Possum vs. Bolt:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Comitatus: Andrew Bolt, knowledge weight and flagship media” (yesterday, item 2). Possum Comitatus tried to have a condescending laugh at Andrew Bolt but instead slipped on a statistical banana peel himself.  He rubbishes the claim that the “planet hasn’t warmed since at least 2001”, saying this isn’t statistically supported.

Ahh… sorry, but it is.  A linear regression on the data back to 2001 (i.e.; the best fit of a straight line to the plotted temperature observations) shows a NEGATIVE trend of 0.07C.  Oh, I know Possum — the R-squared is pretty low so the line doesn’t “fit” the data all that well.  But that argument cuts both ways because the data showing 0.39C of trend warming since 1979 isn’t all that snug around a regression line either.

Still, given that Possum is so “skilled” with these numbers, perhaps he could point out the trend of dangerous global warming he must have identified? No? Didn’t think so.

Nonetheless, as a now confirmed climate-hysteric perhaps Possum would like to enter into a little wager with me:  I bet the average temperature anomaly as recorded by UAH in 2010 (i.e.; an average of the twelve monthly observations) will be lower than the average from January 2000 — December 2009, which I calculate to be +0.22C.  I’ll pay $10 for every 0.01C above that level if he pays $10 for every 0.01C below.  In a dangerously warming world Possum should have a distinct advantage in this bet.  So are you brave enough Possum?

John Poppins writes: Whilst agreeing with the general thrust of yesterday’s article on Bolt by Possum Comitatus’ I was considerably put off by Possums expression.

Possum is clearly obsessed by bums. Given that Possum draws no connection between these and the major issues under discussion I have to wonder why he can’t shorten and refine his article to help me skim it faster. Perhaps we should give Possum the benefit of doubt? Possibly he included a lengthy paragraph or two on the links between bums and methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the Crikey editor took it out in the interests of brevity without tidying the rest to match?

Bolt’s research, journalism and views may be sloppy, but this could be more effectively communicated by less childish expression.

Ken Lambert writes: Hello Possum Comitatus.  Your punching ability on climate change can easily be tested by entering the famous Crikey Climate Change Cage Match — we’ll see if you float like a bee and sting like a butterfly.

Your transparent attempt to paint Andrew Bolt’s treatment of the UAH Temperature graph as somehow worse that Climategate’s email revelations is laughable. Is this Bolt’s “hide the rise” being compared with the Briffa-Mann-Jones “hide the decline”?  Note that you make no attempt to claim that the UAH temperature data is false or doctored.  I am sure the educated Crikey reader can judge for themselves the not very alarming temperature rise from 1979.

Possum could perhaps give us his take on the Kevin Trenberth August 09 paper which is possibly the most important document to emerge from the whole Climategate saga. Read it here.

Dr Kevin Trenberth of “travesty” fame is a lead IPCC author and his energy balance work is widely quoted in climate science.

Come into the Cage old Possum and let us see if your grasp of the subject is better than that of Andrew Bolt.

Google vs. China:

Jim Ivins writes (via Gmail, accessed using Chrome): Re. “Google is a “honeypot” of information for authoritarian governments — your information” (yesterday, item 1). Paranoid Crikey readers take note: Google is forever, and it’s harvesting and collating data sourced from your online activity right now.

It almost certainly knows that you subscribe to Crikey (and that you forward the daily email to your Mum). But the omniscient search engine, browser and email client are by no means the only software products monitoring what you do, online or off. Which means there are many alternative sources of data for mining by crooks, governments, and the marketing departments of multinational corporations around the world.

For example, checkout computers record your personal shopping habits whenever you swipe for loyalty points. Facebook is another obvious example, along with Apple, Microsoft, and the list goes on. As a jaded software engineer, I’d expect nothing less from Microsoft. But Apple has so far managed to retain its warm, friendly, can-do-no-harm corporate image, at least among style-concious technology consumers.

And if you think the idea of your sexy new iSlate spying on you is scary, take a look at software activist Richard Stallman’s recent warning about mobile phones. This isn’t something out of a cyberpunk sci-fi novel — the technology already exists.

Gotta stop now — there’s a call coming through on my iPhone. Maybe it’s the wife calling from London on her new Nexus One? Hmm… I bet the Chinese Government would know. Along with Apple, ASIO, Google, Optus, MI6, the NSA, Telstra, and the list goes on…

Sparrow vs. James:

Peter Burnett writes: Re. “Sparrow misses the point about ASIO, screening asylum seekers” (yesterday, item 9). Neil James challenges Jeff Sparrow to name a case where “ASIO assessments of refugees have been improper or incorrect.” What about the two Iraqi men, Mohammed Sagar and Muhammad Faisal, who were in detention on Nauru for nearly six years under the Howard government’s so-called “Pacific Solution”?

The two men arrived on Nauru in 2001, and after processing were both granted refugee status. However both men were refused entry into Australia when the last group of refugees left the island at the beginning of November 2005. Their bid for resettlement had reached a stalemate after an interview with ASIO in 2005. Although assessed as genuine refugees, they were considered to be a security threat for reasons ASIO would not disclose.

The delays in finalising the situation caused enormous stress, and the psychological health of the two refugees began deteriorating. After years of uncertainty, in mid-2006 Muhammad Faisal was placed on 24-hour watch because of suicide fears. After the Nauru Government formally expressed concern about their welfare, ASIO agents and mental health experts re-interviewed the two men in June 2006.

In August 2006, Faisal was finally transferred to Australia for psychiatric care after becoming suicidal. While in hospital in Brisbane, his case was “re-assessed” by ASIO and he was not longer considered a threat — no explanation given as to why the previous ruling was overturned. Having arrived in late 2001, Sagar remained on Nauru until February 2007, when UNHCR found him a resettlement spot in Scandinavia.

Is that improper enough for you Neil?


Sam Varghese writes: Re. “Murdoch’s grand paywall experiment: will Aussies pay?” (Wednesday, item 1). I was surprised to see such a weak story as the lead in the email newsletter on Wednesday. It tends to ruin any little credibility your newsletter has.

Margaret Simons made reference to a survey but gave no numbers, only fractions. This is something like Sky News which is famous for its polls where 72 percent have voted one way  and 28 percent the other. It has no credibility at all.

Simons has attempted to give the survey she sites some credibility by referring to the so-called World Internet Project  That site has four links — one to date for a survey done in 2004, another to a press releases about this data, and a third link which goes nowhere, just showing this message: “Bad Request (Invalid Hostname).”

The fourth link is purportedly for a World Internet Project held at Oxford University in 2003 which makes it even more dubious. It just goes to the Oxford University site, to a page titled “Policy and Internet.”

The World Internet Project is referred to as “the leading international source of research  on how people use the internet.” If that is true, then God help us.

At the fag end of the story, we see the real reason for citing this dubious survey — Simons is a part-time employee at Swinburne which is supposed to have done this project.

Simons provided a link, saying that actual numbers would be provided on her blog later. But she had already concluded that the numbers were statistically significant, by writing “Nevertheless this new Australian data tends to back up other surveys done overseas.”

How can one leap to a conclusion like that without first demonstrating that the date is statistically significant?

And Simons, who claims to be such an expert in online matters (for that matter,. Crikey itself has a superiority complex when it comes to matters online) does not seem to know how to even provide a proper link to the relevant post on her blog, with the link provided going straight to the home page.

I followed the link to Simons blog and found that just 800 Australians were involved in this survey. Is this statistically significant in a nation which has something like 12 million adults?

And in some places scattered among the data, I found phrases like this on Simons’ blog: “But the numbers involved are small, so treat the results with caution.” So how can the same data be used to write the lead story in Crikey???

And this, from a publication which always prides itself as being nothing short of the model when it comes to straightforward reporting.

Lift your game.

The earth moved:

Dr Kayt Davies, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Edith Cowan University, writes: Re. “Crikey wrap: Haitian earthquake could mean up to 100,000 dead” (yesterday, item 3). Crikey wrote: “And that was before the earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale…” It’s unlikely that it was 7.0 on the Richter scale because these days most earthquakes are measured using a combination of about eight techniques, only one of which is the old Richter scale (developed by Richter in 1935).

The giveaway is that Richter scale events are rarely more than 6. I know that many journos automatically think earthquakes are measured in Richters, and once added to one story the term Richter scale can Chinese whisper around, but it’s worth checking out what’s happening with earthquake scales.

Wikipedia has some very readable pages on the topic and for a more authoritative source there is a great summary of the science of measuring earthquakes here. Also you’re not the only ones to be confused. This mirror story has: “A powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake has struck Haiti’s capital” in the caption but Richter scale mentioned in the text.


Gabe McGrath of videogame blog JustOneMoreGame writes: Re. “Media briefs: Avocados: bigger than Haiti … Gawker offers $100k for an iTablet … Sesame St Fighter” (yesterday, item 15). Your media briefs writer seems very keen to announce that website X, Y or Z has been “hacked”. But in this case, a quick mouse over the “click here to apply” section of the “Bionic Super Soldier” ad would have shown this was no “hack”.

The link went to the website for Mass Effect 2. And even if your media briefs writer is ignorant of the new form of media making more money that film these days, a  quick Google search would have shown it’s the name of an impending videogame release.  One with a multi-million dollar marketing budget.

Electronic Arts doesn’t need to “hack” Seek.com.au. They can easily afford to BUY the entire site.

Abbott’s speech:

Pete Wilson-Jones writes: A summary of Tony Abbott’s speech to the Sydney Institute 14 January 2009: 35 paragraphs in order of volume:

  • 13 paragraphs talking about Kevin Rudd and Labor
  • 10 paragraphs talking about feral weeds/animals, and how Aussies need to volunteer en-masse to wander the country cleaning it up like good Boy/Girl Scouts
  • 5 paragraphs talking up the ‘little g’ Green credentials nobody knew he had
  • 3 paragraphs gushing about how he will successfully resurrect Howard’s failed offer to splash $10b to take over the Murray/Darling system from the States and save it for sure
  • 1 paragraph each:
    – Claiming shared ownership of environmental issues with the Left
    – Begging Green voters to believe him and  ‘Vote 1 Abbott’ at the next election
    – An end paragraph full of meaningless hyperbole


Jenny Morris writes: David Lodge (yesterday, comments) needs to boost his word power, if he thinks the “murder” (his words) of animals isn’t slaughter.  Your “tasty tasty” dinner is killed in abattoirs and slaughterhouses, David.  I suggest you read  Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz, and check out www.voiceless.org.au.

If you eat meat, you’re a hypocrite if you don’t inform yourself what really happens in the commercial animal business.  Then you can decide whether animal welfare advocates are “extreme”.

As for likening humans to “other carnivorous animals”, the last time I looked, animals don’t cram their prey into factory farms where they stifle normal animal behaviours, cut their teeth and tails without anaesthetic, let them wallow in their own shit for their short, miserable lives, then kill them without stunning them.

I think you’ll find that what humans do to animals is “extreme” — extremely cruel, barbaric and inhumane.

Geoff Russell, Animal Liberation SA, writes: In reply to David Lodge. Both the Macquarie and Oxford dictionaries define slaughter as the killing of animals for food.  The usage now extends to killing humans when it is done in the same brutal fashion as at the appropriately named slaughter house. Abattoir is just a popular euphemism.

Your question about whether I would seek to constrain the behaviour of “other carnivores” indicates that you think humans are carnivores. Wrong again. Humans are omnivores, meaning they can live on a vast range of diets.

But these days we are not constrained to eat a natural diet. We can do much, much  better. We can get fruit and veg out of season, even if we live in places with a short growing season. We can cook things (not many meat eaters like their meat au natural) and we can get Vitamin B12 from a laboratory. This lab B12 is far easier to absorb than the natural stuff.  So much so, that the US Institute of Medicine advises all adults over 50 to use B12 supplements.  Do you think all those B12 supplemented foods are for the tiny number of vegans? Of course not. Just as antibiotics are a great improvement on our immune system at dealing with some diseases. A vegan diet plus B12 supplements can be better than any natural diet.

Good dog:

Katherine Rechtman writes: I have just received my copy, amongst other things, of the FDOTM Calendar for this year.  It is fantastic! Please congratulate Mr First Dog on the Moon  (I admired him in his space outfit especially!) , as his cartoons always enliven my day, and getting a whole calendar was better than Christmas, (especially for a Jew…).  I had to go through every month straight away, as I can’t wait for the appropriate month.

I hope Mr FDOTM has adjusted to his newly placed desk, so that he can get inspiration, and start  work on next year’s calendar.

Many thanks for this gift.