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July 10th 2014 print

John McLean

A Climate of Censorship at The Age

After his not-too-demanding stint at Media Watch, the forever-smug Jonathan Holmes has settled into a columnist's gig at Australian journalism's daily travesty. When he insisted man-made climate change must be real because his mates tell him so, a rebuttal was impaled on the editor's spike. Here is the column the Age will not print

holmes mugOn July 2, The Age ran an opinion column by ex-Media Watch compere Jonathan Holmes. It was a piece based on a report by a group of British academics calling themselves the “Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science” that asserted ideology and intelligence prevent people from accepting what the Commission thinks is the reality of climate change.

I believe the report was utter nonsense and that The Age did itself a great disservice by publishing Holmes’ misguided views. In this article I repeat Holmes’s quotes from the “policy commission” report and show why they were variously ridiculous or, ineed, actually support those holding the opposite opinion to Holmes.

Holmes: Disagreement within climate discourse is more to do with differences in values and world-views … than it is about scientific facts.

Holmes says that sceptics of significant man-made warming ignore the supporting evidence, which he insists is everywhere.  He says global warming has continued since 1996 because, well, the climate scientists he knows tell him so. As Holmes puts it, any claim to the contrary can be rejected because “the climate scientists I know tell me it is drivel.” It is perhaps a good thing for The Age, its readers and the dignity of its opinion pages that Holmes’ social circle does not extend to believers in ectoplasmic manifestations and fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Even the latest IPCC report admits that the temperature trend was flat from 1998 to 2012, when the report was written.  In other words, there was no warming.  Does Holmes think that he or the climate scientists he listens to know better than the IPCC?

Holmes next sneered at Maurice Newman’s claim that temperatures have been flat since 1996 — but that’s what the temperature data measured by microwave instruments on satellites says.

Temperatures near the ground surface are measured by thermometer and they, too, show no warming.  Climate scientists haven’t agreed on which dataset to use as a universal standard, but the HadCRUT4 dataset, used by the IPCC, is currently showing no warming since early 2000.  It differs from the start date given in the IPCC report because the ‘current’ month keeps changing.

Perhaps Holmes’s climate scientists will claim, like the IPCC did, that the heat has gone into the deep ocean. That’s just one of about ten theories to explain the absence of warming. Regardless, global warming is implicitly defined as an increase in near-surface temperatures.  The IPCC was established because near-surface temperatures rose in the 1980s, not because of warming deep in the sea.

Holmes:the people at greater risk of becoming polarised over climate change are those who perceive themselves as intelligent and scientifically literate.

I suggest to Holmes that “intelligent and scientifically literate” people are usually better able to weigh claims for themselves and reach their own decisions. They are more likely to be able to find and access the data via computers, and they use common software packages to confirm that temperatures over the last 15-or-so years have indeed not risen. They also know that scientific truths are not a matter of consensus but, rather, depend on which theory best fits the observations. They also understand that these truths are provisional and might later be replaced by theories that fit even better.

Holmes seems to believe that no one should question the work of scientists, not even when massive government funding fosters careerism at the expense of cold, hard fact and skews research towards endorsing a specific theory. Does he not know that the IPCC’s claims are tenuous, based upon a theory that empirical observation in the open atmosphere does not support? How “expert” are opinions from those who enjoy the skewed funding which climate alarmism has generated for its practioners, not to mention “findings” and predictions based upon the output of climate models even the IPCC admits are flawed?

To my mind, any intelligent and scientifically literate person should be sceptical about climate matters.  Both scientist and layperson need to insist that any claims, be they in support of pro or anti sides, be accompanied by clear evidence, rather than be mere assertions and what friends whisper in the ears of columnists .

Holmes’ next tack is a bid to link scepticism to ideologies about free markets and individual liberties — in short to “right” and “left” political views.

It’s a phony argument. There’s no evidence that right-wing voters are environmental vandals who care only for themselves.  There is, however, a tendency for right-wing voters to be better educated and have the skills mentioned above. Perhaps right-wing voters are also less gullible and more likely to challenge authority, which in the case of climate matters means a willingness to say that claims don’t stack up.

Holmes:The failure of specific predictions of climate change to materialise creates the impression that the climate science community as a whole resorts to raising false alarms.”

The statement is honest enough, but I’m puzzled why Holmes thinks that cynicism about failed climate models is unreasonable. Surely a track-record of failure leads to a lack of credibility in those models and those who base their often sensationalist claims on the output of those models.  Further, if there is consensus among the “climate science community” and predictions rooted in that consensus view fail, then it can be l pretty much concluded, logically speaking, that the whole community has raised false alarms.

To his credit, Holmes resisted the temptation to call climate-change sceptics rude names, but he still does his utmost to denigrate those who examine the alarmists’ claims and find them wanting.

His own statements are clear examples of the canards that can take wing when belief comes first and science second. Holmes illustrates this by encouraging the belief that scepticism is due to ideology and that science has proven the case for manmade warming. At no point did he provide a shred of scientific evidence to support his claims. He subscribes to the view that consensus alone is proof enough, apparently because whatever his climate-scientist friends tell him requires no further examination.

It’s the evidence and the science that has to stack up before we can believe it. To date, “climate science” has failed that test.

Editor’s note: With the exception of light-sub-editing and one additional sentence, the above piece appears exactly as submitted to The Age.

John McLean was co-author with Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter of a paper that became the centre of controversy when submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research. Their experience with the censors of science can be read here