Details of Heaven and Earth

The following post has been sitting around in draft form for a while and was delayed by my computer problems,  so it’s a bit outdated and there isn’t so much discussion on this book now. However, since Steve Fielding appears to be a fan of Plimer’s book I guess it’s still worth posting. I’ve added a few updates to the original post here and there, most notably excerpts of, and links to, reviews from ABC radio at the end.

Both Barry Brook and Tim Lambert have posts which go into the details of what’s in Ian Plimer’s new book which is getting quite a bit of attention in the press. There is also more from Ian Enting. Having previously seen Plimer’s arguments for the non-existence of anthropogenic global warming in interviews and not been terribly impressed by them (see here and here) I was not expecting much from the book, but it seems that it’s much worse than what I might have expected. Both of the links above outline many problems, and it’s important to realise that these are not just nitpicking minor errors. For example, citing the work of EG Beck. This is a graph which shows that before 1957 atmospheric C02 jumped around wildly, with huge amounts of carbon dioxide entering and leaving the atmosphere on a yearly basis to an extent which appears to be far beyond what is physically possible. And after 1957 that behaviour stopped, remarkably right at the time that measurements began from Mauna Loa, a site remote enough to remove local effects and give a true representation of the atmospheric level. It is stunning that Plimer could cite this. We are left with the conclusion that either he believes that huge fluctuations in C02 actually happened until right at the moment we started measuring it more accurately, or he doesn’t and he threw it in there anyway. Neither option reflects well on him, especially as he seems to always be claiming the scientific high ground on the issue of AGW.

This isn’t an isolated example. The paper referred to above was published in Energy and Environment, a journal renowned for publishing anything that questions AGW, no matter how bad it is. For example Khilyuk and Chilingar, which, believe it or not, argues that human C02 emissions are negligible since they are tiny compared with natural degassing over the entire history of the planet. Actually not so surprising that Plimer should cite this, it’s not so different from the sort of arguments he’s been making based on geological timescales.

There’s more from E&E such that the famous Shulte paper, which even they were initially reluctant to publish. There is quite a story behind this one, details here.

And it goes on, Plimer actually uses Martin “You’re a big daft cock” Durkin’s dodgy graph from The Great Global Warming Swindle. Both Brook and Lambert give the details … and many more. Much more on this in one of Peter Sinclair’s excellent youtube videos as well.

The coverage in the mainstream media has been pathetic (or at least was at the original time of writing, there were subsequently a few articles that improved things slightly). Can’t they find anyone who is at least a bit scientifically literate to evaluate the claims that Plimer makes? Instead it has been wall to wall puff pieces which amount to little more than advertising for the book and its central claim that AGW is not a problem. As well as the SMH article I wrote about earlier there’s one in the Independent which is full of irrelevant details of change in the distant past and pushes Plimer’s conspiracy theory about climate scientists. Of course the coverage in the Australian has been a continuation of their usual war on science. The press coverage is full of journalists who are terribly impressed by all those sciency looking footnotes in Plimer’s book but haven’t bothered to see if any of it makes sense. They have missed that many of the references are to such an un-scientific source as Energy & Environment, that old data is used, that bold claims are made without evidence being cited, that flawed and misleading graphs have been included. Just because it’s a book written by a scientist about a scientific topic and it has lots of footnotes and refences it doesn’t make it science. Lambert and Brook have documented in detail (linked above) why it’s not science.

Update: Since writing this there have been a number of reviews on the ABC’s Science Show and Ockham’s Razor, all rather negative (which is either evidence of left-wing bias at the ABC or just indicative of what actual experts think depending on your point of view)

David Karoly’s Review

Given the errors, the non-science, and the nonsense in this book, it should be classified as science fiction in any library that wastes its funds buying it. The book can then be placed on the shelves alongside Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, another science fiction book about climate change with many footnotes. The only difference is that there are fewer scientific errors in State of Fear.

Malcolm Walter’s Review

I think Plimer is entirely sincere in his efforts to argue against anthropogenic climate change. But he is misguided, and his interpretation of the literature is confused. Why do I have any credibility on this issue? Like Plimer I am a geologist, with a very long experience in basic fieldwork. I have particular experience in working on the evidence for severe glaciations in the past, and on understanding the early history of the Earth. I am also a planetary scientist with an interest in other planets in the solar system, including their climates.

Reviewing this book has been an unpleasant experience for me. I have been a friendly colleague of Plimer’s for 25 years or more. I admired his support for innovative geological research during his early career as a mineral explorer in industry. I cheered him on when he took on the so-called creation scientists and their bogus nonsense, a crusade that cost him dearly in the end. I have enjoyed his always lively and entertaining lectures. But this time, in my opinion, he has done a disservice to science and to the community at large.

Kurt Lambeck:

If this had been written by an honours student, I would have failed it with the comment: You have obviously trawled through a lot of material but the critical analysis is missing. Supporting arguments and unsupported arguments in the literature are not distinguished or properly referenced, and you have left the impression that you have not developed an understanding of the processes involved. Rewrite!

UPDATE: A nice summary by George Monbiot, via Deltoid.

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