Wednesday, May 27, 2015
CSIRO is censoring its own scientists
And they lie to cover up the censorship
During my tour of Australian capitals last year, speaking about climate change, I was always eager to share a bright spot of news about the world’s driest places.
Your very own CSIRO, in collaboration with the Australian National University, had published a study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in 2013 that deserved wide acclaim. Very few people in my audiences were aware of it, despite the fact the CSIRO had published a synopsis of the paper on its own website titled “Deserts ‘greening’ from rising CO2”.
The paper reported on the work of Randall Donohue of the Land and Water division of the CSIRO and his colleagues who had conducted an 18year study of global vegetation from satellite observations. They determined that from 1982 to 2010 the fertilisation effect from increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere had resulted in an 11 per cent increase in foliage in arid regions across the globe.
This includes large areas of Western Australia, subSaharan Africa, India and the Great Plains of North America. You would think with all the talk of drought and climate crisis this would have made the front page of every newspaper in Australia, and the world for that matter. But no, it appears to be a case of inconvenient truth.
So inconvenient that when the CSIRO revamped its website a few weeks ago it decided to delete the page on the greening deserts in Australia and around the world. I reported this omission to my friend and colleague Paul Evans, of Sydney, who runs communications for the Galileo Movement, the group that helped organise my tour of Australia last October.
He made an inquiry of the CSIRO and received this reply: “Dear Paul, You may be wondering why we changed our website ... The web page “Deserts greening from rising CO2” was published in 2013, and our new website is focused on our current research and services, not on past research and outcomes.”
Does this not beg the definition of current? So 2013 is now ancient history, sort of like alchemy and astrology from the 15th century? And it’s not as if the “greening” has ended. It continues apace and will accelerate as CO2 levels finally rise from near plant starvation levels before the Industrial Revolution to levels that provide a decent meal for our best friends, the photosynthetic plants we depend on for our existence.
This research is critical to our understanding of the actual effect of increased CO2 as opposed to the hypothetical effect.
One could assume from CSIRO’s reply that all references to science done before 2013 have now been purged from the superuptodate CSIRO website. But a quick look tells us otherwise. All you need do is go to the CSIRO page that contains the 2014 report State of the Climate. There you will find that, of the 146 science papers listed to support the concern for changes in the climate, none of them are more recent than 2013 and nearly all of them are older.
The climate report is complete with the usual “homogenised” temperature records and warnings about ocean acidification.
Clearly a double standard has been applied and clearly the CSIRO is effectively censoring its own scientists for daring to find a positive result from increased CO2.
The Australian public, and in particular its science institutions, should demand that this study be reinstated on the CSIRO website with a link from the home page. It is a brilliant piece of work and demonstrates that CO2 is food for plants and that our agriculture and forestry will benefit greatly from increased levels in the air.
During the first 15 years of this century, ever-increasing emissions of CO2 have not produced any statistically significant warming, while they have accelerated the growth of plants, especially in arid regions. The reason higher CO2 is resulting in increased plant growth is because during the past millions of years it had steadily declined to levels too low for plants to realise their full potential.
Higher levels of CO2 have been the norm throughout the history of life. It has been only during recent times (the past few million years) that CO2 had sunk to such low levels that it slowed the growth of plants significantly. Then humans began to put some of it back where it came from in the first place.
People don’t stop to think that the fossil fuels we are burning today are made from plants and plankton that took CO2 from the atmosphere as food for themselves, using solar energy to convert the CO2into sugars. Fossil fuels are 100 per cent organic, were made with solar power, and the byproduct of burning them is food for plants.
The CSIRO’s reply refers to the study of CO2’s fertiliser effect as “past research and outcomes”. Does this mean it has not only deleted the study from its website but also have discontinued this important work? One fears this to be true.
Australians should not only demand that the study be fully reinstated on the website but that the CSIRO be instructed to put it back on its agenda, perhaps this time with a strong focus on how CO2 is benefiting Australian forests and farming.
It’s time to stop demonising CO2 and to recognise it as the giver of life that it is.
The Australian of May 23rd.
Compulsory maths and science? You’ve got to be joking Christopher Pyne
THE news that Christopher Pyne is pushing to make maths and science compulsory for students in senior years has enraged me. It has infuriated me. It has made me exasperated, incensed and irate. Words I use with flourish because I’m a student of English. Not maths.
But let me be clear, this is not about Maths vs. English. This is about the right to not be EXTRA miserable in the most painful, boring two years of your young life: years 11 and 12.
When I was 7 my teacher- a boorish, balding man with a permanently blank expression, sat my parents down and told them, plain and simple, I wasn’t good at maths. This isn’t so shocking in itself. What is more shocking is the fact that he followed this up with the statement, “It’s not her thing, so she really shouldn’t worry about it.”
I remember I was mortified. I was a nerd and a shameless teachers pet: there was something I wasn’t good at?!
The fact is that while it probably wasn’t PC to tell a kid she was crap at something and shouldn’t bother trying, the truth is, he was kind of right. I know the counter argument: kids are blanks slates. Their brains are just vats, waiting, desperate to be filled, opened and inspired. They can learn anything, right?
You see, the fact is, I did try. I was determined to prove that teacher wrong. I was sure I could handle complicated equations and solve quantum physics … if only I knew what quantum physics actually were.
I tried harder at maths than almost anything in my life. But despite all my efforts, and all my extra hours of studying, I felt like a failure. I’d been losing sleep trying to study and worse than that, my other, better subjects were suffering.
The fact is, despite my determination to rally against my year 3 teacher, I just didn’t have a maths brain. I didn’t have a science brain either. I still don’t.
I put up with isosceles triangles and the periodic table for far too long. Every class was a struggle, every exam was a stress. I hated those lessons. Once I missed a maths test because I was throwing up with panic in the toilet. I hated how, even with great teachers, my useless, ineffectual maths brain made me feel tiny and stupid.
In the meantime, in every other area, I thrived. I escaped in Shakespeare and Jane Austen. I topped the class in modern history. I represented the school in a public speaking competition. When it came time to make my decisions for year 11 and 12, there was no question: Goodbye science. Goodbye maths.
That was 15 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I may not have known at the age of 16 exactly what I was going to do with my life … but I knew I wasn’t going to work for the CSIRO. Or get into aeronautical engineering. Or even become an accountant.
I can accept studying maths up until Year 10 (despite never in my adult life needing to know anything mathematical I couldn’t do with a calculator), but when it comes time to pick the subjects that are going to dictate your results and your university opportunities, it’s downright cruel to force students not to play to their strengths.
The government has suggested that up to 75% of the fastest growing jobs involve science, technology, engineering or maths, so called “STEM” skills. This may be true. But the fact is, forcing people to study these subjects against their natural ability will take time away from pursuing their strengths. And getting into most of those industries involves a tertiary qualification anyway: high school maths ain’t gonna cut it.
I was a bright student, but I certainly wasn’t an all-rounder. In my HSC I did nothing but humanities and my marks were high enough for law school. If I’d have been forced to study maths? No chance of that.
(I should also note that three of my friends also nixed the sciences. All of them got 99+ for the HSC and one now holds a job in Mr Pyne’s own government.)
High school is awful for most people. Teenagers already have to deal with hideous pimples and sexual frustration. They also have to figure out who the hell they are and what they can contribute to the world. Schools should be striving to help kids discover exactly what this is. Whether it’s English, history, sports, languages, the arts OR, indeed, maths and science. None should be prioritised over the other.
Try everything, sure. But if at once you try and don’t succeed- especially if you hate it- don’t try harder, do something else you like better. Something that inspires you. Or at the very least, something that doesn’t make you throw up.
Creeping fairness a blow to Labor’s class warriors
There was more disappointing news for the hand-wringing industry last week when an OECD report found Australia to be a remarkably fair place.
The poor are getting richer and the rich are getting poorer while those in the middle are doing very nicely, thank you.
“Between 2007 and 2011, the income of the bottom 10 per cent increased by 2 per cent while incomes at the top declined by 1 per cent,” the OECD found.
“This pattern is very different from most OECD countries, where the bottom 10 per cent fared worst during the same period.”
Median net wealth in Australia has increased at a faster rate than wealth in the upper percentiles, leading the OECD to conclude “inequality at the top of the wealth distribution has receded”.
What will become of the unsold copies of Labor’s assistant Treasury spokesman Andrew Leigh’s book Battlers and Billionaires now its thesis has been knocked firmly on the head?
Leigh makes it plain on the back cover: rising inequality “risks cleaving us into two Australias, occupying fundamentally different worlds”.
Oh dear. Will Leigh’s publishers be forced to pulp the remaining stock? Or will Battlers and Billionaires, like Wayne Swan’s Postcode, gain cult status as an item of class-war kitsch to be put on ironic display alongside 1950s pulp science fiction? Yes children, they really did believe that one day cars would fly.
Leigh made a spirited attempt to tap the global market for have-and-have-not literature that the global financial crisis spawned: Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level , Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality and Thomas Piketty’s gloomy tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century, to name but three.
Translating this North Atlantic-centric thesis into Australian proved to be a difficult task, however. As DH Lawrence noted in his novel Kangaroo, Australians are allowed to be better off than their neighbours; they’re just not allowed to be better. “And there is all the difference in the world between feeling better than your fellow man and merely feeling better-off,” Lawrence wrote.
Leigh did his best, but by page 99 he was flagging. “The more I looked at the data, the less certain I became that inequality was an unmitigated evil … inequality appears to be good for growth and to have no substantial effects on crime.” Presumably it was too late to turn back. Leigh had signed Morry Schwartz’s contract, the vol-au-vent and chardonnay had been ordered for the launch and Leigh had no choice but to limp on for another 50 pages. And there it should have rested, but by that stage the Labor Party was running low on ideas, so Bill Shorten picked up the fairness theme and ran with it.
Labor is “the party of prosperity — and the party of fairness”, Shorten told the National Policy Forum in March last year. The party’s mission is “to help those struck down by the shafts of fate … to lift people up, and gather them in”.
Call it, if you will, the Hanna-Barbera cartoons approach to character development: Tom v Jerry, Yogi Bear v Ranger Smith and Shorten v Tony Abbott, the cackling villain with his dastardly plan to turn Australia into “a colder, meaner, narrower place”.
For a while it seemed to work, helped along by Joe Hockey’s ambitious first budget, which despite — or perhaps because of — its serious intent was too easily portrayed as unfair.
It was clear long before the Treasurer’s second budget, however, that the Opposition Leader needed another tune. When he was invited to discuss his reply to the budget with the ABC’s Leigh Sales, it was surprising he was not better prepared. Hadn’t he seen Hockey’s hammering earlier in the week that left the studio looking like a Vietnamese abattoir?
Sales: “Less than two years ago, Australians voted to get rid of the Labor government that they didn’t like. Leaving aside leadership instability, what will be your point of difference to the Rudd-Gillard government?”
Shorten: “Well, first of all, what I’m interested in is my point of difference to Tony Abbott.’’
Sales: “But Australians need to know that when they vote for you they’re not voting for a return to the Rudd-Gillard era that they didn’t like.”
Shorten: “Well, we’re a far more united team.”
To which Sales could have replied by repeating her first question, but mindful perhaps that the kiddies might not yet be in bed, she decided to move on.
Nick Dyrenfurth, one of the more astute Labor thinkers, went to the heart of Shorten’s problem last week in an article in The Monthly.
“A motto of ‘Australia will be fairer’ cannot suffice,” Dyrenfurth writes. “Fairness cannot of itself fix the structural budget deficit, develop a consensual pro-worker, pro-business economy where people actually make things and hold down stable, well-paid jobs, or address issues as diverse as an ageing population, terrorism and climate change.
“It is not alarmist to think that Labor is sleepwalking to electoral disaster … Labor’s avoidance of debt-and-deficit politics is the highest of high-risk strategies.”
Many who believe ideas still matter in politics, such as The Australian’s Paul Kelly, were encouraged by Labor’s Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen’s National Press Club speech last week. Bowen’s own book, Hearts & Minds, grapples with the issues a progress-driven party — as opposed to a progressively driven party — must confront.
Unfortunately, as Henry Ergas pointed out on these pages yesterday, Bowen’s plan to turn the next election into a referendum on superannuation concessions is based on flawed economic assumptions, albeit assumptions made by Treasury. It is also flawed politics, relying on false arguments about fairness to conduct a covert expedition in class war.
Nevertheless Bowen, like Dyrenfurth, must be having kittens about the agenda for the party’s national conference in July: gay marriage, asylum-seekers, Palestine and party reform. “This is scarcely the message it should send swinging voters,” Dyrenfurth writes.
Fortunately some in the party are still prepared to argue the politics of common sense. It is not entirely clear, however, who — if anyone — is listening.
Islamic State: Australia open to possibility of deploying more forces after Ramadi, Palmyra losses
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has left open the possibility of sending more troops to Iraq, after the US defence secretary accused local forces of lacking the will to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.
IS fighters have appeared on the back foot in Iraq in recent months, but twin offensives on Ramadi and on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra have swung the momentum.
The loss of Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province of Anbar, raised questions over the strategy adopted not only by Baghdad, but also by Washington to tackle IS.
Pentagon chief Ashton Carter told CNN that Baghdad's worst military defeat in almost a year could have been avoided. "What apparently happened was the Iraqi forces showed no will to fight," he said. "They were not outnumbered, and they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and they failed to fight and withdrew from the site."
Australia currently has about 600 personnel involved in the fight against the IS group as part of "Operation Okra", as well as 300 soldiers attached to Task Group Taji which is helping to train Iraqi forces. "The serious setback in Ramadi just emphasises how challenging the task is and how necessary the task is," Mr Abbott said.
"The final point I should make is that the one Iraqi security force element that most stuck to its post and withdrew from Ramadi as a formed unit, as opposed to a disorganised group, was the unit, the counter-terrorism service of the Iraqi security forces that we have been advising and assisting in our initial placement at Baghdad International Airport," he told reporters in Canberra.
But Mr Abbott did not rule out Australia bolstering its contribution if the US chose to increase its military commitment.
"The United States is obviously the leading Western country," Mr Abbott said. "We don't expect the United States to do what needs to be done in the defence of decency right around the world on its own and that's why Australia has been more than ready to be an utterly reliable partner to the United States.
"I think in this, as in so many things, the world does look to the United States for leadership. "As always, we stand ready to work with our partners and allies, the United States, the Iraqis, our other international and regional partners, to do what we can to help. "It's quite a substantial contribution that we are already making."