Thursday, 18 August 2016

James Delingpole does what he's good at: looking stupid

Far be it from me to lecture a graduate in English from the prestigious Oxford University but....

That's just what I am going to do.

James Delingpole, stick to something you actually might know something about, like writing novels that my local Waterstones doesn't stock because, frankly, they're meddling at best.

Steer clear of science. Because you really haven't got a clue about science. Not a single clue.

Not that such an obstacle is one you are not prepared to ttackle. Instead, you are the Eddie the Eagle of climate science. Giving it a go but not just pants, naff as well.

You have chosen to demonstrate your latest episode in scientific ignorance via the electronic pages of President Unelectable's Donald Trump's handler's 'news' website, Breitbart.  I have archived your spew ( ) it will be of use to the historians and sociologists of science and the philosophers of knowledge for centuries to come.

I will explain why. Your first substantive paragraph is this billious one (the preceding paragraphs are equally dyspeptic and, frankly, envious - Professor Cox has much that you don't, such a visibly huge success, the word Professor in front of his name in a difficult subject that you probably couldn't cope with at school, and he is more than just a science nerd):

Australia’s ABC is so nakedly biased it makes the BBC look like Fox News. Presenter Tony Jones doesn’t even pretend to be neutral, as he showed in his handling of a question on climate change, which had clearly been set up in advance in order to make a fool of the only climate sceptic on the panel – Federal Senator Malcolm Roberts. We know it was a set up because Brian Cox had come armed with a sheaf of relevant papers – graphs and data – which he could pull out with a flourish at the appropriate moment to create a “gotcha!” scenario for Roberts. Roberts clearly hadn’t been expecting this underhand trick (I’ll explain why it is underhand in a moment) but recovered well and did about as well as you could possibly do in a situation where the presenter, all four of fellow panelists and the entire audience have drunk the Kool-Aid. (Memo to all the smartarses in the comments section of Watts Up With That who think you could have done better: no actually you couldn’t – try doing live TV sometime instead of bloviating from the comfort of your armchairs)

I guess you watched the programme with a packet of Tums to hand, munching away on the fruity ones, as Professor Cox countered wingnut nonsense  with, shock horror probe, evidence. You know, evidence in the form of graphs of data of the sort that you couldn't cope with at school because you don't understand even the most basic things about science and Maths although you think you do because your equally wingnut followers pat you on the back in the comments sections even though they know an equally minimal amount of science as you do.

Underhand, my elbow. Cox did his homework and could come prepared. Roberts is famously nutty on these matters and if he were made to look foolish, it is because he is foolish. Any eleven year old who has read a science book could manage it. You obviously can't but that's because you've climbed into bed with the man who is currently climbing onto bed with a man with famously small hands, thin skin and no science knowledge either.

Your next acidic paragraph has the heading about Richard Feynman being a real scientist, yaddah.  When playing science denier Scrabble, you should understand that invoking Richard Feynman without understanding two things ensures a low score. It's like the diving at the Olympics. Feynman is a low level of difficulty because all denier have heard of him and know a few quotations. But what the denier don't know is that Feynman worked in a field where data might be very elusive and confirmation of his ideas (models really but you wouldn't have a clue on that) and had a very clear understanding of the nature of scientific data. He also knew that a scientific theory would be worthless unless it were accepted by the scientists working in that field. They need to be convinced by the argument, equations and evidence. And when those scientists are convinced we end up with a, wait for it, consensus.

So science does not proceed by consensus but that is what is produced when the science is correct but if you do not agree, you are entitled to argue that the consensus on the idea of gravity is wrong by trying you luck on the ten metre board in Rio.

Anyway, this is your nonsense:
As Eric Worrall has rightly noted, this was Roberts’s most telling point. Cox began his spiel with the usual weary arrogance we have come to expect of the climate establishment: the tired old line that the vast majority of the world’s top scientists all agree etc. To which Roberts replied: “I’m absolutely stunned that someone [Brian Cox] who is inspired by Richard Feynman, a fantastic scientist who believes in empirical evidence, is quoting Consensus.” Well, indeed. Cox’s entire case rested on his lazy and unscientific assumption that the case for man-made global warming is proven and that even to question it puts you on the maverick fringe. As Feyman could have told Cox, this is a quintessentially unscientific position: “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

Feynman also said "I'm smart enough to know I'm dumb". That doesn't apply to you, does it?

James, you should know something. You are dumb, at least as far as science is concerned. More than that you know, because it has been pointed out to you time and rime again, where you are dumb.  This next paragraph demonstrates the mendacity that you have used in your science denial career:
When Cox whipped out a graph marked Global Land Temperature Index apparently demonstrating a spectacular upward trend in global warming, the parti-pris Q & A audience whooped their approval. Why? How could they be sure that the chart was trustworthy? How could Cox, either, given that climate change is not his field and that he quite clearly isn’t abreast of the nuances of the climate debate? The reason that this gesture was underhand is that Cox provided no supporting information as to its provenance or its reliability. As Roberts was absolutely right to point out, there are many question marks over the Global Land Temperature index, whose raw data has been the subject of unexplained revisions by the politicised climate gatekeepers at institutions like NASA and which has been corrupted by the Urban Heat Island effect. Had he been forewarned, Roberts could easily have come up with a chart showing more accurate satellite data which would have refuted Cox’s chart. It was extremely dodgy – and quite against the spirit of ABC’s supposed obligations towards neutrality – that Q & A should have encouraged Cox to pull this stunt. But what’s even more dishonourable is that Cox, who as a reputable scientist ought to be above such knavish trickery, should have acceded to participating in it.

Just about everything you say here is nonsense. The revisions to the data record are explained (have your chums Spencer and Christy explained theirs yet?), the Urban Heat Island effect has been dealt with (and is part of the reason for the revisions, and while we're on it, have you any idea what's happened to Anthony Watts's magnum opus? Me neither.). Roberts got owned by Cox and you don't like it but are not grown up enough to admit it.

But your pathetic attempt at looking clever gets worse when it descends into ad nominee stew (I will grant that you admit this but in that Donald Trump way you have adopted here):
I’ve encountered this behaviour all too often myself from Cox’s pals – the ex-Royal-Society president, ex-Socialist-Worker salesman Sir Paul Nurse; the ‘comedian’ Robin Ince with whom Cox presents a radio show; etc – and it stinks. If, as they appear to imagine, the case for man-made global warming theory is such a slam dunk, well fine: just go ahead and demonstrate it, chaps, as proper scientists have done for centuries, through the medium of falsifiable evidence. I happen to think all three of the above are talentless, overrated, low-grade, lefty-activist tossers. But I’m sufficiently well versed in the rules of rhetoric to know that this is merely ad hom – a gratuitous playground cheapshot which though fun to toss into the mix contributes absolutely nothing to the scientific and political issues at stake. What disturbs me about Cox and his alarmist cronies – most of them heavily bigged up by the BBC, which treats them as unimpeachable authorities – is that they have become too grand to bother with the science any more and seek merely to belittle and marginalise their opponents. The worst example of this on the Q & A show was when Cox cynically and crassly sought to ridicule Malcolm Roberts by giving the impression that his arguments were so absurd as not to be worth debating. This ugly technique – the demagogue playing to the mob – is what Jo Nova calls Argument from Incredulity. Here’s what Cox said in response to Roberts’s – correct – suggestion that NASA’s data had been manipulated:
By who?    NASA?   The people the…  Hang on a minute.   No, no, see this is quite serious.    But can I just – just one thing. NASA, NASA…     The people that landed men on the moon?
Even more disgustingly Cox went on to suggest that Roberts probably didn’t believe in the moon landings either.
Actually, James, the Argument from Incredulity is one commonly deployed by denier, like yourself, and is not used here by Professor Cox. Cox did debate Roberts's ideas (I'm being generous using that word) by producing a sheath of data. It is Roberts who is incredulous, not believing climate change is the result of human activity because he looks out the window and can't believe it.  So if you can't get that right, what chance is there on the little matter of hard science.

And how you get to calling Roberts a moon landing denier, please explain because the chain of logic has one daisy in it.

There is one, fantastic, punching to come. Apparently, Professor Brian Cox doesn't understand basic scientific processes. You don't know how rich that is coming from the interpreter of interpretations himself. And using Jo Nova as an authority makes the audience who know about these things roll around in the aisles clutching their sides, wetting themselves with laughter. It really is pathetic and if I could muster a molecule of empathy I would let you have it but I can't. Why on earth should I? Your whole hatchet piece is not only deeply unpleasantly nasty from start to finish, but is also riddled with ideological pins designed to inflict a modicum of pain. You failed, totally and miserably.

You failed because your ideology doesn't allow you to examine these matters critically. It is like a flea trying to steer an elephant, a minor irritation that the elephant swats off its arse with its trunk and carries on regardless. There is no argument over the data or the conclusions, there are only fleas like Roberts, Monckton, Worrell, Watts and you, little Jimmy Delingpole, who try to steer the elephant because they think they have the power to do so. Those fleas sometimes have real power, sitting on the houses that government mighty countries, and the suicidal UK, abusing their power by harassing scientists who follow the scientific method even when they hear the squeaky flea voices, and who check and recheck their calculations and explain it all in the scientific literature so that other elephants can examine their work and, if necessary, change the direction of the herd, based on the available evidence.

Two hundred years of evidence that supports itself like the iron-work of the Eiffel Tower give scientists to confidence to have a consensus. This is not ideology or money or politics. It is science, that thing you proclaim expertise in but which merely demonstrates your complete ignorance.

If your article had been handed to me, I would have told you to take it home and feed it to your dog. Wait two days, collect the droppings and bring me those. They would be more worthwhile.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Politics is a dirty business

Watch this video.

Compare with the climate science denial arguments.

No wonder half of the UK is angry. (That includes me)

Monday, 9 May 2016

Arguing with deniers

The other week I wrote about why we should argue with deniers - because their anti-science beliefs have real world consequences (delaying climate change mitigation, failing to vaccinate children against easily preventable diseases, allowing the deaths of hundreds of thousands from HIV/AIDS because they are denied life saving treatment, and so on).  Letting the deniers know they are wrong and educating them to understand better is a whole different matter.

When I began writing sceptical articles on this blog, it was because I had long been interested in it.  And being in education myself it was something I encountered quite frequently.  When I began in education, I met the Moon landing conspiracy arguments often and luckily a lifetime spent reading and studying the Apollo programme enabled me to answer the argument.  I knew my stuff.  For example, the famous picture of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, was one being hawked around as evidence that the landing never took place.

A little research, a little mental modelling of the landing site, and it was clear what was portrayed in the reflection in the visor is neither a helicopter nor a floodlight.  It's the camera that was giving us the TV images that enabled the whole world to watch (assuming they had a TV set).

The key to arguing with the lunar landing deniers, then, was evidence.  Give them evidence and they either had to deny the evidence was real or find another bit of evidence to argue.  As each bit of evidence of a conspiracy was knocked down, the deniers rapidly lost the will to keep going.  It wasn't worth it then because they were on their own with no one to back them up.  In a one to one, face to face situation, turning a denier around was not easy but it was feasible.

In the anonymous world of the Internet, however, arguing with deniers is much harder.  For a start, an ad hoc gang of deniers will find a comment thread to join and the token realist is often on their own.  And one reason they are often on their own is because they have strayed onto denier home ground where deniers congregate to show their ignorance to one another and pat one another on the back for being so ignorant.  Not that they would agree that that is the case but there you go.

And the Internet allows them to find the links to the spurious evidence to support their ignorance and smugly shout "Ha ha, gotcha" when they think of something that you might not be able to answer.  And when you answer it, they move onto another point that they hope you can't answer.

The first time I entered the lions den that is WattsUpWithThat, I chose to pick on something I didn't really know about and ridicule Roy Spencer about it.  Not a good idea because he quickly corrected me and I just looked like an idiot, which is pretty much what I was.  I decided that I wouldn't argue with better informed deniers until I was better informed myself.  In far too many cases, that actually meant only thirty seconds research, such is the lack of quality in the average denier.  It wasn't too hard finding points that I could win against the rather dim James Dealing Pole and Anthony Watts.  It took a bit more before I felt confident to take on some more cunning deniers.

The downside of all this online argument is that time is taken to find out that an idiot is still an idiot, just thousands of miles away and fast asleep when I come up with my best stuff.  Because the denier is so entrenched in their denial, they won't respond to the brilliance of the argument with anything like an intellectual comment.  Oh, no.  They will have spent their time trying to come up with a fancy, witty comment that amounts (and often is) to "Yah, boo, sucks".  Those ones are beyond reach.

The upside is twofold.  Firstly there are those that can be won over.  They are less entrenched and willing to examine evidence, and have the intellectual skills to do so.  I don't mean they are any more intelligent, just that they have critical thinking skills that enable them to make sense of scientific arguments. 

Secondly, researching debating points has educated me to the point that I don't care who I argue with now.  I am not an expert by any means, but I do have enough learning in climate science to be able to point to the evidence.  And that's the big point - evidence.

The denial side of any scientific argument usually decays into a conspiracy argument, that the scientists are all in the pay of the politicians who want to feather their nests with grants, backhanders or whatever.  By sticking to the science, the denier ends up looking stupid to outsiders, and probably quite stupid to an educated person on the inside too.  And as those educated people tire of arguing with jellyfish, they drift off and perhaps they do start to realise the science is reliable.  And that the planet is getting warmer.

I was lucky.  I was brought up with no particular ideology.  My parents were not especially religious (if anything, my dad worshipped Arsenal football club and my mum Emmerdale Farm) nor political.  Indeed, they both loved laughing at politicians and clerics and passed that attitude on to me.  I suspect if I hadn't found so much to laugh at when I was younger, I might have been collecting my deserved Nobel this coming autumn.  But I did gain something.  I gained a healthy scepticism.  I gained a set of critical thinking skills that I think aren't too bad.  They seem to do the job.

One of the least satisfying aspects of arguing with deniers is the repetitive nature of their arguments.  I'd master those several years ago.  Isn't it about time they threw in the towel or they found new arguments?  Well, the latter isn't going to happen.  They only have the former left.

And to return to Buzz Aldrin.  He got fed up of being harried by Moon landing deniers, so he punched one.  I haven't reached that stage yet (but the facetious comments of Richard Tol have given me cause to face palm with a bit too much force for my own good).

Friday, 6 May 2016

Little Jimmy Delingpile and the Rapid Decline Of Denialism

It's been a while since this blog mentioned one of its favourite authors, and surely Nobel literature prize laureate this year (it can only be a matter of time), Little Jimmy Delingpile.

Little Jimmy Delingpile

Charles Atlas
A quick recap for new readers.  Little Jimmy, the man who makes Charles Atlas look like a wimp, is a long time climate science denialist given a platform at the Daily Torygraph (until he was offloaded), The Spectator and Breitbat News upon which to spout his interpretations of interpretations.  He also writes books which no one seems to stock aside from Amazon. 

This week he has utilised valuable ink and paper to write what can only be described as drivel.  His article is entitled The Slow Death Of Environmentalism (archived).  As ever, Delingpile fails to understand irony while writing yet another example of it.  Isn't it ironic that he writes this:
the decline [in people identifying as environmentalists in the USA] has been far more precipitous among Republicans (down to 27 per cent) than among Democrats (down to 56 per cent)...If you believe the greenies, the blame for this lies with an intransigent right so imprisoned by ideology that it stubbornly denies ‘the science’.
Well, Mr Delingpile, you are a right-winger and you stubbornly deny the science (no scare quotes needed) because, er, you are imprisoned by your ideology.

I used to think that  libertarianism might have something going for it.  And smaller government.  Until I had the chance to think about it and then it took only a nanosecond to realise that those things just don't work.  It's the political equivalent of having your cake and eating it.  I used to pay little attention to environmental causes until I thought about them too.  I want my new grandson growing up seeing a real elephant, a living breathing one, rather than a stuffed one in a glass case.  If humans did drive mammoths to extinction when there were a lot fewer of us to do so, our industrial killing machines are doing the same job with awful efficiency for the smaller African Elephas today.

Never let it be said that Jimmy Delingpile will waste an opportunity, like Heartland with the Unabomber, to equate environmentalists with terrorists or despotic regimes:
Like the Viet Minh or the Taleban, the environmental movement has become hugely skilled in the art of asymmetric warfare.
Heaven forbid that he should ignore the chance for hyperbole.  He could have reached for his Nuremburg Trials reference again, but that would be like repeating his greatest hits.

He goes on:
The number of true believers is much smaller than you’d think — but they’ve managed in recent years to punch massively above their weight by infiltrating all the key positions of influence and by terrorising those who disagree with them.
An analysis of Twitter exchanges suggests the true believers population is much bigger than Delingpile would have you believe. You know he wants you to believe that.  He also wants you to think that they terrorise people, rather than correcting them.  I can't remember too many true believers going on email fishing expeditions but that's old hat for deniers with power.  I can't remember hackers going after denialist websites but SkepticalScience has been hacked in the past.  And so was the server with the CRU emails.

Ah, those emails.  Delingpile takes great delight in having coined the term Climategate.  Perhaps Delingate might catch on. 

Challenge the ‘consensus’ — whether you’re a scientist like Willie Soon or even a cuddly TV presenter like David Bellamy or Johnny Ball — and these people will stop at nothing to try to destroy your career.

I think we can all work out that neither Bellamy nor Ball were A-list celebrities when they went denialist, and Willie Soon was pilloried for "forgetting" to mention where the cash that paid for his stationery came from.  And the "deliverables".

I quote these two paragraphs without comment:
The letter (sent privately, but leaked in the Guardian) was signed by no fewer than 13 members of the House of Lords, several of them scientists, who had held distinguished offices ranging from Astronomer Royal and president of the Royal Society to chairman of the Financial Services Authority. Any casual observer might naturally assume that such pillars of the establishment must have a point.
It’s only if you’re familiar with the territory that you realise how often the same names — Lords May, Rees, Stern and Deben; Sir Crispin Tickell; Sir Paul Nurse, et al — recur with tiresome regularity. Probably in their fields they were once rather good. But since then prestige has gone to their heads and they’ve turned into professional political activists brandishing a spurious environmental authority which is all too persuasive to people who don’t know better.
But they do give me the opportunity to show this video again, from the recurring "with tiresome regularity" Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate:

Enough said.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Why bother correcting the deniers? Because it matters.

Some years ago now, I read a book called The Ancient Economy by Moses Finley.  I read it because Mrs Catmando had tried to read it and had given up in frustration.  She had been told that the book contained a model of the ancient Roman economy and could not find anything that resembled a model.  So she passed it to me and asked me to try.  I couldn't find the model either.

What I did find was a description of class in ancient Roman society.  This was framed in the wider idea of an economy but it all seemed quaintly Marxist and made little effort to connect the classes in any modern idea of economic activity.  And there seemed to be a desperately lacking understanding of what actually makes economies tick: human greed and acquisitiveness. 

But Mrs Catmando's archaeology professor swore by the book, said it was a classic and would not hear a word said against it.  He was steeped in the ideas that the book really did describe an economic model whereas, I suspect, any economist would dismiss that thought instantly.  His beliefs had gone without challenge for decades but one of my wife's fellow students did challenge them and did get an admission that, perhaps, the model wasn't so much a model as a set of pretty unconnected chapters.  Finley, it must be pointed out, did not go beyond the qualitative.

Mose Finley may or may not have been a Marxist.  He did appear before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities and he did keep quiet.  It does not matter if were a Marxist.  What matters is that his ideas were not being examined critically by my wife's archaeology professor, especially in the light of changing economic ideas over the period of time since Finley's book first came out (1973).  Undoubtedly, Finley was an impressive scholar but, even to a biologist like myself, it was clear that he was not an economist.  My economic understanding has come from a reading, many years ago, of a few books on basic economics, the titles of which now escape me.

I mention this because it is an example of the echo chamber at work.  Finley might be right by the archaeology professor did not ever seem to have considered that what Finley was doing was not what he professed to have been doing.  Indeed, a quick survey of work on the ancient economy in support of Finley seems strangely bereft of actual economists.  It might be the dismal science, but we should give them a hearing.  After all, they are the experts, the ones who have spent their working lifetimes in the arcane lanes and alleys of their subject, finding ever deeper and profound discoveries and explanations.

The question that the professor should have asked was this: what do economists say that might add to or alter the ideas presented by an historian of the ancient world?

The crucial question for deniers

There are deniers in so many areas of science and history.  There are Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, climate science deniers, relativity deniers and, even, dinosaur deniers.  Having dipped a toe in many spurious debates that deniers have within their own communities, and having swum with the sharks in a few cases, there is one question I cannot recall being asked.

It is this:
what do the experts know that I don't?
 Yes, those experts in the field, the ones that have truly immersed themselves in the minutiae of a subject, have much to contribute and the accumulated years of knowledge and wisdom might just contain a nugget of information that could overturn the denier's unwarranted certainty.

Many years ago, I first encountered those that denied evolution.  I read the hippy dippy ramblings of Rupert Sheldrake and quickly dismissed it (I recently gave away my Sheldrakes, complete with marginal notes, to someone who thought he might have something worth listening to - I hate to disappoint that person but they really don't).  I also read Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Great Evolution Mystery, the most mysterious thing being that it got published at all.  The book appears wonderfully scientific.  It's just wrong from start to finish.

At the same time I was reading Stephen Jay Gould, John Maynard Smith, Colin Patterson amongst others.  What always struck me is the experts had so much evidence on their side and the deniers really had nothing.  Science is a jigsaw puzzle into which the pieces must be fitted as they are found.  If they don't fit, fundamental bits of the picture must either be modified or the piece thrown away.  If it cannot be found to fit, it isn't right.

So when deniers don't ask the question of why the experts believe that their science is true or at least as correct as we can make it at the moment, why don't they ask it?

I can hypothesise but I can't give a definitive answer.  There probably isn't one.  There are probably multiple answers.  The first is ideological.  Religious or political views can interrupt the intellectual journey and stall it at the starting line.  Many who deny evolution are creationists (I've come across almost none who deny evolution on scientific grounds alone, even when that is what they proclaim.  Stand up the Intelligent Design proponents, who, for all their hand waving for science, really aren't doing it for the science.) do so for religious reasons.  Many who deny environmental problems do so for political reasons. 

There is also personal incredulity.  How can humans be changing this enormous planet of ours?  Its so big and wide, there can't be any possibility that we have disturbed the balance of nature and ruined the thing.  This denial is also found in the political sphere as well.  Whereas once environmental concerns were the natural home of the conservative, they increasingly became a liberal matter. Caring for our home planet, caring for our fellow humans, caring for our fellow life forms, became something that the centre left espoused, so the knee jerk of the right was to oppose it.  Add in a little money from big business and, hey presto, a whole new area of denial.

If deniers don't want to like the experts, why don't they try to demonstrate the experts are wrong?

Well, they do but it is much harder to do unless you are an expert yourself.  Much easier to just make some stuff up instead.  And much, much easier just to claim that there is a gigantic conspiracy to suppress the real truth (ie the non-existent non-truth) that, for example, vaccines cause autism (they don't), carbon dioxide does not contribute to global warming (it does), the HIV virus doesn't cause AIDS (it does), dinosaurs never existed (they did). 

When deniers try to prove the experts wrong, they usually don't have full command of the facts, of the evidence, of the theories and their full implications.  Scientific mavericks are often reduced to just making stuff up to help their ideas along.  Non-existent morphic fields, for example.  Or they do spurious mathematical tricks that produce results they want but which are not scientifically or physically meaningful.  The now dead non-pause (or is it just pining for the fjords?).  Or they just outright lie and hope that no one will notice.  That's just about all of them.

If deniers are so concerned about the truth, why don't they listen when they are told the truth?

I have no idea.

So why correct them?

It matters because there are consequences to much of what deniers deny.  AIDS deniers have helped shape the policies that have led to thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary deaths over the last twenty years.  Climate change deniers are willing to see millions of people at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods as sea level rise takes them away.  Antivaxxers are willing to put their children at risk of preventable diseases, and to put those with compromised immune systems at risk of them too.  Shame on you for having had a kidney transplant through no fault of your own, they might as well say.

Since the scientific revolution four hundred years ago, science has produced an amazing accumulation of new knowledge from which deniers can pick and choose, as if it were an all you can eat buffet, denying the bits they don't much like. 

And sometimes the best they can do is to moan that they don't like being called deniers because that might make them sound like nutters, just like the Holocaust deniers.

I call them deniers because they are nutters, just like the Holocaust deniers (This is serious ad hom, is this the best that you can do? Ed.   Yes, Catmando)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Monckton's latest piece on the non-existent pause

Er, it doesn't exist.

The very warm February globally has brought an end to the endlessly boring claims of a pause that didn't exist.  At least, that's my conclusion from the silence of Lord Christopher Monckton who has posted pieces on the mathematical trickery he has been pursuing for the last few years.  Over the course of the last twelve months, he has posted no later than the 10th of the month.  Today, the 17th of March, and there is still precisely nothing.

The thoughts of Monckton now

Are we to believe that his eminence grease has nothing to say on the disappearance of his mathematical sleight of hand?  Or that nothing is to be said about the revision of the RSS data set?  RSS was the one that Monckton relied upon to deliver him his phoney flat line.  That's why the deniers went to Congress and told the world that the satellite data was the most reliable (it gave them what they wanted).  Now they can't do that.  And they can't use the adjustment argument either because it has been well publicised that all the data sets undergo adjustments.

So Monckton's response to the change at RSS and the high February temperature has been to retreat with his flunky to Monckton Towers and...  Your guess is as good as mine.

Lord Monckton, reacting to the news that February was jolly mild for the time of year, globally

Still, he is a fine specimen of scientific integrity, don't you think?  Well, don't you?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

DR Tim Ball denies pushing Velikovsky by, er, pushing Velikovsky

From the world's stupidest climate web site, WattsWrongWithThat comes Dr Tim Ball, credential exaggerator and world's worst actor.  Here's what Potholer54 makes of Ball, amongst others:

The other day, Ball wrote a misguided piece at WUWT that pushed Velikovsky, mostly as a martyr that the scientific elite threw to the lions, so to speak.  To defend himself against the accusation that he supports Velikovsky's crackpot ideas, Ball does the obvious.  At least the obvious to a denier and conspiracy fruitcake like Ball.  He says he doesn't support him then gives the reasons why he does.  That works - not.  If you don't believe me, here's the full thing.  My edited highlights follow.

The reaction to my recent reference to Immanuel Velikovsky was knee-jerk, ill-informed, and a classic example of scientific elitism. I suspect that like so many such reactions they are by people who read or know little about the events and issues involved.
Probably not, Tim.  Not here, anyway.  I've read some of Velikovsky's dross and I've read many critiques of it.  I know which side science will fall on every time, because it is so obvious which side scientific evidence is on.  Barely knee jerk but astonishment that anyone these days takes Velikovsky seriously and claims to have some expertise in science.

I was admonished for using him as a poor example because he represented “pseudo-science”. Who and how do you determine that someone or their work is pseudo-science? In this case, it is simply the endless repetition of half-truths because Velikovsky’s education and scientific affiliations don’t support the claim.
As the recent example of Ben Carson, superlative surgeon and total dingbat creationist show, you can be a genius at one thing and so, so, so wrong on something else.  And, as Orac explains often, most physicians are not scientists.  They are often not even scientifically trained in the same sense that, say, a physicist or a climate scientist are.  This is not to do down many doctors, just to point out that they are not trained as scientists even though we like to think they are.

There is little doubt that the major reason for the charge of pseudo-science was his interest in and use of ancient records. The biggest sin of all was use of the Bible while trying to determine similar descriptions of physical events across different cultural references.
No, his biggest sin was to be so uncritical about those ancient records.  He cherry picked and did not use the available evidence when it contradicted his thesis.  To have ignored references to Venus that predated the events Velikovsky said led to the creation of Venus out of Jupiter shows precisely what sort of pseud we are dealing with here.  Velikovsky, I am told often, is a great scholar.  He is very sloppy.

As a result of Velikovsky’s research, done with thoroughness and precision, he discovered anomalies that didn’t fit the prevailing sequence of events.
Oh, boy.  It wasn't done with thoroughness and precision.  He seems to have had a version he set out to prove correct.  There is a hint that there was a religious aspect to this but I am not convinced by that argument.  Whatever, confusing hydrocarbons and carbohydrates is childish stuff.

This reconstruction and comparison of historical data to analyze natural events was no different than earlier examples. The use of older star tables compared with the precise observations of Tycho Brahe were used by Johannes Kepler to confirm the Copernican heliocentric system.
I would be ashamed to have written this passage because even Ball must have known how wrong it was.  Brahe and Kepler used the best available observations of the planets and stars - measurements - not stories.  If Ball thinks the Bible is a record of scientific observations then... Oh, wait.  He probably does.

A colleague and I approached the President of our University with a plan to hold a conference on the ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky. He said he would not allow anything on campus associated with that “charlatan.” The President, Harry Duckworth was a physicist and Velikovsky committed the cardinal sin of challenging prevailing scientific views. We knew through questioning that Duckworth knew little about Velikovsky or his science. He simply repeated the gossip without question. The objective of our proposed conference was to show that it didn’t matter whether Velikovsky was right or wrong.
So there was a deeper, antiscientific agenda, hey, Tim?  Of course it matters if Velikovsky is right or wrong and you are hardly going to get a physicist to back down when the immutable laws of physics demonstrate with extreme clarity why Velikovsky is wrong.  You have to pity the poor old scientists who had to explain again and again just why Velikovsky could not be right and to get your own colleagues to come up to you and suggest that you just undermine all that scientific understanding by showing it doesn't matter.  I know Tim is writing this rubbish to his agenda, but he wants the rest of humanity to take him seriously, he needs to be a little more critical of his own thoughts.  They stand no scrutiny whatsoever.

Velikovsky’s treatment holds many lessons for today’s debate over climate change. The scientific communities condemnation of him was the same as today’s claim by AGW proponents that the science is settled.
I agree with the first half of the second sentence - scientists at the time behaved badly.  I do not agree with the sentiment in the second half.

Here is a synopsis of issues that provide context to the threat of Velikovsky to the establishment.
• He was trained in medicine, not specifically in geology or astronomy.
See Orac, ad nauseam.
• This meant he was not indoctrinated by formal education in specialized academic science – the bastions of dogmatism and intellectual tunnel vision.
This also meant he had little understanding of the subtleties of the subject.  It did not mean he was lacking dogmatism and tunnel vision.  And this is at the time when Plate Tectonics was being developed.
• He claimed that historical records were of actual events. They were similar to proxy data in climate, which suffer the same disdain from self-professed ‘hard’ climate scientists.
Well, this is a distinct problem.  Some records are more reliable than others and those that support one another, reporting the same event for example, are more useful still.  When one claims the Earth stood still, either Klaatu or magic did it because there is an enormous problem with the physics of it, so it isn't a surprise that the physicists were sniffy about Velikovsky.  I would be.  And not being a physicist, he didn't have to worry about the actual physics of this.
• His ideas did not conform to established astronomical views on planetary motion. For example, he correctly anticipated the retrograde rotation of Venus.
And they still don't, even though he lucked onto the retrograde rotation of Venus.  But a lucky prediction doesn't make you an expert.  Not everything he predicted turned out correct and not everything had anything like reliable evidence to support the prediction.
• His work was interdisciplinary at a time of specialization. Worse, it blended science with the humanities and the social sciences. As one person explained, Dr. Velikovsky’s work crosses so many of the jurisdictional boundaries of learning that few experts could check it against their own competence.”
Not sure who the person was but being wrong in several disciplines is clearly something to be celebrated according to Tim Ball.  In the real world, wrong in humanities is still wrong.
• Many of Velikovsky’s claims proved correct including the higher temperature for Venus; the radio waves from Jupiter; and the nine advanced claims he made in writing at the request of the New York Times before the moon landing, all of which were confirmed by the evidence.
And many haven't, but there you go.  Following the link in this does not take you to the list, just one of them, about water being found on the Moon.  So what, I hear you cry.  Indeed.

Velikovsky's first book, World's In Collision, was initially published by MacMillan but a concerted effort by scientists ensured that they dropped the hot potato and left it for someone else to pick up.

Ball again:
 Carl Sagan led the open assault on Velikovsky with the arrogant and scientifically elitist title book “Scientist’s Confront Velikovsky, which implies that Velikovsky is not a scientist.
I have a copy of the book. It is slim, accessible and fully referenced.  The biggest section is Sagan's and it is also one with a set of calculations that demonstrate the foolishness of Velikovsky.  As for the elitist title, what else could they have called it since it was a clear indication of what the contents were, scientifically based refutations.   And as for Velikovsky not being a scientist - that much is obvious from reading his own writings.
Carl Sagan (left) with Immanuel Velikovsky (right)

Sagan is a bit of a pariah for deniers.  He opposed nuclear weapons and promoted the greenhouse effect, if you like, and he was a phenomenally good science communicator, for which he met much envy.  But the biggest envy comes from deniers and Ball, true to form, denies bit time:
His claims about the temperature and role of CO2 on Venus was wrong. His claim that CO2 is causing global warming was wrong, yet like all scientific elitists he blindly ignores the facts. 
 There we have it: Tim Ball thinks he's one of the scientific elite because he blindly ignores the facts.  Case closed.

Well, it should be.  For some unknown reason, when Tim Ball has a kick at the late Stephen Jay Gould, he omits the fact that Gould was a Marxist and therefore must have let his leftist ideologies seep into his science (I am not sure that Ball wouldn't be right here, but it is hard to disentangle Gould's politics of revolution from the emerging ideas of catastrophism that did become somewhat mainstream in the seventies and eighties).

Ball should be more alert to the fact that science does take on board odd ideas. Witness Alvarez's comet collision wiping out the dinosaurs idea, something that, according to Ball, would have been impossible for the mainstream science elite to accept, but accept it they did, and remarkably quickly.  Within ten years, I was reading of fanciful ideas of periodic extinctions and a companion star to the Sun that churned up the Oort cloud every 25 million years or so.  Ideas that might seem extreme are rapidly absorbed into scientific mainstream when and only when they yield insights and gain the necessary evidence.  Velikovsky did not achieve this because there were perfectly adequate explanations for the fanciful ideas he put forward, and there was counter evidence readily available that said even his best wasn't good enough.  Astronomical records of Venus predate Velikovsky's suggested origin.

Anthony Watts suggests we can learn something from the Velikovsky affair.  Perhaps he can see what the rest of the world learnt a long time ago.  In case he reads this (and I expect he doesn't), the message is that blokes sitting in armchairs and searching the Internet (or in Velikovsky's case, sitting in a library for several years) and coming up with a world changing theory are highly unlikely to be right but not for the reasons that Watts and Ball think.  It's because they don't have their ideas shot down before the get the chance to let the world know how much of a genius they are.  Science, as I have said before, it like a puzzle and all the bits needs to fit together to work properly.  You can't just invent something to make your explanation work.  There is no X that makes it happen.  Einstein got caught out with his cosmological constant.

Let me leave one little learning moment to Stephen Jay Gould:
The Velikovsky affair raises what is perhaps the most disturbing question about the public impact of science. How is a layman to judge rival claims of supposed experts? Any person with a gift for words can spin a persuasive argument about any subject not in the domain of a reader's personal expertise. Even von Daniken sounds good if you just read Chariots of the Gods. I am in no position to judge the historical argument of Worlds in Collision. I know little of celestial mechanics and even less about the history of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (although I have heard experts howl about Velikovsky's unorthodox chronology). I do not wish to assume that the nonprofessional must be wrong. Yet when I see how poorly Velikovsky uses the data I am familiar with, then I must entertain doubts about his handling of material unfamiliar to me. But what it is a person who knows neither astronomy, Egyptology, nor geology to do—especially when faced with a hypothesis so intrinsically exciting and a tendency, shared, I suspect, by all of us, to root for the underdog?
The Tim Ball Velikovsky affair illustrates a problem with deniers too.  How thin skinned they are?  I begin to wonder if they were all rather spoiled as children, that they learned to cry when something went wrong in order to get what they wanted.  More ice cream, Tim?  Now please stop crying.

But all deniers seem to be like it.  Monckton threatens writs.  Watts snips comments, then makes cowardly comments behind that shield of impenetrability.  The commentariat at WUWT bay like hounds at a dog fight.  But they whimper when shown up to be the fools they truly are.  When Tim Ball was called out as supporting Velikovsky, he could have just ignored it, or written that Velikovsky was a nutcase with no supporting evidence.  But he didn't.  He showed his true colours and supported not just Velikovsky but his ideas.

Further reading:
If you want to see what caused the fuss and see how wrong it is, here is Velikovsky's Worlds In Collision (pdf)
You can buy the book Scientists Confront Velikovsky on
Sou has her own take on Tim Ball's nonsense

 Watch Carl Sagan deal with Velikovsky in Cosmos (if you're reading, Tim, watch all the way to the end - you'll learn something):