Same old Bolt, same old story.

wilson-boltUpdate: Andrew is at it again.  Either he doesn’t understand the science or he is wilfully distorting the information surrounding the impact of climate change on coral reefs.

See also this posting and this one on huge impacts of exceptionally warm water in Western Australia on coral reefs.

Update: this piece was first published back on Feb 10th, 2009 – I thought it would be worth bringing up to the top to highlight Bolt’s ongoing war against science.

After last nights airing of the Australian Story (click here if you missed the epsiode), the columnist Andrew Bolt has decided to play the wounded soldier, accusing ABC Australian Story of bias.  Like me, you might find this a little amusing coming from someone who spends most of his time spinning the truth on all number of issues at the expense of his unable-to-respond victims.  Apart from failing to tell you that the ABC went to great lengths to put up the full video of our exchange (which is up on their website here, and the fact that he got the last word), he continues to accuse the ABC of bias and scientists like me of being eco-alarmists.  In a very tiresome way he has trotted out the same old accusations despite the fact that he has been corrected endlessly.  So much for his adherence to the truth!

Anyway, here we go again:

Accusation 1.  “In 1999, Ove warned that the Great Barrier Reef was under pressure from global warming, and much of it had turned white. In fact, he later admitted the reef had made a “surprising” recovery.”

Firstly, Andrew has the year wrong – I think he meant 1998.  In 1998, 60% of the Great Barrier Reef bleached, and about 5-10% of the reef died. These are not my figures, but figures from the surveys done by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. All published in peer review journals rather than newspapers.  Secondly, it is true we as a scientific community were very concerned – rightfully so given similar events happened in the Western Indian Ocean in 1998, which resulted in 46% of coral reefs being destroyed.  One third of those coral reefs destroyed remain missing in action, and have failed to recover 10 years after the event.   Third, in all of Andrew’s comments so far, it is apparent that he fails to realise that we were talking about the risk of particular events happening.  As waters heat and corals bleached, there is the increased risk of reefs like the Great Barrier Reef being severely damaged.  I believe that it would be remiss of scientists not to communicate the concern about this increased risk – I challenge anyone who thinks that this is an alarmist strategy.

As for my comment about a “surprising recovery” – like many reef scientists, I was overjoyed to see that the Great Barrier Reef had fared better than the Western Indian Ocean. The fact that the risk had increased sharply but we got away with only 5-10% of the reefs being damaged was good to see.  Despite the small percentage though, 5-10% of reefs represents about 4,000 square kilometres of coral reef being destroyed.  That is, even though it wasn’t as bad as the catastrophe in the Western Indian Ocean, it was still a highly significant event.

Accusation 2. “In 2006, he warned high temperatures meant “between 30 and 40 per cent of coral on Queensland’s great Barrier Reef could die within a month”. In fact, he later admitted this bleaching had “a minimal impact”.

I stand by the statement that coral bleaching is a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef – to date we have gotten off lightly compared to other areas around the world. Let’s examine what actually happened in 2006.  Early in that year, we saw an unusual and rapid warming of the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the risk of a major bleaching event escalated as temperatures climbed. Leading scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were saying exactly what I was saying. Both US experts at NOAA and NASA came out with similar statements.  While the northern Great Barrier Reef looked like it might be damaged, the risk dissipated as summer progressed.  As it turned out, however, the hot water remained in the southern Great Barrier Reef and killed 30-40% of corals in that region. Again, the outcome was not trivial but it wasn’t as bad as the sorts of catastrophes we had seen in other reef regions around the world, such as the Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions.

Accusation 3. “In 2007, he warned that temperature changes of the kind caused by global warming were again bleaching the reef. In fact, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in December said there had been no big damage to the reef caused by climate change in the four years since its last report, and veteran diver Ben Cropp said that in 50 years he’d seen none at all.”

Putting Andrew unsubstantiated quotes aside, there are some huge inaccuracies and problems in this missive.  Firstly, Andrew’s claim that the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network held this position has been disputed by one of the key scientists from the network.  Secondly, referring to the opinion of a veteran spearfisherman is fine, but runs counter to the objective analysis of the evidence on this issue. I have asked Andrew to read the paper by John Bruno and Liz Selig (both leading international coral reef scientists) who have examined 6000 separate studies done over the last 40 years, and have found evidence that coral reefs both on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Western Pacific deteriorating at the rate of 1-2% per year.  The challenge to Andrew is to show why this analysis of 6000 separate studies is wrong and why he and a few unpublished ‘experts’ are right – the paper is free online for anyone to read.

Afterall, in his own words Andrew admits:

“I am not a scientist, and cannot have an informed opinion on your research.”

Then, what are you really saying?

ExxonMobil still funding climate change sceptics


Not that this should come as a huge surprise to anyone really (including the Heartland Institute, Jennifer Marohasy, the Institute for Public Affairs or anyone else branding themselves as a ‘liberal think-tank’ or ‘policy institute’) – Exxon is still funding climate change doublespeak. I was listening to an interview on local radio the other morning about research conducted by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.  Apparently their director, Bob Ward, approached  Exxon in 2006, concerned about the companies ongoing and considerable financial support of climate skeptic groups (such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who ran a series of campaigns under the slogan ‘Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution, we call it life’). Despite reports that Exxon have cut funding for the majority of groups, Ward argues that Exxon have reneged on their main promise:

MMA ALBERICI: How many groups and what are the kinds of figures we are talking about as far as sums of money?

BOB WARD: Several hundred thousand dollars a year. Two of the main organisations are the Heritage Foundation and something called the Atlas Economic Foundation. Now the reason I single out them is that they have been sponsors of a recent conference of so-called sceptics took place in Washington and that is mostly a gathering of lobbyists and other people who reject the evidence on climate change.

The interview makes for compelling listening – Ward makes a reasoned argument on how Exxon’s obfuscation can actually influence policy makers in Washington.


These organisations are not informing public debate on climate change, they are trying to mislead people and frankly we have seen these sorts of tactics before, for instance in the case of the tobacco industry who for many, many years funded campaigns and misinformation about the adverse affects of their products.

This seems to me to be a similar situation in which a commercial company is funding misinformation campaigns because there is abundant evidence that their products are having an adverse effect.

How common is dishonesty and misconduct in science?

In the media recently was a revealling story on ‘dubious’ practices in research, describing how the well-known science publisher Elsevier had published a series of  ‘fake’ journals that were dedicated entirely to publishing results from drug company research (such as the ‘Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, dedicated to Merck). On similair lines, a classic paper came out a few years ago showing  that ~1% of papers submitted to  The Journal of Cell Biology had digital images that had been ‘improperly manipulated’ prior to publication. Combine with this with the now infamous case of the ‘fake’ human stem cell lines from the Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. and it does little to re-assure the public that scientists are keeping science ‘honest’.

To find out how common these habits really are, a recent publication in the journal PLoS ONE attempted to exam the proportion of scientists who  fabricate and falsify research. The results, based upon a meta-analysis of anonymous surveys from scientists from many disciplines, are surprising to say the least. An average of 1.97% of scientists admit to have fabricated, falsified or modified their results on at least one occasion, and upto 33.7% admitted to other ‘questionable’ research practices.

Intriguingly, when scientists were asked about their colleagues, the numbers increased dramatically – upto 14.2% for falsification, and upto 72% for other ‘questionable’ research practices. What seems slightly more alarming is that misconduct was apparently reported more frequently by medical & pharmacological researchers than other fields!Reassured yet? The article concludes with the following

‘Considering that these surveys ask sensitive questions and have other limitations, it appears likely that this is a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of scientific misconduct,’

‘It is likely that, if on average 2% of scientists admit to have falsified research at least once and up to 34% admit other questionable research practices, the actual frequencies of misconduct could be higher than this.'”

Click here to read the article in full at PloS ONE.

The final word on the Plimer debacle

My friend Mary Stafford-Smith sent me this article from The Australian newspaper last week. Dr Michael Ashley (Professor of astrophysics at the University of NSW) seems to have the final word in this debate!

It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates. It is comparable to a biologist claiming that plants obtain energy from magnetism rather than photosynthesis.

Plimer has done an enormous disservice to science, and the dedicated scientists who are trying to understand climate and the influence of humans, by publishing this book. It is not “merely” atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics. Plimer’s book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken.

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’.

CO2 non-science journalism is not doing the World a favour

Remember the last time you tried to reason with someone who constantly took your words out of context in an attempt to argue an opposite futile point? If that left you smiling politely while shaking your head, you probably felt like me after reading the article “Coral Reefs and Climate Change: Unproved Assumptions” by the Idso family posted on their website “CO2 Science” at the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The article is another sad addition to their more than 500 un-reviewed pieces – all with the obvious agenda of making their readers believe that climate change science is nothing but alarmist propaganda.

In their latest anti-science scribble (Vol 12, No 3) the Idso’s attempt to build the case that “it is premature to suggest that widespread reef collapse is a certain consequence of ongoing bleaching” and that “nature is far more resilient [to climate change] than many people give it credit for..”  All of their quotes are from a recent paper by a group of young and excellent Australian marine biologists, Maynard, Baird and Pratchett published in Coral Reefs (27:745-749). Contrary to the Idso’s claims, Maynard et al.’s paper does not question that climate change is a threat to coral reefs.  The purpose of Maynard et al.’s paper is to provoke debate around some specific assumptions of thermal thresholds and coral reef’s adaptability to climate change and the functional link between reef degradation and fisheries.

Rest assured, Maynard et al. will get the debate they have provoked within the scientific community. Critiques and responses are part of the quality control system of the scientific process and add to the foundation on which our knowledge system is built across disciplines from physics and engineering to medicine. However, by running with a few bits of quotes, stitched together in a fabricated “they say” story, the Idso’s are not doing their readers any favours. Instead, the Idso’s demonstrate two points quite clearly: (1) they have very limited understanding of the science, and (2) their agenda is to write journalism that systematically attempts to discredit the best available climate-change science.

After reading a number of their smear campaigns, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change takes shape of a law firm defending a client’s case (wonder who they could be?) that is up against an overwhelming amount of opposing evidence. Like rookies, they fumble in their exhibits folder, hoping to win the jury over by causing confusion. The danger of their practise is that they generate disinformation about climate change in a time when the public, the media and governments are in urgent need of good information.

Here’s an analogy that adds perspective. Although most addicted smokers don’t like to hear that smoking is unhealthy, confusing them about the medical recommendations based on decades of rigorous science is a crime. With good information, people can make informed choices. Similarly, keeping the media and the public confused about the seriousness of climate change by producing demagogic journalism – has the effect of delaying critical action on an issue that needs immediate action to minimise damage in the future.

According to “The Science and Public Policy Insitute”, the future of reefs couldn’t look any better

From the organization that brought you:

  • “35 Inconvenient Truths: The errors in Al Gore’s movie”
  • “Proved -There is no climate crisis”
  • “Greenhouse Warming? What Greenhouse Warming?”

comes another ‘bona fide’ report ( “CO2, Global Warming and Coral Reefs: Prospects for the Future“)  aimed at debunking the widely respected view among the scientific community that increases in temperature and atmospheric CO2 are detrimental to the future of coral reefs. In fact this report by the Science and Public Policy Institute of Washington, argues that these ‘twin evils’ actually have positive effects on coral reefs worldwide promoting growth and calcification (link). While this non peer-reviewed report claims to be based on sound science, with close to 200 references (many of which are from leading experts in the coral reefs), it is the misinterpretation of these research articles that makes this report a sure standout among climate skeptic pieces to date.

Reading through this report may make you want to pull out a red pen and scribble all over what seems reads like a misinformed undergraduate essay. The key point claiming that there is no simple linkage between high temperatures and coral bleaching may be a far reach from the evidence that shows a hot prolonged summer with temperatures above the monthly maxima will guarantee coral bleaching.

Throughout the report, the authors use ‘snippets’ from papers to attempt to justify their hypotheses. For example, discussing  the effects of thermal acclimation in reducing bleaching severity and mechanisms for adaptation (such as Middlebrook et al [2008]) is out of context, and somewhat akin to saying you can milk a cake from a cow, without consideration of the steps in between.

The report states that ‘real-world’ observations paired with the sound science reviewed in the report ‘refute the claims of climate alarmists’ through the following findings:

“A particularly ingenious way by which almost any adaptive response to any type of environmental stress may be enhanced in the face of the occurrence of that stress would be to replace the zooxanthellae expelled by the coral host during a stress-induced bleaching episode by one or more varieties of zooxanthellae that are more tolerant of the stress that caused the bleaching”

“Rising sea levels may actually have a positive effect on reefs, permitting increased coral growth in areas that have already reached the upward limit imposed by current sea level”.

“Theoretical predictions indicate that coral calcification rates should decline as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations by as much as 40% by 2100. However, real-world observations indicate that elevated CO2 and elevated temperatures are having just the opposite effect.”

While there is hope that corals will adapt to a changing environment, the predicted rate of temperature and atmospheric CO2 change is unprecedented, higher than anything seen in the last 720,000 years during which coral reef ecosystems evolved.

These predictions, paired with the knowledge of the sensitiveness of coral reef ecosystems to change, encourage scientists to be prudent when advocating the resilience of coral reefs. Given the funding history of the institute, and their pseudoscientific interpretations of previous publications, a report like this isn’t exactly surprising. Whilst a report like this may be fodder for the likes of climate skeptics around the world, it takes on a far more serious note when it is aimed at ‘educating’ policy makers in government, whom without proper consultations with established scientists, just might take this report seriously. The irony is, this is a frightening possibility.

Harbor seal debunks AGW myth

A harbor seal, presumably from the north Atlantic, showed up in Bermuda this week and effectively debunked the global conspiracy known as AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming).  William Weaver of the group Americans for Climate Truth said in a statement “scientists have reported that thousands of species were moving away from the equator, but this sighting is proof that animals are now moving towards the equator to escape the current global cooling“.  Weaver added, “this discovery overturns that IPCC “report” and the thousands of “scientific studies” that formerly supported the AGW hypothesis”.

Joel Swathmore of Save The Humans, issued a press release stating “this news comes on top of the fact that it got really freaking cold in my town a few weeks ago.  Both pieces of evidence clearly indicate we are heading into an ice age.  Saint Gore was wrong – the big worry now is how to keep the earth from freezing over. ”

Update (07/01/08): it appears that Michael Duvinak over at the Skeptics Global Warming blog doesn’t have much of a sense of humour… J. Roff

Update II (07/01/08):  OK, if it isn’t obvious, THIS IS A JOKE (although the seal story is real).  But I do think sarcasm is one way we can begin to point out the foolishness of some of the skeptic arguments.  And it isn’t uncommon to see believers of AGW make similarly dopey arguments, essentially confusing weather with climate.  “dude, what about that heat wave – must be global warming!”