Archive for April 2010

The True Nature of Sceptics by Professor Frank Furedi

29 April 2010

Six excellent reasons why you should catch up with the full version of this timely article by the well-known Professor of Sociology, especially because of its relevance to the ongoing Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) controversies and the recent dramatic changes in public and government opinion since Copenhagen.

“At Easter, the official Greenpeace website carried a blog written by Gene Hashmi, communications director of its affiliate in India. Hashmi pointed his finger at sceptics who fuelled “spurious debates around false solutions” and concluded with the not too subtle threat: ‘We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many but you be few.’”
“However, the usage of a highly charged, intemperate rhetoric has become the hallmark of the present crusade against scepticism. Some contend that the arguments of climate change sceptics bear an uncanny resemblance to the statements made by pro-slavery reactionaries in the 19th century and by Holocaust deniers. More imaginative environmental activists have proposed the establishment of Nuremberg-style trials for climate change sceptics.”
“Scepticism today, as in the past, has a bad name because for the dogmatic believer any sign of doubt, hesitation, uncertainty, questioning and even indifference is interpreted as disbelief.”
“Recently Justin Rowlatt, who runs the BBC News Ethical Man blog, wrote of his concern that the word sceptic was in danger of becoming a term of abuse. He noted that since it was “the foundation of good science”, scepticism should be praised.”
“The question worth posing is: Why denounce individuals for their scepticism if they are not really sceptics? The confusion that surrounds the rhetorical strategy adopted by the moral crusade against critics of the IPCC consensus should not obscure the fact it is motivated by a genuine hatred for the spirit of scepticism. To understand this process it is necessary to go beyond the opportunist distinction between good and bad sceptics and establish the meaning of the term.”
“There can be no freedom of thought without the right to be sceptical. Which is why the demonisation of the sceptic does not simply reflect a tendency towards polemical excess but an attack on human inquiry.”

PS. Ten days after the appearance of this opinion article in The Australian newspaper, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his government’s sudden postponement of the proposed legislation on carbon dioxide emissions.

Interesting Initial Media Reactions to the Eyjafjallajøkull Volcano Eruption

20 April 2010

In the welter of initial media emissions on the (temporary) world-stopping Eyjafjallajøkull Volcano eruption (Rough Pronunciation: Ay-ya-fyad-la-OO-kootle) = Islands-mountain- glacier [courtesy of Wikipedia and the BBC], two pieces in the online version of The Times (London, not New York) for 19 April 2010 seem particularly worth sharing with those who may not have seen them.

[Later Note: In the light of comments on the pronunciation of that tongue-twister, especially from amused Icelanders mocking journalists’ pronunciations on You Tube, I have amended my original erroneous rendering and hope it is now closer to written and spoken reality. Apparently, the last two syllables (the jøkull, ‘OO-kootle‘ bit) mean ‘glacier’ and the first three syllables denote the volcano (or place name) itself (Eyjafjall, ‘Ay-ya-FYADL’).]

1. ‘Europe counts saved carbon emissions as flights stay grounded’, by Ben Webster, Environment Editor.
“The grounding of 63,000 flights over the past four days has saved 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions of many developing countries.

Aviation is responsible for about 2 per cent of global emissions of CO2, but accounts for a much higher proportion of emissions in European nations, which have many frequent flyers. Aircraft are responsible for more than 6 per cent of Britain’s CO2 emissions.

On a normal day, the 28,000 flights in European airspace emit about 560,000 tonnes of CO2, or a third of the world’s aviation emissions.

The Aviation Environment Federation calculated that the CO2 saving over four days had been greater than the annual emissions of Malawi, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and about 50 other
Jeff Gazzard, the federation’s spokesman, said: “The use of trains, ferries and video conferencing has skyrocketed as planes have been grounded. While volcanic eruptions are not an everyday occurrence, surely the take-away message from the past few days is that the world has not stopped revolving and people can find alternatives to air travel. We hope that this will prompt people to stop and think about whether their flight is really necessary.”

The total environmental benefits of the grounding of aircraft may be far greater because millions of business travellers have had to find alternative ways of communicating — and some are likely to change their working habits permanently.”
(Original version HERE.)

2. Before the safe arrival of the thousands of stranded travellers and the obligatory official inquiries, food for thought is offered by Libby Purves in the same Times Online issue: ‘Every volcano cloud has some silver linings’ (19 April, 2010)

Dear China. Please Revalue your Currency or Forfeit the Remnants of Your International Credibility

11 April 2010

The last 9 months have witnessed a series of incidents in which an unattractively hubris-laden China has chosen, apparently quite deliberately, to bully the rest of the world and assert itself. One of the major ongoing bones of contention between an increasingly affluent China and the rest of the world (especially the USA) is its repeated refusal to revalue its currency, which, it is repeatedly alleged by “Western” economists, has remained at an unrealistically low level vis-à-vis other currencies for many years, to the continuing benefit of China’s massive exports, and, presumably, to the detriment of its unprotected workers.

Today I stumbled on what I feel is a trivial but cogent piece of proof of China’s persistent unrealistic undervaluation of the yuan (cf. pound or dollar), or rembimbi (cf sterling). I bought 3 cheap (but pragmatically old-fashioned and abstemiously small) wineglasses and 4 small water tumblers in a local Chinese-run $2 shop. The wineglasses cost me A$2.50 each and the package of 4 x 9-ounce / 270 ml. water tumblers (ID: GLA 7608, Barcode: 9321214037608) cost a mere A$2.95. [$2.95!] Think of the possible costs and profits: factory costs, workers’ wages, sea transport over thousands of kilometres from China to Australia, truck transport to the shop, and profit by the Australian retailer. I asked the manager of the $2 shop how much profit was available for the various stages of the product’s journey. She shrugged her shoulders.

QED? Come on, China. Do the decent thing!

Global Warming Controversy. Part 3. The Wikipedia Labyrinth

6 April 2010


Notwithstanding Wikipedia’s superb usefulness as a source of instant factual information, the collective treatment of the articles on global warming and climate change by Wikipedians offers a very good example of two fundamental (congenital) shortcomings of Wikipedia as a reliable source of information:
1. its unbalanced treatment of many controversial subjects, especially those involving beliefs (religious, spiritual and political).
2. Wikipedia’s anti-encyclopedic encouragement of short articles (i.e. those occupying 32 KB of Hard Drive space – i.e. about 1,000 words, or 3 printed pages).

Evidence of the first flaw is to be seen in Wikipedia articles on Climate Change and Global Warming as well as in other hotly contested subjects like, for example, Scientology, Sun Myung Moon, Prem Rawat (aka in the 1970s as the divine Maharaji / Guru Mahara Ji), and Sathya Sai Baba. All of these Wikipedia articles are fiercely “protected” by determined devotees and followers who are willing to spend endless hours on their mission of excluding and deleting any inconvenient facts about the subject of their adoration.

The second flaw takes the shape of fragmentation of important topics over several or many different articles (which are not always adequately cross-referenced). This systematic fragmentation makes if difficult for readers to get a detailed and balanced view of the Wikipedia topics where it occurs. The preference for short articles also gives the small number of partisans and activists for sectarian points of view a golden opportunity to “hive off” potentially awkward aspects like Criticism of XYZ into separate articles. (Wikipedia even recommends this procedure!) Even basic (as opposed to Full) Bibliographies may be shunted off from their topic, which is especially attractive to activists and zealots if inconvenient books and articles are on such lists. Even when a direct link is offered to these separated segments of a Wikipedia topic, there is a high risk that net surfers will lazily avoid making that further vital click to balance the knowledge they are gleaning from the ‘cleansed’ version of the topic.
Global Warming, etc.

To deal with the wide ramifications and ongoing reverberations of (Anthropogenic) Global Warming and Climate Change, this Wikipedia facilitation of fragmentation has now spawned over 50 articles (including, in recent years, articles on the orthodox and sceptical protagonists and some of their book titles). For reader interest, a list is provided at the end of this article – a list not available on Wikipedia.)

For years now, as Lawrence Solomon, and other sceptics, have recently pointed out, here and here, many of the above Wikipedia articles
on global warming, etc. have been zealously patrolled and protected by indefatigable defenders of orthodox global warming science and of the IPCC. The most notable (and, for the past few years, notorious) of these Wiki-guardians is William M. Connolley, a founding member of the 2004 RealClimate website (see Part 2 of this blog series). “Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement” (L. Solomon). Solomon’s articles also narrate part of his personal experiences as a Wikipedian contributor (User) – facts he contributed were banished from the articles by the ever-vigilant “ warmist” activists, Connolley and his allies.

The Wikipedia article about this IPCC paladin gives succinct information on Connolley’s activities:
“Connolley was a member of the RealClimate website until 2007,[8][9] and he operates a website and blog that discuss climate issues.[10][11][12] […]”
“ His editing was also the subject of hearings by Wikipedia’s arbitration committee after a complaint was filed that he was pushing his own point of view in an article by removing material representing opposing viewpoints. A “one-revert-a-day” editing restriction was imposed on him, but later revoked. He told The New Yorker that Wikipedia “gives no privilege to those who know what they’re talking about.”[15] Connolley served as a Wikipedia sysop, a form of website administrator, until his status was removed by the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee in September 2009.[16][17][18]”
(from Wikipedia: William M. Connolley)

(Note: Connolley’s Wikipedia contributions have averaged over 6,000 per year since 2003. However, unlike the vast majority of Wikipedia registered Users, Connolley uses his real name, for which, whatever his reasons, he is to be commended.)

The extremes to which such Wikipedia zealots have gone on these topics will not come as a surprise to anyone who has also seen (or suffered from) the strenuous edit warring and filibustering that goes on, month after month and year after year, in other similarly controversial Wikipedia sites, where total editing time seems immaterial and where less determined contributors find their contributions deleted. (“Since I first tried to correct the distortions on this [Wikipedia] page, it has changed 28 times,” L.Solomon).

If you have not read his work before, I recommend to you Solomon’s excellent detective work on Connolley and other Wikipedia activists referenced above (plus this earlier one on the Wikipedia problem: 8 July 2008, Wikipropaganda. Anthony Watts’ recent contribution and readers’ comments on this topic are also of interest to all who value truth and balance in debate.

List of relevant Wikipedia articles (April 2010)

Climate change
Global warming
Global warming controversy
(Climate change controversy – directed to Global Warming Controversy)

and all of the following:

Action on climate change
Attribution of recent climate change
Avoiding dangerous climate change
Business action on climate change
Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy
Climate change consensus
Climate change response
(“Climategate” is directed to “Climatic Research Unit emails controversy”)
Climatic Research Unit
Climatic Research Unit documents
Climatic Research Unit emails controversy
Description of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age in IPCC reports
Economics of climate change
Economics of global warming
Effects of global warming
Global warming conspiracy theory
Glossary of climate change
History of climate change science
Hockey stick controversy
Index of climate change articles
Individual and political action on climate change
Individual and political action on climate changeLow-carbon economy
List of authors from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis [= IPCC 2007]
List of climate scientists
List of scientists opposing the manistream scientific assessment of global warming
Mitigation of global warming
Politics of global warming
Religious action on climate change
Renewable energy commercialization
Scientific opinion on climate change
The Clean Tech Revolution
The Cool War

And central topics like:
Criticism of the IPCC AR4
Garnaut climate change review
Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Plus many individual biographical sketches of scientists and other protagonists like:
Michael E. Mann, Stephen McIntyre, Anthony Watts, William M. Connolley, Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Al Gore, Rajendra Pachauri, etc. And even separate articles on books dealing with scientific aspects or controversial topics:
The Real Global Warming Disaster
Heaven and Earth
The Hockey Stick Illusion

Other Wikipedia references to this vast area of knowledge are offered in the following Wikipedia CATEGORIES listed at the foot of each article (each giving multiple topic links).
Climate change assessment and attributions
Climate change: feedback and causes
Global warming (as a CATEGORY)
Economics and climate change
Energy economics
Environmental controversies
Environmental skepticism