A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Climate change increases chance of dragons

Be warned. Don’t write this off as the usual exaggerated hype from Nature.

Zoology: Here be dragons

Emerging evidence indicates that dragons can no longer be dismissed as creatures of legend and fantasy, and that anthropogenic effects on the world’s climate may inadvertently be paving the way for the resurgence of these beasts.

Figure 2: The rise and fall and rise again of dragons. The relative frequency of ‘dragons’ in fictional literature (thick red line), as determined as a unigram probability4, with two historical reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere temperature (decadal smoothing) shown in blue5 and purple6. Global temperatures have been measured since 1855 (thick black line5). Temperature anomalies represent deviations from the 1961–90 reference period. The rising incidence of dragons in the literature correlates with rising temperatures, and suggests that these fire-breathing lizards are being sighted more frequently. As a result, the large-scale ‘Third Stir’ is deemed to be imminent.

Ominous signs are there:

Further work has revealed that the early medieval period was a veritable paradise for dragons. This can be attributed to the period’s unusually warm temperatures (Fig. 2) and an abundance of knights, the beasts’ favourite combatant and food. It was also a time when wealth and status were measured in terms of gold and silver — the preferred nesting material for Western dragons.

So dragons forage for knights, and nest in gold and silver. The Nature researchers don’t even mention the rising price of gold and silver nor the volume of trades. Now that’s a hockeystick.

Australia gets the blame again:

Sluggish action on global warming is set to compound the problem, and policies such as the restoration of knighthoods in Australia are likely to exacerbate the predicament yet further by providing a sustained and delicious food supply. It is now only a matter of time before The Third Stir takes place, and this, to borrow a phrase from Godfrey of Exmouth, will be the “bigge one”.

USA Today reports one of the authors is expecting attacks from skeptics:

Some skeptics continue to deride the notion of human-induced climate change, “so we will not at all be
surprised that our finding that this climate phenomenon will see a burgeoning of fire-breathing dragons is
treated with extreme suspicion, if not contempt, scorn and ridicule,” said Andrew Hamilton, a professor of
entomology and an expert in pest management at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

I would say “Not at all”. There’s far more empirical support here than for man-made global warming.  ;- )

Read it all at Nature.

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Welcome to the CO2 disaster — 4 billion tons more plants, more greenery

During the recent warmest decades on record, Earth suffered under the highest CO2 levels of the last 800,000 years. Life responded to this devastating situation by — flourishing. There are now some 4 billion tons more living matter on the planet than there was in 1993. What a calamity. (And what a lot of carbon credits.)

It has, naturally, got nothing to do with warmth and aerial fertilizer. The researchers tell us it due to that force of nature known as “good luck”. Remember, human CO2 emissions were pollution that was going to afflict life on Earth. After twenty years of predicting the loss of forests and species, it turned out that biology bloomed instead. Notch up another model “success”. The press release headline: Good luck reverses global forest loss. (What else would we expect from UNSW?)

To those who know basic biology — and that almost half the dry weight of plants is carbon, sucked straight out of the air — this is not so much good luck as one entirely foreseeable and foreseen consequence of rising CO2. Acquiring carbon is often a plant’s hardest task. When the sun comes up, a cornfield begins sucking, and by lunch time its already got all it can get, so growth slows til night returns to pump up the CO2 levels again. Pulling out all that plant fertilizer from under Middle Eastern deserts and spreading it around where the plants could get it has a predictable effect on plant life (though it’s fair to ask if our emissions actually contribute very much).

Remember in post-modern climate science, your air-conditioner causes snowstorms, but if CO2 rises and plants grow — that’s “luck”.

Lui et al studied, as they call it, natural radio waves, recorded in satellite data of our land surfaces.

Fig 2:  Mean annual change in aboveground biomass carbon between 1993 and 2012.

Press release UNSW

         Good luck reverses global forest loss

Global vegetation has increased by the equivalent of 4 billion tonnes of carbon – despite ongoing large-scale deforestation in the tropics.

Analysis of 20 years of satellite data has revealed the total amount of vegetation globally has increased by almost the equivalent of 4 billion tonnes of carbon since 2003. This is despite ongoing large-scale deforestation in the tropics.

Keep reading  →

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Big-government propaganda: ABC, BBC are “Aggressive political participants”. Sell or Split?

What to do with the public broadcasters? ABC BBC CBC (Can anyone explain public media in NZ?)

Big-government fans forcibly take funds from all citizens to support big-government propaganda by journalists who predominantly vote left or very-left (see here or here). The question is not whether or not they should do this but whether to privatize the public broadcasters, or to split them in two. I say, let’s forget the submissive plea to get one conservative commentator among a monoculture of “progressives”.  Chop the current one in half and call it what it is: pro big-government. Then set up a new counter half to match — the pro-small-government broadcaster with the same funds but new staff. (Game on — let the best team win that ratings war.) Abbott could keep ABC funding promises. ABC-L plus ABC-R equals current ABC-LL+ funding.

Obviously, true free-market libertarians want public broadcasters 100% sold — their incentives are always going to run counter to unbiased reporting and the hunt for the truth. On the other hand, among the populace, the ground is not remotely laid for a big-sell. Many voters remain blind to the bias, and have no idea how filtered the half-truths are: in 2013 73% said they “trust” the ABC. Though 4% more viewers  turned off  the boring indoctrination last year, there is a long way to go.

Is a split more realistic, or is it a short term solution but a long term fail? Would a split ABC (or BBC or CBC) finally achieve real public debate to help our civilization achieve the best balance between “Big-Gov and Small-Gov”? I think the independent-minded Small-Gov-half would romp in the ratings as people tuned in to see real debate, real conflict and the funniest smartest shows. Big-G TV can keep the ever-predictable Shaun Micallef, and the group-thinky gags of Clark & Dawes. Edgy comedy is a step ahead of the crowd, it mocks the ruling paradigms rather than repeats them. The most popular BBC show is (or was) Top Gear. Need I say more? Political correctness is just not that funny.

A dark side of a split would be that polarized audiences may end up watching self-reinforcing TV, everyone in their preferred silo. I’m optimistic; I think the competitive side of libertarian-conservative minds would mean the Small-G-TV would be where the real debate happened. The Big-G team currently work by silencing debate, but the independent minds crave it. Perhaps the “progressives” would have to debate their ideas once more? But there is also the danger that, if it wasn’t done well, the big-government lovin’ journalists and their attendant bureaucracy would capture both broadcasters.

So here are two points for today’s blog episode of “sell or split”. One: The Victorian State Liberal Party (now in opposition) formally recognizes the Australian ABC as the enemy, and sends a message to the Abbott government that the ABC should be privatized. Two: Rupert Wyndham eviscerates the BBC for it’s pretentious but vapor thin grip on “ethics”. His letter is a work of art.

Victorian Libs recognise the enemy

Andrew Bolt:

The accompanying statement to the motion [passed by the Victorian Liberals], drafted by Bernie Gaynor:

The ABC and the SBS are clear enemies of our party. They wish us ill, do us great harm – while we foolishly maintain them with our taxes. They are not mere political reporters and commentators – they are aggressive political participants. Relentless in their pursuit of left ideological policies and objectives, they have nothing but contempt for our liberal, conservative values.

It is not the role of government to run a huge media empire. The time for public funding of this disgraceful political bastion of the left is over. They must be sold. Let the left pay for them out of their own pockets, and let the tax payers of Australia be saved $1.2 billion per year by their liquidation.

Rupert Wyndham explains what ethics are to the BBC

Wyndham writes to point out real ethical issues the BBC ought to discuss. A few razor sharp points first below, and his full letter with all 32 examples after that. (H/t to Ross, thanks).

“…what are the ethical issues that should, but plainly don’t, exercise … the state broadcaster? Here are a few suggestions.”

So when the BBC:

  • Routinely ignores its own Editorial Standards (as it happens, legal requirements), that is an ethical issue;
  • Subverts the accepted meaning of language in order to generate a spurious justification for institutional bias, that is an ethical issue;
  • Claims that its much vaunted impartiality has been ‘calibrated’ on the advice of a specially convened assembly of experts, that is an ethical issue;
  • Subsequently spends large quantities of licence fee payers’ money seeking to avoid disclosing the composition of that convocation, that is an ethical issue;
  • Has, as it later transpires, lied repeatedly about the accreditation of attendees, that is an ethical issue;
  • Is in possession of information indicating gross malfeasance within the climate change community, which for weeks it deliberately suppresses, that is an ethical issue;
  • When scientists, or those claiming to be, concoct evidence, that is an ethical issue.
  • When they refuse to engage in debate with their peers, that is an ethical issue.
  • When they defame and willfully denigrate the motives of any who have the temerity to question their fraudulent orthodoxy, that is an ethical issue.
  • When they monopolise finite resources at the expense of vastly more important areas of scientific investigation, that is an ethical issue.

Read Rupert’s whole letter below.

Keep reading  →

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Coal is like “torture” rage Guardian, Friends of the Earth

Oops. Who hates “the environment”? Green lobbyists keep revealing  how little they care. Friends of the Earth want to categorically rule out one of the most cost effective ways to reduce our carbon emissions.  New supercritical hot burning coal plants can reduce emissions by an amazing 15%. But Friends of the Earth and The Guardian hate coal more than they care about CO2.

The green climate fund (GCF) refused an explicit ban on fossil fuel projects at the contentious meeting in Songdo, South Korea, last week.

“It’s like a torture convention that doesn’t forbid torture,” said Karen Orenstein, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth US who was at the meeting. “Honestly it should be a no-brainer at this point.” — The Guardian

Poor old solar and wind power are so useless that the debate is about whether they achieve any reductions at all.  Their intermittent power means some kind of back-up base load power source has to run on standby to pick up the pieces when they collapse. The more wind power you have, the less CO2 you save. Solar Power provides “cheaper” electricity to the rich at the expense of everyone else, and potentially destroys thousands of square kilometers of wilderness, as well as zapping birdlife. We can use precious funds to help the environment, or we can waste them…

Apparently what matters most to environmental campaigners is knee-capping independent industry and cheap energy. Judging by what actually happens, the primary aim is increasing the government sector. Every industry dependent on big-government is a friend a socialist can count on.

The EU has burned $100 billion on badly managed renewable subsidies (that’s just the waste, not the total budget). That money ended up in someone’s pocket, and you can bet they have an incentive to donate to Friends of The Earth to keep the junket-gravy flowing.

If the Guardian and Friends of the Earth want us to believe they care about CO2 levels, they need to stop choosing the worst ways to reduce CO2 as their preferred option. Perhaps they are scared that if we actually reduced our CO2 emissions people might realize that it makes no difference to the weather?

The Guardian lobbying rag didn’t ask any hard questions, do an Internet search, or speak to critics. But they did provide a free “Ad” ticker counting the barrels of oil used by the world while we read their unresearched, careless, and innumerate “report”. The oil ticker the most insightful piece on the page. So far 1.5 million barrels of oil have been used while I write this. We are an oil-powered world; 80% of our total electricity comes from fossil fuels. Thank goodness for the independent free market that provides it.

H/t Sally.

* Or both.

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Bloggies 2015 winners. Climate Audit, NotaLotofPeopleKnowThat, JoNova

Thanks to all the readers here who took time to vote. Skeptical sites are well represented in the finalists and winners largely thanks to readers here, at Tallblokes, Realscience  and NotALotOfPeopleKnowThat.

Congrats to Steve McIntyre who surely deserves every bit of his LifeTime Achievement award. I’m delighted to see Paul Homewood (Notalotofpeopleknowthat) win in Best European blog. He was stiff competition in the Topical category given his role in the Christopher Booker series on the scandalous temperature adjustments which made such an impact around the world. Breitbart was also a favourite of mine, largely thanks to James Delingpole.

Congrats to all finalists like Tallbloke, WattsUpRealScience (who is moving to RealClimateScience) and NoTricksZone. Tallbloke, the ultimate good sport, was a finalist for the LifeTime Achievement, but announced he’d vote for Climate Audit.

One day, maybe The Bloggies will bring back The Best Science Blog Category which skeptics would obviously dominate at the moment. Repressing a passionate crowd doesn’t work.

For the overseas crowd, Larry Pickering is an award winning political cartoonist in Australia who came out of retirement because our last government was so awful. He’s a skeptic to the end.

Thanks to the volunteers who help to moderate and make this site possible.

Background: Vote for your favourite in the Bloggies. Other posts on The Bloggies.


PS: In the Topical finalists category, check out the Human Earth Project. Wow.

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Weekend Unleaded

Don’t forget Power Hour, your chance to shine. :-)

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Ted Cruz — US Presidential candidate and skeptic who “follows the science” on climate

I don’t see how this man can possibly get elected. On climate change he is far too sensible.

This is one of the best short video responses by a politician that I have ever seen. Such clarity…

The full video is at the right scoop.

If this man stays in the campaign running for long he will change the dynamics of the whole public climate debate.

h/t to Joe B. Thanks :-)

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BoM forum been, gone. Rejoice! Invisible problems being solved behind closed doors

You’ll be glad to know the BoM problems are all dealt with. Some hand-picked statisticians met with some BoM people yesterday, and they had a robust private chat about secret temperature stuff at the technical advisory forum (that’s the tea-and-cakes one-day-wonder). I’m so relieved to know it was “productive”. (Imagine if the press release had said it was “predictable, boring and unproductive”?)  In a few months we will find out a small, filtered version of what they said and possibly something of what the BoM approved statisticians think about the nameless, unlinked, public-submissions.

We do know that the BoM didn’t want public submissions, but in their good grace, they have given them to the select forum members anyway. (Be grateful serfs, you don’t get acknowledgment or answers, but your dedication in listing and referencing known scandalous problems with our national dataset is worthy of one line in the last paragraph of a press release. Congratulations — maybe. Only one two submissions have been formally acknowledged which means the others, with months of work, might fall off the back of a truck, lost in the mail.*It’s possible. Is it too much to expect officials to send an email receipt with acknowledgment?)

We still don’t know how the BoM defend their ACORN dataset in response to these submissions, or when these errors (which have been reported on blogs and in emails for nearly three years) will be fixed. I predict that we’ll get some answers — but only the week after Graham Lloyd puts a problem in The Australian (eg like last August).  National media attention is the only kind of “submission” the BoM seems to respond too. (Not that their responses make a lot of sense.)

Bob FJ notes the press release has a custom tab that suggests the press release was written two days ago. I guess they knew it would be productive and robust. It could be no other way. UPDATE: I added this last line to highlight the artificial nature of the modern press system. I’m sure it would be standard practice for government departments to write press releases before events to get them pre-approved and ready to go. In theory, they would argue that they would change keywords after the event and before they were released if the event went very differently to what was expected. I’d like to break the illusion that press releases are written after the fact, and let everyone know how much the press team are factored into the program these days (at least for those who have a press team). The point of the forum is largely for show, a theater, as far as I can see. The press release is part of that show. If the BoM were genuinely interested in the accuracy of their data they would thank the volunteers who found errors and fix them. Three years of inaction speaks for itself.


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One quarter of the US are now implacable skeptics of “climate change” fears

The new Gallup Poll is out. Most commentators are focused on the worried “a great deal” category, which is back to 1989 levels, but that’s largely noise. The important trend is at the other end of the spectrum, and seems to be missed. The only category with steady growth are the hard core skeptics, people who are worried “not at all”.  That’s doubled from 12 to 24%; the trend is up.  This is an unequivocal category. One quarter of the population are solidly, completely skeptical.

Given the 4% errors, there are only two clear trends in this table below. Firstly, those who had no opinion have now got one, and it’s skeptical. Secondly, the number of the most implacable skeptics has doubled.  After 20 years of propaganda the section of the population that is not buying the scare is steadily increasing. The size of the groups with variable levels of worry flicks up and down as people switch. But the numbers of those who worry “not at all” are steadily rising, and therein lies the death of the scare. It’s a one way ticket from being uninformed and worried to the “only a little/not at all” category.

The “enviro-scare” campaign has over-played its hand.

Here are the trends over the last 25 years of propaganda-filled repetition. No major western party or institution or news outlet is an outspoken declared skeptic. Tony Abbott runs one of the most skeptical governments in the west, but even he is promising billions to deal with climate change. The UN, the World Bank, the EU, most science associations and every single government agency says “climate change is real”. But despite that monotony, a quarter of the population are absolute skeptics and it’s growing. That growth comes from word of mouth, books, radio, and blogs. Q14D Gallup 2015.

The base of the “greatly worried” group bottoms out in “bad years” (for them) at a quarter of the population too. This is probably the limit of the current implacable believers, the unreachable core. It will be interesting to how much further that number may fall. Twenty years from now it may have shrunk to the 8% – 10% type group who vote Green regularly.

But right now, the skeptical must be focused on sharing messages with the middling fear groups. Half of the population lie between the die-hard skeptics and the die-hard believers, and they can be reached.

The peaks and falls in fear reveal the “switchers”.

Keep reading  →

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The 97% Cook Consensus – when will Environ Res Letters retract it?

Richard Tol has an excellent summary of the state of the 97% claim by John Cook et al, published in The Australian today.

It becomes exhausting to just list the errors.

Don’t ask how bad a paper has to be to get retracted. Ask how bad it has to be to get published.

As Tol explains, the Cook et al paper used an unrepresentative sample, can’t be replicated, and leaves out many useful papers. The study was done by biased observers who disagreed with each other a third of the time, and disagree with the authors of those papers nearly two-thirds of the time. About 75% of the papers in the study were irrelevant in the first place, with nothing to say about the subject matter. Technically, we could call them  “padding”. Cook himself has admitted data quality is low. He refused to release all his data, and even threatened legal action to hide it. (The university claimed it would breach a confidentiality agreement. But in reality, there was no agreement to breach.) As it happens, the data ended up being public anyhow. Tol refers to an “alleged hacker” but, my understanding is that no hack took place, and the “secret” data, that shouldn’t have been a secret, was left on an unguarded server. The word is “incompetence”, and the phrase is “on every level”.

The hidden timestamps of raters revealed one person rated 675 abstracts in 72 hours, with much care and lots of rigor, I’m sure. It also showed that the same people collected data, analyzed results, collected more data, changed their classification system, and went on to collect even more data. This is a hopelessly unscientific process prone to subjective bias and breaches the most basic rules of experimental design. Tol found the observations changed with each round, so the changes were affecting the experiment. Normal scientists put forward a hypothesis, design an experiment, run it, and then analyze. When scientists juggle these steps, the results influence the testing. It’s a process someone might use if they wanted to tweak the experiment to get a specific outcome. We can’t know the motivations of researchers, but there is a reason good scientists don’t use this process.

My problem with taking the Cook paper seriously is that it is so wholly, profoundly, unscientific from beginning to end that it’s hard to muster any mental effort to unpack a pointless study that will never tell us anything about the atmosphere on Earth.

As I have said from the start, studies on consensus are a proxy for funding, not a proxy for Truth — and funding is as monopolistic as ever. The government gives grants to researchers to find a crisis, and we get what we paid for. If we pour $30 billion into finding reasons to fear CO2, and $0 into finding holes with that theory, it is entirely predictable that we will get 90+ percent of papers that support the theory. There are plenty of ways to write irrelevant, flawed, unrelated, or repetitive material. (What’s remarkable is that there are so many skeptical papers that manage to get written without much funding and get past the gatekeepers in “peer review”.)

But many harried, busy people, untrained in logic, seem to find these consensus papers compelling, so it is worth pointing out the flaws.

The most important issue here is not the inept study authors  (who are beyond help) but the response of the University of Queensland, and the editors of Environ. Res. Lett.. Richard Tol has informed the journal of the problems and suggested his reply should be published and the paper should be retracted. Editor Daniel Kammen chose not to publish Tol’s analysis, though he sent it to reviewers. Peer review has become so farcical, one ERL reviewer suggested Tol should rewrite his submission and should conclude that Cook’s paper was an example of  “exemplary scientific conduct”. That says a lot about scientific standards at ERL.

Don’t ask how bad a paper has to be to get retracted. Ask how bad it has to be to get published.

Why will ERL publish such a flawed paper, not publish the scientific response to it, and not retract something unscientific and incompetent from beginning to end? Daniel Kammen needs to explain why Cook’s paper is useful science.

Richard Tol‘s blog: Occasional thoughts on all sorts.

  “Global warming consensus claim doesn’t stand up”

An edited version appeared in the Australian on March 24, 2015

Consensus has no place in science. Academics agree on lots of things, but that does not make them true. Even so, agreement that climate change is real and human-caused does not tell us anything about how the risks of climate change weigh against the risks of climate policy. But in our age of pseudo-Enlightenment, having 97% of researchers on your side is a powerful rhetoric for marginalizing political opponents. All politics ends in failure, however. Chances are the opposition will gain power well before the climate problem is solved. Polarization works in the short run, but is counterproductive in the long run.

The Cook paper is remarkable for its quality, though. Cook and colleagues studied some 12,000 papers, but did not check whether their sample is representative for the scientific literature. It isn’t. Their conclusions are about the papers they happened to look at, rather than about the literature. Attempts to replicate their sample failed: A number of papers that should have been analysed were not, for no apparent reason.

The sample was padded with irrelevant papers. An article about TV coverage on global warming was taken as evidence for global warming. In fact, about three-quarters of the papers counted as endorsements had nothing to say about the subject matter.

Cook enlisted a small group of environmental activists to rate the claims made by the selected papers. Cook claims that the ratings were done independently, but the raters freely discussed their work. There are systematic differences between the raters. Reading the same abstracts, the raters reached remarkably different conclusions – and some raters all too often erred in the same direction. Cook’s hand-picked raters disagreed what a paper was about 33% of the time. In 63% of cases, they disagreed about the message of a paper with the authors of that paper.

Keep reading  →

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