An easy bet on global warming?

I decided not to write about Maurice Newman’s most sceptical account of global warming, published in the Australian the other day, because I had mentioned him as a sceptic in earlier posts about the ABC, of which he as been the Chairman (see, for example, here). But I wondered who would be the supporter of the orthodox sent in to do battle. So far there have been two.

The first turned out to be Professor Brian Schmidt, the astronomer at the ANU who shared the Nobel Prize in 2011. He entered the lists with the proposal of a bet that he challenges Mr Newman to take up — I am prepared to put $10,000 on the line that the Earth’s average surface air temperature in a three-year average (2013-15 compared with 2033-35) will be warmer 20 years from now.

Mr Newman in fact put the bet up almost as a afterthought, following Richard Lindzen, who said that he was willing to take bets about whether or not the temperature twenty years from now would be lower than it is now. Professor Schmidt is reformulating the bet. I haven’t yet heard whether or not Mr Newman has taken it up.

I shake my head when celebrities step forward to tell us how worried they are about ‘climate change’ — film stars, sportspeople and Nobel Prize winners come to mind. What do they know about it, anyway? Professor Schmidt is candid enough to tell us that he is not a climate scientist, though I do have considerable knowledge of the science at hand, he adds.

Why then did he think he ought to take up arms? It’s a puzzle, because although he says he knows a lot about the science, that doesn’t come out from his short article. He is an astronomer, but he seems not to know that many solar physicists think we are in a prolonged period of cooling, as I pointed out in my last post.

He also says that ‘more than 90 per cent of the excess heat is stored in the world’s oceans’, which is a possibility put forward by the orthodox to explain why the ‘pause’ has occurred. It is not in any way a fact, and I am unaware of any strong observational evidence that would support the claim.

More, he doesn’t get into the heart of the issue, which is the proportion of any warming that has occurred due to natural variability (now conceded as a possibility by the IPCC), and the proportion due to human activity. Warming could occur entirely through natural causes, as could cooling. It is as though Professor Schmidt thinks that there is no such thing as natural variability, and that all warming is caused by human activity.

All in all, it was a completely superficial response to Mr. Newman. Professor Schmidt told us that he was ‘about 99 per cent sure that the Earth is warming due to anthropogenic causes’. What should we think of his conviction, given that he is not a climate scientist? Is his conviction any more important than that of the last Hollywood actor to say much the same thing?

It might be, were he to take on Mr Newman’s statements, and show how the latter was in error. But that was not what he did. Indeed, he seemed not to be aware that there hasn’t been any significant warming for much more than a decade. And he said also that he thought there was only a ‘small risk’ that ‘the broad scientific evidence is flawed’. What exactly is that broad scientific evidence? The evidence to do with the likely catastrophic effects of human activity in the production of carbon dioxide is really quite slight. The AGW scare is built on a small period when temperature and carbon dioxide went up at much the same trajectory, plus a whole lot of supposition built on climate models that have never been verified or validated. Every year the probability that the warmists are right declines a little more.

All that made me wonder, not for the first time, how this kind of defence of the the AGW status quo gets to happen. Did. Professor Schmidt get a phone call from someone in the Academy asking him to drop a bucket on Newman the denier? Or did he suddenly take into his head to do the op. ed. all by himself? In either case a little homework might have been in order, given that ‘climate change’ is not what he got his Nobel for.

It saddens me. I’ve met him, and heard him speak on a couple of occasions. He is an articulate and engaging man. But he is right out of his depth in this area, which is better left to the Flannerys and Karolys who do have a barrow to push. Though, it has to be said, they do it with less keenness and authority than was once the case.

Mr Newman attracted a second opponent, in the person of the Chief Scientist, Professor Chubb, but I’ll leave my analysis of his contribution to my next post.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • PeterE says:

    I did read Professor Schmidt’s view and reflected much along the lines you have expressed, as was also the case with Professor Chubb. It certainly looked as if someone had appealed to the prestigious to come to the aid of the party. I thought of writing to ‘The Australian’ but could not get my (far from expert) act together in good time. I did see correspondence to the effect that it was good to see some scientists entering the lists and I agree with that. Here is an opportunity to go through the reasons put forward and, as the leftists now put it, ‘interrogate’ them (with extreme prejudice). I have found that you need to be quick off the mark with your comments to stand any chance of getting them published. However, the appearance of these two in print is a promising sign that a real debate may be beginning.

  • Neville Hughes says:

    Don, thank you for another balanced assessment.

    I sent this letter to ‘The Australian’ yesterday.

    “Re: Professor Ian Chubb’s statements: (‘The Australian’ 17-01-14 “Surely CO2 is the culprit”). about the global warming debate, ‘What it should be is a constructive discussion based on all the empirical evidence, not bits of it…. “; and ABC’s Lateline (17-09-13), “Personally I’m not a believer, I just look at evidence and I see where the balance of the evidence is going…. I think scientists base their argument on evidence rigorously analysed, hotly debated, allowing for as many sides of the argument as you can that are legitimate and legitimately put forward, based on evidence…”

    The IPCC, with its restricted and specific charter, is the forum where this is meant to happen.

    But, the credibility and legitimacy of the role, administrative, scientific and reporting processes/practises/qualities of the IPCC are under very serious question.

    Professor Chubb et al can learn just how serious, by studying the 49 high quality submissions from both government and independent scientists, and others have made to the UK House of Commons Inquiry into the IPCC’s 5th Assessment/Summary for Policymakers.

    Australia should undertake such an inquiry, urgently.”

    I look forward to your comments on Professor Chubb.

  • John Morland says:

    Joanne Nova had already placed a bet with another Brian Schmidt and is willing to do another. She is willing to make another bet, not whether the Earth warms or not, it’s whether there will be catastrophic warming based on the alarmists models. Lets’ see if the alarmists have the courage to put money where their hysterical mouths are.

  • Peter Donnan says:

    Several statements you make in this column are worth reflecting upon:

    1. “I wondered who would be the supporter of the orthodox sent in to do battle. So far there have been two”. My query is: Could it be the case that Brian Schmidt is acting entirely of his own volition, writing independently about his own convictions. Why does his article need to be linked to ‘the orthodox’? Can not bis article be critiqued independently of other views, assessed in its own terms.

    2. “I shake my head when celebrities step forward to tell us how worried they are about ‘climate change’ — film stars, sportspeople and Nobel Prize winners come to mind”. Once again, this is unnecessarily personalising the discussion. It would be just as easy to state that “I shake my head when non-scientists such as those who have a background in finance, politics or economics express views on climate change”. What is the logic of that? Some time ago you posted a graphic that contained various responses in a logical argument ranging from direct rebuttal to personal attacks. Your statement draws attention to the discipline of the writer, or their status rather than their arguments and is at the lower end of the spectrum you endorsed.

    • Don Aitkin says:


      Yes, he could have acted entirely on his own volition, but then surely he could have done some homework on the matter. It’s not his field in any way, and the notion that all scientists are able to talk competently and with authority about anything in the field of ‘science’ is not on at all. But you’re right.

      I have some sense of how the system works, both within academia and in the media, because I have spent a long time in both. To the best of my knowledge Professor Schmidt has not published anything in the climate science field, or said anything up until now. It is unlikely that an op.ed. editor would have gone to him for a response. It is more likely that someone else suggested him. Why? Because he is a Nobel prize winner, which gives him instant status on anything. Peter Doherty, with whom I have worked, has certainly spoken out on the ‘threat’ from AGW, and his field is even further removed, but he is a Nobel winner too.

      I accept your admonition about my ‘descent’ towards the base of the pyramid. But I think I went there with good intent and good reason. I’m not a climate scientist, but I’ve read hundreds of papers in the last seven years, a dozen or so books – and I’ve written and argued too in the public domain. I always try to show where my argument is supported.

      And let us remember that a critic of the orthodoxy has only to show what is wrong with the orthodox position. A defender has to build a defence around the orthodox position by dealing with the criticism effectively. Neither Professor Schmidt nor Professor Chubb did this at all. The first offered a bet; the second offered only rhetorical questions.

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