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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Sydney Morning Herald: Jessica Wright gets the facts wrong. An attempt to defame and smear?

The SMH — another Fauxfacts publication

Jessica Wright of the Sydney Morning Herald blatantly tries to smear The Heartland Institute with outright falsehoods:

“A sister pro-tobacco lobbying organisation and corporate member of ALEC, the Heartland Institute, paid for Senator Bernardi’s accommodation and travel to the US on four separate occasions in 2010 and 2011. The institute recently ran a two-day conference in the US entitled ”Can Tobacco Make You Healthier?”

Read more: SMH

But she apparently didn’t do much research. Heartland point out that the title was not “Can Tobacco Make You Healthier”, but “Can Tobacco Cure Smoking” and the “two day” conference was a 75 minute seminar from an expert, discussing another way to help smokers quit.

“The speaker, Prof. Brad Rodu, is one of the country’s (indeed, the world’s) leading authorities on the use of smokeless tobacco products to encourage smokers to smoke less or stop altogether. Given that message, it would be more accurate to say that Heartland sponsored a seminar on ‘how to stop smoking.’

Heartland corrects the record.

It’s probably sloppy journalism. But in its darker form, thus can a propaganda artist pose as a journalist, defaming and denigrating those who oppose their own [...]

Gillard calls election for Sept 14th 2013

From The Australian (preferences could flow quite differently in 2013)

I’ve heard rumors she might rush a March election partly because the global economy is teetering… (and the coalition obviously heard those rumors too, with the mini-campaign launch they put on the weekend). But given that the polls are fairly awful it’s not surprising she’s put it off.

But it is surprising that she announced it so far in advance. She may be staving off challenges to her leadership. As Bolt puts it: ” Her declaration is likely to pressure her party critics into rallying behind her. She also gets credit for making a decision, and ends the latest bout of criticism about her management – whether over the Nova Peris pick or the Mathieson joke embarrassment. “

Link to polls source: The Australian

Gillard calls Sept 14 election date [ABC]


Cloud forming bacteria?

File this under: “How little we know.”

The upper troposphere is apparently teeming with particles of bacteria and fungi, surprising researchers.* Proving that life is tenacious and that microbes can survive just about anywhere, a team at Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered that quite a bit of what we assumed was dust and sea-salt may be bacteria aloft. Some of the little critters made it as high as the upper troposphere which is 10km up (where commercial flights cruise). No one is quite sure if the microbes “live” up there, or were just visiting.

The study showed that viable bacterial cells represented, on average, around 20 percent of the total particles detected in the size range of 0.25 to 1 microns in diameter. By at least one order of magnitude, bacteria outnumbered fungi in the samples, and the researchers detected 17 different bacteria taxa – including some that are capable of metabolizing the carbon compounds that are ubiquitous in the atmosphere – such as oxalic acid.

The bacteria were probably tossed up there by wind and waves:

When the air masses studied originated over the ocean, the sampling found mostly marine bacteria. Air masses that originated over land had [...]

Eight reasons the Australian heatwave is not “climate change”

Eight  reasons why this current heatwave is a boring, overhyped example of weather being used for political purposes.

1. It’s the long term trends that matter — not a few weeks of hot weather

As climate scientists keep telling us (except when they have a heatwave to milk), ”weather is not climate”. It’s the long term trends that matter. One short four week period is not a long term climate trend, but it is an excellent opportunity to create hype and scaremongering in the newspapers. Scientists with little scruple and low standards are making the most of this.

2. The “records” we are breaking are pitifully short

Even if this is the hottest heatwave “ever recorded”, it doesn’t mean much in the long term scheme of things. Natural climate cycles work on scales of 11 years, 60 years, 200 years, 1500 years, and 100,000 years. We have decent temperature records for many locations for only 50 years. We have a scratchy patchy thermometer record for 150 years. Any scientist raving about breaking a 50 year record as if it means something is … embarrassing. There is too much noise in this system and too little data.

3. If a few weeks [...]

Unthreaded Weekend

James Lovelock partly recants

Call me fussy. James Lovelock — the GAIA man himself — is calling it as he sees it, and good on him. Bravo. I’m just a little underwhelmed with the reasoning. Hat tip to Bishop Hill, Phillip Bratby and Barry Woods.

Some things are spectacular:

I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human needs. We need take care that the spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island, monuments of a failed civilisation.


Others are not:

…there is little doubt among scientists… that the burning of fossil fuels is by far the most dangerous source of energy.  … we are changing the composition of the air in a way that will have profoundly adverse effects on the Earth’s ecology and on ourselves.

So Lovelock still thinks CO2 [...]

Each electric car could add costs of $2000 per year for “our” electricity network

What was that Ms Gillard said about not wanting to “gold plate” our electricity networks? The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) released a warning in December that electric cars will cost a lot more than just the purchase price and the electricity:

Electric vehicles in particular are another new “appliance” which is set to place new demands on Australia’s power system. This review has found that each electric vehicle could impose additional network and generation costs from $7500 up to $10,000 per vehicle over the 5 years from 2015 to 2020 in the absence of appropriate pricing signals and efficient charging decisions.

Who pays for the extra generation capacity? You do.

AEMC Chairman, John Pierce, said today that each electric vehicle could result in additional generation and network costs that, under current market arrangements would be shared by all consumers.

AEMC recommends several ways to split up the pricing, sort our metering so houses can figure out what was “the car” and what was “the house”. Me, I recommend we charge the EV owners the real cost, and let the free market do what it does best.

The AEMC last word — it’s easy to sell natural gas cars:

The [...]

Monckton returns to Australia, book now… :-)

He’s dangerous. During his last Australian tour he debated at the National Press Club, and a phenomenal 9% of the polled audience changed their mind in an hour. Fifty university academics (including Lewandowsky) tried to get Monckton banned from speaking at a university. Activists were so scared they intimidated a few venue operators into canceling his speeches at the last minute (but the show always went on bigger and better somewhere else).

Monckton was escorted right out of Doha after speaking the bleeding obvious from the floor, he leapt from a plane in Durban, and he convinced the prof who wanted to execute skeptics to withdraw it with an apology.

GetUp are so afraid Australians might hear more of Monckton and people like him, they panicked and ran a whole ad campaign packed with conspiracy theories at the mere hint that libertarians might like to set up a Fox news equivalent in Australia. The travesty!

It’s an election year, we’re subject to a heatwave of weather propaganda. It’s the perfect time for Christopher Monckton to make an entrance, and right now he’s on a plane on the way. Officially the tour starts in South Australia, on February 2. See the [...]

Breaking: Major shale oil find in South Australia (geopolitical shift coming?)

This is Big. At its very least, they’re talking of 3.5 billion barrels of oil, which is a Very Nice Discovery, thank you. At its largest, they are saying 233 billion barrels — Saudi Arabia, here we come.

Near Coober Pedy, Linc Energy has confirmed the Arckaringa Basin has lots of shale oil, so much that it could possibly shift us back to being an oil exporter. (We were self sufficient until 2000, but our oil production has been declining since then.)

Any discovery that comes with discussions about “national energy security” is one worth paying attention to. The news stories are just hitting the net now. Linc Energy has rights over more than 65,000 square kilometres of land in the Arckaringa Basin.

Note that there are virtually no farms and very few people living in the area. The blue splotch around Coober Pedy on the map below is not a lake.

Smack in the middle of South Australia

Adelaide Now was one of the first.

SOUTH Australia is sitting on oil potentially worth more than $20 trillion, independent reports claim – enough to turn Australia into a self-sufficient fuel producer.


Spiegel speculates on why global warming stalled

This is one of the best mainstream articles I have seen trying to make sense of the point: Why are we not warming? It is rare to see work that tries to cover this much detail and nuance. The great global warming debate might finally be beginning?

GWPF has a translation. Axel Bojanowski has managed to capture a concept that even if global warming has just stalled temporarily — the debate about why it has stalled is revealing in its own right. As I said in the Skeptics Handbook, “something out there affects our climate more than CO2 and none of the computer models knows what it is”.


Researchers Puzzled About Global Warming Standstill Date: 18/01/13     Axel Bojanowski, Spiegel Online

How dramatically is global warming really? NASA researchers have shown that the temperature rise has taken a break for 15 years. There are plenty of plausible explanations for why global warming has stalled. However, the number of guesses also shows how little the climate is understood.

Bojanowski calls “NASA scientists” on their predictions


Coldwave killing people in Russia, Britain, and the US

If a few weeks of extreme heat suggest CO2 is causing a catastrophe, then don’t a few weeks of Siberian record-breaking cold suggest the opposite?*

I bet Siberians would appreciate some global warming this winter.

People are dying of cold weather in Ireland, the UK, the US and Russia. Spare a thought for the those facing temperatures so cold that natural gas is liquifying in pipes.

Norilisk, Russia. Photo from

In the last week snow has shut 5000 schools in Britain. More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled at Heathrow, and one 25 year old dental nurse woman died in Kent. An Irish Doctor was killed with three others in an avalanche in Scotland. Seventeen died in Afghan refugee camps since the start of January. (In terms of weird weather, on January 9th it even snowed in Israel.)

“London: Extreme winter weather swept across western Europe, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at London’s main international airport and claiming several lives in Spain, Portugal, Scotland and France, including those of three Mali-bound soldiers.”

Last Friday, people were panic buying in Wales.

“With much of Britain expecting to be brought to a standstill today by a 40–hour snowstorm, shelves were [...]

Tipping Point? Boris Johnson writes bravely “could it be the sun?”

Mark the moment. This is unusual.

Firstly, it’s not just anyone, but Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, personality, and potential Tory leader in the UK.  (He’s got so much potential several Tories in safe seats have offered to resign to let him run.) Secondly, he’s confident, brazen and unapologetic. There are not many of the usual duck-and-cover caveats (only lip-service ones), and no bowing to the bullies who will call him names rather than discuss the ideas.

It’s snowing, and it really feels like the start of a mini ice age Something is up with our winter weather. Could it be the Sun is having a slow patch?

Telegraph Jan 20th 2013

As a species, we human beings have become so blind with conceit and self-love that we genuinely believe that the fate of the planet is in our hands — when the reality is that everything, or almost everything, depends on the behaviour and caprice of the gigantic thermonuclear fireball around which we revolve.

No doubt Johnson will be accused of “ignoring the longer trend” because he talks about the last five years of cold cold winters, but beneath his discussion of just how unusually heavy the snow is [...]

Scientists behaving badly — more retractions are cheats, not mistakes

Who said scientific experts should be trusted?

Is corruption endemic? Fully 43% of retractions in the life science and medical research journals are due to fraud or suspected fraud.

Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications

Ferric C. Fang R. Grant Steen and Arturo Casadevall

PNAS  PNAS 2012 109 (42) 16751-16752; doi:10.1073/iti4212109


A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes.

Plus this published correction.

RetractionWatch points out that this could be the tip of the iceberg

The question, of course, is, how common is scientific misconduct? The simple but unsatisfying answer is that we don’t know, certainly not based on this study, because it’s [...]

Whistleblower Science Fraud Site is Shut Down

I would like to see what was on the Science Fraud site. The only parts left seem eminently admirable. Apparently in just six months, the site received anonymous tips documenting suspicious results in over 300 papers. Some of those papers were subsequently retracted.

Wherever there are big dollars, big-corruption follows. Whaddayaknow? Sadly, science is just like any other human endeavor. For every site reporting science fraud that is shut down, may ten alternatives spring forth. says “We need more sites like this not less.”

Bill Frezza describes what is known about the site’s demise on Forbes.

A Barrage Of Legal Threats Shuts Down Whistleblower Site, Science Fraud

Those of us concerned about the decaying credibility of Big Science were dismayed to learn that the whistleblower site Science Fraud has been shut down due to a barrage of legal threats against its operator. With billions of dollars in federal science funding hinging on the integrity of academic researchers, and billions more in health care dollars riding on the truthfulness of pharmaceutical research claims, the industry needs more websites like this, not fewer.

Regular readers of Retraction Watch, a watchdog site run by two medical reporters, got the news along with a [...]

unthreaded friday

Ive been away this week in Augusta (hence the gaps in posts). Driving back. This is the most south west point where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern. Have enjoyed the Blackwood river and canoes. Jo