Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Four current articles below

Response to BOM whitewash from good ol' boy, Ron Sandland

Remarks below by Dr Jennifer Marohasy

FOLLOWING  are my initial comments in response to the release of the report by the Technical Advisory Forum on the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network (ACORN-SAT):

Dr Sandland chairs 'The Forum' that has so far refused to hold an open forum.

I NOTE that The Forum, chaired by Dr Ron Sandland formerly of the CSIRO, concurs with the Bureau that:

“There is a need to adjust the historical temperature record to account for site changes, changes in measurement practices and identifiable errors in measurement…  To this end, the Forum supports the need for the Bureau’s homogenisation process to incorporate both metadata-based adjustments and adjustments based on the statistical detection of atypical observations. In the opinion of the Forum members, unsolicited submissions received from the public did not offer a justification for contesting the overall need for homogenisation or the scientific integrity of the Bureau’s climate records.”

As a member of the public who made an unsolicited submission, I would like to clarify that at no time did I suggest there was no need for adjustments, rather I have queried why there are adjustments made when, in fact, there are no documented site changes, no changes in measurement practices, and no identifiable errors.  Yet adjustments are still made.

The Forum appears to have overlooked many examples of this provided in the public submissions, and published by The Australian newspaper late in 2014.  For example, the Forum has completely ignored the notorious example of Rutherglen, where a slight cooling trend was converted into a warming trend, despite an absence of any metadata providing justification.

The Forum has also made no comment on the actual choice of stations for inclusion in ACORN-SAT, nor how the selection of stations has changed in recent years.  For example, in his submission to the panel, retired chartered accountant Merrick Thomson showed how the choice of ACORN-SAT stations changed from 2012 to 2013 and, how this could generate a large increase in global warming.

The Forum has suggested that the Bureau consider pre-1910 data in its analysis of climatic trends.

“Recommendation 5: Further, the possible availability of pre-1910 data at south-eastern sites may allow for a comparative analysis to be performed for south-eastern Australia to assess whether the inclusion of pre-1910 data is worthwhile in attempting to understand current temperature patterns.”

This is currently listed as a low priority by The Forum, but its inclusion is nevertheless welcome, and was a key recommendation in my submission.  I also recommended that all temperature series start at the same date.  For example, I provided the example, in my submission, of the Bureau adding in the very hot town of Wilcannia only from 1957, when there is data available from the late 1800s.

I also welcome the recommendation that the Bureau:

“Address two key aspects of ACORN-SAT, namely: a) improving the clarity and accessibility of information provision—in particular, explaining the uncertainty that is inherent to both raw and homogenised datasets, and b) refining some of the Bureau’s data handling and statistical methods through appropriate statistical standardisation procedures, sensitivity analyses, and alternative data fitting approaches.”

I note that The Forum state in their report that:   “It is not currently possible to determine whether the improvements recommended by the Forum will result in an increased or decreased warming trend as reflected in the ACORN-SAT dataset.”

I would suggest that if the committee’s recommendations were properly implemented, and the Bureau abandoned some of its more creative accounting practices (e.g. adding in particularly hot locations for later years in the time series), then it would become apparent that there has been an overall trend of cooling over much of central and eastern Australia from 1880 to 1960, more dramatic warming than previously documented from 1960 through to about 2002, while more recently temperatures have plateaued, with some evidence of a cooling trend establishing in north eastern Australia since 2002.

I note The Forum intends to operate for another two years, and urge them to be honest to their title of “The Forum” and actually meet with some of those who have so far provided unsolicited public submissions.  Indeed, I urge Dr Sandland to immediately set up an open and transparent Forum process whereby these submissions can be presented allowing any accusations of scientific misconduct by the Bureau to be both defended and contested before the Australian public, and media.

The committee makes five recommendations, but puts emphasis on the importance of the first two components of the first recommendation.

I applaud the first component of the first recommendation of the committee that in full states:

“Expediting the Bureau’s current work on developing uncertainty measures in closer consultation with the statistical community. The Forum recommends the Bureau seek to better understand the sources of uncertainty and to include estimates of statistical variation such as standard errors in reporting estimated and predicted outcomes, including: quantifying the uncertainty for both raw and adjusted data; prioritising the provision of explicit standard errors or confidence intervals, which should further inform the Bureau’s understanding and reporting of trends in all temperature series maintained by the Bureau; examining the robustness of analyses to spatial variation; and articulating the effect of correcting for systematic errors on the standard error of resulting estimates.”

Of course, that such basic statistical information is not currently available is impossible to reconcile with the overall conclusion in the report that, “the analyses conducted by the Bureau reflect good practice in addressing the problem of how to adjust the raw temperature series for systematic errors.”   Then again, the executive summary of The Forum’s report appears to have been written by someone straight out of the BBC television series ‘Yes Minister’.

The second component of the first recommendation is also applauded, which reads in full:

“Developing a clearer articulation of the purpose for the ACORN-SAT exercise to enhance public understanding of the program, and communicating processes for developing and using ACORN-SAT in a way that is appropriately clear, broad and supported by graphics and data summaries. In particular, the central focus on the Australian annual mean temperature anomaly as the primary end point of the ACORN-SAT exercise should be reconsidered and a broader narrative around including regional effects should be developed.”

Indeed, it has become apparent over the years that the entire focus of the work of the small ACORN-SAT unit is not the provision of higher quality individual temperature series, but the remodeling of the raw data, and the compilation of a select few station, to suggest that it is getting hotter and hotter across the Australian landmass with such announcements made with great fanfare by the Bureau’s David Jones at the beginning of each year.

Recommendation No. 2, has several components including comment that:

“Releasing the Python computer code for ACORN-SAT as a downloadable link along with all supporting documentation and listing of the technical requirements for the software. The Bureau should also monitor and gather download statistics to gauge demand for this software.”

Of course, without access to this software it has been impossible to reproduce any of the adjustments made by the Bureau. Yet if the method is scientific, it should be reproducible.   For many years, the Bureau has erroneously claimed its methods are transparent.   It should be noted, however, that even with the provision of this software, it will be impossible to justify ACORN-SAT because it is unclear why the Bureau chooses some stations above others for its comparisons.  For example, despite endless requests for clarification, the Bureau has never explained why it uses the distant location of Hillston to make comparison, and then changes, to the raw temperature data for Rutherglen in north eastern Victoria.

Recommendation 2 also includes comment that:  “Publishing a brief, plain-language (as far as possible) description of the criteria for adjustment and the basis for adjustment itself.”    Of course this should have been available since the very first adjustment was made in the development of ACORN-SAT.  That such a document still does not exist is evidence that ACORN-SAT is poorly documented.  So, how could The Forum endorse the Bureau’s claims that it represents world’s best practice?


Pope's climate adviser lambasts Australia

If you think he looks like something that has recently emerged from the anus of a zoo animal, I will not contradict you, "ad hominem" though that is.  Apologies but the pompous fraud has certainly succeeded in irritating me.   More temperately, exactly what qualifies a theoretical physicist to pontificate on the Australian economy?  Also see today's issue of GREENIE WATCH for a comment on his "science"

A leading German climate change authority and adviser to the Pope on the effects of global warming has lambasted Australia over what he perceives as its failure to address an inevitable process of de-carbonisation.

Professor Hans Schellnhuber, head of the highly-regarded Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research outside Berlin, told reporters Australia's reliance on coal exports to China was a "suicide strategy".

"I don't think Australia can be sustained based simply on raw materials he says. "Just pursuing the carbon path is a red herring."

Professor Schellnhubner will be in Rome Thursday for the release of an eagerly awaited papal encyclical on the effects of climate change.

An adviser to both the Pope and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prof Schellnhuber is one of Europe's leading climate change scientists in his capacity as Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Potsdam.

He was interviewed in his study where Albert Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity.

In good natured remarks about the challenges facing a country like Australia, Prof Schellnhuber said it was "not responsible to run a country like a lottery."

He compared Australia unfavorably with resource-rich Norway which is being run almost completely on renewable energy [mostly hydro, which Greenies hate] and was making use of its vast sovereign wealth fund to build new and innovative industries.

Australia, he says, was excellently-placed to make the most of its renewable potential in solar, wind-power and other forms of renewable energy.

Asked why Germany experienced a low level of climate skepticism compared with countries like Australia and the United States, Prof Schellnhuber says "Anglo-American" societies tended to be dominated by ideas of entrepeneurship and free market impulses.

The Anglo-American world believed technology and innovation would help it to overcome its challenges. Germany, with its "different history", was more "cautious."  [Germany has a cautious history?  You could have fooled me!]

"Australia and Canada suffered from the curse of bounty," he says. "We will be fine forever: why should we change?"

"In the end," he adds. "it [the curse of bounty] makes you complacent. Unfortunately paradise doesn't last forever".

Africa and South America also have bountiful natural resources, so how come they are not in "paradise"?  Schellnhuber hasn't even asked himself that question.  His economics and sociology are on a par with his climatology


Electric cars in Australia

Tesla may have ambitious plans for battery technology for the home but it is also looking to upgrade its electric vehicle batteries, which will allow them to travel twice the distance they currently do. So what will be the implications for Australia?

While Australia has generally been an early adopter of new technology, electric vehicles pose more of a problem. Anybody who has grown up in regional Australia knows that being the family taxi at weekends for children’s sporting events can regularly mean a round trip of more than 200km.

The current battery life of an electric vehicle is around 160km – the Nissan Leaf is quoting an average even lower at 135km – so they are still not an option as the primary vehicle for even the most die-hard regional environmentalist.

There has been some take-up of hybrid vehicles – and they are more suitable to Australian conditions – but what is needed for those who would love to move to a fully electric vehicle?

Electric is more suited to the major cities, where they can be used for the daily commute to work (and may provide an alternative for the second family vehicle).

But the uptake of new electric vehicles is slow according to one recent report, with limited sales in the first few months of the year, although BMW claimed the most with 70 of its i3 model. (It’s a similar story in other countries where sales are far less than predicted.)

One of the reasons for the slow take-up in Australia has been identified as a lack of infrastructure to keep electric vehicles powered, especially on the longer journeys that are typical here.


Greens do a deal over pension policy

Greens more pragmatic under their new leadership

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has dismissed claims by Labor frontbencher Jason Clare his party has “done a deal with the devil” backing the government on pension reform and said it was time for Bill Shorten to commit to a side in the debate.

Di Natale last week struck a deal with Social Services Minister Scott Morrison that will guarantee the safe passage of pension asset test changes through the Senate, a measure projected to save $2.4 billion.

The move would reduce pension payments for 235,756 seniors, cut 91,378 people from the part-pension and give 171,658 retirees more money.

“If Bill Shorten feels so strongly about the decision that the Greens have taken ... on pensions he must immediately rule out supporting those changes if he becomes the next prime minister of the country,” Di Natale said in Sydney.

“He’s at this stage criticizing that position but he has not committed to repealing if it become law – this is what Bill Shorten and the Labor party do too often, they try to walk two sides of the fence.

“I say ... if you don’t support these pension changes then you must immediately commit to repealing them if you become the prime minister of this country otherwise your words are hollow words – they mean nothing.”

Di Natale also said in attacking the Greens over pension reform, Mr Shorten and Mr Clare were attacking members of their own party. “We know now that inside the Labor caucus there’s many senior figures that supported the position the Greens have taken,” he said.

“We have the shadow treasurer, we have Tony Burke – it’s been supported by many members of the Labour party, so they’ve got to be careful with their criticism because in fact they’re attacking many people within their own party.”

Mr Clare had told Sky News on Sunday, “The Greens have done a deal with the devil”.

He said it will be interesting to see what the Greens base makes of that, remembering what happened to the Democrats after striking a deal with the former Howard government over the introduction of the GST.

Senator Di Natale said his focus wasn’t on Labor when making the agreement, it was on ensuring that people have a decent retirement income.

He said he has a “pretty simple philosophy”.  “It’s looking at each issue, look at the merits of the case that people put in front of you. If the policy’s a step in the right direction, you support it,” he told ABC television.

But Labor says the change is unfair and says it will hold Prime Minister Tony Abbott accountable for breaking an election promise that he wouldn’t make cuts to pensions.

“This is a matter of trust,” Mr Clare said.  “This is a broken promise and is unfair, it hurts people on relatively low incomes.”

Asked if Labor would reinstate the old pension assets test threshold, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told ABC television: “We don’t believe we’ve lost yet”.



Qld cop charged over leaked bash footage

No room for honest cops in Qld.

A Gold Coast police officer has been stood down and charged with misconduct following allegations he leaked footage of colleagues assaulting a handcuffed man three years ago.

The Queensland Police Service said on Friday Rick Flori, a 44-year-old sergeant with 25 years' experience, was the subject of an investigation "concerning allegations he accessed and released confidential information".

The police service said in a statement Flori had been charged with one count of criminal misconduct in public office and issued with a notice to appear in the Southport Magistrates Court on July 15.

He has been stood down on full pay but could lose his job over the January 2012 incident.

The leaked video shows Noa Begic, 21, being slammed face first into a concrete floor before being hit by officers using their knees, elbows and fists.

It also shows Mr Begic being punched several times after being put in the back of a police van, and a senior officer throwing a bucket of water on the concrete to wash away the man's blood.

Speaking outside Queensland Police Service headquarters on Friday, Flori thanked his supporters.

"I thank my family," he told reporters. "I've had multiple phone calls and text messages. I'm very grateful and I thank you all."

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman says the case goes to the heart of the risks whistleblowers take.

Mr O'Gorman called on Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller to take a personal interest in the case.

"Queenslanders will say what sort of a system have we got where a video shows a number of police belting the hell out of a bloke," he told the ABC.

"They don't get charged, but the officer who leaks the video to the media gets charged."

Mr Begic said at the time he was arrested after a night out in Surfers Paradise and was assaulted repeatedly on the drive to the local police station and then later in the basement.

"They were making racist comments about me and then when we ended up in that basement I knew there was more on the way," he said.

Public nuisance charges against Mr Begic were ultimately dropped after then-Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson intervened.

The officers filmed carrying out the assault were subject to an internal police investigation, with two facing disciplinary action. They should have been fired


The price of Australia's most common medicines could soon be halved

Australians could soon see the prices of some of its most common medicines halved under a new generic drug deal.

Pressure is mounting on the Senate to pass the legislation this week after Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley, signed an $18.9 billion deal with the Pharmacy Guild and Generic Medicines Industry Association which could drop the prices of over 2,000 common prescription medicines.

Ley said that the focus should be on having “more affordable medicines for consumers” especially since “so many Australians now are suffering from chronic diseases”.

In particular, Ley pointed to medication for cholesterol and heart conditions which could drop to $10 per script for general patients.

The high costs prescription medicine has been under public debate in recent years, with reports showing that nearly one in 10 Australians don’t take medicines a doctor prescribes because of the cost.

Research by the Grattan Institute revealed that Australia’s drug prices were almost 16 times higher than the best price in the UK, New Zealand and Canada.

The price of packet of Atorvastatin, an anti-cholesterol medication, cost $19.32 with the same pills costing $A2.01 in New Zealand and $A2.84 in Britain.

“Overall within this package there is a very strong downward trend on the price of medicines, particularly the most common and popular medicines that people take,” Ley said.


Online universities helping students become the first in their family to obtain higher education

More than half of 41,000 students studying online are first in their family to go to university

Online education is giving a generation of Australians the opportunity to become the first in their families to pursue higher education, a new report has found.

Open Universities Australia (OUA) today released the findings of their June report on “first In family” students, revealing an estimated two out of three students enrolled in university courses online are the first person in their immediate family to pursue higher education.

According to the findings of the First in Family report, an estimated 67.7 per cent of online university students are the first in their family to study.

“First in family” students are more likely to be mature age students, with 37 per cent being over 35 years old. Similarly, 66 per cent of “first in family” students are women, compared to 58 per cent of OUA students overall.

Among “first in family” students, the most popular tertiary courses were in education (18 per cent), arts and humanities (35 per cent), business (22 per cent).

OUA together with the University of Wollongong and the University of Newcastle this year completed a nationwide research project called Breaking the Barriers to identify the challenges facing “first in family” students.

Dr Cathy Stone, who established Student Success services at OUA, was part of a project team led by the University of Wollongong, which conducted research during 2014-2015 with the support of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

Dr Stone said university was no longer limited to an elite demographic. “More than half of OUA students are the first in their family to go to university, which shows online learning is removing barriers for people who would traditionally have not gone to university,” she said.

“They are investing in their own futures and their families’ future. Most of them are not school leavers but are older students, who work full time or part time as well as having family responsibilities. Through studying online, they have the flexibility to study at times that suit them, so that they can achieve their goals and gain their university degree.”

Following the release of the Breaking the Barriers report, the project team launched a First in Family initiative including a website and toolkit of resources to help support these students and their families. www.firstinfamily.com.au

Dr Stone said that OUA is recognising this emerging student trend and providing these students with specific and appropriate support.

“This is a demographic of Australians for which traditional face-to-face learning is often not possible, whereas online learning provides them with the opportunity to achieve university qualifications,” she said.

“A student who is the first in their family to study towards a university degree will face different challenges compared with those students who come from families where others have already been to university. Often, these first-in-family students don’t know what to expect and can feel at a disadvantage compared with those around them.”

The Breaking the Barriers report surveyed 173 and interviewed 102 “first in family” students across Australia, and found that many of these students felt out of place at university, lacked confidence in their ability and worried about the financial impact of their decision to study. OUA data also shows that  first-in-family students are more likely to be from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and more likely to live in regional and rural areas.

The findings from the OUA First in Family report found that “first in family” students were slightly more likely than their peers to struggle academically, but were equally likely to complete their qualifications.

About the Open Universities Australia

Owned by seven of Australia’s premier universities, Open Universities Australia (OUA) is the national leader in quality online tertiary education. Enrolling more than 250,000 students since 1993, OUA provides access to over 1700 units and 180 qualifications taught by more than 20 leading Australian universities and tertiary education providers. Visit www.open.edu.au.

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