Saturday, February 13, 2010

Christopher Pearson, global warming, the blogosphere, and the truth is out there on the intertubes ...

These days Christopher Pearson no doubt turns up well placed in the Saturday tree killer hard copy edition of The Australian, but usually he doesn't get much recognition online.

He rarely gets a guernsey on the top right teaser hooklet splashlet gimmick which tells the you the hottest finest six opinion pieces in the land of Murdoch minions, so it was pleasing to see World wide web of doubt come up trumps.

There he is, but I'm buggered if I can work out what the inverted commas mean, when usually there's a face in that space. Could it be some kind of sub-editor's idea of whimsy?

Never mind, you have to wait until the end of the Pearson piece to get this discerning insightful piece of scientific research from the devotee of the Latin mass:

Another widely held assumption is that, having endured 12 years of indoctrination on climate change at school, young people are en bloc firmly committed to the cause.

My guess is that young nerdy science students generally don't buy the official line. The people who do tend to be PhD students in politics and sociology, taking it on trust.

Yes, there's nothing like a guess - not even a best guess - to establish that nerdy science students are healthy sceptics, nay denialists when it comes to global warming, while you shouldn't trust a PhD in politics or sociology as far as you can throw them.

Strange, because earlier in the piece, Pearson tugs the forelock in the direction of a doctoral fellow:

Other local participants in the internet debate include Jennifer Marohasy, a doctoral fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs, and Joanne Nova at her blog JoNova. She is a freelance science presenter and author of a bestseller, The Sceptic's Handbook. Two News Limited journalists, Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair, have been especially diligent in keeping their mass audiences informed of fresh evidence as it has emerged, via their newspaper columns and, more important, their blogs.

Well I guess a PhD in biology isn't the same as a degree in the wretched disciplines of politics and sociology, where the only condition precedent to study is a willingness to believe in fairy tales. Or so it would seem. Not a sceptical bone in their non-denialist bodies. So dumb they probably believe in Santa Claus and the easter bunny, since their secular humanist posture would stop them from believing in transubstantiation.

And it's handy that being an academic is generally a disqualification for understanding the world, because that means Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair are well on their way to being top notch interdisciplinary scientists.

But wait a minute. What's this about an intertubes debate?

Yep, you've guessed it, when you want hardcore accurate, undeniable scientific information - as opposed to a flame war and a healthy dose of porn - you need to hop on the tubes and explore their full to overflowing abundant supply of reliable information.

Now sadly you won't find any of this in tedious scientific tomes or in the work of government bodies, since they're all corrupt and part of a vast international conspiracy.

Oh dear, and here was I thinking that truth and the internet might not be a simple matter:

The Internet is one of the most powerful agents of freedom. It exposes truth to those who wish to see it. It is no wonder that some governments and organizations fear the Internet and its ability to make the truth known.

But the power of the Internet is like a two-edged sword. It can also deliver misinformation and uncorroborated opinion with equal ease. The thoughtful and the thoughtless co-exist side by side in the Internet's electronic universe. What's to be done?

There are no electronic filters that separate truth from fiction. No cognitive "V-chip" to sort the gold from the lead. We have but one tool to apply: critical thinking.

Great, what should I do?

Well the answer is to look to the blogosphere. It contains all the truth you need to know, and not a conspiracist or loon to be found anywhere.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First let's down and dirty with some real science.

For a start, how about a survey? Yep, it seems the BBC has conducted a phone survey, and it shows its bad news for the environmentalist propagandists.

Opinions are shifting, just as a Nielsen poll has established in Australia, as valiant sceptics march off to war, and the conspiracists reel and totter towards defeat.

Hang on a second, what's this got to do with the science you ask? After all any number of polls will tell you that only four in ten Americans believe in the theory of evolution (here). Does that make the science any less valid?

What about the one third of Americans who believe the bible is literally true? (here). Does that make the bible even literally more truer?

I guess it does ... if you can swallow whole hokum like the virgin birth, transubstantiation, miracles, the Latin mass bringing you closer to god, and heaven and hell (not to mention angels and purgatory - let's not worry about limbo).

What next? Perhaps a phone survey on the truth of Einstein's relativity theory?

But then Pearson truly jumps the shark:

What we are witnessing, in defiance of officialdom, government propaganda and the bulk of funded researchers in the field, is the collapse of a scientific paradigm. This is something that has never happened before. Politically speaking, it's a game-changer with the potential to overturn the normative assumptions commentators rely on. Not least of these is the idea that Australian voters will always give newly elected federal governments a second term.

A scientific paradigm has never collapsed before? And is now collapsing under the weight of a telephone survey, and the deep science of the likes of Pearson, Blair and Bolt?

Um, so what about the transition from Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican one?
What about biogenesis?
What about the shift from Newtonian physics to Einstein's relativist vision?
How about plate tectonics or Lavoisier's theory of chemical reactions?
What about Darwin replacing Lamarch?

You know, paradigm shifts of a momentous kind aren't that common, but they do happen on a very regular basis in science. A simple search of that wonderful information source, the intertubes, would have reminded the hapless Pearson of this, if he'd only gone here.

But then when it comes to discussing science, Pearson is resolutely a science free zone. Which is how he can seemingly think that the truth is out there on the intertubes, in the same way as his mate Matt Ridley at The Spectator:

In the latest edition of The Spectator, Matt Ridley, a veteran science journalist, offers an explanation for how the consensus came unstuck. "Despite 20 years of being told they were not just factually but morally wrong, of being compared to Holocaust deniers, of being told they deserved to be tried for crimes against humanity, of being avoided at parties, climate sceptics seem to be growing in number and confidence by the day. What is the difference?

"In a word, the internet. The `climate consensus' may hold the establishment -- the universities, the media, big business, government -- but it is losing the jungles of the web. After all, getting research grants, doing pieces to camera and advising boards takes time. The very ostracism the sceptics suffered has left them free to do their digging untroubled by grant applications and invitations to Stockholm."

Yes, and untroubled by expensive equipment, and training too, and all the tools used to generate the data. And getting out in the field and conducting in depth observations. As opposed to sitting in a garret and picking out juicy bits of data to squawk about, like loons on the pond confronted with a tasty worm.

Oh yes, the jungles of the web, such a wonderful source of pornography, pirated intellectual content, and the truth about global warming.

Why am I reminded of the recent debate in the United States about the way the snowstorms conclusively proved that there's no global warming (Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze)? Did anybody in that debate bother to read the Climate Impacts Report, which strangely enough predicted more snow in the north east of the United States?

Probably not, and most likely not Christopher Pearson, who prefers aimless rambling to actual consideration of the issues.

Instead Pearson has his own favourite list of climate change denialists and sceptics, whom it seems have generated a surprising level of depth and plausibility in relation to the online debate. Provided of course you don't bother to read anyone providing any alternative viewpoint online contrary to the worldview of the sceptics. That's just static ... white noise ... getting in the road of the blinding truth.

Well Pearson's piece then leads us to what I have to consider one of the juicier bits of fruitloop nonsense I've read in recent times:

The uncontrollable nature of internet communication meant that, through time, cutting-edge argument was more likely to be found in the blogosphere than in refereed journals.

No doubt about it - if you want examples of cutting-edge arguments and sheer full frontal full on loonery, the blogosphere is the place to find it. Could it be that Pearson, for effrontery and silly arguments, shouldn't just get a bit part in a Monty Python sketch, but now can become a squawking paid up member of the blogosphere?

Yes, indeed, because anyone who carries on like this is a prime exponent of arguments and opinions which only lack one minor detail ... actual evidence. Well who needs to go through the tedium of actual justification of a view, when simple assertion and perhaps a little shouting will sort out everything.

Because you see it's not that Pearson has read, or can understand what's in refereed journals. He just doesn't like 'em. Not when you put 'em up against a solid cutting edge blog.

The very high hit rates on the leading sites in the wake of Climategate finally persuaded newspaper editors to unleash teams of investigative journalists in an attempt to catch up. The only media that have so far failed to respond to the public's appetite for up-to-date news and analysis are the state-subsidised national broadcasters.

Why on earth should they bother? Can't we just read Joe Blogg's blog to get to the truth, the heart, the nub of the matter? Isn't the truth out there? Along with ghosts and communicating with the dead and the wonderful insights provided by astrology (see the Pew survey, Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths).

Perhaps that's why Pearson's convinced there's a conspiracy in state-subsidised national broadcasters to hide the truth? Aren't they in league with the United Nations, which Chairman Rudd wants to run, and so gain control of the black helicopters?

It's widely assumed that the internet is inherently suited to furthering the causes of the left-leaning young, as evidenced by Barack Obama's campaign and fundraising strategies. But the blogosphere's role in the collapse of the climate consensus suggests middle-aged and elderly net users are equally capable of making their presence felt on a democratic medium.

And so another ringing insight into the current state of global warming science draws towards a close in that august rag, The Australian, with a ringing endorsement of middle-aged and elderly net users feeling their democratic power.

For pure comedy, it doesn't get much better than this, unless you like the distilled essence, provided by Jeff Sparrow in Monckton's Melbourne meeting: a gathering of men in Richie Benaud blazers.

I particularly liked his analysis of the Monckton conspiracy theorists:

... this kind of black helicopter nuttiness might have seemed like an add-on to the main message but in other ways it was central. For Monckton was there to explain that there was no climate crisis at all. The temperature was falling, not rising. The sea ice was just fine. So, too, the Eurasian snow cover and the Antarctic ice and the hurricanes and the polar bears. They were all as right as rain, and there were graphs and charts and formulas to prove it.

And that, of course, raised a second question, one that necessarily haunts climate sceptics. If, as Monckton said, the majority of scientists are scandalously and incompetently wrong about global warming, why does the scientific community go along with the charade? What about the media and the political mainstream? Why aren’t they embracing the truth?

The answer doesn’t automatically involve a conspiracy but it certainly marches you a long way that direction ...

Well, with respect, I have an alternative theory, one I've stated and now will re-state as a theorem, which I happen to think is almost impregnable. And because this is a blog, I'm privileged to share this cutting edge argument with you. Sadly you won't find it in refereed journals because those clowns have no idea of the truth. Wait for it, here it is:

If you believe in transubstantion, virgin births, miracles, angels, heaven and hell, you can believe in anything. And most likely do. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The Australian? A source of insight into science? Think. Again.

Why not just head off to a blog? Christopher Pearson says that's the way to find the truth ... and the truth will set you free. It's all there on the intertubes, the truth ...

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