What (if anything) can be done about the IPCC?

Although it has lost some of the status it once had, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change is still a formidable body, and acts as a dead weight on attempts to change the nature of the ‘climate change’ debate. While its last (Fifth) Assessment Report was less forthright than its predecessor about the immediate necessity to decarbonise the world, that is still its preferred option, though it does now talk more about ‘adaptation’.

In Paris next year there will be an important meeting of the countries that believe that there needs to be an international treaty about ‘climate change’, and even though at the moment I think such a treaty has Buckley’s chance of succeeding, the IPCC’s recent report will underpin the discussion.

I’ve said much of what follows before, in different essays, and I return to the subject in part because two British MPs, both of them scientists, have voted against an approving  House of Commons evaluation report on the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (5AR)  because, they say, we believe the role of the Select Committee is to hold public institutions critically to account, not to act as their cheer leaders.

They go on: As scientists by training, we do not dispute the science of the greenhouse effect – nor did any of our witnesses. However, there remain great uncertainties about how much warming a given increase in greenhouse gases will cause, how much damage any temperature increase will cause and the best balance between adaptation to versus prevention of global warming.

What hope did they have when the Royal Society, in its submission to the Committee, gave 5AR a huge tick? The Royal said this: The latest report confirms that there is unequivocal evidence for a warming world, largely caused by greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. The IPCC report is based solely on publicly available, peer-reviewed studies by thousands of scientists across a wide range of disciplines. The main conclusions are robust and reflect the range of uncertainty, as well as the established science, according to leading climate scientists in the UK and abroad…  there is an overwhelming consensus regarding its fundamentals. Climate science has a firm basis in physics and is supported by a wealth of evidence from real world observations.

There’s no critical scrutiny in any of that, and a great deal is glossed over. The two MPs directed the bulk of their criticisms at the highly political Summary for Policy Makers that preceded the publication of the scientific reports, and they offer seven objections to the whole thing, which you can read. I agree with each of them. They conclude by saying: These issues were raised during the Committee’s inquiry. It is unfortunate that they were not dealt with in the Committee’s report. 

There you have it. The IPCC can’t be criticised, and though anyone who does a comparison (dozens have) will see that 5AR is more cautious, more uncertain and more turgid in its prose than its predecessor, the IPCC is still singing the same hymn. Weirdly, its confidence about its conclusions is apparently greater than it was, though at the same time, it is plainly more conscious of uncertainty.

So, what can be done about it? The IPCC is a political body, formed by governments to present scientific conclusions. John Zillman, the Australian meteorologist who once headed both the Bureau of Meteorology and the World Meteorological Organisation, has written of the inherent tension within the body: The IPCC is probably unique in attempting to use a formal UN-style intergovernmental mechanism to produce an objective scientifically-credible assessment of scientific knowledge. The achievement, in terms of informed dialogue between the scientific and policy communities, has been substantial but the process has been fraught with enormous tensions.

My view is that the tensions have overpowered the science, so that each of these reports has been progressively  more agenda-driven, while the evidence to support the agenda has become decreasingly persuasive.

The basic problem is that the IPCC was set up not to study climate change, but only the human activities that lead to climate change, and ‘climate change’ has been so defined! The result is that ‘natural variability’ is not part of its remit, and seems largely to be ignored. But such was the brouhaha at the time of the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that every country agreed that that was what had to be done, and 21 years later we are still doing it.

The only way forward, it seems to me, is that a country like Australia instructs its delegates to move towards better science — fewer papers about what will happen to the gnutless gnat if temperatures rise, and more about the impact of clouds, the components of natural variability, and the need for adaptation to all serious weather events. And to follow its advice with its funding.

Many want the IPCC abolished. I don’t see that happening, really. There is far too much invested in it, not just in terms of money but in terms of political credibility too. Change has to come from within, and it is national governments that have to do it, by damping down the messianic greensters who seem to infest every climate meeting.

Such a lot of money has been wasted over the last two decades in the search for the anti-CO2 silver bullet. It’s time for governments to try a more sober, less hysterical approach to weather and climate. Mr Hunt is the person in the right place to start.

[Afterthought: I wrote some time ago that our own equivalent to the Royal Society was going to publish a new statement on climate science in mid-2014. Well, it hasn’t appeared yet. It will be interesting to see the extent to which it takes a more cautious view both about what has happened, and what might happen.]

Join the discussion 57 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    It may be that observing the AGW saga has led to my being overly sensitive to the absence of rigorous thinking in much public discussion. Perhaps also I am more exacting in what I now expect; I may have been far less aware (and too busy with other cares) in my younger years, to be able today to bring a balanced view; it may be that much public thinking was just as sloppy years ago.

    My strong impression is that the pro-AGW position arises from the same basic factors underlying many other public issues. Once it could have been called “anti-establishment” – the conviction that as so much is clearly not right with the world, the wrongs can be fixed only by going in the opposite direction. In the 1960s, it was indeed anti-establishment, but over the decades those contrasting ideas have become accepted by the establishment. So now the climate sceptics are indeed anti-establishment today.

    So I see the same sloppy thinking of the pro-AGW enthusiasts in Australia’s public discussions on asylum seekers, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, federal budgets and welfare, aboriginal disadvantage, human rights, logging in native forests . . . it is an extensive list. The more emotionally-driven the participants, the more likely are they to adopt what is generally seen as a politically left view. (Note: I have a history of voting on both sides of politics – but not simultaneously, may I assure the Electoral Commissions.)

    What I’m getting at is that we face the same slow grind back to reality as Don implies, in almost every significant area of public policy. It’s a sad thing that it often takes the extraordinary pain of a war on one’s doorstep, to bring people quickly to reality. Often I think that many who complain about the impact of federal budget changes to their various allowances, would gain much from a trip back in time even to sixty years ago, and then to the Great Depression, to appreciate the meaning then of hardship.

    The IPCC and the pro-AGW forces are now being heard less frequently, I suspect, but they repeat the same strident calls for action, and the same warnings of catastrophe, pushed further into the future now, as Nature has not been paying the attention to them as it should. We are slowly grinding ouw way back to good judgment about the climate, but I wonder if the lessons of all this nonsense will be applied to all those other areas of public discussion.

    • David says:

      Peter you are usually quite reasonable and thoughtful in what you post. But to imply as you do that the concept of “aboriginal disadvantage” is an example of “sloppy thinking” is ridiculous. Wake up to yourself!

    • David says:

      So what is you definition of “sloppy thinking”? Any view that does not correspond with your own?

    • David says:

      So , is Jenny Macklin a sloppy thinker or Linda Burney? People from both sides of the political divide have appreciated the efforts that both of these politicians have put into the management of “aboriginal disadvantage”. Is Noel Person a sloppy thinker? In my view, although these people may have differing views, all of them are quite astute thinkers.

      In my view I think anyone who would seek simultaneously analyse asylum seekers, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, federal budgets and welfare, aboriginal disadvantage, human rights, logging in native forests along with AGW, and produce meaningful inferences, is a sloppy thinker.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        And there I was, thinking my vitriolic outburst of yesterday would waste its foulness on the desert air . . .

        David, I was not simultaneously analysing those issues; I mentioned them as examples where emotion often precludes thorough examination of the subject matter. Each of two opposing policies may be based on some quite good principle; here’s an example of what I mean in aboriginal policy. Non-intervention is based on the principle of self-determination, while intervention is based on the principle of protecting the vulnerable. What I see in this particular policy debate is the common tendency of participants to be firmly wedded to one principle and its apparent policy imperative, to the exclusion of other issues behind which equally sound principles apply.

        Such limitations to the scope of the discourse I consider to be examples of sloppy thinking. And I can be as guilty as the next person of sloppy thinking, and certainly have been. Disagreement with my views is always salutary, as it forces me to review the adequacy of my own thinking. I hope I have not been sloppy in our discussion here.

        Actually, I agree with much of what Noel Pearson has been arguing for many years. I have considerable respect for Jenny Macklin – I think she is very genuine, and a clear thinker. I have not followed Linda Burney’s career – perhaps I should, as I think one of my daughters would have voted for her, as she is in that electorate. An individual’s participation in a debate on any one of those examples I listed where emotion over-crowds reason quite often, does not mean that individual is a sloppy thinker. I implied nothing of the sort, and am surprised at your inference. And I certainly never mentioned their names, or anyone else’s.

        Nor did I say that “aboriginal disadvantage” is an example of sloppy thinking. It is one example among a number where sloppy thinking occurs quite frequently. Aboriginal disadvantage is real, all right. How best to address it, is the tricky bit.

        Perhaps in the light of this response, you might care to read again what I had first written.

        Now permit me to have another free-wheeling ramble (oops, mixed metaphors, anyone?). Western societies contain many who have achieved comfortable levels of education and living standards, levels achieved on the backs of hard-working antecedents, most of whom probably endured very tough lives compared to our own. Do we get to a point where we feel guilty, ready to blame ourselves and our human race for anything and everything? It seems a lot of public discussion on many issues is tarred with a negativism, and often almost a dismissal of many of the great achievements won at great cost. We are living on the fruits of those efforts, and have the effrontery to deride them.

        • margaret says:

          Peter, I find so much more interesting the debates about issues that bring immediate recognition of the lives we as Australians are living right now.
          AGW – what can we do? Nothing. Two sides of deep hubris locked in their own bubbles.
          Aboriginal disadvantage – what can we do? At least as individuals we can recognise for a start that ‘the great achievements won at great cost that we now have the effrontery to deride’ were achieved at the beginning by foul means not fair in the case of our colonial forbears who ‘explored’ ‘terra nullius’ and found that Australia Felix etc. was up for the taking as long as we could civilise (read dispossess and worse) ‘the natives’ (colonial language).
          If we can’t recognise the frontier wars fought over the country we now enjoy the fruits of then Australia will never grow up and never become wise.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi Margaret
            It’s really pleasing to hear from you again; for myself, we’ve been away on a short holiday, hence my absence.

            I agree with you that we should be concerned very much with the present, and where we think we’re going. Lessons can be gained from spilt milk, but the milk has been spilt, and we must move on constructively, which I think is indeed your point.

            Your frustration over the AGW “debate” is understandable, and your image exquisite. But I don’t think the debate is static, any more than is the climate. A major reason I think it is worth my spending time on it, is that I think the divide is symptomatic of a much deeper problem, to which I’ve alluded above.

            So let’s turn to the point you make concerning white settlement in Australia. I do not think it was all by foul means. There was a lot of “sweat and tears” that was quite independent of the real displacement and worse which you note. There was also good that was done. Recently I read more of Mary Durack’s story, for example, and what she had to say about relationships with aboriginal stockmen and their families. My own parents (Dad was a country parson), always spoke well and kindly of the aborigines in Wilcannia (where he served in the early 1930s), and the boys in a home in Mulgoa in the early 1940s (also NSW). Sure, I understand more of the story behind that, but we see with greater understanding now. For comparison, today we would pause about sending a son off to boarding school at the age of seven, but yesterday this was common in many families. There was not the understanding then of the psychological significance of separation. Ignorance doesn’t justify the action, but it goes quite some way to dissipate the charge of “intent to do harm”.

            The term “frontier wars” I would have thought could be used to describe much of the conflict between the early Europeans and native Indian tribes in the U.S., or whites and blacks in southern Africa in the 19th century. I wouldn’t use that term for what happened here.

            There is indeed no gilding the lily; a 1788 society with its technology arrives in a strange and apparently very difficult land, occupied by what appears to be a small population, of a hunter-gatherer people using stone age technology. A society with a range of diseases that we know decimated the local population around Sydney, despite Arthur Phillip’s efforts to treat the people well.

            This sorry history should not dictate how we approach the problem of aboriginal disadvantage now. Should I treat the descendants of our former enemies with disdain, because undoubtedly some of their forbears treated mine badly (and vice versa, of course)? Should I claim special privilege, because my wife’s antecedents came out here as convicts in 1814 and 1816, and by today’s standards were probably abominably treated? No, we should deal with people on the basis of need, not on the basis of race, or of the distant past. As you say, these are the lives we as Australians are living right now. We can’t shape good policy out of a sense of guilt, out of trying to redress wrongs. Wrongs are best redressed by thoughtful long-sighted policies based on real understanding, not emotive appeals.

            As examples of these approaches, there are two excellent contrasting examples as opinion pieces in today’s issue of The Australian newspaper (5th August 2014).

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            Peter don’t forget those who are accused of atrocities against aboriginals in the past are as much ancestors of the aboriginals of today as they are ours.

          • David says:

            Thanks for that important factoid, Mike.

          • margaret says:

            Your point being? I’m reminded of my father and mother travelling to Scotland when they retired. They met an englishman who asked where they were from. When my father said Australia he laughingly but unmistakeably slurred them with “oh you australians are all descended from convicts aren’t you?”
            Dad was quick – he instantly said “well just remember, they were English convicts.”

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            Totally right many of the aboriginals of today are descendants of English convicts. As for myself my mother’s English family were free settlers coming to NSW in the 1850’s the other side is a bit obscure my Grandfather served a sentence in Goulburn jail for horse stealing. None of them had any involvement with aboriginals. On the other hand I have a daughter in law who is 1/4 Aboriginal and similarly an aboriginal grand daughter.

            I suggest reading “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Volume One And Three” plus ”
            The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past” by Keith Windschuttle. More than likely the Post Modernists have invented much that is believed about Aboriginal history for their own advantage.

            To get a realistic view what for the Aboriginal is reality look here http://theblacksteamtrain.blogspot.com.au/ and pay attention to Bess Price’s writings rather than the rent seeker populists.

          • margaret says:

            Well I haven’t read your link yet but I’m interested in this idea of being 1/4 or 1/8 etc. of any ancestry – it seems to hark back to American plantation slavery – because I have English and Scottish ancestry and I would never fractionalise it. It’s really weird to me. Your ancestry is what it is and you just accept that but you don’t make a mathematical assessment of how much of each is in your heritage.
            Only if the colour of your skin is in question perhaps????
            It needs explanation, maybe I’m light on this understanding. Would one say they were 1/4 Scandinavian and 1/2 Indonesian and 1/8 Spanish etc.?

          • margaret says:

            I will try to source those articles but do not subscribe to The Australian I think the Australian has a great advantage in its name and the fact that it’s our only national newspaper – whether or not it’s balanced journalism I just don’t know as I don’t read it often enough and it, unlike other newspapers it keeps its news behind a pay wall. That, for a start seems … something to consider.

            I disagree with the view held by too many Australians locked in a mind-set that the first nations were merely hunter-gatherers roaming at will around the vast country – the old convenient ‘gone walkabout’ romance that hides the inconvenient truths of a very complex group of societies. Here in Victoria there was scurrilous land grabbing and consequent defence of that. I don’t believe in black armband but I do believe that white blindfolds are still worn. Massacre sites abound and so does evidence of stone houses lived in by peoples who were not willing to just move on and allow the Major Mitchell and Governor LaTrobe types to encouraged or fail to control the greedy squatters on Australia Felix. Some became our ‘finest’ families whose names adorn our major points of interest and streets and have statues erected to their posterity.

            I can’t argue dispassionately, it’s neither my nature or my training but I do read – and I like to read more deeply than white Australian colonial history. It’s a history shared by all who loved Empire building – progress ensued for many but for goodness sake why keep hiding the facts of how we now enjoy this fabulous country while its original inhabitants still struggle and have righteous anger or disillusion about the lack of respect and dignity shown to them.

          • David says:



            I know you and I are on the same page with this.

            If this figure of 65,000 dead in Queensland alone, is accurate then the Frontier Wars were clearly the most deadly of ANY war campaign that Australia has been involved. I think the War Memorial accepts a figure of 22,000.

            I think where possible it would appropriate to have the names of Aboriginal and Colonial soldiers who died in the conflict added to the honor roll at the War Memorial.

            And surely no war has been more central to our national identity than the Frontier Wars. My understanding is that the War Memorial has over the years been keen to give greater focus to these wars, but the RSL has opposed the

            There is no reason why Aboriginal warrior like Multuggerah should not be recognized along with Sir John Hindmarsh or Sir Weary Dunlop as one Australia’s finest soldiers.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi David

            You and Margaret have spurred me into some further reading. While I recognise that records of conflict and their results, as well as of decimation through displacement and disease, are incomplete, I like to be able to differentiate between figures based on contemporary records, and conjecture. Not that I disregard the latter, but I like to know how estimates are derived, and on what reasonably certain information they are based. So I will read further.

            However, I consider very firmly that policy should be based on need, not on history. History may motivate us to look deeper, may encourage our compassion, but what should guide policy is today’s needs, not yesterday’s failures and injustices. Surely the last fifty years of failed aboriginal policies should have taught us that flaw.

            Incidentally, I don’t think Mike’s comment is a factoid – Wikipedia defines that as an unverified, false or fabricated statement. Given the inter-mingling over the years, I’d think it reasonable that his statement would be true for some number of cases. Should we then be arguing that a full-blood aboriginal today is by virtue of lineage, more deserving of welfare services than one whose great-grandfather was aboriginal, but whose other antecedents were Anglo-Saxon? (If I have my maths right, that’s a 1/8th aboriginal lineage).

          • margaret says:

            Yes David, thanks for the link, we are on the same page here. I think Professor Evans put it succinctly – “you have to read the page before you can turn the page”. I recently visited both the war memorial and the museum of australia. I see what the AWM represents – to my eye it’s glorification of our participation in wars in a ‘wow we aussies are top blokes’ way – could be a bridge too far to ever see our participation in frontier wars as ‘we english, irish, scottish (yet to become Australians) were top blokes back then weren’t we?’

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi Margaret

            You may care to look at my further reponse to David, as you both have persuaded me to read further on the issue. Thank you.

          • margaret says:

            You’re welcome – “you have to read the page before you can turn the page” jumped out at me from the Brisbane Times article that David provided the link to.
            “I am not going to feel guilty about something that happened a long long time ago” asserted by John Howard (well words to that effect) during his time in office really meant in translation that the book that the unturned page is on was hidden in the dusty attics – the minds of those who were victorious.

          • margaret says:

            And, further to your comment Peter, just as all we white Australians have interesting and mixed ancestry so do the first Australians many of whom when we colonised their land became our ‘comfort women’ and produced as a result two centuries later many of our country’s modern Australians? Whether times dictate that we should be ashamed or proud of having convict ancestors, indigenous ancestors, jewish ancestors, muslim ancestors or ancestors of any nationality or religion, why do those of so-called pure blood deem themselves as superior?


          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi Margaret

            I agree with your views above; our origins “pure” (whatever we think that means) or not, never prescribe superiority (and whatever that means).

            OK, as promised since my last response here I’ve read two books so far as well as an 1865 lengthy speech by a pastoralist explorer, have two others on hand, and two on request from the library. Some years ago I read Robert Hughes “The Fatal Shore” and Manning Clark’s “A Short History of Australia”. So this time I started with John Connor’s “The Australian Frontier Wars 1788-1838”. There was no incident in his account that surprised me, I suppose because I am well aware of what has been expressed for many years. However, I think his drawing a parallel with frontier wars is not one I would draw. I received the impression from his comparisons with such “wars” in other colonies, that he was trying to prove a point, rather than let the accounts he references justify that as a conclusion. I turned to this book first, as I didn’t want my thinking skewed by my second book, which (perhaps to your horror) is Keith Windschuttle’s “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History Vol 1”, which deals with Tasmania, about which there are evidently more complete records than for most of the mainland.

            I have been aware for some time that Windschuttle has expressed views quite contrary to what has seemed to be the mainstream today. I have wondered “Is he denying what really happened? If so, why?”. Well, having pursued history in my degree studies years ago, I’ve never lost interest in it; in fact, my interest today is greater than it ever was. What strikes me about this book is its reliance on primary sources, and its care in the examination of reported cases of aboriginal deaths and alleged massacres.

            In a critical review (15 March 2010 – see http://inside.org.au/windschuttle-again/) Dean Ashenden says “Windschuttle’s temperament is a barrister’s, not a historian’s”, and criticises him for not applying “a puzzling, curious, synthesising intelligence drawn to make the best available sense of whatever bits and pieces the past has left lying about”. Well, I’m rather appalled at what scope for invention such an approach to history would provide. I prefer history that relies first on evidence, supported by qualification over its reliability, as well as the context of the evidence.

            Windschuttle’s attention to evidence, and his careful cross-checking against other sources, I found to be thorough and informative. The two books on my waiting list are by Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan; Windschuttle has taken both to task over their presentation of this part of the history.

            I’ll leave you to decide whether you might countenance reading his work; you might disagree with his conclusions, but I suspect you will be impressed by his “forensic” approach.

            Let me tell you an interesting story. I started school not till the age of six, nearly seven, near the foothills of Sydney’s Blue Mountains, not long after WW2 had ended. Soon after I started at school, a boy of about nine was telling me one day as we leaned over the fence, that you had to be careful when taking a train up the mountains, because at the further stations “the aborigines would board the train, and pull you off and kill you”. I remember well thinking at the time “But if people know that, why would they still take the train? And why would the engine driver (they were steam trains then) keep driving up there? And why wouldn’t they kill him?” Perhaps that was my first lesson in scepticism.

            But as I think about it now, what was the context of old stories, old fears, that had been passed down through perhaps two generations to reach the ears of a nine year old? Rather sad, really; but it does emphasise how important it is to be factual.

          • margaret says:

            Wow, I can’t hope to keep up with the speed of your reading Peter. I once did a speed reading course – it made me very good at skimming and ‘grasping the principle’ but now I luxuriate in (and sometimes labour over) the books I read. This isn’t to say that I think you have skimmed – you are just a faster reader. I think that speed reading course did me no service actually.
            My understanding of things in the years of 1788-to say 1850 is that there were not many ‘bits and pieces left lying about’ and an oral culture needs to be passed on by its elders.
            Also, I lived in a town and went to school for a couple of years with some aboriginal children in my class and also read Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Pritchard as a teenager, and Patricia Wrightson as a young teacher so I expect I’m with Dean Ashenden on my approach to ‘the facts’. I can bet that Keith Windschuttle is extremely forensic and intellectually would cut me to ribbons but … I’m not likely to be swayed and his ilk are an anathema to me.

            Yes, that story is a good one. Here’s another – my grandfather, city born and bred visited us while we were in the country. He was sitting on the front verandah when an aboriginal rode past on a bicycle – he called out excitedly to my grandmother – “Mollie they can ride bicycles!!” Do I think any less of him for this? No I don’t. But doesn’t it say something about how the aboriginal presence was purposefully ignored, belittled and made to disappear during the times he was growing up?
            And, another story – my friend and neighbour in Sydney, when we were about 9, told me that unless I became a Catholic I would not be going to heaven. She told me this in my best interests, a brainwashed child prosletysing (darn can’t spell it), I wasn’t able to be as sceptical as you were over the matter of the train journey, as it was during those very divisive years of Anglicans vs Catholics.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            And I’m not sure I can keep up with the promptness of your response! But here I am at my desk, with a cup of tea. Just love your story, although you did fail as a proselyte! And I agree about Grandpa’s lack of knowledge. In my 20s I would come across quite disparaging references. I don’t know whether it was “made to disappear”, but I suspect that the Depression and WW2 were far more to the forefront than aboriginal/white history and attitudes. We never talked about convict ancestry either, although I know my dear Mum would have been quick (and accurate) to deny it!

            But that doesn’t stop us seeking to ensure our historical knowledge is firmly based. It’s too easy to let the heart rule the head. And with actions taken now, it’s critical to base them on current need, not on past wrongs. Not that the past wrongs don’t motivate us to take action, but level of need as you implied earlier, is not based on quality (or colour) of lineage.

            You can make up your own mind, but I don’t think Windschuttle is at all attempting to justify one side or the other. This seems to be completely misunderstood. What he is criticising is what he sees as inadequate historical research and analysis. I suspect much of the flack he still receives is because he has pointed out serious errors of fact.

            So as well as considering Ashenden’s reflections, would you care to have a look at some from the other side here – http://www.adelaideinstitute.org/Dissenters/windschuttle.htm ?. I’ve found with this subject, as I have beforehand with AGW, that I have to make up my own mind, and that means to examine both sides. (BTW, made some lovely pea and ham soup the other day; must do a curry for tonight!)

          • margaret says:

            Peter, minestrone is on my menu. Tonight I’m seeing Coranderrk at the local town hall – it has had a season at the Belvoir and is on tour again. I’ve noted your reading suggestions and have another for you . It is Convincing Ground: learning to fall in love with your country by Bruce Pascoe. A review by an historian Paul Burns ends with these words – “This beautifully written book, with its fierce determination to recognise and right the wrongs of history, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand where aboriginal people are coming from. Some passages may unduly perturb university-trained historians like myself, or mightily disturb the general reader. That is partly the author’s intention. But it is sometime’s a good thing to have one’s ideas so shaken up that one is forced to rethink them.”

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hmm, “right the wrongs of history” ? Good luck with that one, Paul Burns. Where would you like to start? Could we also include the wrongs done to many of the early convicts?

            It seems to me that our attempts to right the wrongs exacted on aboriginals in the past, we have followed policies that have failed lamentably.

            Margaret, I’m still reading, very busily. I hope to get to Burns in due course, but there are many tomes on the subject already. What does he add that is new?

            I’ll be reading “Whitewash” today (anthology – ed Robert Manne). Are you reading some on the other side of the fence? My own ideas on the subject are being quite shaken up after years of accepting what I’ve mostly heard over the last fifty years. I’m looking for evidence and sound argument.

          • margaret says:

            Sorry for the prompt reply Peter, but I have some grandparenting to do this weekend – no I think Paul Burns knows the wrongs of history can’t be righted – it’s Bruce Pascoe who wrote the book and it is admittedly a polemic.
            I’m just about exhausted with the subject matter for now so am moving to read something that’s been on my shelf for quite a while Old Filth by Jane Gardam, but thank you for the Inside Story website link – its Indigenous Affairs section is very comprehensive.
            Have a lovely weekend!

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            Well if I accept there was an Aboriginal Nation who were not hunter gathers I have many questions.
            1. Where was the centre of the Nation politically?
            2. How were disputes settled?
            3. Who were the leaders of the Nation?
            4. What held the groups together so that it was recognisable as a nation?
            5. What means was used to conduct trade?
            6. What crops did they cultivate?
            7. How were wild animals prevented from eating those crops?
            8. How were these crops stored for times of scarcity?
            9. Was there interracial conflict over land?

          • margaret says:

            1. Politically? There were many nations. It wasn’t Greek style democracy. There was no Westminster system, you would not have fitted in.
            2. Rough justice is how you would see it but you are not them.
            3. There were many amazing leaders – William Barak was one in colonial times.
            4. Their tribal skin groups, inter-marriage wasn’t allowed. Hence yes, some wife stealing occurred (sound familiar to our society?)
            5. Visits and trading for each other’s specialised goods like ochre and stone tools.
            6. The yam daisy and firestick agriculture.
            7. They didn’t stop ‘wild animals’ from eating anything.
            8. Eels were smoked, not sure how the tuber crops were stored.
            9. No it was mainly over women I think (sound familiar?)

            I’m sure there are better sources for your questions to be answered than me.
            Keith Windschuttle wouldn’t be one of them.

          • Mike O'Ceirin says:

            Well if you cannot support you beliefs and wish to present nonsense so be it. Windschuttle has the best evidence we can get about the Aboriginal history. Well referenced and based on reality. The change from hunter gather tribes to agrarian society was an enormous change. One side effect is that then land became valuable so conflict occurred.

            So your answer to point 9 means yes there was no nation there were many disparate hunter gather stone age tribes.

            Forget the past and try to address the present it far more important. The plight of disadvantaged aboriginal in remote areas is tragic and a product of the bleeding heart brigade who live in a world of postmodernist imaginings. They and their children live a incredibly violent life coupled with sexual abuse. Meanwhile hands off the noble savage is promulgated by the useful twits.

            I will not bother with this any more it is an exercise futility. Obviously you will not examine why our views differ even to extent of looking at Dallas Scotts blog or finding out who Bess Price is an what she says.

          • margaret says:

            Well I did read the black steam train blog and the coffee and milk analogy entry was pretty lame.
            Now I’m going to find out about Bess Price. But I agree, let’s discontinue the futile exercise of reading from different books and attempting to discuss the same content written through different lenses.
            However, I agree the theme is a tragedy.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Margaret, I do know of eel traps and fishing systems that suggest people who had settled, at least for a long time. But I’ve never heard of stone houses. Can you give me a reference?

          • margaret says:

            Yes, here’s one straight from the australian government website. Scroll down to western victoria.


      • DaveW says:

        Hi David – I think you mean Noel Pearson, a very admirable person who would seem to be in fairly strong disagreement with Jenny ‘I could live on the dole’ Macklin. I think it is fair to question whether or not Macklin’s policies have helped aboriginal Australians at all, but since Peter made no mention of the people you list, as is often the case, I am finding it difficult to follow your logic. Surely you don’t think there is no sloppy thinking in any of the areas Peter listed?

  • L A P Wilson says:

    “Weirdly, its confidence about its conclusions is apparently greater than
    it was, though at the same time, it is plainly more conscious of

    Don – as I read it its a matter of arithmetic games which allows the IPCC politico/scientists who write the Summary to be able to declare lower certainty, but higher probability. The earliest reports predicted a higher year 2100 temperature rise range of about 3 to 6 degrees.

    Progressively this has been revised downwards, no doubt because of the embarrassment of the 17 year pause. As the low side of the range declines closer to what has been happening in real life, arithmetic will permit a higher probability call (now 1.5 to 4 degrees and 95%) even with a lower certainty call. If they were next to declare say a range of 0 to 4 I would think they could claim near 100% probability/confidence, and so on.

    It’s a typical politician style tricky numbers game.

  • EmperorJulian says:

    First, my name is Dion Giles. I avoid “social media” and the only way in that I could find was through an ancient Discus route in which I am locked into a long-dead nickname. I regret that there isn’t a way to get on the list simply by name, rank and serial number.

    My comment to Professor Aitkin’s list is that today’s article, like his others addressing the scientific study of climate, is a text book application of real scientific reasoning, from a man whose professional background is in the sociology area.

    I often wonder why it is that so relatively many of those of us who are trained as scientists have, unlike Don Aitkin, remained silent on the creeping perversion of science in the assertion-based clamour of what can only be called political “climatology”.

    If a child cries “Wolf, wolf” is it really smart to burn down or log the forest to get rid of the wolf?

    I think the operative word is “trained”. In science education there is rarely any contact with the philosophy of science. Science is evidence-based, and evidence about future events and trends (like climate in thirty years’ time) can’t be observed until the time has actually arrived. Predictions based on extrapolations run into the problem of induction.

    As the article points out, the greenhouse effect is based on rigorously observed phenomena. It is rationally undeniable. It is undeniable that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and can add to the amount of heat trapped in the biosphere. What is subject only to speculation (and political bellowing) is the quantum of net heat gain and climate change from a given change in greenhouse gas concentration. This can’t be solved by the philosophically elitist procedure of counting exalted heads. Only scientific examination of the main drivers of climate directed to elucidating the many mechanisms whereby they operate can bring us closer to global control of climate. This means a shift in the funding of science away from prediction of the out-of-range future and away from the effects of guessed climate change on the biosphere and towards examination of mechanisms including mechanisms additional to the greenhouse effect, such as for example the work of Henrik Svensmark and of Nir Shaviv.

    Professor Shaviv has devastatingly laid bare the reasons why billions of dollars thrown at climate science have led to zero increase in knowledge of climate sensitivity and of what governs it – just scarier and scarier pronouncements about the wolf in the forest. It’s at http://sciencebits.com/AR5-FirstImpressions

    Meanwhile we have reason to be thankful to Australia’s own Don Aitkin for keeping alive the voice of reason amid the maelstrom of grossly over-funded elitist “research” and political posturing in the grant-rich field of climatology.

    • DaveW says:

      Hi Dion,
      You should be able to put in a name, email, skip the password and check the ‘I’d rather post as a guest’ box to avoid being Julian the Apostate.

      The pressure to conform to the set of positions variously labelled ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘leftist’ (none of which appear to be an informative label) is intense in academia and quickly results in ostracism and often harsh sanctions for any who would disagree. This started long before AGW was adopted into the party platform. In some cases this ‘group think’ may have been justified, e.g. racism, but in any case it has become the norm to insist on ideological purity. Discussion is not tolerated.

      I think that explains why so few academic or government scientists are willing to challenge the egregious errors, exaggerations and lies. They’ve gotten used to not saying anything controversial and either parrot the party line or keep their heads down and work.

  • David says:

    “There you have it. The IPCC can’t be criticised, and though anyone who does a comparison (dozens have) will see that 5AR is more cautious, more uncertain and more turgid in its prose than its predecessor, the IPCC is still singing the
    same hymn. Weirdly, its confidence about its conclusions is apparently greater
    than it was, though at the same time, it is plainly more conscious of

    Don I know you like to keep your blog as a “numbers-free-zone”, and good for you,…but the level of statistical confidence in AGW actually increased from 90% to 95% when IPCC released its 5th report.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Indeed, that’s what I said — ‘its confidence about its conclusions is apparently greater than it was’.

      Incidentally, ‘statistical confidence’ is not a happy phrase. What the authors of the Report said was that they were so confident, not that the statistics showed that to be the case. What they did was to give their collective confidence numbers, with the appearance that those numbers mean something more than their own opinions. So ‘90% to 95%’ is about opinions, not about data.

      • David says:

        “So ‘90% to 95%’ is about opinions, not about data.”

        Is rubbish!

        • Don Aitkin says:


          This is what the authors of the Report said: ‘The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific
          understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain).’

          Footnotes 1 and 2 on the same page (4) of the SPM set out the relationship of words to numbers (what does ‘very’ mean etc).

          But note: these numbers are not statistics that come from the application of known methods to data, but apply to the ‘evaluations’ of the authors themselves! That is to say, we are being told of the collective opinion of the authors, expressed as though we were deal with the statistics of a bell curve, for example. There is no warrant for this, and I regard it as unprofessional.

          • David says:

            You are a shocker! You quote so selectively! Did you think I would not look. 🙂

            “The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain).”

            So to next sentence. (Capitalization is mine)

            “Confidence in the validity of a finding is based on the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (e.g., DATA, mechanistic understanding, theory, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement1. Probabilistic
            estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on STATISTICAL ANALYSIS of OBSERVATIONS or model results, or both, and expert judgment2. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers. (See Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details about the specific language the IPCC uses to communicate uncertainty)”

            So ‘90% to 95%’ is about opinions, not about data, is an incorrect statement!

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Oh dear, you don’t understand at all, do you. Yes, they refer to models and data, but what they are talking about are their opinions! What do you think ‘probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding’ are? This is a bunch of people talking about their guesses.

          • David says:

            “Yes, they refer to models and data,… ”

            Thank you. I will take that as a back down.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            OK. One last try. You suggest in your comments from time to time that you are statistically savvy.

            So let’s take survey research, where the analyst draws from the data a conclusion that (e.g.) the Labor intention of this set of respondents is at 53 per cent. The margin of error here, probably around 3 per cent, is the error that you might expect if the same survey were run a large number of times — the range would mostly be between 50 and 56 per cent, with a very few outliers. The standard deviation would give the analyst that outcome. All this information comes from the data and the statistics used to analyse it. The analyst REPORTS that result — it is not his opinion.

            In the SPM case, the analysts have agreed that THEY are confident about the meaning of the data, not that the data and the statistics used provide it. But the language they use carries the overtones of standard deviations etc. It looks scientific, but at the heart it is just opinions.

            I can’t express the difference any better than this.

          • dlb says:

            I think David is mostly correct. I have taken three typical pronouncements from the IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers. (1) would be based on observational data, (2) would be based on model runs, but (3) is the only one based on opinion, where they probably took a poll with 90% of contributing scientists agreeing.

            (1) “It is virtually certain that globally the troposphere has warmed since the mid-20th century.”

            (2) “Relative to the average from year 1850 to 1900, global surface temperature change by the end of the 21st century is projected to likely exceed 1.5°C for RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5 (high confidence).”

            (3) “Anthropogenic influences have very likely contributed to Arctic sea ice loss since 1979.”

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Sorry, dlb, ‘It is virtually certain…’ is an opinion. There are data that support such an opinion, but the opinion comes from the person. It is a judgment. There are worries about all those data, and I’ve written about them many times I would agree that it is likely that the lower troposphere has warmed since the mid 20th century, but my opinion is not at the 95 per cent confidence level. The data can’t say that it has warmed, or that it hasn’t. If the data could do so, we would see the appropriate figure, and no words like ‘it is virtually certain’.

            I still think that using these terms suggests that we are talking about data and statistics, not about opinions. And I find that disingenuous, as do many others. Go back to the footnotes I referred to above. You will find that ‘virtually certain’ refers to greater than 95 per cent chance of its being so, ‘very likely’ referring to a much smaller likelihood, and so on. As I quoted above, these are ‘the authors’ teams evaluations’ (=opinions). These percentages do not come from the data, but from the authors’ opinions about the data. I’ll go back there myself in moment, but if I do it now I’ll lose all this text!

          • dlb says:

            Don, they state that “virtually certain” is 99 – 100% probability. As far as I aware the main data sets that go back to the 1950s are Hadley and GISS. You could also extrapolate the satellite series UAH and RSS back to the 1950s as they closely parallel the surface readings, giving a total of four main sets. All these sets I think show statistically significant, but quite modest levels of warming. One could say they are 100% in agreement, or do we need a sample size of 100 data sets with 99 or 100 showing warming before we can say that we are “virtually certain” ?

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Yes they do state that. This is the full text: ‘In this Summary for Policymakers, the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: virtually certain 99–100% probability,
            very likely 90–100%, likely 66–100%, about as likely as not 33–66%, unlikely 0–33%, very unlikely 0–10%, exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Additional terms (extremely likely:
            95–100%, more likely than not >50–100%, and extremely unlikely 0–5%) may also be used when appropriate. Assessed likelihood is typeset in italics, e.g., very likely (see
            Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details).’

            Read the first twenty words carefully. What is an ‘assessed likelihood? Who are the assessors? The answers are that the authors of the report made the assessment, and it is theirs. The likelihood is one they agreed upon.

            To repeat: the data are suggestive, but there is a lot of error, the number and location of thermometers, accuracy of same, UHI, the real problems with SST, and so on. You can’t even estimate the errors properly. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t argue hard that there was no warming at all, because there are other indicators, like melting glaciers.

            The authors of the SPM are out to argue a case. Since the data are supportive but cannot be conclusive, the authors add in their own assessment. They may be right, too. But it is their confidence, not that one that stands out from a statistical treatment of the data.

          • David says:


            I agree with dlb.

          • Don Aitkin says:


          • David says:

            Say I went and calculated that Canberra’s daily maximum temperature for a month and found it was was 14 degrees. Then with reference to the following ledger

            Very hot: > 40

            Hot: = 30 to 40

            Mild : = 20 to 30

            Cool: = 0 to 20

            Cold: < 0

            I reported the temperature was Cool. I am not just stating an opinion. People know that I am reporting the average temperature is between 0 and 20.

            So when the IPCC state that by "very confident" they mean a 95% confidence interval, it is not just an opinion, devoid of any empirical analysis.

            But I will think more about what you have said. 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            It’s not the same. In the case you give you would report the average temperature as 14 degrees C. That’s what the data show. The label you give to it after the event is a word, and it does not come with a confidence interval.

            In the first example that dlb gives, the authors have used the third person (‘it is virtually certain’). What they are saying is ‘We are virtually certain’. The certainty is in their collective minds, and applies to them. The data are suggestive of an increase, if you allow for this and that, and I would agree. But there is a lot of error in the data, too, of various kinds. They are virtually certain, and from the same data, I think it’s quite likely.

            Their explanation, that ‘virtually certain’ means something in terms of numbers, seems to me disingenuous.

          • David says:


            The IPCC uses some defined expressions to explain what they mean by 90% & 95% CI, because not everyone will be across their meaning.
            In my example what would you say to someone who did not understand degrees? You would interpret along the lines I have suggested.

            I agree that IPCC values are incorporated in their presentation, but to just write “…, not data” is a gross misrepresentation of what is being presented.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            David, In your example the datum is an average temperature that is produced by a series of thermometers over a defined time. It is a number that comes from observations.

            In the IPCC case the number is the expression of the confidence of the authors about whether or not warming has occurred.. A different thing altogether.

            There would be no need for you and your friends to sit around and decide how confident you were about the average temperature. In the case you give, it is a number. What you call it after the event is almost immaterial.

  • EmperorJulian says:

    Thanks DaveW but it’s not so simple. Selecting “Reply” delivers me straight to Discus. It’s not that I have anything against Julian and admire his stand against state religion Not so taken with his foolishness in attacking Persia, and especially failing to watch his back in the heat of battle. I just don’t want a nickname at all.

    There’s an excellent example of scientists having to confront organised suppression of efforts to pursue the values of science in the teeth of powerful special interests. Worth checking at http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15504-republication-of-the-seralini-study-science-speaks-for-itself

    Best wishes, Dion.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    What happens if Gaia goes denier and the Global Average Temperature drops say .6 by 2017?

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