Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another bit of fluff from political denier & campaigner for devastation by climate, Bob Carter

The Sydney Morning Herald today printed another bit of fluff from the political denier and campaigner for devastation by climate, Bob Carter. It was a response to an article by Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. Let's hope SMH will now provide 'balance' by making sure the next 99,999 articles it publishes on climate are from climate scientists. (My comments are in dark blue and italics.)

Carter starts with a reference to the editor's lead in to Professor Chubb's article:
IAN CHUBB says the climate change debate is not about politics but science. Would that it were so.
The lead in was wrong - editors seem to get stuff wrong often. This the only time Ian Chubb mentioned debate:
Is the debate, or critique, confined to experts? No. But if ''non-experts'' want to be part of the debate, they have a responsibility to respect the science that has led to the knowledge that we have at hand. In order to make a considered intervention, they need to understand the scientific process and the robust contest of ideas and interpretations that are part and parcel of civil scientific inquiry and which lead us to where we are.

There is no place for deliberate misrepresentation of data either by expert or by commentator. It is easy to make a dollar or two by being the instant expert on everything and substituting decibels for substance.

If only Carter took heed of Chubb's words, particularly the part about misrepresentation and substitution of decibels for substance. But he doesn't, so Carter continues:
But it is not that simple, for there really are two matters at hand, namely the science relevant to global warming and the principle of sound empiricism and calm rational thought to determine important affairs of state (politics).

Alas, in the public debate about global warming, these principles of sound science and sound governance have become entwined with political self-interest by well-funded lobby groups of both the ''save the world'' and ''let's make money'' variety. How's the IPA going for funding these days, Bob?
First, the science. The scientific method is a brilliantly successful technique for discovering, understanding and managing the world around us, born out of the fire of the European Enlightenment. Don't you just love his poetic turn of phrase :)
Sound science is based upon observation, experiment and the testing of hypotheses in the context of the principle of simplicity (often termed Occam's Razor). Simple is nice but the world isn't always simple, is it.
Carter then moves into areas about which he knows zilch and understands less:
The unvalidated computer models that now dominate the public face of climate ''science'' are a jungle of complexities, and represent speculative thought experiments not empirically tested science.
The above statement is completely false, whether he is discussing complex general circulation models or simpler models to calculate global temperature. The former are based on known physics, not speculation and thought experiments. The latter are based upon measured temperature observations. Models can be simple or complex. They are not 'thought experiments' - at least not in climate science.
In support of these methods, the former director of the British Meteorological Office, Professor John Mitchell, has said that ''people underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful … Our approach is not entirely empirical''.
I tried to track down this 'quote'. It seems to have originated in a report of a session held in May as viewed through the eyes of a journalist. I did a search and the quote has flown around all the denier website with the usual lightning speed and is roundly misunderstood by all. It is a snippet of a quote, not necessarily accurate, and with no context. Given the source it is not clear a) whether or not it is accurate, or b) to what Prof Mitchell was referring. In any case, the emphasis appears to be on the power of models - which to most people would be self-evident. Maybe Carter is still using pen and paper for everything.

Carter himself misunderstands it and emphasises the - well I don't know what he is referring to in this bit. Maybe someone else can help me out here.
The last part of this statement is only too true, and leads to the discomfit expressed by those such as the British engineering professor John Brignell: ''The ease with which a glib algorithm can be implemented with a few lines of computer code, and the difficulty of understanding its implications, can pave the path to cloud-cuckoo land.'' What is Carter on about? Anyone?
From this point on Carter shows how little he knows about ordinary science that any high school student should understand, and most primary school students should probably know:
Climate science is not primarily about modelling, albeit a powerful tool, but about testing hypotheses against key empirical facts, including:
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a mild greenhouse gas that exerts a diminishing warming effect as its concentration increases; True that the effect diminishes as concentration increases - it's a logarithmic relationship. Not true that 'it's a mild greenhouse gas'. CO2 is known as earth's thermostat. Dial it up and the temperature goes up and causes all sorts of other responses to make the temperature go up even more. Dial it down and the temperature drops, and water condenses and all sorts of other responses that cause the temperature to drop even more. CO2 is not mild, it is very powerful.
  • We live in a carbon dioxide-starved world (levels 15 times higher having been reached about 500 million years ago and diminishing since); Patently false. If the world was starved for CO2 why are we alive and how did the earth survive for the last few million years?
  • Carbon dioxide is a vital plant fertiliser; and the point is? (So is nitrogen, phosphorus and a number of other nutrients.)
  • The world warmed in the earlier and latter parts of the 20th century; True and
  • The world has cooled slightly over the past 10 years despite a 5 per cent increase in carbon dioxide.False: 2010 was the equal hottest year on record and the temperature trend continues to rise. The 2000s were hotter than the 1990s, which were hotter than the 1980s, which were hotter than the 1970s, which were hotter than the 1960s.
These facts are consistent with the conclusion that enhanced levels of carbon dioxide are good for the environment , and do not cause dangerous global warming. Wrong again. First they are not facts, and second even were they facts they are not sufficient to prove what is contended. The biggest risks are from the rapid pace of accumulation of greenhouse gases. We just don't have time to adapt. The weather this past decade has caused the loss of many lives, shifts of climate, loss of biodiversity. The oceans are rapidly warming and acidifying. It is all happening much too quickly and will be devastating if we don't stop it.
Professor Chubb claims: ''Ross Garnaut has summarised the state of climate science in his recent report.'' But what Professor Garnaut in fact summarised were the official findings of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an undeniably political body. Professor Garnaut also said that IPCC views are supported ''by the learned academies of science [all disciplines] in all of the countries of scientific accomplishment''. Which invites the obvious response, ''Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?''
The IPCC is an independent non-political organisation. Carter is talking through his hat.
The ''IPCC and most academies'' line is, of course, the argument from consensus, which raises the question: When did you last hear a scientist say ''there is a consensus that the sun will rise tomorrow''?
Is Bob Carter questioning whether the sun will rise tomorrow or is he saying there is no scientific consensus that the sun will rise tomorrow?
Never, of course, for the very use of the phrase ''consensus'' in science tells you that a matter is not settled. Global warming science is not just unsettled but profoundly uncertain and controversial.
Aah - he's trying on a 'gotcha'. I wonder how Carter goes with the evolution 'debate' in the good old USA?
Consensus is a political, not scientific, concept. As Michael Crichton wrote: ''There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.''
Now he is quoting a writer of popular fiction (and climate change denier), who, despite studying biological anthropology and medicine, reportedly believed people created their own illnesses, had astral spirits and other nonsense. So if there is consensus there isn't science. Okay, there goes gravity, relativity, genetics etc etc down the tube. We've got to start all over again from, maybe, Aristotle?
Returning to real science, Professor Chubb said that when ''science is conducted properly, and interpreted after extensive, and critical, analysis, knowledge and understanding is increased and improved. We shift [our views] or confirm what we think.''
Quite so, and nothing about consensus there. But the problem remains of improper science, which is now widespread. Oh?
In particular, the IPCC - which was set up to advise only on the climatic effect of human greenhouse emissions - has shown repeatedly that it is not in the business of shifting its beliefs, whatever the evidence; instead, facts contrary to its convictions are either ignored or neutralised by adjusting the models.
For example, the sun recently entered a quietude unknown since the Little Ice Age. Accompanying this, planetary warming has ceased despite still increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Some solar physicists have issued warnings that strong cooling may be imminent.
I see. Because neither the evidence nor the physics suggests that the world is or should be cooling like 'some solar physicists' think it should - then the evidence and the physics must be wrong? But the world isn't cooling is it, and not showing any signs that it's going to do so. So where does Carter get his odd ideas? Even if the sun were to go very quiet, like a Grand Minimum, it would hardly make a dent in the medium term rise in temperature.
Has the IPCC revised any of its views as a result? Fat chance.
Carter doesn't understand how the IPCC operates. He seems to think there is an organisation that writes reports independently of the latest scientific papers and observations. He doesn't realise that what it is is a coordinating body which, though lots of volunteer effort from experts all over the world, pulls together the latest knowledge based on scientific papers (WG1) and other information (the other working groups).
Professor Chubb also points out the impossibility of waiting for certainty (Godot arrives more quickly) before setting climate policy, and the need for insurance against climate change, two points with which I entirely agree. I doubt Prof Chubb cares tuppence for what Carter thinks.
Good governance on scientific issues is based on the twin principles of prudence and do no harm, especially to society's most disadvantaged. Everything that we know about climate change tells us that it is both dangerous and uncertain. The appropriate insurance is a national policy based on preparing for and adapting to all climate events as and when they happen, irrespective of their cause.
Sounds good, doesn't it. But then Carter contradicts himself:
If, instead, political pressure from lobby groups defeats contestable scientific advice, then Australia will get a swingeingly (sic) expensive, regressive and environmentally ineffectual carbon dioxide tax - and live to regret it.
Carter just said to prepare and take action, now he says don't take action. What gives? We will never know, because that's where the article ends.

Professor Bob Carter is a geologist, a fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs and author of the book, Climate: The Counter Consensus. Which means he is a denier of the first order, not a climate scientist, and aligned with the political right wing.

Addendum: For an excellent critique of Bob Carter's recent 'presentations' and the misinterpretations and misreprentations and disinformation he provides as charts - Click here for a post from Tamino on Open Mind

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