Tag Archives: climate change

Public discussion of science can be toxic

Public discussion of the science around problems humanity faces today seems inevitably to be diverted by hostility, misleading propaganda, personal attacks, and even outright censorship* of scientists and supporters of science. This creates an atmosphere, and an information overload, which turns the ordinary person off –  if it doesn’t actually fool them into taking up an unscientific position.

So I welcome the publication of the new book I’m Right and Your an Idiot. Subtitled The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it up, the book which is launched next week, looks like it will help scientists and supporters of science who regularly confront this problem.

James Hoggan, the author, is a co-founder of the website, DeSmog, which is well known for its activity in disseminating the real science about climate change. So it is significant that the Amazon blurb for the book starts with this:

“The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.”

In the book, Hoggan explores:

“How trust is undermined and misinformation thrives in today’s public dialogue. Why facts alone fail – the manipulation of language and the silencing of dissent. The importance of reframing our arguments with empathy and values to create compelling narratives and spur action.”

The blurb finishes with this very relevant point:

“Our species’ greatest survival strategy has always been foresight and the ability to leverage our intelligence to overcome adversity. For too long now this capacity has been threatened by the sorry state of our public discourse. Focusing on proven techniques to foster more powerful and effective communication, this book will appeal to readers looking for both deep insights and practical advice.”

James Hogan is also the author of Climate Cover-Up and Do the Right Thing.

*NoteI think anti-science hysteria can create its own censorship, quite apart from government,  where ideologically motivated activists seek to exclude scientists from debates. This was brought home to me recently when I joined a Facebook group, Methven Fluoride Facts, which has the declared aim:

“This is a place to come for facts about fluoride. Everyone is welcome. We would like facts only. Please refrain from personal attacks on others, this will not be tolerated. This is simply about educating the community in a safe forum.”

I spent the first day answering questions and  attempting to correct some of the scientific misunderstandings on the group posts. Then I was subjected to a frenzy of anti-fluoride memes, accusations of being a shill and a troll, hostile comments and finally banned from the group. Administrators of this group tolerated the science for only two days! And their actions help censor scientific input from other members of the group.

(Come to think of it, I must have been banned from almost every anti-fluoide social discussion group I have ever commented on – and I don’t think it is just me).

These days internet forums, blogs, and social media are an important place for the public discussion of issues.  When such forums fall under the control or pressure of anti-science groups they can seriously distort the discussion by censorship like this.

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Reversed responsibility and the burden of proof


This tactic often comes up in discussions related to scientific and religious issues.

It’s usually used by someone who has made a claim and then been asked for evidence to support it. Their response is to demand that you show that the claim is wrong and if you can’t, to insist that this means their claim is true.

Science or Not has a brief article on this at The reversed responsibility response – switching the burden of proof. It says:

“People use this tactic to avoid supplying supporting evidence – usually because there is none. In attempting to distract you from this lack of evidence, they try to convince you that the responsibility of supplying evidence lies with you.”

This can be relatively trivial – a person might claim that there is plenty of evidence that climate change science is a scam or that community water fluoridation (CWF) is harmful. When asked for supporting evidence they ask you to “look it up” or “google it” yourself – implying that you are lazy to even ask then for their supporting evidence.

We can’t prove the impossible

Then there is the philosophically dishonest reversal of responsibility where they demand, for example, the supporter of CWF cite  studies showing CWF  does not cause harm. Dishonest because that is not how science works – it seeks to test specific situations for harm. One might produce study after study showing no specific harm but it is impossible to design a study showing anything is “safe.” The person can, therefore, dismiss each example showing no specific harm by insisting that this does not prove it is safe in all situations.

“Reversing the burden of proof is a form of the argument from ignorance fallacy, in which it is argued that a claim must be taken as true if it hasn’t been shown to be false.”

Yet, ideologically driven activists will often use this argument – maybe dressed up as the “precautionary principle.” For example, they will make submissions to community bodies conceding that perhaps they cannot produce any decisive studies showing CWF is harmful but the “precautionary principle” means that it should not be used until research shows it to be completely safe.

This is simply using ignorance – on the part of members of the community body as well as the activist – to prevent acceptance of a policy which is recommended by experts and health authorities. It’s an attempt to destroy the authority of evidence and science which should be centrally considered in such decisions.

What to do when confronted by this tactic

The Science or Not article gives advice on how to treat such tactics:

“Don’t be tempted to take on the task of falsifying the perpetrator’s claim. And don’t succumb to the pressure to accept it as true if you don’t have the evidence to refute it. Insist that they must provide supporting evidence from real-world tests.”

On the one hand, this means that community bodies who are offered submissions in this vein should demand the submitters produce the evidence and not rely on vague statements or claims. In particular, they should be wary of the use of “the precautionary principle” – unless there is enough evidence to suggest that it is applicable.

On the other hand, it means that if submitters do produce “evidence” that it must be critically and intelligently examined and not just accepted because it is full of citations. That would be submitting to the “authority” fallacy.

Finally, community bodies should be conscious of their own limitations. If they don’t have the skills for considering presented evidence properly then they should ask for the advice and opinions of real experts about that evidence.

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Democracy and expert advice on scientific issues


Image credit: James MacLeod

Layla Parker-Katiraee recently asked the question Should science be a democracy? in the blog Biofortified. Most readers here would probably immediately answer no! But hold on. The blog title is a bit misleading. She was actually posing this about social decisions related to scientific issues – not about science itself.

Layla gives this example:

“A January 2015 survey conducted by agricultural economists at Oklahoma State found that 82% of Americans want their food labeled if it contains GMOs. The same survey found that 80% of Americans want their food labeled if it contains DNA.”

She points out that while the scientifically informed may be aghast at such a result the fact is most of the general public are not scientifically literate – and we should recognise that:

“After the initial face-palm, my feelings of intellectual superiority gradually ebbed when I realized that my husband would be in the 80% of the population that doesn’t know that all food, unless it’s highly processed, contains DNA. My better-half has a degree in International Relations and Peace Studies. He is a consultant with high-tech companies. He’s amazing at his job and can charge a premium for his consulting fees. It’s safe to say that he is well educated and knows what he’s doing. However, his last biology class was 17 years ago.”

And another reason for avoiding intellectual snobbery is that even those who consider themselves scientifically literate will readily admit they do not necessarily have at hand the answers to many of the scientific questions posed by the non-scientifically literate who are campaigning against issues like GMOs, climate change or community water fluoridation.

So here is the dilemma. On the one hand, social policies should be decided democratically – or at least by democratically elected bodies. On the other hand, the public and even the membership of democratically elected bodies are usually not well-informed about the science involved in many controversial social policies.

As Layla says:

“This whole topic raises the question of whether scientific matters (such as food labeling) should be decided by a public that is not educated in the technical aspects or nuances of an issue. Should scientific matters be decided upon democratically?

Here are just a few examples: the Shasta County Board recently decided to look into chemtrails; Portland, Oregon rejects adding fluoride to the city’s water; Humbolt county votes to ban GMO production.”

The role of experts

And this despite the fact that society invests in experts to research these questions and give answers to any questions we may have. As she says:

“If we, the people, get to decide on such important scientific matters democratically, then why do we spend billions of dollars, on institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, USDA, FDA? Do we just fund them so that they can come up with recommendations and guidelines which we can then ignore depending on whether we find it convenient or if our favorite celebrity endorses it? I can use the term “we” here because I pay what feels like a kajillion dollars in US taxes, even though I’m not a citizen.

Each of the examples above has been extensively studied and guidelines have been offered. The EPA, NASA, and the FAA joined forces to write a document about chemtrails (believe it or not); the EPA and the Department of Health and Human services have done scientific assessments on the fluoridation of water; the FDA evaluates the safety of all GMOs and regulates them (if you’re of the opinion that the FDA is “bought off”, then here’s a report on GMOs from the National Academy of Sciences). Our tax dollars funded every one of these efforts, yet we’re still taking these issues to the ballot box”.

So – we should listen to, or take the advice, of those experts – after all, that is what we pay them for. And on most issues we happily do that:

“There are MANY matters where I know very little and feel comfortable deferring to experts: what material should be used when highways are built, what water purification system my county should use, and so on. My taxes paid for all these projects and they impact me directly. I spend 2 hours a day in my car. If those highways are not built properly, if the on ramps are not sturdy, if the Bay Area bridges are not properly maintained, I could be hurt or even die. I fail to see why we defer to subject matter experts on these topics, but not on others. I don’t see any direct ballot measures to decide on the amount of concrete used when paving a road. Yet somehow, we feel that it’s appropriate to tell farmers in Hawaii what they can and cannot plant. Somehow, we the people, think we know something that a professional in his/her field doesn’t.”

Why reject expert advice?

It is illogical for “we people [to] “think we know something that a professional in his/her field doesn’t.” Yet it happens – or more correctly – some of us get fooled into rejecting the advice of the professional expert on some matters.

Inevitably on these controversial issues where scientific claims are being bandied about like political slogans one can detect the activity of ideologically or commercially motivated groups wishing to misrepresent the science – or worse, personally attack or otherwise seek to discredit the experts who should be able to give the objective information needed.

The scientifically literate person may, if they have the time, be able to check out the claims and detect the misrepresentation or distortions promoted by such groups. But even without the scientific training “we people” can always maintain a healthy suspicion of any group seeking to discredit expert scientific advice or defame such experts. We may also be able to check out the groups themselves – to discover the ideological or commercial motives and decide whether they are worth listening to.

“The ideal solution here is education”

This is what Layla Parker-Katiraee advocates. This could be helped if more students were exposed to science and critical analysis in their education.

“In the meantime, there are a few things we can do:

1) Encourage children in our circle of influence to take science classes in high school and college, even if they’re pursuing a career in an unrelated field.

2) Scientists should step up their communication skills. There aren’t many scientists in the private sector involved in science communication or education. Many of us have been trained in presentation skills. Giving concise explanations or pitches are often required in the private sector. There’s no reason why you can’t expand that skill into a part time hobby.

3) Remember that we all have gaps in our knowledge. Working to fill those gaps rather than mocking them will go a long way.”

If we worked to educate ourselves and others in understanding the role and nature of science and in critical thinking then society would be better able to handle “controversial” scientific issues requiring democratic decisions.

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Climate deal signed – now for the hard bit: action



In the words of Prof Richard Allan, Reading University:

“The human race has a climate crisis, Paris has delivered a plan, next begins the hard bit: action.”

The final draft text of a climate agreement has been accepted by delegates in Paris. It’s 31 pages long and full of the normal political phrases. Download the full text if you wish to browse through the details.

The important bits are that it sets the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts. There will be an ongoing structure to enable this and check compliance.

NZ researchers comments

Here are some comments from New Zealand researchers gathered by the NZ Science Media Centre:

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, comments: 

“The Paris Agreement is a great achievement, the most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date. The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.

“Great to see (in article 4) that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required. But, targets remain voluntary and the required actions remain daunting.

“The review of a 1.5°C warming limit may come too late as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels. Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action.”

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:

“The Paris Agreement is certainly a major step forward given all the national constraints and differences. It is in many ways a compromise and I doubt will have any immediate impacts on NZ government policies.

“Minister Paula Bennett will take some time to come to grips with her new portfolio and the Royal Society’s Climate Change Mitigation panel that I chair will be producing outputs that should help with the realisation that there is much New Zealand can do to reduce our GHG emissions – and not rely on buying carbon credits from offshore as is the current intention.

“The only mention of carbon pricing in the Agreement is below – with nothing about carbon trading far as I am aware: ‘Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing’.

“The really positive outcome of the COP21 was in fact outside the Plenary rooms.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.

“There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement. But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.

“This indeed was a key message of the IPCC Mitigation 5th Assessment Report. After working on renewable energy systems for over 40 years at Massey University, it is pleasing to see that it will now have a major contribution to make worldwide alongside energy efficiency and innovative technology development. Technologies will not solve it alone – and behavioural change and social issues are key – but the transformation has begun.

“Overall the COP reminded me of a two week-long Telethon with announcements, celebrities, new funding announcements – “Thank you very much for your kind donation!”

“NZ will have to become more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries I think.”

Comments from UK researchers

The following comments, and Prof Allan’s above, were gathered by the UK Science Media Centre:

Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago. However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal –  means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University, said:

“Limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change will have a large impact on the reaction of the world’s ecosytems.  The challenge will be in everybody’s commitments to be visionary to achieve this goal.”

Dr Ilan Kelman, University College London, said:

“The Paris outcome is momentous, but let’s not get too carried away. The initial draft’s limitations are not overcome, especially that key parts remain voluntary. Major hurdles still exist in countries taking forward this agreement – given that governments change and that strongly opposed interests have not disappeared. Then, we have implementation on the ground which will take years. Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start.”

Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science, University College London, said:

“The new Paris Agreement is historic, important, world-changing and inadequate all at the same time. It is astonishing that all the countries of the world have agreed a pathway together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proof that this will happen will depend on  policy changes.

“To meet a target of well below 2 degrees C above per-industrial levels will require leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Will the deployment of renewable technologies be quick enough and cheap enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground? Personally I hope so. The proof will be whether globally investors shun fossil fuels and we soon see coal companies going out of business while investments in renewable technologies skyrocket.”

Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a game-changer. The long nights of negotiations have paid dividends. Legally binding, a robust way to increase emissions reductions, and strong reporting requirements – really impressive.  This agreement is the first concrete step on our collective way towards avoiding dangerous climate change. Paris already has the world’s sympathy, today it also has the world’s gratitude.”

Summaries from the New York Times

The New York Times also has commentary and reactions to the following specific clauses (see Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris and Inside the Paris Climate Deal).

Temperature Increase

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Preservation of forests

“Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.”

Bearing the cost

“As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.”


“In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties’ different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established.”

Absence of “Greenhouse Gasd Emissions Neutrality”

“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Loss and damage

“Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.”

Five-year contributions

“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.”

See details of comments on these clauses at  Inside the Paris Climate Deal – The New York Times.

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Talk of “mini ice age” bunkum


The global mean temperature difference is shown for the time period 1900 to 2100 for the IPCC A2 emissions scenario (relative to zero for the average temperature during the years 1961 to 1990). The red line shows predicted temperature change for the current level of solar activity, the blue line shows predicted temperature change for solar activity at the much lower level of the Maunder Minimum, and the black line shows observed temperatures from the NASA GISS dataset through 2010. Adapted from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010). Credit: Skeptical science

Irresponsible and misleading reporting of scientific issues always annoys me. But I have been particularly annoyed with the recent headlines of the sort Now it looks like we’re in for an ice-age.” Here reporters have taken it on themselves to naively extrapolate research on the modelling of solar cycles to predictions about climate. Without considering any of the whole complex of inputs into climate change.

I would have thought  with all the controversy, and political and scientific discussion, about climate change over the last few years, that even the most junior reporter would recognise this complexity. That they would not make such naive extrapolations. And, particularly, they would completely ignore the role of the major recent inputs into climate change – anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The research sparking the media reports was published last year –  Sheperd et al., (2014). Prediction of Solar Activity from Solar Background Magnetic Field Variations in Cycles 21-23. This paper does not talk about climate – in fact, it doesn’t even include the word temperature. Nor did the Royal Astronomical Society press release referring to this modelling work (see Irregular heartbeat of the Sun driven by double dynamo).

Yet the  media article linked above claims the researchers say “fluid movements within the Sun will converge in such a way that temperatures will fall dramatically in the 2030s.”

Of course, if the solar model reported in this paper is accepted by other researchers it will be used in  modelling of future climate change. But we can get an idea of the likely effect of including this solar model from what  such modelling has shown in the past (see What is causing warming of the earth?)

Better still – the figure above is from Skeptical Science – using data from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010). This shows the predicted future temperature of the earth modelled using current solar levels and the grand solar minimum of the sort predicted by Sheperd et al., (2014).

So much for the claim we are headed fo a “mini-ice age.”

See also:

A grand solar minimum would barely make a dent in human-caused global warming
Media Reports The World Will Enter A ‘Mini Ice Age’ In The 2030s. The Reverse Is True.
No, Earth is not heading toward a ‘mini ice age’
The ‘mini Ice Age’ media sensation – and the reality

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Climate change: Our time really is running out

This video features Professor Peter Wadhams, leading Arctic scientist Cambridge University, interviewed by Judy Sole, the University of Earth. It is very topical and very important.

Professor Wadhams argues that politicians are dragging their feet on the climate change issue. The approach of trying to limit CO2 emissions just won’t work. We have to put serious money into research methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and countering methane emissions from seabed permafrost.

He discusses the radical reduction of arctic ice due to global warming and warns that this is leading to release of methane gas from underwater seabed permafrost and this could have relatively rapid effects on global warming.

via Our time is running out – The Arctic sea ice is going! – YouTube.

Thanks to Richard for bringing my attention to this video.

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What is causing warming of the earth?

Bloomberg has a great article showing why climate change deniers have it all wrong when they argue that the observed global warming is explained by natural causes. It just isn’t. The article is What’s Really Warming the World? Climate deniers blame natural factors; NASA data proves otherwise.

Here are the main points and graphics which compare the observed changes in earth’s temperature  with the changes expected from individual factors:

Natural factors

Changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun (blue line) have had a negligible effect on warming:


Changes in the sun’s temperature (orange line)have also had a negligible effect:


Volcanos influence the earth’s temperature, usually causing decreases,(red line) but cannot explain the observed warming:


Natural factors combined (earth’s orbit, sun temperature and volcanoes) (green line) cannot explain the observed warming:


Human factors

Changes in land use, like deforestation, (light green line) actually have a cooling effect:


Ozone level changes (light blue line) have only a slight warming effect:


Aerosol pollution (purple line) has had a marked cooling effect:


Greenhouse gas concentration increases (green line) have had a marked warming effect – it is clearly the main factor responsible for global warming:


When all the human factors, ozone, land use, aerosols and greenhouse gases, are combined the models (blue line) show a good agreement with observed temperature changes (black line):


Natural and human factors combined

When all the natural and human factors are combined (red line) agreement between the modelling and observed earth temperatures is even better.



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“Real” experts’ on climate change? Really?

The Heartland Institute has produced a new propaganda poster on climate change. Here it is:

heritage poster

And this is what they say about it:

This poster presents clear and undeniable evidence that the debate is not over. Looking out from this poster are 58 real experts on the causes and consequences of climate change. Each of them refutes the existence of a “consensus of scientists” on the size of the human impact on climate, or whether it merits immediate action. Many of these experts say the threat is grossly exaggerated, often to advance a political agenda.

So they have raked up 58 “experts” – and how do they define “real experts?

Apparently their criteria is that they have spoken at one of the Heartland Institute’s climate denial conferences!

Sure they claim of these “real experts:”

“They include current and former professors of climatology, geology, environmental science, physics, and economics at leading universities around the world.”

But I have had a quick glance at the poster and at least 30 of these “real experts” really don’t have training or qualification in a field connected with climate. They include:

  • Journalists like James Delingpole and Christopher Booker.
  • Climate denial activists like Barry Brill, Christopher Monkton, Steve Gorham, Tom Harris and Joanne Nova.
  • Right wing “think tank” executives and fellows like Robert J. Bradley Jr., E. Calvin Betsner, Dennis Avery,Ron Arnold, Paul Driessen, Myron Ebell, Indur Golklany,  David W. Greutzer, Marlo Lewis, Marita Noon and James, M. Taylor.
  • Politicians like Vaclav Klaus, George Christenen and Roger Helmer.

There are also a few meteorologists (mainly weather forecasters), astronauts and economists.

Followers of the climate change debate will also be familiar with the remaining few on these who do have academic qualifications in relevant fields – and maybe some publications. They are the usual contrarians and mavericks who seem to bast in the glory of the promotion they get from climate change deniers.

“Real expert” – come off it.

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Standing up to junk science in New Zealand

Last week we saw several local victories for science over pseudoscience. And the US mid-term elections also gave electoral victories supporting community water fluoridation in 5 out of 6 communities where it was voted on.*

Peter Griffin from New Zealand’s Science Media Centre reported on the New Zealand victories in his post Experts shine in fight against junk science.

“It was a week when climate change denial, a “miracle” ebola cure and homeopathy grabbed headlines.

But by and large it was also a week where the media laid out the evidence and featured expert commentary putting the science behind the claims in perspective.”

So, the media seemed to be “on-side” this time and scientific experts were fronting up to counter the pseudoscience.

“The pending arrival in New Zealand of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing leader James Humble to push his Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) was front page news. Medsafe warned that the treatment acts like an industrial bleach and could cause serious harm to those who took it. Australia’s Nine News reported that four Victorians had been hospitalised after taking the MMS treatment.

Shaun Holt

Dr Shaun Holt

Natural remedies expert Dr Shaun Holt and University of Auckland microbiologist Dr. Siouxsie Wiles made numerous media appearances to explain the pseudoscience Humble has been spreading about MMS, including that it can cure Ebola, HIV and malaria.The Herald reported today that an Auckland man who attempted to attend one of the “non-religious” Church’s seminars in the Hauraki Plains, was removed when it emerged he had not paid the US$500 registration fee, a hint perhaps at the real reason behind Humble’s Australasian tour.”


NZ Herald’s front page piece on MMS

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change renewed the media interest in climate change.

“False balance in climate coverage

Professor Tim Naish and Dr James Renwick, who have both contributed to IPCC reports put the latest update in context for New Zealand on One News and 3 News.

However TVNZ undermined its own climate change coverage by featuring noted climate sceptic and energy sector consultant Bryan Leyland on the Breakfast show, including presenting a graph featuring data supplied by Leyland himself.

By the end of the day the item had been pulled from TVNZ’s website after the broadcaster received numerous complaints from the public, scientists, as well as journalists.”

Then there was the response to the Green Party’s natural products spokesman Steffan Browning’s folly in signing a petition calling for homeopathic treatments to be used in the fight against Ebola. This lead to his demotion within the party and removal of his spokesman role.

“The embarrassing endorsement attracted attention in the UK and the condemnation of Browning’s own caucus.

Writing on Sciblogs, Dr Grant Jacobs applauded Browning’s demotion, but pointed out that he retained other science-related shadow portfolios.

“I’m aware of a number of people who have said they didn’t vote for the Greens because of Steffan Browning’s stance on genetic engineering and others who have said that while they voted for the Greens they don’t approve of Browning’s approach to GMOs and GE.”

Peter Griffin finishes by thanking “all the scientists who stepped up to make sense of the dubious claims journalists and the public were faced with this week.”

I think this also shows what can be achieved when good science journalism is actively promoted by groups like the Science Media Centre, and when scientists and other experts  participate in the social communication media and make themselves available to journalists.

*Support for community water fluoridation in these 5 communities was pretty overwhelming:

Boyne City, Michigan – 68% support for fluoridation: http://goo.gl/BUQVev
Bronson, Michigan – 63% support for fluoridation: http://goo.gl/KogVkP
Kalama, Washington – 73% support for fluoridation: http://goo.gl/wP6xAY
Saline County, Kansas – 67% support for fluoridation: http://goo.gl/Q2IGWL
Healdsburg, California – 68% support for fluoridation: http://goo.gl/KsOCgn

These victories were probably because fluoridation supporters, families and dentists organised public campaigns. See Group wants fluoride vote to keep its teeth.

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There is something about those climate records that keep getting broken


I think we have all become used to headlines like this – Earth Just Had Its Hottest September On Record. It’s all ho-hum to us. We just don’t notice any more – we don’t bother reading the articles.

This is the point made by Chris Mooney in his Washington Post article Climate records are breaking so often now, we’ve stopped paying attention.

But perhaps we should stop and notice something. How often do these headlines refer to “the coldest month on record?” Surely if this was just random variation, as the climate change deniers like to tell us, we should be seeing such headlines half the time. But we don’t. Doesn’t that tell us something?

We have random variation alright – but random variation on top of an increasing temperature trend. That is what we should worry about.

As Chris Mooney says:

“last September was the hottest of them all, out of 135 Septembers going back to 1880.The same was true for August 2014. And June of 2014. And May of 2014. What that means is that for each of these months, the combined average global land and ocean surface temperature has never been higher, at least since we started recording these temperatures back in the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.”

In fact:

“for 355 months now (up through September), “every month on this planet has been warmer than the 20th century average,” according to Jessica Blunden, a scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. ThePost’s own Philip Bump, then writing at Grist, pointed out numbers like these back in November 2012, when the streak was only 332 consecutive months–but since then, every month has just added to the total. And now, we’re just shy of 30 years of unbroken warmer-than-average months. The last month that actually was not warmer than the 20th century average, according to Blunden, was February of 1985. (It was merely average, she says.)”

On top of this:

“2014 appears reasonably likely to wind up the hottest year on record, in NOAA’s accounting. In fact, to tie that record, the remainder of the year merely has to be average for the 21st century.

In climate science circles, there’s already much discussion of the likelihood of 2014 setting a new record. Climate researchers are particularly struck by the fact that prior record years, like 1998 (now the 3rd warmest overall, according to NOAA)  have often been El Nino years, which are hotter than average. But so far an official El Nino has not yet been proclaimed.

Thus, a new global average temperature record in 2014 would be all the more extraordinary. So will it happen? “As we watch daily temperature results come in, it’s becoming ever more likely,” says John Abraham, a climate scientist at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who studies ocean warming and climate change. Abraham emphasizes, though, that there are several other global agencies besides NOAA (including our own NASA) that also track temperatures and they don’t always perfectly agree on the ranking of record years.”

I guess the climate change deniers will be yelling the news to the rooftops if one or more global agencies do not find 2014 to  be another record year. Anything to cover up the underlying trend.

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