Monday, 2 April 2012

Qualifications: the right to speak in the debate about global warming [AGW]

Qualifications: the right to speak in the debate about global warming [AGW]
by Anthony Cox

In his recent report on the media Raymond Finkelstein justified introducing censorship on the basis that the general public was not up to the task of understanding and making the right decisions about important public issues like AGW. I noted this was the main reason Finkelstein advocated media controls here and here.
Finkelstein, Manne and Hamilton
Prominent ‘intellectuals’ such as Robert Manne and Clive Hamilton have also made similar demands and recommendations. In fact, anyone who is not a climate scientist is told, gently or otherwise, that they know nothing about the subject and should leave it to the experts. Michael Ashley, an astrophysicist, advised me as such here. Michael kindly offered this advice:
Anthony - you may be a very fine lawyer, but you are sadly way out of your depth in climate science.
You may think your arguments here are persuasive, but they are as laughable as mine would be if I tried to win a complex constitutional case in the High Court with no legal representation.
Just imagine how stupid I would sound trying to argue the law against the best legal minds in the land.
Well, that's how you come across when you discuss science. The difference is that I know I have no knowledge of the law, whereas you seem to be under the impression that you know more about the science than the experts.
Don't you have any self-awareness?
Clearly this is not a matter of “self-awareness”. I’m a citizen who is well educated and reasonably intelligent. By training and inclination I am sceptical and able to analyze complex material. Climate science is in fact similar in terms of complexity to many of the legal matters I have been involved with over the last 20 years. I understand the basic tenets and evidence of this theory. This evidence doesn’t make sense and when I raise its failings I am told I am not up to the task of understanding ‘climate science’. Bad luck, I will continue to ask the questions!
Professor Ashley does, however, raise an interesting point which may be a compromise between the claims of exclusive understanding by ‘climate experts’ and the rest of us taxpayers and citizens. This point involves the role of expert witnesses in court proceedings. The guidelines by which expert witnesses give testimony in court are described here. These guidelines state:
1. General Duty to the Court
1.1 An expert witness has an overriding duty to assist the Court on matters relevant to the expert’s area of expertise.
1.2 An expert witness is not an advocate for a party even when giving testimony that is necessarily evaluative rather than inferential3.
1.3 An expert witness’s paramount duty is to the Court and not to the person retaining the expert.
2. The Form of the Expert Evidence4
2.1 An expert’s written report must give details of the expert’s qualifications and of the literature or other material used in making the report.
2.2 All assumptions of fact made by the expert should be clearly and fully stated.
2.3 The report should identify and state the qualifications of each person who carried out any tests or experiments upon which the expert relied in compiling the report.
2.4 Where several opinions are provided in the report, the expert should summarise them.
2.5 The expert should give the reasons for each opinion.
2.6 At the end of the report the expert should declare that “[the expert] has made all the inquiries that [the expert] believes are desirable and appropriate and that no matters of significance that [the expert] regards as relevant have, to [the expert’s] knowledge, been withheld from the Court.”
2.7 There should be included in or attached to the report: (i) a statement of the questions or issues that the expert was asked to address; (ii) the factual premises upon which the report proceeds; and (iii) the documents and other materials that the expert has been instructed to consider.
2.8 If, after exchange of reports or at any other stage, an expert witness changes a material opinion, having read another expert’s report or for any other reason, the change should be communicated in a timely manner (through legal representatives) to each party to whom the expert witness’s report has been provided and, when appropriate, to the Court5.
2.9 If an expert’s opinion is not fully researched because the expert considers that insufficient data are available, or for any other reason, this must be stated with an indication that the opinion is no more than a provisional one. Where an expert witness who has prepared a report believes that it may be incomplete or inaccurate without some qualification, that qualification must be stated in the report (see footnote 5).
2.10 The expert should make it clear when a particular question or issue falls outside the relevant field of expertise.
2.11 Where an expert’s report refers to photographs, plans, calculations, analyses, measurements, survey reports or other extrinsic matter, these must be provided to the opposite party at the same time as the exchange of reports6.
I would very much like to involve experts in the ‘climate science’ field in a court proceeding where they were required to give their ‘evidence’ in the fashion described by these guidelines!
In the meantime this debate is conducted through various blog sites and the media. What scientists like Professor Ashley do not understand is that the onus is on them to explain their ideas in a way which can be understood and to explain perceived deficiencies with those ideas. All too often when the idea is being revealed as nonsense the high-horse is wheeled out and the insults begin. With AGW the clear intent is not to defend an idea but to make sure the defects of that idea are not revealed.
A recent example of this took place at The Conversation. I had engaged a well known academic supporter of AGW, Dr Michael Brown. The topic was the recent paper by Foster and Rahmstorf and the isolation of a ‘pure’ AGW temperature signal. As usual, when the discussion became pointed in respect of Dr Brown’s support of the paper insults began to flow. As was his want Dr Brown queried my qualifications and declared I had lied about them. I replied to this as follows:
“Dr Brown states:
“As for the supposed insult, why should Anthony Cox expect to get away with faking his climate credentials? If someone lies about their own qualifications, what else are they willing to lie about?”
On previous occasions Dr Brown has stated I have misrepresented my “climate credentials”, or exaggerated them. He says I have done this deliberately to gain credibility.
Dr Brown’s clear intention is to impugn my character not only in respect of my right and ability to contribute to the debate about global warming [AGW] but to the wider community. His imputation is plain: he has concluded I lied about my “climate credentials” and therefore am a liar generally.
He has no basis for doing so. I have explained on another thread the sequence of events which lead to the original biographical information about me. That information was:
"He has degrees in law and climatology and is a regular contributor to science blogs and the media."
I submitted this original description to Jonathan Green, the editor of The Drum, just prior to the publication of my first article which was published on 11.8.2010. I was preoccupied with organising the other 2 authors and gave fleeting attention to my bio details. At that time I recollected that I had studied climate in my first degree, a BA, at Newcastle University between 1971 and 1973. I recalled that I had studied the subject for 3 years under the auspices of the Geography department. I therefore thought it relevant to the article to describe my first degree in respect of the climate component.
In fact I had studied climate over 3 years but only in 1971 and 1973, missing 1972 when I took other subjects. The courses for the 2 years I did study climate are described thus:
The course description for Geography 1 in 1971 is:
6 hours per week (2 hours lectures, 1 hour tutorial, 3 hours of practical work). Four days of field work are an integral part of the course. A final examination of two papers each of three hours.
The subject is designed to introduce students to the agency of man on earth, as the dominant element in his ecosystem. It will review the growing impact of man on land and his influence with processes in his environment.
Practical courses to extend and enrich this study are also designed to enable students to gain proficiency in and understanding of the tools of geographical analysis. Methods in the cartographic and statistical organisation of geographic data will be studied.
Cultural Geography Spencer and Thomas (Wiley 1969)
Maps and Diagrams Monkhouse and Wilkinson (Methuen 2nd ed. 1966)
Statistical Methods and the Geographer Gregory (Longmans 2nd ed. 1969)
The University Atlas Fullard and Darby (George Philip and Sons)
Geography 11B in 1973
Six hours per week (4 hours of lectures and 2 hours of practical tutorial work). The subject involves 8 days' field work.
This is a study of process and patterns in man's physical environment. One section of the course is concerned with the exchanges and transformations of solar energy and of water at the earth/atmosphere interface. These studies are organised into the frameworks of the radiation, heat and water budgets and the spatial variations of these. The other section deals with geomorphic processes on the one hand, and problems of historical geomorphology on the other.
Prescribed books
Barry and Chorley Atmosphere Weather and Climate
(Methuen University Paperback 1968)
Thornbury Principles of Geomorphology 2nd ed. (Wiley 1969)
Holmes Principles of Physical Geology 2nd ed. (Nelsons Paperback 1965)
As I wrote more articles for The Drum criticism of me increasingly became personal and turned to my “climate credentials”. Some time before Dr Brown’s involvement Jonathan Green had emailed me advising that my “climate credentials” were being queried. I checked my first degree and discovered I had completed 2 years of climate studies in the Geography department. I advised Jonathan of that. At that stage the issue of whether the bio should be changed did not arise.
However, the blog disparagements about my “climate credentials” continued with one of the most insistent being Dr Brown. He sent an email complaining about my qualifications to Jonathan Green after persistent questioning of me. I realised that the issue of my “climate credentials” would continue and be a distraction from the cogency of any comments I made about AGW. I replied to Jonathan Green reluctantly offering to redescribe my bio as:
"He has a degree in law and has a minor in climate studies in his first degree and is a regular contributor to science blogs and the media."
The reasons I did not check my academic record earlier are, firstly, at that stage the issue of my qualifications was not so pointed. Secondly, I was being personally insulted continually in the comments section of my articles by being accused of being a shill of big oil/coal/tobacco, a creationist, flat-Earther, red-neck etc so I regarded any such enquiry or comment about my “climate credentials” and right to comment on Global Warming as just another personal attack.
After the change to my bio I gave the matter no further thought until I checked the bio a couple of months later and found a further change and notice of correction. That change was this:
"He has a degree in law and is a regular contributor to science blogs and the media.
(Editor's note: This biography has been amended to correct inaccuracies.)"
This change was in accord with what Dr Brown had demanded in his email to Jonathan Green.
I emailed Jonathan and was told further complaints had been made and an enquiry had been undertaken by the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department. I was not privy to or given any opportunity to make an input into this enquiry. As a result all reference to my first degree was expunged.
It is Dr Brown’s contention that a “a couple of 1970s geography subjects” are “well short of the original claim of a degree in climatology, and is well short of a minor in climate science too.”
In my opinion he is wrong. The course outlines above show that plainly. The historical context and relationship between Geography and Climatology also show that Dr Brown is wrong. In this respect I linked to this authoritative paper to prove the point:
On page 7 von Storch and Zwiers say this:
"Climatology was originally a sub-discipline of Geography, and was therefore mainly descriptive (see, e.g., Bruckner [70], Hann [155], or Hann and Knoch [156]). Description of the climate consisted primarily of estimates of its mean state and estimates of its variability about that state, such as its standard deviations and other simple measures of variability. Much of climatology is still focused on these concerns today."
Dr Brown has ignored this. It is plain that Dr Brown’s comments about both my “climate credentials” and motivation are wrong. At worse I am guilty of mistaken recollection. In any event my “climate credentials” sustain a claim of having studied climatology. In that respect if the original bio had said:
"He has degrees in law and WITH climatology and is a regular contributor to science blogs and the media."
It would have been entirely accurate. Instead Dr Brown has personalized his attack on my opposition to AGW and impugned my character. This is different from the usual robust debate which frames AGW.
Dr Brown’s statements declaring or implying I have been dishonest or deceitful should be removed.”
Given all this, imagine my surprise when reading this.
The comments are, of course, still there; and it is a minor point, in isolation. But the attacks are sustained, constant and egalitarian: Even the expert sceptics like Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, McKitrick etc are subject to the same venom and personal vitriol as nobodies like myself.
In the end I have decided to do nothing about the slur. My reason for doing this is that the public is making its mind up about AGW by examining the tactics and methods of its advocates as well as the paucity of evidence to support it. At the end of the day when the enemy is doing your job for you let them continue doing the job!

Flogging a dead Horse

Larry Pickering:
Exit polls from the Queensland Election show that a contributing factor for Labor's huge loss was the carbon dioxide tax based on bad science (B.S.)

This was the tax the our Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised we wouldn't have. Now she wants us to "trust" her.

David Murray was smart enough to run a leading bank and the Commonwealth Government's Future Fund. He described the carbon dioxide Tax "as the worst economic reform he has ever seen." Wayne Swan is in denial. He doesn't offer a counter argument but just denounces David Murray as a heretic.

Meanwhile, Greg Combet is in Europe "working towards linking the Australian and European emissions trading schemes." TCS blog is not sure whether he wants to drag our $23 tax down to Europe's $9 or vice versa.