Saturday, January 15, 2011

Journalistic balance: a case study

The West Australian, Saturday 15th January 2011.

Number of pages devoted to Queensland floods (current death toll 16): 10.5.

Number of pages devoted to Brazil floods (current death toll 540): 0.5.

Number of pages devoted to Phillipines floods (current death toll 40): 0.

Number of pages devoted to Sri Lanka floods (current death toll 27): 0.

To be fair, these last stories may have been dropped in order to free the 2 inches devoted to "Rodent Bites Genitals".

Q: How many denialists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Light comes from the Sun. Duh.

A: We should wait until it gets dark to see whether the bulb is really broken.

A: The Great Light Bulb Swindle is a scam by Big Light Bulb to sell more light bulbs.

A: The Darkenists don’t even understand basic science. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, therefore darkness is impossible.

A: Nazi!

A: It’s OK – it has been much darker than this in the past. During the Medieval Dark Ages, there were Vikings in Greenland!

A: If the light bulb needed changing, the market would have changed it by now.

A: Fascist!

A: Darkness is beneficial — it will increase mushroom yields and make life better for owls.

A: There is a natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark which humans have a negligible impact on. Anyway, we are just about to enter a natural darkening period.

A: Genesis 1:3 tells us “Let there be light”. The power of prayer will fix the light bulb.

A: Ad Hominem!

Via Larvatus Prodeo

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thistle thoughts

EoR sits on a thistleEoR, having accidentally sat on some thistles, ponders the State of Things...

Why do alties spend all their time getting colonic irrigation to remove the nasty stuff from their gut, when real doctors spend time putting them back?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest blogger

Today's guest blogger is A A Milne, on how not to be fooled by the seeming expert.


I am become an Authority on Birds. It happened in this way.

The other day we heard the Cuckoo in Hampshire. (The next morning the papers announced that the Cuckoo had been heard in Devonshire—possibly a different one, but in no way superior to ours except in the matter of its Press agent.) Well, everybody in the house said, "Did you hear the Cuckoo?" to everybody else, until I began to get rather tired of it; and, having told everybody several times that I had heard it, I tried to make the conversation more interesting. So, after my tenth "Yes," I added quite casually:

"But I haven't heard the Tufted Pipit yet. It's funny why it should be so late this year."

"Is that the same as the Tree Pipit?" said my hostess, who seemed to know more about birds than I had hoped.

"Oh, no," I said quickly.

"What's the difference exactly?"

"Well, one is tufted," I said, doing my best, "and the other—er—climbs trees."

"Oh, I see."

"And of course the eggs are more speckled," I added, gradually acquiring confidence.

"I often wish I knew more about birds," she said regretfully. "You must tell us something about them now we've got you here."

And all this because of one miserable Cuckoo!

"By all means," I said, wondering how long it would take to get a book about birds down from London.

However, it was easier than I thought. We had tea in the garden that afternoon, and a bird of some kind struck up in the plane-tree.

"There, now," said my hostess, "what's that?"

I listened with my head on one side. The bird said it again.

"That's the Lesser Bunting," I said hopefully.

"The Lesser Bunting," said an earnest-looking girl; "I shall always remember that."

I hoped she wouldn't, but I could hardly say so. Fortunately the bird lesser-bunted again, and I seized the opportunity of playing for safety.

"Or is it the Sardinian White-throat?" I wondered. "They have very much the same note during the breeding season. But of course the eggs are more speckled," I added casually.

And so on for the rest of the evening. You see how easy it is.

However, the next afternoon a more unfortunate occurrence occurred. A real Bird Authority came to tea. As soon as the information leaked out, I sent up a hasty prayer for bird-silence until we had got him safely out of the place; but it was not granted. Our feathered songster in the plane-tree broke into his little piece.

"There," said my hostess—"there's that bird again." She turned to me.
"What did you say it was?"

I hoped that the Authority would speak first, and that the others would then accept my assurance that they had misunderstood me the day before; but he was entangled at that moment in a watercress sandwich, the loose ends of which were still waiting to be tucked away.

I looked anxiously at the girl who had promised to remember, in case she wanted to say something, but she also was silent. Everybody was silent except that miserable bird.

Well, I had to have another go at it. "Blackman's Warbler," I said firmly.

"Oh, yes," said my hostess.

"Blackman's Warbler; I shall always remember that," lied the earnest-looking girl.

The Authority, who was free by this time, looked at me indignantly.

"Nonsense," he said; "it's the Chiff-chaff."

Everybody else looked at me reproachfully. I was about to say that "Blackman's Warbler" was the local name for the Chiff-chaff in our part of Somerset, when the Authority spoke again.

"The Chiff-chaff," he said to our hostess with an insufferable air of knowledge.

I wasn't going to stand that.

"So I thought when I heard it first," I said, giving him a gentle smile. It was now the Authority's turn to get the reproachful looks.

"Are they very much alike?" my hostess asked me, much impressed.

"Very much. Blackmail's Warbler is often mistaken for the Chiff-chaff, even by so-called experts"—and I turned to the Authority and added, "Have another sandwich, won't you?"—"particularly so, of course, during the breeding season. It is true that the eggs are more speckled, but—"

"Bless my soul," said the Authority, but it was easy to see that he was shaken, "I should think I know a Chiff-chaff when I hear one."

"Ah, but do you know a Blackman's Warbler? One doesn't often hear them in this country. Now in Algiers—"

The bird said "Chiff-chaff" again with an almost indecent plainness of speech.

"There you are!" I said triumphantly. "Listen," and I held up a finger.
"You notice the difference? Obviously a Blackman's Warbler."

Everybody looked at the Authority. He was wondering how long it would take to get a book about birds down from London, and deciding that it couldn't be done that afternoon. Meanwhile he did not dare to repudiate me. For all he had caught of our mumbled introduction I might have been Blackman myself.

"Possibly you're right," he said reluctantly.

Another bird said "Chiff-chaff" from another tree and I thought it wise to be generous. "There," I said, "now that was a Chiff-chaff."

The earnest-looking girl remarked (silly creature) that it sounded just like the other one, but nobody took any notice of her. They were all busy admiring me.

Of course I mustn't meet the Authority again, because you may be pretty sure that when he got back to his books he looked up Blackman's Warbler and found that there was no such animal. But if you mix in the right society, and only see the wrong people once, it is really quite easy to be an authority on birds—or, I imagine, on anything else.

from: A A Milne: The Sunny Side (1922)

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Plimer footnote

Professor Ian Plimer has not been averse in the past to pontificating on areas in which he is not qualified, such as economics in 1985:

Inflation is not expected to disappear and hence gold will remain and important component of investment portfolios. Any rapid increase in price would cause gold to be dishoarded and adversely affect industrial demand. As a result, the price would stabilise. Therefore, gold mines look good business in the coming uncertain years.

He also predicted:

Some projections suggest by the period 1995 to 2000, the USSR will produce more gold than South Africa South Africa is the biggest world producer of gold, chromium, vanadium, diamonds and platinoids, with the USSR being the seconde biggest producer for each of these essential commodities.

How wrong can you be? In 2000 Russia (not the USSR) was a distant sixth in world production, producing only 5.5% of the world's gold. In 2010 China was the largest producer, a country not even mentioned by Professor Plimer.

Spot the fossil

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Meryl Dorey pwned

Laying the groundwork for Andrew Wakefield's science
The SkeptVet comments on an Irish study looking at how the mother's use of complementary and alternative medicine is associated with a lower uptake of MMR vaccine. As the study notes in its introduction, these mothers aren't making a decision for their own child, they are actively affecting the health of other children who (along with their parents) have had no say in such delusional decisions since they're too young to be vaccinated, but old enough to be infected with diseases.

Since August 2009 there has been a large outbreak of measles in Ireland, with 320 cases of whom 206 were unvaccinated, 36% of the cases were hospitalised, but no deaths were reported up to February 2010. Fifty-six cases were aged under 1 year and so not eligible for vaccination, showing that in communities were vaccination uptake is low, younger children are vulnerable to infection.

It also shows how it only takes a minority to have these beliefs and, even if those vaccinating are in the majority, herd immunity becomes ineffective:

This linkage cohort study showed that most children aged 5 years had received their first MMR immunisation, but below the recommended threshold for population protection.

So how many children died because of one man's fraudulent science?

And why aren't there more people in the media giving delusional nutter Meryl Dorey the treatment she deserves?

Friday, January 07, 2011

WA Creationists Skeptics

C J O'Brien has an excellent post at Northstate Science discussing the pelvis of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and how creationists attempt to use this to disprove paleontological arguments about it. The introductory discussion, however, could be applied verbatim to the WA Skeptics. Simply replace 'creationists' with 'climate deniers'.

Creationists go to great lengths to discredit the discovery and its implications, which is not a problem as far as it goes, but the total lack of any kind of intellectual honesty used in doing so just emphasizes how much of a scientific and philosophical corner these people are backed into. I mentioned in a previous post how infuriating it is to constantly correct the distortions, misinterpretation, quote mining and outright falsehoods regurgitated ad nausem by creationist proponents. It’s not that it’s difficult. Creationists rely on an audience that refuses to look critically at the information they are being presented and ask some simple questions: Is this true? Did the author really mean that? What evidence is not being presented? Most of us who have any claim to intellectual thought processes actually work at understanding an issue. We spend the (often considerable) time reading, reasearching and thinking about the issue. That includes reading creationist literature (we’re often accused of not reading the “other side” of the issue, but I can tell that’s one reason I don’t a lot of creationist argument in my Anthropology class – students learn really quickly I know the creationist literature much better they do!). I see no evidence that creationists actually make an honest effort to look at the information being presented. Instead, Creationist arguments have to be made by pimping the scientific data for the creationist cause: misquoting exports, cherry-picking information, ignoring information that doesn’t fit, using out-of-date information, and frequently just making stuff up!

Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has released its Annual Australian Climate Statement for 2010. It's certainly been a roller coaster year, with record breaking floods in the North and East, but with record breaking drought here in the Southwest.

Its been the coolest year since 2001, which is a rather unfortunate headline since it's still above the longterm average, and the decade has been the hottest on record. EoR expects the deniers to seize on that first point only, as they try to convince themselves that if they argue hard enough they can pull the planet into a new Ice Age. Alarmingly, sea surface temperatures also continue to rise.

Unlike the deniers, EoR urges readers to consider the full statement, all the facts and, if you care to, download the Bureau data yourself.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

WA Skeptics Deniers (2)

Just a little more about the anti-skeptical WA Skeptics and their recent anti-science conversion. On their edited conspiracy diatribe (editted in the sense that when an error is pointed out the error is not corrected, but further errors are piled on top to confuse and obscure) the following claim is made:

Even more recently the total of dissenting international scientists exceeded 1000, among them 46 climate specialists who once worked for the IPCC but have now resigned or become dissenters. Here are six examples of their views:

[Out of context quotes snipped by EoR]

Remember these are not crackpot deniers but climate specialists who once worked for the IPCC. Nor are they the only group of informed scientists who are criticising the IPCC's findings, there are at least a dozen others such as The Heidelberg Appeal with 4000 signatures including 62 Nobel prizewinners

The Heidelberg Appeal? Well, EoR followed the WA Skeptics' own advice and used the two most important recommended resources to find Teh Truth About Global Warming: Google and Wikipedia.

The top two hits for "Heidelberg Appeal" are Wikipedia (clearly because it's a reputable source according to the WA Skeptics) and SourceWatch (clearly because Google is another trustworthy source).

Wikipedia says:

Parts of the Heidelberg Appeal endorse environmental concerns, such as a sentence that states, "We fully subscribe to the objectives of a scientific ecology for a universe whose resources must be taken stock of, monitored and preserved." Its 72 Nobel laureates include 49 who also signed the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity", which was circulated that same year by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and attracted the majority of the world's living Nobel laureates in science along with some 1,700 other leading scientists. In contrast with the vagueness of the Heidelberg Appeal, the "World Scientists' Warning" is a very explicit environmental manifesto, stating that "human beings and the natural world are on a collision course" and citing ozone depletion, global climate change, air pollution, groundwater depletion, deforestation, overfishing, and species extinction among the trends that threaten to "so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know." Moreover the Heidelberg Appeal has been, if not specifically misrepresented, at least broadly interpreted out of context, for example, by The National Center for Public Policy which asserts "The appeal warns industrialized nations that no compelling scientific consensus exists to justify mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts." Although the Heidelberg Appeal may be open to such an interpretation, as the text below shows it is not what the document said.

So, not only does it not criticise the IPCC (it doesn't even mention it), but it doesn't even explicitly deny (or even implicitly) the reality of human caused global warming.

SourceWatch describes the document as:

a scam perpetrated by the asbestos and tobacco industries in support of the GCC [Global Climate Coalition]. It was later funded and controlled by a coalition which included coal, oil and energy interests, so the two denial strands merged. The Appeal document and the conferences which gave it life were organized by S. Fred Singer and his Science and Environmental Policy Project

As such, the Appeal finds its rightful place at Tobacco Documents Online (documents which the tobacco industry were legally forced to make publicly available, detailing their efforts to subvert science and cover up the truth).

So it seems that the WA Skeptics (or their anonymous author who is using the Appeal to Authority of posting on their website) either:
a) Haven't read the document they support, or
b) Cite the document for propaganda purposes, knowing they're misrepresenting the truth.

But what does Wikipedia, that font of wisdom have to say about the bigger issue? The WA Skeptics' article isn't explicit about whether Wikipedia should be consulted for climate change or global warming but, in the former case it says:

In the context of climate variation, anthropogenic factors are human activities that change the environment. In some cases the chain of causality of human influence on the climate is direct and unambiguous (for example, the effects of irrigation on local humidity), while in other instances it is less clear. Various hypotheses for human-induced climate change have been argued for many years. Presently the scientific consensus on climate change is that human activity is very likely the cause for the rapid increase in global average temperatures over the past several decades. Consequently, the debate has largely shifted onto ways to reduce further human impact and to find ways to adapt to change that has already occurred.

and in the latter:

Most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century has been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, which result from human activity such as the burning of fossil fuel and deforestation.

EoR could go through all the other 'facts' offered but really, the group has consistently shown that they either don't read or understand their sources, or their sources are misquoted. They fail to correct false information, simply adding more errors to hide the original error. They make emotive, politically charged statements free of science. To deal with all their assertions would only cause them to offer more distractions (apparently sourced mainly from Watts Up With That — a blog the WA Skeptics consider "arguably the most informative climate website" — rather than the peer reviewed press) and would only give the group unwarranted attention and bore EoR's readers.

Elsewhere, to mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society the Guardian asks a number of people what scientific problems they'd like to see solved. Physicist Brian Cox ponders:

Can we make a scientific way of thinking all pervasive?

This would be the greatest achievement for science over the coming centuries. I say this because I do not believe that we currently run our world according to evidence-based principles. If we did, we would be investing in an energy Manhattan project to quickly develop and deploy clean energy technologies. We would be investing far larger amounts of our GDP in the eradication of diseases such as malaria, and we would be learning to live and work in space – not as an interesting and extravagant sideline, but as an essential part of our long-term survival strategy.

One only has to look at the so-called controversies in areas such as climate science or the vaccination of our children to see that the rationalist project is far from triumphant at the turn of the 21st century – indeed, it is possible to argue that it is under threat. I believe that we will only be able to build a safer, fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful world when a majority of the population understand the methods of science and accept the guidance offered by an evidence-based investigation of the challenges ahead. Scientific education must therefore be the foundation upon which our future rests.

Of course, it would be nice — for a start — if so-called skeptic groups engaged in a scientific way of thinking.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Something to chew on

Well, there's been a little bit of to-and-fro lately about some ancient teeth found in Israel. What species of homo are they? Do they completely rewrite the narrative of human expansion? The media, as always, are prepared to leap to conclusions before all the evidence is in.

Of much more pressing concern to EoR, however, is the fact that an archaeologist behind this paper is nominatively deterministically called Avi Gopher.

There is no freewill, only predetermination.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Back to the future

California Uber Alles

I am Governor Jerry Brown
My aura smiles
And never frowns
Soon I will be president...

Carter Power will soon go away
I will be Fuhrer one day
I will command all of you
Your kids will meditate in school
Your kids will meditate in school!

California Uber Alles
California Uber Alles
Uber Alles California
Uber Alles California

Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face

Close your eyes, can't happen here
Big Bro' on white horse is near
The hippies won't come back you say
Mellow out or you will pay
Mellow out or you will pay!


Now it is 1984
Knock-knock at your front door
It's the suede/denim secret police
They have come for your uncool niece

Come quietly to the camp
You'd look nice as a drawstring lamp
Don't you worry, it's only a shower
For your clothes here's a pretty flower.

DIE on organic poison gas
Serpent's egg's already hatched
You will croak, you little clown
When you mess with President Brown
When you mess with President Brown


Monday, January 03, 2011

WA Skeptics Deniers

EoR has been trying to ignore the WA Skeptics' descent into climate denialism (and wondering why they are still listed on the Australian Skeptics website as a WA affiliate when they have clearly become an agenda driven organisation), but he feels it's time to have another look at their recent rant against the world of corrupt science.

The original web page has quietly been changed without noting the amendments.

Rather than correcting the record, it's just a Gish gallop of further irrelevancies (it's ironic that a once skeptical organisation is using a technique pioneered by creationists). A list of books damning science by various people has been added, including those by "scientists who really know the field". EoR isn't sure what criteria is used to determine that accolade, but if there's any doubt, he's urged to Google their names. Because Google is, you know, all sciency and true. The first really-knowing scientist is Ian Plimer. He of the numerous scientific errors. And who refuses to correct his errors when they're pointed out to him. Repeatedly. In fact, EoR is quite shocked that Plimer would even be mentioned. Especially since Wikipedia notes that Plimer's claim about volcanoes "has no factual basis". And Wikipedia is the Truth, according to the anonymous author of this page. Or is the author just cherry picking claims that suit his (apparently political) agenda?

Cherry picking, regardless of truth, seems to be the main argumentative method employed here. The citing of a Scientific American poll to prove the author's case has been slightly amended also. There's now a note that the poll was seriously biased by anti-science interests, "in which case why did Scientific American publish the results in the first place?" Oh, now we're down to cheap innuendo as well.

Well, Scientific American probably published it because they thought it would be interesting to see what their readers thought. Doing which, they clearly showed how ignorant they were of the applicability of internet poll data. Why did the anonymous WA Skeptic, on the other hand, think that an internet poll was in any sense at all scientific? Why is the corrupt data still there on his page? Is it simply to show how an interest group can skew the data to misrepresent the science? Is it, in fact, some subtle double play by the author to show the dissimulation employed by deniers? If it is, it's too subtle for EoR.

The author also goes on at some length about various petitions from real scientists who have proved climate science corrupt and wrong (the latest of which has been labelled elsewhere as a fraud). Sort of a slightly more official sounding internet poll form of evidence. Of course, if you doubt it, you can always go to that most scientific source of truth, Wikipedia (yes, Anonymous Author apparently uses this to form his scientific views). EoR almost hurt himself laughing.

Of course, you can also find petitions of scientists who don't believe in evolution. Real scientists. Who know evolution is a scientific fraud. And it's only a theory anyway.

EoR presumes Anonymous Author (and, by implication, the WA Skeptics) dismisses evolution, on the same evidentiary basis that he dismisses climate science. Or does he maintain the amazing ability to hold two contradictory views simultaneously? Either way, it must be terribly uncomfortable.

The WA Skeptics claim

we insist on accuracy and anti-sensationalism

Personally, EoR is skeptical of that claim (and won't believe it until it's on Wikipedia).

A skeptic
A skeptic.

Not a skeptic
Not a skeptic.

Australian Academy of Science: The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Only 0.73% of climate scientists think that humans are affecting the climate!!1!

Polymath Andrew Bolt helpfully points to an article by Dennis Ambler demolishing the belief that there's any consensus (how the deniers detest that word, even as they promote petitions to prove an anti-consensus) that the world is warming. In fact, only "0.73% of climate scientists think that humans are affecting the climate".

The article, published by the right wing SPPI, disputes the truth of Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (Doran, P.T., & Zimmerman, M.K. 2009. Examining the scientific consensus on climate change. EOS 90(3): 21-22.).

Doran and Zimmerman received 3146 responses to a survey asking Earth scientists various questions, including whether they thought temperatures had risen, fallen or stayed the same; and whether they thought humans were contributing to changing temperatures.

What they found was that the more active the scientists were in publishing, and the greater their specialisation in climate science, they more likely they were to consider that humans had caused temperatures to rise (EoR's emphasis):

Results show that overall, 90% of participants answered “risen” to question 1 and 82% answered yes to question 2. In general, as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement with the two primary questions (Figure 1). In our survey, the most specialized and knowledgeable respondents (with regard to climate change) are those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total). Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2.

After various marginal arguments, the contrarian article comes to its damning point (author's emphasis):

It is disingenuous to now use the “climate scientists” as a new population sample size. The response figure of 3,146 is the figure against which the 75 out of 77 should be compared and in this case we get not 97% but just 2.38%.

That's right: the responses of all the other scientists are magically reset by Ambler to a dissenting view, even though the Doran and Zimmerman paper clearly show that 82% believe humans are increasing temperatures. Now that's disingenuous!

Denialism: when the facts don't fit, make your own.

But it gets even better. Ambler's amazing statistical insight enables him to know that a sample doesn't extrapolate to a population. If someone didn't respond, then obviously they don't believe in human caused warming. Thus you can take the non-responders to the survey as well in order to twist your statistics (author's emphasis again).

The original number contacted was 10,157 and of those, 69% decided they didn’t want any part of it, but they were the original target population. When the figure of 75 believers is set against that number, we get a mere 0.73% of the scientists they contacted who agreed with their loaded questions.

Ambler concludes:

What a gross travesty of the truth, and such appalling reporting, but these are the messages fed to acquiescent politicians who do not bother to check the facts, and criticise those who do. How low has science sunk, that scientists will dispense this sort of disinformation to promote their own agenda?

He's directing his vitriol at climate scientists when, in reality, it describes his own article exactly.

Of course, he probably doesn't care how bad his mathematics is, he just wants to have that "Only 0.73% of climate scientists think that humans are affecting the climate" quote sent around the denialosphere as a meme, to be uncritically picked up by the numerically illiterate. Which Andrew Bolt dutifully has done (and why EoR keeps quoting it as well, in the hope that some people searching for it might actually find this post instead and realise how wrong the claim is).

SPPI mathematics primer