The Australian - Michael Ashley reviews Ian Plimer's Heaven + Earth
- ad hominem attacks (despite claims to the contrary);
- choosing one isolated fact and then trying to discredit it;
- extrapolating ingredient 2 to the entire book;
- ignoring the main arguments completely; and
- hints at censorship.
ONE of the peculiar things about being an astronomer is that you receive, from time to time, monographs on topics such as "a new theory of the electric universe", or "Einstein was wrong", or "the moon landings were a hoax".
The writings are always earnest, often involve conspiracy theories and are scientifically worthless.
One such document that arrived last week was Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth.
Before reading any further, I examined Plimer's publication list on the University of Adelaide website to see what he has published in refereed journals. There are a scant 17 such papers since 1994, two as first author with the titles "Manganoan garnet rocks associated with the Broken Hill Pb-Zn-Ag orebody" and "Kasolite from the British Empire Mine". Absolutely nothing on climate science.
Tick in the box (and, P.S. nothing in yours either, although there is a hilarious photoshopped image of a binary star system rising picturesquely over Sydney...). Moving on to ingredient 2. The reviewer has chosen a minor issue, covered in about half a dozen pages, and attempts to discredit it, in preparation for using it to discredit the whole work - and what does he choose? Measurement of CO2. All I can say, is that if this is the best the reviewer can come up with, it's weak as hell:
To appreciate the errors in Plimer's book you don't have to be a climate scientist. [That's fortunate, because you aren't - Ed] For example, take the measurement of the global average CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. This is obviously important, so scientists measure it with great care at many locations across the world.
Precision measurements have been made daily since 1958 at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, a mountain-top site with a clear airflow unaffected by local pollution. The data is in excellent agreement with ice cores from several sites in Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of scientific papers have been written on the topic, hundreds of scientists are involved from many independent research groups.
Plimer, however, writes that a simple home experiment indoors can show that in a week, CO2 can vary by 75 parts per million by volume, equal to about 40 years' worth of change at the present rate. He thinks this "rings alarm bells" on the veracity of the Mauna Loa data, which shows a smoothly rising concentration.
Actually, what Plimer says (if the reviewer had bothered to read it) is that measurement of CO2 is notoriously difficult. It was originally carried out by a careful chemical test (the Pettenkofer method) which accurately revealed the atmospheric concentration of CO2. This was abandoned in 1959 for a quick and dirty infra-red spectroscopy test, which has never been validated against the Pettenkofer method:
The raw data from Mauna Loa is "edited" by an operator who deletes what may be considered poor data. Some 82% of the raw infra-red CO2 measurement data is "edited" leaving just 18% of the raw data measurements for statistical analysis.
Some infra-red equipment has a cold trap to remove water vapour. However, CO2 dissolves in cold water and some CO2 is also removed. These other gases are detected and measured as CO2. Gases such as CFCs, although as parts per billion in the atmosphere, have such a high infra-red absorption that they register as parts per million CO2. Unless all these other atmospheric gases are measured at the same time as CO2, then the analyses by infra-red techniques must be treated with great caution.
The IPCC's Third Assessment Report of 2001 argued that only infra-red CO2 measurements can be relied upon and prior measurements can be disregarded. The atmospheric CO2 measurements since 1812 do not show a steadily increasing atmospheric CO2 as shown by the Mauna Loa measurements. The IPCC chose to ignore 90,000 precise CO2 measurements compiled despite the fact that there is an overlap in time between the Pettenkofer method and the infra-red method at Mauna Loa. If a large body of validated historical data is to be ignored, then a well reasoned argument needs to be given. There was no explanation. Just silence.
Seems a perfectly reasonable questioning of the accuracy of CO2 measurement techniques to me. This is only a side issue, yet it is the focus of the review. The reviewer then moves on to ingredient 3, the extrapolation to the entire work:
Incredible as it may seem, this quality of argument is typical of the book. While the text is annotated profusely with footnotes and refers to papers in the top journals, thus giving it the veneer of scholarship, it is often the case that the cited articles do not support the text.
All these ideas are so wrong as to be laughable: they do not offer an "alternative scientific perspective".
If a reviewer dismisses something so casually, he should at least have the courtesy to provide explanations. But there are none.
Moving on to ingredient 4, the ignoring of the main arguments. The IPCC claim that the present "warming", which has ceased since about 2001, is a direct result of anthropogenic CO2. Plimer uses the remaining 490 plus pages of the book to demonstrate that climate change is related to thousands of other factors, and has taken place for billions of years without man's help, and that the anthropogenic signal (if there is one) is simply lost in the noise. Where is the reviewer's response to that? Nowhere to be seen.
Finally, ingredient 5, hinting at censorship of publications which do not support the "consensus" (always remembering of course that science isn't about consensus, but politics is...), because they do a "disservice to science". And just to finish off, yet another ad hominem for good luck:
Plimer's book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken [see note below - Ed].
Unfortunately for you, Prof. Ashley, the publishers can't print copies fast enough!
Read it here.
Note: For those that may not know, Immanuel Velikovsky proposed that that Earth has suffered catastrophic close-contacts with other planets (principally Venus and Mars) in ancient times. Erich von Daniken is one of the key figures responsible for popularising the paleocontact and ancient astronaut hypotheses. So you can see how offensive it is for the reviewer to link Plimer's work with this genuine "pseudo-science".