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« US Gun Laws | Main | Quote of the day »

A lie flies half way round the world....

....before the truth has got its underpants on. Or something like that.

The Great Global Warming Swindle appears to be issue du jour on many blogs today, and there have been a lot of interesting contributions on both sides. Unoftunately a fairly blatant attempt to discredit some of the contributors has been wending its way round the LibDem blogs, and I have done what I can to nip it in the bud, but it may be too late now.

In a comment on Liberal Polemic, Thomas Papworth stated that some of the contributors to the programme were "not what they seemed". This appeared to be based on this comment at a blog called Ballots Balls & Bikes made by another LibDem blogger called Joe Otten.

Apparently they had fake academics from non-existent departments in that programme.

I left a comment at Joe's blog, asking where this had come from. The source was this thread at Bad Science. Comment 43 stated:

What I found most infuriating however, was the use of so-called experts with non-existing university affiliations. For example, Philip Stott is not a professor at the “Department of Biogeography ” at the “University of London”. No such department exists. He used to be a professor at the Geography Department at SOAS (an institution better know for its cultural studies than climate change research).

Equally, Tim Bell can’t be affiliated with the “Department of Climatology” at the University of Winnipeg, because this department does not exist, nor does he work at the University of Winnipeg. Apparently, he left in 1996 to become a consultant.

As far as Philip Stott goes, I knew this to be absolute nonsense. Professor Stott is well known to anyone who follows science in the UK, particularly bloggers, and he is a regular commenter on BBC programmes about science. To suggest that he is a "fake" in this way strikes me as potentially libellous. I would have thought BB&B would want to consider removing the comment. Philip Stott's Wikipedia page is here.Can anyone really suggest that labelling him as Professor in the Department of Biogeography is a misrepresentation?

Tim Ball (not Bell), I hadn't come across before, but he also has a Wikipedia page which is here. There seems to be some doubt as to whether he was the first Canadian PhD in climatology but it is undisputed that he was a professor at the University of Winnipeg and did research into the historic climate. He is clearly qualified to speak with some authoritaty on the subject of climate change. Again, calling him a fake appears somewhat risky, particularly as he appears to know his neighbourhood libel lawyer's telephone number.

This all looks to me like an attempt to play the man rather than the ball. Given that one of the central claims of the programme was that climate heretics were persecuted, this rather proves the point, doesn't it?


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Reader Comments (22)

here's a bio prepared on tim ball:
Mar 10, 2007 at 3:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterKGranda
Have you ever heard of the genetic fallacy?
Mar 10, 2007 at 10:09 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
"This all looks to me like an attempt to play the man rather than the ball. "

It is a proper rebuttal to argument from authority to dispute that the person really is an authority in the field.

As far as I can see Prof Lindzen is a moron, for example, and the 'documentary' relies on quotes from him for much of the content. I have blogged some stuff by him to show the depths of where he is coming from.
Mar 10, 2007 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer
OK but where is the ball? What new science is Durkin et al bringing to the table?

Frankly the whole 'Swindle' programme was playing the man, right from the title.
Mar 10, 2007 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten

The posting is about a blog comment which attempted to discredit some of the contributors by claiming they were not proper scientists. Firstly this is the genetic fallacy, and secondly it appears that they are. The programme was science-based and didn't make arguments from authority.


The programme was was not about bringing new science to the table. It was a review of the sceptic case to date.

I thought the arguments about CO2 rises lagging temperature rises were very powerful - you can't say that these played the man. This is just scientific argument, backed up by evidence.

Which man did they play? They didn't say Gore was not qualified to speak on climate change. They did take his argument apart though. This is what scientists do. You saying the sceptics are like creationists (as you did on your own site) or saying that they are not qualified isn't going to convince me. I need evidence to counter the progamme's claims.

Brian Mickelthwait said something very wise today. I forget the exact words, but it was along the lines of "Once we have proved that these people are mad (or in the pay of the multinationals or whatever), we still have the nutty problem of whether they are right or not.

Mar 10, 2007 at 6:15 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Temperature rises promoting CO2 rises is nothing new, it was used in the 1997 documentary. It is a well-known positive feedback mechanism.(Of course the 1997 documentary also mentioned feedback mechanisms, as if they were a revelation, but suprise suprise, they were only the negative feedbacks)

Using the word 'swindle' is an ad hom attack on basically everybody involved in climate science.
Mar 10, 2007 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten

Yes, but as I said, the point of the programme was not to present new evidence.

I don't know what the latin for "group" is but there is a quantitative difference between a personal slur and a slur on a group. I agree though that the title was, shall we say, provocative! As I said in my last post it's better if we concentrate on the science rather than ad hominems, ad verecundiams and genetic fallacies.

I'm signing off now, it's my wedding anniversary today, so I am off for a swanky meal. If you are, by any chance still at your computer, I suggest you don't reply to me tonight in case anyone should think you don't have a life. ;-)

Look forward to your response.
Mar 10, 2007 at 7:02 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
For a surprising new slant on direct measurements of atmospheric CO2, see under March 9th:
Mar 10, 2007 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan
Bishop, yes I agree, the point of the program was not to offer evidence.

It was to sling mud, and to mislead people about the science. Right?

Ian, forgive me if I don't celebrate until your slant becomes more than a rumour. This sort of thing is why public understanding of science is so appalling, newspapers being the main culprits - the latest wild theory is always news, and the established and rigorously tested wisdom is not.
Mar 11, 2007 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten

There is a difference between dismissing a theory because some cranks and liars have espoused it, and dismissing cranks and liars because they have in the past repeatedly proven to be unreliable sources of information. Especially when they are repeating the same information that was refuted before ("volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans"). It is the latter that is happening here.

We just don't have time to listen to every crackpot and if there is merit in their theories let them publish their peer reviewed papers, if they have any, and their evidence, if they have any. Oh but I forgot, they're being "silenced", right? And all the peer reviewed literature that contradicts them is bought and paid for. All classic conspiracy theory - evidence against the conspiracy is part of the conspiracy.
Mar 11, 2007 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer
You have misread what I wrote. Twice.

Please excuse the capitals in the next sentence, but you seem to be missing my point. The object of the programme was not to present NEW evidence. New evidence, OK? That was a response to your asking what was new in the programme. For you to say that the point was to throw mud ignores everything I have said about it presenting scientific argument backed up by evidence.


I don't know anything about the volcanos argument. Can you give me some links to support what you are saying? Which contributors are you saying have been repeatedly found to be unreliable? All of them?
Mar 11, 2007 at 12:43 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I tried to answer here but sometimes squarespace doesn't work with my browser, so a longer answer is over here:

Feel free to copy it in here if you want.
Mar 11, 2007 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer
Bishop, obviously we disagree on what the point of the programme was. Yes it was presenting old arguments that have been dealt with, as if they hadn't been dealt with. It was taking a debate that had been lost in the scientific sphere, to the public. This is much the same as what creationists, believers in perpetual motion, opponents of GM food, and supporters of astrology and crystal healing do.

Mar 11, 2007 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten
OK, I've read your post. I'm none the wiser as to why you think Lindzen is discredited, but as I pointed out above, I'm not really convinced by argument to authority anyway, so let's not pursue that line.

The volcanos thing is interesting. As far as I can tell it's based on a single paper by someone called Gerlach. Unfortunately the paper doesn't seem to be online although it's widely quoted. Without the original paper or the source of the Channel 4 claims I can't really comment.

I did come across an interesting question while looking for info. It refers to a volcano giving off 22 billion kg of CO2 daily (!) The odd thing is that the expected warming doesn't turn show up in the climate record. We can presumably conclude from this either that the historic climate record is no good, or that the warming effect of CO2 is small.

The 800 year lag thing is for me the most interesting part of the whole debate. On the face of it, it's an extremely good argument against AGW. The answer of the mainstream - that it's an amplifying effect - would seem to need a mechanism to stop the feedback growing exponentially. I've not been able to discover what this is alleged to be.
Mar 11, 2007 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBishop Hill

You say the argument has been lost. But when I see an professor of climatology from MIT arguing, I can only assume it has not been. Scientific papers are still being published in peer reviewed journals challenging the views of the AGW proponents. Are you saying that these are religious journals? Geophysical Research Letters is publishing papers from people who are the intellectual equivalent of creationists?!!!

(see for what I'm getting at - see reference 9. Apparently this was nominated as a journal highlight by the American Geophysical Union.)

I'm sorry Joe but there is clearly real scientific debate going on here. Please do try and convince me otherwise though.
Mar 11, 2007 at 8:06 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Bishop, there may well be a debate on the amount of CO2 coming from volcanos. Volcanos of course also pump out particulates which have a cooling effect, although they are short-lived in the atmosphere. (I am talking here about pyroclastic flows here rather than pretty red lava flows.)

However much or little it is, it is beyond our control, where fossil fuel burning isn't.

Climate models take into account large numbers of variables, and frankly any argument that picks out one variable and starts arguing the toss over it, is not engaging in the science.

CO2 absorbs IR in the lab. It is understood theoretically why it absorbs IR. Looking for excuses why it may behave differently in the atmosphere, is agenda driven, not honest science.

There are also debates to be had about albedo effects - to what extent the albedo of a forest compared to desert offsets the benefit of the forests carbon absorption.

The fascinating debates in my view, are those between the geo-engineers and the emissions reducers. Are deliberate changes to the earths albedo a practical way of counteracting global warming? How much better do our climate models need to be, or how much worse does global warming need to get before we can predict the effects of albedo management well enough to take the risks? And what are the diplomatic implications?

If there are two sides to the carbon emissions debate, then geo-engineering is the other side, not contrarianism.

If we build a massive PV array in the Sahara desert, would the warming due to the albedo change be worse, in the short term at least, than the benefit from carbon reductions?

So there are many interesting positions to take if you are suspicious of the environmental agenda, many details to be debated, much understanding to be improved.

This is not a world of no debate, but one in which the contrarians are refusing to engage in the debate, and instead play to the gallery. Climate science is not built on an assumption of global warming, it is normal, fallible, but best-available truth-seeking. It is discovering global warming, with estimates improving all the time. The only reason to attack it is if you don't want to know.
Mar 12, 2007 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten

I think you've missed the point about what I was saying about volcanoes. If a huge amount of CO2 from a massive volcano doesn't show up in the climate record then it's at least strongly suggestive that the climate is less sensitive to CO2 than is claimed by the AGW proponents. I don't think the point is proven by any means, but if it were, then looking at this single variable would kill the case for AGW stone dead wouldn't it? Why should we worry about the effect of fossil fuel burning on climate if we know that climate is not sensitive to CO2?

The mainstream does seem to want to talk about something different to contrarians. They claim that the debate is over. Unfortunately they don't have any authority to declare the debate won. They have to keep on engaging with their critics. I'm sorry but that's just the way science is. You say the only reason to attack is if you don't want to know. This is clearly not correct. You are quite entitled to attack if you think it's wrong. And clearly they think it is. Again, I refer you to the McIntyre paper as an example. He is attacking the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) hockey stick graph which underpins your claim that climate science is discovering global warming. You saying that the debate is somewhere else is entirely a matter of opinion and does nothing to address their case.
Mar 12, 2007 at 1:25 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Bishop you are right in the sense that if you get the inputs wrong, then the outputs will be wrong. Flaws in historical data will be significant, in the short run at least.

If the contrarians are right in their elevated figures from C02 from volcanos, then the climate models will have overestimated CO2 sensitivity. As more data comes in, particular errors in historical data become less important - statistical modelling has a certain robustness - but it is still better to get it right the first time.

So: what credibility do the elevated volcano figures have? None that I can see. Maybe google is part of the "conspiracy", hiding all the evidence. What can you find?
Mar 12, 2007 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten
I don't understand this at all. You say that if CO2 levels from volcanic eruptions are significant then the models have overestimated sensitivity to CO2. Fine. But then you seem to be saying that more data will make this become less important. Can you really mean this? Surely you then rewrite your model to make climate less sensitive to CO2, so as to conform to your new experimental data.

As to the backup for the figures, I can find data on the levels of CO2 from Mt St Helens at
and for the size of Toba here.

It's an interesting question.
Mar 12, 2007 at 8:01 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Forgive me, I have a little experience of mathematical modelling, and I may be taking too much for granted here.

What I am saying is that the refining of estimates of things like senstitivity is an ongoing process. You don't make a single estimate of sensitivity and then stick to it. Over time, more data will come in that we will expect to confirm our previous estimates, and if it doesn't then those estimates will change accordingly.

Now obviously, if you want to pursue an agenda, you can argue for some data 'inputs' to the modelling to be rejected in favour of others - and I daresay there are people around, on both sides, who would do this given the chance.

It is in the nature of science that measurements always involve at least some theory, and so can always be nitpicked. So beware people who focus their nitpicking efforts on measurements that don't advance their agenda - who employ a double standard for evidence. And credit those who employ a single standard as probably being genuine truth seekers.
Mar 13, 2007 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Otten
What dis his former opinion piece publisher find?

The Defendants [Calgary Herald] state that the Plaintiff [Tim Ball] never held a reputation in the scientific community as a noted climatologist and authority on global warming. The particulars of the Plaintiff's reputation are as follows:

a) The Plaintiff has never published any research in any peer-reviewed scientific journal which addressed the topic of human contributions to greenhouse gas and global emissions.

b) The Plaintiff has published no papers on climatology in academically recognized peer-reviewed scientific journals since his retirement as a Professor in 1996.

c) The Plantiff's credentials and credibility as an expert on the issue of global warming have been repeatedly disparaged in the media.

d) The Plaintiff is viewed as a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry rather than as a practicing scientist.

Oct 24, 2007 at 4:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterENV

Firstly Ball

a)So what? He's a climatologist.
b)So? He's still a climatologist.
c)Yes. Anyone who disagrees with AGW is regularly disparaged in the media. So what?
d)By whom?

Secondly, Stott.

Can I assume by your silence that you agree that the accusations are a pack of lies?
Oct 24, 2007 at 7:07 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

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