April 2004


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Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 28 Apr 2004 16:28:43 +1200
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        Monbiot's article below is so exhilarating in its forthright quest
for truth and contempt for dishonest media hacks that I feel provoked to
issue a new MannGram® in the quasi-samizdat series so studiously denied
overt acknowledgment in those media.
        I esteem Monbiot more than almost all journalists commentating on
my field (applied ecology), so I do him the honour of respectful comment.


> The Fossil Fools

     The dismissal of climate change by journalistic nincompoops is a
danger to us all

        < right on Geo.  In this country the "journalists" include
prominently, repeatedly in the NZ Herald the NZ agent of USA criminal &
nutter Lyndon LaRouche.

>     By George Monbiot.  Published in
       the Guardian 27th April 2004

>     Picture a situation in which most of the media, despite the
>overwhelming weight of medical opinion, refused to accept that there was a
>connection between smoking and lung cancer.

        < Dictating too fast here, Geo.  The issue is not "a connection".
It has moved way beyond that.  The issue is whether most lung cancer is
caused by smoking.  It is that clear; why are you so vague?

>  Imagine that  every time new evidence emerged, they asked someone with
>no medical qualifications to write a piece dismissing the evidence and
>claiming that there was no consensus on the issue.

        < That is actually the normal media procedure in New Zealand every
time new evidence emerges on gynaecology.  Indeed, nearly all the new media
items on O&G since 1987 are generated by 'someone with no medical
qualifications'.  Rewards for these usurpations are large: the main
impostor is now Governor-general, another became a list-MP but retreated to
Mongolia accused of filching from the public purse, another is an Auckland
Regional Councillor and has been able to get The Lancet to publish sporadic
columns of her opinions.  One of the originators of this crazy racket is
now head of the WHO non-infectious diseases division.
        < As a secondary effect, midwives have been treated as more
important authorities on O&G than, for instance, a highly respectable FRCOG
and chairman of the NZ Medical Association.  Almost all GPs have abandoned
obstetrics; midwives collecting large subsidies routinely fail to arrange
specialist backup at National Women's Hospital.  These trends will have
harmed a certain number of mothers and babies.
        < Geo's rhetorical manoevre is neat, but far from conclusive.  He
depicts, as if it were impossible or extremely unlikely, usurpation of
authority by non-specialists in medicine or science.  The awful truth is
that such usurpations are not rare these past few decades.  One main cause
is affirmative action putting ahead of expertise some ideology (usually
either racism, wimminsLib, or militant homosexuality).

> Imagine that the BBC, in the interests of "debate", wheeled out one of
>the tiny number of scientists who says that smoking and cancer aren't

        < That sloppy term again, Geo.   The apologists hired by the
tobacco industry in attempt to dissuade successive ministers of health from
imposing legal restrictions on sale & use of tobacco did not deny a link.
Their assertion was that causality had not been stringently enough
demonstrated.  It is a matter of degree.  As a member throughout of the
statutory board advising those ministers on poisons, I'm proud to say we
weren't persuaded by those deniers: smoking tobacco was agreed to cause
lung cancer (and other serious illnesses).  But I am also proud to say that
same Toxic Substances Board concluded the evidence (2 decade ago) on
passive smoking was far less persuasive, and rejected the pressure for
further restrictions from a  group of unqualified publicists.

> , or that giving up isn't worth the trouble, every time the issue of
>cancer was raised.  Imagine that, as a result, next to nothing was done
>about the problem, to the delight of the tobacco industry and the
>detriment of millions of smokers.  We would surely describe the newspapers
>and the BBC as grossly irresponsible.

> Now stop imagining it, and take a look at what's happening.  The issue is
>not smoking, but climate change.  The scientific consensus is just as

        < I'm sorry I can't exactly support that statement, with respect to
the main point of the IPCC which is *predictions*.   The evidence that
global warning has been caused by human activity, let alone the evidence
that it will in future get much worse, is not so conclusive as the evidence
that smoking has caused lung cancer.  It is, however, conclusive enough for
governmental purposes, as expressed (minimally) by the Kyoto treaty.

>, the misreporting just as widespread, the consequences even  graver.  If
>it is true, as the government's new report suggested last week, that it is
>now too late to prevent hundreds of thousands of British people from being
>flooded out of their homes,1 then the journalists who have consistently
>and deliberately downplayed the threat carry much of the responsibility
>for the problem.  It is time we stopped treating them as bystanders. It is
>time we started holding them to account.

        < Tell it like it is, Geo our man.  I only ask you to add
condemnation of rogue *scientists*.

     > "The scientific community has reached a consensus," the government's
chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, told the House of Lords
last month. "I do not believe that amongst the scientists there is a
discussion as to whether global warming is due to anthropogenic effects.
It is man-made and it is essentially [caused by] fossil fuel burning,
increased methane production ... and so on."2
 Sir David chose his words carefully.  There is a discussion about whether
global warming is due to anthropogenic (manmade) effects.  But it is not -
or is only seldom - taking place among scientists.  It is taking place in
the media, and it seems to consist of a competition to establish the outer
reaches of imbecility.

        < The extent of error, and the potential harm, are even worse in
what the media so cynically call "the debate" on gene-tampering.
        < Thus the most dangerous technology of all diverts hundreds of
billions of dollars and scientific talent that could in principle be
redeployed to appropriate technology & science.  The BBC gives Monsanto PR
operatives, lying unchallenged, free unbalanced time as if they were
reliable scientists.  The NZ media present propaganda agents with no
medical or scientific qualifications who are furthermore paid to generate
pro-GM 'spin', to give the final word in news items about GM.

  >  During the heatwave last year, the Spectator magazine made the case
that because there was widespread concern in the 1970s about the
possibility of a new ice age, we can safely dismiss concerns about global
warming today.3  This is rather like saying that because Jean-Baptiste
Lamarck's hypothesis on evolution once commanded scientific support and was
later shown to be incorrect, then Charles Darwin's must also be wrong.

        < Your liking for analogy gets you into trouble yet again, Geo.
This time it's an awful tangle.  You are wrong that Lamarck's main
hypothesis about evolution has been disproved.  The penchant of the dreaded
media to depict every issue as a bipolar 'tis-'tisn't conflict has engulfed
even you, regarding evolution theory.  Not only are examples known of
inheritance of acquired characteristics as envisaged by Lamarck, but much
more importantly, to the extent that Darwin was correct his ideas do not
logically exclude Lamarck's.  The notion 'Lamarck v. Darwin' is a glaring

>  Science differs from the leader writers of the Spectator in that it
>learns from its mistakes.  A hypothesis is advanced and tested.  If the
>evidence suggests it is wrong, it is discarded.

        < Fine  -  if experts dominate the discussion.  But when the media
displace experts with unqualified attention-seekers, the scientific method
you so rightly admire will no longer work.  The hypothesis that the Pap
smear is a reliable early warning of cancer, and that certain microscopic
anomalies of cells on the cervix indicate the uterus should be removed, is
not discarded, because it has become an ideological banner.  The hypothesis
that synthetic genes can be inserted into plants by drastically novel
methods not resembling any process known in nature, to give a GM organism
that has all properties unchanged except for the desired herbicide
resistance, or novel modified insecticide, is based on junk science at many
steps of its illogic.  Yet it prevails with governments, many of which have
invested in this new racket.  Language of Monbiot-type vigour is fully
warranted in criticism of this crazy fad.  GM has led the world far astray
because science has been sidelined.

> If the evidence appears to support it, it is refined and subjected to
>further testing.

        < Again, this is not what has happened in the hasty, rash releases
of GMOs.  Almost all the relevant testing has been omitted, and those few
scientists that have been funded to begin testing have been vilified &
purged if they report adverse effects (notably Ewen & Pusztai).  The truth
on actual maimings & killings of humans by material purified from GMOs
remains largely suppressed.

> That some climatologists predicted an ice age in the 1970s, and that the
>idea was dropped when others found that their predictions were flawed, is
>a cause for confidence in climatology.

        < Exactly  -  and this essential logical point is all you need.
Mistaken analogies only muddy the waters.

>  But the Spectator looks like the Journal of Atmospheric Physics by
>comparison to the Mail on Sunday and its Nobel laureate-in-waiting,
>Peter Hitchens.  "The greenhouse effect probably doesn't exist", he
>informed his readers in 2001.  "There is as yet no evidence for it."4

        < Time to ask you to do some imagining, Geo our man.  If you're
disgusted by that last statement from that agent, can you imagine how I as
a scientist feel about a *qualified* climate scientist  -  one of the few
in NZ  -  saying exactly that about global warming?  A suave West Indian
Christopher de Freitas who did his doctorate with the respected K Hare has
consistently propagandized in the media to confuse and misrepresent the
science of climate degradation.  Unprincipled hacks  -  hardly new, tho'
admittedly more rife than ever; but scientists issuing Hitchens-type
slogans  -  this is a yet more anti-social trend.
        < I take this opportunity of publicly challenging de Freitas to
declare what rewards, if any, he has received for his propagandizing.

 >    Perhaps Mr Hitchens would care to explain why our climate differs from
     that of Mars.  That some of the heat from the sun is trapped in the
     earth's atmosphere by gases (the greenhouse effect) has been
     established since the mid-19th century.  But, like most of these
     nincompoops, Hitchens claims to be defending science from its
     opponents.  "The only reason these facts are so little-known," he tells
     us, is (apart from the reason that he has just made them up), "that a
     self-righteous love of 'the environment' has now replaced religion as
     the new orthodoxy."5

    > Hitchens, in turn, is an Einstein beside that famous climate
scientist, Melanie Phillips.  Writing in the Daily Mail in January, she
dismissed the entire canon of climatology as "a global fraud" perpetrated
by the "leftwing, anti-American, anti-West ideology which goes hand in hand
with anti-globalisation and the belief that everything done by the
industrialised world is wicked."6 This belief must be shared by the
Pentagon, whose recent report pictures climate change as the foremost
threat to global security.7 In an earlier article, she claimed that  "most
independent climate specialists, far from supporting [global warming], are
deeply sceptical."8  She managed to name only one,  however, and he
receives his funding from the fossil fuel industry.9
    > Having blasted the world's climatologists for "scientific
illiteracy",  she then trumpeted her own. The latest report by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which collates the findings of
climatologists), is, she complained, "studded with weasel words" such as
"very likely" and "best estimate".10  These weasel words are, of course,
what make it a scientific report, rather than a column by Melanie Phillips.

        < Right on Geo  -  and you could add that if they had been dogmatic
& totally certain (which good scientists like Sir John Houghton of the
IPCDC are not, in such predictions)  -  Melanie & her like would have
blasted them for failing to express uncertainties.

 > If ever you meet one of these people, I suggest you ask them the
following questions:
1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide?
2.  Does atmospheric carbon dioxide influence global temperatures?
3. Will that influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide?
4.  Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide?
        It would be interesting to discover at which point they answer no -
at which point, in other words, they choose to part company with basic

        < You miss the point.  Physics is quantitative, Geo.  The
qualitative facts you mention are not disputed by Lindzen et al., so you
actually get nowhere by reciting them.  What the industry stooges say is
that the *extent* of global warming in the past century is so small that it
is not utterly proven by statistics.  Lindzen goes further; I have heard
him say in a scientific gathering (while funded to propagandize in NZ by
the Business Roundtable) that even if the IPCC predictions do come true,
retrospective statistical analysis will still not be able to prove
temperatures, sea levels etc have changed *owing to anthropogenic
emissions*.   Precautionary, schmecautionary!

> But these dolts are rather less dangerous than the BBC, and its
>insistence on "balancing" its coverage of climate change.  It appears to
>be incapable of running an item on the subject without inviting a sceptic
>to comment on it.  Usually this is either someone from a corporate-funded
>thinktank (who is, of course, never introduced as such) or the
>professional anti-environmentalist Philip Stott.  Professor Stott is a
>retired biogeographer.  Like almost all the prominent  sceptics he has
>never published a peer-reviewed paper on climate change.  But he has made
>himself available to dismiss climatologists'  peer-reviewed work as the
>"lies" of eco-fundamentalists.11


>     What makes all this so dangerous is that it plays into the hands of the
     corporate lobbyists. A recently leaked memo written by Frank Luntz, the
     US Republican and corporate strategist, warned his party that "The
     environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in
     general - and President Bush in particular - are most vulnerable ...
     Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are
     settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.
     Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific
     certainty a primary issue in the debate."12

>     We can expect Professors Hitchens and Phillips to do what they're told.
     But isn't it time that the BBC stopped behaving like the public
relations arm of the fossil fuel lobby?


        < Right on Geo.

        < This work of yours is on the one hand the best I've seen for
years, but on the other hand also riddled with unnecessary furphies.  I
hope you can *relate to* that.

Robt Mann
consultant ecologist
   P O Box 28878  Remuera, Auckland 1005, New Zealand
                (9) 524 2949