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


The Skeptics Handbook

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The Skeptics Handbook II

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The Climate Wars are Damaging Science

Matt Ridley has produced the shortest whole, killer summary of the sordid state of climate science, science journalism, and science associations for Quadrant magazine. This is the ideal single-chapter-length-work to bring in anyone who missed the last twenty years of clima-farce, scandal, hubris and hypocrisy.

Matt is not just summing up the way his career as a science writer has transformed, but also writing the best review of the IPA book “Climate Change: The Facts” that I have yet seen. He talks about the way science writers used to ignore the papers that didn’t impress them, and leave it up to the scientists to take them apart, but now the supposedly most esteemed scientists stay silent while abject failures not only get published in the scientific world, but get absurdly lauded in the media, and tweeted by “the President”. Formerly great scientific institutions have turned themselves inside out:

“The Royal Society once used to promise “never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject”. Its very motto is “nullius in verba”: take nobody’s word for it. Now it puts out catechisms of what you must believe in. “

Matt’s career, like mine, started with faith that [...]

Cholesterol — how the web and books are years ahead of “Consensus”

Consensus — slowing real science for decades

There is a surprising amount of interest in the cholesterol story of Matt Ridley’s in The Times and The Australian last week. Surprising to me anyway, because 15 years ago the other benevolent side of cholesterol was pretty clear online.  Fifteen years is not a long time in human civilization, but it’s a long time in a human life. And in the case of the war on cholesterol, it’s been running for 40 years. How many people died sooner than they would have, because they followed expert advice?

Finally the official consensus on cholesterol is admitting defeat:

“Any day now, the US government will officially accept the advice to drop cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” altogether. It wants also to “de-emphasise” saturated fat, given “the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease”. “

In the late 1990′s it was widely known online (among health zealots) that our livers are mostly in charge of our cholesterol levels, not what’s on our dinner plates. Something like 80% of the cholesterol in our blood came from our own livers, not the food we eat.  Way back then, it was also known [...]

Yale says “Global Warming” is a better misused-phrase for propaganda — dump “climate change”

What’s the point of language — especially in science? If you are naive, you might think it’s to communicate a fixed concept so everyone understands and can voice an opinion on the same thing. You would be wrong. The real purpose of scientific terms is to motivate the punters to behave differently (especially if that means “give us more money”). That’s why the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has assigned 5 PhD’s and a guy called Feinberg to spend days, weeks and months analyzing surveys to find out which propaganda term is more “effective”. The simple answer is “global warming” ekes out more fear and pain among democrats than “climate change”; therefore expect to see its use rocket.

The Guardian

The survey sample of 1,657 people, compiled over a two-week period late last year, found a large swathe of Americans turned off by the words “climate change”.

“The use of the term climate change appears to actually reduce issue engagement by Democrats, Independents, liberals, and moderates, as well as a variety of subgroups within American society, including men, women, minorities, different generations, and across political and partisan lines,” the researchers said.

Americans in general were 13% more likely to [...]

Who’s a conspiracy theorist then Paul Syvret?

Paul Syvret  seems to be hoping no one will notice that he doesn’t even try to respond to arguments about wind turbines. His technique to avoid debate is to decree that some other people were wrong once on a different topic. They used a rapid fire technique called a Gish Gallop, so therefore, thusly and henceforth anyone with a rapid fire technique can be dismissed with a handy wave of The Gish. It’s just another label in Syvret’s all-purpose excuse-list for not having a grown up conversation.

Those who have no evidence just make things up and toss insults. Syvret of The Courier Mail defends the wind industry from its critics — not with data about windfarms, but with allegations of imaginary astroturfing and denialism. He uses all his biggest scientific words: it’s “a barrage of BS”, “pseudo-science”, and a crusade run by a rat-bag in an incestuous network. He wants to make sure his readers know the critics are shills and conspiracy nutters because, well…  he says so.

The Australian Environment Foundation is his main target today. What’s it guilty of? Well, it links to unpaid bloggers that Syvret doesn’t like: those ” sites promoting climate-change denial (such as [...]

The Highest Authority in Science is the Data

Joint Post David Evans and Jo Nova

“97 percent of climate experts say man-made global warming is a major threat”

The correct response: “So? The satellites, ocean buoys, and weather balloons disagree.”

The alarmists may have “experts”, but the skeptics have the data.

How do you find the truth about some disputed point in science? You find the most authoritative source of information.  The vital thing that makes science different to a religion is that there are no “Gods” of science. There is no expert who is infallible. The highest authority in science is the measurements and observations. Here is the hierarchy of authority in climate science:

Data (empirical evidence) Climate scientists Other scientists Lay people.

For most of the last few centuries, science has been supreme over politics for settling the truth in matters pertaining to the physical world—empirical evidence beats anyone’s say-so.

But the modern political approach is to ignore that top level. To most warmists and the public who “believe in climate change” (as they so misleading say), the hierarchy is:

Climate scientists Other scientists Lay people.

The  way the climate scam works is for the like-minded western bureaucracies to [...]

What the heck are science journalists for?

From The Skeptics Handbook II

Last week a science journalist at The Guardian wrote the best summary I have ever seen of the state of the profession known as “science communication”. Only, he thought it was a spoof. Well, it is — and it’s satirically funny at the same time as being an unwittingly cutting commentary. (We laugh at the formulaic approach because we know it’s so true, and then we bang our heads on the wall…).

Science journalists who churn out mindless ritual productions are effectively being PR and marketing writers. Dangerously, though, they are dressed as “investigative” journalists. The public assumes they are checking that their stories don’t break laws of logic and reason, that they are supported by evidence, and that they are providing the whole story. Their PR is the most powerful advertising there is, it’s not just free, it’s a third party endorsement.

Ironically, the same journalists probably don’t realize how important they are. They think they’re there for a fluffy feelgood reasons: to help promote science, raise public awareness, and attract school leavers into careers in science. They don’t realize that their most important role is to protect science itself and be guardians [...]

The ranks are splitting, tossing incantations as they go

We always knew Climategate would the test the cohesion of the “team”. The reputations of good greens, good journalists, and decent politicians (there are a few) are on the line. They have to draw a line somewhere, and six months later, a few more cracks in the wall are showing.

Even people who think we need action against CO2 are not convinced by the whitewashes. And for many of them, it’s not the ClimateGate emails themselves which pushed them over the edge, but the blatantly surreal nature of the so-called inquiries that don’t ask the basic questions or invite the key people.

Phrases about how the science is still settled (even though the scientists themselves might cheat) are like a pass-code that allows commentators to say something pointed against the tribal witchdoctors without getting too many nasty spells cast on them by the disciples.

Of course, in order to attack any part of the great facade, it’s important to recite the incantation against bullies. Phrases about how the science is still settled (even though the scientists themselves might cheat) are like a pass-code that allows commentators to say something pointed against the tribal witchdoctors without getting too many nasty spells [...]

New Scientist: The Age of Name-Calling

New Scientist plumbs new lows. The magazine has become its own self-parody. Do they see the irony of inviting a PR expert to accuse groups of committing the crime of, wait for it, … using a PR expert?

…he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold any elitist ideas that only people with science degrees can write for New Scientist (the magazine and its staff have pretty much proven how useless a science degree can be). My issue with them is that Richard Littlemore (a PR expert) has essentially written a smear-by-association piece, which should have no place in a real scientific magazine. It’s not like Littlemore is just an unhealthy part of a big healthy debate — instead he’s the advertiser being offered free editorial space within the one-sided propaganda that masquerades as journalism.

New Scientist may think climate science is a moral imperative, but they don’t have room for the climate scientists who have published peer reviewed criticisms of their favorite theory. Nor do they have space to tell the extraordinary story of the grassroots independent retiree scientists who’ve busted [...]

Science communication pollution

Here’s an example of SciComm Pollution — an article that leaves the world slightly less enlightened than they would have been had it not existed. It’s also proof that the media blackout works so well that even theoretically educated people like, say, an archaeologist, are unaware of basic uncontroversial scientific truths.  Here’s Michael Berry, in the Salt Lake Tribune, having trouble reasoning, missing the point, being fully a decade out of date, and acting unwittingly as a public relations agent for a giant  bureaucracy.

He tries to claim Senator Orrin Hatch and The Skeptics Handbook are wrong on the Vostok ice cores.


Finally, a politician doing what politicians should do

This is a big step. Steve Fielding in Australia holds a crucial senate vote on the proposed Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). Astonishingly (for a politician) he stands out from the crowd for simply saying the obvious. He wants to “hear from both sides of the debate.”

A simple statement like this should not be remarkable—but it’s so rare. Steve Fielding assumed the mainstream thinking was right, but is now doing what anyone who hasn’t looked at the debate in detail ought to be doing. Some research. It’s a rare occasion when you can see the good side of democracy and free speech in action. He paid for himself to fly to the far side of the world to attend Heartland’s 3rd conference on Climate Change to hear from scientists who are not convinced carbon has a large role to play in our climate.

The Australian newspaper covered it. And Steve expanded today in the Australian on why he went to Washington.

His visit to the Heartland conference has given the Australian ABC enough reason to bother sending a journalist to it (unlike the two previous conferences). See their short coverage from Washington. (Look out for the glimpse of The [...]