Crikey’s irrelevance, Starbucks and Pyne:

Christian Kerr, Crikey’s former National Affairs editor, writes: Your editorial yesterday shows why Crikey is an irrelevance: “The Rudd Government has wound back the watermark Howard-era measure of mandatory detention.” Really? Howard era? If you bothered to check, you’d have found that mandatory detention was introduced during the first Keating government, in 1992, under that toilers’ friend from the Victorian Socialist Left Gerry Hand, last seen with the Suharto family working up the Christmas Island Casino. And the Starbucks stuff? Well, as Crikey reported back in the days when it was a larrikin little sh-t sheet that Natasha Stott-Despoja was launching the first Starbucks in Australia, no doubt with a frappacino in one hand and Naomi Klein in the other. That was different. Crikey nowadays just takes the Naomi Klein line and sees itself as part of that international brand No Logo. Staff who have been sacked or left gave you your reputation. What are we left with? Crikey 2008. Glib, biased, ignorant and wrong.

Chris Hunter writes: Is some sanity finally creeping into the minds of Australians. Yes, Christopher Pyne, South Australia’s own piping shrike can shrill as much as he likes about perceived Labor policy “softness” regarding the faceless hordes, but surely even he must admit that the Liberal Party’s support for the illegal invasion of Iraq was the profound cause of much of this so-called “terror”. When you jump into the lion’s cage brandishing a whip, then expect to get mauled, especially when your fundamental aspiration is to flog his tucker (oil).

No lost sleep for Qantas:

Wes Pryor writes: Your true-blue dinkum, die-hard Qantas-boosting correspondents need to get a grip (yesterday, comments). Perhaps for lack of oxygen (sorry), they are blue in the face with rage at the installation of Joyce as the new CEO. Their reasons? Qantas, they say, was once an icon. I’ll agree if they accept iconic is another term for expensive, rickety, anti-competitive and unfair (ever tried to use their Frequent Flyer program?). For how many years have Australian travellers been disadvantaged by their monopolistic practices? Qantas has existed inside some sort of protection-bubble outside of free-trade arrangements. They have enjoyed the pre-V-rgin wonder years, muscled their skilled workers, engaged in price-fixing, jammed us in poky 747 seats with no TV, served us crap Neil Perry muffins. I for one will be happy to see the back of them and their crappy, jingoistic, brown satin blouses. I wonder how many travellers who aren’t shareholders actually reckon their service is better than their competitors? They’re already Jetstar, just pricier with older planes.

Colin Hill writes: Re. ” What sort of Qantas will Jetstar-Joyce deliver? ” (Yesterday, item 6). Geoff Dixon was bad enough, trashing the once great Qantas into a sham, but if the Jetstar model is forced onto Qantas, God help the travelling public. The right man for the job, whomever that may be, will never actually get the job so long as the bean counters are running the show. When the only criteria for running an airline is profits and large management salaries the airline will always suffer. Recent safety incidents with Qantas have been averted more by luck than safe aircraft/maintenance practices. I just hope I am not flying on one of their [now very old] planes when they have the now inevitable “big one”! I doubt it though as I haven’t used their shoddy services for the last five years. There are too many other, better, choices.

Explosion explainer:

JJ Goold writes: Ken Waite ( yesterday, comments) seems unaware that explosions may be of a mechanical nature as well as a chemical one. If liquids and gasses are contained in defective pressure vessels eg damaged gas bottles, there is a chance they will explode with the expanding fluid and fragmentation being capable of doing work, like making a hole in an aeroplane. To lessen the probability of a mechanical explosion, pressure vessels are given a life after which they must be tested or replaced. Most users of the humble gas BBQ would be aware of this. If Ken doesn’t believe this, I suggest he puts a bottle of oxygen in a fire and waits for an interesting reaction. I wouldn’t want to be standing too close. To date I haven’t seen any compliments given to Boeing. The plane in question got a big hole blown in it and didn’t fall out of the sky. Boeing obviously is doing something right.

Looking down on people:

Peter Scruby writes: Re. ” Should an Irishman run Australia’s most iconic brand? ” (Yesterday, item 23). Stephen Mayne calls Alan Joyce short… Stephen, when you’re 6ft 6 or whatever, everyone’s short. Change the date:

Ian Smith writes: Dear Crikey, I have noted that the date on your emailed daily reports is in the American fashion of MM/DD/YY. While I realise that this may be beyond your control, I find this offensive. We may be a de facto satellite of the United States, but I like to believe that we are a proud and independent country which uses the date format DD/MM/YY. Please change this if it is in your power to do so.Bravery:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. ” Peter Costello: the man who never was ” (yesterday, item 3). Somewhere in the Pacific, Peter Costello finds his spine…

The solar rebate system:

Marilyn Shepherd writes: Re. ” Misstepping on minefields could get painful for Rudd” (yesterday, item 10). It astonishes me that no-one has actually analysed the solar rebate system to see if it is worth it just so a few rich people can claim to feel better while the poorer people will never be able to afford a solar system. Based on the $8,000 rebate and a mere 8,000 per month or 96,000 per annum the cost is a massive $768 million for less than half a percent of the population. Surely those hundreds of millions would be better spent on large scale solar farms to supply solar power to millions instead of a few thousand? The thing was simply a sop thrown around by Howard last year and has been nothing more than a waste of time and money.

The Haneef affair:

Jenny Sams writes: Re. ” Haneef inquiry blinded by secrecy” (yesterday, item 13). If a Royal Commission is not set up into the AFP now, this government will be forever known as the government that lay down to the security agencies. The travesties of justice perpetrated over the next ten years will lie at the door of this government if they do not act now. What will make Mr McClelland take a stand on this saga?

Clarification:

Alex Mitchell writes: Re. ” Tripodi excited over Oliveri appointment, but for how long?” (Yesterday, item 14). On July 19, 1996, Fairfield City Councillor Frank Oliveri wrote to NSW Health Minister Andrew Refshauge recommending that he appoint another Fairfield councillor, Phuonh Ngo, to the Western Sydney Health Service Board. In yesterday’s Crikey I quoted the letter in full. Regrettably, the author of the letter was not Clr Frank Oliveri Jnr, who has just been appointed to the Iemma Government’s Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board, but his late father, also Frank Oliveri. Apologies to Frank Oliveri Jnr for any embarrassment caused.

Bait advertising:

Peter Rule writes: Re. ” Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Perhaps you’d like to let those subscribers who have been complaining in Crikey about Big W and Aldi not having enough stock for items they have advertised at greatly reduced prices, that this is called “bait advertising” and is in breach of the Trade Practices Act (Cth) and state fair trading Acts (e.g., Fair Trading Act (Vic) ). I strongly encourage them to make a complaint to the relevant body (ACCC and/or state fair trading agency). Instances of genuine bait advertising constitute a serious offence.

Super funds:

Ted McDonnell, media advisor at Industry Super Funds, writes: Re. ” Tips and rumours ” (yesterday, item 8). Crikey published: “The SuperRatings report on super returns to June 30 has received a lot of publicity in the newspapers. However, the profound difference in returns between retail funds (average -5.78%) and non-profit industry funds (average -9.84) has been ignored or played down in the commercial media because the retail funds have threatened to withdraw advertising. However, the ABC did mention the disparity…” The real figures are Retail Super Funds = median -9.84 versus Industry Super Funds median -5.78 which is a glaring 4.06% difference in the 12 months to June 30.

Andrew Bolt:

Queensland scientist Michael James writes: Re. “Andrew Bolt: you cackhanded climate slimers you” (25 July , item 5). Andrew Bolt has reacted to my points in usual fashion — just like he does on TV discussion panels — with an attempt to shout down and bully the other speaker. In his retort published on his blog site on Friday he has scattered grapeshot all over the place mostly avoiding responding to the very few specific points I made. These were all related to his misinterpretation of the graphs he chose to present.

Before I deal with those points, I want to repeat that I did not make a case for or against AGW or indeed any of the issues raised. For example, I don’t know what is causing the current 30-year trend in thinning of Arctic sea ice and I don’t know what it implies. I was doing what any scientist does when reading statements made by someone using graphical data to support their case; i.e. did the presented data support what he was claiming they supported.

In fact I am one of those scientists who, so far, is unconvinced that the incomplete, highly variable climate data — also subject to continuing revision in either interpretation, accuracy and methods of measurement — is adequate to make any really firm conclusions about either the future outcome, the likely timetable or cause/effect. Thus, in other contexts he would probably cite me amongst his “31,000 scientists” as a sceptic. But just like many of those eminent scientists he falsely and selectively cites as supporting his distorted position, scientists are professional sceptics. But the term sceptic is being abused. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we think the case being put forward is wrong but that we remain disbelievers until there is more evidence or we examine in more detail what evidence has been put forward.

In my case I have this “disbelief” partly because it is not my area of expertise and the issues are hugely complicated and poorly understood. I have not put in the amount of research to arrive at a decision I could be comfortable with. I doubt few of his dogmatic bloggers (does he mean commenters/readers?) or the other commentariat have either. With my stance (limply sitting of the fence) Andrew Bolt and his bloggers (does he mean commenters/readers?) may be mystified how I can support ETS or a whole set of measures (renewable energy etc) that I believe Australia should be taking. I would love to address that but right here I must justify the original points I made about Bolt’s misinterpretation of his own data.

OK, to the tedious business of trying to make sense and respond to Andrew Bolt’s tirade. I repeat that I carefully avoided interpreting whether the data he presented supported global warming or whatever. In his response and in those of his bloggers (does he mean commenters/readers?) there are countless false implications that I claim global warming is real. Since I didn’t and don’t, I am not going to address any of those distractions. My original comment and now here, was and is exclusively focussed on what Andrew Bolt claimed those graphs proved. This is much simpler than trying to get to the bottom of the global warming arguments.

Graph 1 & 2 and the issue of whether they show the world is now cooling.

Direct quote from Andrew Bolt’s first blog post:

Look for yourself. They show that the world hasn’t warmed for a decade, and has even cooled for several years.

And:

The world simply isn’t warming as he and his pet scientists said.

In my version of these graphs I highlighted in red the only evidence I could see for any claim that recent data shows cooling — this is the most recent data which was for a few weeks at the beginning of 2008, and in the second graph (as I reported), now up to June 08. I cannot for the life of me find in these graphs where one could say “cooled for several years”.

The period I circled in blue for the period 1999-2007 shows a clear increase over the previous decade (graph 1) or previous two decades (graph 2) — but I never claimed this proves global warming, and it may well be a transient increase but it looks like we will have to wait another decade or so to call it. And this is excluding the 1998 El Nino event which one could argue should not be excluded since it is a regular, natural event and a major driver of climate in the Pacific.

I suspect Andrew is simply unable to read these graphs. One cannot select the last few points on a graph and claim they represent a significant trend — and the current dip (to June 08 data) is still less than other dips (e.g. 2000) that occur for short periods from time to time. This is simply the bumpiness of these kinds of phenomena and data. One cannot use these graphs to claim in any meaningful way the world is cooling. It looks like the dips last for about 6 months so my guess is that the line will shortly swing back up — even if it does not, it will take many more years to see any meaningful trend. I invite Bolt to revisit this issue in six months time or when all of the data for 2008 are in.

Graph 3 and the issue of whether sea levels are rising or dropping.

Direct quote from Andrew Bolt’s blog:

I’m not denying sea levels have crept up for many scores of years, and in fact said just that in my article. Indeed, my graphs show that rise (which stopped two years ago, Michael, not one.).

Again this really seems a case of inappropriate interpretation of graphs. The data points are all over the place — like all similar data whether it be temperature, CO2 levels, sea level, ice measures, ozone holes etc — there is a lot of noisiness and trends can only be discerned over longer times using widely dispersed points of measurement and by averaging etc. The creator of the sea level plot has drawn the best-fit trend line and it is no accident that it remains a straight line into 2008, and with the strong implication, into the future. If the Standard Deviation was shown (above and below the trend line) one would see that most data points, including the previous two years, would fall within it.

Data would probably have to fall at least two standard deviations from the mean (the main trend line) before being considered significant but with this kind of data no one would take it seriously until a lot more data had accumulated. But even in Bolt’s two years there is a very considerable upward peak (last half of 2007) that he ignores. If you ran a six or 12 month sliding window across this graph you would find at least half a dozen instances of apparent sea level drop — obviously none would be sustained. There is really no argument in this: it is simply false to use noise in the data to claim the sea level rise has stopped!

Incidentally I have not verified this data and don’t have the hours and hours of time it would take to research it properly — in fact I am slightly sceptical that this data could be representative of all the world’s oceans (there is surprising variation even over relatively small local distances due to the many complex factors involved such as tides and geography; e.g. convincing studies have shown that, surprisingly, sea levels haven’t changed significantly around Tuvalu but that is another story).

Graph 4 and the thickness of Arctic sea ice. Yes, this is the graph from Bolt’s Monday 21st blog post which was a follow-up from the earlier one (for reasons opaque to me this seems to agitate AB but it the graph he posted and used in his argument).

First he says that:

Because James then focuses entirely on the below-average ice cover at the North Pole as a sign of global warming, when, as the sea ice graph in my column shows, total sea ice around the world is in fact above average levels

I certainly did not and do not interpret it as a sign of global warming — that is entirely a giveaway line of Bolts. I was and am only focussed on how Bolt interprets these graphs. He also says:

In fact, nowhere in the article did I refer to Arctic ice either thinning or thickening. James just made that up, in order to have something to attack.

But in the original blog:

Sea ice now isn’t melting, but spreading.

And:

So why is the first year ice thicker than anticipated?

It seems very strange to say he wasn’t referring to the thinning of Arctic ice. His second blog was titled “North Pole still icy, predictions still wrong “. (The north pole is in the middle of the Arctic Sea). The whole blog post was about the thickness of the Arctic Sea Ice so again it mystifies me why he says I am misrepresenting him. Which one of us is being pedantic? The only graph in that piece was the Arctic Sea Ice and though the post was particularly difficult to make sense of, after careful multiple readings I believed he was trying to say that because the ice is thicker in July 2008 than it was in the same period of 2007 (I agree), the whole Arctic ice thinning observation is wrong! Have I misinterpreted Bolt? Look at his title!

Today I still maintain that his conclusion is patently ridiculous because not only is it just two weeks of data but the current (i.e. those two weeks) and the longer-term data (all of 2008 so far and the rest of the year if the current trend line continues and 2007) is substantially less than the 20 year average (the top line in the graph). Truly, there is nothing clearer. But also let me be clear that I wouldn’t know if this might be due to global warming let alone AGW or whatever, but I do know that Bolt’s claim is indefensible. I came to his blog with no preconceived notions but find these data actually confirm that the long-term trend, apparent for 30 years (as the lab which provided the data, the NSIDC, say) is continuing. I thank him for bringing it to my notice.

Well, we have dissected these graphs and the statements about them more than most readers can bear. Incidentally, this is the kind of thing that happens to any conclusions and statements made by scientists. In my world you need to be extremely careful about what you say and conclude and you better have the data that supports your statements. Or expect merciless treatment. Peer review is a powerful thing and keeps us on the straight and narrow (partly through fear of public and professional humiliation and partly through pride in getting it right first time), and in a way, that is all I am doing here and in the earlier report.

But the reason why it is important and why I did this was not because I am a green fanatic (as Bolt wrote in his blog) — I am not — or because I have a personal thing against Andrew Bolt (I don’t) but because he has so emphatically insisted, on his blogs and the broadcast media, that “
“These seven graphs that should make you ask: What? Has global warming now stopped?. and “..now you can see why these graphs terrify Rudd, who has never admitted to a single fact they contain,” and more.

These statements are simply unsupported by his own graphs and he and all his commenters/readers and other media or denialists must not cite Bolt as having proven anything, other than that he has no idea of how to interpret graphical data. And that, too, is the only thing I have proven but it is the first and elemental process in understanding complex phenomena: to interpret the primary data correctly.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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