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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Weekend Unleaded

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

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Rating: 9.4/10 (9 votes cast)

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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Rating: 9.6/10 (83 votes cast)

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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The climate religion is God’s gift. (God spoke to NOAA, right?)

Hail the Episcopal Bishop who “knows” which experts are right in this science debate. She hath declared that certified climate scientists paid by government grants speak the word of God.  Other scientists (like 48% of Meteorologists, and two thirds of Geo’s and Engineers, plus practically everyone retired from NASA) are immoral, blind, threatening the poor, and wrong.

The Guardian: Climate denial is immoral, says head of US Episcopal church

The highest ranking woman in the Anglican communion has said climate denial is a “blind” and immoral position which rejects God’s gift of knowledge.

Get ready climate denier, for your brain was not a gift from God. When you speak of Aristotle, Popper, and Feynman, you are not using the gift of knowledge to take apart the false posturings of broken climate simulations. Nor are you protecting the poor from  witchdoctors with biblical prophesies of doom.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church and one of the most powerful women in Christianity, said that climate change was a moral imperative akin to that of the civil rights movement. She said it was already a threat to the livelihoods and survival of people in the developing world.

Climate sensitivity is a lot like the civil rights movement. Sure.

Everyone is a racist these days, even if you don’t talk about race.

In the same context, Jefferts Schori attached moral implications to climate denial, suggesting those who reject the underlying science of climate change were turning their backs on God’s gift of knowledge.

Didn’t God give us weather balloons, satellites, and boreholes? Or did He just stop at Al Gore and James Hansen?

“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” she said. “In that sense, yes, it could be understood as a moral issue.”

Yes, and God’s plan is clearly for you to switch off your brain and accept the Truth of the Department of Eco-Glory.

She went on: “I think it is a very blind position. I think it is a refusal to use the best of human knowledge, which is ultimately a gift of God.”

Schori was trained in the Green Religion at the Church of Academia first:

An oceanographer before she was ordained at the age of 40, Bishop Jefferts Schori said she hoped to use her visibility as a church leader to help drive action on climate change.

It’s a shame she didn’t get the Gift of The Scientific Method with her oceanography.

Hail, father, the State is my Church. Whatever the loudest government scientists say is now God’s word.

I suspect Christian philosophers might have a thing or two to say, maybe, like Exodus 20:3 “”You shall have no other gods before me.”

Give her points for ethical flexibility though. Coal may be killing kids in her visions, but it’s fine for the church to make money from fossil fuels. Even she, from her extreme position, thinks the Guardian divestment plot is bonkers:

The Episcopal church has also come under pressure to withdraw its fossil fuel holdings. A number of diocese are pressing for divestment, and will bring the issue to a vote at the church’s annual convention this summer.

Jefferts Schori opposes fossil fuel divestment. “If you divest you lose any direct ability to influence the course of a corporation’s behavior,” she said. “I think most pragmatists realise that we can’t close the spigot on the oil wells and close the coal mines immediately without some other energy source to shift to.”

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CO2 is not making storms worse near Japan either

Yet more evidence that there is no relationship between CO2 and cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons. This paper from 2012 tests the theory that global warming made storms more severe and tried to find any effect on typhoons hitting Japan that could be linked to climate change since 1980.

There has been no increase in “super typhoons”. The typhoon season is not longer, nor is it delayed in starting. There has been no change in intensity. The wind speeds are not increasing. The minimum pressure is pretty much the same.

CO2 appears to influence storms in simulated worlds, but not so much in the real one. There is no sign of more severe storms in Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific either. Nor is there any pattern in the Global Energy indicies, US Hurricanes, US Tornadoes either.

When will scientists and reporters make sure that their audiences know that?

The authors conclude:

“The results suggest that typhoons have not been influenced by global warming. In conclusion, global warming has not significantly changed the characteristics of typhoons, and there is no close relationship between the two.”

Figure 19. Number of super typhoons that develop

Keep reading  →

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How will you celebrate Power Hour — next Saturday?

Australians don’t forget Earth Hour The Power Hour!

At 8.30pm tonight March 28th, celebrate electricity and set that CO2 free. Do your bit to feed starving plants, and regreen deserts. Rejoice that at the flick of a switch we can do something that would seem magical for most of human history, and that which 1.3 billion people today still can’t do.

Do it for the children

It’s just one hour a year when we glory in the achievements of electricity.  What child would not benefit from taking part in an expression of gratitude that we do not live in the cold and dark anymore? In the West, almost everyone has cupboards-of-cold to store food that we don’t have to catch and kill, or grow, or grind?


h/t to Turtle. I got the date wrong. Next week… – Jo

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Weekend Unloaded (last day to vote in Bloggies)

Some thoughts need to be shared…

PS:There are lots of skeptical blogs to vote for. Bloggies 2015 voting closes tonight 10pm Sunday EDT, which is 1pm Monday in Sydney. (And I had an old incorrect link in the post about it last week. Oops :- | ).

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Melbourne heat — BoM makes mystery corrections, but misses new skyscrapers. Incompetence?

More errors in ACORN – The Bureau of Met wonder-database corrects for mysterious “statisticals” but not for 15 story buildings built next to the thermometers. They correct a step change that doesn’t occur in minima, but don’t correct for one that does in maxima. Big site changes are marked in some datasets but not in others. And where is the correction for obvious urban heat island effects? Bear in mind, the size of the artificial steps and corrections is on a par with the warming supposedly due to carbon dioxide. Hmmm.

The BoM database needs to be independently and publicly replicated, all the way from their raw data to the final output down to several decimal places. Then we will all know what is going on. Let’s shine a light in. If it ain’t replicated, it ain’t science.

Melbourne has one of the longest temperature records in the Southern Hemisphere. Looking at the original records it appears Melbourne maximums have not changed much from 1855 – 1995. Then they suddenly jumped or stepped up.

Tom Quirk did some sleuthing, and figured out why that happened. But what he can’t figure out is why the Bureau missed this adjustment, yet makes other adjustments no one can explain. At the same time as the temperatures suddenly jump 0.7C, two big skyscrapers were built directly south of the sensors (see the photo below). The tallest is a 15 story block finished in 1997.  Beside it is a shorter tower finished in 1998. The BoM corrects for “statistical” problems, but not for 15 story wind-blocks?

The all-marvellous ACORN is meant to adjust for exactly this kind of site change. Instead, the obvious upward step is left in the ACORN record, but other effects that can’t even be explained get “corrected”. There are step corrections in ACORN that “fix” mysterious attacks of something the BoM calls “statisticals”. But statistics don’t zip around the streets affecting measurements. Why do the original records needed to be changed at all?

Paradoxically, the BoM notes site changes in some data sets but not others about the same site. They correct for these site changes in the minima, even though it’s the maxima that are affected. They say they compensate for the Urban Heat Island effect, but the corrections are step changes when they should be long slow changes, just like the urban heat effect supposedly being countered.

During the time as these huge blocks were being built, the all-marvelous ACORN dataset also tells us that the bureau changed the thermometer from the older thermometer-based station to an automatic, electronic one.  Oddly the raw site record does not mention any instrument change at all. This is just a quality control problem. The BoM call it world’s best practice (we agree, things are sloppy everywhere!).

A new station has been set up 2km away from this old historic one, at “Olympic Park”, where it’s about 1C cooler. It is still very near the centre of the large city of Melbourne, but not next to skyscrapers. This shows a clear 1C urban heat island effect. Presumably if we compared the temperature outside the city and suburbs, it would be much larger than this.

Spot the new wind-blocking buildings to the south and south-East of the thermometers

Melbourne, an old long important record

The Melbourne temperature record is one of the “long time” instrumental records of Australian temperature. It starts in 1855 and continues to the present day. Originally measurements were made in the Flagstaff Gardens. Then when the Melbourne observatory was established in 1863 near the Botanical Gardens, the measurements were taken at that location until 1907 when there was a move to the present location on the corner of Victoria and Latrobe Streets in central Melbourne.

See the step change below in Melbourne’s long term record. It is about of 0.7 +/- 0.2 0C. That step up is larger than the rise from 1855-1995. Note the rise in the minima after 1940, which appears to be mostly the UHI effect. (See below).

Figure 1: Melbourne Regional Office annual average  minimum and maximum temperatures, first measured in the Flagstaff Gardens, then at the Observatory, and then from 1907 at the present site, the corner of Victoria and Latrobe Streets.


These buildings block the southerly wind which brings cool air from the ocean. The BoM corrects for them in the minimums (where they don’t appear to have any effect), but not the maximum temperatures (where they appear to cause the step change).

Figure 7: CityGate tower directly to the south east of the BOM thermometer site in 2015 after the site was closed (see Figure 2)

We can see the urban heat island effect in Melbourne.

A station 20 km away (Laverton) does not show the same continuous increase from 1940 – 1970 in minima, though it may have developed its own urban heat island effect in recent years.

Figure 3: Annual average minimum temperatures for the ACORN-SAT homogenized Melbourne Regional Office measurements, raw minimum temperatures for the Melbourne Regional Office and Laverton.

The biggest Urban Heat Island effect is concrete and asphalt absorbing heat all day and radiating it back at night. As we would expect the maximums are not as affected (see below)

Keep reading  →

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