Garth Paltridge on the inside of the climate caper

Some make much of the tens of thousands of scientists who have signed on to the climate caper. Others suggest that when you get down to the hard core of climate science you can only find a few dozens of scientists. Among them are Murry (if you think the science is setled you are delusional) Salby and probably Garth Paltridge.

A bit of late news, from Barry Williams of the Australian Skeptics, Garth Paltridge served some time as Treasurer of the Tasmanian Skeptics.

He has written a book called The Climate Caper which is available from Connor Court, like The Greens.  I hope that this book will shed some light on the way the no-growth wreckers moved on from nuclear power to the climate change caper. The anti-nuclear agitators could only call on cranks from the scientific community and their major PR triumph was to marginalise genuine scientists in the debate. Much of  the discredit for that acievement can be attributed to the journalists who uncritically helped the no-growth movement.

In the climate debate the roles are reversed with the mass of scientists apparently signed on to the so-called “settled science” while the sceptics have been marginalised. This is despite the existence of a petition with tens of thousands of signatures from scientists who reject the alarmist position. Again the men and women of the press have generally not done their homework and some are clearly on board with the movement for reasons that have nothing to do with science.

If you accept that the science is not settled, the searchlight swings to the sociology and politics of science, to the professional associations, the mores of the community, the institutions that are supposed to be in place to ensure quality control etc. Brian O’Brien blew the whistle when he cited his professorial friend who had 60 researchers dependent on Government funding for “climate studies”. I have put scare quotes around “climate studies” because they were doing that work against the professor’s better judgement. Serious research is about testing  competing theories and not just propping up a position has become the ruling paradigm.

Paltridge contributed some valuable insights into the pressures on scientists in this interview which was published early last year. Be sure to read the whole thing but these snippets will give the flavour.

He was involved in the early development of the World Climate Program in Geneva, as well as working with the US National Climate Program Office at the time of the establishment of the IPCC.

Paltridge argues that models produced by the IPCC give directly contrasting results and that
it is only those that predict global warming which are openly publicised. He also highlights that nearly all climate change science within Australia is conducted by government agencies, prompting him to ask exactly how objective this research is.

He said:

Of the 20 or so reasonably respectable models which are the basis of the IPCC arguments,  somewhat more than half predict an increasing rainfall for Australia, and the rest predict a decrease.  More to the point, perhaps, when some of these models are re-run with extremely small changes to the input information concerning present conditions they give vastly different answers.  The bottom line is that the forecasts of, for instance, a much dryer southeast Australia —forecasts that were used by Professor Garnaut to come to his conclusion that Australia would be really no better than guesswork.

When all this global warming business started, it was recognised quite openly among the scientists of the time that there were enormous uncertainties about it all.  More to the point, perhaps, they were willing to ‘go public’ about those uncertainties.  And there existed something of a basic philosophy to the effect that, because of the uncertainties, if the world really wanted to do something expensive about preventing global warming, then it should do only those things which were worth doing anyway for other shorter-term reasons: things like improving the efficiency of transport, or looking more seriously at nuclear and renewable energy possibilities, or even perhaps considering ways of reducing population growth.  These days, it can be more than a climate scientist’s career is worth to talk too loudly about the uncertainties associated with the theory of the disastrous impact of climate change. 

And more generally in terms of human endeavour and attitude, the rise and rise of the climate change bandwagon seems to have put paid to what was once recognised as a fundamental attribute of the good scientist (as opposed, perhaps, to the good technologist) —namely, that he or she should be sceptical about accepted wisdom. That characteristic has been replaced by a strange sort of misplaced loyalty to the scientific ‘system’, and an even stranger belief in the scientific value of consensus.

One can make a strong argument that the fundamental reason for the success of the
international campaign to do something about global warming is that it plays to the agendas of so many other areas of popular social activism.  It appeals to those who would like  to preserve fossil fuels for future generations.  It appeals to those who see it as a giant step  leading the way towards global government.  It appeals to those who see it as an opportunity to redistribute wealth from the ‘have’ countries to the ‘have not’ countries.  It appeals to those who, for one reason or another, would like to introduce socialistic governments which would be more likely to dismantle what are seen as the evils of capitalism. 

On the forces that enable sceptism within the scientific community to be kept from the public eye.

This is actually a deeper question than you might think.  There are of course the usual run-of-the-mill forces that arise when somebody works for a government which is hellbent on some particular political path.  In such cases there are very powerful sanctions against individuals in government employment who make public comment on matters of policy, and the global warming issue these days is very much concerned with politics.  One must bear in mind that, in this country especially, virtually all climate change science is performed by government agencies. 

But the most powerful forces are more subtle, and are not directly related to fear of the wrath of one’s employer.  Although, of course, there is plenty of that sort of fear around the climate change system.

They do have a deeply ingrained and subconscious fear of being publicly disloyal to their profession, and it is very hard for them to say or imply in public that such and such a piece of research, or such and such a public pronouncement by a scientist, may be a load of rubbish—this unless they are 100% sure that it is indeed rubbish. 
The trouble is that in the climate change game one is never 100% sure about anything, so it is almost impossible for a knowledgeable researcher to bring himself to the point of rebutting over-the-top sayings of an extensive host of scientific activists.  A sort of generalised loyalty to the cause governs one’s actions.  And make no mistake about it, the activists in the profession rely heavily on that loyalty, and by one means or another make it extremely costly to depart from it.

What ideally would you like to see occur in Australian policy regarding climate change?

If, for whatever real or imagined reasons, the public and the politicians insist on doing something about limiting carbon emissions, then at least we should return to the philosophy mentioned earlier which restricts ourselves to doing those things which we would like to do anyway for other shorter-term reasons.  Then at least we stand a fair chance of not having wasted vast resources if and when it turns out that global warming is really not much more than a disease of the mind. ?

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32 Responses to Garth Paltridge on the inside of the climate caper

  1. As an insider I’ve seen a lot of the attitude of “shut up and don’t derail the gravy train” amongst the scientists used to prepare models and reports.

    But there are also a small minority who, along with their bureaucrat brethren and sistren, truly are glaze-eyed believers. It is the perfect secular religion for them- denigrating white culture, western civilisation and the “mouth breathers” who don’t share their view of the science.

    Except it isn’t science, it’s usually statistics based on plucked numbers, surrounded with a miasma of assumptions based on… well, nothing, usually.

  2. plucked numbers, surrounded with a miasma of assumptions based on… well, nothing, usually.

    Perhaps not nothing, but certainly drawing a bow so long that only Robin Hood or John Rambo is fit to do so.

    When groups of computer models give divergent answers, and when models within the same set give divergent answers based on small changes in input, something is badly wrong with the models. And even if it isn’t, it would be stupid to say that “the science is settled”.

    If I were a Liberal or Independent Senator asking harsh questions, I’d be pinning these people down and demanding to know how their models are validated against real-world observations.

    For example: you can “fly” an as yet unbuilt airplane in a computer simulation because there is a hundred year legacy of carefully controlled wind-tunnel data against which to validate the fluid-dynamics models, with reasonable correspondence from the wind tunnels to what happens in real life. The same is not true of what these people are trying to do.

  3. Ivan Denisovich

    In the climate debate the roles are reversed with the mass of scientists apparently signed on to the so-called “settled science” while the sceptics have been marginalised.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/the-price-of-dissent/story-e6frg7b6-1111118127677

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/climategate_michaels_on_how_it_worked_against_him/#commentsmore

  4. Ivan Denisovich

    He also highlights that nearly all climate change science within Australia is conducted by government agencies, prompting him to ask exactly how objective this research is.

    Not very, if the British experience is typical:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/how_government_cash_created_the_climategate_scandal/

    Tactics explained:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/timblair/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/reduce_the_uncertainty/

  5. Barry White

    “Perhaps not nothing….”

    It really is based on nothing. Its modern incarnation was just the tendentiousness of Carl Sagan attempting to explain why Venus was so hot and getting it wrong. That’s the sum total of it. I used to read everything Carl Sagan said when I was a kid. Turns out he was pretty appalling as a scientist. Just a song and dance man really.

  6. south

    Climate Change is the 1990s Y2K scare writ large. And like Y2K it probably contains a small kernel of truth, surrounded by a street parade of circus clowns and bandwagon jumpers who are only too happy to beat up the issue to keep themselves employed.

    Only problem this time is there’s no definite date to tick over and leave all the alarmists sitting with egg on their faces.

  7. @ Barry White – in the case of Venus, Sagan is probably correct; you’re just leaving out the bit about Venus having about ninety times the atmospheric pressure that Earth does, far more CO2, and significant relative proximity to the Sun. It all adds up, and the Greenhouse effect is grossly magnified with figures like that.

  8. Louis Hissink

    Dom’t forget thath James Hansen was a student of Sagan, and his PhD was on the Venusian atmosphere. Unintended consequences and all that.

  9. Sancho

    You would think that “a petition with tens of thousands of signatures from scientists who reject the alarmist position” is a rather powerful document, so why doesn’t Rafe provide a link to it?

    Presumably because he’s referring to the Oregon Petition, one of the many high-quality jokes rolled out by the denialist industry.

    Perhaps Rafe doesn’t want to remind readers that this authoritative petition includes the signatures of scientific legends such as Dr Geri Halliwell, Dr Michael J. Fox, the esteemed doctors Frank Burns, Pierce and Honeycutt (whose tireless medical work during the Korean war far exceeds the professional expectations of the climate skeptic community), dozens of scientists who were signed on without their knowledge and whose names were not removed upon request, and quite a number of signatories who were dead at the time of the petition’s circulation.

    The petition counts anyone with a PhD as a scientist, and features a number of businesses. And really, when it comes to assessing the integrity of climate science, who can doubt the authority of investment firms?

    The cover letter for the petition was provided by Fred Seitz, an experienced Phillip Morris spin doctor who bravely defended the tobacco industry from the health Nazi oppressors who claimed there was some link between smoking and cancer. Philip Morris eventually decided that Seitz was ““quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice.”

    That was in 1989.

    Fake names, a definition of “scientist” that excludes only livestock, signatories from beyond the grave and a spokesman who was considered too incompetent even to shill for big tobacco two decades before the petition was released.

    Wow. A few more petitions like that and the IPCC will be on its knees. Laughing.

    So, was Rafe referring to a different petition? Or did he forget to link to the one he means because it’s an embarrassment?

    Now, that’s not to take away from Rafe’s other clangers. Let’s see…when a few “cranks” come out against nuclear power, it means the scientific majority is correct, but when a few cranks come out against climate change, it means the majority is attempting to “marginalise” them.

    In other words, the majority opinion among scientists is a strong indicator of good science, except when Rafe doesn’t like that opinion, in which case it’s a sign that the truth is being suppressed. Heads, Rafe wins, tails, scientists lose.

    At least we can pick a bit of truth out of the dog’s breakfast: “If you accept that the science is not settled, the searchlight swings to the sociology and politics of science, to the professional associations”.

    Yes indeed. And you find that the politics and professional associations of the “skeptics” are right-wing, pro-industry, dismissive of environmentalism, associated heavily with the industry lobby, tobacco corporations, think tanks funded by Exxon and friends, militant creationists, and in lieu of relevant scientists, glom onto celebrity spokesmen whose past endeavours include advocating for people with HIV to be interred in concentration camps.

    Rafe managed to pack all of that just into the introduction to Partridge’s statements. Poor Partridge.

  10. Rafe

    So the Oregon Petition was sabotaged. The main point holds, there are large numbers of reputable scientists who have not signed on to the paradigm and the closer you get to solid climate science (stripping out the social sciences and other fellow travellers) I expect the higher the proportion of sceptics becomes.

  11. Rococo Liberal

    Sancho

    You used such a lot of words to say nothing of importance.

    You have not rebutted the main point of Rafe’s post, that AGW proponents are using sham science.

    I always think it is amusing that gangs of lefties have now got this reverence for ‘science’ when just 15 years ago they were lining up to deny the existence of scientific truth. Hence, Alan Sokal’s famous hoax where he wrote a lot of gobbledegook using po-mo argot in which he posited a new politicised form of gravity. And an esteemed humanities journal fell for it.

    But now ‘science’ supports big government, so all lefties have to become science worshippers. They remind me of lefties in the 30s and 40s. First the Nazis were the enemy. Then after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, the Nazis were OK. However, Hitler became the anti-christ again after the commencement of Operation Barbarossa.

    Except it is not science that the left really respect. They have in fact assisted in the utter corruption of science in the cause of creating an excuse to increase government control over every aspect of our lives.

    Why can’t you people face it? Big Government is not the answer to any question in peace time. It deoesn’t matter whether the earth is warming or not, the fact is that the solutions offered by the left will lead to more misery than any change in the climate.

    And why can’t you people get it through your thick heads that government is not some benign, impartial force. One only has to look at the history of the 20th century to see that governments are the root of most evil in the world. Private enterprise on the other hand has brought prosperity and hope.

  12. Sancho

    How was the petition “sabotaged”, Rafe?

    Rococo, it’s baldly ironic that you cite an example of a single huckster convincing a large number of people to distrust massive scientific evidence because his contrary opinion appealed to their ideology.

    In not unrelated news, did you know that the sun is in fact a large ball of iron? Ian Plimer tells us so, and he cannot be doubted.

  13. Sancho

    And keep in mind, Rococo, that those lefties also took the side of the scientists who said that tobacco causes cancer and continue to side with evolution against creationism.

    You probably don’t want to compare the history of progressives versus conservatives when it comes to supporting science. It doesn’t speak well of the right.

    As Jon Stewart said, reality has a [leftist] bias.

  14. Mother Hubbard's Dog

    Correction: the man’s name is Garth Paltridge, not Partridge.

    THANKS (Ed.)

  15. Sancho

    Considering that Perry Mason and John Grisham signed the Oregon petition against climate change alarmism, I don’t think anyone will notice if the small fry get misspelled.

    In the words of Dr Halliwell (2005), “Underneath my clothes there lies a riddle. Fix my tits, my ass or live a little”. That pretty much sums it up from the scientific perspective.

  16. Louis Hissink

    Sancho,

    You are merely describing “pseudoscience”.

  17. Viva

    Clearly an advocacy culture has contaminated sections of the climate science and environmental science fields.

    Wanting to improve people’s lives and make a difference are laudable motives when deciding on a career. It is a pity that loyalty to the concept of seeking knowledge has been supplanted by loyalty to one’s profession or to a cause in climate and environmental science. At some point there will need to be a shakeup and people named and shamed – we saw a precursor with Climategate. Only then will there be an incentive to rehabilitate the profession and rediscover genuine scientific method.

  18. twostix

    And really, when it comes to assessing the integrity of climate science, who can doubt the authority of investment firms?

    But of course tens of thousands of government employed climate scientists, whose entire careers and industry exists only as long as Climate Change is a political issue are above reproach.

    As we all know, the class now known as “scientists” have whiter teeth, stand six inches taller and have cast iron moral compasses and dizzying intellects vastly beyond the rest of us peons.

  19. twostix

    You probably don’t want to compare the history of progressives versus conservatives when it comes to supporting science. It doesn’t speak well of the right.

    Really? You sure? I’d be wary there as it was leftists and leftist regimes, even in western countries who have committed the worst atrocities in the name of “science”.

    Also the scientific consensus, based on “massive scientific evidence” 80 years ago was that aboriginals had physically smaller brains than Europeans limiting their intelligence, and that large scale Eugenics programs were necessary for the continuing future of the civilised human race.

    You, of course by your own word, would have shared that view as it was the widely, institutionally held scientific consensus.

    As Jon Stewart said, reality has a [leftist] bias.

    Firstly Jon Stewart didn’t say that, Stephen Colbert did and that’s not even the quote he said “”Reality has a well-known liberal bias”. And if that was actually the case leftists wouldn’t need to lie to the population, pretending to be conservative in order to be elected. And then when managing to finagle power once every two decades losing it after one or two terms.

    Reality doesn’t match up with that “clever” little catch phrase in the slightest.

  20. Rococo Liberal

    Sancho

    Quoting Jon Stewart is not really a great tactic. Let me give you back a better quotation from Margaret Thatcher

    “The facts of life are conservative”

    I referred to the Sokal example because it was not isolated. Sokal had noticed a trend of lefty humanist academics sledging the idea that science could be values neutral and should be liestened to if it did not back left wing assumptions..

    Then along comes AGW which just happens to be a theory that is tailor-made for big government supporters.

    Whether the right has in the past pooh-poohed science is not the issue here. The issue is that the left clearly only supports science when science can be used for the promotion of more government interference in our lives.

    I notice that you have not yet responded to the argument that Governments are not automatically unbiased and wonderful.

  21. Jarrah

    “I expect the higher the proportion of sceptics becomes.”

    The opposite, actually.

  22. wreckage

    “the opposite actually” really depends on how far you refine the search.

  23. wreckage

    The Oregon petition appears to be Sancho’s Special Subject.

  24. Mother Hubbard's Dog

    The Oregon petition appears to be Sancho’s Special Subject.

    Unless it is answering the question before last. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvmRI6K8TS8

  25. dover_beach

    Yes indeed. And you find that the politics and professional associations of the “skeptics” are right-wing, pro-industry, dismissive of environmentalism, associated heavily with the industry lobby, tobacco corporations, think tanks funded by Exxon and friends, militant creationists, and in lieu of relevant scientists, glom onto celebrity spokesmen whose past endeavours include advocating for people with HIV to be interred in concentration camps.

    Or, in short, the Murdoch octopus.

  26. daddy dave

    Sancho doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s a conversational dead end.
    Still wrapped up in desperately trying to argue whether there’s a scientific “consensus”. There’s not. Period. There’s a case for “majority opinion”, but it doesn’t sound as sexy or moral-weighty.
    The hot topic isn’t the science anyway, it’s what economic policies to pursue given the science. It’s not at all clear that, given AGW, we should pursue a carbon tax. It’s not clear that we should pursue any particular course of action at all.

  27. Sancho

    Any word from Rafe on how the Oregon Petition was “sabotaged”?

    I know that in the right-o-verse, wanting something to be true is as good as the real thing, but it would be interesting to find out just how it’s even possible to sabotage a petition that has such good quality control that it proudly boasts fictional and dead people as stolid scientists against climate change alarmism.

    So, Twostix, Which atrocities have leftists committed in the name of science? How was the science value of leftism? I notice a trend around here of making ideologically convenient announcements then failing utterly to substantiate them. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the herd!

    As for eugenics, annihilating the lesser races doesn’t seem like a very leftish value, and the sort of groups who advocate that sort of thing seem to have, how should we say…strident and unambiguous right-wing views. You’re welcome to point out some leftist rhetoric on the Stormfront site to prove me wrong.

    Just for fun, let’s say that leftists were once keen on mass extinction via eugenics. How about now? Is eugenics a platform of leftism?

    I guess outmoded ideas are eventually dropped by intelligent people and…oh, wait! Creationism is still a core right-wing obsession, and the climate a change “skepticism” movement is eagerly embracing Intelligent Design groups.

    In the words of the esteemed E. Calvin Beisner, member of the sensibly skeptical Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow:

    “Raising the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration…is not going to cause catastrophic global warming.”

    “Our God is a more intelligent designer than to make a system so fragile, and a better judge to call such a system ‘very good’ after he made it,”.

    Yes, that’s the sort of robust science the “skeptics” are using to defeat the communist climate change hoax. Just pure data and rigorous research.

    WRECKAGE

    The Oregon petition appears to be Sancho’s Special Subject.

    Ha! No. I’m aware of it, obviously, and know enough about it to understand why Rafe would rather stick his typing fingers in a blender than mention it by name.

    All of the information above is found quickly and easily through Google, because the Oregon Petition is one of the most shallow and comically inept attempts at fighting science in the history of industry Astroturfing.

    I mean, it’s not even trying. The pseudo-scientific arguments get a good run because most people don’t have the time or energy to look into them – what’s the argument this week? The sun? Volcanoes? Unicorn farts? Is it still a hoax, or just a misreading of data? – but the Oregon Petition didn’t even try science. One American dude simply asked everyone in the world if they happened to be a scientist who doesn’t like the idea of climate change, and got the entirely predictable result.

    In 2011, Rafe is still advancing this dismal failure as plausible evidence in a worldwide scientific debate. Can you understand why he only wants to mention it in passing and not go into the hilarious details?

    Rafe has good reason to refer so eagerly to the work of Dr Geri Halliwell. As her research team discovered in Passion (2005), “Found the line that I like in my book of life when I’m searching for the truth. There’s a time and a place for sacrifice, but I don’t want to”.

  28. wreckage

    Sancho, do you have anything to say on anything other than that petition?

    As for Creationists; I’d forgive someone who believed in a 6000 year old earth (or alternatively, biosphere) for believing in catastrophic positive feedbacks. I cannot for the life of me see how the deep-time view can be compatible with tipping-points.

  29. Sancho

    On this topic, Wreckage, no.

    Opening with an uncritical yet carefully-not-mentioned-by-by-name reference to the Oregon Petition indicates that a writer is no more reliable than one who requires his audience to accept that the sun is a ball of iron in order for his claims to get close to matching reality.

  30. Rococo Liberal

    I do so love the fact that lefties have this reverence for science, but only as long as that science reflects a leftist, big-government world-view.

    For years the left has attacked science through po-mo denial of the existence of objective knowledge, critical theory and the rest. Who can forget recall Feyeraband’s famous comment that science is accident? The leftist contribution to epistemology has been an attempt to subvert the whole idea that there is any objective truth. This was done in an attempt to justify any use of power by Government.

    But now some clever scientists have worked out a way of using objective truth so as to create a theory that assists the left with its fetish for increasing government control over the world, and lefties everywhere are lining up to tell us how we can’t argue with scientific truth. In a way the argument is the same. before they told us that there wqas no truth, so we weren’t allowed to argue with them on any point. Nopw they say that the truth is establsihed sp we can’t argue with them on any point.

    So in the one corner there are two or three loony creationists who are skeptics because of their belief in God and in the other corner we have hoards of po-mo wankers who believe in AGW because it suits their own irrational love of big government.

    And yes we on the right have always respected science, but we are suspicious that the AGW theory has been developed in an unscientific manner and has be hijacked by a left eager to find a new reason for statism after the failure of communism and socialism.

  31. daddy dave

    Opening with an uncritical yet carefully-not-mentioned-by-by-name reference to the Oregon Petition indicates that a writer is no more reliable than one who requires his audience to accept that the sun is a ball of iron

    Cut the hyperbole.
    The Oregon petition was flawed, but even its critics admit that many signatories were actual, real scientists.

    Why don’t you explain how a carbon tax will help climate change, since you consider yourself such an expert.
    How will an Australian carbon tax stop climate change?

  32. Rafe

    I am only guessing but I suspect that the bogus names were left in the petition so outsiders could see that warmies are prepared to resort to vandalism to attack their opponents, in addition to scientific fraud and name calling. Tomorrow I will start a resume of the Paltridge book. OK it is after 12. I will start later today.

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