Blogging the 2010s — 66 — December 2013 — Lord May of Oxford

Yes, this one is out of sequence, because yesterday 1) someone on Twitter informed me that one of Sydney Boys High’s most distinguished sons had just died, and 2) I subsequently read this report in The Guardian.

Pioneering Australian scientist Robert May, whose work in biology led to the development of chaos theory, has died at age 84.

Known as one of Australia’s most accomplished scientists, he served as the chief scientific adviser to the United Kingdom, was president of the Royal Society, and was made a lord in 2001.

Born in Sydney on 8 January 1938, May’s work was influential in biology, zoology, epidemiology, physics and public policy. More recently, he applied scientific principles to economics and modelled the cause of the 2008 global financial crisis.

On Wednesday, his friends and colleagues paid tribute to a man who they said was a gifted polymath and a “true giant” among scientists.

Nobel prize winner’s obituary triggers memories

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has an obituary for chemist John Cornforth (1917-2013).


What struck me was this:

John Warcup Cornforth was born on September 7, 1917 in Sydney, the second of four children of John Cornforth, a Classics teacher from England, and his Australian wife, Hilda (nee Eipper), a nurse, and grew up in Sydney and Armidale. At 10 he started to go deaf from a condition called otosclerosis, where the bones in the middle ear become deformed and stop transmitting sound. By 20 he was completely deaf, except for the ringing in his ears of tinnitus, a common side effect of the disease.

Luckily, at Sydney Boys High, a young teacher, Leonard Basser, influenced Cornforth in the direction of chemistry, which seemed to the young student to offer a career where his deafness might not be a handicap. And so it proved, he was accepted to the University of Sydney at 16 and because he couldn’t hear the lectures he started reading textbooks, which in those days were mostly in German, so he taught himself German as well. He graduated in 1937 with a bachelor of science, first class honours and University Medal…

Leonard (aka Lenny) Basser! Do I ever remember him!

Lenny Basser, left, and my good friend Roger Dye far right.

1958 when we were 15 – Roger and I, that is.

Not the promised education post

Posted on April 24, 2010 by Neil

I will mention, however, that I spent a couple of hours yesterday at SBHS. Passing the archives room near the Library I saw a librarian and a lad busy so wandered in. Well, what I was really looking for was a spare power point for my laptop but they couldn’t oblige. However I discovered they were researching /writing an article on legendary Science teacher and athletics coach of the 1950s Lenny Basser. “Oh yes,” say I, “I remember him. Always wore yellow shirts. People who wore yellow shirts in the 1950s were very odd.” I went on to mention that he had taught famous scientist Lord May of Oxford, to which they responded with a Nobel Prize winner or two he had also taught.

The yellow shirts will appear in the article, I suspect.

Assuming that was the High Flyer Volume 4 No 1 2010, the shirts didn’t get a mention:

Len  Basser  taught Chemistry  at  SBHS  from 1931  until  his  retirement in  1959.  He  was  Athletics Master  at  the  school  for the twenty eight years. He captured  and  inspired  the eager minds of his students encouraging  them  to pursue careers in scientific research.

The Len Basser Award for Leadership  in  Science  at Sydney University honours the legacy of an outstanding chemistry teacher. Eight of Basser’s students became fellows of the Royal Society, including Lord (Robert) May, a former President of the Society, and Sir John Cornforth, who shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975.


Robert May (right) with his mother and younger brother c.1948

Lord May recalls:

My wife, Judith, who grew up in Manhattan, is of the opinion that every other Australian she meets went to Sydney Boys High. That is based simply on empirical facts. It was in the era of grammar schools, where the top schools in Sydney were unambiguously the state schools. Sydney Boys High drew its intake from the eastern suburbs, and that is also where the Jewish diaspora out of Shanghai ended up. It had a lot of really bright people and it had superb teachers. The teachers I had in high school were uniformly excellent. One of the really formative influences on my life was the chemistry teacher, a chap called Lenny Basser. He now has a federal prize in Australia named after him. The education minister a few years ago wrote to various Australians asking for stories about their teachers and he found that a Nobel Laureate and the President of the Royal Society mentioned the same person. When you look into it, this teacher taught eight Fellows of the Royal Society, and he taught us by not teaching us. He said, ‘You people are going on to university. I’m not going to give you notes for a syllabus for the honours course. Here’s a list of the syllabus topics. Write me some essays on some of them. Here are books in the laboratory library of previous students who have done this’, and he would tell us stories about these people.

But this is a very strange deductive method. What if you got blocked?

I think it was brilliant. He would tell us stories about the stockmarket. As you can imagine, half the class loathed him because he didn’t give them a nice well-indexed set of things to learn for the exam. But then there were people like myself and my two particular friends in school. One of my friends was the state high jump champion. He and I both thought Lenny was wonderful. The other friend was a more scholarly person, who found him a pain in the neck. Lenny also coached the track team at Sydney Boys High. For 28 of the 33 years that he coached it, the team won the state Schools Athletic Championship. It was unbelievable. It was not that he coached them by making them work too hard, but he was ahead of the wave in new techniques and motivating people.

I just wonder: doing that for the very bright boys, letting them get on with it – did that leave the rest of the class behind?

Well, he got very good results, let’s put it that way. He never became the head of the science section at Sydney High because, to do that you had to move to another school, and he liked being at Sydney High.

I keep wondering whether some of those successes of the old days couldn’t even get to first base now, because none of it would be allowed.

Yes. I think it would be different. You wouldn’t have it quite the way it was. In each subject, the classes were streamed. I mean, people are mixed by different things. Even at Sydney High, the most esteemed characters were the sporting stars. I think that is really healthy. It is a great mixture because you rarely get someone who is both the top sportsperson and the top scholar.

“He never became the head of the science section at Sydney High because, to do that you had to move to another school, and he liked being at Sydney High.”  Still true of quite a few people at SBHS! Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.

Tracking Lenny Basser led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days! “He has been Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, Cambridge University, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970.” Herbert Huppert.

I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.

Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…

…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…

Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that

21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…

I told the story of another of my class of 1959 confreres in 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story in 2009. There I quoted from a biography:

Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….

I continued:

After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.

The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of  206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958.

Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.

Blogging the 2010s — 54 — June 2011

Reflecting on blogging.

I am not a party, an institution, a guru or an oracle: just one old guy in Wollongong–that’s all

Let’s get real about this blog and this whole blogging business. My opinions may not be worth a rat’s arse, or they may be just what you were thinking too. It doesn’t really matter, you know. Nice to see lately that Kevin from Louisiana thinks this way too. But here is who you are reading:


Yes, Souths did well in Perth! Smile

And here is my office and all my team of researchers and support staff:


And yes I do have a few ideas that guide me. Some of them just annoy other people. For example I firmly believe that God has never ever written a book for anyone in any language whatever amen. I do believe humans have employed a number of literary forms to write about God. South Sydney Uniting Church could cope with this view rather well, I found.  For example I firmly believe the best science affirms the reality of anthropogenic climate change and I think we are seeing a dismal failure of politics and politicians and short-sightedness from alleged conservatives on this issue. I believe this not because I want to but because the best evidence from the most dispassionate sources leads to this conclusion. At least I think so, along with our recently appointed Chief Scientist. And so it goes. Quite a few of these things I just won’t argue about any more on this blog. Why should I? I may point you from time to time to the arguments of others that I find persuasive. Then you can make up your own minds.

I’d much rather just share things like this:


You can go to my photo blog if you rather agree with that and are sick and tired of arguments, pretentious or otherwise.

Last week I spat the dummy on a thread. I don’t regret it. But it did lead to a nasty thread developing here on a later post, a thread I have since censored. That is something I rarely do – as even Kevin from Louisiana will testify despite my memorably asking him to piss off not all that long ago.

Anyway all I want to remind you of is this: you’re just reading the passing thoughts of one old man in a room in Wollongong. He uses a variety of genres and does not always have a serious academic approach. Take it or leave it. See also ABOUT.


More on Lord Monckton. Is Alan Jones still a groupie?


Oh my God. I watched Q&A last night. All this seems to do these days is confirm my disrespect for our supposed leaders who again manifestly argued ferociously for positions they equally manifestly didn’t believe in. Adam Bandt may be an exception – but the Greens couldn’t run a chook raffle, let alone a country – that is when they are not making like some earnest nanny figure with a large bottle of castor oil. And then there was the small government and growth fetishist in pearls. A hopeless lot, though nice enough too in their way like cuddly Joe – who was needled into letting the cat out of the bag about where the “tax cuts” will come from: mass sackings. He said it. You heard it. Especially if you live in Canberra. Of course the cartoonist got the best line: “I really couldn’t make up shit like this and if I had the editor would send it back…”

51YDR3V0E7L._SL500_AA300_And I really couldn’t invent a Lord Monckton if I tried either. He does have his special skills (left)  as this friendly bio shows. It’s just that climate science isn’t one of them. “Christopher, known to his numerous nephews and nieces as “Mr.Knowledge”, spent four years solving real-life problems for Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street during her years as Prime Minister and now acts as trouble-shooter and corporate thinker to leading businesses. He is a well-known public speaker and has written speeches for many of Britain’s leading politicians (and a song performed by a Cabinet minister). Though not a lawyer, he wrote the legal brief that persuaded the Scottish judges to save the West Highland Sleeper train from the axe: it is now the only train in the world required by law to run “till a’ the seas gang dry”…”

Baroness Thatcher in her autobiography fails to mention the sterling service of Christopher and has the gall to attribute advice on climate policy to someone else altogether. Of course we do know that Thatcher was the first world leader to take anthropogenic climate change seriously – but then, whatever her sins may have been, she was one of the few world leaders who was actually a scientist.

There is an alternative universe out there where Monckton is taken seriously on climate change. I don’t know why, as by now he has been totalled by so many people who really do know what they are talking about. His errors and misrepresentations have been catalogued again and again, and still the suckers roll up to his slide shows.

OK, if you want the truth about this Walter Mitty of climate science start with the Monckton Bunkum series – now totalling around 1.5 hours and revealing 21 major problems (not quibbles) with Monckton’s spiel. The author is trained in science and journalism and worked in various media, but especially for New Scientist. “I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, 14 years as a science correspondent. My degree is in geology, but while working for a science magazine and several science programs I had to tackle a number of different fields, from quantum physics to microbiology.”

Then very conveniently see the following:


See also The perpetual debunking of Christopher Monckton.

So my problem with Gerard Henderson today is that Gerard seems to think Monckton might actually be worth hearing. He isn’t. And in that light it’s neither here nor there that Monckton recently resorted to the childish Nazi smear in reference to Garnaut. It’s true that others have done such things in the past. The point is that it is a non-argument whoever uses it.

However, I can’t disagree with this:

Of course Garnaut says what he believes. However, so do most of his critics. Of course Monckton was irresponsible to link Garnaut with Hitler. But so were those who linked Howard with the Third Reich. Any cooling of the political debate will require contributions from all parties.

But the bottom line is Monckton is a highly unreliable commentator on climate science and we would be very foolish indeed to pay him any attention whatsoever, His puzzle books may be good though.


UpdateLord Monckton: Bring out your Dead!

Blogging the 2010s — 23a — March 2010

The odd title is because the previous repost from the 2010s should have been #22!

At last: a genuine climate change debate

Lord-MoncktonBack in February there was a debate in Sydney between Lord Monckton (right) and Tim Lambert, UNSW computer scientist of Deltoid fame. At the opening Lord Monckton generously acknowledged that such a debate was almost unprecedented and warmly thanked Lambert for agreeing to it. The chair was 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones, who conducted the event in a scrupulously proper manner. (Coaching debating was one of my duties during my teaching career.)

Monckton in fact began strongly with an account of the serious and tragic unforeseen consequences of biofuel production – the wrecking of third world economies and death by starvation. From here on things went downhill for him. His opponent was unfailingly polite in front of a largely hostile audience and unfailingly logical.

I am reminded, having at last been able to see the debate on Youtube, of the great Bishop Soapy Sam Wilberforce versus T H Huxley on Darwin in the 19th century…..

See also Snowballs, Snowjobs and the Lambert-Monckton Debate and I went to a circus and a science debate broke out. From the latter:

Today I attended the debate between UNSW computer scientist Dr Tim Lambert (author of Deltoid blog) and Lord Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley.

The venue was the Hilton Hotel Grand Ballroom, and attendance was about 60% of capacity, that is roughly half the number of people who attended last time I was there, when it was packed to 120% of capacity for the launch of MySpace (remember MySpace? Neither do I…)

At any rate, I am pleased to report that the debate was indeed just that, a real debate, conducted civilly, in front of an attentive and polite crowd, and well moderated by Alan Jones.

It was neither the rabble-rousing denialist circus some feared it would be, nor an embarrassing excursion into Monckton’s many personal foibles. It was instead, a robust, articulate presentation and dissection of the factual content behind Monckton’s denialist propositions. Both speakers were modest, neither hyperbolic, and both approached the question in an open and non-dogmatic fashion.

In two fifteen-minute presentations, each speaker addressed the proposition that “manmade global warming is a real threat”. The substance of the debate hinged, I am happy to say, on a scientific question concerning the degree of climate sensitivity to differing concentrations of CO2. Namely, Monckton has independently calculated a level of climate sensitivity that is lower than the IPCC’s estimate, by a factor of approximately 7-8 times. Dr Lambert showed Monckton’s calculation to be based on a misunderstanding of data provided by a satellite scientist, one Professor Rachel Pinker (2007). Dr. Lambert also showed that Monckton’s thesis depends entirely on the climate sensitivity being a very low estimate, while the other denialist darling, Ian Plimer’s, thesis depends on climate sensitivity being a very high estimate. They cannot both be right, and perhaps both are wrong.

What followed was about 90 minutes of questions from the floor, which again was handled very calmly and coolly by all the proponents. Some of the questions were truly odd, and showed a very low level of understanding of science, and a very high level of paranoia and confusion among the (predominantly old and angry) audience members:

  1. One gentleman attempted to suggest that, since a lot of the world’s carbon is in the oceans, it is water vapour evaporating from the oceans, and not fossil fuels, that is causing warming (what is causing all that extra evaporation, he didn’t say). Neither proponent had the heart to tell the gentleman that water vapour is made of, well, water, not CO2.
  2. Another questioner thought that the 1976 international treaty banning weather-control devices (anyone heard of this?) showed that nations already had the technology to control the weather, so why aren’t they using it?
  3. Another questioner said that our government is being totalitarian about environmental issues, and he lived under Soviet occupation in the former Czechoslovakia, so he should know.
  4. Another questioner wanted to know whether Dr. Tim Lambert wanted to stop him from procreating with his wife (ewww).
  5. Another questioner wanted to know if continental drift wasn’t the real driver of sea levels.

Contrary to many who worry about functions like this providing a platform for denialists, I think the debate generated far more light than heat (sic). It is a credit to the way both proponents, and the moderator, and indeed the audience, conducted themselves that it was a fruitful and enlightening discussion.

I think perhaps the most important thing that came out of the debate is that it takes a lot of wind out of denialist sails when they meet a real-life supporter of AGW science and realise that we are not trying to drag civilisation back to the stone age, prevent people from having babies, wreck the economy, keep the developing nations in poverty, or any of the other shibboleths that drive the denialist circus. As Tim Lambert explained to the audience, as a computer scientist, he is first and foremost an engineer, and it is an interesting and important engineering problem to work out how to get as many people as possible enjoying a high standard of living, without trashing the planet in the process. That’s all…

Just an extract from that one; clicking on its heading will take you to the whole. I would be surprised if the key links still work, but you never know! So frustrating that virtually the same tomfoolery is happening ten years later! Speaking of which….

Robyn Williams: Climate change science: the evidence is clear

… with 115 comments: one referred us to Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore. Sounds interesting. There’s an extended interview with the author here.

JAMES HOGGAN:  … Our book—I’m a PR guy of about thirty years, and I kind of stumbled across this campaign, what I would call a kind of confusion campaign, when I was doing some reading. And we’ve documented this two-decade-long campaign by industry and Canada and the United States, that the energy industry basically designed to confuse the public about climate change and give people the sense that there’s a debate about the science of climate change. And my reason for writing this book is that I don’t think that PR people and industry front groups should be determining what our policies are in Canada and the United States on solving climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, outline the strategy. What was the corporate strategy to do this? And name names.

JAMES HOGGAN: Well, the first thing was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on everything from focus groups to very sophisticated messaging to setting up groups of pseudoscientists to confuse the public about—to create the impression that there was actually a debate, where there was none.

In the—two decades ago, there was a group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition that was put together by Philip Morris. They were having problems, as we know, with public credibility, so they decided to invite some friends to join this fight, what became a fight against scientists. And one of the first companies they invited was Exxon Mobil. And this was kind of the beginning of these front groups in this war on science that has evolved and continues today with front groups all over the United States…

JAMES HOGGAN: Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they did was they basically started to create this impression that there was a scientific debate. There was an enormous amount of research done in this area to—you know, they do these focus groups, and they find out that your average person thinks that there’s always a debate in science. So, rather than kind of fighting and saying climate change isn’t happening, let’s just say we don’t know if it’s happening. There’s a debate.

Now, that debate actually wasn’t taking place in the scientific community; it was actually taking place in the news media, in the mainstream news media. And just by repeating it, having enough money to repeat these kinds of messages over and over again, people start to become susceptible to this. The root of all this, this campaign, is the fact that corporations have less and less credibility as the years roll along, particularly over the past couple of decades…

The more we know about these kinds of groups and these kinds of efforts, the less they work. And I would just encourage journalists to ask these people whether or not they’re actually practicing climate science, whether they have—they are climate scientists, and who they’re taking money from. Start to ask these questions and shed light on these people, they’ll be far less effective…

As Robyn Williams concludes:

…why does the opposite seem to prevail? Three reasons, I suggest.

One is that the scientists themselves have been naive, even lazy. When I asked Tim Flannery and Philip Campbell, editor of the journal Nature, their opinion of so called deniers like Ian Plimer, or the incongruous toff Lord Monkton, they just shrugged and said “the climate debate has moved on.” Well, it hasn’t. It’s gone backwards. Not least because the scientists, in the main, have been passive, restrained and much too polite. And after Climategate – too much mea culpa. It’s time for them to get their skates on. To be aggressive in the cause of truth.

After the Climategate debacle and theft of the personal emails of climatologists going back over 10 years the journal Nature finally tackled the smear that science was faking its data.

“This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. Nothing in the emails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”

The paradox is that allowing this chaos to continue is likely to delay, catastrophically, any moves to combat climate change itself.

Another reason we hear the voices of the extreme the loudest is that the new media allow many citizens to occupy their own nether world where they need never come across an opinion that conflicts with their own.

A third reason extremists seem to dominate has been the powerful use of lobby groups. Now, it so happens that we keep well away from lobbyists in our science broadcasting, left or right, green or brown, because they are unstoppable, often shameless and rarely alter their messages, despite the evidence.

We go by published research results, in top journals and commentators with a reputation for probity … the evidence is clear. We need to change policy and to do so urgently.

Robyn Williams has been hosting the ABC Radio National Science Show for yonks…

Thank God for paywalls — saving you from reading Piers Akerman

Yesterday I bought the Sunday Telegraph. There were two featured opinion pieces about climate change/bushfires, one by Peta Credlin, the other by that old climate change recalcitrant Piers Akerman — I say old, but hard to believe he is actually seven years younger than I am — not that this is all that relevant. What is relevant is that he is no more a climate scientist, or any kind of scientist, than I am — or Peta Credlin, or Greta Thunberg if it comes to that. As you might expect the two opinion pieces were in beautiful harmony. I should add that there were some substantive news pieces in the same paper on the effects of the bushfires.

Akerman begins — I cut the article out — by slamming David Haslingden, calling him a “global warmist”, for daring to suggest in The Australian of all places that “The human race is burning far too many fossil fuels and has for a very long time. As a result of this and other human activities we have increased average global temperature by 0.8C from pre-industrial levels. The extreme weather events we are seeing all over the world are the direct result.”

Well, isn’t that perfectly reasonable? I hear you cry. Not to our Mr Akerman. After informing us that Haslingden, though chairman of the Australian Geographic Society, is not a scientist — a factor he, Piers, Peta and I all share — he goes on to crow: “Well, what’s simple for Mr Haslingden and his noisy cohorts is not so straightforward to scientists who actually study the stuff.” Piers, of course, is never noisy, but he is a master cherry-picker, especially perhaps of scientific articles he hasn’t really read and very likely would not understand. Nor does he grasp what “certainty” means in scientific circles. See for your own edification and as background How reliable are climate models?

The three zingers Piers hangs his case on are a report from the Tyndall Centre, the case of the signs in Glacier National Park, Montana, and a highly technical paper called “Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections.” That last one is a tad beyond me, I’m afraid, and also beyond Piers, I suspect. He extracts one sentence from it: “The unavoidable conclusion is that anthropogenic air temperature signal cannot have been, nor presently can be, evidenced in climate observables.”

I strongly suspect Piers read about this article on that notorious blog Watt’s Up With That. Be that as it may,  you, I and Piers can all read the original here. UPDATE: Clearly Piers really is relying not on the original paper but on this guest post on — you guessed it!– What’s Up With That.

As I said, it’s a bit much for me, but there is a giveaway at the end: “This article is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Robert ‘Bob’ Carter; a fine scientist and a wonderful guy. The author thanks a climate physicist who prefers anonymity, for freely providing the A-Train annual average TCF data sets as well as the CMIP3 and CMIP5 climate model annual average TCF simulations. The author also thanks Prof. Christopher Essex, University of Western Ontario, for helpful conversations.” You will find a rather different view of Robert Carter here. There you will find a series of misleading claims made by said Bob Carter.

You might also compare New evidence on the reliability of climate modeling.

Now those glaciers — in a way an amusing story.

Montana Glacier National Park Mountains Cracker Lake

Last week, Glacier National Park announced that it will be changing signs warning that its signature glaciers would disappear by 2020. The park says the signs, put in more than a decade ago, were based on the best available predictions at the time.

Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton spoke about what changed with Caitlyn Florentine, a research physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center….

Caitlyn Florentine  In 2003 a study was published that considered how the landscape would change both in terms of glacier evolution as well as vegetation change. And that 2003 study showed that one of the glaciers in Glacier National Park would entirely disappear by 2030. And then as time went on, more observations unique to Glacier National Park were collected. So more measurements were made. You know, more scientists started to scrutinize. And as I mentioned, make more observations….

Bolton How should the average person be thinking about predictions on climate change, like when glaciers melt? I mean, is it fair to have this expectation that it’s going to be correct most of the time, when in fact, it’s a prediction based on the best available science and data that you guys can get a hold of?

Florentine Yeah, absolutely. When a prediction is based on the best available science, then I think it is. I mean, well, even then, it’s a personal call, right, where you put your faith. But, you know, I think also the level of scrutiny and faith is going to vary, whether you’re somebody walking through a visitor center in a national park versus whether you’re the mayor of Miami making decisions about how the city is run and how city planning happens; or if you’re a congressperson deciding how money will be allocated based on some other, you know, consideration of where water mass is located.

But I can tell you with a straight face and with confidence that there is, the people that I interact with professionally are earnestly dedicated to using science to connect — both expose and connect — all of us to, you know, as capital ‘t’ truth as we can get. And it’s an imperfect process. But the whole process of peer review is that things are honestly poked and prodded and analyzed many different ways, and still seems to be true. That’s the information to be trusted in….

Now guess where Piers read about that? Yes, Watt’s Up With That 7 June 2019! A picture is beginning to emerge of the quality of Piers Akerman’s scientific research! But do check out National Geographic.

And on Piers’s favourite blog. this is probably worth following up.

I am not a climate scientist, but a professional and active scientist who teaches and carries out research at a university in the UK. The views I express here are my own and not those of my employer.

This blog used to be known as WottsUpWithThatBlog, which was chosen to indicate that a goal was to address climate science claims made on Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That (WUWT) site. I say “address” because the goal wasn’t to simply refute what was said on WUWT. It was also to acknowledge contributions there that added positively to the discussions around climate science – didn’t happen often, sadly.

I did, however, eventually realise that there wasn’t much merit in continuing to mainly address claims made on WUWT, so decided to change the name of the blog and to change the focus somewhat.  Hat Tip to BBD for the idea.  ..and then there’s physics is an appropriate response (in my opinion, at least) to those who try to convince you that there are problems with climate science because of – for example – the climategate emails, or because some scientists are advocating for action.

Finally, the Tyndall Centre. You can download a pdf for yourself of their briefing note on wildfires. It is sensible stuff. Did Piers really read it?

Summary. Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, enhancing their likelihood and challenging suppression efforts. Human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire. This signal has emerged from natural variability in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia. Nonetheless, wildfire activity is determined by a range of other factors includ- ing land management and ignition sources, and on the global-scale most datasets indicate a reduction in burned area in recent years, chiefly due to clearing of natural land for agriculture.

Blogging the 2010s — 14 — February 2011

Glad to report it is raining steadily here in Wollongong today… Not enough to break the drought, but enough to ease the bushfire threat.

Today’s recycle remains as relevant now as it was nine years ago — except that the bullshit being pumped out then by climate change recalcitrants looks in the light of 2019-20 experience — check out what David Attenborough has just been saying — rather quaint and more than a bit threadbare. Former big cheese Cardinal Pell has been rather too preoccupied to worry about climatology in recent years, while The Australian, can you believe, was publishing Plimer as recently as November 2019!

BOM’s Dr Ayers, Ian Plimer, or famed climatologist Cardinal Pell: who do you believe?

In The Senate Estimates Committee 21 February 2011

CHAIR—Dr Ayers, we are all waiting with great anticipation to hear your statement in relation to Cardinal  Pell. Would you like to make that statement now?

Dr Ayers—The issue from my point of view and why I sought leave to respond is that the cardinal has, in terms  of  the  letter  we  incorporated  in  Hansard,  made  a  number  of  propositions  about  aspects  of  climate  science that I have feel should  not remain unanswered  on the public record in this  place. I would  have been happy to have responded directly to the cardinal but he has not approached me and I am not aware that he has spoken with any others in the climate science community. I thought it was important to respond.   The difficulty with the assertions made in the cardinal’s letter is that they are based not upon contention in the  climate  science  field  but  on  a  book  written  by  Professor  Plimer  entitled  Heaven  and  Earth—Global  Warming: The  Missing Science.  The  contents  of  the  book  are  simply  not  scientific.  I  am  concerned  that  the cardinal has been misled by the contents of this book and I do not think it should stand on the public record for that reason.

Why would I say this book is not science? It is not me who says it so much, although I have read it myself;  it  has  been  widely  reviewed  by  people  in  the  scientific  arena  and  it  has  been  very  heavily  criticised  for  not presenting science but presenting a polemic from one individual. It has not been scientifically peer reviewed. I would like to step you through each of the assertions in Cardinal Pell’s letter. The cardinal I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents.

I will read you once scientific review to give you a sense of what one scientist from the University of New South Wales said about the book. He said: “Plimer has done an enormous disservice to science, and the dedicated scientists who are trying to understand climate and the influence of humans, by publishing this book. It is not “merely” atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics. Plimer’s book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken.”

That is from Professor Michael Ashley from the University of New South Wales. That is very strong, I am sure you will agree. I have read the book myself and it contains phrases that had nothing to do with science. There is  a  somewhat  gratuitous  attack  on  Chancellor Angela  Merkel  on  page  441,  the  same  page  essentially  that contains a gratuitous attack on Minister Wong. Page 470—

Senator IAN MACDONALD—That does not make the book—

Dr Ayers—No, the point is, Senator, that it is  not science. The book says that it is Global Warming: The Missing Science. Were it science, that would be fine. To quote Professor Ashley again: “The book is largely a collection of contrarian ideas and conspiracy theories that are rife in the blogosphere. The writing is
rambling and repetitive; the arguments flawed and illogical.”

Senator IAN MACDONALD—But Dr Ayers—

CHAIR—Senator Macdonald, Dr Ayers is  making a statement. You can ask questions after  he  makes the

Senator IAN MACDONALD—We are on limited time. It is additional estimates. In Cardinal Pell’s case, he did a written response, which we tabled. I wonder whether it might not be more appropriate for Dr Ayers to do a written response which can be tabled. I can assure Dr Ayers that I will be making sure his comments are passed on not only to Cardinal Pell, but also to Professor Plimer who says these same sorts of things about the people you are quoting.

CHAIR—Senator Macdonald, I do not want you to enter into the argument. I know where you are coming from.  My  position—and  our  rule—is  that  Dr Ayers  can  put  his  statement  on  Hansard.  He  does  not  need  to write it; he is prepared to put it on Hansard now, and it is on Hansard.

Senator IAN MACDONALD—You said that we have a limited time. How long is the statement likely to  be?

CHAIR—I am prepared to have it put on—

Senator IAN MACDONALD—The rest of us want to ask questions.

CHAIR—Senator Macdonald, you have had plenty of time to ask questions. You are the one wasting my time  now.  I think  that  you should let Dr Ayers  go on. Dr Ayers, how long  do  you think the statement  might

Senator BOSWELL—Mr Chairman, I am very happy for Professor Ayers to make the statement, but I do think we should give the same opportunity to Dr Plimer. You have got every right to criticise him, but I think he has a right to defend himself in the same forum. So if you are going to—

CHAIR—I do not know whether it is appropriate for Dr Plimer to be before estimates.

Senator BOSWELL—It is just as appropriate—

CHAIR—Dr Ayers, how long do you think it will take?

Dr Ayers—It would probably take between five and 10 minutes.

CHAIR—I think that we should continue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD—Being aware that I will send it to Dr Plimer and ask him to write a written response to incorporate.

CHAIR—Very good.

Dr Ayers—Just responding to Senator Macdonald, I will be making contact directly with the cardinal after these estimates. As  I said at the  outset, from  my  point  of  view  I am  disappointed that I was  not  having this discussion with him directly. I am very happy to do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD—His letter is dated July—that was seven months ago.

CHAIR—Dr Ayers,  I  would  ask  you  not  to  engage  directly  with  Senator  Macdonald.  That  will  lead  us down  a  blind  alley,  I  can  assure  you.  I  am  saying  that  you  should  make your  statement  and  then  Senator Macdonald can ask you questions.

Dr Ayers—Chair,  my  proposition  here  is  that  there  are  about  half  a  dozen  assertions  in  the  letter  and  I would like to respond to each one, if I may. First of all, I should just say that a critique of Professor Plimer’s book is available. There is another university professor, named Ian Enting, at the University of Melbourne and if  you  put  ‘Enting’  and  ‘Plimer’  into  a search  engine  you  will  come  up  with  a  55-page  document  detailing mistakes,  misunderstandings  and  misrepresentations.  That  is  available  and  I  will  be  sending  that  to  the
cardinal. Everybody who wants to dig into an analysis of the book can do that.

On  the  first  thing,  the  Roman  warming,  Professor  Plimer  asserts  that  the  temperatures  during  that  period were two degrees to six degrees warmer than today. If you go through the book, there is not a single scientific reference in the book that makes that statement. It is an assertion without any scientific evidence. The example of a book by Lamb, published in 2007, is about as close as you get. The strongest statement in that says: By late Roman times, particularly the fourth century AD, it may well have been warmer than now— Now being the mid-1970s when the book was written. In fact, we know the earth was a little warmer. So there is no cogent evidence being provided at all for that statement. I have no idea—

Senator IAN MACDONALD—East Anglia University—

Dr Ayers—I have no idea where the two degrees to six degrees comes from. I will heed the chair’s advice. What is interesting about that is that there were things like assertions that grapes were grown in England and that the two  degrees to six  degrees  would support that.  Grapes are grown in England today. There are  more than 400 vineyards. That sort of level evidence is not science; it is anecdote. If Professor Plimer has time he should publish it in a scientific journal and then we can have it level. That is that: there just is not any evidence
in the book.

If we move on to the medieval warm period, he references a study of 6,000 bore holes. These are holes in rock  where  the  temperature  diffuses  down  and  with  a  mathematical  technique  called  inversion  you  can reconstruct what the past temperatures would have been based on thermal diffusion. The reference appears to come  from  an  article  by  Professor  Wally  Broecker,  a  renowned  oceanographer,  written  in  2001.  Professor Plimer does not quote Professor Broecker’s conclusion, which is: “The case for a global medieval warming period admittedly remains inconclusive.” So that does not support it. What Professor Plimer then does is take one of the references from this book and refers to a 1997 paper by an author list led by someone named Wang. What is interesting about that is that the same authors in 2008 published a subsequent paper which says, in fact, that you cannot use their first paper for
the purpose. They say: “The results of our earlier paper cannot be used for comparing the medieval warm period to warmth in the 20th century.” Which is exactly what Professor Plimer does. This paper was available in 2008, a year before he published his book.  He  has  used  a  paper  that  the  authors  themselves  say  cannot  be  used  in  a  particular  way.  That  is  not

A second thing to do with the medieval warm period is on page 66, where he says: Bore holes give accurate temperature histories for a thousand years into the past … Northern Hemisphere bore hole data shows the medieval warm period and the cooling of 2 degrees from the end of the Little Ice Age. When you go and look at the scientific paper—which you assume is about bore holes, Northern Hemisphere, medieval warm period—you discover the paper is actually not about bore holes but about an ice core; it is not taken in the Northern Hemisphere, it is from the Antarctic; and it is for the period 10,000 years to 20,000 years ago, not the Roman warm period. That level of getting references wrong is not science. So the book does not provide evidence about the medieval warm period or the Roman warm period.

The  cardinal  in  his  letter  says  that  he  has  metadata  analysis—that  is,  an  analysis  that  sits  above  all  the papers that are random reviews—but he just cannot find it. That’s okay. If he can find it I would be happy to look  at  it.  I  know  of  three  metadata  analyses,  though.  One  of  them  is  in  the  Intergovernmental  Panel  on Climate  Change Working Group I report from the Fourth Assessment Report. It answers all these questions. However, there are those who feel that the IPCC is somehow biased, so they would not use it. At the time it was being written in 2006, the US National Academy of Science carried out an independent review and wrote a report entitled, Surface temperature reconstructions for the last 2,000 years, because there were those  who said the IPCC  process was not robust. So we have an independent report from the National Academy of Science. Their conclusion is:

•  It  can  be  said  with  a  high  level  of  confidence  that  global  mean  surface  temperature  was  higher  during  the  last  few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries.

They go on to say:

• Less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600.

The medieval warm period is in there. Presently  available  proxy  evidence  indicates  that  temperatures  at  many,  but  not  all,  individual  locations  were  higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900.  The Roman  warm period  was 250 BC to 450 AD. So they  do  not support it. That is two  metadata analyses. They were both available to Professor Plimer. They are not mentioned in the book. So it is not a fair review of the  scientific  literature.

The  final  point  I  will  make  is  that  the  US  EPA,  in  December  2009,  published  the administrator’s  results  on  the ‘endangerment’  and  ‘cause  or  contribute’  findings  for  greenhouse  gases  under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. This was a process in which the Administrator of the EPA made a finding that the current and projected concentrations of six well-mixed greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threatened the  public  health  and  welfare  of  current  and  future  generations.  I  will  not  go  into  the  ‘cause  or  contribute’ finding, but the point was that there was a profoundly careful review. They had a 60-day consultation period for  public  comment, and 380,000 public comments were taken in. They all included  the statements  made in Professor Plimer’s book that have unfortunately misled Cardinal Pell. Not one of them was supported. So there are three metadata reviews—from the IPCC, from the National Academy of Sciences and from the US EPA—
that do not support the propositions that are being put.

I will move on to carbon dioxide, where Professor Plimer has brought to the attention of anybody who reads the book—and Cardinal Pell has picked it up—that 90,000 measurements of CO2 were done over the last 150 years by a particular method. He contrasted those with the carbon dioxide record from Mauna Loa in Hawaii, which  from  the  fifties  has  documented  the  increase  in  human  activities.  It  looks  as  though  that  is  a  fair comparison, but it is not. It is actually verging on disingenuous. The fact is there are 150 stations measuring CO2  worldwide,  110  of  which  meet  the  standards  such  that  the  annual  analysis  done  by  the  World Meteorological  Organisation’s  World  Data  Centre  for  Greenhouse  Gases  uses  those  to  describe  CO2
everywhere. You simply cannot, if you pay attention to all the data available, reach the conclusion that CO2 levels were higher in any other period in time.

Professor Plimer does not mention that in 1986 all the old data that were collected over the last 150 years were  reviewed  in  a  paper  by  Fraser  et  al.  I  can  give  you  the  citation  if  you  like.  The  issue  here  is  that,  in Australia, we have, at Cape Grim in Tasmania, one of those 110 high-quality baseline stations measuring CO2. If you look at that and if you look at the work done in the Antarctic Division on ice cores and firn, which is the loose layers of snow that compact down at about 80 metres—air has been extracted all the way down from the present down into the past, through the firn layer and into the ice cores, back 2,000 years—there is absolutely no possibility that the global CO2 levels were 400 parts per million last century. It is just implausible. Yet, on the basis of 90,000 measurements from a paper by a fellow named Beck, that is the conclusion put in the book and that is the conclusion picked up by Cardinal Pell.

Professor Plimer also did  not cite the fact that, during the year after the Beck paper came out, there  were two rebuttals published in the same journal pointing out the errors in it. They were not referred to. So there is  very selective use of data the whole way along. The Australian scientists who have worked on the carbon cycle include those working in Canberra at one of the two international offices of the Global Carbon Project, where on an annual basis CO2 levels are reviewed, the carbon cycle is reviewed and the budget of carbon going into the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface is all reviewed and published. It is not in this book because, if it were in the book, the conclusions that are in the book could not be reached.

So what I am going to suggest to Cardinal Pell in due course is that he comes with me and visits a range of climate change science establishments in Australia and has a look at the science directly, not through this book but through the lens of what men and women in Australia are doing in scientific institutions that is valid, that is published and that has real credibility. My contention is that Cardinal Pell may well become an ambassador for the quality of climate change science if he is exposed to the quality of the science that is done. That is my aspiration. He  can  make  his  own  decision about whether the science says what  Professor Plimer says, but  I think he will become an ambassador for the quality  of the science we  do in this country. It is absolutely  not honoured by this book.

I know these are strong statements but I am the  head of a national agency and the information that is out there is not adequate based on what I know. So I am taking my job seriously and making a strong statement.

There are some other things in Cardinal Pell’s letter that I will not go into because I can see people’s eyes will start to glaze over. I will just make two other comments. At one stage he lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, because it is not.

The final point I will make is on the statement from Professor Plimer that CO2 from fossil fuels accounts for 0.1 per cent of the greenhouse effect. There is a parameter called climate sensitivity. It is the temperature increase you would get if you doubled CO2. The conventional view, which is very well attested to in scientific literature, is that it is about two or three  degrees. That is roughly it. At equilibrium, when  everything comes into balance, that is what the temperature of the Earth would go up by. Professor Plimer says that is not right; he says it is only half a degree. At least, he says that in one part of his book. In another part he says that it is 1½ degrees. So he is not consistent with himself. You can do a very simple calculation. Professor Enting—the guy who has done the 55 pages collecting problems with Professor Plimer’s book—shows you how to do the calculation. You can compute the change from 280 parts per million pre the industrial age to 385 now. Using Professor Plimer’s climate sensitivity, it would increase temperature by 0.23 degrees. We have seen about 0.7, but  he  has  put  his  sensitivity  below  that.  If  0.23  degrees  is  only  1.1  per  cent  or one  thousandth  of  the greenhouse effect, it implies that the  greenhouse effect is 223 degrees and without it our planet would be as cold as the outer planets. So the calculations in this book are just erroneous. I will give up at this stage. There is plenty more I could go on with, but I will not.

CHAIR—Dr Ayers, thanks for taking the time to take us through those issues. So you are going to convert the cardinal and make him a missionary for climate change?
Dr Ayers—No. In fact, I think that—

Senator Ian Macdonald—Who suggested to you that you might read this out tonight, Dr Ayers?

Dr Ayers—Nobody. As I said, I felt that it needed to be in the Hansard.

Senator Ian Macdonald—Yes, I am quite sure it should have been, but a written response would have been equally as good because unfortunately Professor Plimer, should he choose to respond, can only put in a written response. He cannot make the commentary that you have made.

Dr Ayers—I am happy for Professor Plimer to write to me.

Senator Ian Macdonald—No, it needs to be done here. This is the trouble. The chair has allowed this to happen. This is going to go on forever now.

Senator SIEWERT—You were allowed table that letter last time.

Senator Ian Macdonald—But that is tabling. I agree with that. He should have been able to table a reply. I agree with that. Professor Plimer will not be able to come and talk to the committee.

Senator LUDLAM—He can publish another work of science fiction

CHAIR—Order!  I  am  not  going  to  have  a  debate  taking  place  across  the  chair.  If  you  want  to  ask  any questions  of  Dr Ayers  on  what  he  has  just  said,  I  think  it  is  perfectly  appropriate  to  ask  them  now.  Senator Macdonald, I invite you to ask any questions you have of Dr Ayers on what he has just put.

Source: Hansard.

Report of the above: Cardinal’s climate change views flawed, says BoM director

The head of the Bureau of Meteorology has rebuked Cardinal George Pell for his scepticism about climate change, insisting the cardinal has been misled, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sydney’s Cardinal Pell is an outspoken disbeliever in man-made global warming, arguing that it was hotter during the Middle Ages and carbon dioxide levels are not historically high.

Bureau director Greg Ayers used an appearance at a Senate estimates hearing yesterday to criticise the cardinal’s personal views.

He said the core of his arguments were based on a book by Australian scientist Ian Plimer called Heaven and Earth: Global Warming the Missing Science