Comment from Australia by Michael Duffy
Last month I witnessed something shocking. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was giving a talk at the University of NSW. The talk was accompanied by a slide presentation, and the most important graph showed average global temperatures. For the past decade it represented temperatures climbing sharply. As this was shown on the screen, Pachauri told his large audience: "We're at a stage where warming is taking place at a much faster rate [than before]".
Now, this is completely wrong. For most of the past seven years, those temperatures have actually been on a plateau. For the past year, there's been a sharp cooling. These are facts, not opinion: the major sources of these figures, such as the Hadley Centre in Britain, agree on what has happened, and you can check for yourself by going to their websites. Sure, interpretations of the significance of this halt in global warming vary greatly, but the facts are clear.
So it's disturbing that Rajendra Pachauri's presentation was so erroneous, and would have misled everyone in the audience unaware of the real situation. This was particularly so because he was giving the talk on the occasion of receiving an honorary science degree from the university.
Later that night, on ABC TV's Lateline program, Pachauri claimed that those who disagree with his own views on global warming are "flat-earthers" who deny "the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence". But what evidence could be more important than the temperature record, which Pachauri himself had fudged only a few hours earlier?
In his talk, Pachauri said the number of global warming sceptics is shrinking, a curious claim he was unable to substantiate when questioned about it on Lateline. Still, there's no doubt a majority of climate scientists agree with the view of the IPCC.
Today I want to look at why this might be so: after all, such a state of affairs presents a challenge to sceptics such as me. If we're right, then an awful lot of scientists are wrong. How could this be? This question was addressed in September in a paper by Professor Richard Lindzen, of the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lindzen, probably the most qualified prominent global-warming sceptic, suggested that a number of changes in the way science is conducted have contributed to the rise of climate alarmism among American scientists.
Central to this is the importance of government funding to science. Much of that funding since World War II has occurred because scientists build up public fears (examples include fear of the USSR's superiority in weapons or space travel, of health problems, of environmental degradation) and offer themselves as the solution to those fears. The administrators who work with the scientists join in with enthusiasm: much of their own funding is attached to the scientific grants. Lindzen says this state of affairs favours science involving fear, and also science that involves expensive activities such as computer modelling. He notes we have seen "the de-emphasis of theory because of its difficulty and small scale, the encouragement of simulation instead (with its call for large capital investment in computation), and the encouragement of large programs unconstrained by specific goals.
"In brief, we have the new paradigm where simulation and [computer] programs have replaced theory and observation, where government largely determines the nature of scientific activity, and where the primary role of professional societies is the lobbying of the government for special advantage."
Lindzen believes another problem with climate science is that in America and Europe it is heavily colonised by environmental activists. Here are just two examples that indicate the scale of the problem: the spokesman for the American Meteorological Society is a former staffer for Al Gore, and realclimate.org, probably the world's most authoritative alarmist web site, was started by a public relations firm serving environmental causes.
None of this is necessarily sinister, but the next time you hear a scientist or scientific organisation warning of climate doom, you might want to follow the money trail. Sceptics are not the only ones who have received funding from sources sympathetic to their viewpoint. (And yes, Lindzen did once receive some money from energy companies.)
Lindzen claims that scientific journals play an important role in promoting global warming alarmism, and gives a number of examples. Someone else who's looked closely at scientific journals (although not specifically those dealing with climate science) is epidemiologist John Ioannidis of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. He reached the surprising conclusion that most published research findings are proved false within five years of their publication. (Lest he be dismissed as some eccentric, I note that the Economist recently said Ioannidis has made his case "quite convincingly".)
Why might this be so? Later work by Ioannidis and colleagues suggests that these days journal editors are more likely to publish research that will make a splash than that which will not. They do this to sell more copies of their publications and of reprints of papers in it. Ioannidis believes these publication practices might be distorting science.
It's possible the forces described by Lindzen and Ioannidis have imbued climate science with a preference for results that involve (or seem to involve) disastrous change rather than stability. Rajenda Pachauri's recent Sydney lecture suggests that in this relatively new field, inconvenient truths to the contrary are not welcome.
For a full scholarly paper showing that Pachauri is wrong, see here. The graph below is taken from that paper. It shows the global temperature data derived from land-based measurements by Britain's Hadley Centre (HADCRUT) and the American satellite data from the University of Alabama (UAH). Both datasets show 1998 as the warmest of the last 10 years. The paper also evaluates in detail the significance of that datum and what influences produced it.
Michael Crichton, `Jurassic Park' Creator, and warming skeptic dies at 66
Michael Crichton, the best-selling novelist whose books such as ``Jurassic Park'' and ``The Andromeda Strain'' envisioned unexpected, catastrophic consequences from scientific exploration, has died. He was 66. Crichton died yesterday in Los Angeles ``after a courageous and private battle against cancer,'' according to an announcement on his Web site. It said Crichton's works ``challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us.'' In addition to his books, Crichton created the hit television show ``ER,'' featuring a revolving cast of characters coping with the strains of work in a hospital emergency room.
In recent years, the Harvard University and Harvard Medical School graduate was known as a high-profile doubter about the threat posed by global warming. His 2004 book ``State of Fear'' conjured a group of eco-terrorists -- he called their group NERF, for National Environmental Resource Fund -- trying to sow panic over the topic. He supplemented his tale with a 34-page author's message and annotated technical bibliography. The book stemmed from an article he had read that mentioned how little is known about global warming, he said in a 2004 interview. ``Out of curiosity, I went and looked at temperature records,'' he said. ``I thought, well, I must not understand something because this doesn't look as persuasive as I would like it to be. And the more I read and the more depth I went into, the worse it got.''
In a 2005 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Crichton said, ``In my view, our approach to global warming exemplifies everything that is wrong with our approach to the environment. We are basing our decisions on speculation, not evidence.''
John Michael Crichton was born in Chicago on Oct. 28, 1942, and was raised in the New York suburb of Roslyn, on Long Island. His father was editor of Advertising Age. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1964 before going to Harvard Medical School. ``The Andromeda Strain,'' the first novel under his real name, was published in 1969 while he was attending medical school. (He previously had written a series of adventure novels under pseudonyms.)
EUROPE IN FULL RETREAT ON CLIMATE PLAN
Global concern about the ailing economy has led the European Environment Committee to revise its energy package. The committee announced that it agreed the European Union should revise key clauses in its climate and energy package to adjust for the current financial crisis. The economic slowdown has hurt carbon credit demand and pricing.
Over the past few weeks EU member states have requested permission to make some revisions to protect their economies.
Bulgaria, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Poland have criticized the proposed shift to a pan-European carbon credit auctioning mechanism and have gotten the support of France, Germany and Spain in their efforts to change the planned trading mechanism.
CREDIT CRISIS A THREAT TO OBAMA'S CARBON PLANS
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's credentials may be green, but gathering financial gloom means fixing the economy will take priority on his agenda before dealing with national carbon trading and clean-energy investment.
Analysts and carbon brokers believe Obama's support for an emissions cap-and-trade scheme and plans to create millions of "green" industry jobs send exactly the right signal for carbon trading and the burgeoning renewable energy industry. But don't expect miracles overnight, they said. Depleted government coffers, rising unemployment and plunging profits across most industries could prevent him from making sweeping changes in his crucial first year.
"We're guessing until he goes and checks his bank account and finds out how much in debt he is," said Michael Hopkins, energy derivatives manager at TFS Energy Asia-Pacific, referring to the hundreds of billions of dollars pledged by the Bush administration to stabilize the financial markets.
Pushing through a national emissions trading scheme won't be the top item on Obama's hit-list, Hopkins said in Singapore. "I think he has other issues to deal with before tackling the environmental side of it," he added.
CHINA THINKS IT'S A GOOD IDEA FOR THE WEST TO MAKE ITSELF POORER
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said rich nations must abandon their "unsustainable lifestyle" to fight climate change and expand help to poor nations bearing the brunt of worsening droughts and rising sea levels.
Wen told the opening of a conference Friday the financial crisis was no reason for rich nations to delay fighting global warming. "As the global financial crisis spreads and worsens, and the world economy slows down apparently, the international community must not waver in its determination to tackle climate change," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
The two-day meeting is to push China's call for rich nations to fund a huge infusion of greenhouse gas-cutting technology for developing countries. But foreign officials at the meeting raised doubts about Beijing's proposal, which could stoke contention over who pays and how much.
Is Something Fishy? Yep. Mercury-Scare Activists
NBC viewers in San Diego and Chicago saw a horribly misleading news story yesterday about the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) and its needlessly alarmist fish-mercury calculator. The activist group just rolled out a mobile-phone version of this food-scare program, and San Diego reporter Jane Ann Furer took the bait with a report titled "Something Fishy?" Here's the answer she was grasping at: Yes. But it's the activists, not your dinner. STRP's mercury calculator misses the truth by a massive margin, scaring consumers for no good reason at all. Furer writes:
Ever wonder how much mercury is lurking in the fish you want to eat? If so, there's a new way you can check to see if what you're about to eat might be bad for your health . Eating certain types of fish high in mercury like swordfish, tuna (fresh, canned and albacore), shark, tilefish and king mackerel can pose health risks. Those risks are especially great for mothers, pregnant women and children, depending on how much is eaten, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. For starters, canned tuna is a low-mercury fish. But even that shouldn't matter. Seafood is a health food. Commercially available fish in the United States doesn't "pose health risks." it offers health benefits. You could search every medical journal ever published, but you won't find a single documented case of mercury poisoning related to commercially available fish in the United States. Not one.
That absence of evidence applies to unborn children, too. As Dr. Ashley Roman of the New York University Medical Center recently told Reuters, "There has been no case of fetal mercury toxicity due to fish consumption reported in the United States."
How does a group like STRP get the facts so wrong and "cry wolf" so often? By willfully ignoring the built-in safety cushions in government seafood consumption guidelines.
The Food and Drug Administration has written that its mercury-in-fish advice "was established to limit consumers' methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects." Similar advice from the Environmental Protection Agency contains the same ten-fold margin of safety. So if you want to know how much seafood you can actually eat without risking your health, take whatever number STRP gives you and multiply by ten.
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