti-science pieces while the public has little reason to question them.

Media is, like politics, opinion/ideologically based and therefore has no reason to be ethical, transparent and rigorous in the search for understanding and truth, unlike good science, yet many of the loudest throwbacks in media and politics enjoy prestige. Breaking down this mock of a debate, as Matthew has done, further illustrates just how ludicrous Gillard’s civilian consensus truly is.

In a time of change, when there is a wonderful driving force for innovation and development, what is needed is strong leadership and brave reporting. Yet, what we’re stuck with is do-nothing pollies and anti-science writers. How long do we think we can keep up this façade?

Jo Nova celebrates her success against the sceptic?

Looking at the recent posts by Jo Nova, it’s questionable if she actually took the time to read A Scientific Guide to the ‘Skeptics Handbook’. She makes the point repeatedly of how long it took for a rebuttal to her work to be produced and without much evidence claims that the rebuttal is weak – she is still victorious!?

I will concede that she has a valid point regarding the hot spot graph – a better graph could have been used. However, it still stands that there is little evidence that she actually read the handbook (don’t need to read it to pick on that graph).

Here’s a quick overlook of both handbooks plus some.

First Point

Nova:

“The greenhouse signature is missing…”
“The is no sign of a hot spot…”

Cook et al.:

“There is a hot spot…”
“It is not a signature of the greenhouse effect…”

The two of them can fight over wind sheer all they like. However, Nova asks for evidence of an increased greenhouse effect due to the increase in CO2 emissions. Let’s look at it this way. The greenhouse effect is more or less the trapping of heat in the atmosphere due to certain gases; ie. greenhouse gases. These gases would somewhat limit heat getting to the surface from the sun, but also trap some of the heat that heads back out. The greater the concentration of these gases are, the greater the general trend of temperature over time. However, what would be most telling would be what happens at night; when little energy is coming in. This is the time of day where most heat is lost, but as the greenhouse effect increases, you would logically have more heat being trapped by the atmosphere, thus warmer nights:

In the Scientific Handbook, Alexander et al. (2006) graphs where used.
However, Alexander and Arblaster (2009) (Aussie data) could also have been used (modelled projections past 2000)
Klein Tank et al. (2006) could have also been used (Central and South Asia data, TN10 is cold nights, TN90 is warm nights)
Or Klein Tank et al. (2006) again, now a subset of stations with long data sets

Okay, so the nights are warmer… So what? We know the world is warming – how does this show that our CO2 emissions are causing the warming? We could look at the longwave radiation heading back out to space.

The Scientific Handbook uses Harries et al. (2001).

To paraphrase Griggs and Harries (2007), which carries on from the study above;
“Using the AIRS data with data from the IRIS project allows a difference spectrum to be generated for the period 2003–1970, a period of 33 yr. Changing spectral signatures due to CH4, CO2, and H2O on decadal time scales are observed using the new AIRS data, thus adding confidence to the previous 1997–1970 study.”

So nights are losing less heat and thus staying warmer, less of the energy within the wavelengths known to be absorbed by CO2 and CH4 (greenhouse gases) is being released out into space – is this not an indication of an increasing greenhouse effect and one that should be associated to anthropogenic industrial emissions?

It is also unlikely that the sun can be held responsible, which is summed up in the final paragraph of Benestad and Schmidt (2009);
“Claims that a substantial fraction of post 1980 trends can be attributed to solar variations are therefore without solid foundation, and solar-related trends over the last century are unlikely to have been bigger than 0.1 to 0.2C.”

Second Point

Nova:

“CO2 lags climate change by as much as 800yrs and therefore is, at best, only a minor player in climate change.”

Cook et al.:

“CO2 historical lag doesn’t disprove it’s warming effect, it provides evidence of positive feedback.”

Think of it this way; you live in the frozen far north, how would you thaw out a patch to grow a crop? You could maintain heating devices around the patch or you could construct a hut that is covered with a material that allows short wave radiation to pass through, but not longwave radiation (ie. a greenhouse). That is to say, you could increase the thermal energy input or trap what’s available from the sun. I mentioned the frozen north because in both cases, as the area warms and thaws out, it releases methane from the permafrost. If you could do the same to a body of water, as it warms, CO2 solubility drops and the water releases CO2.

As Cook et al. discuss in their handbook and I’ve mentioned here; CO2 and CH4 are greenhouse gases which trap heat. If the concentration of greenhouse gases increases in the atmosphere, the atmosphere releases less heat (mentioned above) and in doing so allows more greenhouse gases to be released that has been trapped in various environments. The same can be said about turning up the heater (ie. solar activity) which will in turn release trapped greenhouse gases, thereby increasing the warming effect (positive feedback). Just because you used a heater for last years growing season to keep a patch warm, it doesn’t mean the greenhouse hut won’t work this year.

Third Point

Nova:

“The world isn’t warming anymore…”

Cook et al.:

“Yes it is…”

What I feel is most telling between both handbooks is the scale of their graphs. Nova’s only covers the past 15yrs while Cook et al. goes right back to 1880. If you scan over Cook’s graph, you could rightfully make the point that in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, people could be making the same claims as Nova is now, but then you look over the next 20yrs and you see a completely different picture – one Nova’s graph largely hides. If you go to ASMU, and check all the boxes, you end up with a graph of temperature values covering much of Nova’s graph period which looks like this:

The orange line is 2010 data to date.

2010 is proving to be a record braking year! As Cook et al. mention in their own handbook, the previous 12 months have been the warmest on record. Of course, Nova mentions that she disregards the fact that the previous decade is the warmest on record and she obviously does the entire temperature record up to date, except for what is presented in her piece and looks good to her argument.

At this point, Nova goes on to take the Anthony Watts approach and knocks a handful of weather stations. I believe that she must be aware that others have criticised this over and over again; both demonstrating that there is not a significant difference in the data series between poor and good sites and by pointing out the relative significance of the data sets provided by the US weather stations on a global scale. I’m sure that no evidence will ever change the perspective of a few people who need to believe that the science is wrong.

Forth Point

Nova:

“The CO2 greenhouse absorption is already saturated…”

Cook et al.:

“The CO2 greenhouse effect is still increasing…”

The first point above already explains that more heat is being trapped in the atmosphere and in the second point it’s shown that both CO2 and CH4 related wavelengths of energy are less likely to escape the atmosphere. Throughout Nova’s handbook, she seems to accept climate change, but ignores the mounting science that it is our CO2 and CH4 emissions that are giving this change a significant boost.

Nova Continues

Here, Cook et al. end their piece, however Nova’s work goes on in classic style. First she states that a handful of people how have grown sceptical of climate science, then states that consensus means nothing and then goes on to support a petition of “sceptics”! Talk about mixing it up. Nova is right however; a consensus proves nothing but what the bulk of people believe to be the case.

However, to dispel the idea that the scientists are still debating whether or not climate change is largely the result of our actions and poses a real threat, here’s a few papers that have been published that are worth a read;

Anderegga, W. R. L., Prall, J. W., Harold, J., and, Schneidera, S. H. (2010) Expert credibility in climate change. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107 (this one seemed to have upset Nova quite a bit)

Various contributors (2010) Letters; Climate Change and the Integrity of Science. Science. 328(5979):689 – 690. doi10.1126/science.328.5979.689

Oreskes, N. (2004) Beyond the ivory tower: The scientific consensus on climate change. Science. 306(5702):1686 doi: 10.1126/science.1103618

There are also a handful of references I’ve provided here and a fair number that I provided in the Innovation series. Scientific understanding is not the product of a consensus, but the result of research and debate. If the scientists argue, there is the outcry that the scientists are still out on the subject, if there is an effort to establish some sort of consensus or demonstration that most scientists tend to agree on the subject, the public outcry is now that the scientists are part of some “buddy system” and are involved in a conspiracy. There is no way to win in this argument, and as Dr. Glikson recently pointed out on Climate Shift, “If either party chooses not operate under those rules [to look at the evidence of the whole, and to reject deliberate distortions and accept the strength of logic], then they will tend to win (unfairly)”. This is clearly not an even playing field.

On the following page, Nova repeats herself; her first point, that CO2 historically (at her chosen point in time mind you), followed temperature change rather than led change, is probably correct for that time in history, but is incorrect in our current situation; her second point has also been shown to be wrong by Cook et al. and in this post – there is evidence of an increasing greenhouse effect, most noticeable when the bulk of thermal energy should be heading back outward (ie. night).

This then changes how you read the next part of this page; the first few, like the Innovation series, worry me the most. There are numerous bio-physical indicators of a changing world. Although we’re only looking at around a 0.83 degrees C trend increase since 1880 so far, we are seeing a dramatic reduction in ice mass (here, here and here), a shift in climate zones and a whole range of impacts previously mentioned in the Innovation series. Nova also likes to make a point that polar bears are doing just fine – the reality is found here. As for the stuff at the bottom of her list; it’s trivial and not used by anyone who understands any of the science.

Beyond here Nova’s becomes even more repetitive, so there’s no real point looking into it any further.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, Nova is quick to loudly assert with (cough) authority that climate change is occurring, has been since the 1700’s, but in no way is the result of greenhouse gases. What does she offer to be the cause? Nothing – but she’s dead sure that whatever it is, it’s not CO2. I personally feel that Cook et al. did a nice job summing up her work and provided quick and easy ways to answer her doubt. Yet Nova has walked away celebrating her work. Like her support of Watts work regarding weather stations, all I can only say is that a line from a recent New Science magazine is echoing through my head; “deniers just keep denying”. I guess she’ll only be convinced when someone finally produces a paper that concludes that they’ve found ninjas lurking in dark corners, spreading climate change lies and snatching bars of gold from the unsuspecting.

Finally, I make a call out to everybody who is concerned about our changing world, peaking oil and food and water security to limit themselves for indulging people like this and start looking forward and arguing about the best possible options for future planing. Cap and trade will most likely fail and such plans miss the point (see this presentation – it’s not too bad). This AGW debate is little more than time wasting. We need fresh eyes, not fresh lies.

Reference
Klein Tank A. M. G., Peterson, T. C., Quadir, D. A., Dorji, S., Zou, X., Tang, H., Santhosh, K., Joshi, U. R., Jaswal, A. K., Kolli, R. K., Sikder, A. B., Deshpande, N. R., Revadekar, J. V., Yeleuova, K., Vandasheva, S., Faleyeva, M., Gomboluudev, P., Budhathoki, K. P., Hussain, A., Afzaal, M., Chandrapala, L., Anvar, H., Amanmurad, D., Asanova, V. S., Jones, P. D., New. M. G., and, Spektorman, T. (2006) Changes in daily temperature and precipitation extremes in central and south Asia. Journal of Geophysical Research. 111. D16105. doi: 10.1029/2005JD006316
Alexander, L. V., and, Arblaster, J. M. (2009) Assessing trends in observed and modelled climate extremes over Australia in relation to future projections. International Journal of Climatology. 29:417-435. doi: 10.1002/joc.1730
Alexander, L. V., Zhang, X., Peterson, T. C., Caesar, J., Gleason, B., Klein Tank, A. M. G., Haylock, M., Collins, D., Trewin, B., Rahimzadeh, F., Tagipour, A., Rupa Kumar, K., Revadekar, J., Griffiths, G., Vincent, L., Stephenson, D. B., Burn, J., Aguilar, E., Brunet, M., Taylor, M., New, M., Zhai, P., Rusticucci, M., and, Vazquez-Aguirre, J., L. (2006) Global observed changes in daily climate extremes of temperature and precipitation. Journal of Geophysical Research. 111. D05109. doi: 10.1029/2005JD006290.
Harries, J., E., Brindley, H. E., Sagoo, P. J., and, Bantges, R. (2001). Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997. Nature. 410: 355-357
Griggs, J. A., and, Harries, J. E. (2007) Comparison of Spectrally Resolved Outgoing Longwave Radiation over the Tropical Pacific between 1970 and 2003 Using IRIS, IMG, and AIRS. Journal of Climate. 20: 3982-4001 doi: 10.1175/JCLI4204.1
Benestad, R. E., and, Schmidt, G. A. (2009) Solar trends and global warming. Journal of Geophysical Research. 114. D14101. doi 10.1029/2008JD011639

Reflecting on Blogging, Denial, Climate Change and Politics: Small Things

As I’ve spent much of June working on the innovation series, I feel somewhat of a block. I feel, from a strictly “professional” view, that I need to jump straight into building on this foundation (it’s all good and well to talk about the troubles of the world and near fanciful ideal re-developments; but where’s the guts of this?). I wrote the series so that I had the foundation done and could finally move beyond the repetitive debates that  I was being drawn into. I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself – it’s not my career (although the ideas I am developing I hope to, in the near future, be carried across into my career path), I did put a fair amount into the series (at the expense of my comic series as well) and over the past week my wife-to-be has been doing her best to push as much enthusiasm into me as she can about hitting the 30’s. I suppose I should stop thinking so much about all this for a couple days and come back fighting. However, this is not my nature either.

I suppose I want to leave this week by reflecting on the strange world of blogging.

As my first post was only in January, I guess in most respects I’m still a “noob”. Various aspects of my background has left me with an unnaturally strong need to prove myself. After hearing family members put down my work through the teachings of Monckton, I felt that I should offer a voice of reason regarding climate change. As “TrueSkeptic” has since commented, I wasn’t aware of what I was getting myself into.

The power of a word is much more elastic than its truth

It only takes one convincing liar to propagate a baseless view which can take the world by storm. It takes many experts a very long time to even begin to sway popular view to anything reasonable. Look at the efforts it took a professor to undertake to detangle the rubbish of Monckton’s presentation. Yet Christopher feels it justifiable to fight back and in some corners the fake lord is still considered a hero. He had travelled the globe, provided I don’t know how many propaganda lectures and earned who knows how much money before John Abraham provided an irrefutable rebuttal. A while ago, Dr. Andrew Glikson also had a written exchange with Monckton through a journalist which didn’t get as much attention. Either way, all too often parrots of Chris continue to populate blogs and other pop-media. His lies are hard to kill – a bit like a weed that keeps popping up in new parts of the yard.

The lack of attention of Watts recent tour across Australia deserves a pat on the collective Aussie back. His attack on US weather stations has been demonstrated as nothing more than a waste of time and money (in developing new stations). Comparing the data between “good” sites and “bad” sites shows little differences (besides; the process of looking at tends over time largely overcomes many site flaws), and the US temperature record is only a small part of a much larger global data collection. Regardless of this, his blog continues to be a favourite among many groups and is parroted off in pop-media.

For some time, Mike at Watching the Deniers, has been following Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt, and recently Skeptical Science has focused on Nova as well. Jo’s paranoid flavour only seems to appeal to the very crowd that no evidence could ever get through to (anything offered only increases the size of the conspiracy – just look at her wild and somewhat insane attack recently aimed at PNAS). Bolt is known to lie and demonstrate poor journalistic ethics (see Mike’s write up).

Apart from these loud outlets of anti-science, there is another group of people (who I was probably most surprised about) that carry out the most cowardly form of bullying through comments. Some use a name that can be traced back to a blog, but most that throw mud around do so without a face and name. Now, I mentioned earlier that I had near an obsession with proving myself. With dyslexia, it’s been difficult to demonstrate what I understand. In this respect, when I face criticism, I go into overdrive to prove myself; anyone that has blogged for a long time or is in the public eye can obviously spot the danger in my flaw. However, I guess the two most energetic individuals I’ve ran into so far (Roger and Pete) have been good in helping me move passed this. They both demonstrated examples of people unable adopt, adapt and improve. Their views were concrete and void to the greater amount of current understanding.

I’m now at peace with being able to constructively reach everyone in balanced and informed debate.

Because the dangerous power of words have been demonstrated by Monckton, Watts, Nova, and Bolt above and others like Tony Abbott, Donna Laframboise, John Shimkus, and Nick Minchin that I’ve discussed previously, I’ve returned to my academic training and a constant supply of reference papers. Reason isn’t enough – it’s all about having as many expert people supporting your argument as you can get. The people here say a lot of wild things and it becomes very difficult to find where their accusations were borne. Publicly, we need to make it clear just how limited their scientific basis is and demonstrate the greater scientific consensus regarding the changing world.

Indeed a number of these people and their followers will forever ignore or refute the science until their shoulder deep in the results of their ignorance. It eventually becomes trivial arguing with them directly. At some point it must also become equally as meaningless to argue against their wild claims in public. Indulging in these strange little skirmishes also encourages the one thing that they endeavour to achieve; inaction. Political will may be weak (Rudd’s collapse in popularity arguably demonstrates a general climate concern within Australia  that may have otherwise been hidden under the noise of people like Abbott, Minchin, Bolt, and Nova), but there is noticeable opportunity to engage with the public not only on the various impacts, but potential we have to adapt and demonstrate to the world this hard yakka attitude that we Aussies like to hold of ourselves. We don’t need to wait for other countries and we have the resources at hand to be world leaders in development. This could provide a great economic boom than Rudd’s coal spine.

However, I feel that this will be left in the hands of academic and private groups to take the initiative. Are we game enough?