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A response to charges of climate denialism

Crikey readers talk privatisation and cats, and John McLean responds to Elaine McKewon

Climate change in Fairfax op-ed: a response

John McLean writes: Re. “The Big Oil-backed climate denier who hoodwinked Fairfax” (yesterday). I fear for Australian journalism if PhD candidate Elaine McKewon is typical of those who want to be journalists. She throws around epithets like “denier” without knowing what the disagreement is about, and she alleges that the Fairfax opinion editor was somehow hoodwinked rather than exercised professional judgement on the merit of a piece.

She says my piece was “misinformed” but fails to mention any errors of fact. She could hardly do that when a week later Mary Voice, former head of the National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology, repeated the IPCC charter that I quoted.

McKewon tries to assassinate my character by questioning my credibility but provides no evidence whatsoever that being an expert climatologist is a prerequisite for pointing out that despite the IPCC’s narrow charter the organisation has often been misrepresented as an authority on all climate matters. One needs qualifications and proven expertise to make such a simple observation? Of course not.

McKewon says nothing about my article and attacks only the byline. It seems to be the old story — if you can’t attack the person’s argument, attack the character of the person. I would have thought that PhD candidates in journalism were smarter and more professional than that, but apparently not. Let me take the red pen to McKewon’s article, which if submitted as a university essay would surely get a “fail”.

It takes her just 13 words before she uses the words “climate change deniers”. What are we supposed to deny? That climate changes? In the bigger picture she seems to either want to inflate a scientific disagreement to being on par with the systematic state-sponsored murder of over 6 million Jews, or to devalue those murders to make them equivalent to a scientific disagreement about the magnitude of the influence of carbon dioxide in the open atmosphere.

McKewon then tries to denigrate my published papers, but she does so with sophistry because all three papers have been published, as was stated, in peer-reviewed journals. McKewon’s opinion of those journals is utterly irrelevant. The 2009 paper to which she refers was a case where the journal broke several of its own regulations and, almost unheard of in scientific circles, denied us the right of reply to a criticism. My 2009 paper and its aftermath is discussed in a document on my website, which judging by her other comments she’s read, so why didn’t she read this document and mention it accordingly?

She claims that I am not affiliated with any university. That’s untrue. Like her I am a PhD candidate, in my case through a department of physics, and I will be submitting a PhD on climate issues. My background as a computer consultant is not a negative because it has allowed me to analyse climate data that those like McKewon probably take at face value.

If McKewon wishes to claim that scientists’ opinions can be bought by those who fund them she needs to be aware that I have never received one cent from the ICSC and whoever its backers may be (mainly privately donations). She also casts aspersions on the many scientists who receive government funding for research that somehow endorses the IPCC view, a corruption that’s more logical because one can argue that the significantly greater government funding forces any budding climatologist who wants employment into tacitly supporting the IPCC view whether he wants to or not.

Next McKewon denigrates my expert review (IPCC terminology). She has no idea of either the number of comments I raised or the subject of those comments and yet she somehow feels qualified to dismiss them. Her position is absurd and unsustainable. Finally, she dismisses a prediction that I was brave enough to make and for which I showed my reasoning. That my reasoning has failed has exposed further issues for detailed investigation.

McKewon, for all her verbiage, fails to refute my argument, one that could be made by anyone with a modicum of intelligence. She labels me a “denier” but fails to show anything that might be disputed in my article. Indirectly, she accuses the Fairfax opinion editor of incompetence for allowing the publishing of a well-reasoned argument not about climate per se but about the role of the IPCC.

Privatisation never the answer

Les Heimann writes: Re. “For sale? Tony Abbott’s potential privatisation hit list” (yesterday). Haven’t we learnt by now that selling government enterprises is always the worst thing to do? Ask anyone whether they are financially better off with privatised power and water. Are toll roads better for the economy? Is public transport better where it has been privatised? Is banking better since we sold off the Commonwealth Bank? Do our airports run better and at a fair cost since Macquarie Bank got hold of them?

The list is endless, and the evidence always points to the fact that a privatised “business” has to make a profit; therefore, by definition it has to be more costly to the consumer. The naysayers point out that private businesses are cheaper to run. Well, they are not. Cheaper to the business owners and more expensive to the consumers. Like when we had a power outage in pre-privatisation times it was fixed in, say, 30 minutes. Now it takes two hours because the companies use fewer staff and so other businesses and consumers are inconvenienced both financially and in time.

I suggest Crikey gets a good economist/accountant to cost the provision of services in a privatised business enterprise in say 2013 as against the same costs before privatisation — and those costs need to include efficiency and effectiveness from the stand point of both the enterprise and the consumer. Let’s call it the Crikey Commission of Audit into the benefits of Privatisation. I confidently predict that the capitalist myth that private is better would be blown to misty pieces. By the way, after everything is finally sold off, what then? Higher taxes of course.

Duncan Peattie writes: “Chris Aulich, professor of public administration at the University of Canberra, warned Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation of the UK railways did not work.” Margaret Thatcher privatised many organisations in the UK, but its railways were not one of them. ”Credit” belongs to John Major, who was desperate for something to dispel his “grey” image.  Had we known then that he was having an affair with Edwina Currie, perhaps Britain’s railways could have been spared.

The best office-mates

Allison Finley-Bissett writes: Re. “Saville’s shout: Syd Festival picks … the open-plan office … futility of resolutions …” (yesterday). Cat supervision re: Ms Saville’s article:

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  • 1
    Will
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    What a joke; let’s examine two big problems in McLean’s comment:

    1. Contrary to the glib assertion, attacking a byline is not ad honinem. Ad honimen is a fallacy of irrelevance which attempts to use negative assertions about a person’s character to dismiss their arguments. Example of ad honinem might include attacking someone’s marital status, their sexuality, or their personal grooming habits in lieu of their arguments. This is sometimes referred to as playing the man not the ball.

    Attacking a byline for falsely conveying expert authoritative status is not an ad honinem. The byline used by Fairfax did in fact suggest McLean held relevant qualifications in climate science and that he had credible publication output in reputable peer-review journals. The Crikey piece rightly lambasts Fairfax for allowing this byline because McLean holds no relevant qualifications and he has no publications in reputable scientific journals. And no, Energy and Environment is not a credible journal.

    2. McLean complains that no arguments were addressed from his piece. This might be a relevant point to make if he had indeed made any substantive arguments in his piece about climate change. But unfortunately he did not. All that he offered in that Fairfax piece was airy conspiratorial denunciations of the IPCC process and self-referential nonsense recalling a settled understanding of things like climate-gate that nobody outside the murky rent seeking underworld he occupies would regard as compelling. In fact, climategate was investigated by repeatedly and no wrongdoing was found.

    To say there were arguments to answer would be dignifying a piece of pure rhetoric that contained not even a single evidence-based contention.

  • 2
    kd
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    McLean is pathetic. His arguments and “peer reviewed” publication record on climate science have already been thorougly discredited, but he cotinues with a spout of verbal diarreah that amounts to “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” which is the classic strategy of the ever dwindling climate delusional cheer squad.

  • 3
    Rohan
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Mclean, like most denialists suffers from acute amnesia.

    He seems to think that falsehoods and inaccuracies regurgitated for the millionth time must be debunked again RIGHT NOW from first principles or else they magically become true.

  • 4
    Will
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Good point Rohan.

    The high-visibility efforts we see everyday contesting the mainstream climate science in the media are mostly deeply dishonest and bad faith. These efforts involve the public being absolutely bombarded with over 170 provably false or misleading claims (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php) about climate science and vague allegations of corruption within the entire scientific establishment, across thousands of editorial platforms and titles, most often by people with no relevant qualifications to comment.

    We know this is all bad faith, because almost none of it is echoed in the real journals and other specialist fora where real science is debated and falsified. They seek refuge in the accountability-free zone of editorial and opinion (and journals of no status or credible peer review) precisely because they can’t furnish credible evidence for their position in a true scientific format.

    Moreover, it doesn’t matter how many times a specific claim made in one of these op-eds is addressed, with painstaking care and politeness, it is simply repeated over and over and they move onto the next claim. No acknowledgement is ever given for getting it wrong, continuously, every time they venture their view. Indeed, their chief prosecutors have the temerity to argue that their partial success in whipping up a largely aged and enfeebled audience against climate science through such propaganda is part of an emerging consensus whereby all the wicked scientists will be exposed and we can end global government therapy forever. It’s absolutely fatuous.

    The key stakeholders in this campaign must be regarded as amongst the least credible public advocates on any subject in recent history, up there with anti-vaccination nuts. The only difference is that we know the anti-vaccination nuts are fringe-dwelling loons, whereas we know most of the people associated with this campaign are well connected and remunerated for their dubious efforts — hence McLean’s pathetic hand waving about private donations as if we didn’t know full-well he is Heartland funded hack.

  • 5
    Salamander
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Will: I agree and add that far from the (apparently) grass-roots “anti-vaccination nuts”, the anti-AGW campaign is closely following the Big Tobacco script which has been successful in keeping known killer products on the market for over 60 years.

  • 6
    kd
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    it doesn’t matter how many times a specific claim made in one of these op-eds is addressed, with painstaking care and politeness

    The key stakeholders in this campaign must be regarded as amongst the least credible public advocates on any subject in recent history.

    Well put Will. As Tamas Calderwood well knows, I long ago lost patience with the climate denier brigade, which is why I no longer refer to them as “climate sceptics”, but as “climate delusionals”. And if they choose to continue their thoroughly discredited arguments I then call them out as a “deluisonal f$#%wit”. They don’t like this, but it’s true.

    We’re currently either on the precipice, or just over the wrong side. If we’re over the precipice it’s the fault of people like McLean. It will take another one or two decades to decide which. Or maybe (long shot if we’re lucky) geoengineering will save us, maybe even without massive unintended consequences. The question is, do you feel lucky, punk. Do you feel lucky? Of course the rich people feel lucky, but that may not last. My gut feeling says the people who feel the most lucky are those that have made good decisions over the last decade or so, and that luck may be merely relative.

  • 7
    wayne robinson
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I read John McLean’s article in the ‘Age’ on January 3, and thought that it was a basically a waste of paper. In short, he was noting that the IPCC is a political organisation. I agree - it is. It was set up by governments with its reports written in committees and its reports vetted by government representatives.

    He complains that his paper published in 2009 was unfairly treated. The paper notes that ENSO events predict global temperatures 7 months later, leaving no room for greenhouse gases to have no effect.

    It’s just a more obscure way of claiming that there was a global warming ‘pause’ from 1998 to 2012.

    In El Niño years, there’s a pool of warm water in the eastern Pacific. The prevailing westerly winds pick up the heat from the ocean to warm the lower atmosphere to the east, causing global lower atmospheric warming (in 1998, a strong El Niño year, of about 1 degree Celsius). The western Pacific is relatively cooler, radiates less infrared and is able to absorb and retain more heat from the Sun.

    El Niño years causing global atmospheric warming in the same way that the Gulf Stream causes warming of northwestern Europe.

    In La Niña years, the warm pool of water is in the western Pacific, the eastern Pacific is relatively cooler, with less heat available to heat the lower atmosphere and more capacity to absorb and retain the energy from the Sun, resulting in global lower atmospheric cooling. 2012 was a moderate La Niña year resulting in a relatively cooler year.

    Greenhouse gases have a small effect in retaining heat, compared to the amounts of heat that can ‘slosh’ between the oceans (which have 400 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere) and the atmosphere, and vice versa.

  • 8
    Salamander
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Wayne don’t sweat the small stuff. Leave it to the experts, as you are only geting yourself and others confused.

  • 9
    wayne robinson
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Salamander,

    I suppose I could have put it simpler. John McLean is attempting to ‘disprove’ AGW by noting that ENSO events predict global temperatures with little room for greenhouse gases, and claims that therefore greenhouse gases have little effect.

    Whereas, it is established fact that El Niño years are warmer on average and La Niña years are cooler, swamping the effects of greenhouse gases.

    His 2009 peer reviewed paper wasn’t ‘controversial’. It was just trivial and uninteresting, not adding anything to our knowledge. He’s just saying that if it’s a La Niña year, then it will be cooler.

    The lower atmosphere will be cooler, that is. Which ignores what is happening in the oceans, the land and the cryosphere.

  • 10
    Salamander
    Posted Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    As I understand it, ENSO accounts for cycles of temperature variation, but is not related to the long-term upward gobal warming trend. See for instance http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/09/what-ocean-heating-reveals-about-global-warming/comment-page-2/#comments

  • 11
    Andrew Dolt
    Posted Wednesday, 15 January 2014 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    John McLean, as even you noticed, You Were Wrong. The issue that exposes for further investigation is: You Are Wrong. Further, You Will Remain Wrong until either you wake up to yourself or die deluded, whichever comes first. No matter what you do or say, the planet will just keep on demonstrating your wrongness to you.

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