Miracle climate cure!


A comparison between public perception (and I use the term loosely) of climate science and other sciences has been made in various ways from time to time, but is worth making again.

You are sitting in on a case management conference in the oncology area of a hospital, with all the specialists, nurses, medical technicians present. They are discussing your case, going through the various cycles of chemotherapy and the results of tests. Just then a janitor wanders in, listens for a moment, then says to you “you don’t want to listen to all that crap, these people don’t know what they are talking about, my granny swore by deadly nightshade, rubbed on the legs. Did it all her life and never developed lymphoma.” Do you say (a) “that sounds really interesting, do you have some, I will give it a try”, or (b) “go away you idiot, what the hell would you, or your granny, know about it”?

Or say you have wandered in to a lecture by Australia’s latest Nobel Prize winner. You listen to him talk about galaxies, and the size and age of the universe, and dark matter, and red shift, and expansion and when he asks if there are any questions you put up your hand. “This is rubbish Professor Schmidt” you say “I was listening to Ray Jones on the radio the other day and he said the universe is much smaller than you say, and is contracting not expanding. Said it was common sense because it looked just the same as it did when he was a boy. Said you scientists got paid more money, got prizes and stuff, if you made the universe seem bigger than it is. That true Professor?”

Or perhaps you visit a farmer friend. She explains how she has been developing her pasture. Careful analyses of soil and grasses for trace elements; analysis of soil structure, organic content, invertebrate species; study of which plant varieties will do best; reintroduction of native plant species; provision of structures to encourage birds; computer models developed for efficient grazing regimes. When she has finished you say (a) that sounds great I assume you are working with the CSIRO and the local pasture people or (b) you shouldn’t bother with any of that rubbish, I read somewhere all you have to do is fill an old cow horn with manure and bury it on a full moon and your pastures will be fine?

Well, I don’t need to go on do I. Anyone who has read any blog or newspaper article related to climate change will recognise the analogies in some of the responses above. Indeed just the other night leading Australian denialist Alan Jones used number 2. I make the analogy here not just to point out the idiocy of climate change denier – that is like shooting fish in a barrel – but to make a more general point.

The examples given are not chosen to be crazy things that people would never say in contexts other than climate science, although there is certainly some truth in that. People seem happy to live in a modern world created by science, accept that scientific experts know far more than they do. Except in the areas of climate science and evolution (this is not a coincidence – areas where those implacable things called facts come up against ideologies held in an iron grip).

Rather I have chosen examples where people can and do make such remarks in other areas of science. The nutters with “cancer cures” are well known (and have caused many deaths when they fool people). The nutters who believe the world is 6 thousand years old because the bible says so (it doesn’t of course, but even if it did …). The people who bury cow’s horns or dowse for water. All well known.

But unlike the nutters in the climate change blogs and letters and demonstrating outside parliament or the bureau of meteorology, the nutters in other fields of scientific endeavour are recognised to be nutters and are treated as such by the media. They are generally scorned, laughed at, treated as little humorous fillers in between cute babies and piano-playing cats, although every so often a tv network will pick up on a “miracle cancer cure” story when ratings are flagging.

But the media, and the public in general distinguish between the body of scientific knowledge which has propelled us out of the Dark Ages and into the Knowledge Ages of the 21st century, and the occasional wing nut with delusions of grandeur, and, well, delusions in general. No one, least of all the media, thinks that any of this rubbish, as entertaining as it might be, actually overturns any of the individual scientific disciplines, let alone the whole glorious superstructure of science that these disciplines combine to form (strengthening each other in the process).

Except when it comes to climate science. Then every shock jock, retired engineer, Joe the truckdriver, old surfer, who “thinks it a scam” or says “it’s the Sun” or observes that “plants use CO2″, or says the sea looks the same to him, is given the status of a second coming of Galileo. Any piece of mindless opinion based on the self-interested meme of the day from oil company fronts is treated as overturning the results of the measurement and analysis by tens of thousands of scientists in virtually every scientific discipline (climate science is a multi-disciplinary effort). Not just overturning some particular piece of analysis, but overturning physics, chemistry, palaeontology, astronomy, ecology, oceanography, and the rest. Overturning in fact, Science itself.

Day after day Frank the shock jock and Joe the truckdriver manage to negate 500 years of scientific research with unfounded opinions. According to the media.

Now why would that be, do you think?

25 comments on “Miracle climate cure!

  1. Excellent commentary. As this is the first post I have read of your blog (I’ll delve deeper in a monent), why should someone listen to *you* rather than some other blogger, radio jockey, or janitor? I see that as a deeper root to this phenomenon. People choose sources they are comfortable with, and it is up to the disenter to persuade someone to beleive a viewpoint that opposes the one that person is comfortable with. Anthropogenic climate change makes logical and simple sense to me. But to those who take comfort in other sources, persuading someone to believe in something that acts so slowly is a difficult sale.


    • David Horton says:

      Hi, welcome and thank you for commenting. You ask a good question. I guess the answer is that political and community leaders and the media have to establish a climate of opinion in which scientists are listened to, not fools and scoundrels. For the last ten years the reverse has been true.


  2. Good article, enjoyed the humour and had a few laughs along the way. I agree Joe the truck driver and company are easily misled. But the question isnt why they believe this garbage is it? We know why, the remorseless unending supply if disinformation and pure rubbish mainstream media and Government is feeding out.
    The reason they believe is simple laziness and indifference coupled with a need for stimulation without effort. The land example you gave struck a chord with me as an ex farmer who suffered under climate change, we endured soil degradation, erosion, followed by a decade of drought and crop yield reduction broke me and my family. Didnt bury a cows horn but may have tried it if I thought of it…lol,
    We like so many realised to late the peril of the much lauded intensive farming practices and stopped rotational cropping and tree planting to our peril, now we must accept full blame for our soils breakdown.
    But the media cannot pee in my pocket over this and the misinformed minions need to pay closer attention to climate science and a hell of a lot less to likes of Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. These high profile fools whose only expertise is in shooting off their mouths the best way available simply to hike ratings or sell papers with scant regard for the consequences.

    I have watched rainfall averages drop, weather patterns alter and my region heat up, and that over a period of just 15 years. Whats the next 25 going to bring?


    • David Horton says:

      Hi Wayne, thank you for dropping by and leaving a post. Agree with everything you say. I live in a part of Australia that is going to be (has started to be) devastated as climate rapidly changes. That tends to concentrate my mind, but for most people in the city, for whom warm weather just means the chance to go to beach, and perhaps the need to turn on air conditioner, climate change is a distant hypothetical prospect. A fact the energy companies and their political and shock jock allies have made use of.


  3. Barrie says:

    SO how do you counter the denier’s arguments, there’s an art to that, opinions are hard to destroy without alienating the opinionated.
    You’d need good verbal skills.
    You’d need to have your facts marshalled and ready.
    You’d probably need to be kindly and avuncular in your presentation.
    And even then you’d be battling to get your argument accepted.

    So why bother, there aren’t many deniers about, problem is, they influence the gullible and vulnerable amongst us; Alan Jones’ audience.

    I have a nice little app on my iPhone, Skeptical Science, which counters all of the deniers usual arguments, I haven’t used it on anyone but its there to assure me that, yes, its happening.

    The thing about deniers is that they exhibit behaviour that indicates a certain psychological makeup, perhaps you can help me here David, here are a few possible features of the type:
    Anxious or nervous types, have a rigid persona and rely on fixed facts as a kind of reassurance that everything’s ok.
    Readily believe others opinions esp if the other is an ‘authority’ indicating the need for a comforting ‘father figure’ with whom association also brings ego-boosting prominence with one’s friends.
    Have a well-established theory of their own which they are loth to abandon because it would dangerously deflate their fragile egos, and so on.

    The human animal is a worrisome creature, the only animal on earth capable of mutually assured destruction (MAD) a kind of super lemming.

    Really good close-up portrait of Alan Jones’ face on the ABC site yesterday – 20th Oct. Faces are like books.


  4. Big M says:

    It’s a constant battle, even with health professionals. For example, a colleague was diagnosed with breast cancer the same week as Mrs M. Mrs M had chemo, radio, and more recently, a tumour cell receptor antagonist, which has all been effective. The colleague went interstate to have radio wave treated water. She died from her cancer around four years ago.

    Likewise trying to explain the use of a diagnostic test to another colleague. She told me that she had the test and it didn’t work and was complete rubbish. I countered that we could administer the test to a large sample then construct a receiver operator curve (ROC) to examine it’s Predictive Value. She told me it was mumbo jumbo!

    It’s similar when trying to discuss the environment. There’s always ‘some said’ who seems to know more about climate than climatologists, the earth than geologists and volcanos than vulcanologists!

    I could go on, but I’m getting worked up!!


  5. Eric Snyder says:

    David, when you pitch a “soft ball” this easily and so squarely over the plate, I can’t resist taking a swing!

    It isn’t “Joe the janitor” that has a problem with AGW, it’s a group of 30,000 plus scientists holding the same degrees the AGW zealots hold that have a problem with the “science” proving their point. If they were all numb skulled Franks and Joes, I’d be on your side but that simply isn’t the case.


    • David Horton says:

      Swing and miss Eric. Think that makes strike three. I didn’t think deniers were bothering to quote the infamous “Oregon Petition” any more since it was obviouly such a cynically crap exercise. Couple of articles about it here http://www.desmogblog.com/node/1067 and here


      As Fred says, many signatures are clearly fake but that isn’t the worst of it. Let us assume they were all genuine. Thirty thousand sounds a lot until you realise it is less than 0.3% of people with science degrees of some kind in the US. It is also less than 0.01% of the total population – I reckon you could find 0.01% of any population who would be willing to say anything.

      But in addition these are simply people with some kind of science degree who are also (I bet you), and much more importantly, people who subscribe to some variant of libertarianism/free market/neoliberalism ideology of screw the planet if it gets in the way of profit-making. As is the founder of the “Oregon Institute” which seems to resemble a shop front on a cowboy movie set. This is an early astro turf operation to pretend that “scientists” disagree wih the climate science. Someone with some kind of undergraduate degree related to some kind science from some kind of college is no better placed to say anything about climate science than about nuclear physics or DNA function.

      The only “climate scientists” (the 3% in Barrie’s figure) who have any doubt about the science of the changing climate are a tiny number at least some of whom share the ideology I refer to above; who have rarely published anything relevant in scientific journals; and some of whom accept global warming in general but disagree on some minor detail of timing or extent or mechanism.

      I am afraid Eric there is absolutely no doubt about what is happening and why and what needs doing. The world is going to be fried as a result of the CO2 we are pushing into atmosphere, the only “doubts” that remain refer to exactly when the frying is going to reach its worst.


  6. Barrie says:

    Why do the vast majority of climate scientists, (99%?) from many disciplines, believe in AGW and a minute number doubt it. Must be something about the data, it all seems to agree, I think its called consensus!
    Eric seems to have found 30,000 deniers, where are the names, websites, in fact where is the evidence Eric. Same old, same old; I think its 30,000 Erics and all made up, not scientists.

    I know what I believe, evidence, both scientific and personal anecdotal.

    Refusal to act on AGW is not motivated by ignorance, its driven by fear, stockholder fear, Wall Street. As the author Stephen King said, all those worthless stocks and bonds will be good for in the future is starting a fire to keep yourself warm.


  7. Barrie says:

    Addendum re my last post, re percentage of scientists who agree on AGW is 97%, not 99%.


  8. fred says:

    You have to stop quoting quack denialists sites without due scepticism.
    May I suggest you investigate the claims of the so-called Oregon list and find out how shonky it is?
    Here’s a few clues to start with:
    -it includes duplicate names
    -people who had no idea their names were on the list
    -dead people
    -people who are not scientists
    -mostly people who are not scientists in relevant fields
    -the names of corporations
    -the name of one of the Spice Girls [remember them?] who had no idea how her name got on the list
    -and is not, was not checked for validity, even the founder admitted it was not checked for accuracy..

    In short to claim that 30,000 scientists have a problem with the science ” simply isn’t the case.”
    Please, please, write from knowledge, not from ignorance.


  9. Eric Snyder says:

    Barrie, if you’ll read the most current article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/2053842/Scientists-sign-petition-denying-man-made-global-warming.html), you’ll find the names of a few of the very credible folks who have put their name on the list.

    I’ll gladly concede there are hoax postings on this list (I’m pretty sure the same could be said of your list of 97% who are convinced). So, let’s discount the list by 50%; still a significant number of people who do not fall into the Joe Janitor or Shock Jock Frank category.


    • Barrie says:

      Hi Eric,

      The moment I saw the figure 30,000 in your post I whipped out my iphone and looked at the OSIM Petition Project entry in the Sceptical Science app, I’d noticed that figure in a brief scan of the entries there. Its 31,000 actually, and the Oregon Project is extensively explained in the app. Just a lot of right wing BS funded by you know who, FOX etc.

      You referred to the Telegraph as a source, well, I just read a crit of Michael Moore from the UK Tele in this weekend’s SMH, in which the reporter, Roger Lewis, refers to Moore as a blowhard redneck. He’s anything but. Moore has done an incredible job of exposing exploitation of the poor in its many forms, this frightens the predominantly right wing wealthy in US society. So do I trust what I read in the Tele? No.

      I have to ask myself who I trust with the future of my children and grandchildren and its not climate change deniers.


  10. Eric Snyder says:

    Fred, why do I have to exercise skepticism when clearly you don’t? You accept open handedly the claims of institutions and their members who have made outright false claims about AGW. “Willful ignorance” is pretty serious ignorance IMO.


  11. Eric Snyder says:

    Thanks for the references David, I’m looking forward to reading them and learning.


  12. Eric Snyder says:

    OK David, I read the first link and the third one you posted but the second didn’t connect. I’m pretty sure it would support your other 2 references but would like to read it anyway. So, based on what I’ve read from you, it would be difficult to refute warming; you’ve convinced me!

    Now, convince me it’s “man-caused.”

    I don’t get this petty bickering within and among the community of scientists. Are they really that willing to compromise truth for $’s? Is that what it’s all about?


    • David Horton says:

      Hi Eric, have fixed that link now – sorry, it led to a page with two tabs (basic and intermediate) and wasn’t able to take you to second directly, I discovered.

      To answer one of your questions, here is a useful summary http://www.skepticalscience.com/How-we-know-were-causing-global-warming-in-single-graphic.html. In a nutshell – we know how much carbon (in form of coal, oil, gas etc) is being burned, and therefore how much CO2 produced, and hey presto this matches increasing level we see (in a somewhat unnecessary confirmation, it also carries the isotope signature of CO2 derived from fossil fuel). We know from physics the effect the extra CO2 should have on loss of heat from atmosphere and hey presto, up goes the temperature accordingly. Finally, even if you wanted to pretend those two facts were somehow inconclusive, and that some other mechanism was causing the temperature to rise, by an astonishing coincidence, at exactly the same time as industrial expansion and by exactly the amount predicted for CO2, you would have to do two things. First you would have to find the mechanism causing that amazing coincidence (the only possible candidate, sun output, has decreased over the period) and second you would have to explain what was happening to all the heat trapped by the CO2.

      You ask about “petty bickering” among community of scientists. You have misunderstood something there thanks to media. There is no bickering among the vast majority of scientists. Just as with evolutionary studies all the fundamentals are understood, established, accepted. In both cases though a small handful of scientists, for reasons of religious or economic ideology, pretend to find, or think they have found, some problem that other scientists have failed to see. None of these claims ever stand up to scrutiny.


  13. adelady says:

    There’s probably some value in lining up this post with Stephan Lewandowsky’s piece at Shaping Tomorrow’s World.


    I find all those graphics showing the disconnect between various people’s beliefs and their thoughts about how other people think absolutely fascinating.


    • David Horton says:

      Thank you Adelady, Stephen’s piece is very interesting. What you’d expect, but good to see analysis.


    • Gruffbutt says:

      That reference is gold, adelady.

      I’ll keep it handy for when I’m in the presence of a vocal ‘majoritist’.

      Who has time or – like me – the scientific knowledge to bother arguing the science with people who cherry pick their own ‘facts’?


      • David Horton says:

        Yes, the demonstration that those with whacky unfounded ideas grossly overestimate the number of people who share those ideas explains much of the Anti-Carbon Tax rally behaviour. They clearly believe that their little band of Alan Jones acolytes represnts most of Australia, so they can make demands. But all the findings are interesting. It also suggests that we on the side of the goodies tend to think there are more baddies than there are. And all of that in turn helps explain some otherwise inexplicable media and political behaviour.


  14. fred says:

    Following on from Adelady’s comment there is this survey.


    Farmers in Oz don’t believe in climate change right?
    Its all just natural weather patterns according to them.

    That is the common public perception and even among farmers it is perceived that most disagree with the idea of climate change. A perception reinforced by the anti Carbon Price rallies here in Oz where farmers figure prominently, at least according to the media.

    But the ABS did a massive survey in 2007 [roughly] of about 150,000 farmers and found that:
    “Nationally, 65.6% of agricultural businesses reported that they considered the climate affecting their holding has changed and 62.4% reported that the perceived change in climate had an impact on their holding. Approximately half (49.5%) of agricultural businesses reported a change in the management practices on their holding in response to perceived changes in climate.

    The most commonly reported perceived change in climate affecting the holding was a change in rainfall patterns (92.1%), followed by more extreme weather events (74.2%) and warmer temperatures (49.6%)”.

    Interestingly the numbers were even higher among the sub-group of farm managers as compared to farm owners who may not in some cases be directly involved in their land.

    From my own experience I find that irrigators are more anti climate change than farmers. Those who rely on water coming out of a pipe that has been pumped from a river or other water source are less accepting, in my experience, than those who rely directly on rainfall.

    Distorted reporting from the media is a major problem.


    • David Horton says:

      Well picked up Snowy, and somewhat surprising. My experience certainly until a few years ago was great denialism among farmers “we’ve had droughts before”. The farmers federations were pushing talks from leading deniers like Plimer. If they are now paying more detailed attention and sensing fundamental changes that is good.


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