NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Plimer’s Climatology 101

PLIMER’S CLIMATOLOGY 101

Ian Plimer’s ‘Heaven+Earth’  is a huge book for one review if the claims it makes are to be discussed in any detail. Consequentially, I have opted for a series of short articles on it and the related issue of climate change.

Ian Plimer

Heaven+Earth

ConnorCourt, Ballan, Vic.  2009 503pp, $39.95

Abbreviations and acronyms used below

AGW Anthropogenic global warming
CC Climate change
CF2Cl2 dichlorofluoromethane or Freon
CFC Chlorofluorocarbon
CH4 Methane
CO2 Carbon dioxide
GHG Greenhouse gas
H20 Water
H2S Hydrogen sulfide
IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
N2O Nitrous oxide
O3 Ozone
YEC Young Earth Creationist

 

About the most crucial distinction we can make as cognitive creatures is between appearance and reality, between how things seem and how they really are, between subjectivity and objectivity. We learn, often the hard way, that our impressions and cognitions are sometimes biased, truncated, or in the worst case simply missing. We reach what we assume is the bottom of a stairway, stepping confidently out onto the floor, only to find ourselves plunging yet another step down. We’re sure Congress will pass the (first) 700 billion dollar bailout bill, only to discover in the closing minutes that Republican constituencies will have none of it.  For a century we blithely go about our energy consuming, carbon-emitting ways only to discover we’ve been heating up the planet. It seemed our way of life was sustainable; in reality it wasn’t.

Tom Clark, Epistemology [1]

The truth is that if any of the skeptics – especially those who do have some claim to expertise in the area – were to undertake a study that cast genuine doubt on the global warming hypothesis and it could pass the tests of professional scrutiny, it would cause a sensation. If it were confirmed, we could all utter an enormous sigh of relief and shower those responsible with prizes and accolades. Yet none of them has carried out any original work that challenges the consensus view. Nevertheless, whenever they raise a non-trivial objection, the serious scientists – including the IPCC – go back and look hard at their conclusions to see if any change is required.

Clive Hamilton [2]

 

At Easter, my book on climate change comes out. I destroy every single argument that has ever been raised about human-induced climate change. I use history, archaeology, geology and our understanding of the sun, oceans, ice and atmosphere to show that climates always change, the past changes have been far greater and quicker than anything measured at present and that the changes that really create havoc with humans are the periods of global cooling. I just give the science (written in layman’s language and supported by references) and I leave the politics of carbon trading, emissions trading etc to others.

Ian Plimer, in Quadrant, April 2009 [3]

 

Last for now, and by way of a change, the great Persian poet, astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam (1048-1123 AD) wrote:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same Door as in I went.

(Translation: E. Fitzgerald) [4]

 

My own youth was similar, but I would add a difference not mentioned by the immortal Omar.

In my teens I used to get into the normal youthful tripos of discussions and arguments about religion, politics and sex. The latter was then about as abundant at the practical level as hair on a canary, though there was no shortage of theory.

However, in the arguments I found for my own part a teenager’s determination to doggedly hold to a position and defend it to the last.  But before I got into my 154th argument, I would attend to the weaknesses exposed in my position by the 153rd,  altering the story as necessary.

Some in the climate change (CC) debate adopt that approach, because they are defending an established ‘religion’ more than independently seeking the truth and best practice in whatever form.  I do not have an axe to grind, church to support, side to cheer on or tribe to go into battle for.

Ian Plimer is a scientist, Professor in the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering at the University of Adelaide and Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Melbourne. He is emerging as a world authority for denialists, in the black night of what they see as fundamentalist climate change religion and hysteria.

And so it came to pass that I received a signed copy of Heaven+Earth in the mail direct from the publisher, and I opened it with genuine interest and began to read. During the first paragraph of Chapter 1 it seemed there might be grounds for optimism; a bright neon sign was beckoning one to walk on a bit further down the alley past Hell’s Gate. But then I got to Chapter 1, paragraph 2, and the red pen had to come out.

My first ‘ITS?’ was entered in the margin beside the sentence: “There is little or no geological archaeological and historical input into discussion about climate change.” That was because I had just finished reading Six Degrees by Mark Lynas. [5] Hell’s Gate is banging about in that book as in a gale, and its bells are clanging with fury. Moreover, Lynas’ 52 pages of notes at the end are replete with such references as demanded by Plimer, and in my view Lynas cannot be responsibly dismissed. Though the Royal Society can always be wrong, his book did win its science book of the year award in 2008, beating off strong competition for the money, including J Craig Venter (A Life Decoded), the 1994 winner Steve Jones (Coral) and Ian Stewart (Why Beauty is Truth).

 ‘ITS?’ in my private marginal notation means ‘Is That So?’, a question I have repeatedly asked throughout my enquiring and scientific life, and the title of a great Zen story.  [6] Then a long way further in and after many a marginal ‘ITS?‘, hope sprang again  when I came upon Plimer’s statement that atmospheric CO2 levels are approaching a saturation point for their warming effect:

The Earth has an average surface temperature of about 15 degrees C. The tropics are some 10 Celsius degrees warmer. In the atmosphere, CO2 is a highly effective trap of energy in the infra-red wavelength band of 14 to 16.5 microns*. Blocking the escape of heat radiation with wavelengths in this range reduces the radiating efficiency of the Earth by 15%. If the atmosphere had no CO2, far more heat would be lost from Earth and the average surface temperature would be -3 degrees C. The efficiency of the CO2 trap is largely insensitive to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. All the CO2 does is slow down heat loss. Atmospheric CO2 does not trap heat, as insulation does. If the current atmospheric CO2 content of 380 ppmv were doubled to 760 ppmv, there would be a minuscule Impact on the radiation balance and the temperature… [7]

* [1 micron = 1 micrometre = 1/10^6 m – IM.]

In other words Plimer says that CO2 works as a selective filter of infra-red radiation in the 14 to 16.5 micron band of wavelengths. Once those wavelengths are blocked, they are blocked. Adding more CO2 will have no effect.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere operates like a curtain on a window.  If you want to keep out light, add a curtain. A second curtain makes little difference, a third curtain makes even less difference and a fourth curtain is totally ineffectual. CO2 operates the same way. Once there is about 400 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere, the doubling or tripling of the CO2 content has little effect on atmospheric temperature because CO2 had adsorbed all the infra-red energy it can adsorb. [8]

 [My emphasis – IM]

First: this diminishing effect of rising CO2 concentration in the air is by no means the whole story, of which more in due course. But here this particular ‘ITS?’ was entered provisionally, ready to be crossed out and replaced with a ‘TS!’ or even a full-blown ‘THAT’S SO!’ But adsorption in my experience is a topic for surface chemists. It is about such phenomena as water molecules clinging to clay particles. I had heard aplenty of photon absorption, [9] but frankly never of CO2 molecules dealing with infra-red photons as lumps of activated charcoal do with particles in sewage, [10]  or the way hydrophilic clay particles festoon themselves with water molecules. So turning out of curiosity to my computer, I found out in a few keystrokes that the Internet had never heard of it either. Cyberspace was as silent as the proverbial tomb on that topic. We were back in the Sargasso Sea, this time aboard the Mary Celeste. [11]

However a cyber check found it vocal about adsorption, but with no definition that would suit Plimer.

Further research has revealed more of these schoolboy howlers in Plimer’s Heaven+Earth of which again more below. His publisher [12] specializes in books of interest to the Catholic community; ConorCourt is thus a sort of literary Pellegrini’s, an institution preserved in the memory of my sectarian Protestant youth as a major supplier of rosary beads and plaster Virgins to the faithful papists of Sydney. A scientific publisher would have been better, and perhaps more inclined to organize a peer review or two. The fact that Plimer holds two chairs simultaneously at two major Australian universities has not exactly been hidden from the market’s view in the publicity, and is intended to give the impression that Plimer speaks with authority.

There is not in Heaven+Earth even the most hastily dashed off preface where thanks are given to those colleagues who generously helped out by reading the manuscript, making valued suggestions, or even bringing the author cups of tea. One is forced to the conclusion that there weren’t any. Never mind: if the book missed out on a peer review before publication, it has certainly made up for it after. See the list provided by Matt Andrews [12.1].

To make matters worse, the book is miserably indexed and contains no bibliography at all, making it necessary for the reader to trawl through all 493 pages and 2,311 footnotes in order to return to any reference or Plimerian claim – even those semi-distinguished by an ‘ITS?’ (The eventual profusion of the latter in the margins of my copy proved yet again the old saying that there is safety in numbers.)

Plimer says that nothing humans do can affect the climate of the whole Earth, and that if it is warming, it is a good thing anyway.  Others disagree, and contend that CC is occurring because of CO2 emissions. These latter were not put into the air for the purpose of warming the planet. Like the radioactive waste from the nuclear industry, they are a by product of another project entirely, to be justified after the fact.

Plimer’s aim is what you can see in the last of the above quotes: to prove that humanity has no cause to fear an increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2. On the grounds that CO2 is airborne plant food, he argues that it should be welcomed. Nor in his opinion have we grounds to worry about an adverse effect of it on the oceans. He assures his readers that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is just not happening; that even if it were it would generally be a good thing, and that CO2 in any case cannot cause it.

A full list of his claims is below, (listed a – s) and I think fair to Plimer. It is also true that every one of those points is in itself a scientific minority position. That alone of course does not make any or all of them wrong. But there are 21 of them, and a successful maintaining on his part of any one of a selection of about ten of them should earn Plimer a Nobel Prize.

But the logic of his position compels Plimer into attack on every claimed fact on which his opponents in mainstream climatology stand; ultimately because the denialist position he has chosen can neither afford nor allow any uncertainty. He does however have a section headed ‘What if I am wrong?’ But in that he attempts to show that it would not matter anyway.  In other words, it’s an each-way bet. Win-win.

So he claims:

a. about CO2: there is doubt that atmospheric CO2 concentration is rising;

b. if it is, it is well past the concentration giving significant warming effect;

c. if it is, it does not matter as it has all happened before;

d. CO2 at whatever atmospheric concentration can have no harmful chemical effect on the oceans or marine life, as it forms carbonic acid in water, which then reacts with rock minerals, removing it;

e. CO2, as an essential plant food, cannot be a pollutant.

f. CO2 emission reduction will make life worse for all and bring poverty and death to millions.  

g. that global warming is not happening;

h. if it were, it would be a good thing;

i. if it were, human activities could not be the cause;

j. Oceans: there is no good evidence that ocean levels are rising;

k. if they were, human activities could not be the cause;

l. if they were, it has happened constantly over geological time due to crustal movement,. continental drift, sea-floor spreading and other such factors;

m. scientists who dispute the above claims do so in pursuit of research grants and personal economic security;

n. climatology in any case is not a genuine science;

o. the IPCC reports are mainly political, not scientific;

p. ‘activists’, environmentalists and others who campaign against industrial CO2 emissions and alleged global warming are compulsive dissenters who lost their raison d’etre with the end of the Cold War, but have found a new one;

q. the concern over global warming is a form of religious fundamentalism;

r. Precautionary Principle: there is no such thing in science.

s. computer modelling: absolutely useless for complex systems like the global climate system.

So is the atmospheric CO2 concentration rising? How can we be sure of the data?

 This goes beyond normal scientific skepticism.  The stand Plimer has taken compels him to question and dismiss all data to the contrary, no matter from where sourced, or how gathered.  The Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii cannot be relied upon for example, because it is built on top of an old volcano whose fumaroles are still blowing out CO2, and this is allegedly not taken into account in the published readings.

Similarly no atmospheric temperature data is reliable, because much of it is taken in ‘urban heat island’ situations, where the thermometers are located too close to sources of industrial heat and the waste heat from automobiles. The heat and CO2 contributions from submarine volcanoes are inherently unknown and unknowable, both in an oceanography context and to the planet as a whole.

He questions likewise all satellite data, on both atmospheric temperature and sea levels. The only data he finds acceptable is from radiosondes and balloons, which unsurprisingly, is in best agreement with his case.

Further, he not only questions but dismisses the eligibility of climatologists to speak about their own field, claiming that they are all too narrowly educated. In order to study the past and present climates of the Earth and other planets, one needs to be a polymath like himself. See the quote at the beginning of this article. The assumption of course is that no climatologists are.

At this point I refer the reader to the Position Statement of the American Geophysical Union, Human Impacts on Climate [13] (adopted by the AGU Council, December 2003; revised and reaffirmed December 2007. To put it mildly, it does not endorse the Plimer position.

As prelude to the next couple of critical paragraphs , I would first tell the reader a story, as told to me by the perpetrator.  Let’s call him Bill.

He was a carpenter of long experience in the building trade, who was renting a house in Melbourne. In accordance with the terms of the lease, he gave the landlord due notice of his planned departure from the premises. A few days before his leaving, and again in accordance with the lease, he accompanied the landlord on an inspection tour through the house. Everything was in order, and the landlord made no complaints. So at this point Bill, being a bit short of cash, asked the landlord for a refund of his deposit. He was told to forget it. Apparently the landlord was a bit on the mean side, and believed deposits were for keeps.  An argument ensued, but with no satisfaction for Bill. .

This got Bill’s back up. So in his own words, he “put in a good half day on the house.” He went around with his box of tools, a paint can and a small brush. With a pinch bar (‘jemmy’) [13] he carefully removed an architrave from each doorway, then he jemmied the door frame free of the brickwork. Then he replaced the architrave, and gave a touch of paint to cover any trace of his workmanship. He did this to every door in the house, which meant that the doors would in future gradually sag till they scraped the floor; which could never be remedied by trimming the bottom of the door, as that would merely allow it to sag further.

Turning to the double-sash windows, he drilled through both sides of each sash with an electric drill, right into the window frame. Then he drove a four inch nail in with a hammer and punched it in until its head was sunk well into the hole. Then he filled each hole with putty and put a dab of paint on top to cover his tracks. He did this at the rate of four nails per window, with two nails per sash, right around the house.

He said later that the owner would have gone mad trying to restore the house, and would have spent thousands doing it. All so that he could keep that deposit. Of course, I feel it only fair to admit here that I have only ever heard one side of this story.

The mathematician Ian Enting has taken a pinch bar of his own to the edifice of Plimer’s book. But he has not stopped with doors and windows: he has jemmied the structure apart to such an extent that one brick scarcely remains cemented to another. [14]   He ploughs through the book listing the mistakes, errors, omissions, misrepresentations, unsourced data, and clearly accidental disasters. Take Enting’s item number 38 for example:

38. p. 217: “Mt Pinatubo . . . released 20 millions tonnes of sulphur dioxide …. and very large quantities of chlorofluorocarbons. . . “. The reference cited for this [footnote 1075] makes no such claims and is not reporting observations of anything. It is about a modelling study that compares the chemical effects of Pinatubo emissions to the effect of chlorofluorocarbons…

40. p. 229: “In about 9000 years time, perihelion will occur in the Northern hemisphere and aphelion will occurs in the Southern hemisphere, the reverse of today.” This is absurd. Perihelion and aphelion are points on the Earth’s orbit and do not occur in a specific hemisphere.

50. p. 338: There is no such thing as a “tipping point” (or even a “precautionary principle”) in science. The precautionary principle is proposed for the conduct of human affairs. No-one seriously proposes it as a scientific principle. (If it was a scientific principle there would be no need to argue for its use — it would just happen). There is such a thing as a “tipping” point in science, but the more technical name is “catastrophe”. An accessible account is given in the book Catastrophe Theory by V. I. Arnold (Springer-Verlag, 1984, 1986). Since not all things that are catastrophes in the mathematical sense are catastrophic in the human sense, the use of a less ambiguous term such as “tipping point” seems desirable for public communication.

Enting lists 124 such items for the 493 pages of Heaven+Earth: a rate of close on one for every four pages.

Though AGW does not end with it, the issue certainly begins with CO2. It is hard to escape the conclusion that for Plimer CO2 levels are an unknowable; an epistemological impossibility. Moreover, given all the alleged uncertainty, there is in his view no imperative to find them out more exactly.

Like a Roman general before the gates of Jerusalem in 62AD, his aim is to lay total siege to his opponents – the AGW ‘activists’, environmentalists, Greens, their supporters from the mainstream of climatology, and the politicians and parties that through fear or persuasion have come under their influence, not to mention the IPCC, Greenpeace, the Kyoto Protocol and the Royal Society. So he aims his battering ram of a book at the strongest foundations of their fortress.

 AGW ‘skeptics’ also tend strongly to right-wing politics and social conservatism, so one might expect a left-leaning liberal like myself to be against them on principle, opposing them out of sentiments akin to patriotism or tribal loyalty. My precautionary side in the climate debate has always been the one that on the balance of argument has the strongest and least self-interested case. It advocates a course of action that is least expensive, safest, and most rational, given the possibilities. It is in short, get into renewables and the safe nuclear alternatives of thorium and IFR (integral fast reactor) as quickly as possible, and keep the coal for future plastics and chemicals.

 However, I have always been ready to switch sides in that pursuit. Though the climate debate is like a war or a football match for some, it has never been so for me.  So for a short time after buying this book and starting to read it, I thought that the author might be onto something, and that there was hope after all that mainstream climatology might be off the mark. Becalmed like a blue water sailor who has strayed into the Sargasso Sea, I have occasionally felt a breeze stirring and hope rising. Things might not be as bad as they seem.

Let me also confess at the outset that, although I have never met him, I have a lot of time for Ian Plimer. Nobody in Australia has done more to thwart the plans of the young Earth creationists (YECs) to remodel science education in Australia more along the lines of their own thinking. His Telling Lies for God [15] was a devastating avalanche of pure reason + devilish humour upon their heads.

Despite that, there is a certain uncomfortable similarity between the YECs and anthropogenic global warming (AGW) ‘skeptics’.  Both schools show marked reluctance to concede a single inch to the other side. As an AGW ‘alarmist’ I have found this to be puzzling, as I am only too happy to concede that the skeptics may turn out to be right, and to have have hoped they were. But I am not prepared to bet the planet on it. Wishing does not make it so, and the stakes are very high.

The YECs are dead right on one point: if the Bible is not literally true in every word and detail, then it cannot be relied upon where it really counts for them. That is, on the promise of eternal life for Christian believers. In the manner of a young Earth creationist setting out to demolish neo-Darwinism, Plimer’s concern is to show that every last aspect of the ‘alarmist’ case against CO2 emissions is totally wrong. He aims to prove all of points a-s above, with no quarter given. He may not be a YEC, but he is just as fervent as one for his own particular set of beliefs, which he maintains are reason-based. Thus he has both passion and profession in common with the YEC geologist Andrew A. Snelling, who holds a doctorate from Sydney University, and of whom more in due course.

It is no coincidence that much of the conviction and money behind the denialist campaigners now lobbying politicians and journalists and distributing publicity materials comes from multinational corporate entities ot the fossil carbon industry: such as Exxon-Mobil. They see themselves engaged not so much in a scientific endeavour as a propaganda war. The quest is not to establish the truth of the climate matter, and the most rational, safe and valid course of action, but to make sure that the other side of the gaming table does not take a single trick.  It has the makings of a drama of power and glory. No emission reduction is the key to corporate carbon’s power in this world, just as is young-Earth creationism for an innocent’s ride to glory in the next.

On the subject of AGW, people divide into four camps:

 1. The undecideds, don’t knows and wait-and-sees.

2. the alarmists, who hold that greenhouse gas emissions are possibly heading us into climate catastrophe; with varying levels of alarm;

3. the reserved denialists, who say that there might well be nothing to worry about, and

4. the denialists, who are confident or complacent enough to say that there is definitely nothing to worry about.

Denialists prefer the appellation ‘skeptic’, which would be fine, except that it implies that their opponents are not skeptical. But those opponents are. We are skeptical about the proposition that business-as-usual can continue indefinitely, and that the first fire kindled from fossil carbon rested on no untested assumptions. Moreover, as constant skepticism is fundamental to the scientific outlook, this can also be seen as an attempt to exclude alarmists from science. In the light of this, consider words chosen by Senator Cory Bernardi when launching Thank God for Carbon by Ray Evans:

… challenging popular opinion demands courage … And in no sphere is this more apparent than the new religion of climate change where all questions challenging the orthodoxy are treated as heresy and those that dare to raise them are heretics or, worse still, ‘deniers’.

Make no mistake this latter term is a deliberate and grubby attempt to link those who question anthropogenic climate change with those who deny the atrocities of the holocaust during World War II.

Such vitriolic abuse has more in common with the tyranny of despotic regimes than with the modern and stable democracy we enjoy in Australia today. [15] 

 Holocaust denial relates to that which happened in the past, but denial of AGW applies to something which may possibly happen in the future. The two are not equivalents, and any attempt to sow confusion on the matter can only be mischievous, if not malicious, given the potential seriousness of situations envisaged by responsible scientists. The main denial made by the denialists after all. is that there is any need to reduce present carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

In my view an important key to Australian conservative climate strategy was given by John Howard in his speech to the Melbourne Press Club of July 2008, the only copy of which now available on the web being the one the journalist Margo Kingston posted onto Webdiary.  [16]   

Notwithstanding some of the fear and loathing that has crept into this [climate] debate, four fundamental realities remain. First, climate change requires a truly global response. With Australia’s contribution to global emissions at less than 1.5 per cent and falling, nothing we do alone will materially affect our climate. Second, we must accommodate demands for economic development, energy security and environmental sustainability. Without all three you are left at best with a two legged stool. Third, different countries will choose different policy approaches. National diversity must be both respected and harnessed. And fourth, the Kyoto Protocol is not an effective blueprint for future action. It provides no pathway for meaningful commitments by the very countries which will account for the bulk of future greenhouse gas emissions. Without a framework that includes all major emitters, we lack a genuine global solution. [My emphasis – IM]

As Australia emits only 1.5% of global CO2 from its national territory, it can be argued that nothing we do can make any real difference, whether alone or in company. So Australian denialists have the luxury of not being much of a threat to the world if they are wrong, provided at the same time the rest of the world does not incline to kick them for the little emitting they do.  If they later turn out to have been wrong, they can always plead that they made no difference to the outcome anyway. On the face of it, they are in much the same position of danger-avoidance as a small boy on a trip to the zoo who squirts a water pistol at a caged tiger.  Ideally from such a purely Australian self-interested point of view, we should try to proceed with business as usual while the rest of the world reduces its emissions in line with IPCC guidelines, converting to renewable and low-emission technology in the process, and bearing all the costs. That course would leave us the luxury of bringing up the rear with the option of buying the best alternative technology should we turn out to need it.

A consideration like this may apply also in the case of a number of local journalists employed by Rupert Murdoch, who after careful consideration of the issues, have chosen to support denialism. But in Plimer’s case things are different, because his book has a strong chance of becoming the authoritative and standard text for all the world’s advocates of climate denailism and complacency.                                                          

My main objection to the denialists is that they want to push public policy away from precautionism, as if there we no uncertainty about the wisdom of business as usual, and we have all the time in the world. Yet the change to renewable energy will have to be made eventually. If the coal is left in the ground rather than burnt in thermal power stations, it will still be there for use as a chemical feedstock.

A scientist is a detective; one who can discriminate between innocence and guilt in the suspects of nature.  The scientific method in any investigation involves the asking of a few simple questions:

What is going on here? We know the appearance, but why is it so? (For example: ‘According to satellite altimetry mean sea level is rising by 3.2 +/- 0.4 mm per year. So simply, Why? What is going on here? ) [17]

 Once some answer has been offered, next comes the skeptic’s always-handy check question: Is that so? For example:  ‘Is the mean sea level truly rising? How certain of that can we be? ‘ Or  ‘increased retention of solar heat is one possibility. What are the others?’ Note that there is no final certainty in science, nor can there be. We can only deal in possibilities and probabilities.

So if we are offered some hypothesis or working hunch in answer to What is going on here?,  such as:  ‘It is most likely due to thermal expansion of the oceans coupled with increased  runoff of meltwater from the glaciers and polar icecaps, but perhaps submarine volcanism is involved as well’, it is best to ask again, ‘is that so?’ Which leads on to the question:

How can we test that?  The asking of that question in turn involves the planning of an investigation or two and perhaps the design of experiments. Then in turn:

‘What follows from this?’  If the hunch, hypothesis or theory is right, what predictions flow from it? (For example: ‘If undersea volcanism is heating the oceans, then shouldn’t we be looking for signs of associated earth tremors? If glacial melting is occurring, how can we test that?’)

We should also note that while they may carry considerable weight in religious discussion, appeals to authority are worthless in science. There is no text, theory, equation or other statement presently accepted that could not at some time in the future fail to bear scrutiny. Likewise Plimer’s professorial appointments count for absolutely nothing in their own right, or as a safety rail preventing a drop into error. This is true even when he is writing in his own field, which is ore body geology. 

Plimer however appears to have deduced from his previous scrap with religious fundamentalists, that those disagreeing with his position on climate change must be similarly inclined, albeit in a secular way. He has said that many times, but without naming names or citing a reference in that regard. (See Heaven+Earth  p.14 and passim.) And he writes at Quadrant Online:

A new ignorance fills the yawning spiritual gap in Western society. Climate change politics is religious fundamentalism masquerading as science. Its triumph is computer models unrelated to observations in nature. [18] 

This attitude leads him to dismiss those who take a contrary view, which includes not only the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but the bulk of his own scientific colleagues.

During an interview on ABC Radio, fellow geologist and President of the Australian Academy of Science Kurt Lambeck said:  “…Heaven and Earth is not a work of science, it is an opinion of an author who happens to be a scientist.”  And he added:

If this had been written by an honours student, I would have failed it with the comment: You have obviously trawled through a lot of material but the critical analysis is missing. Supporting arguments and unsupported arguments in the literature are not distinguished or properly referenced, and you have left the impression that you have not developed an understanding of the processes involved. Rewrite!

I would then identify a number of specific issues which, while in isolation could be seen as minor, collectively indicate carelessness at best, and at worst an attempt to undermine the integrity of the science case. Here are just a few examples…

He goes on to give the examples.  [19]

However, there is more to this religious parallel than Plimer cares to discuss. Religious doctrines are inherited from an ancestral past.  Most Christians are so because they were born into a Christian environment or tradition with ready made paths for those seeking meaning through that religion to find a church to affiliate to. The same people born into say, Iranian society would probably have emerged as Muslims, or if born Sri Lankan would most likely have been Buddhists. The fundamentalists attacked by Plimer in Telling Lies for God were in the business of justifying doctrines after the fact. About 3,500 years after the Book of Genesis was first conceived, they set themselves up in business attempting to provide a basis for it that was rational, scientific and a refutation of anything to the contrary; particularly of the kind that secondary students might find in their science textbooks. The people who are mostly into justifying received beliefs, assumptions and doctrines after the fact are the very denialists Plimer writes scientific arguments and justifications for.

The real scientific (if that is the right word) analogue of religious fundamentalism is AGW denialism.

 IN PASSING (18.08.2009): There is an interesting ‘debate’ going on at the Guardian’s Comment is Free between journalist George Monbiot and Ian Plimer. See here>>>

 

TO Plimer’s Climatology 102: Chucking rocks at the catastrophists >>>

SHORT CUTS:

TO Plimer’s Climatology 103: Plimer’s Heaven, our Earth, and the                                  Precautionary Principle  >>> 

TO Plimer’s Climatology 104: Climatology vs Plimertology >>>

TO Plimer’s Climatology 105: Lord Franklin’s Dream turned nightmare  >>>

TO Plimer’s Climatology 106: His Lordship’s List  – A Critique of Monckton’s Litany  >>>

 

 

Notes & Links:

[1] http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm

[2] http://newmatilda.com/2008/05/19/death-rattles-climate-change-skeptics

[3] http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2009/04/coming-soon-heaven-and-earth

[4] http://www.okonlife.com/poems/page1.htm

[5]http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/apr/23/scienceandnature.climatechange

[6] http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/isthatso.html

[7] Heaven+Earth p 366

[8] Heaven+Earth  p 374

[9] http://www.google.com.au/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGLR_enAU279AU280&q=photon+absorption

[10]http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4GGLR_enAU279AU280&q=activated+charcoal+adsorption+of+water&btnG=Search&meta=

[11] http://www.maryceleste.net/part2.htm

[12] http://connorcourt.com/catalog1/

[12.1] http://tbp.mattandrews.id.au/2009/06/06/debunking-plimer-heaven-and-earth/

[13]http://gyc.tas.edu.au/engineering/Building_Skills/bstoolbox/_skills/usingajemmy/page_000.htm 

[14] http://www.complex.org.au/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=91

[15] http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2009/02/thank-god-for-carbon-book-launch

[16] http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=node/1951

[17] http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_noib_global_sm.jpg 

[18]  http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2009/04/climate-fundamentalism

[19] http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/stories/2009/2589206.htm

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