Monday, May 18, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, Ian Plimer, good honest rustic folk, evil inner city conspirators and the climate change debate

(Above: Crucial visual evidence in Eric von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods).

It was of course too good to be true - the notion that Janet Albrechtsen could stay away from loon pond for any length of time was always going to fall flat on its face, and sure enough a familiar squawking could soon be heard echoing across the misty water. 

Armed with a rather severe implement, this week our favorite teacher - close cousin to Enid Blyton's Dame Slap - gives all those climate change warmistas a heartfelt caning, in A tale of two worlds.

This time it's Albrechtsen's rather late breaking turn to announce her oneness with Ian Plimer - a oneness that extends through a goodly corner of loon pond, from Paul Sheehan through Christopher Pearson to Greg Melleuish, and of course (given the tone of the paper) Chris Mitchell, editor of The Australian.

You might think they're all on a religious crusade, but hang on, that's the other mob, the climate change believers in the grip of a fanatical religious certainty. Yes instead of the history wars, now the best battleground for the culture wars is science, and in particular the hubris of climate change science.

But why is the debate always written up by commentariat columnists like Janet Albrechtsen - whose academic training is in law - in the form of a conspiracy? Does she really think that thousands of scientists are in the grip of a deep and profound conspiracy, abandoning the gains of enlightenment, as the lights go out all over Europe? 

This is not just about the debate over climate change and the need to keep an open mind before pursuing policies that will strangle industry and jobs. Plimer’s work points to a bigger question about the integrity of science. He says that we are fast abandoning the gains made in the Enlightenment: “We live in a time when the methodology of science is suspended.”

As Plimer writes towards the end of his book, “There is no use for an honest scientist who says ‘I don’t know.’ Yet uncertainty is the crux of science whereas certainty underpins religious beliefs. The politicians and the public prefer to hear scientists give confident black-and-white answers and make confident predictions.”

But of course this is mere dissembling, a ploy and a play with words.

Plimer doesn't stand up and go around saying he doesn't know. He shouts from the roof tops that he's a victim of Stalinist show trials, the fix is in, they're all out to get him, and they're flat mad wrong when it comes to the science.

It's scientist as victim, as the outsider, as the alienated existential Camus figure fighting for truth, honesty and the scientific way of life, with evil baddies on the prowl with dangerous kryptonite. 

To suggest Plimer should be shunted out of the debate about climate change also tells you something else about human nature. People tend to hunt in packs, finding safety in numbers. Only the intellectually honest who are willing to break from the pack have noted the importance of Plimer’s book. Enter Paul Sheehan from the Sydney Morning Herald, who began a column in April by saying “What I am about to write questions much of what I have written in this space, in numerous columns, over five years.” After considering Plimer’s book, Sheehan ends with this: “Heaven and Earth is an evidence- based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.”

So to be intellectually honest, you have to break free of the pack, and like Paul Sheehan join another pack? With a man who in another life found faith in magic water?

Well Albrechtsen is an old hand at setting up the righteousness of her pack, and the evils of the wolfhounds baying for blood. First she evokes a moving story of town and gown, of honest country folk up against an entrenched conspiracy by sinners in the city.

She picks up the some hint of its depth and ferocity when she encounters a handful of demonstrators gathered outside Abbey Bookshop in York Street to denounce Ian Plimer and his book - "young and ideological" (I think I can decode that as scungy feral hippie greenies).

And then in an idyllic move, she hits the F1 freeway to head up to Maitland, well away from Sydney's skyscrapers, where the local mob has gathered in a pub to listen to Ian Plimer. "... no ideology, no howls of derision. Just a bunch of inquiring minds, people listening intently for an hour many asking intelligent questions for almost an hour more ..."

Great, at last we get to the science. No self interest, no ideology, just pure science:

In the space of a day and a night, a tale unfolded of the gaping disconnect between the inner city moralisers and those whose livelihoods will be most harmed by policies concocted with the best of intentions by city dwellers aimed at addressing climate change.

Uh huh, so it's just going to be more of the interminable same, with talk of good honest Australian folk seeing through the humbug of the chardonnay sippers and the dole bludgers, while the coal industry tears the heart out of the upper Hunter, all in the name of jobs, in a very disinterested and scientific way of course. (To drive through Muswellbrook these days is to experience a moonscape of the most remarkable kind).

And as always, because Albrechtsen would likely get uncomfortable and out of her depth if it got down to the nitty gritty of science, she keeps the rest of her column at the level of goodies and baddies and platitudinous nonsense.

You don’t need a long list of degrees in science to feel that something is awry with the current climate – the climate of debate, that is. Few of us want to endanger the planet if sensible measures can be taken to avoid that. But equally, many – especially those in towns and communities where the climate change rubber will hit the road - feel disenfranchised by the current one-sided debate, derided by city folk who have made up their mind on the issue and will readily put the jobs and futures of those in the country on the line to assuage their inner city conscience. Hence, in a local pub you will find a genuine spirit of enquiry about Plimer’s work often lacking in the cities.

It is a natural part of our rich human nature to imagine the importance of man and to prefer neat answers. But much of the inner city debate is infused with a disconcerting arrogance that we understand everything, that the science of climate change is settled, that man is to blame and that man can and must fix it, regardless of the cost.

No degrees? That's not what Plimer says, urging us all to multidisciplinary excellence, but then if the commentariat all had degrees in science, there'd be an almost unnatural quiet as they went about the business of research, as they live off the fat of their land, with their huge salaries designed to keep them soma calm, and their lavish government research grants designed to turn them into lick spittle government lackeys in a giant UN fraud.

Neat answers? How about nothing's happening and don't you worry about that, it's all a conspiracy by inner city lefties.

No ideology? A Stalinist in a show trial couldn't have mounted a better rhetorical case to pit good honest rural workers against city slickers determined to make them pay when the rubber hits the road.

And of course if you can't print the science, make sure you print the controversy (or as John Ford put it, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend).

Sure Albrechtsen spends a token time on a dash of science - a couple of pars on the role of CO2, and the unreliability of computer models, and the question of controlling volcanoes as a warm up to controlling the climate of the planet. Questions, questions, and hundreds more to be asked, but don't worry about the answers assembled to date. Okay, that's enough of that, we've raised saucy doubts and fears, now back to the polemics.

And sure she admits that Plimer might have got a few things wrong:

There may well be errors in Plimer’s book of 503 pages and 2311 footnotes but to cast his book aside as an unworthy contribution to this debate tells you something about the stifling consensus and what Plimer rightly calls the “demonisation of dissent” on this critical issue.

Ah yes, right, you can be wrong, but that makes you right. And then we're back with the demons and the conspiracies, and to make sure you know where the demons are coming from (we're not talking an episode of Supernatural here), Albrechtsen names the usual names, the conspirators and demons:

Critics have been fast and furious in their reaction to Plimer’s book. Robert Manne said The Australian had made a “grave intellectual, political and moral” mistake by including Plimer in the climate change debate. Michael Ashley, a professor of astrophysics at the University of NSW, described Plimer’s arguments as “nonsense”, “flawed and illogical.” On ABC Lateline Business, journalist Ticky Fullerton suggested he was “a greenhouse heretic”. “Is this scepticism genuine or is it about economic self-interest?” she asked. Funny how journalists fail to ask such questions or employ such overblown language when they interview those who represent the climate change orthodoxy.

Eer, actually Ashley is a scientist, not a journalist, though it's true his review of Plimer's work is a little pungent and strangely enough it turned up in The Australian. Perhaps its stridency is a further evidence of the conspiracy at work:

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.

But then Ashley, mere astrophysician and co-conspirator and demon that he might be, actually spends a bit more time with Plimer's book than with Plimer in a pub in Maitland, and you can catch his review under the header No science in Plimer's primer.

And if you want a few other co-conspirators responsible for organizing a Stalinist show trial of Plimer, you can go here.

What does it all mean? Well Albrechtsen exults in the fact that Plimer's book has had a print run to date of at least 150,000, which still puts him way behind Velikovsky and von Daniken, with Chariots of the Gods racking up some seven million copies sold. And really the number of books sold means about as much as the 503 pages and 2311 footnotes everyone keeps rabbiting on about.

But if Plimer thinks that congregating with loons like Albrechtsen and Christopher Pearson, and turning science into a part of the culture wars, a bold warrior of the right up against the environmentalists on the left, then you have to wonder how much he thinks he's doing for science (though he's probably racking up a hefty kitty in royalties).

Because all I hear is plenty of ideology and abundant squawks and howls of derision, from both sides in the ill-informed culture wars sideshow to the debate.

Hopefully there are scientists elsewhere burrowing away at the truth, and hopefully their voices will be heard. But in The Australian and by the likes of Albrechtsen? I doubt it.

Meantime, me and Tom Cruise can take comfort from the fact that few people realize that it was aliens who first landed on this planet (see crucial visual evidence below) and caused all the trouble, and once we get our thetans into cleared theta clear level, everything's going to be all right. Trust me, I'm from the country, and I never drink chardonnay (is it okay to drink sav blanc from New Zealand?)


Hugh Denton said...

My word Mr Duffy, with that chip on your shoulder, I'm amazed you can sit at a computer to write this drivel.

Hugh Denton said...

My apologies, Mr. Duffy. Ms Parker, please take my comment directed at Mr. Duffy as directed at you. Apologies for the confusion.