- JoNova - https://www.joannenova.com.au -

Robyn Williams shreds the tenets of science

Robyn Williams presenting at the Prime Ministers Awards 2006

As I keep repeating, there’s only ONE thing that makes science different to religion, and that’s evidence. Robyn Williams is the most lauded commentator on science in Australian (read the rave here, he was the first and only journalist to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science;  a professor at two universities, and received 5 honorary doctorates) yet despite the accolades he mistakenly hails the opinions of paid PR hacks above evidence and reason, and hallows the Blacklist of Approved Climate Sorcerers, sorry, Scientists as if it holds the key to the question of climate sensitivity of a trace gas. (How many “scientists” do you need to warm a planet? Answer: Whatever $79 billion can buy.)

This odd juxtaposition of discussing modern science with neolithic reasoning is unfortunately de rigeur, such is the abysmal state of my profession, known (misleadingly in this case) as science communication. These same commentators who complain about “the people who confuse the public”, don’t seem to realize they’re the ones who lead the pack. They break laws of reason known for two thousands years, destroy the central tenets of science, and conflate irrelevant issues (let’s talk about the moon landing — the moon landing?).  No wonder the public is confused.

Here are our tax dollars being used for a character assassination (or three).

Bob Ward

The interview with Robert Ward is one long attack on anyone who speaks against the word of the paid-fraternity-of-climate-scientists. It’s known as Argument from Authority. It is apparently the core philosophy of how Williams reasons — by following the head sheep. Williams is so enamored with this fallacy, he thought a stone age remark by Schneider (below) was worth using – not just once on his program but twice, as if one call to the Pagan leaders of science wasn’t enough.

Stephen Schneider: There is a very, very large number of people who signed petitions saying they didn’t believe in human-induced global warming who had almost no papers on climate, whereas those in the IPCC and so forth, virtually all of them had published papers. So in that sense it was a dramatic difference.

Professor Richard Lindzen

Any real scientist ought to be lamenting that the National Academy of Science stooped to name-calling and witchcraft, instead Williams and Ward are acolytes, helping to stick pins in voodoo dolls, essentially saying: That skeptic from MIT who’s won prizes in meteorology — what would he know — he’sfringe“. In one word, the media hack with a degree in geology and an unfinished PhD thesis writes off  Professor Richard Lindzen who helped develop the current theory for the Hadley Circulation, advanced global understanding of small scale gravity waves on the mesopause, as well as producing over 200 peer reviewed citations, and training 24 PhDs.

Lindzen’s multiple prizes don’t prove he’s right, but how is the public served when paid-PR-commentators are allowed to dismiss eminent professors without any quotes, examples or specific details? It’s the scientific equivalent of offering up a karaoke singer’s “yes or no” opinion about whether Lady GaGa has got what it takes. Who cares?

The grand irony of the non-meteorologist choosing “experts” is lost on Williams. If we are only supposed to get opinions from people-with-packs-of-citations, why, do tell,  are we listening to Ward? By Ward’s own reasoning, his opinion is worthless.

The language of Propaganda at work

Professor Ian Plimer

Ward also attacks Professor Ian Plimer:

And of course the most obvious of this is his claim that volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than humans. That’s demonstrably false. If you go to the website of the United States Geological Survey you will have been able to see for a long time that humans produce 130 times more carbon dioxide each year than volcanoes. You can measure it, it is clear, there is not even room for a mistake, you can’t be mistaken if it is 130 times less.

The language is vehement: Plimer is “Demonstrably false” and there’s “No room for a mistake”? No, no room at all if you ignore 4.3 million underwater volcanoes. Ward has a geology degree, how could he not realize we only monitor a few volcanoes on land (about 700 to get his USGS statistic), and those don’t produce much CO2 while the underwater variety do?

Ward practically calls Plimer a liar:  “it amazes me that they believe that they can make these statements that can be shown to be false and yet continue to argue.” Yet it is Ward who promotes the falsities, and Williams who provides the uninterrupted megaphone.

Williams lets Ward get away with outrageous speculative smears: Ward claims Professor Bob Carter wrote one of the worst papers in Scientific History, why? Carter’s unforgiveable sin was to misreference a John Houghton quote.

It includes a quote in there that John Houghton has never said, he’s never written and never said, yet it is in this paper by Carter. So that was wrong

Williams knew, but chose not to point out that Houghton had said effectively the same line in a different publication. The details were, after all, in Carter’s response. Instead of saying:  “unless we announce disasters, no one will listen” Houghton had said: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster””. What’s the difference?

But surely, Ward must have other egregious examples of Carter’s mistakes right? Things like, say, using statistical techniques that are so corrupt they produce the same shape graph no matter what the data. (Imagine the scandal! It would be the scientific equivalent of feeding in bus timetables and getting influential global temperatures.) Oh… but wait, that was what Michael Mann did, yet his widely misleading pro-scare-campaign paper was apparently not worth mentioning in the “Worst Climate Paper Stakes”.  Mann picked the wrong kind of tree, the wrong point to centre his statistical tool with, and he extrapolated some data, then hid the data from requests as long as he could. That’s better than Carter’s paper?

Like a true publicity writer, Ward claims Carter has “too many errors” to mention:

…almost on every sentence there was a question over its accuracy, and I went through one by one, and in the end I couldn’t write a paper short enough for publication

So it should be easy to be specific, detailed, and list them point by point, eh? Let’s analyze the analysis:

And he goes from making claims about a correlation between temperature and the Sun, he quotes a paper that’s been shown to have used inaccurate data but he forgets to mention that, it’s got dodgy statistics about the impact that carbon dioxide has on temperature,

Try to spot a single coherent point we can discuss — I’m not sure what he refers to: take your pick from somewhere in the 19 page extravaganza that Ward produced. Ward doesn’t seem too interested in helping us understand why he thinks Carter was wrong, he just wants to put in all the keywords.

No point is too minor for Ward

Professor Bob Carter

Carters paper was published in an economics journal but Bob Ward attacks it for being polemical, as if that’s somehow makes it wrong (and since it’s not in a science journal, presumably that means Carter can’t write about the politics of science anywhere without being accused of the deadly sin of “polemics”).

There’s a litany of trite non-errors. How about the not-so-radical idea that Carter claims the IPCC is a political body which Ward thinks is “misleading”. Ward ought rush to let the IPCC know, because they think they’re a government body, it’s written on their website. (“The IPCC is an intergovernmental body…. Governments are involved in the IPCC work…”). Perhaps Ward hasn’t noticed the I in IPCC stands for “intergovernmental”? It’s mindless stuff. No wonder Carter didn’t bother to try to specifically correct Ward point by point.

It’s an analysis by attrition

Carter is right about his major points, yet Ward produces a file of typos and inanities so long, hardly anyone will read it. It allows him to make vague claims about “inaccurate data” and hidden in the fine print it turns out the inaccurate data was made by someone else, not Bob Carter, and when corrected, it doesn’t change the meaning of Carter’s message anyway. Carter’s point after all, was that “the overwhelmingly dominant greenhouse gas is water vapor”, and again, even the IPCC agrees with Carter: “Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.” Page 632, Chapter 8, Assessment Report 4.

The bottom line

Ponder for a moment the fact that hundreds of paid scientists are proclaiming a crisis, while thousands of unpaid-with-no-vested-interests-scientists are proclaiming the crisis is not in the atmosphere but in science itself. Meanwhile, Williams and Ward are telling us that we should only listen to the paid scientists: switch off your brain, ignore the vested interests.

The Ward interview was lower than tabloid journalism because it’s disguised advertising. Ward works for the “Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment“. It would have little reason to exist if carbon dioxide were not “perceived” to be a threat.

When ABC chairman Maurice Newman suggested that climate change skeptics are ignored on the ABC, Robyn Williams emphatically replied that he would not give people who were “plainly from a lobby group” air time simply to be balanced’. And Bob Ward is obviously not a lobbyist, right, because he works for a strictly scientific institute, one that isn’t trying to push a message on politicians, business and voters, eh…

About the Grantham Research Institute:

It’s mission is to generate world-class, policy-relevant research on climate change and the environment for academics, policy-makers, businesses, non-governmental organizations, the media and the public.

So Williams wouldn’t let lobbyists speak to balance things up. No Sir. Lobbyists are never there for balancing, they’re there to bolster, back and boost…

Williams could have helped the whistleblowers of science and he have could fought for the core tenets of reason, but instead he stands up for the marketing machine of financial houses, for government policies designed to take money and power from workers, and for scientists who hide their data and whose jobs depends on finding a scare.

If you are dismayed by the misuse of your tax dollars, you can write to the Chairman of the ABC or register a complaint. Even if your tax dollars weren’t involved, we all lose in the Western world when the “free media” forgets what science is, and tries to push a policy on the public.

Note to Robyn Williams: Where is the evidence?

I have written about William’s anti-science notions before in: The evidence? What evidence?


Bob Carters paper Knock Knock: Where is the Evidence for Dangerous Human-Caused Global Warming? EAP – Economics Analysis and Policy, Journal of the Economic Society of Australia (Queensland) Inc. Volume 38, Issue 2, 2008

Robert Ward’s “analysis”

Carters Reply

UPDATE (Already!)

See Barry Woods comment below. Bob Ward won’t debate Pielke.

Correction (h/t Chuck) None of the Faculty members of the Grantham Institute would debate Pielke Jnr, only their communications director (Bob Ward) is apparently available. Pielke Jnr has already debated Bob Ward, and wanted to debate a researcher at the Institute, but none of them are willing to do it. Pielke Jnr comments about the last debate, that “not surprisingly, he (Ward) was unprepared to actually debate.  So I won’t repeat that experience again.”

They are all too busy on all TEN possible days to have a debate, whilst Pielke is in London…….

“If the Grantham Institute insists on having Bob Ward going around in blogs and in the media seeking to criticize my work — as he did on the disaster issue and has done so more recently — then they have an obligation to come out from behind him to actually engage in intellectual debate.  The alternative would be to inform Mr. Ward that they do not wish to back up his various attacks. “


Robert Pielke Jr

8.5 out of 10 based on 6 ratings