Friday, July 13, 2007

Global warming zealots are stifling scientific debate

By Ian Plimer, emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne

TONIGHT'S airing of The Great Global Warming Swindle and the associated discussion on ABC TV should be a hoot. The ABC has structured the panel to try to get their preferred political position aired. The panel composition will minimise scientific discussion. It contains journalists, political pressure groups and those who will make a quid out of frightening us witless.

Three scientists with a more rational view to the doomsday hype were invited to appear on the panel and have now been uninvited as they do not dance to the drumbeat of disaster. There is a VIP section of the audience with loopy-left greens and social commentators. We have the Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (BAMOS), which was in such a hurry to publish a critique of The Great Global Warming Swindle that it contains schoolboy howlers and a lack of logic intertwined with politics.

What makes it even more amusing is that BAMOS did not criticise Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. If this Hollywood fiction film claims to be supported by science, then why did it perpetuate a well-documented scientific fraud? There is no panel discussion when the ABC TV religiously promotes the popular political view on global warming. Why is there a panel for an alternative view?

Science is married to evidence, scepticism and dissent. This evidence is from experiment, measurement, observation and calculation. Scientists hotly debate the methods of acquisition of evidence. Once the evidence is validated, a scientific theory is offered as an explanation. This theory must be in accord with all previous validated data and can be changed with new data. Science has no consensus, science is anarchistic as it submits to no authority, and the latest scientific view is only transitory. Science is apolitical, and when it has submitted to political pressure in the past, it has been at great human cost. Noise, political pressure or numbers of converts does not validate a scientific concept. When the president of the Royal Society says the science on human-induced global warming is settled, one is reminded of a previous president who said it was impossible for heavier-than-air machines to fly!

Since the beginning of time, climate has always changed. It has warmed and cooled faster than any contemporary change. Nothing happening at present is unusual. The atmospheric carbon dioxide content in the past has been hundreds to thousands of times the current figure and the world did not end. Quite the contrary - life thrived. Computer models are models, albeit primitive. They are not predictions, they are not scenarios. They don't do clouds. They don't do turbulence. They don't do unseen submarine emissions of greenhouse gases. They deal only with greenhouse gas emissions from volcanos in times of little volcanic activity. They don't do starbursts, which have probably given us the greatest climate changes on Earth. They don't do variations in cosmic ray fluxes, which produce clouds in the lower atmosphere. They don't do mountain building, plate tectonics and closing or opening of seaways, which have profound effects on climate.

If the conclusion that humans are changing climate by carbon dioxide emissions requires the omission of validated astronomical, palaeontologic and geological evidence, then the popular view of humans causing climate change is not science
. We are seeing a revival of a form of zealous Western politics intertwined with poor theology, poor economics and poor logic.

If humans have contributed to the slight warming in the 20th century, then all theories of past climate changes need to be evaluated and discarded. This has not happened. Why is it that previous global warmings have been faster and greater than the warming that started after the Little Ice Age? Is it no surprise that the planet has become warmer after the Little Ice Age? Is it no surprise that the driver of climate has been, is and will be that great ball of heat in the centre of our solar system? If evidence from the past is used, then one can only conclude that the slight warmings and cooling in the 20th century cannot be due to carbon dioxide.

Groups like BAMOS and the IPCC deny, minimise or ignore significant recent climate changes that gave us the Roman Warming, the Dark Ages, the Medieval Warming and the Little Ice Age. Both history and archaeology show that in previous warmings, temperatures were far higher than at present. Populations and the economy thrived. Previous coolings led to famine, depopulation and social disruption. History shows that it is dangerous to ignore history.

The Renaissance gave us a system where criticism, logic, scepticism and an alternative view based on evidence were valued. It was in this environment that democracy thrived. We are now reaping the rewards of dumbing down the education system and live at a time when it is a politically correct duty to suppress alternative views. The best way to understand climate is to critically and sceptically evaluate the evidence presented to us over a very long period of time by the heavens and the Earth beneath our feet.


Little evidence to back Rudd's claims on grocery prices

AUSTRALIANS are spending less of their take-home pay on food than they were a decade ago thanks to wage increases that have outstripped food price rises. As Labor yesterday attempted to add grocery costs to a pre-election hip-pocket armory - which already includes housing affordability - economists said there was little evidence to support the party's claim that grocery prices were spiralling because of a lack of competition among supermarket chains.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in the 10 years to March 2007, average full-time wages rose 47 per cent. Over the same period, food prices rose 41.3 per cent and inflation was 29.1 per cent. Farmers, however, complain that the rise in prices they are paid for produce has been outpaced by prices on supermarket shelves. Official figures show that over the past 20 years, the share of household spending going to food has come down from 20 per cent to 17 per cent as people spend more on housing and recreation.

UBS retail analyst Michael Peet said there was no evidence that supermarket chains were making abnormally high profits. Woolworths supermarkets have an average profit margin of 6 per cent, while the Coles supermarkets make a 4 per cent return. This is in line with other world markets, such as Britain, where supermarkets average a 6 per cent profit margin, despite the presence of more big chains.

Calculations by Commsec chief economist Craig James show that over the past five years, average wages have risen by 25 per cent, while average consumer prices have risen by 14 per cent and food prices have gone up by 18 per cent. An average wage buys 50 per cent more bread, 56 per cent more rump steak, 60 per cent more eggs and, surprisingly, 78 per cent more petrol now than it did five years ago, according to his figures.

Westpac senior economist Anthony Thompson said retail food prices had been rising less rapidly than wholesale prices. "It could be argued that the big supermarkets are using their market power to undercut competitors and to absorb some of the price pressures themselves, rather than passing them on fully to consumers."

The Australian Consumers Association welcomed Labor's plan to ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor supermarket prices. Spokeswoman Ria Voorhaar said the association had no evidence of collusion or price gouging by the two supermarket chains, but there were big variations in pricing that were difficult to explain.

Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive officer John Cherry, said shelf prices were rising much faster than those paid at the farm gate. Over the past four years, retail food prices have risen by 17.8 per cent, but farm-gate prices have risen by just 2.3 per cent. Mike Badcock, president of the vegetable growers association Ausveg, said he would back anything that brought more openness to food pricing. "We have a duopoly because the two major supermarket chains supply about 70 per cent of the market," he said. "That gives them the power to be able to dictate what price and quality they require and also they are able to dictate what price they sell to the consumer."

Farmer Tony Morrison sells about 3000 prime lambs each year. The Goulburn farmer sells direct to a supermarket, as well as into the export market. He said he was a bit sceptical about Rudd's inquiry. "It is just not that simple," he said. "We have had our spats with supermarkets before, but I don't think making public statements about whether we are getting screwed by the supermarkets is in our interest." Mr Morrison said the good prices paid for export lamb had effectively put a floor under the Australian price.


Leftist bias masquerading as journalism

An editorial from "The Australian" below pulls no punches. Like many Murdoch properties, "The Australian" gives good coverage to both conservative and Leftist viewpoints -- something the Left find unforgiveable

The measure of good journalism is objectivity and a fearless regard for truth. Bias, nonetheless, is in the eye of the beholder and some people will always see conspiracy when the facts don't suit their view of the world. This is the affliction that has gripped, to a large measure, Australia's online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people's work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society's pool of knowledge.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the fortnightly fury that accompanies The Australian's presentation of Newspoll, the nation's most authoritative snapshot of the political landscape. Newspoll cannot predict the future but it can provide clues. Often they are hidden beyond the headline figure in an emerging trend. The Australian has proved itself adept at spotting these trends but our woolly-headed critics dismiss this as manipulation. But if history repeats itself and the turnaround reported in John Howard's Newspoll rating as preferred Prime Minister indicates a bigger swing in support back to the coalition will the on-line commentariat finally admit it is they, not us, who are blinded by bias? As the nation's leading newspaper we expect our reporting and expert analysis will get attention. But the one-eyed anti-Howard cheer squad now masquerading as serious online political commentary, apart from a few notable exceptions, has all but exhausted its claim to be taken seriously.

Smug, self assured, delusional swagger is no substitute for getting it right. When it comes to spotting and properly understanding emerging trends, the evidence is on our side. Our analysis was proved correct in 1998, 2001 and 2004 and we expect it will again this year. We do not know who will win the next election but despite Labor's big lead in the opinion polls since Kevin Rudd was elected leader last December, history suggests it will be a tough fight. According to The Australian's political editor, Dennis Shanahan, no Opposition since World War II has won government without two key indicators 12 months out from the election. These are that the Opposition Leader has a lead over the incumbent of at least five points on the question of who would make a better Prime Minister and the party has a nine point lead on a two party preferred basis. Applying this historical test Mr Rudd may not have had enough time to cement his claim to the top job, though he leads by a huge margin now.

The fact that Mr Howard has pulled back Mr Rudd's advantage on the question of better Prime Minister in the latest Newspoll survey is significant. As Newspoll chief executive Martin O'Shannessy wrote in The Australian yesterday, evidence from the past three elections is that a turnaround in Mr Howard's better PM rating can be interpreted as a leading indicator for an improvement in the Coalition's overall electoral stocks. Though it may not happen this time, the pattern over the last three electoral cycles has been a fall in Mr Howard's ratings 12 months out from an election, accompanied by a fall in the Coalition primary vote in two of the past three elections. This has been followed by a bottoming out of Mr Howard's rating three to six months out from the election which is in turn followed immediately by an improvement in his better PM rating and a rise in the Coalition primary vote.

In mid-1998 Labor appeared to be in a position to win government after support for the Coalition slumped to the lowest on record but within five months Howard was re-elected as Prime Minister after defeating Kim Beazley as Labor leader for the first time. In late 2003 Shanahan was criticised for highlighting Simon Crean's poor Newspoll showing but within months Crean had stepped aside in favour of Mark Latham. In the lead-up to the 2004 election, the ALP under Latham looked competitive, and was reported as such in this newspaper, but Labor was thrashed at the October 2004 poll. Where The Australian recognised that Mr Latham could not win in mid 2004 many online commentators continued to support him until a year after his defeat.

The Australian was criticised for its analysis of Newspoll last November indicating Mr Beazley was a fatal liability for Labor's electoral chances. At that time Shanahan accurately picked the significance of Labor's fall in primary support to below 40 per cent, the level at which Paul Keating had said the ALP had no chance of winning an election. Labor's performance after replacing Mr Beazley with Mr Rudd suggests Shanahan's analysis was correct.

If there is a common theme to the criticisms levelled against The Australian's political coverage by the self appointed online commentariat it is that our critics only howl when the heat is being applied to Labor. There was a flurry of concern when we criticised Mr Beazley but silence when Mr Howard's performance has been put under the gun. The Australian's coverage of the first Newspoll with Mr Rudd as Labor leader said it had been a dream start. The Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard 'dream team' ticket was cemented following a special Newspoll which showed it would be the most popular combination for Labor against Mr Howard. In February, Mr Shanahan made the first call that Mr Howard could lose to Mr Rudd claiming, 'This time, Howard is vulnerable'. When we led with the story that Mr Rudd's Newspoll rating as better Prime Minister had soared past that of Mr Howard there was no negative commentary about our reporting or the emphasis on the measure of better PM. But when we reported Mr Howard pulling level with Mr Rudd this week on preferred prime minister we were accused of selective analysis and doing the Government's bidding. As a general rule, if the polls show Mr Howard is performing badly, our critics are happy.

As a newspaper we don't know who we will support at the federal election. On several occasions this year we have called for the Government to address the substance of Labor's policies rather than attack Mr Rudd personally because, as our own editorials have said, we are sure Mr Rudd would make a good prime minister. Rather than being a mouthpiece for the Government, as some online news sites would suggest, we have been harsh critics of Mr Howard. But most of our criticism has been from the Right, chiding the Government for being overly generous with middle class welfare and reform shy. The self appointed experts online come instead from the extreme Left, populated as many sites are by sheltered academics and failed journalists who would not get a job on a real newspaper. We fully expect that if anything goes wrong for Mr Rudd in the campaign this year we will be blamed for Labor's misfortune.

It reflects how out of touch with ordinary views so many on-line commentators are. They claim to understand the mainstream but in reality represent a clique that believes what it considers to be the evils of the Howard Government position on Iraq, climate change, and Work Choices to be self-evident truths. They despair that Mr Howard has not suffered the same collapse in public support as US President George W Bush and Newspoll makes it clear Mr Howard still enjoys very strong support in the electorate. Such commentators clearly have a market because there are a lot of people who want to have their own prejudices endlessly confirmed. But they should not kid themselves they are engaged in proper journalism and real reporting.

On almost every issue it is difficult not to conclude that most of the electronic offerings that feed off the work of The Australian to create their own content are a waste of time. They contribute only defamatory comments and politically coloured analysis. Unlike Crikey, we understand Newspoll because we own it. Martin O'Shannessy understands Newspoll because he runs it and Sol Lebovic understands Newspoll because he started it. The results of our analysis speak for themselves over 20 years.

A guide book recently published by one site demonstrates the extent of confused thinking on how the polls operate. A chapter by Mumble's Peter Brent says two party preferred ratings are at the same time worthy but unreliable and that an Opposition Leader with a high satisfaction rating has no better chance of being elected than one with a low rating. He dismisses approval ratings and the preferred Prime Minister measure as "embroidery". Yet the fact is when Mr Howard and Mr Rudd's offices telephone The Australian to get advance warning on what the following day's Newspoll will show they invariably want to know two things: The primary vote and preferred PM.

Not properly understanding how polls work gives our critics licence to project their own bias onto analysis of our reporting. The Australian is not beholden to any one side of politics and recent election outcomes vindicate our treatment of our polls. So let's not mince words. We just don't think many of our critics have any real clue about polling and very little practical experience of politics.


No PET scans for Tasmanians

HUNDREDS of Tasmanians are missing out on life-saving cancer scans, now the focus of a Senate inquiry, say specialists. Positron Emission Tomography scanners have limited availability to Australians, and there are none in Tasmania. Tasmanian nuclear medicine physician Rob Ware has campaigned to investigate the vexed issue. "Every year 300 to 400 Tasmanians, probably more now, have to travel interstate to get to a PET scanner," said Dr Ware, who spends half his time at the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne. "There are at least that many again who should go but don't."

Scans can cost $800 each but are considered valuable at determining the spread of cancer, often leading to a change of treatment. The whole issue of availability arose after recommendations from a 2000 national Medical Services Advisory Committee report. The report into the effectiveness of the scanners, which is now being scrutinised by a Senate committee, was changed to add the word "potentially" to the words "clinically effective" when referring to the machines.

Greens senator Christine Milne, who is part of the Senate inquiry, and several doctors believe the report was changed after its original recommendation. The change has caused a restricted roll-out of the machines and made claiming the treatment under Medicare doubtful. The Medical Services Advisory Committee advises on what Medicare should cover.

Dr Ware said Medicare only covered the scans for about 22 situations, when they were valuable in more than 60 conditions, including breast, lung, colon, head and neck cancer.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday there were 16 PET machines in Australia, thanks to the committee, but indicated their availability would increase. "These machines are particularly useful in terms of trying to assess the spread of cancers," Mr Abbott said. "Six of those machines are Medicare-funded for three indications. Ten of them are more or less fully funded by Medicare, three on a grants basis and seven on the basis of 15 indications, which are covered by Medicare." Mr Abbott said the roll-out had been slower than desired and he would make recommendations to the Government about further funding of PET scanning through Medicare and further potential capital funding of PET scanning.

The issue was raised on ABC-TV on Monday night. Senate inquiry chairman ACT Liberal Gary Humphries rejected the accusation of fraud but did describe the Health Department behaviour as "sloppy".


No comments: