The UnAustralian

Sunday, May 30, 2004
A Change in Opinion

Ken Parish, who I have debated with in the past on global warming, has had a change of heart.
| 4:04 PM
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Sarin Found in Iraq

Apparently the suspected sarin containing artillery shell which was found in Iraq is real.

Thank gods for that. Had it been full of explosives, the two soldiers who sustained minor injuries would probably be dead when the shell exploded.

This is simply another illustration of why chemical weapons don't deserve to belong in the WMD category - at least not until military grade explosives are added.
| 7:02 PM
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Iraq and Early Tasmanian History

While flipping through The Australian today, I came across a article on the death rates in Iraq. This immediately caused me to flash back to the Keith Windschuttle debates. The topic of death rates came up then. I had a large post on the death rates in Tasmania (which one of Windschuttles friends called a nun's picnic) vs. other violent places here. The relevent part of that post reads as following:

As mentioned in my post below, Windschuttle's work has a significant number of flaws. I've been commenting on this over at the Armadillo, and I thought it would be interesting to see what the consequences would be if Windschuttle was right about the Tasmania Aborigine population, but Willis was correct about the number of Aboriginal deaths.

About here, I should point out that this post is heavily based off the work of Mark Finnane and H. A. Willis, whose papers are linked to in the post below this one.

To replicate Finnane's work, with Willis's numbers we get the following result:

Assuming a constant population of 2000 from 1803 to 1834, we get a death rate of about 300 - 540 /100,000 (Willis allows for considerable uncertainty in the accounts).

This compares with Finnane's figure of around 190 / 100,000 for the same time period.

Now what happens when we look at the 1828 to 1834 period (where Windschuttle assumes that the population had shrunk to around 500).

With this time period we get death rates of 3700 - 4900 / 100,000 (this compares to the Finnane figure of around 2000).

Now, it's important to note that these figures are very biased towards low death rates for two reasons.

* Not all deaths would have been recorded, and
* These calculations assume a constant population - as the population was declining, the average population over the time period is significantly lower than the population at the start of the time period.

So with these conservative figures in mind, how do they compare with some other numbers:

The United States general has a murder rate in the region of 9 - 10 / 100,000.
Medieval historians are surprised when the murder rate reaches the 10 - 60 / 100,000.
Assuming that Australia had a population of around 5 million in 1914, and suffered 60,000 deaths in World War I, the death rate would be 240 / 100,000.
According to the Cambodian Genocide Project, during the Khmer Rouge regime, about 1.7 million died out of a population of 8 million. This gives a death rate of about 4300 / 100,000.

From The Oz's article, the death rate in Baghdad is about 76 / 100,000.

To help out the warbloggers, perhaps they might to use this slogan; Iraq, significantly less dangerous than a nun's picnic.
| 8:00 PM
Around the World

Tim Lambert is on the warpath, and has a couple of posts on global warming skeptic Ross McKitrick here, here and here.

My pick of McKitrick's litany of errors is this; when trying to calculate temperature trends from a number of stations McKitrick replaced months when no data was reported with a reading of zero degrees. This is the sort of error that high school students shouldn't make. But McKitrick isn't a high school student. He is a Professor of Economics. Very very poor.

On the other hand, McKitrick has supplied plenty of evidence to back up a comparison by the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, which puts global warming skeptics in the same category as flat-earthers.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, John Quiggin has posts on the Copenhagen Consensus and nuclear power as a solution for reducing global warming.
| 7:41 PM
Monday, May 10, 2004
Speaking of Peusdoscience

Check out the comments on this post of Tim Lambert's.
| 7:59 PM
Scientific Authority

Hans Erren has objected (posted into the comments below) to my post below by stating:

The complete scientific community has already read what Spencer has written, even before the Nature paper was published.

My note: That's news. The complete scientific community... Methinks Hans doesn't know what he's talking about.

You may want to read about the peer pressure or bandwaggon fallacy here:

Description of Bandwagon
The Bandwagon is a fallacy in which a threat of rejection by one's peers (or peer pressure) is substituted for evidence in an "argument." This line of "reasoning" has the following form:

Person P is pressured by his/her peers or threatened with rejection.
Therefore person P's claim X is false.

Needless to say, I have a very different view to Hans on this subject. My first forays into debating science on the internet, didn't concern global warming, but rather creationism and evolution. From this, I developed a strong respect for the peer review process. When I moved onto global warming, it didn't take long for me to realise that

The EvoWiki entry on peer review includes the following quote:

If a scientist submits an article to such a journal, the editor will pick other scientists knowledgeable with regard to that subject and send the article to them to decide whether it's fit to be published.

Peer review prevents really bad articles from being published in the journals in question. To find really bad science in written form, you need to look for it either in books or in non-peer-reviewed journals - or, of course, the internet.

And that is exactly what peer review is. It's a hurdle which all scientific papers must pass. It isn't a particular high hurdle, but it's a hurdle which is a pretty big killer for peusdoscientists. If global warming skeptics want to be taken seriously by the scientific community, they should start trying to publish in scientific journals and quit whining about peer review as censorship.

A good example of how peer review would help a global warming skeptic, is this article by John Daly. It contains this sentence fragment:

Using tree rings as a basis for assessing past temperature changes back to the year 1,000 AD, supplemented by other proxies from more recent centuries...

which is complete rubbish. The other proxies listed in the paper which Daly is attacking go back past 1000 AD. Peer review should catch mistakes like this (incidentally, when I emailed Daly about this (and other) errors he, for all intents and purposes, ignored my criticisms - so much for his "open review").

So, how does peer review cope with unexpected results which overturn accepted dogma? This post, on Panda's Thumb, gives an example. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't censored. More relevant to global warming, Spencer and Christy original paper which claimed that the troposphere was cooling, wasn't censored either.

PS. And just for fun, while searching for some links for this, I came across this unrelated post and loved it so much, I just had to throw it in; Uh-oh. Evolutionists discover two more gaps in the fossil record!.
| 6:40 PM
Saturday, May 08, 2004
Spencer's Reaction To The New Tropospheric Temperature Trend

The Nature paper which I linked to below has created its own little mini-firestorm.

Quark Soup probably has the best collection of links. What follows is my own interpretation of events.

Roy Spencer (who is one the original authors on the first paper to try and reconstruct tropospheric temperature trends from satellite data) has published an article in Tech Central Station on the recent paper who's abstract is included in the post below. Basically Spencer isn't a fan of the new paper. Most of his article is simply pathetic whining.

Somehow he appears to feel that Nature should have got him (or his co-author, John Christy) to review the new paper. He isn't the only expert in the field - in fact, experts have been finding mistakes in his work for many years now. There is no reason why he should be picked to review a paper like this. There is more along these lines, as he complains about the scientific journals Nature and Science.

However, his article does have an interesting point. He claims to have identified an error the new papers methodology. I'm not explain this error in detail, rather you should click on the link and read Spencers account of it.

I don't have an opinion on whether or not the error is significant (or even real), however, what I find interesting is where he has chosen to publish his rebuttal. Tech Central Station, has a reputation for being a lot things, scientific is one of them. The best place to publish his rebuttal would be in letter to Nature. By publishing in TCS, Spencer has ensured that the audience is mostly composed of rightwingers who are interested in science, but not particularly proficient. Very few of them will read the original papers. Even fewer will understand it. By publishing in Nature Spencer would reach an audience that contains real experts who can examine his claims, additionally Fu and co-workers would get a chance to reply.

This can bring many benefits. For example, if one reads the new paper, one important point which they will become aware of, is that the authors where aware of the problem which Spencer mentions (somehow he forgot to mention this in TCS piece). The comment attached to this post gives more details.

Roy Spencer has done some great work with satellite data, but he risks destroying his reputation in the scientific community, unless he submits his criticisms to a scientific journal.
| 4:50 PM
Thursday, May 06, 2004
Yet Another Paper Which The Global Warming Skeptics Won't Like

Contribution of stratospheric cooling to satellite-inferred tropospheric temperature trends

By Qiang Fu, Celeste M. Johanson, Stephen G. Warren & Dian J. Seidel.

Nature 429, 55–58 (2004)

From 1979 to 2001, temperatures observed globally by the mid-tropospheric channel of the satellite-borne Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU channel 2), as well as the inferred temperatures in the lower troposphere, show only small warming trends of less than 0.1 K per decade (refs 1–3). Surface temperatures based on in situ observations however, exhibit a larger warming of 0.17 K per decade (refs 4, 5), and global climate models forced by combined anthropogenic and natural factors project an increase in tropospheric temperatures that is somewhat larger than the surface temperature increase. Here we show that trends in MSU channel 2 temperatures are weak because the instrument partly records stratospheric temperatures whose large cooling trend offsets the contributions of tropospheric warming. We quantify the stratospheric contribution to MSU channel 2 temperatures using MSU channel 4, which records only stratospheric temperatures. The resulting trend of reconstructed tropospheric temperatures from satellite data is physically consistent with the observed surface temperature trend. For the tropics, the tropospheric warming is 1.6 times the surface warming, as expected for a moist adiabatic lapse rate.

| 6:16 PM
Sunday, May 02, 2004

I've always heard that Isaac Newton was a bit of prick, however, I've never looked into the details. However, while reading John Gribbin's "Science: A History", I've found a great example of how a harsh insult by Newton now reads like a very humble statement.

Issac Newton constantly clashed with Robert Hooke. Eventually, some members of the Royal Society stepped in, and forced the two to kiss and make up. Hooke sent Newton a letter which essentally stated that Newton was a very very good scientist. Newton's responce was to try to put his work into context with other earlier scientists and included the famous lines:

If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants

The context of these lines changes considerably, when one remembers that Hooke was a very short man.
| 4:16 PM
Time For The Australian To Put Up

On the 28th April, The Australian published this opinion piece by James Morrow. Morrow writes:

The scheme was elegant in its simplicity, but huge in scale. From 1996 to 2003, Iraq's government was allowed to sell some of its oil through a UN program and, theoretically, buy food and medicine for its citizens.

But any humanitarian goods that were purchased with this money were doled out to Baath party supporters, while the rest of the cash went to building Saddam's lavish palaces and maintaining his terrifying security apparatus.

Far worse was the abuse of oil given to "non-end users" (that is, not sold to refineries and petroleum companies). Documents found in Iraq's old ministry of oil reveal that hundreds of prominent individuals received vouchers to buy Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices and sell it on the open market -- at tremendous, often seven-figure, profits.

Those named include not just Sevan but a vast array of Russian politicians, close friends of French President Jacques Chirac (including France's former minister of the interior), British Labour MP George Galloway, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and, closer to home, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

One of those named, Scott Ritter, has written to the Australian to claim that this is false (at least in his case).

Because tomorrow Ritter's letter will be lost from the internet, I'm quoting it all for entirety.

I AM writing in response to an article by James Morrow (Opinion, 28/4). Morrow notes that "Documents found in Iraq's old ministry of oil reveal that hundreds of prominent individuals received vouchers to buy Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices and sell it on the open market - at tremendous, often seven-figure, profits".
He goes on to state that those named include "a vast array of Russian politicians, close friends of French President Jacques Chirac (including France's former minister of the interior), British Labour MP George Galloway, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and, closer to home, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri".

I cannot vouch for anyone else, but I can categorically state that my name has never appeared on any document in Iraq stating that I have been the recipient of such vouchers.

I have never received any money from the Iraqi government, either through the oil for food voucher program or any other channel, and to suggest (or in the case of Mr Morrow, state) otherwise is not only wrong, but libellous.
Scott Ritter
Former UN weapons inspector
Delmar, US

So this seems like a good time for the Australia to publish either a) evidence that Ritter did receive a voucher from the old Iraqi government, or b) a groveling please don't sue us correction.

| 3:58 PM