Professor Chubb responds to Maurice Newman

The second challenger to Mr. Newman’s dismissive view of the AGW scare was Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. Now Professor Chubb is not a Nobel Prize winner, but he was an exceedingly able experimentalist, a vice-chancellor in two universities, a senior bureaucrat and someone who is most travelled in the corridors of power. I have known him for more than twenty-five years, and worked with him for a time during the Dawkins years. He came to his present position on his retirement from the ANU.

The title of his op.ed. is ‘Surely CO2 is a culprit’, and while he shouldn’t be blamed for it (it is usually the sub-editor who chooses the title for your essay, and I can’t recall ever being asked if I agreed when I had put in my work) the title does embody the whole spirit of the AGW scare: that there is a crime, and we know who dunnit. Professor Chubb’s essay carries through that theme. It is a rhetorical exercise, built around questions for which he doesn’t supply any answers, but for which the right answer is assumed, and will be obvious to any reader of the right persuasion.

Take this one. We have pumped two trillion tonnes of a greenhouse gas, CO2, into our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, at a rate faster than ever before. Why should we presume that it would have no effect?’  The right answer is that we shouldn’t presume, and that the effects have been bad ones. Evidence? Well, I’m not aware of any substantial body of evidence that the effects have been bad ones, and the jury is still out on whether or not there have been any discernible effects at all that can be distinguished from natural variability. Potential good effects are a perceptible greening of arid areas in the past decade or so, and a great increase in food production over the last quarter of a century, the latter aided, of course, by greater agricultural knowledge, more investment and more fertiliser.

There are six of these rhetorical questions, the kind that are put to you in cocktail party discussions. They are all part of the ‘precautionary principle’ approach to ‘climate change’, and their point is to put you on the defensive. In fact, the AGW scare is a hypothesis, and those who support it need to be able to defend it. The rest of us have no need of an alternative theory, nor are we obliged to answer these rhetorical questions.

The level of this contribution is really disappointing, given Professor Chubb’s undoubted intellect. Some of us, he says, aren’t worried that the planet’s temperature has gone up ‘by just a few tenths (0.9C) of a degree. I wonder if they’d be as sanguine if their core body temperature increased by the same few tenths of a degree’. How on earth is that comparison relevant? What if he’d made the same point about an increase in temperature in my house or my car? The jump to medical diagnosis is a common one in these jousts, but that’s the closest Professor Chubb gets to it, thank goodness.

What is really interesting is a passage towards the end, where he suggests that the ‘climate change’ debate should be ‘a healthy and constructive discussion based on all the empirical evidence, not bits of it…’ I and many others have been asking for that sort of discussion for years, and we might ask the Chief Scientist why he hasn’t initiated such a debate much earlier in his term.

And why indeed is he talking that way now? My guess is that he can sense the shift in the winds. No one much is talking about ‘settled science’ any more in this field. The climate models have simply failed to predict the lack of significant warming despite the continual increase in CO2, and there is no obvious reason why the warming should resume its former trajectory. Yes, adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere should increase temperature, but the effect is logarithmic, and plainly there are other factors that are at least as powerful.

Around the world you can see the retreat, not just in Australia. The BBC recently ran a story on the cooling sun, an unthinkable initiative a couple of years ago. The Australian’s preparedness to provide space for the Newman/Schmidt/Chubb essays, and the hint that the Fairfax newspapers are thinking of allowing sceptical comment in their own pages, not just over the holiday period, suggests that the reality of global warming is beginning to penetrate the editorial floors.

And what is that reality? That we know much less about all of this than was confidently set forth by some scientists and politicians five years and more ago. It may be that warming will be a net benefit to humanity and to life generally, and it looks pretty likely that carbon dioxide is not the ‘culprit’ it was said to be.

Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • David says:

    Complaining about Chubb drawing a link between temperature of the body and temperature of the planet is a bit rich coming from a person who once attempted to draw a link between horse droppings in NYC in 1894 to debate about climate change in 2013. 🙂

    • Mike O'Ceirin says:

      David it appears in your desire criticize you have come up
      with something quite silly. Read this post and the one you refer to surely you
      can do better.

      • David says:

        Gee Mike I did my best.

        In this post Don argues that profits doom sometimes exaggerate
        impending risks, an example of the concerns for horse manure in 1894 and then draws a link to AGW as follows

        “For reasons that escape me, there are some people, who love to prophesy doom, which they warn is certain to visit us unless we mend our ways. The article I’ve been quoting from was written nearly ten years ago, before the Great AGW Scare became headline news. But what the author says applies neatly to it, too.”

        Similarly, Chubb has used an analogy to compare the
        importance of a 0.9 degree rise in global temperature with a comparable rise in body temperature. Rhetorical arguments are by definition non-scientific. We all use them from time to time. But if Don wants to melodramatically declare that he found Chubb’s use of this technique “really disappointing”, I think it is worthwhile
        pointing out that he too has also been an exponent of this strategy in the past.

    • John Morland says:

      Oh I can “draw a link between horse droppings in NYC in 1894 to debate about climate change”. From my experience I have never known how quick the alarmists are to pick up those droppings and throw them in your direction at the slightest hint of questioning their catastrophic outlook.

      Speaking about Brian Schmidt, I have questioned him in a public forum how could he come to the conclusion of an accelerating universe when there is evidence that the very basis of his “candles” (Type1 supernova) as exploding white dwarfs orbiting a giant star could be doubtful. Does that make me automatically a Big bang denier? Of course not. However in the climate change “debate”, from my experience, in a similar situation I would be labelled as a “climate skeptic” (strange I thought a skeptical view is encouraged in science – but I now know not in junk science) or even a “climate denier” and the droppings would be quick to follow.

      Brian answered my question pleasantly and politely. I was not ignored as I have been in a recent climate forum at Bredbo.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    Of course Ian Chubb as chief scientist must say something to challenge. Did he write it or just pass it on? A college student could have done as well.

    • Peter Donnan says:

      Why not focus on the message and critique it with rigour rather than seek to besmirch the messenger, a capable, intelligent and talented person unworthy of personal abuse.

      • Mike O'Ceirin says:

        The accusation of personal abuse is ridiculous and certainly I did not intend it. Ian Chubb’s response is just not worthy for all the reasons Don gave. I am saying I think he unwisely tasked someone else to write it. Delegated because it is not subject he is confident about.

        • Peter Donnan says:

          You equate Ian Chubb’s article with an undergraduate level and then question whether he actually wrote the article or was just a delivery person for its publication. You protest that you did not intend to be personally abusive. Many readers, including myself, would find it hard to reconcile this.

  • Peter Donnan says:

    “No one much is talking about ‘settled science’ any more in this field”.

    In his article Ian Chubb drew attention to disturbing levels of CO2 emissions but also draws attention to the complicated dimensions of climate change. What comes across in your response to his article is that you are generally very dismissive of his views though you respect his formidable personal characteristics.

    As senior academics both of you have a deep acquaintance with the research process, ARC grants, international research; and you are both immersed in the scientific literature around climate change. I know you have addressed this question in your many postings on the topic, Don, but it puzzles me that two such capable scholars and commentators could arrive at such different interpretations of the research around climate change, touched upon in the clip below. Even the first sentence of this posting, a quote from your column today, seems curiously at odds with the details below.

    Many readers would consider Brian Schmidt’s achievements, those of Ian Chubb in relation to climate change – and then consider yours – and dismiss your views immediately. But that is to fall into the celebrity trap: your views and the scholarship behind them will perplex many. You argue a counter-orthodox view and with a great deal of conviction and scholarly expertise. I suppose it has been ever thus in academia: the truth jostles between different academics who are leaders in their field.

    “In 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot of sound and fury from the denial machine, deniers have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus. The same is true for a somewhat different study that showed a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists supporting both the reality of global warming and the fact that human emissions are behind it.

    Powell recently finished another such investigation, this time looking at peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December2013. Out of 2,258 articles (with 9,136 authors), how many do you think explicitly rejected human- driven global warming?”

    ….. one.


    • John Morland says:

      We all agree that the planet has warmed since pre-industrial time, coming out of the little ice age. Solar activity dwindled during the Sporer minimum startin early 14th century which sent the Vikings packing out of Greenland, it then increased a bit before plunging into the Maunder minimum (1645 to 1715), this was the trough of an approximate 500 year cooling to cold cycle. After the Maunder minimum solar activity picked up but then dropped somewhat (not as much) in the early 19th century during the Dalton Minimum and again picked up by mid 19th century. From mid-20th century, starting in 1947-8 solar activity really ramped up (this is known as the modern maxima – starting at cycle 18), this last cycle (no.24) is the first cycle since with substantially less activity and sunspot activity.

      So yes, the Earth has warmed, that’s a no-brainer. So what! The studies Peter Donnan mentioned confirmed the planet has warmed – Gosh! Gee whiz, tell me something I don’t know. But is it AGW (anthropocentric GW) – how big is the “A” and is it catastrophic?

      The alarmist are screaming (and insulting) that it is not only a big “A” but even a bigger “C”. The calmer among us, including Don, are dismissive of the “C” and consider the “A” to be rather small, especially as climate sensitivity is decreasing from earlier hysterics. Is it worth the 100s of billions $ to build landscape desecrating windmills or less than optimal rooftop solar panels when China and India show us the middle finger on CO2 emission or mitigation. The answer is “NO”.

      The penny has dropped, amongst world leaders as climate conference after another fail to arrive at a deal. The “C” is non-existent and the “A” is diminishing as we we speak.

    • Mike O'Ceirin says:

      If I survey as many members of the clergy as I can then surely all will tell me emphatically that God exists. Your argument is that then I should accept their belief because there is a consensus. Rather than argue from authority please present the hypothesis and tests that give the empirical data to prove it. That is use scientific method. The data collected for the last 15 years falsifies the climate models. Our species has been around for about 400000 years in that time there has been 4 interglacials the last and current one is cooler than other three. The current one has had three warm periods, the Minoan, Roman and Medieval all warmer than now.

      This is the earth’s geological history either geology to date is totally wrong and the temperature records for the last 20 years are also wrong or the climate consensus is totally wrong. Which is it and why? The opinion of your favourite guru is not good enough.

      • Peter Donnan says:

        This analogy is far from convincing. Even theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas who argues for the existence of God from first causes, would concede in the final analysis that it is a matter of faith.

        Of course there are those on the climate denial/agnostic spectrum who would argue that climate change belief is based on blind faith.

        The key point, though, is that through the refereed process of so many articles on climate change, a rigour and evidentiary basis are integral to the process. That is why I am puzzled that two such experienced academics who know the realities of the peer-review process could arrive at such disparate conclusions.

        • Mike O'Ceirin says:

          You deliberately sidestep my argument that your consensus argument is one of faith not science. Your “key point” is a nonsense peer review only indicates if something is worth publishing it does not validate it. Only testing and the public verification by others will do that. It would seem you wish to ignore the past and scientific method. Disparate views are not at all puzzling many think like you do and others stick with science not faith.

          • Peter Donnan says:

            The differences between our positions seems to me to revolve upon different views of the peer review process and publishing in scientific journals. Are you suggesting that testing and public verification are not part of the peer process? Are you suggesting that reputable scientific journals are only interested in publication and don’t use criteria for peer reviewers? I must admit I was jolted a little when I read Don’s comments above? Unless scientific method is embedded in journal articles in science, the process is deeply flawed. Others on this list may like to comment.

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            You have the typical misunderstand of the peer-review process.

            “Decisions by anonymous unpaid reviewers are not worth much and never
            will be, the incentives are too weak. We need accountability and
            responsibility of one individual, not so much committees, or
            brand-names, or boards” Jo Nova.

            If you are brave enough to examine your beliefs I suggest Helicobacter pylori is the cause of stomach ulcers but only by extreme action was the cure published. Peer review rejected the paper because science and logic were not applied.

            Since you have not at all addressed why I wrote on not believing your consensus argument please look here at the big picture since you are obviously ignorant on what the issues are. I need science and logic not nonsense.

          • David says:


            I think it is you that does not understand the review process. The decision to publish or not is made by the Reviewers. The reviewers are simply invited by the Editor to critique the submission. The final decision lies with the Editor, who is not anonymous..

            “Peer review rejected the paper because science and logic were not applied’

            And then the Peer review process changed its mind and accepted the idea. That’s what happens. Not every new idea is going to be accepted immediately.

            And if you think you have some meaningful contribution to make to the AGW debate, prepare a manuscript and submit to an academic journal.

            …roll the dice and take your chances.

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            How about you do that then before you make any comment here. No! Again you are just being silly and just trying shut any comment down.

          • David says:


            How does encouraging you to write and submit a paper, get re-interpreted as “… just trying to shut any comment down”.

          • Peter Donnan says:

            Hullo Mike,

            Often in discussions focused on important ideas, emotive language constrains precision and inhibits any sense of progress. I believe that was what Ian Chubb was arguing towards the end of his recent Oz column. I have posted to many different sites in recent years, under various names, and the site that wins hand-down for unbridled emotion is the Yahoo news forum where NRA gun lobbyists ride free. Worth a look for entertainment.

            I can see that you are very confident in your thinking and your dismissive choice of language – ‘typical misunderstand’, ‘brave enough’, ‘obviously ignorant’, ‘not nonsense’ – indicates a certainity of thinking. A subsequent posting by David suggests there are other points of view besides yours that may be valid.

            Before responding in a substantive way to your posting, and to ensure that I address the issues you raised, I will check our the links you provided and then return with a more considered response.

          • Peter Donnan says:

            Hullo Mike,

            Thanks for the two links: I will comment on the first one – joannenova; the second is a huge, extensive site that requires considerable study.

            If I interpret your views on climate change correctly you may find the following quote to your satisfaction: “The scientific delusion, the religion behind the climate crusade, is crumbling. Global temperatures have gone nowhere for 17 years. Now, credible German scientists claim that ‘the global temperature will drop until 2100 to a value corresponding to the little ice age of 1870’.”[M. Newman, 2014).

            There are many people who remain perplexed about the effects of some two trillion tonnes of a greenhouse gas, CO2, in the atmosphere and whether in time it will affect our temperatures in dramatic ways. Some believe that is happening now; others recognise that temperatures have not been rising for some but they believe the absorption of CO2 in the oceans is leading to an increase in temperature and may escalate seriously in the future. What is occurring in our oceans is of immense interest.

            All this is immaterial, however, because your argument is that the research publication process around climate change, and the peer review process that is integral to it, is fundamentally contaminated. Terms such as ‘pal-review’, ‘lack of accountability’, ‘anonymity’ and a prevailing peer review network that is intolerant of dissenting views seem salient in the first link you provided. Such arguments found full expression in Climategate – Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA. All of your suspicions about the research process are fully realised and those who believe in climate change were crestfallen.

            My response to your argument is that quite a number of your criticisms of the peer-review process are valid but the system is not fundamentally broken. Politicians often can’t dissent from party policy or are found to be corrupt but democracy is not broken. Company board directors are often subservient to commercial in-confidence & board decisions but capitalism still flourishes. Insider trading and corruption are always likely but that does not invalidate business and trading. Murdoch journalists on ‘The Australian’ who might find themselves possessing strong views in favour of climate change would find themselves moving on if they wanted to write about it every week; dissent is certainly not a virtue. If you are particularly incenses about peer-group networks, control by the dominant executive, absence of dissent, publication etc why not turn your energies to the Murdoch press, or dare I say it, the ABC, if you really want to have a go. I’ve had a go at both for some years now, against their dominant orthodoxies in some areas.

            Researchers often have to publish or perish; there may be networks of pals for soft reviews; some researchers may make minor changes to a paper and publish it multiple times; some are driven by career advancement and reputational concerns. The sad case of thalidomide doctor, William McBride, found guilty of medical fraud, illustrates some of the dynamics of what you see as a completely untrustworthy system.

            The facts are however that scientists around the world conduct research and publish within this broad research paradigm; and by and large it is a much richer and more robust system than you give it credit for. Some suggestions on the website – such as paying for and recognising the role of editors more, promoting greater transparency and rigour in the review process – could obviously improve the system.

            Scientists should be valued more in our society – not just at Nobel prize time. Where does Science rate now with the LNP government. Our researchers, scientists, CSIRO staff do wonderful work. Peer review does not have to be dominated by the status quo and so many publications in many different fields of research testify to this. Journal editors need more recognition but they also need courage, vision and a capacity to accept difference, dissent and new ways of thinking.

            So finally, Mike, it comes down in my view to promoting qualities of leadership, integrity, courage and vision but in most places, particularly in politics, with party machines, mates, acquiescence to party agendas, PR machines (the Abbott/Credlin Government or Bill Shorten who has considerable blood on his hands and just wants to be loved). Why you feel so intensely about the peer-review process is puzzling: it is a beacon of light compared with the myopic power structures in politics, big business, the media and in many other areas of modern life. Of course it can be disturbing if most scientists who work at the pointy end in this field believe in climate change; and it is so easy to blame the peer review process. It has flaws which can be addressed but the system, while it has been abused, is not broken.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Peter D

            Thank you for taking such care and effort in presenting your views and arguments on various issues raised by Don’s post and the subsequent discussion. I understand and accept your reasoning about the peer review process, and I think we both agree that as with so many other mechanisms in society, it is fallible but still very useful. But I do think you are implying that consensus is very significant, but not proof.

            I came to the CAGW “debate” a few years ago, and after observing the emotional heat expressed by both sides, decided to read at least some of AR4. Doing so provoked my scepticism, since then heightened by my further reading and discussion. Because I am not knowledgeable in one or more aspects of climate science, I pay a lot of attention to how an argument is expressed, to its logic and its consistency. You can imagine my reaction when reading a conclusion to some quite technical paper, that in the midst of some very technical explanation full of quite subject-specific terms (to a layman, often close to impenetrable), a plain English sentence should pop up. Every now and then, in the midst of these Forests of Technalia, would appear a sentence such as: “this result is consistent with the effects of anthropogenic global warming”. Such sentences appeared to have been inserted later.

            A deeper concern for me arose as I moved from the technical papers to their corresponding summary: while the technical papers usually and properly expressed their author’s reservations about the certainties of their findings, I found no such cautions in the summaries. You might find it worthwhile to review Ross McKitrick’s analysis of the IPCC processes and reports. he had been a lead author at some time, I recall.

            There are four other points I make in response to your thoughts immediately above. The need for research funding and the sources of that funding, have skewed research topics and their outcomes. The impression I get is that as long as you have something about climate change in your topic, and it appears likely to support AGW, then you’ve got a chance to get the funds. If it seems you might be likely to contradict the consensus, you won’t.

            Carbon dioxide and ocean heat? No, I think it is claimed that the extra CO2 is “acidifying” the oceans, and that the “excess heat” that we are told would otherwise be warming the planet over the last 17 years, is warming the deep oceans instead. The ARGO floats are not showing any such additional heating, so I’m not sure how the “excess heat” is actually getting below the floats 2 km reach. As for acidification, I have seen no reports of evidence, and as we know, there’s a long way to go with that huge volume of alkaline water. We know from geological history, that carbon dioxide levels have previously been much higher, and were there such changes, adaptation must have occurred satisfactorily.

            I have been very confident for many years in the work of CSIRO, but today have little confidence in its statements about climate change. Nor do I have confidence in those from our otherwise magnificent Met Bureau.

            Finally, I thought Ian Chubb’s article was a disservice to his usual standard. I agree with Don’s critique above.

            Again, thank you for your courteous and thoughtful engagement on these threads.

          • Peter Donnan says:

            Hullo Peter,

            I will follow up Ross McKitrick’s analysis of the IPCC processes.

            The point you make about funding bodies and their agendas is clearly a powerful determinant in the success of grants.

            Some of the ideas in your posting raise critical issues that challenge my thinking and I will think revisit them.

            I do appreciate honest, probing comments – certainly not agreement for the sake of consensus – and Don touches upon other aspects of the peer review process today.

    • Don Aitkin says:


      Thank you for a thoughtful contribution. My principal objection to Ian Chubb’s op.ed. Is that it is devoid of argument, data and evidence, and stays firmly in the rhetorical domain. He is of course capable of a real challenge to the critics, but he chose not to do it. And had he done it, he would have been open to a real debate – which he said was the way to go. So it seemed pretty light on to me.

      My remark about settled science is a reminder of what Al Gore said as he was going on stage to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. No one does that now, because the settledness was about the role of CO2 in pushing temperature up, which looked as though it was the case from 1980 to 1988, but hasn’t looked that way since.

      Your last paragraphs are about what has been published in journals. Such counts are of no consequence. What you will find in all fields are papers supporting the orthodoxy, and a very few that challenge it. Peer review is dominated by the status quo – how could it be otherwise?

      • Peter Donnan says:

        “Peer review is dominated by the status quo – how could it be otherwise?”

        This may or may not be the case in science, Don. I am retired but in education and the humanities – where I worked and published on quite a modest scale – nothing could be more pitiful than to simply reproduce conventional thinking. But of course the truth – and in science the empirical, observable realities – must fit in there somewhere quite tightly.

        In literature my criteria would be the words of a small African boy to his mother: “Don’t tell me no more stories that aren’t true, mommio. I like on my tongue the taste of a story than I can swallow down; a story is to say a true, true thing that you do not know any other way of saying”.

        So in that sense I am interested in a contrarian perspective, in original thinking, so I am still trying to make sense of ideas being discussed on this site and trying to get my head around them.

        • Don Aitkin says:


          It probably is more true in science than elsewhere, though in the humanities and the social sciences there is still an underlying consensus about the context in which one publishes. There were few feminist or Marxist papers published or grants awarded in the 1980s, not because there were not academics of consequence in these areas, but because the peer review system (and the appointments and promotions systems) were based on the current orthodoxy, whatever it was. There are lots of stories about how rival ideas took a long time to get accepted. Some would say that the current orthodoxy favours left, ‘progressive’ views in most fields.

          And my dates above were wrong. The nice symmetry of CO2 and temperature ran from 1980 to 1998.

  • margaret says:

    Can climate change be funny? I thought so while reading this.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Thank you for alerting me to this interview. Not only will I look out for the novel, but there’s a lovely remark about the press that I’ll use to start another post.

  • PeterE says:

    Well said – a balloon of hot air neatly punctured. Professor Chubb’s intervention, apart from his rhetorical cuteness, glides dangerously close to a perception that he is attempting to pull rank. The same can be said regarding the comment below on the 97% consensus.

    • Peter Donnan says:

      PeterE: It would be worthwhile returning to Don’s posting last year on the refutation of arguments and valid rebuttal processes. Focussing too much on the personal is at the lower end of the spectrum. Notice that Don Aitkin commenced his rebuttal by acknowledging Ian Chubb’s background without negativity.

      When you argue that Ian Chubb is trying to pull rank are you asserting that a person who has spent his working life involved in science, has been a distinguished professor and academic, and has been appointed as Australia’s Chief Scientists, should not write about a matter that many Australians have a vital interest in? Does having rank, status or expertise exclude you from writing about the topic?

      Are you arguing that people like me who have a very low knowledge of science and no rank of any interest should have their views given special prominence?

      A strange rebuttal indeed!

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