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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Life copes: The horses that adapted to massive climate change in just 800 years

In evolutionary terms, it’s a blink. Around 1200-1400AD a bunch of people bought a few domestic horses to far east freezing Siberia, where the temperature sometimes falls below -70. Somehow the horses have already become physiologically and genetically well adapted to the extreme climate. The panic-merchants would have us believe that the climate is changing “faster than evolution”, but biology and genes turn out to be amazingly flexible. (Who knows, maybe 4 million years of swinging ice ages has that effect on gene pools?)

DNA studies revealed that these horses were all derived from distant domestic horses, even though wild unrelated horses lived in the region til 5,000 years ago. This is pretty spectacular.

Dr. Ludovic Orlando: “This is truly amazing as it implies that all traits now seen in Yakutian horses are the product of very fast adaptive processes, taking place in about 800 years. This represents about a hundred generations for horses. That shows how fast evolution can go when selective pressures for survival are as strong as in the extreme environment of Yakutia.”

Analyzing the genomes shows that it’s not driven by mutations in genes as much as by changes to the regulatory [...]

Ideology adds heat to the debate on climate change — Jennifer Marohasy

The national conversation is all about “seeming” and “confidence”. Greg Hunt (Environment Minister) boasted that he stopped an investigation into the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), and prevented “due diligence” being a part of a one-day wonder “forum”.

His justification:

“In doing this, it is important to note that public trust in the Bureau’s data and forecasts, particularly as they relate to bushfires and cyclones, is paramount,” [Greg Hunt] said.

It used to be that public trust occurred when organizations were fully investigated, accountable, and found clean. Now “Public Trust” is apparently increased when there are no investigations, or only weak whitewashes. Either the public has got a lot stupider, or the media and ministers have.

Plenty of the self anointed (those who know more than the dumb punters) thought Hunt’s boast was a big achievement. Anthony Sharwood, News Corp journalist (oh for a “reporter”!), wondered if the government was paranoid for wanting to check the BOM. Perhaps next he’ll be calling for global corporates to figure out their own tax bill; who needs professional auditing, right — it’s just “paranoid”?

But the bad news for Hunt and the Bureau (and Sharwood) is that the Truth will out, the [...]

Merchants of Doubt — insidious propaganda in schools

The book Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes, was made into a box office bomb (it crashed). But, darkly, it has an ongoing life in our schools. Tony Thomas uncovers the push to put propaganda in front of children, dressed up as education.  The director of the film tells the world that his aim is to stop skeptics from being broadcast on TV. (Because that’s what you do when you can’t win a fair debate eh?)

This film was never about science, but about doing exactly what it claims to “expose”. (It’s projection all the way down.) The real merchants of doubt are those that seed doubts about honest whistleblower scientists, using character assassination, namecalling, tenuous associations, innuendo and allusion instead of scientific arguments. They don’t find a scientific fault in anything skeptics say, but resort to twenty year old false tobacco smears.

What we need are resources for teachers to help students critically analyze propaganda like this. How do children spot what isn’t said? What clues do we see in this movie that reveal its anti-science, political nature? Is it that they don’t let their skeptic targets talk about climate science at all? Readers suggestions are welcome.  How do [...]

BOM method finds more heatwaves in Antarctica than Marble Bar

The danger is in the definition

Ken Stewart has been diligent at trying to understand the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) method for finding heatwaves. He’d heard BOM head, Rob Vertessy speak on ABC radio, declaring that heatwaves were the “number one cause of death” from natural disaster in Australia. Ken wrote to Vertessy repeatedly  but for some reason, despite the deadly risk to Australians, Vertessy was unable to answer the question of how to define and estimate heatwaves. (Perhaps if the BOM had The Internet, he could have sent Ken Stewart this link, which Stewart has now found himself four months later.)

The Excess Heat Factor: A Metric for Heatwave Intensity and Its Use in Classifying Heatwave Severity, John R. Nairn and Robert J. B. Fawcett (2015) [1]

With these instructions Ken has now replicated the BOM results for the 2014 heatwave in Melbourne. He has also used the same technique on Marble Bar, Western Australia, and Mawson, Antarctica and found that potentially heatwaves are a killer danger to our Antarctic researchers, and if heatwaves kill, they’d be much safer in Marble Bar. For the record, Marble Bar is the place that had 160 days in a row [...]

Humans live from -50C to +40C, but two more degrees will kill us. Panic now.

Humans can adapt to live in locations where the monthly average is over 40°C, and as low as -50°C. That’s a 90°C range. The world has warmed by 0.9°C in 100 years (or less, depending on adjustments). This warming was so dangerous that global population only expanded from 1.7 to 7 billion.

Now, if the IPCC are right, we might heat up by another half a degree by 2100 — shifting those extremes from -49°C up to 41°C.

Prof. Andy Pitman, one of Australia’s leading climate scientists, responds to this risk with all the usual careful analysis we’ve come to expect from mainstream climate experts. Here’s another “children won’t know what snow is” type of Global Panic quote:

“I expect by 2050 … people just don’t go outside,”

– Professor Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at UNSW.

So that’s the end of golf, surfing, and picnics then. Somewhat confusingly, he also said (in the same interview) that we won’t necessarily notice that extra warmth: “… because humans acclimatise to heat quite quickly”. This is what 95% certainty looks like in 2015, ladies and gentlemen — abject panic and [...]

The 99.99% pure climate consensus – how to ignore thousands of skeptical scientists

Joy. It’s another profoundly unscientific “consensus” study. At least one person thought that the  97% PR figure was not enough, and that magic 99.9% would sway the crowds. As if there was even one fence-sitter sitting, waiting, saying, “97% was too low…”

For the herding type of human, “consensus” is magnetically convincing. Not so for the independent minds who have seen prediction after prediction fail. If a 97% consensus on a highly complex, immature science is difficult to believe, a 99.99% one is comic. More of the same unconvincing stuff will do nothing except set off the BS meter.  This new study will sway no one. The supernatural purity of it will work against “The Cause”.

A consensus is the one and only argument of the unskeptical, and they are doing it to death.

One fan, James Powell, was so enthused he spent nine months reading titles and abstracts of 24,000 papers, and found only four scientists (4!) who didn’t agree with the consensus. Some 69,402 other scientists apparently endorse “the consensus” (whatever it is) because they used the terms “climate change”, or “global warming” and they didn’t also make a clear statement that it was false, or [...]

Scandal: BoM thermometer records adjusted “by month” — mysterious square wave pattern discovered

There is some major messing with data going on.

What would you say if you knew that the official Perth thermometer was accurate at recording minimums for most of time in October  in the eighties, but 0.7°C too warm all of December, and 1.2°C too cool in January? Bizarrely that same thermometer was back to being too warm in February! Try to imagine what situation could affect that thermometer, and require post hoc corrections of this “monthly” nature. Then imagine what could make that same pattern happen year after year. All those weather reports we listened to in Perth in 1984 were wrong (apparently). And this bizarre calendar of corrections is turning up all over Australia.

Bob Fernley-Jones has looked closely at all the adjustments done to achieve the wonderful homogenized ACORN data, as compared to the theoretically “raw” records listed in Climate Data Online (CDO) on the BOM website. He can’t know what the BOM did (since they won’t tell anyone), but he knows the outcome of their homogenization. He was shocked when he noticed a strange square-wave pattern repeating year after year; he was astonished that there were corrections calendar month by calendar month, up and down, switching [...]

A mess of adjustments in Australian capital cities — The inexplicable history of temperatures

Two out of three Australians live in our capital cities where the longest and best resourced temperature records would be found. These are the places where the weather reports matter to the most people on a daily basis — and where headlines about records and trends will be widely discussed.  But these are also the sites which have been affected by the growth of concrete and skyscrapers, and potentially have the largest urban heat island (UHI) effect, so might need the largest adjustments.

Bob Fernley-Jones has been going through the BOM records for six of Australia’s state capitals, looking at the original raw data (at least, as is recorded in the BOM’s climate data online, called CDO). Bob compares the new “corrected” dataset called ACORN for these locations — that’s the all new marvelous adjusted data. He finds many step changes that can’t be explained by known site moves or the UHI effect. Many step changes occur in either minima or maxima, but not in both at the same time, which is also odd. As we already know, the adjustments usually cool the past — especially the minima (see all the blue lines on graphs below [...]

Fewer heatwaves for 9 million Australians in Sydney, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne –”thank CO2″!

Let’s play the Heatwaves PR game. If CO2 had an effect we’d see a significant increase in the rate of global warming over the decades since WWII, the models would work, and climate scientists would be able to predict our climate. Since none of that is true, those with a political agenda have to clutch at noisy but marketable extremes instead. Apparently even a half-true, noisy, non-causal link is good enough for post-modern scientists.

Heatwaves are perfect for generating scientific sounding fear, but not so useful for generating actual scientific knowledge. There are an infinity of ways to measure them. They can last 3 days – 160 days, and be cut off at any number from 35  – 40C, or at some percentile outlier. They can be measured one town at a time, or on a regional or state-wide level. The permutations are rich with headline scoring possibilities. And in the end, on a long warming trend that started 300 years ago, it is obvious, inevitable, and predictable that we should score more now. What’s surprising is how often we don’t.

On ABC radio before Easter, Dr Vertessy, Director and CEO of the Bureau of Meteorology, claimed that we are seeing [...]

Category Five storms aren’t what they used to be

UPDATE: Data for Middle Percy Island has disappeared from the BOM site, but Jennifer Marohasy kept a copy. (I’m sure the BOM will be grateful!) The Courier Mail has an article quoting Jennifer.

The facts on Cyclone Marcia: the top sustained wind speed was 156 km and the strongest gust 208 km/hr. These were recorded on Middle Percy Island in the direct path before it hit land and apparently rapidly slowed.  The minimum pressure recorded after landfall was 975Hpa. BOM and the media reported a “Cat-5″ cyclone with winds of 295 km/hr. To qualify as a Cat 5, windspeeds need be over 280km/hr. The UN GDACS alerts page estimated the cyclone as a Cat 3.

The damage toll so far is no deaths (the most important thing), but 1,500 houses were damaged and 100 families left homeless. It was a compact storm, meaning windspeeds drop away quickly with every kilometer from the eye, so the maps and locations of the storm and the instruments matter. See the maps below — the eye did pass over some met-sites, but made landfall on an unpopulated beach with no wind instruments. It slowed quickly thereafter. The 295 km/hr wind speed was [...]