A $4 million federal government grant to bring his dubious methodology to the University of Western Australia kicked off a storm with protests among academics, students and the broader academic community.
News just in though that UWA has cancelled Lomborg’s contract. In a statement from the university, Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson defended Lomborg, but said:
Whilst I respect the right of staff to express their views on this matter, as all universities should be places for open and honest sharing and discussion of ideas, in this case, it has placed the University in a difficult position.
Therefore, it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the Centre in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed across the University and the broader academic community to meet its contractual obligations and deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers.
I have today spoken to the Federal Government and Bjorn Lomborg advising them of the barriers that currently exist to the creation of the Centre and the University’s decision to cancel the contract and return the money to the government.
Mr Johnson sent the same statement out in an email to staff this afternoon.
In the space of a two weeks, The Australian newspaper has published 10 stories attacking the Bureau of Meteorology with claims the government agency has been fiddling its temperature data to show more warming than actually exists.
BoM scientists have been doing this, according to the chief protagonist of the story climate sceptic Jennifer Marohasy, because it fits more neatly with the narrative that the world is warming.
It’s a conspiracy.
Now ten stories is a lot of reading, so allow me to summarise what’s been going on for you.
The Australian newspaper has published the claims of climate science sceptics that government scientists are fiddling temperature data with the express purpose of making things appear warmer than they are and that BoM is being secretive.
The Australian newspaper doesn’t tell readers that almost every single claim being made has been discussed at length in previous journal papers and technical reports, published or written by BoM, leaving only the thinly veiled suggestion of a conspiracy, which nobody has any evidence for because it’s not there.
As I’ve explained before, Marohasy is a former free market think tank researcher who is now at Central Queensland University with her work paid for by the foundation of a climate science sceptic.
None of the claims made by Marohasy have been published in a peer reviewed journal, despite the fact that since January she has found time to write repeatedly to government ministers, has spoken at the Sydney Institute and flown to a conference for climate sceptics in Las Vegas – all the while making the same accusations.
Lloyd’s reporting, some of it branded “Exclusive”, has been full of curiosities (I’ve documented a few in a previous post and on The Guardian) some of which give the reader the impression that there’s more to a particular aspect of the story than there actually is.
For example, he has used quotes and reported speech to suggest that BoM has not published particular details about methods used in its ACORN-SAT temperature series, when, as I demonstrated here, it clearly has.
In Lloyd’s first story on 23 August headlined Heat is on over weather bureau revising record, Lloyd wrote that: “In correspondence, Marohasy was told by NASA the Amberley data was adjusted to take account of historic temperature records at nearby stations.”
The idea that Marohasy has been communicating with NASA lends an air of credibility.
Much of Lloyd’s content appears to be being prompted by claims from climate sceptic bloggers. If this is The Australian’s modus operandi, then Graham Lloyd could publish an entire newspaper every day based on unfounded and repeated claims of climate sceptics that are made on denialist blogs.
One of those bloggers, Perth-based JoNova, even says as much in a blog post that appeared an hour after The Australian published its latest story. Nova wrote:
Behind the scenes emails are abuzz among the independent BOM audit team at the moment, and it’s remarkable how quickly they are being converted into the media stories.
Emails from climate science sceptics being converted into stories for the Murdoch-owned News Corp Australia’s flagship newspaper. Cutting edge stuff eh?
Lloyd doesn’t say that this acknowledgment, according to Stockwell’s LinkedIn profile, was given by the US Immigration Service, perhaps because then readers might wonder why this is relevant?
And “widely published” where, exactly? In some leading journals? Science perhaps? Nature maybe? And published about what?
Stockwell’s Google Scholar page lists many publications, but those relevant to temperature and climate change appear to have been mostly published either by Stockwell himself, or the journal Energy and Environment.
Energy and Environment is known as the go-to journal for climate science sceptics and has an editorial board that is stacked with contrarians.
One of those is Dr Benny Peiser, the head of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK-based climate science denialist group which recently restructured to enable it to engage in political lobbying after complaints about its activities were made to the UK’s Charities Commission. Peiser is a former co-editor of the journal.
There’s no mention either of Stockwell’s role, alongside Marohasy, as a contributing author and/or reviewer for a Heartland Institute project – the NIPCC report. Stockwell’s affiliation as an adjunct researcher at Central Queensland University, where Marohasy also works, is left out too.
Heartland, for those that don’t know, is a free market think tank in the US that once ran an infamous billboard campaign with a picture of terrorist and murder Ted “unabomber” Kaczynski beside the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?”. Heartland told us:
This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.that suggested people who accepted the science of global warming
Perhaps readers might heavily discount Stockwell if they knew this information?
In Lloyd’s article, Stockwell calls for an audit of the BoM’s temperature record. That’s not new either – Stockwell was saying practically the same thing back in 2012.
But what’s particularly interesting about Lloyd’s coverage is just how many of the complaints made by sceptics in his stories have already been addressed by BoM.
BoM has outlined in a technical report on its website how the homogenisation technique it employs has impacted on the observed warming since the beginning of the last century to the tune of about 0.2C. Overall, Australia has warmed by 0.9C since 1910.
If BoM is trying to hide things, it’s plainly not doing it very well.
Professor Neville Nicholls of Monash University, who worked at BoM for 35 years with responsibility for making the temperature records more robust, has pointed out that temperature stations historically move or the conditions around them change (vegetation grows, for example, or buildings go up or come down) and this can artificially change the temperature readings. He told me on Planet Oz:
Are we supposed to just ignore that? A scientist can’t ignore those effects. It’s not science to just go ahead and plot that raw data.
In a response of sorts, Nicholls has written a story for The Conversation where he points out how easy it is for anyone to take a look at the raw data because it is all still available on the BoM website.
A retired scientist Bill Johnstone entered the comments section of Nicholl’s story. Johnston was quoted in an earlier Lloyd that claimed one of the temperature sites – Rutherglen – had never moved, even though its data had been through a homogenisation process at BoM.
Marohasy called for “heads to roll” and claimed she had evidence that the temperature station there had “never been moved”. In The Australian, Johnston was quoted to support Marohasy’s claim because Johnston had worked at the place in question.
But on The Conversation, Johnstone wrote that in fact he only worked at Rutherglen on and off for a few years at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. It seems he wasn’t even based there.
I’m aware that the bureau has documentary evidence that the Rutherglen site moved sometime before the 1970s. So Marohasy is calling for people to be sacked based partly on the word of a retired scientist who worked there four decades after the period in question.
Again in today’s story, BoM makes clear that it has a policy of not commenting on scientific claims made about its work that are published outside the peer reviewed literature.
Graham Lloyd and his happy band of climate denialist cheerleaders and content providers seem to want the science to be carried out on blogs instead.
Here, for the record, is the extent of the coverage so far.
No doubt there’ll be more to come. I’ll try and keep the list updated.
UPDATE: BoM has released a second media statement in response to the attacks from The Australian. It includes the graph below that shows what happens when you overlay the “homegenised” data and “unhomogenised” data. It’s a graph that rips a considerable chunk of guts from the Marohasy’s central argument.
In the space of six days, The Australian newspaper has published five news stories and an opinion piece attacking the credibility of the Australian government’s weather and climate agency, the Bureau of Meteorology.
I’ve covered the guts of the early stories over on my Planet Oz blog for The Guardian.
But the core of it is that Dr Jennifer Marohasy, a former Institute of Public Affairs free market think tankerer, is claiming that the BoM has, in her words, “corrupted the official temperature record so it more closely accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming”.
Marohasy is a researcher at Central Queensland University with her work funded by another climate change “sceptic”.
She has has not published her analysis in any journal, yet The Australian’s Graham Lloyd has deemed the claims of a climate science sceptic on blogs worthy enough of five news pieces.
The bureau has been under fire for not making publicly available the methodology used for homogenisation.
Michael Asten from the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University said confidence in BOM’s data would increase “if and when BOM publishes or supplies its homogenisation algorithms, a step which would be quite consistent with existing requirements of the better peer-reviewed journals.’’
BOM said its methods had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals but did not say where or in what form.
This claim is – oh what’s the word – bollocks (sorry kids).
Here is a page on the BoM’s website which goes to great lengths to provide information on how the agency deals with the data from its hundreds of temperature stations.
What’s more, it appears neither Lloyd or Asten are prepared to actually look at the peer reviewed literature where the “homogenisation algorithms” are hidden away in plain sight – or at least in the sight of anyone interested enough to want to look for it.
Here, in the peer reviewed journal International Journal of Climatology, is a paper from BoM’s Blair Trewin discussing the methodology and the mathematical tools (algorithms) that the bureau has used as part of their method to construct their high quality data set, the ACORN-SAT.
If you really don’t believe me, here is grab passage on the right from the actual paper in question.. you likely won’t understand it, but this matters not. It’s the details of the algorithm in a journal, linked to from the BoM website, that some people apparently can’t see.
I argued in my Guardian post that Marohasy and, by extension, Graham Lloyd were spreading little more than a conspiracy theory.
I say this because what’s necessary for Marohasy’s claim that “corrupted the official temperature record so it more closely accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming” is important to dwell on.
For her claim to be true, she needs evidence that lots of scientists have got together – perhaps under a tree or in a secret bunker somewhere – and hatched a plan to throw away all of their scientific integrity and just fiddle the numbers.
Marohasy has no evidence for this happening whatsoever and so is left with innuendo.
Marohasy gave an interview with ABC Goulburn Murray where she discussed her claims. But part way through the interview the line goes dead. She called back and continued the interview, continuing her claims of a “cover up”.
I waited, assuming the line had dropped out. But after no one phoned me back I rang back myself. I phoned ABC Goulburn Murray and was put on hold. Guess whom Bronwen (O’Shea) was now interviewing?
Answer: the infamous John Cook, a faux sceptic from the University of Queensland.
Mr Cook was telling Bronwen that the temperature record for Rutherglen had to be corrected because it was different from everywhere else.
Now for those that don’t know, John Cook is the founder of the Skeptical Science website and the Climate Communication Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.
Another sceptic blogger JoNova also commented on the ABC interview with Cook.
“We’re looking forward to seeing John Cook explain that on his blog,” she wrote.
One commenter said:
The plug would have been pulled by the Producer (the person who sits in the glass box and fiddles with the knobs and sliders), who obviously panicked when the interview, based on the Producer’s questions, did not go according to plan.
Making the second mistake, of asking John Cook to say anything sensible, was the icing on the cake, that hopefully will cost the Producer their job (although I doubt it).
On Marohasy’s blog, another commenter wondered:
John Cook gets media dispensation everywhere. One can’t imagine why; his consensus paper is drivel; and did he really say this:
“Mr Cook was telling Bronwen that the temperature record for Rutherglen had to be corrected because it was different from everywhere else.”
One can only hope it is different from everywhere else; that’s the point; even the AGW scientists [sic] admit to great regional variation; or at least they use to; who knows what they are saying.
One also wonders whether Cook rang in and Jennifer was shunted to give way to this VIP [sic] or whether the ABC rang him?
Well, I was keen to know if John Cook had been looking at the issue of temperature records. I called John to ask him about his ABC interview.
The conversation went something like this.
Me: How was the interview on ABC Goulburn Murray?
John: What interview…?
That’s right. John Cook was not interviewed by ABC Goulburn Murray and he has apparently never met or spoken to the host in question, Bronwen O’Shea.
John even offered an alibi! He was with his mum and before anyone asks, no I’ve not called John Cook’s mum to verify that the person she was with that morning was actually John Cook, her son.
Just to be doubly sure, I asked the ABC for a response.
I was told that they did not interview John Cook, but did have a talkback caller who came on the line after the phone dropped out and this was “David from Sandy Creek” which… well… sort of sounds like John Cook… but not much!
Cook is the bête noire of climate sceptics due to his research showing 97 per cent of climate science papers agree it’s caused by humans. Cook apparently looms so large in the minds of some sceptics that they hear him when he’s not even there.
Newman’s piece is the usual bilge but it does include this specific claim about the United States, where Newman hints that the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also fiddles its temperature data.
Now, 1998 is the hottest on record in the US.
Actually no. The hottest year for continental United States was 2012, smashing the previous hottest year – 1998 – by a whole degree fahrenheit.
You’re shocked by these errors aren’t you? Shocked I say.
We learn from a voluntary independent auditor, Ken Stewart, that after analysing 84 out of 104 Bureau of Meteorology sites, the effect of adjustments made to create the official Australian temperature record is an increase in the warming trend for minima of 66.6 per cent and 13 per cent for maxima… The data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport from 1962, despite it not opening until 1993. Always, the trend is to warming.
The official Australia temperature record that Newman is referring to is called ACORN-SAT – it stands for the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network and is maintained and managed by the Bureau of Meteorology.
When Newman says “the data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport” it can’t have, because the Cobar Airport monitoring station is not part of ACORN-SAT as anyone armed with an internet search engine can find out.
Australia’s Attorney-General Senator George Brandis gave an interview a couple of weeks ago where he got all upset about people who say the science of climate change is “settled”.
Brandis said people who made this claim were “ignorant” and “medieval” and ventured further into the defence of climate science deniers over a few glasses of who-knows-what with Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the online magazine Spiked ( a new incarnation of a magazine that used to be called Living Marxism) .
On my Planet Oz Guardian blog, I went to visit Brandis to warn him he might have got his alternate and actual universes transposed.
Brandis had tried to paint climate science deniers as poor sidelined victims at a time when they’re all over Australia’s dominant media outlet, News Corp.
Peter Ellerton, a lecturer in critical thinking at the University of Queensland, put it succinctly when he wrote on The Conversation: “Brandis has confused the right to speak an idea with the non-existent right that the idea be given credibility.”
Brandis hopes that our natural repulsion at excluding a particular view from the public arena will be aroused in support of climate science denial. This, however, ignores a vital characteristic of public debate: when ideas suffer body blows of sustained scientific refutation any attempt to maintain their status by appeal to an equal right of hearing is also an attempt to exempt them from evidential requirements and argumentative rigour.
Brandis reserved particular disdain for Senator Penny Wong, who he has apparently crowned the “high priestess of political correctness”.
WHEN tobacco companies began to understand that science linking tobacco smoking to lung cancer could have an impact on their industry profits, they began to produce another product – doubt.
Spreading doubt about the science could water-down public concern, cut the motivation to act and reduce the risk of policies that affect your bottom line.
Video blogger and journalist Peter Sinclair – of Climate Crock of the Week fame – has put together this new video showing the at times startling similarities between the denial of the health impacts from smoking and the denial of the science of human-caused climate change.
IF you were a newspaper editor, who would you accept as a commentator on climate change science and the role of the media?
Perhaps a climate scientist? Maybe a journalist, editor or media academic? Maybe someone who has researched either of these fields?
If you’re The Australian newspaper, where more than half the comment columns are sceptical of the dangers of human-caused climate change, then apparently a professor of medicine specialising in Inflammatory Bowel Disease will do the trick.
So it’s hardly surprising that the column from earlier this week, written by Professor Tim Florin of the University of Queensland, should be littered with errors and misrepresentations.
He then goes on to accuse The Guardian of engaging in censorship and that the newspaper, together with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is only “subtly different” from the kind of thing that went on in Stalinist Russia.
Florin appears to have been sparked into his diatribe by a piece I wrote recently on my Planet Oz blog, where I discussed a recent decision by the LA Times to file in the rubbish bin any letters from readers claiming there’s no evidence that humans cause climate change.
In the very first line of the column, Florin writes:
LAST month, The Guardian’s Graham Readfearn lamented that “wrongheaded and simplistic views on climate denialism are a regular feature on the letters page of many newspapers”, including The Australian.
But here’s the thing. That sentence – the one in quote marks – appears nowhere in my original story. I didn’t say that views on “climate denialism” appeared in letters. What I actually wrote, after providing an example of a letter in The Australian from a climate science denier, was this
Wrongheaded and simplistic views like this are a regular feature on the letters page of The Australian newspaper and no doubt hundreds of other newspapers around the world where readers respond to stories about climate change.
Doctoring quotes which change the meaning of what was originally written is considered very bad form in journalism. But then, Florin’s not a journalist, so how would he know? At least he left a second quote alone, where I asked an open-ended question about whether or not newspapers had a responsibility to keep pseudo-science off its pages.
Here are some things which Florin then goes on to pontificate on, from his lofty position as an expert on neither of the subjects he is writing about.
The Guardian should be leading discussion, not playing the censorship card.
The Guardian should desist from using “denier” when describing those people who disagree with the current paradigm as broadcast by itself, the IPCC and other media outlets.
Had Florin checked, he might have found that since writing my original Planet Oz blog, The Guardian’s Letters editor Nigel Willmott has actually addressed the issue of publishing letters from people who deny the evidence of human-caused climate change. There is no blanket ban, but rather a sensible editorial policy. He said:
So I would be unhappy about an absolute ban on those who might be grouped together as climate change deniers, but would need to see a strong case to run anything from them (and know something about what commercial interests they might be linked to).
The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Letters editors Julie Lewis and Marc McEvoy have also since outlined their views on publishing letters from people who deny the existence of evidence. They wrote
Climate change deniers or sceptics are free to express opinions and political views on our page but not to misrepresent facts. This applies to all our contributors on any subject. On that basis, a letter that says, “there is no sign humans have caused climate change” would not make the grade for our page.
Florin then goes on to attack the concept of a scientific consensus on climate change, claiming that “consensus is not the way that the scientific method works” and that “consensus is anathema to the scientific method”. This is a common argument from climate change sceptics.
Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society (founded in 1660), tackled it in conversation with climate science denier and blogger James Delingpole. When Delingpole tried to tell Sir Paul Nurse that “science has never been about consensus”, Nurse responded that consensus was just simply “the position of the experts at the time.” He then offered an analogy:
Say you had cancer and you went to be treated – there would be a consensual position on your treatment and it is very likely that you would follow that consensual treatment because you would trust the clinical scientists there. Now the analogy is that you could say you had done your research into it and I disagree with that consensual position – but that would be a very unusual position for you to take. I think sometimes the consensual position can be criticised when in fact it is most likely to be the correct position.
Florin then offers a list of “reputable climate scientists” who he says disagree with the “IPCC paradigm”. Included in the list are Nigel Calder (not a climate scientist, but a journalist), Freeman Dyson (not a climate scientist, but a physicist) and Stephen McIntyre (not a climate scientist, but does have 30 years in the mining industry).
Florin also lists another Ivar Giaever, who isn’t a climate scientist. Giaever did win a Nobel prize in Physics, even though Florin says he won the laureate for “chemistry”.
Also on the list is atmospheric physicist Professor Richard Lindzen, who is Jewish.
I mention this only because Florin complains that when I and others use the term “denier” to describe – well – people who deny the existence of evidence, that in fact this is being done to make some comparison with Holocaust denial.
This, from a writer who only a few sentences earlier had said the IPCC and The Guardian were only “subtly different” to the ideologically driven anti-science approach adopted by Joseph Stalin in the early to mid-20th century.
Lindzen isn’t quite so concerned with the term “denier”. When asked in a BBC interview about such labels, Lindzen said:
I actually like denier. That’s closer than sceptic.
Later on, Florin claims that the IPCC “has little to say ” on the scientific question of whether the rate of climate change is increasing. It is hard to understand how anyone who had read the most recent IPCC reports could come to this conclusion. Here are a few statements from the latest IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM)
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.
Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. There are likely more land regions where the number of heavy precipitation events has increased than where it has decreased.
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence).
Florin also asks “is a significant portion of climate change determined by human activity?” The answer, according to the studies which were reviewed by the IPCC, is that pretty much all of the warming observed since the 1950s was caused by human emissions. Here it is in IPCC speak:
The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.
Florin also states confidently that computer modelling cited by the IPCC “has consistently grossly overestimated its (CO2) effect on warming”.
This illustration from the SPM shows how computer models reconstruct the 20th century climate. Notice how the actual measurements (the black lines) sit “grossly” somewhere in the middle of the model estimates.
You might also notice the blue parts. This shows that when you remove human influences from the models, they fail to recreate the warming.
Florin’s column is, of course, just one in a long line of stories published in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Australia newspapers which misrepresent what the actual science says on climate change.
Research from Wendy Bacon, Professorial Fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at Sydney’s University of Technology, has found that just over half of all the comment articles published in The Australian either reject or suggest there is legitimate doubt about the central consensus of climate science.
Professor Florin has decided to venture into the realm of climate change science and journalism to offer a poorly informed opinion.
I suspect if a climate scientist or a journalist wandered into his surgery rooms and started to offer advice about gastroenterology, he’d rightly tell them to shove it somewhere.
A LEADING association for climate scientists has called on one of Australia’s highest profile business leaders to apologise for accusing their profession of lacking integrity.
David Murray, former head of the Commonwealth Bank and Australia’s Future Fund, told the ABC Lateline television news programme earlier this week that “there’s been a breakdown in integrity” in the science of climate change.
The Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society has issued a statement saying it was “disturbed” by the remarks of Murray, who was in charge of $75 billion of government assets during the final year of his six years as the chairman of the Future Fund.
Mr Murray said he believed “the climate problem is severely overstated” which led interviewer Emma Alberici to point out the strong findings of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Society regards the remarks of Mr. Murray as being a serious slur on the integrity of the many Australian and international authors of the IPCC report, and views them as highly offensive to those authors and to the profession at large. The Society calls upon Mr. Murray to withdraw the remarks.
During the segment, Mr Murray was asked what it would take to “convince him” over the science of climate change. Murray responded:
When I see some evidence of integrity amongst the scientists themselves. I often look at systems and behaviours as a way of judging something, and in this case, to watch the accusations that fly between these people suggests there’s been a breakdown in integrity in the science.
The letter from AMOS added:
The IPCC reports are an outstanding example of international science co-operation, rigour and transparency. They are subjected to multiple levels of review by experts both inside and outside the climate community, with all review comments and the authors’ responses to them being made publicly available.