A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, March 04, 2005

We have no need of critical savants.....

I cannot recommend too highly this extremely important interview with Ray Evans of the Lavoisier Group, presented by Michael Duffy on Radio National's 'Counterpoint' (28 February): 'German Environmental Romanticism'.

Ray Evans argues brilliantly that the divide between the USA and Europe is religious, not scientific - a clash of USA protestantism with European green fundamentalism. Here are two telling quotations from the transcribed interview:
".....the Kyoto Protocol is an extraordinary development in my view for two reasons. Firstly, within Europe it has become a mark of acceptability - if you say in public that you think the Kyoto Protocol and global warming is a load of nonsense, you’re regarded as they used to regard heretics. It is attacking a very deeply held belief. Secondly, my understanding of it is that the European Union itself is in desperate need of legitimacy; a legitimising principle which will draw the Europeans together. And, for some reason or other, the Kyoto Protocol (global warming, to be more precise) is the instrument that they have devised. So, any attack on the Kyoto Protocol, any attack on global warming as an article of faith is therefore an attack on the European Union. And because the EU itself, in my view, is on very fragile ground, that it’s problematic as to whether it will survive or not, then of course this makes the issue all that more passionate. So I think in Europe there is this need for a legitimising principle and they’ve picked on global warming. Secondly, it fulfils a religious need. They need to believe in sin, so that means sin is equal to pollution. They need to believe in salvation. Well, sustainable development is salvation. They need to believe in a mankind that needs redemption, so you get redemption by stopping using carbon fuels like coal and oil and so on. So, it fulfils a religious need and a political need, which is why they hold onto it so tenaciously, despite all the evidence that the whole thing is nonsense."

".....it didn’t take me long to work out that we were dealing with religious belief, that the elites of Northern Europe and Scandinavia — the political elites, the intellectual elites, even the business elites — were, in fact, believers in one brand of environmentalism or another and regardless of the facts. Some of the most bizarre policies were coming out of these countries with respect to metals. I found myself having to find out - why is this so?...because on the face of it they were insane, but they were very strongly held and you’d have to say that when people hold onto beliefs regarding the natural world, and hold onto them regardless of any evidence to the contrary, then you’re dealing with religion, you’re not dealing with science."

This is trenchant stuff, but I'm absolutely certain that Evans is on the correct analytical track. What is more, The Daily Ablution blogsite has recently extracted the relevant religious rituals of mortification from (where else?) the The Fundamentalist Guardian: 'Guardian Ethicist: "Don't Wash Your Hair", More From G2' (The Daily Ablution, March 3). Gee, The Guardian has gone truly loopy.

And remember Lavoisier himself? When Lavoisier requested time to complete some scientific work after he was sentenced to death during the French Revolution, the presiding judge answered: "The Republic has no need of scientists." It was, of course, a Republic of Virtue. Say no more!

You know,we should not be afraid of shouting from the roof tops that many aspects of the Kyoto Protocol (not to mention of 'global warming') are scientific and economic madness, often on a par with the rantings of some of the nuttiest and most dangerous of the way-out religious sects.

We cannot afford to allow this lunacy over climate to continue any longer.

Philip, lunch, as the snow once again brings Kent to a halt. Cold comfort for 'global warming'.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Kyoto Protocol is snow good.....

The Kyoto Protocol on 'global warming' came into effect 14 days ago.....

Here in Kent (see: 'Snow brings chaos to eastern UK', BBC Online UK News, March 2), we have now had 13 days of freezing conditions and heavy snow, while one of my very favourite restaurants, The Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co (do visit if you come to the UK), has had to close because of the Arctic conditions. It hopes to open again tomorrow.

My! Kyoto is either chillingly effective..... or just a load of hot air.

Your choice.

Philip, salivating for some oysters as the snow melts. Oh! And they sell a truly wonderful dark beer to go with the oysters. I wonder if tabasco would do the trick? Better than salt? Who snows?
How dangerous are peer review and consensus in science?.....

Although it is important never to sell science wholesale to the peddlers of postmodernist relativism, this does not mean that we should sacrifice our innate wariness with respect to the concepts of consensus and peer validation in science. Indeed, the whole history of science is one whereby consensus and peers are ultimately overthrown, or sidelined, or absorbed into a new construction of knowledge, or replaced in their significance by our opening new windows onto the world of Nature. This is the plate tectonics of science, which is itself a classic 500-year exemplar.

As I would constantly remind my students, how you would view a river depended entirely on the date and age of the classroom in which you had been a pupil. First, valleys formed rivers; then, with uniformitarianism, rivers valleys; later, with the famous Davisian cycle (1899), rivers became constructs of evolutionary time, to be replaced, in the 1960s, by rivers as modern, dynamic, engineering entities. Now, even catastrophism is back in vogue. Within just one hundred years, the windows through which the world viewed this seemingly everyday phenomenon of Nature altered so radically that a student from the 1840s would be amazed by the student of the 1960s. And it is important to emphasize that we did not inexorably move, in some Whig-like fashion, from a 'poor' understanding of 'the truth' to a better 'truth', for every single hegemonic stage held only some portion of truth (although, granted, the truth-value of each portion may vary). Indeed, our gain in understanding was often accompanied by a loss. In opening one window on the world, we so often close another, which, much later on, we may well have to force open once again as the air in the room becomes stale.

Our stream of consciousness about rivers should warn us that science and scientists cannot avoid being, to some degree (often quite unconsciously), controlled by the prevailing philosophies and fancies of their age, and that there is always the human tendency to wallow in the sin of 'presentism'. Hegemonic philosophies will manipulate the essence of the questions asked (as well as the roads not taken), the essence of the questioning, the framing of theories and hypotheses, the perception of data, the generation of funding, and the policy implications and responses of the politicians and the public. New work from Ireland has shown a powerful link between badgers and TB in cattle, but there is no way that the British government will act on this because it is currently philosophically (in terms of sentiments) unacceptable to do so.

Peer review in science is thus a paradox, being, at one and the same time, both a safeguard and a great danger. Ultimately, there is remarkably little timeless-consensus in science (except, perhaps, aspects of mathematics, which is the nearest to perfection in language sensu early Wittgenstein), and some might argue that consensus is potentially worrying and cloying. This is where 'peer' review has a deep problem, because the 'peers' work only within partly-overlapping circles, both in time and in intellectual space. And we must always remember that the circles derided today may become, however unlikely it may seem at the time, the hegemonic circles of the future.

There are, however, certain fundamentals of science that should always raise the flag of wariness about any present construct relating to a complex phenomenon of Nature. Above all, single-variable explanations are likely to be but the product of their age, and of its narrow hegemonic concerns, and they are also likely to be, at best highly partial, at worst untrue. This is precisely why I remain deeply distrustful of the current science that claims we can 'manage' climate change (the ultimate in complexity) predictably on the single selected variable of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. I believe this hubristic 'myth' is much more a sociological phenomenon, not a long-term, tenable scientific truth. Indeed, it is surely the perfect product of an age which feels out-of-control, finds terror at every corner, and wishes, above all, to flagellate itself for every outcome on the Earth? And scientists, as we have seen, are no more immune than anyone else from the paranoias of their age.

Beware, therefore, consensus and peer review predicated on single factors, for those factors are most likely to be but children of their time.

Philip, off for a most complex, multifaceted lunch, and then to the dentist. I hope you enjoy getting your teeth into this important topic.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

New study records the natural variability of climate over very short periods of time.....

I should like to commend to readers the following seminal paper on climate change, which has just appeared in a most prestigious scientific journal. This, I think, once and for all, establishes the inherent natural variability of climate, and it exposes any oxymora of 'climate stability', even over the shortest of time-scales:

Coniglio Kaninchen, Jr 2005. "Weather and faunistic adaptation during the 'Forest Period' in southern England: a textual analysis of sudden short-term climate change." Journal of Deconstructed and Hybrid Climates, Vol. 27(1), 2005, pp. 234-57.

Abstract: the much-studied 'Forest Period' (Fp) persisted in southern England for only the briefest of geological time, being conservatively-dated to between October 14th, 1926 and October 11th, 1928, although some scholars argue that 'Forest' remnants may have survived on, and around, tumuli, or small mounds [see: Margot Mythenmaker, 1958. "The utopia of 'enchanted places' revisited." The Panenic Review, Vol. 56(2), [1958] 1959, pp. 3-9].

In this new study, Kaninchen analyses the changes in weather and forest fauna that were recorded for the so-called 'Forest Period' (Fp) in the extant 'Annals' of Winnie Ille Pu (forthwith abbreviated to: WiP). Even though these 'Annals' clearly post-date the 'Forest Period' by some years, it is argued that they are based on older vernacular sources and that they are remarkably accurate with respect to the broader environmental patterns that characterised the 'Forest Period'.

Despite the undoubted geological brevity of the 'Forest Period', Kaninchen postulates that it is possible to recognise no fewer than seven (7) different climatic phases (Phases FpI to FpVII) for the 'Forest Period' (Fp):

(a) Phase FpI: a cool-temperate phase, when the forest was characterised by bears, small pigs (Porcellus spp.), rabbits (Leporus spp.), and donkeys, and, possibly, by the now extinct, Vusillus spp. During this phase, the weather was breezy and balmy in summer, but noted for light snow falls during the winter months, when Vusillus hunting was a major occupation;

(b) Phase FpII: a 'global warming' phase, in which a meliphagous elephant species, (Heffalumpus anglicus C. Robin, 1926), was recorded for the first time in 'The Forest'. This extinct animal has captured the imagination of many later palaeontologists. The animal would take honey by its trunk, and it was hunted by means of large elephant traps, or pits, baited with honey;

(c) Phase FpIII: the FpII warming phase gave way to a much drier phase, associated with the arrival in 'The Forest' of a distinctive speces of kangaroo (Canga maternalis A. Lenardo, 1958). As the WiP annals record, the precise origins of this kangaroo species are somewhat in doubt: "Nemo undenam orti essent scire videbatur, sed nunc in silva erant: Canga ac Ru ille parvulus." (WiP VII, l. 1-2). It appears that the advent of this rather dominant species caused much disturbance among the indigenous fauna;

(d) Phase FpIV: the dry phase, FpIII, ended in dramatic circumstances, with the arrival of intense storms and considerable floods (WiP IX, l. 1: "Pluebat et pluebat et pluebat."). The lesser fauna was ecologically stressed during this phase that was referred to as: "tempus terribilis inundationis maximo". Nevertheless, some bird species came into their own, including a large owl, Bubonis pomposus (C. Robin) A. Lenardo, 1958, which would perch for hours on larger branches above the rising flood waters;

(e) Phase FpV: the phase of storms and floods, however, soon gave way to a mini-Ice Age, usually termed the 'Tiddely Ice Age' (TpIA). This was characterised by extremely heavy snow fall. Even animals like the hardy donkey (Eeyorensis paludosus C. Robin, 1926) became ecologically stressed during this phase of bitter cold, although its predilection for eating flattened thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) gave it a competitive advantage;

(f) Phase FpVI: the cold, however, with remarkable swiftness (a sudden temperature rise estimated to be around 26 degrees Celsius), gave way to a semi-tropical climate which saw the advent into 'The Forest' of savanna-woodland animals, such as a highly-active species of tiger (Panthera tiggerensis I. Bounce, 1930). Some scholars have even argued that this phase also witnessed the return of a rare Heffalumpus sp.;

(g) Phase FpVII: during the terminal phase, there was a reversal to milder, cooler, Atlantic conditions, as the Northerly Jet Stream buckled over 'The Forest'. This gave rise to extremely strong winds and 'sting jets', which destroyed most of the trees, bringing the 'Forest Period' to an end, leaving only "sex pini" and relicts of the "Silva C. Jugerum". Bird taxa, including Bubonis pomposus, were severely affected during this final phase.

Kaninchen concludes that this record of dramatic natural climate change during so short a geological period puts current ideas of 'global warming' into clear perspective, and that, even were we able to manage any human component of such change, we would still be subject to dramatic lurches in climate of the type described for the 'Forest Period'. He further observes that the so-called 'Hockey Stick' is an artefact of current obsessions with 'presentism' and that detailed historical studies are vital for any understanding of both long-term and short-term climate change.

Finally, Kaninchen stresses the high levels of faunal adaptivity exhibited during the rapid climate changes of the 'Forest Period', and he notes that we have a tendency to exaggerate the inability of nature to adapt to such changes.

Philip, well that really 'pooh-poohs' the gloomsters, who are, of course, the true 'climate-change deniers'. So much for La Brea, then [see also Stotty's 'Los Angeles' Tar Pits tell the tale of environmental change']. Afternoon tea - and a game of pooh-sticks, everyone?

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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