Climate change – is the ‘missing science’ really missing?

The now infamous skeptic Professor Ian Plimer  launched his seventh book last week, titled “Heaven and Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science“. Apparently Plimer, a Professor of Mining and Geology from the University of Adelaide is aiming to ‘refute every scientific argument that humans are responsible for global warming’. Remember that this is the same Professor who believes that “… the Great Barrier Reef will benefit from rising seas, that there is no correlation between carbon dioxide levels and temperature, that only 0.1 % of carbon dioxide emissions are due to human activities, and that 96% of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapour.”

Professor Plimer said his book would “knock out every single argument we hear about climate change”, to prove that global warming is a cycle of the Earth.

“It’s got nothing to do with the atmosphere, it’s about what happens in the galaxy.

“You’ve got to look at the whole solar system and, most importantly, we look back in time.

“There’s a lot of talk out there that there isn’t any science that supports my view, but I have 2111 scientific references in this book.”

Following the booklaunch, the Australian newspaper published an entertaining read titled ‘Climate sceptics ready to storm heaven with earth’s geological history‘, detailing the plight of Dr Barry Brook, who as the head of Adelaide University’s Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to academic debate (apparently Dr Brook is ill-fated enough to share a hallway just metres away from the good Professor Plimer)

Defending climatologists and thousands of other scientists, Barry Brook, who heads Adelaide University’s Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability, poured cold water on Professor Plimer’s book and said his colleague had only used “selective evidence” when quoting more than 200 scientists and from peer-reviewed papers.

Professor Plimer’s “stated view of climate science is that a vast number of extremely well respected scientists and a whole range of specialist disciplines have fallen prey to delusional self-interest and become nothing more than unthinking ideologues”, he said.

“Plausible to conspiracy theorists, perhaps, but hardly a sane world view, and insulting to all those genuinely committed to real science.”

Is the ‘missing science’ really missing? Over at Brave New Climate, Professor Brook systematically dismantles Plimer’s arguments:

Ian Plimer’s book is a case study in how not to be objective. Decide on your position from the outset, and then seek out all the facts that apparently support your case, and discard or ignore all of those that contravene it. He quotes a couple of thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers when mounting specific arguments. What Ian doesn’t say is that the vast majority of these authors have considered the totality of evidence on the topic of human-induced global warming and conclude that it is real and a problem. Some researchers have show that the Earth has been hotter before, and that more CO2 has been present in the atmosphere in past ages. Yes, quite — this is an entirely uncontroversial viewpoint. What is relevant now is the rate of climate change, the specific causes, and its impact on modern civilisation that is dependent, for agricultural and societal security, a relatively stable climate. Ian pushes mainstream science far out of context, again and again.

Perhaps most telling is the following ABC radio interview with Kurt Lambeck, Professor of Geophysics at Australian National University, and the President of the Australian Academy of Science. Lambeck was extensively cited by Plimer in one of the chapters of “Heaven and Earth, Global Warming”, and he doesn’t appear to be very happy at how Plimer has interpreted his work:


Seems like Plimer has adopted the Bob Carter obfuscation approach to climate skepticism. I’m surprised that his words carry so much weight, and echo Lambeck’s concern that “Heaven and Earth, Global Warming” has ‘… the potential to derail any political commitment to action on climate change in Australia’.

Microdocs and podcasts

ANU environmental podcast
Australian National University are podcasting a series of lectures and seminars on the environment, and are covering some hard hitting topics, ranging from policy and economy to oceanography (several of which I might not entirely agree with) . Below are three of the best – see the full listing here.

The microdoc project: ‘short attention span science videos’
Steve Palumbi and colleagues at Stanford University have produced an exceptional collection of microdocs (2-3 minute documentaries on a single topic), focused around a central theme of “Sustainability on Coral Reefs”. To paraphrase Rick McPherson, microdocs ‘take on macro ocean issues’, and are a great way to get key messages on ecological sustainability and coral reefs across to the media, general public and schools. The Stanford microdocs website has a full listing of all microdocs, and below are some of the highlights:

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Declining calcification on the Great Barrier Reef – Radio Interview

Glen De’ath and Katherina Fabricius, two co-authors from the recent science paper on the decline in coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef were interviewed by Australian ABC radio this afternoon. Listen online below, or read on after the jump for a transcript.


update: fixed the link to the correct interview.
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From the climatic sidelines: Stephen Schneider (Stanford University, IPCC) on the global warming debate

Effective science is often dogged by the antics of skeptics who look out the window and say, “look the temperature didn’t go up this year yet CO2 did – I rest my argument, enhanced greenhouse driven global change is not occurring”. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist from Stanford University discusses this issue and more in a response to Don Aitkin (the political scientist and author of ‘Good science isn’t about consensus”):

“Such contrarians ascribe to the false god of falsification, that is, a critic finding one or even several lines of argument contrary to mainstream consensus who then claims they have falsified the conventional conclusion. That’s how simple science used to be done. For example, if you have a liquid in a test tube, and you want to know if it’s an acid or alkaline, one piece of litmus paper can falsify a wrong preliminary hypothesis. But in complex system science, like tobacco and cancer, or greenhouse gas build-ups and climate change, hundreds and even thousands of studies are needed to build a consensus. A few dozen exceptions do not remotely falsify the vast preponderance of accumulated evidence. System science is based on preponderance of all the evidence, not on a few exceptions.”


Click above for the full audio of Schneider’s response, or read the full transcript over at the ABC (link)

Coral in Crisis – Science Friday interview with Ken Caldeira

Below is a great interview by Science Friday of my colleague, Dr Ken Caldeira on the topic of ocean acidification of the worlds coral reefs (as a co-author on the recent science paper, Ken clearly echoes my sentiments on this issue) – click below to listen.

The world’s coral reefs are in great danger, threatened by climate change and rising carbon dioxide levels. In an article published in the journal Science, researchers provide provide three different scenarios for the fate of reef-building corals worldwide as they face higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the related ocean acidification that slows coral calcification, the process needed for a reef to grow. Increasing CO2 levels have the potential to greatly shift the chemistry of ocean waters, threatening the existence of most coral species.

The fragile corals also face a phenomenon known as ‘bleaching,’ caused by rising temperatures, and damage from overfishing, pollution, and oil and gas exploration. We’ll hear about the forecast for the future of the world’s coral”


ABC Scienceshow on Cryptochromes – The biggest sex event on earth

I was interviewed recently by Robyn Williams for ABC’s “Science show” on the moonlight mass spawning of corals on the GBR I posted here earlier this month (“Keylight found to moonlight romance“). Click below to listen to the interview, read the transcript here or download the podcast.



“There are 400 species of corals and hundreds of invertebrates on the Great Barrier Reef. Many spawn in mass over a couple of nights after the full moon in October or November. So how do they all know to do it together? It seems that corals can detect moonlight. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg explains how a class of proteins has been discovered which tune circadian rhythms. They are produced by a particular gene. So despite the faintness of moonlight, organisms can detect it and time their spawning to maximise the chance of reproduction.

When the spawning happens, the sea is clouded with eggs and sperm. Mass spawning is a strategy to lessen the impact of predators. It may be the biggest sex event on earth. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg speculates on the origin of this mechanism.”

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Peter Ridd on Triple J Radio

I was interviewed recently on Triple J radio (an Australian nation-wide radio station) for a current affairs program called “Hack” along with Peter Ridd to discuss the “Great Barrier Reef Swindle” (as I have blogged here before).


Please feel free to leave your comments below – download the entire Hack episode at Triple J, or the edited interview (as above) here at Climate Shifts