Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hmmm, innerestin'...

To start with, a couple of interesting links:
And then some entertainment. Online Opinion is a space where opinion pieces are posted. There can be some really interesting articles - and there can be some absolute dross. One issue I have is some of the women's issues articles in the last two months - they're poorly researched, not very well written and come to conclusions like "OMG NOT PRON, THINK of the CHILDREN". To me, the articles' lack of quality almost denigrates the issues.

In the last month, there's been a bit of controversy over articles on Anthropogenic Global Warming and in the ensuing debate, starting with former astronaut Phil Chapman saying an ice age is coming. This proposition was rebutted in an article by David Karoly (a Professor of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University) labelling it mischievous misinformation.

The lines were drawn, with a former astronaut versus Professor of Earth Sciences...

Two more articles in the following days by two marine scientists, one by Charlie Veron detailing the damage that will be done to the Great Barrier Reef, the other by Walter Starck rebutting (some of) his points.

On the 14th of May, journalist/businessman and JP Terry Dunleavy criticised the hysteria over AGW, and the lack of public discussion. However, he started his article with this paragraph:
It has become commonplace knowledge, and is unchallenged, that global average temperature has not increased since 1998. This corresponds to a nine-year period during which the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast, did increase, and that by almost 5 per cent.
Unfortunately for him this wasn't a good idea, since it shows a lack of understanding of the basic data. To start with a falsehood in an article complaining that no-one's listening to the skeptics... I wonder if he's a sockpuppet, 'cos that's not a good look.

This article was followed up the next day by an article by the publisher of Online Opinion (and former(?) member of the Queensland Liberals), Graham Young, complaining about the introduction by Robyn Williams (ABC's experienced science journalist) of Don Aitken (a political scientist and historian) in a radio broadcast. In the piece, he also mentions that factual errors in Veron's article are "demonstrated" by Starck on OLO - except there are no references to any studies or data in any of the rebuttal paragraphs, and indeed only calls them "comments" in the disagreement. In the final page, Young also labels Williams a Marxist (whatever happened to freedom of expression?) and introduced economist John Quiggin and computer scientist Tim Lambert, labelling them as bullies and brownshirts - invoking Godwin's law. Lambert himself shows up in the comments, responding to each of Young's points, including correcting his "mistakes". Young then claims that Lambert is doing that to take attention away from his mistakes (at this point, I could post a lolcat with a "wtf" expression)...

Geoff Davies writes the final article in the series, "A cool look at Professor Aitkin’s global warming scepticism". The difference (to me) with Starck's article is that Davies includes numbers which are able to be checked straight out, rather than general statements which in themselves require some ability to analyse the data.

In initial responses on their own blogs Quiggin has claimed the Godwin here, and Tim Lambert has called it "On-line abuse". Quiggin has also made the point of Fred Singer's influence on the skeptic/denialist scene.

The comments thread are the ones that have really caught my attention. Don Aitkin (to his credit) is commenting regularly and calmly, as is Geoff Davies. Lambert is attempting to address the issues put to him, and most entertainingly, a commentor by the moniker of "jc2" spends his whole time attacking him, labelling Lambert a "ridiculous clown". Pleasant stuff. (I am, however, impressed by the arguments by a number of other commenters. Sadly they often don't get their very valid questions responded to by Young.) The dry comment by Lambert in Club Troppo's Missing Link Daily from Tuesday also apparently rates high enough to allow more abuse.

Through all this, the number of AGW skeptic pieces has been given larger airplay as compared to their supporter numbers on OLO, leading to many commenters to wonder at OLO's publishing and editing policy and direction. The editor, Susan Prior, has commented at least three times about this, saying the second time (with some understandable exasperation):
...each day I make the decisions about what goes into the journal. I try to achieve a balance but it is dependent on what I get sent to me or can procure myself. I have no political barrow to push, am happy to publish well reasoned/well written articles from all parties and strive to provide material that will get readers thinking and considering other points of view. If I published articles and opinions from one viewpoint you (and I) would soon get pretty bored. OLO is about opinions, debate and ideas. It is about expanding horizons and thinking. It is not about reading what you necessarily want to hear.

Doesn't seem to matter to Young. In his responses to Lambert's post that came in the "Best Blogs 2006", he's the one that initiates the abuse, labelling Lambert as "dishonest", and his post as "raw and barely digestible".

Perhaps a "cool look" needs to extend to discussion practices... and an improvement in the setup of those comments forums. They're a right pain to try to interpret...!

Update: I forgot the final article thrown into the mixer: Clive Hamilton's Death Rattles of the Climate Change Skeptics at New Matilda.

I have also apparently been beaten to the punch by Lyn at Public Opinion...


Anonymous said...

The statemnet by Terry Dunleavy you criticize is correct, even by your own data - take another look, my friend. Temperature is indeed lower now (and dropping still in general) than it was in 1998. The fact that there are up and downs in that period does not alter the fact that the peak year was 1998.

Tom Harris
Executive Director
International Climate Science Coalition

Chade said...


So you trawl the net looking for pretty much anonymous blogs, just to "educate" them - and you're the Executive Director? Bored much?

Onto the subject matter, do you understand the concept of an outlier? Do you realise that you should be looking at the red line (and that's not my "own data")? 2007 only needs to be as warm as 2005 to continue a general upward trend.

I also like how you can dismiss "ups and downs" yet assume 1998 wasn't just a larger than usual "up" but a be-all and end-all.

We both (should; dunno that you do) know that you should be looking at 10 year trends over single year - so why are you (and Dunleavy) doing just that?