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Teaching kids to think critically about climate

Two recently published books suggest that the public - and school children in particular - are being fed lies about environmental issues such as climate change. The books - “How to Get Expelled from School…

The days of ‘sit down, shut up and do your science’ are over. Today’s students ask hard questions. University of Iowa

Two recently published books suggest that the public - and school children in particular - are being fed lies about environmental issues such as climate change. The books - “How to Get Expelled from School: A guide to climate change for pupils, parents & punters” by Ian Plimer and “Little Green Lies: An expose of twelve environmental myths” by Jeff Bennett - clearly demonstrate how important it is to have a scientifically literate Australia. The distorted and selectively reported science in these books highlights some of the challenges that Australian teachers face in teaching science, and how important it is that they are supported in this task.

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) has condemned Plimer’s book as misleading and inaccurate. However the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is apparently sending copies of Plimer’s misleading fringe book to Australian schools. The Executive Director of the IPA John Roskam is, incidentally, on the editorial board of the publishing house of these two books.

Plimer’s book tells school students that they are being “conned” and “fed propaganda” if their teacher “waffles” on about issues such as human-induced global warming, sea level rise and the IPCC. He deplores this as “environmental activism”. This is despite the overwhelming evidence for human induced climate change accepted by a vast range of climate scientists and scientific organisations.

Climate change in science classrooms

The NSW Year 7-10 science syllabus reflects the accepted scientific view: “students will learn about waste from resource use and identify excessive use of fossil fuels as a contributing factor to a greenhouse effect”. The new Australian Curriculum: Science includes similar content: “explaining the causes and effects of the greenhouse effect” and “investigating the effect of climate change on sea levels and biodiversity”.

It’s ridiculous to suggest a student would be hit or expelled for asking questions. RiAus

Arguably worse than the disinformation in Plimer’s book is the disdain and disrespect for teachers that he advocates. After a few chapters of strenuous denial of human-induced climate change, Plimer lists 101 questions that students (and parents and punters) should ask teachers to catch them out at their propaganda spreading. Fair enough – questions are good. However this section includes helpful advice to students along the lines of: “This question will get you smacked around the head, turfed out of class or expelled …”. There is another gem relating to the question of whether the sun is responsible for the past 150 years of warming of the Earth: “if the answer from your teacher is no, then you should complain to the head teacher that your teacher is a buffoon”.

The insulting suggestion that teachers hit or expel students for asking questions is compounded by the disrespect to teachers that comments such as these (and there are plenty more) explicitly incite. Secondary science teachers have a hard enough job contending with the challenges that a class of 30 adolescents can generate without this.

However the questions that he asks show how demanding a secondary science teacher’s job is. Students should (and do) ask questions; it is the job of science teachers to encourage questions, yet impossible to know the answers to them all. In one sense this doesn’t matter: teachers and students together can do a bit of research and find out the answer.

But whose answer? Where do they look? Do they read Plimer’s outlier book or do they go to the most authoritative and mainstream sources they can think of? Do they do both? If so, how do they adjudicate between alternative views?

Evaluating ideas and testing them against evidence is core to the process of science - the NSW secondary science syllabus explicitly states that students learn to seek evidence to support claims and evaluate evidence for reliability and validity.

So let’s try.

Answering tricky questions takes time and resources

In answer to his own question Plimer says Mars and other planets (including the Earth) show global warming because of the sun. He uses this as an argument against human induced global warming on Earth. The DCCEE (in its “Accurate Answers to Professor Plimer’s 101 questions”) says there is no real evidence for Plimer’s position. Neither of these answers gives us sources to verify their claims.

So teachers (and their students) might do a bit of further research. They might start with the IPCC reports: but these are so voluminous and detailed that it is difficult to find what you are looking for. They certainly don’t support Plimer’s contention though.

Teachers must find time to sift through a lot of information. Selena NBH/Flickr

For more specific detail on the Mars question teachers might go to that incredibly useful standby, the Skeptical Science site. This points out several flaws with the “It’s the sun, like on Mars” claim.

Teachers could then look for the original paper to evaluate it themselves, finding and reading the abstract. They’ll note the authors make no mention of their Martian observations having anything at all to do with climate change on Earth, but might decide that they don’t know enough about albedo and dust storms on Mars to really assess the results. They will probably baulk at paying $US32 to buy the full text of the article (after all this was only one of many questions they received that day).

So the teacher might dig further, and find a paper in National Geographic that reports on a Russian scientist’s claims that the Sun is in fact responsible for recent warming of both Mars and Earth, but that states that his argument is also flawed on several grounds. Despite an hour of searching, the teacher might not be able to find any peer reviewed original source for the Russian’s claim: the closest they can get is an interview reported by the Russian International News Agency. And then they’ll find that evaluating the science of this dubious claim means knowing again about astrophysics, planetary imaging and the climate and atmosphere of Mars.

After hours of all this, the teacher looks at their watch and finds they still have 100 Plimer questions to go, dinner is burnt, tomorrow’s chemistry lesson for Year 9 is not prepared and they run the risk of being called a buffoon.

Yes, Professor Plimer, critical thinking is vital

Of course, testing claims by examining their underlying science is an essential way of examining their reliability and validity. But this is sometimes very difficult and time consuming to do. Most science teachers are generalists rather than climate science specialists, and there is a huge breadth of very complex different scientific sub-disciplines contributing information to climate science.

Moreover this work has already been done: by some of the hundreds of appropriately qualified scientists contributing research and analysis to organisations such as the IPCC, CSIRO, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Australian Academy of Science and so on (this could become a very long list indeed).

So clearly, evaluating the science behind many similar claims about climate change requires a high level of scientific literacy and demands that this be taught and developed in schools. However, broader critical thinking is also required – the same science syllabus requires that student use critical thinking skills in evaluating information and drawing conclusions.

Students learn to think critically, evaluate information and reach their own conclusions. University of Salford

Critical thinking would explore the reliability of the claimant as well as the claims. For example, what might it mean that Plimer’s views are rejected outright by 97-98% of climate scientists and major scientific organisations across the world? Might his extreme and nastily expressed views have something to do with vested interests - given that he is the interim chairman of one mining company and director of at least one other - in the context of a looming carbon tax?

Teaching critical thinking in this context would also look at the concept and role of peer review and relevant credentials when deciding on the worth of conflicting statements.

Professor Bennett is on to something: teachers need economics as well as science

Bennett’s 12 “Little Green Lies” (not to be confused with the 10 “Little Green Lies” published by Jonathan Adler 20 years ago – we are now two lies worse off) raises similar issues and more. In his chapter on climate change, Bennett cites discredited climate change deniers such as Christopher Monkton and Ian Plimer, and conferences organised by the extremist right wing Heartland Institute to shore up his contention that the science of climate change is not settled.

Bennett’s book contends that we should consider economic factors in relation to environmental issues - not a novel argument. One of the organising ideas for the Sustainability cross-curriculum priority of the new Australian Curriculum spells it out for teachers: “Sustainable patterns of living rely on the interdependence of healthy social, economic and ecological systems”.

This is the second challenge for science teachers. Teaching kids about this interdependence of systems requires, well, a cross-curricular perspective that marries accurate science with socio-political and economic considerations. But secondary education is traditionally conducted in subject silos, with the science teachers busy beavering away at Plimer’s 101 questions, and knowing very little about things that Bennett knows about such as “individually tradable quotas”.

Secondary teachers are going to need a lot of support and resources for the cross-curricular priorities of the Australian Curriculum to really be implemented.

Plimer and Bennett have starkly illustrated the need for a genuinely cross-curricular approach to sustainability in the Australian Curriculum, and for support to help science teachers enhance the scientific literacy of Australia’s children.

A recent report by Australia’s Chief Scientist and the 54 million-dollar science and mathematics Budget package both signpost the need for more good science teachers in Australian schools. This is to ensure we have appropriately skilled workers in the future and to improve the scientific literacy of the next generation of Australians.

It’s hard enough helping kids understand the main ideas of science without having to deal with diversionary and scientifically invalid materials exemplified by these two books. It is also too terrible to contemplate the consequences of a generation not able to critically engage with and disentangle the science from the spin. So yes please – the support and resources for science teachers are very welcome.

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161 Comments sorted by

  1. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    “This question will get you smacked around the head, turfed out of class or expelled …”

    It's a joke, obviously. Plimer's a stirrer. I'm sure the book isn't really suggesting "teachers hit or expel students for asking questions", and kids would know that.

    I just think we can be a bit humourless and sanctimonious when we talk about AGW - as if it's primarily a moral issue.

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    1. Michael J. Lew

      Senior Lecturer, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at University of Melbourne

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Perhaps some people tend towards sanctimony when trying to respond to Ian Plimer because the most likely explanation for his consistent misleading presentation of the scientific literature is a moral failing on his part.

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    2. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to James Jenkin

      My first thought about the title (which was my entire experience of the book up until now) was that it was probably a clumsy attempt to make climate change denial "sexy" and subversive. As for the head-smacking etc. - I think Plimer's made a mistake here. The idea that they'd get "smacked around the head, turfed out of class or expelled" for dropping their pants in front of the teacher, nevermind asking a slightly facetious question, sounds like something from another age (how old is Plimer again)?

      A really thoughtful kid would be wondering, "if he's THAT far off the mark about what happens in schools, how much else of this book is nonsense?"

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    3. Roger Jones

      Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University

      In reply to James Jenkin

      No need to be sanctimonious about it, but it *is* a moral issue, informed by scientific evidence. Clear thinking is an essential skill for teaching, I would think.

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    4. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to James Jenkin

      What actually happens is that students are harangued and mocked and ultimately give up questioning.
      They learn that it is best to humour their teachers.

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  2. Davoe McNamee

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Although if schoolkids followed the example of climate change deniers using methods such as slander, malicious billboards, hacking emails and death threats, expulsion could definitely become a possibility.

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  3. Lorna Jarrett

    PhD, science educator and science advocate

    Thanks for an interesting article Frances. It hadn't occurred to me before that teachers would be further burdened by having to refute these questions. Resources like Skeptical science and the DCCEE's site are invaluable for teachers - why should they be burdened with digging out primary sources themselves when schoolkids are being encouraged to read from a denialist script?

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  4. Lennert Veerman
    Lennert Veerman is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

    Great article, and great idea to use Plimer's rubbish as teaching material.

    After all, these students will be confronted with a world in which vested interests will continually try to spin the news and discredit facts that stand in the way of their business interests.

    Schools had better prepare students for that and teach them how to investigate claims about issues that are amenable to scientific fact-finding. As you say, that must include an examination of who makes the claim and what motives they might have.

    One could hardly wish for better material than Plimer's book. Not too hard to debunk, and with an author with blatantly obvious vested interests in the issue at stake.

    And perhaps Bennett's work could be useful for lessons in economy, or a joint science-economy project?

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  5. Alan Johns

    logged in via Facebook

    Our education system needs to teach students to use scientific methods in evaluating scientific questions. Expecting them to believe without questioning is unacceptable. The most important lesson is to learn how to identify subtle brain washing. Where is the proof? Consensus is not proof.

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    1. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Alan Johns

      If you mean 'proof' in a mathematical sense, science, at large, cannot offer 'proof'. If on the other hand you will accept agreement among many active scientists on the basis of the evidence and interpretation as presented and tested in the reputable peer reviewed literature as the kind of 'proof' that is actually available in science, then how else is that described succinctly other than as 'consensus'.

      Yes believing without questioning is unacceptable. But there are good questions and not so good questions, just as there is good evidence and not so good evidence. By and large, Plimer's questions are deliberate steers to AGW denialism rather than good, open, testable questions. And, when I last looked, inference to the best hypothesis was still part of the scientific method: upon which AGW denialism fails.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Alan Johns

      This, as Dennis points out more elquently than I can, is one of the great furphies of the whole issue - whether mischevous or merely ignorant, it conflates the idea of 'consensus' with a simplistic averaging-the-guesses type of process.

      This is the equivalent of confusing the consensus of a panel of football commentators (which is an averaging of guesses) with the implicit consensus of the overwhelming majority of scientists and competent scientific bodies (with, it might be added, none actively dissenting!) which is a post hoc observation that all experts, working independently from testable evidence, have arrived at the same logical conclusion. This is a kind of 'found' consensus, rather than a 'forced' consensus that might arise from some kind of voting or averaging process.

      Repeating this rather elementary confusion does nobody any credit.

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    3. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Felix an Dennis,

      Thanks for demonstrating another problem inherent in trying to reason with "climate denialists". Their claims are invariably soundbite-size: "consensus is not proof"; "the climate has always changed"; "carbon-dioxide is plant-food" etc. etc. - but reasoned responses tend to come in paragraphs, because the denialist arguments are either oversimplifications or misrepresentations.

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      If it can't be contained within a headline from The Hun or the Daily Toiletgaffe it doesn't really constitute a denialist argument, does it?

      Of course White Right Daily (mistitled 'the Australian') often does it over several paragraphs, but it's a case of quantity rather than quality.

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    5. Ellie Price

      Consultant

      In reply to Alan Johns

      Consensus is not proof - this is true. This does not necessarily mean that proof is a requirement of knowledge. The scientific method does not require "proof", but rather an acceptance of conclusions by the broader scientific community based on a review of the research undertaken. The Peer Review Process is, then, a means of establishing "consensus".

      "Peer" review, of course, does not mean review by 'Lord' Moncton on the basis that he is a 'Peer'. Perhaps this is the part that is confusing him.

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    6. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Alan Johns

      'Consensus is not proof'. No. But then except for certain areas in Mathematics, proof is never possible. All one can do is determine the degree of likelihood that something has been demonstrated. '50/50', 'on the balance of probabilities', 'beyond reasonable doubt', 'beyond even unreasonable doubt', '3 sigmas' etc.

      However to evaluate the degree to which something has been demonstrated you need a knowledgebase to apply in making that judgement. If you don't know of, or have a faulty grasp of…

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    7. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      "Do I know enough about this subject to be able to evaluate the proposition in front of me?"

      I'd recommend Boyes and Stanisstreet (2001) as a starting-point for that. Don't worry about a paywall - the title pretty much says it all.

      "The Scientific Method includes a healthy respect for ones own limitations" - what else can I say but... Dunning-Kruger effect.

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    8. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      If Boyes and Stanistreet don't convince you, there are literally SCORES of studies that independently replicate their results.

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    9. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Alan Johns

      There is no need for "consensus" when observations are conclusive.

      1. Observed: Sun irradiates earth with short-wave energy.

      2. Observed: Earth re-radiates long-wave energy.

      3. Observed: Greenhouse gases retard transmission of long-wave energy, not short-wave energy.

      Inferred from Observations 1, 2 and 3: Greenhouse gases thus regulate earth's temperature. Altering atmospheric greenhouse gas content therefore alters earth's temperature.

      4. Observed: Historic fossil fuel…

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    10. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      In most areas of the hard sciences, the classical approach depended on on "Proof" even though the possibility of necessary changes to the basic tenets obtained from measurements, was accepted . The development of any sound theoretical physics is in fact based on proof in the pure mathematical sence, once a set of well established axioms have been arranged as a starting point. These are necessarily well defined "assumptions" which in fact are no different from the basic assumptions stated in the…

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    11. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ellie Price

      Ellie,

      The peer review process does not have anything to do with establishing a consensus. The review process is one of considering first of all whether the subject matter of the paper is consistent with the defined objects of the publication - is it atomic physics, thermodynamics, physical chemistry etc for publication in a journal of at least somewhat similar name.

      Secondly, the reviewer is required to consider whether the processes described in the paper are sufficiently explicit to allow…

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    12. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Nicol

      I would argue that there are multiple levels of peer-review. Often there is running it past colleagues.
      In spite of what John says, this still happens. In much (and maybe all) of CSIRO, going through
      this stage is a formal requirement. Then there is the peer-review required for publication in serious scientific journals. Traditionally this has been anonymous, but some journals encourage reviewers to identify themselves. I usually do so unless the journal insists on anonymity.

      Finally, the real…

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    13. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      "many centuries of acceptance of Newton's laws of gravitation didn't prevent Einstein from doing something better".

      I wouldn't say *better* exactly - Newton's laws are still pretty handy for most human-scale applications.

      For example, today my supervisor threw a balled-up paper bag 4 metres and straight into a bin through an aperture no more than 15cm across, thus demonstrating an enviable grasp of projectile motion with corrections for air-resistance.

      I'd have sod all chance of doing that - my mistake was doing theoretical physics rather than applied.

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    14. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hello John.

      Since as you rightly point out the highly indented structure of comments at The Conversation is a serious pain in the fundament, I will comment on a number of your points in one single post

      Firstly, you have never given me a response to the email I sent you several weeks ago, pointing out the major fallacies in Jack Barrett's work and the faulty understanding of how the GH Effect works, which you have repeated here again.

      Next "By contrast, in discussing the relationship between…

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    15. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Alan Johns

      I agree with you Alan. The whole climate change debate seems to be very one sided and people are divided into "believers" and "skeptics" depending on the view they take. This is not science - it is like thinking from the middle ages. Anyone that has looked in detail at the research on climate change will realise that the science is not as clear cut as the public is told. Why do we need to be brainwashed when real science should stand on it's own merits.

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    16. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Dear Ian,

      Thanks again for your enlightening comments and particularly for your stunning endorsement of my colleagues.

      But first let me say that I fully endorse your remarks on the peer review process and delighted to see that what you have written is along exactly the same lines that I have been blogging for some years. As soon as one raises the issue of a scientific problem or analysis, the climatologists pounce on one like a leopard on a mouse shouting “peer review”, many saying they won’t…

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    17. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Alan Johns

      Matt,
      You are spot on.
      Science does itself no favours by demanding belief in students in issues that their parents, many of whom are better educated and paid more dismiss as a mere intellectual conceit.

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    18. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alan Johns

      Exactly Alan, The introduction of the complex science of climates - notice I did not say "climate change" because climates always change, that is what they do, and have done for millions of year - is no way to introduce students to science.

      The development of the basic laws of Newton, Gallilean transformations etc should be the starting point for physics, if only to present it in an historical sence to younger students.

      The concepts of mass, distance, time, force, velocity, acceleration…

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    19. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hi John

      Can I take it that your lack of a reply to my email about Jack Barrett's paper from many weeks ago, and your lack of a response about your views on the merits of Edwards et al & Conrath et al should be taken as an indication that you won't be replying? That presumably you don't have a view about these things?

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  6. John Hartshorn

    retired - financial analyst

    When I was attending my first year of school in the dark ages of the 1950s it was carefully explained to us that a healthy breakfast was essential and consisted of "fruit, cereal, milk, bread and butter". No one explained to us, or probably the teacher either, that the teaching materials had been provided by the dairy industry. But my dad,who worked in advertising, soon provided me with a healthy awareness of and respect for the presence of pernicious lies and distortions, aka advertising, in everyday…

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  7. Ian Enting

    Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

    The DCCEE set of 101 replies is a fine re-statement of the science.

    Another set of 101 answers to Plimer's questions is at
    http://www.complex.org.au/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=134

    The main things that I do, the DCCEE doesn't, are:
    (i) engage with the answers (or non-answers) that Plimer gives
    (ii) explicitly note the `teacher-bashing' the underlies the book;
    (iii) explicitly note where Plimer is fabricating data.

    I also provide a link to the Deltoid blog post which shows how
    a section of "How to get Expelled .." is plagiarised from a
    research group press release (and later run as an op-ed in The
    Australian), with a few sentences negated because the research
    conclusions did not support Plimer's claims.

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    1. Bruce Tabor

      Research Scientist at CSIRO

      In reply to Ian Enting

      "It’s hard enough helping kids understand the main ideas of science without having to deal with diversionary and scientifically invalid materials exemplified by these two books."

      Trying to sift genuine evidence based knowledge from chaff is central to science, so I see these two books as a huge opportunity to teach the nuts and bolts of science. This is a fantastic opportunity to teach kids critical thinking and that science has a vital role in the future of our planet and society. Rather than…

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    2. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bruce Tabor

      I have written one book:
      Twisted: the distorted mathematics of greenhouse denial.

      Anyone who thinks my analysis of Plimer could make a book should contact me about collaboration. (Freil has wriiten a debubking book, called, I think
      "The Lomborg Deception", so this sort of thing is possible, but it strikes me as very boring). I quite like George Monbiot's description of what is required for this sort of thing: "persistence and a strong stomach"

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    3. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Maybe, if I ever finish my PhD... at least I suppose I can claim to know something about the current state of students' knowledge.

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  8. Grendelus Malleolus

    Senior Nerd

    I find Plimer's whole premise abominable on the grounds that he merely wants students to parrot his questions rather than have them taught the skills to formulate their own. He's an old-school chalk-and-talk reactionary - the furthest thing from a critical thinker.

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  9. Michael Brown

    Professional & academic

    You worry too much - this is an excellent introduction for students to issues that scientists have to deal with all the time - lots of data and some conflicting opinions. A great opportunity to inculcate logic, critical thinking and objective data analysis. I've spoken to a few science teachers about this and all seem pretty confident, balanced and professional.

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    1. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Michael Brown

      "lots of data and some conflicting opinions. A great opportunity to inculcate logic, critical thinking and objective data analysis."

      Michael they get that already using real science as a basis - Plimer's book does not add any value to that process.

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    2. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Michael Brown

      "issues that scientists have to deal with all the time" ???
      data fabrication, misrepresenting the content of cited sources, trying to prove differences by plotting graphs on different scales, plagiarism.

      Not in the areas of science that i've worked in over 40 years as a scientist. Lots of people who have been overconfident in their results, underestimating the uncertainties etc (and that includes myself as seen in retrospect), but precisely one person whose conduct had him shunned by the community. But the fabrication etc only appears in efforts like Plimer's.

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    1. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Or maybe if he could confirm the fact that, according to him, CO2 is not poisonous by coming along for a dive on a CCR, Ill pack a scrubber but obviously he won't need to ;)

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  10. Mark Duffett

    logged in via Facebook

    I don't know that it's helpful or even truthful to suggest a link between Plimer's vested interests and "extreme and nastily expressed views". He almost certainly held those views prior to taking up those directorships. It's especially misleading and unhelpful to the extent that (I don't know) said 'mining' companies have nothing to do with fossil fuel production. There is no clear common interest between mining per se in general and climate denial.

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    1. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      "There is no clear common interest between mining per se in general and climate denial."

      Really? How long have you been reading The Conversation for?

      I've only been reading it for a few months, but it's become clear that a significant proportion of the denialists here are geologists, retired geologists or students of that field.

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    2. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Craig Read

      Even to the extent that that's true, it doesn't say anything about why mining in general (as distinct from coal mining) should have a common interest with climate denial. It's much more likely to be due to a fundamental difficulty that many geoscientists have with near-instantaneous processes (like the Industrial Revolution) having primacy over those operating on geological time scales. This has its roots in the uniformitarian vs catastrophist (read 'flood') debates of the early 19th century and before.

      I also find the whole 'x has a vested interest, therefore x's view can be discounted' to be generally a lazy and unconstructive critique in all spheres, not just climate. Apart from being essentially a personal attack, rather than addressing the arguments and data, it often rules out a large chunk of the expertise in any given field.

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    3. Dan Smith

      Network Engineer

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Having a vested interest doesn't make someone's views wrong, true. But it does suggest a motive for why people might hold views that can be otherwise demonstrated as wrong. I think the case here is that Plimer's arguments have been rejected on scientific grounds; pointing out his possible motives merely fills out the picture, and helps us answer the question, "Why would an educated person hold a view so contrary to the expert consensus on this particular subject?"

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    4. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      I don't know that mining does in general has a common interest in climate denial. I just notice the trend that has been occurring here.

      "I also find the whole 'x has a vested interest, therefore x's view can be discounted' to be generally a lazy and unconstructive critique in all spheres, not just climate."

      I agree, their view shouldn't be discounted just because they have a vested interest. That's attacking the man, not the ball. But those vested interests should still be taken into account. Especially when their views are contrary to the views of over 90% of the experts in that area.

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    5. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Mark

      While their is certainly the possibility of a link between certain industries and Climate Denial - definitely wrt funding pseudo think tanks and commentators etc - there is a far more interesting general dimension to Climate Denialism. This is fundamentally a psychological dimension.

      A fundamental assumption we make when communicating with others is that they process information and comprehend the world the same way we do. So when we see markedly differing views we often ascribe to them…

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    6. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Really valuable contribution with much truth in it, Glenn, thanks. However, the other point I made continues to be missed: Fossil fuel extraction excepted, there is nothing about mining that is particularly or disproportionately inimical to the climate, any more than any other sector of the primary and secondary industrial economy. Attacking Plimer's climate pronouncements on the basis of his non-fossil mining interests is therefore misconceived.

      Clearly the article's author and many readers and commenters feel otherwise, but I'm still none the wiser as to why.

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    7. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Mark

      There is one key aspect of mining (in fact all forms of Geological extraction) that, while it may not be ESPECIALLY inimical to the climate, is none the less of some impact on the climate, and just as importantly, is liable to be impacted upon by any efforts to control AGW.

      The economy essentially consists of producing and consuming goods and services. By their nature the provision of services doesn't consume any raw materials except in the provision of goods for use in the provision of…

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    8. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Craig Read

      Craig Reid,

      Could it not be that geologists have some knowledge of past climates and therefore see nothing exceptional about this "climate change"?

      Physicists do not work for oil companies but most of them are not so sure about the claims of the IPCC. They also have perhaps a better appreciation, or if not better, at least different, of the characteristics of carbon dioxide and atmospheric physics than perhaps do even the experienced climatologists whose background seems mainly to lie in geography.
      John Nicol

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    9. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to John Nicol

      "Physicists ... most of them are not so sure about the claims of the IPCC"

      That's a big claim to make about my mob, John. Got any evidence to back it up?

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    10. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to John Nicol

      John Nicol
      "Could it not be that geologists have some knowledge of past climates" And that specialist PaleoClimatologists have far more knowledge of past climates and the driving forces behind them that aren't covered bby a working geologists education.

      And again John, you repeat your old furphy and canard that climatologists are mainly geographers, something you never back up with references. When in fact many people in Climatology came to that from other fields, particularly physics.

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    11. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      I think John and his mates just look at departmental affiliations, (or csiro divisions). Most of the names are accidents of the history if changes, mergers and special units.

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    12. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Glenn,

      What you have said is very true. It is just human nature to protect one's own patch and that is probably a good thing because it maintains stability in society, provided in doing one does not interfere adversely with others or another section of society.

      The climate change debate at its most strident, is often presented quite wrongly as a scientific debate. It is all about maintaining control of one's patch. The IPCC is suggested as being the chief arbiter and is said to provide a…

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    13. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Glenn,

      There will of course be some with a basic physics background such as the meterologists of which yes, there are some and yes there are some others. But I believe from looking at the departments and backgrounds of those publishing in the field of climatology, most are geographers. Nothing wrong with that but it would be good to know that a few more physicists or physical chemists were contributing to climate research.

      Could you list some significant physicists among the climate units in Australia? You could keep it low key and just report numbers if you like but I would like to see names so you could email me as you have before. After all, my name and those of the ACSC get bandied around here quite freely.
      John Nicol jonicol18@bigpond.com

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    14. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      John Nicol

      I will reply to myself to stop the comments nesting too deeply

      The last 5 paragraphs of your post are just flat out wrong. The key reference cited by the IPCC AR4 for the impact of CO2 is Myrhe et al 1998. That in turn cites a number of other papers including, as I have highlighted to you before, Edwards et al 1992 here: http://nldr.library.ucar.edu/collections/technotes/asset-000-000-000-178.pdf. Have you have read it yet. In this paper they describe a Line-by-line Radiative Transfer…

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    15. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Further to my comments below, you might find the following video series interesting. Earth; The Operators Manual. http://www.youtube.com/user/Etheoperatorsmanual?annotation_id=_annotation_748316&src_vid=E-Urt8x1Ygk&feature=iv

      Particularly interesting is the following video in the series http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoR4ezwKh5E&list=UUShAg7p1e30Bk-XWS7EiCgQ&index=2&feature=plcp

      Titled: "Who says CO2 heats things up?"
      Subtitled: "The US Air Force, thats who"

      Research into the properties of CO2, only for defence purposes like making sure heat seeking missiles work. I don't think their scientists were geographers John.

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    16. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Thanks for the effort Glenn. As George Monbiot said, your sort of effort requires persistence and a strong stomach. In this forum I just go for nailing the simpler lies.

      cheers

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    17. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Nicol

      John:
      "geologists have some knowledge of past climates"

      Geologists like Royer, Berner and Park who find that "climate sensitivity [the amount of warming from doubling CO2] of of AT LEAST [my emphasis] 1.5 degrees C has been a robust feature of the Earth’s climate system over the past 420 Myr"

      journal = {Nature},
      year = {2007},
      volume = {446},
      pages = {530--532},

      Ian Plimer thinks this is so important that he cites this paper at least 4 times in Heaven + Earth and quotes the words above at least twice.

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    18. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian

      And Royer 2007 is one of the Climate Sensitivity analyses collected by Knutti & Hegerl that gives good confidence of CS at around 3. Most skeptics really seem to get hung up in thinking that its all about just computer models. When the majority of CS studies are from real world and paleo data.

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    19. k d

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      I'm generally pretty unhappy with the use of the term 'scepic' to describe climate deniers. Any set of scientific beliefs that requires discounting the majority of the peer reviewed literature as out of hand, and instead instead relying on articles of this quality: http://denialdepot.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/staggering-drop-in-global-temperature.html (ok usually with less satire and more mathturbation) should be called out as denial, not scepticism.

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    20. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to k d

      Sue Lawler from Latrobe had an article in The Conversation a week or so ago on the"sceptic" terminology.

      I'm not sure what point is about denialdepot. My understanding is that, like the calgary-based "friends of gin and tonic", denialdepot is only satire of denialism

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    21. k d

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ian Enting

      The denial depot link was an attempt to post a good example of the denier's argument quality. I resorted to a satirical one, rather than one of the many examples of turgid mathturbation (tanks to tamino for that lovely expression) to keep the tone light.

      Interestingly much of the mathturbation seems to come from fossil-fuel-industry aligned economic think tanks.

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    22. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Glenn's analysis is plausible, except for anybody who knows how industries work. Firstly, nitrogenous compound manufacturers are also involved in the production of explosives. Thus they have have always operated in a very cyclic industry. These industries in Australia have seen a series of mergers, demergers, etc. over the years.
      Secondly, Twiggy Forrest is in the iron ore business not coal.
      Thirdly, imputing thoughts and motives to others that they have not publicly stated is gratuitous at best and possibly defamatory.
      Fourthly,changing technology has lead to the rise and fall of companies throughout history. In recent times, the demise of Kodak and the fall in Nokia's dominance of the mobile phone market was driven by operators smart enough to take up new technology. Apple on the other hand was able to steal a march on its rivals, as all good companies do.
      I note that the psychological analysis comes from a mechanical engineer.

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    23. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Ian Enting

      'Confidentists' - as in I am confident nothing bad can ever happen
      'Ignoristas' - as in if I ignore enough stuff everything will be OK
      Or Richard Alley's simple term - 'Ostrichs'

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  11. Seán McNally

    Market and Social Researcher at eris strategy

    My reading of the strategy employed by Ian Pilmer and the IPA is not to get students to use the book but rather for their teachers to not use the book. By insulting teachers and using such unprofessional language and approach would be a great way to ensure teachers do not use the book as a text.

    By having teachers reject the book Ian and the IPA can then accuse the teachers of bias. A simple strategy I have used. By being rejected you can claim the victim position, and add claim the rejection as another data point supporting your position of a conspiracy.

    If Ian's and the IPA/s target audience also have a poor opinion of public school teachers, their argument will tie in nicely to this prejudice. This approach also carried the public debate advantage of giving your own argument, which may have been rejected, a halo effect from prejudice of public school teachers.

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    1. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Seán McNally

      Possibly the target is neither students, not teachers, but rather parents, giving them something with which to harass teachers. The result could be like what happens with evolution in the US -- the whole topic just gets dropped from schools as too controversial and too much trouble.

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    2. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      I can't really see it myself, Ian - in 10 years I don't recall ever being hassled by parents over the content of my lessons - but having said that I remember the heady days a handful of years ago when the topic was relatively uncontroversial - so maybe things have changed.

      There's ample evidence that the number of high-school students who can explain the greenhouse effect correctly are outnumbered by those who explain how greenhouse gases damage the ozone layer, thus allowing in more UV to heat up the Earth.

      I sincerely hope no-one in education (or education policy) ever decides that it's "too much trouble" to attempt to give young people at least a basic understanding of the science.

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    3. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      You know Lorna :)

      Reading you, and being slightly tired I suddenly though you were saying that it was the ozone layer being responsible :)

      And gaining that insight from a physics education no less :)

      But you didn't, did you. You were just discussing disinformation, and their results. The biggest question I got is on my mind those days is the one whether those disinforming the public really, sincerely, believe in their claims or if it is so that they somewhere have other more ulterior motives, money or other-wise?

      I would really hate to know that those with the economic resources also would be those to lead humanity into disaster. Uh, wait, what am I saying here :) They have been doing that for the longest time, hasn't they?

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    4. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Sorry about that Yoron!

      I appreciate that the prevalence of the "ozone depletion" explanation almost sounds impossible to believe unless you've experienced it first-hand. We take for granted the basic knowledge about the Earth emitting IR and greenhouse gases absorbing that, but the evidence suggests we might actually the ones in the minority. If school students aren't coming away with a clear understanding of the basic science, what are the chances that they ever will?

      Which leads to the question - how many of the people complaining about "a tax on the air we breathe" hold profound misconceptions about the basic science of climate change?

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    5. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I think it's important to stress that I don't scoff at schoolkids (or the adults they become) for holding these views. Like many scientific misconceptions, they're built up through the good-faith use of logic and application of knowledge derived from a variety of sources. Lots of things in science are counter-intuitive so it's not surprising that students often reach the wrong conclusions.

      What's more, it's very well known just how tenacious misconceptions are; how didactic teaching does not displace…

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    6. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I hope you're right. I guess my concerns were based on reading about US situation over evolution, australia following some of the worst US political trends, and australia having, in some ways, weaker protections than the USA.

      Having a former PM launch a teacher-bashing book seems to be a step backwards.

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    7. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Maybe these political types should have the intestinal fortitude to front up to the teachers they're vilifying. Maybe answer a few simple questions about the basics of the science too.

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  12. Craig Read

    logged in via Twitter

    I totally agree that high school students should ask a lot of questions.

    But they should also be taught critical thinking, and effective debating techniques to be able to make the most of those questions. The <a href="http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop">Gish Gallop</a> he's trying to arm with, is NOT an effective debating technique.

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  13. Elizabeth Hart

    Independent Vaccine Investigator

    I read this article while not signed in, and clicked on the '+' sign for the comments by Alan Johns and James Jenkin, (which had collected many negative responses) - but nothing happened, i.e. my positive support did not reduce their negative score.

    To test the system, I also clicked on a comment by Lorna Jarrett which had scored many positive responses - and her positive score jumped up by two points!

    I then signed in and tried again, and this time my positive support for Alan Johns and James…

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    1. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      Thanks for your comments on potential glitches in the voting system, Elizabeth. I'll pass those on to the software team and see what's going on. As for using real names, this is our policy:

      Contributors who want to comment must use their real names when signing up for an account on The Conversation (unless signing in using third-party services, such as Facebook or Twitter).

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    2. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      And some of us are far better known by our nicknames than our birth names in any case. I've been 'grendel' to friends and acquaintences for many many years (offline as well as online). In any case when you sign up for an account although you are asked to use your actual name, you could in fact use any name at all as there is not way under the current sign-up system to verify whether the full name entered is the actual name of the person. At least my pseudonym is linked publically and tracebly to me, my blog and my twitter account - with a long and noble online lineage!

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    3. Gus Gollings

      Technical Director at The Conversation

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      Thanks for the heads up about the voting, there is indeed a bug where you can vote once when logged in and once again when logged out. You should only be able to to vote once per comment and we'll fix up the problem.

      There is also a poor user experience where if you have voted once on a comment, refresh the page, then you can again click on the + or - for that comment but your vote wont actually count which is really confusing. We'll fix this up too.

      And thanks as well for your more general remarks about voting and comments, its a fine balance that we'll keep working on.

      Gus Gollings
      Technical Director
      The Conversation

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    4. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Gus Gollings

      while you are at it Gus, how about a unique fixed searchable tag on comments (or at least a fixed date) so that we can find the stuff for which we get email alerts.

      With deeply nested reply sequences and comments' positions shifted round by voting, actually responding to stuff gets to be a real pain.

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    5. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      "In fact, I don't really like this form of anonymous voting system, it's too open to abuse, but I voted this time because it was all looking so one-sided, and I thought Alan and James made fair comments. Is this sort of anonymous voting system really appropriate for a serious website promoting free and transparent debate?"

      Elisabeth, I agree.

      Never liked this 'plus and minus thingie' myself, and stopped it with others, getting introduced on another site. It's dogmatic and give weight to 'anonymous ignoramus', heh, voting about thing he/she otherwise never would dare to voice, as knowing their limitations of knowledge. So yeah, that's not what like with this site, but I really like the discussions. Being ignorant in a discussion can be corrected, nobody 'knows it all', but those 'plusing an minusing' won't be talked with, will they :)

      So I find you quite perceptive :)

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    6. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Elizabeth Hart

      As for "In a similar vein, when opening an account with The Conversation it is made clear that first and last name is required, no pseudonyms allowed. Yet people with pseudonyms are able to comment (e.g. 'Grendels') via LinkedIn etc." I don't agree, let there be voices coming from all corners, as long as they stand for what they think. It's not the names that's important, it's what those behind those names are thinking that is, well, to my eyes :).

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    7. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      on the plus side, when it gets to be too much of a pain it forces us to get back to work.

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    8. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian,

      I thoroughly endorse your comments here. For a forum supported by a consortium of universities the organisation of The Conversation is nothing short of a disgrace. I have commented on these matters before and often, but nothing seems to be done about it.

      By the time you have, say, 300 comments, it takes all day sometimes to dig out the ones you want. The positioning of replies is also very awkward and the use of the text box itself is an excercise in self flagilation, once it is full.

      I usually go to another text editor and copy and paste into the blog.
      John Nicol

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    9. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      direct jumping to a specific comment would be nice, but we're in the hands of the techies as to whether it's possible using whatever they use to build this site.

      I'd like to add - and I DO know this is possible - a MAXIMUM post length please?

      I come to this site (and surely I'm not the only one) for a little light relief from a job that revolves around reading and writing - so if you can't make your point without filling the screen then I'm not going to read it.

      Abstract-length would seem appropriate, so 200-300 words?

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    10. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Nicol

      "disgrace" seems a bit strong.

      I use a text editor and paste stuff in especially longer responses. I seem to get hit with something (probably to do with dos/unix difference in end of line) which puts in a lot of blank lines. It happened with my first post here on my responses to Plimer's 101 questions, and it will probably happend with my next post showing howJohn Nicol lies about the IPCC.

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    11. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      One small bit of leverage that I have is that The Conversation like to have their writers participate in dicussions. I try to do it (and try to negotiate timing of what I write so that things get published when I have time to respond). I would have loved it if the guy from the Aust catholic Uni had stayed around to say how he views cardinals who spread lies about climate science.

      So, as a writer for TC, i would like a more functional comments feature.

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    12. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Nicol

      exrtacted for comment on "I can change your mind about (other people’s minds about) climate change " 9/5/12
      by John Nicol (logged in via Facebook) about 10/may 2012

      ========================================
      The problem has arisen because it was decided by a committee, under Houghton, in the UK, (the "We need to emphasize catastrophe, otherwise no one will listen" Houghteon) which was considering ways in which all catastrophic weather events could be sheeted home to global warming in the minds…

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    13. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian,

      Coming from the Frozen North, I understood the intent of using "climate change" was to emphasise (a) changes to rainfall patterns and the like, which "global warming" doesn't encompass and (b) include the projections that parts of the planet might get colder.

      Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I understood that one such early projection was the weakening of the Gulf Stream and resulting cooling of the British Isles.

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    14. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian,

      OK 200-300 words is a bit restrictive - but one of John Nicol's comments was 2374 words in length. I've read shorter journal articles!

      To be honest I think it's lazy to write such enormous comments - posters either have nothing to do all day or are copying and pasting verbatim form somewhere else. And we all know that it takes more effort to produce concise writing than it does to waffle! A maximum comment length would impose a bit of discipline on the ramblers.

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    15. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      "posters either have nothing to do all day or are copying and pasting verbatim form somewhere else."

      or both.

      I was not arguing for unrestricted comment length. It's just that with John (and more so with Ian Plimer) one has to make some subjective decisions about the relative importance of the negative aspects of his arguments.

      I think john's length is a pain, but his lying about the IPCC definition of climate change is more important to note.

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    16. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      i think the use of the term climate change is (and was) intended to capture all aspects of all types of climate change, including past climate changes.
      as an area of science, the human part of climate change is considered in the context of all causes, human and natural. doing otherwise makes no sense.

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    17. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian

      "(the "We need to emphasize catastrophe, otherwise no one will listen" Houghteon)". When actually that is

      (the Piers Ackeran lyingly said John Houghton said "We need to emphasize catastrophe, otherwise no one will listen" Houghton)

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    18. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Thanks for the reminder. I'd forgotten about that. We don't get Piers Ackerman in these parts. (and anyway fabricating a Houghton quote doesn't quite have the class of Christopher Pearson fabricating a papal quote in the Oz).

      1. As an IPCC author, I know that John Houghton didn't write or dictate the IPCC reports, so what he might have said doesn't matter much.

      2. If you think of the alleged statement as meaning: "any public response based on a risk assessment needs to take some account of what goes on in the upper 10% of the probability distribution" then that is not, in my view, a terrible thing to say.

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    19. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Thanks Ian,

      I love it when you speak about me in such glowing terms. Just being called a "Lier" is music to my ears. You are still an amateur in the game of abuse by people trying to prop up the IPCC. I have been abused by professionals so your comments are so pleasing to hear.
      Yours sincerely, John Nicol

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    20. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Nicol

      I can't find where I used a noun, rather than the verb "lies". But the noun that I would have had in mind was "liar" (someone who tells lies) rather than "lier"
      which my dictionary (chambers 20t century) defines as synonym of "lie-abed",
      someone who lies late.

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    21. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Dear Ian,

      I hadn't attributed such rudeness to you as to call me a "liar". I believed it was just a typing error, and even though you have clarified that it was not - I'll just let roll as I don't think this trivial exchange is getting us any where.
      Cheers, John.

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    22. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Ian,

      I will try to restrict my comments to a length which you and Lorna can hopefully read quickly. I hadn't known that there was any compulsion even fro an author such as yourself, to read the whole of a posting. Alternatively of course one can post brief comments often.

      I will say that I appreciate that as an author, you have taken time to join the fray here and make comments on our posts. Many other authors do not appear to do that, and what you are doing is appreciated, even though you…

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    23. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Ian Enting

      DOS and Unix are both operating systems, not applications.

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    24. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      sure, no one was saying that they are applications.

      But applications commonly follow the definitions of the host operating system as the default choice (and somethimes the only choice)

      what is your point?

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  14. Matt Foley

    Environmental Scientist

    Yes critical reading IS important. Everything you read is a mixture of truths, half truths, opinions and lies. Regardless of whether it's PRO climate change or ANTI climate change.

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    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Thanks Matt.

      Earth is warmed by absorption of short wave sunlight. Because of this, Earth's temperature can remain unchanged by returning the same amount of energy to space. That is, solar shortwave energy is balanced by the earth re-radiating to space as a 'black body' radiator with a characteristic temperature of ~255K; that is, from space the earth's spectrum is roughly that of a radiating body with an optical surface temperature of around 255K.

      Earth's surface cools by evaporation of…

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    2. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to David Arthur

      I would class these as truths, half truths and opinions.

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    3. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Thanks Matt. What you classify as truths, half truths and opinions are actually observations and inferences, and a root cause analysis.

      Observation 1. Sun irradiates earth with short-wave energy.

      Observation 2. Earth re-radiates long-wave energy.

      Observation 3. Greenhouse gases retard transmission of long-wave energy, not short-wave energy.

      Inference 1, drawn from observations 1, 2 and 3. Greenhouse gases thus regulate earth's temperature. Altering atmospheric greenhouse gas content…

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  15. Mike McRae

    logged in via Twitter

    One resource I feel compelled to suggest (mostly given I had a significant hand in creating it) is CSIRO Education's CarbonKids program. http://bit.ly/JQ5ad5

    One of the key philosophies behind the program is critical thinking; many of the resources within it encourage methods of critical evaluation in order to develop student's higher order thinking skills and science literacy. Given my book Tribal Science (University of Qld Press) is mostly about science philosophy, history and developing a critical epistemology, it's a bit of a mission of mine.

    Books like Plimer's seem like effective critical thinking resources, however their pretense of 'just asking' serves more to confuse than to promote effective reasoning or questioning skills.

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  16. Father Æthelwine

    Priest and researcher.

    Frances Quinn appears to go for the ad hominem argument against Professsor Ian Plimer rather than the science. She is an educator in the USA. Let's not forget that In the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment dated 2003, American 15 year olds ranked 24th of 38 worldwide in mathematics, 19th of 38 in science, 12th of 38 in reading, and 26th of 38 in problem solving. In their assessment of 2006 the U.S. ranked 35th out of 57 in mathematics and 29th out of 57 in science., and U.S. scores…

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    1. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

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

      is an account of some of the flaws in heaven + Earth.

      In particular, it shows that Plimer is lying about many of his sources say.
      I also identify a bit of plagiarism.

      In the interest of encouraging independent thinking, i have a section showing how people can check my claims for themselves (concentrating on things that are readily accessible, preferably for free -- e.g the IPCC reports are a free download, so once it's pointed out, it's not hard to check that Plimer is, on multiple occasions, lying about what they say.)

      (BTW, not 2311 notes form learned sources; over 100 of the footnotes are
      just definitions, a few are newspaper articles)

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    2. Mike McRae

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      You accuse Frances of appealing to an ad hominem argument, and then use a very similar appeal yourself. Interestingly, this goes to the heart of how critical thinking is currently taught; ad hominem arguments describe a logical structure that uses a personal characteristic as a premise. I can't accuse you of having done that, however your appeal to the author's background to question her authority on the matter is no different to her appeal to Plimer's character in order to contextualise her claims…

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    3. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      "She is an educator in the USA." -- ah, well no.
      University of New England is in NSW Australia.

      Of course, given the limitations of the Conversations login system, maybe "Father Æthelwine " is not really a priest, but just someone pretending to be a priest in order to discredit the catholic church by spouting greenhouse denial.
      (Of course Cardinal Pell is doing a more comprehensive job of discrediting his church by getting Plimer's fabrications written into Senate Hansard).

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    4. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      I think the Good Father's indulging in a bit of satire there, somewhat in the style of entertaining-but-informative pieces like this one:

      http://etwasluft.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/beach-rage-syndrome.html

      that show up the flaws commonly used anti-science arguments (someone published one on this site recently about seatbelts and a lot of people made the mistake of taking it seriously!).

      Looking at the comment:
      - he starts with a "you too" ad-hominen against the author, and links her credentials…

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    5. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      Thanks for this, Father.

      As a Christian priest who engages in uncritical attacks on authors rather than seeking to understand any physics, I'll limit my remarks to noting that Saul's interpretation of the life and times of Jesus Christ was shaped by a desire to maintain the status quo with his Herodian kinsmen doing quite nicely (thank you) as Roman client rulers. He got a gong, a sainthood, for his efforts.

      Constantine then adapted Paul's monarch-favouring religion to his own empire-supporting ends.

      For comparison, Ron Hubbard invented Scientology to win a bet.

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to David Arthur

      Err, I'll try again.

      Thanks for this, Father.

      As a Christian priest who engages in uncritical attacks on authors rather than seeking to understand any physics, you'll appreciate my limiting my remarks to noting that Saul's interpretation of the life and times of Jesus Christ was shaped by a desire to maintain the status quo with his Herodian kinsmen doing quite nicely (thank you) as Roman client rulers. He got a gong, a sainthood, for his efforts.

      Constantine then adapted Paul's monarch-favouring religion to his own empire-supporting ends.

      For comparison, Ron Hubbard invented Scientology to win a bet.

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    7. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      "She is an educator in the USA." - Oops I missed that.

      Ok, even for satire that's going a bit far. The climate denialists are going to be after the good father fro vilification!

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    8. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to David Arthur

      "Ron Hubbard invented Scientology to win a bet"

      Reference or it didn't happen!

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    9. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      Well said, Father. Your comments are balanced and forceful and should be taken on board by us all.
      John Nicol

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    10. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to John Nicol

      John,

      Does that include the claim that the author works in the U.S.A.? In what way is that balanced?

      Maybe we should be "teaching the controversy" that UNE is in fact in the USA, maybe based on that fact that both begin with U; include another vowel and a letter form the latter half of the alphabet. Maybe someone's going to claim the maps showing UNE in Australia are falsified, and that anyone who "just accepts" the consensus view does so because they're sheeple / taking money from The Man / just not as enlightened as you Skeptics.

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    11. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to John Nicol

      Thanks Mr Nicol.

      For argument's sake, let us consider Father Aethelwine's comments with the premise that there is god, on which basis Father Aethelwine may have dedicated his life to something real.

      If there is a God, then Satan, would send his emissary, his anti-Christ, to earth to preach climate change Denialism. This would exploit human capacities for greed and ignorance to overcome the human capacity for reason, thereby ensuring large-scale misery, despair and death. This emissary would utilise the exclusionary closed-mindedness of conservative Christians to propagate his pernicious doctrine.

      If so, Satan would dress his emissary as a man of a Christian church. He'd couch his language in Christian terms, thus adding exquisite insult to God and to all that is good.

      The only remaining question is whether the emissary would be a priest, and Cardinal, or a Tea Party evangelist.

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  17. Father Æthelwine

    Priest and researcher.

    Sorry - 2200 learned sources - since when were journalists not as learned as other hacks?

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      sorry, was that meant to be "peer-review"? Maybe not - maybe the typo was trying, through my subconscious, to say something about the quality of the argument I'm addressing.

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    2. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I like 'pee-review'. Perhaps that is a good definition of a hack. Only subject to pee-review.

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    3. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      actually not 2200 sources, learned or otherwise. There is a lot of doubling up in the 2311 footnotes.

      This would suggest that "Father Æthelwine" has not worked through Plimer's book as well as he implies.

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  18. Elizabeth Hart

    Independent Vaccine Investigator

    The ongoing argument about the validity or otherwise of human induced climate change has been responsible for stalling action on obvious environmental problems such as over-population, forest and biodiversity destruction, water and food shortages, and other environmental and sustainability issues.

    On the subject of "teaching kids to think critically about climate", I wonder how many schoolchildren were misled about the virtues of the Kyoto Protocol, a disastrous agreement that dichotomised fossil…

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  19. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Thanks for this, Dr Quinn.

    Perhaps it's less an issue "Teaching kids to think critically about climate", more an issue of teaching kids to think critically about the bona fides of authors and their backers.

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  20. Matt Foley

    Environmental Scientist

    I suppose that the real question here is - what is good science, and what is poor science? I think that the reason that there has been so much controversy about climate change is that it's an issue that's riddled with poor science. Clearly there are vested interests and strong bias both sides of the debate. Climate and environmental scientists trying to tap into the climate change "cash cow" for their pet projects, and anti climate change groups trying to protect economic interests. The whole notion of dividing people into "believers" and "sceptics" is poor science. Good science is all about being sceptical and always questioning assumptions. I think that the whole issue of climate change is so corrupted by poor science that it's hard for people to come to rational conclusions.

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  21. Father Æthelwine

    Priest and researcher.

    A shame that when The Spectator laid on a well publicised public discussion between Professor Plimer and George Monbiot in Church House, London, the place was packed but Mr Monbiot failed to turn up. However, there was a good balance of opinion in the audience and the good professor took and answered questions from the floor instead. At least that way he was able to answer questions that people were asking.

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    1. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Father Æthelwine

      what I called "a debate of sorts" between Plimer and Monbiot was broadcast on ABC Lateline. 2009/12/15 (I have just noticed that my Plimer analysis says 2009/12/51).

      The transcript is at
      http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2009/s2772906.htm

      Monbiot explicitly refers to Plimer misrepresenting cited sources:

      "Again, turning round the conclusions 180 degrees, straightforward scientific fraud."

      Read the transcript for yourself to make your own judgement as to whether Plimer is evading the accusation of fraud.

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  22. Matt Foley

    Environmental Scientist

    OK to stimulate critical thinking let’s talk about a few of the lies, gross exaggerations, and misconceptions in the climate change debate.

    The famous “hockey stick” graph – is a lie.

    The concept of “tipping points” – is a misconception – nature works with dynamic equilibriums. This is completely the opposite to the concept of “tipping points”.

    “That Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef will be destroyed by climate change” – is a gross exaggeration – I don’t know why any scientist would make absurd statements like this.

    “That reducing the numbers of cattle, camels and other domestic herbivores will reduce greenhouse gases” – is a misconception and shows a lack of understanding of the carbon cycle – the organic matter that they would have digested will be decomposed by other herbivores, white ants and soil microbes producing the same quantity of greenhouse gases.

    “That all scientists agree........” – I’ll leave that one to your imagination.

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Matt Foley

      "nature works with dynamic equilibriums. This is completely the opposite to the concept of “tipping points”."

      Matt, sorry but I'm not following you there. Can you please clarify the difference between a dynamic equilibrium and a tipping point?

      cheers

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    2. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      The concept of a "tipping point" implies that there is a point beyond which natural processes will accelerate and essentially go out of control. This is contrary to the way that natural systems operate. In natural systems there is a continual balancing that buffers change. They are in a state of dynamic equilibrium.

      If you look at global warming over the past 200 years or so you will see that changes on the whole have been very gradual. There is no reason why this would suddenly change.

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    3. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt

      Your understanding of what is meant by Tipping points is quite wrong. Many dynamic systems can exist in one of several relatively sepearate but stable states and when mildly disturbed will tend to return to their current state. But if the disturbance is large enough they can reach a 'tipping point' where they tip over to one of the other stable states. No concept of out of control or runaway or anything.

      Some examples considered possible:

      If warming is large enough for long enough (100's…

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    4. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Mark

      The Hockey Stick is a Lie! Anything to back that up? Because the 'hockey stick' has been reported by well over a dozen different paleoclimate studies, using different proxies, and most importantly, done by many different research groups around the world. So in backing up your statement, PLEASE don't just recycle Michael Mann again as so many others do. Please tell me how all the OTHER studies are lies.

      "“That Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef will be destroyed by climate change” – is…

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    5. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt,

      As Glen has already pointed out, you're holding a couple of misconceptions about both concepts - they aren't "opposites" in any sense.

      Simple analogy: a glass. Standing upright, it's in equilibrium - if you tip it slightly it'll fall back onto its base. But tip it at a large enough angle and instead of tipping back onto its base it'll end up on its side. In other words, the glass has two stable states (states of equilibrium) - upright, and on its side. The point where the glass spontaneously switches from one to the other is the tipping point.

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    6. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Glen and Lorna - you obviously don't understand the concept of dynamic equilibriums in nature. We are dealing with natural systems here that are complex with many variables - not some simple laboratory experiment. The changes you refer to Glen occured over geological timescales and may seem rapid on this timescale. But on a shorter (eg human) timescale they would have appeared to be very slow. All of these changes have been dynamic and have resulted from equilibrium shifts in natural systems with no specific "tipping point", just a gradual change in one or more climatic variables. If we are talking in geological timescales, man induced climate change will no longer be relevant in a mere 500 years when there are no more fossil fuels left to burn.

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    7. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      If you look at real data any of the main climate change indicators such as sea level rises, or atmospheric CO2 levels you will find no "hockey sticks" in the graphs.

      Regarding the changes to the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu - I don't think the emphasis is on proving it WON'T happen but on proving it WILL happen and quantifying it before making statements like this.

      Regarding ruminant emmissions - are you saying that the microorganisms in a ruminant produce methane, but soil micro organisms don't?

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    8. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I totally understand what you are saying Lorna - but nature is not a glass of water - it's a complex system. The concepts that apply to a glass of water don't necesarily apply to nature. I have yet to see an example of a tipping point (ie the point where the glass tips from one point to another) in nature.

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    9. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt,

      "The concept of a "tipping point" implies that there is a point beyond which natural processes will accelerate and essentially go out of control"

      - no. A tipping point is where a system stops being stable in one state and moves into a new state. Nothing to say it won't be stable in the new state.

      "balancing that buffers change. They are in a state of dynamic equilibrium."

      "balancing that buffers change" is negative feedback. It *contributes* to equilibrium but it isn't the *same* as equilibrium.

      "nature is not a glass of water" - Matt, did you see the words "simple analogy" there?

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    10. k d

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Great example of the denier arguments here. These arguments appear to be a variant of the "It's not happening" argument. Rather than link directly to that particular rebuttal I'll just link to the Skeptical Science catalogue of common denier arguments: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

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    11. k d

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Hi Matt,

      I agree with the others, you appear to be wrong. Scheffer, M., et al. ( 2009) Early-warning signals for critical transitions. Nature, 461, 53–59. as a nice exploration of the topic. It seems that you can obtain an non-paywalled copy via this link: http://xrl.us/bm9iek

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    12. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      In order to have a "tipping point" several criteria need to be met. First of all there must be a "point" - either a point in time or when a set of criteria is fulfilled. Also there must be an specific "event" that causes a change. Then there must be a substantial and measurable change resulting directly from the event (and this point would show clearly in the data). I don't think anything that I've seen in the climate change data satisfies these criteria, and I stongly doubt that anything we see in the future will either.

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    13. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to k d

      Thanks - but don't believe everthing you read from so called experts - I think that's what this whole discussion is about isn't it - thinking critically.

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    14. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to k d

      Do we have to swallow the whole propaganda pill - or are we allowed to be just a bit skeptical?

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    15. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt

      Your are entitled to be as skeptical as you like. But don't forget, skepticism has to be based on something, to have a basis. Also it needs to be open to the possibility that the skepticism may be resolved.

      And where do you get this notion of propaganda from?

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    16. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Matt Foley

      The 'Hockey Stick' term refers to records of past temperatures, not CO2 or Sea Level.

      WRT Kakadu, GBR etc, surely the emphasis is on asking and hopefully solving the question 'How much change would destroy them' Then ask the question 'How much change is likely'

      WRT to ruminants vs soild microbes etc. Ruminants produce a lot of Methane. Soil, plants, microbes etc produce a mix of CO2 and Methane, depending on local micro-environments, the types of arganisms and the extent to which it is aerobic vs anaerobic decay. So replacing a Methane only source with & Methane & CO2 source for 'processing' the same volume of plant matter will likely produce a net reduction in overall Methane emissions by substituting some of that with CO2 emissions.

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    17. Glenn Tamblyn

      Mechanical Engineer, Director

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt.

      Interesting term 'so called experts'! Not so subtle attempt to denigrate people who know far more than oneself about a subect. And critical thinking alone is not enough. Without an adequate knowledgebase, even the best critical thinking can produce absurd results. Because the most important part of the critical thinking is knowing the limits of our understanding. And for most of us we don't even know how much we don't know - dear old Rummy's Unknown Uknown's (I miss Rummy. Always good for a laugh).

      The value of experts is that they know more than we do. And they have a clearer understanding of what they don't know. Most of their Unknowns are Known Unknowns.

      Why the hostility to taking the opinion of amn expert? Surely, when you meet someone who knows more about a subject than you do, your first reaction is to want to sit at their feet and learn from them. Isn't it?

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    18. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Matt, from the perspective of risk assessment, if you determine that there might be a tipping point, and that passing that point might cause harm, then the idea is to take action before you meet the event criteria - not pass them by and watch the result.

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    19. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Matt,

      Given that you conflated dynamic equilibrium with negative feedback and tipping point with runaway greenhouse effect, I'm a bit sceptical about your list of criteria there. Do they come from a source that we can check please?

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    20. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Good to see that you're a bit skeptical Lorna - now apply this to all the other information that you're fed and you will peel a few layers off the onion!

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    21. k d

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Here, Matt: let me quote the abstract for that paper I pointed out for you to help address your misconceptions:

      "Complex dynamical systems, ranging from ecosystems to financial markets and the climate, can have tipping points at which a sudden shift to a contrasting dynamical regime may occur. Although predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult, work in different scientific fields is now suggesting the existence of generic early-warning signals that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching."

      And what do we get? A trite denier soundbite. Well done. It seems to me that you are interested in promoting a contrarian approach, and not at all interested in a sensible discussion.

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    22. Matt Foley

      Environmental Scientist

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      People who call themselves experts are not necessarily so - and in my experience their expertise is often inversely related to the size of their egos!

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    23. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Matt Foley

      Source for your list of criteria for a tipping point please.

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    24. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Glenn Tamblyn

      Denigrating "so-called experts" is one of the lower-hanging tactics of climate-change "sceptics"; wind-farm opponents, creationists and lots more.

      Much more reliable of course, to trust the opinions of the uninformed :)

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    25. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Thanks Lorna.
      He's a bit harsh at times but I love his last line:
      "What's the difference between a conspiracy theorist and a new puppy? The puppy eventually grows up and quits whining."

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    26. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Hi Ian,

      I thought he was a bit harsh at times too - but I'm glad someone has put together a response for this ubiquitous claim.

      I thought the last line was a bit harsh too - but I don't have to have much to do with conspiracy theorists. Most of the people I have a lot to do professionally are adolescents - and I reckon I've got the best of the deal there. They're intellectually honest, and when their behaviour is immature at least they've got a good excuse for it.

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    27. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      If you got weekly emails from the folks who think that AGW is a conspiracy concocted by the drug-running British royal family to further their aims of global genocide, then maybe you wouldn't think that the last line was too harsh.

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    28. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Ian Enting

      Fair enough, Ian. As I said, I'm often grateful to be working with adolescents. In addition to their intellectual honestly and having an excuse for being childish, they are also very, very rarely boring - and frequently fascinating if one shuts up and listens to them.

      After a fair bit of reflection I honestly don't think there's much of a market for Plimer's book - at least not among high school kids. They may not understand much of the science but they're the ones who are going to have to deal with the consequences of climate change. Adults with vested interests have a lot to gain from discrediting AGW and probably little to lose (unless they care about their descendants) - for kids it's the other way round.

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    29. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Tipping point is an imported term.
      Critical is the term that has been used in science before the religion of climate change invaded scientific institutions.

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  23. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    When Frances Quinn quoted the Board of Studies Junior science syllabus :"students will learn about waste from resource use and identify excessive use of fossil fuels as a contributing factor to a greenhouse effect", she seemed to suggest that this was a clear endorsement of dire Anthropogenic climate change. Such syllabi are written and refined over long periods. Each sentence and often words are discussed.
    Thus this syllabus says exactly what was meant.
    Unfortunately all too often this is implemented by endless showings of "An Inconvenient Truth", a practice much loved by relieving teachers.

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