Herald Sun War on Science #7: cherry picking “facts” to suit your argument.

The very definition

Its always a amusing when a climate denialist such as the Herald Sun’s (aka “The HUNs”) Andrew Bolt claims the views of a prominent climate change “sceptic” have been taken out of context.

Given that Climategate was essentially about framing snippets of emails to create a faux scandal, one wonders if Bolt is aware of the irony.

Upon reflection, I think not.

Still, Bolt rushes to defend Tony Abbot’s claims that it was “hotter” when “Jesus” was alive.

“Take last Friday, when Abbott visited Adelaide’s Trinity Gardens Primary School and told the children it had been warmer than now “at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth”.

Abbott plus Jesus plus warming scepticism? Kaboom!

What an explosion of sneering and jeering we’ve heard ever since, from followers of the new faith, mocking the old.

It was best summed up, unwittingly, by environment reporter Adam Morton, who wrote in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald: “Tony Abbott is under pressure to justify telling students it was considerably warmer when Jesus was alive after leading scientists said his claim was wrong.”

Those warmists would be some Australia’s most prominent scientists. But for Bolt scientists, who accept the science of climate change, are warmists. That the vast vast majority of scientist concur AGW is real.

However, what’s amusing is when Andrew attempts to do “science” by quoting scientific studies. I say amusing, because without exception Bolt gets it wrong or uses very dodgy sources.

Open a dictionary and look under the term “scientific illiteracy” and you will see a picture of Andrew Bolt. Still, let us examine the claims he makes in today’s HUN article:

Recent studies add to the evidence that those times were indeed warm enough for Romans to grow grapes in Britain.

Canadian and British researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science noted in March that oxygen isotopes in the shells of bivalve molluscs indicated that Iceland about 2000 years ago was probably warmer than today.

Likewise, a 2003 study of sediment cores in Spain agreed there was an RWP between 250BC and 450AD, and a 1999 Spanish study reckoned it to be about 2C warmer.

It’s the same story in Georgia, according to scientists studying growth rings of fossilised trees.

Even warmist Phil Jones, implicated in last year’s Climategate scandal, was part of a 2002 study that concluded “warm conditions of the late 20th century do not exceed those reconstructed for several earlier time intervals”, including “a ‘warm’ Roman period in the first centuries AD”.

Sorry if I go on, but the Abbott mockers need putting in their place.

To finish: last December the Hydrological Sciences Journal summed up the tree ring evidence to declare that the “Roman Climate Optimum … (had) temperatures that were (probably) higher than at present”.

Phew, so much to take in!

However, once you start digging you find all kinds of problems.

It also illustrates just how denialists like Bolt operate: throw in lots of jargon and authoritative sounding references.

Let’s take but one of the sources Bolt likes to quote, the last one.

I had to do some digging to get this one, as Bolt doesn’t understand the concept of citing your references in a scientific debate.

Here’s the important thing: Bolt fails to mention that the paper in Hydrological Science Journal is authored by scientists his work is well outside the established science. I’d also ntoe that Bolt gets the date wrong. I believe the paper he is referencing is dated April 2009, not December 2009:

DISCUSSION of “The implications of projected climate change for freshwater resources and their management”, Hydrological Sciences–Journal–des Sciences Hydrologiques, 54(2) April 2009

The paragrpah that Bolt appears to quote appears on page 400:

Figure 3(a) indicates large fluctuations of temperature during the Holocene period, with prominent minima (e.g. the recent Little Ice Age) and maxima (e.g. the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Climate Optimum and the Minoan Climate Optimum, with temperatures that were likely higher than at present).

Firstly, the language of the paper is anything but scientific:

“A common argument in favour of the political orientation of the IPCC is that its aims are good for humanity and the natural environment and that reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will be beneficial for the planet, regardless of the ultimate validity of the IPCC model predictions. However, we believe that science is a process for the pursuit of truth and that fidelity to this system should not be affected by other aims. History shows that such distractions can be detrimental to science…”

These overblown statements, references to history, politics and “big picture stuff” is not how most scientific papers are written.

But let’s look at the authors themselves, who are they?

This if unecessary “fluff”. If your data is good, you don’t need to frame it with these talking points. But denialists can’t help themselves… denialists you ask?

Isn’t this a “real” piece of research? Well, only under the most generous of definitions.

The authors include Timothy A. Cohn, a noted sceptic:

“Cohn’s most controversial research, which has not been fully embraced by the climate science community, suggests that the significance of climate trends may be greatly overstated because it does not consider the possibility that long-term persistence is a component of climatic variability.”

Cohn has published many papers with another climate sceptic, Harry F. Lins (another one of the paper’s authors):

“Since the early 1980s, Lins’ research has focused principally on characterizing the surface water response to climate, with an emphasis on regional streamflow variability, long-term trends, and the statistical techniques appropriate for such analyses. Lins’ most controversial research, which has not been fully embraced by the climate science community, suggests that the significance of climate trends may be greatly overstated because it does not consider the possibility that long-term persistence is a component of climatic variations…”

Another author is Demetris Koutsoyiannis who writes on climate sceptic Roger Pielke’s blog:

“I must say that what I’ve been reading in the recently hacked and released confidential files from the CRU (aka “Climategate” documents) is not a surprise to me. Rather, and sadly, it verifies what I had suspected about some in the climate establishment…”

Oh dear, it’s Climategate and the usual complaints about conspiracies. Bolt no doubt got a hold of this paper via Roger Pielke’s blog, where Koutsoyiannis also states

“In recent years, I have tried to publish a few papers related to climate. Some of them were initially rejected, but eventually published elsewhere—usually in journals without a specific focus on climate. From the experience I gained through the review process of the rejected papers, I became more confident about the analyses I’d performed and the significance of the results I’d presented. I have not been surprised, therefore, to see that these once-rejected papers have become the most cited among my papers.”

Uh oh, one of those “I’m the little guy going up against the establishment” types.

Koutsoyiannis et.al have been doing what climate sceptics do when their substandard work isn’t accepted into climate journals: they shop around, looking for a non-climate related journal hoping they will get accepted.

Hydrological Science Journal: edited by the papers authors

When you dig, you find that these scientists are outside the mainstream, and in fact are part of the small clique of contrarian scientists like Ian Plimer.

Actually, it gets worse as an alert reader has pointed out: Koutsoyiannis is one of the journals editors. He is self publishing his own work! [hat tip JG for excellent reserch]

Real Climate, the blog maintained by actual climate scientist offers a very good overview of the value of their work. Discussing another simular piece of work, Real Climate notes:

“…With that in mind, I now turn to the latest paper that is getting the inactivists excited by Demetris Koutsoyiannis and colleagues. There are very clearly two parts to this paper – the first is a poor summary of the practice of climate modelling – touching all the recent contrarian talking points (global cooling, Douglass et al, Karl Popper etc.) but is not worth dealing with in detail (the reviewers of the paper include Willie Soon, Pat Frank and Larry Gould (of Monckton/APS fame) – so no guessing needed for where they get their misconceptions). This is however just a distraction (though I’d recommend to the authors to leave out this kind of nonsense in future if they want to be taken seriously in the wider field).

Koutsoyiannis et.al are not taken seriously.

Not because their work is “heretical”, but because it is sloppy and poor.

This is why it is not published by serious climate journals, and why the authors shop it around.

The want the credibility of being peer reviewed. It also gives denialists such as Andrew Bolt something to wave around in the air shouting “See, this is just like real science!”

Just think for a moment how much work it took me to dig all that out.

Imagine what the average reader would think reading Bolt’s quote. This is classic anti-science tactics: cherry pick relevant facts without giving full citations and the proper context.

But this is how the denial movement works: they throw out these “facts” hoping to overwhelm the average person.

Excuse me as I go have a lie down after that exhausting piece of research that was needed to refute just one paragraph of Bolt’s nonsense.


15 thoughts on “Herald Sun War on Science #7: cherry picking “facts” to suit your argument.

  1. JG says:

    Koutsoyiannis seems to be one of the editors of the Hydrological Sciences Journal — to judge by the fact that he’s one of the signatories of this recent editorial announcing layout changes, etc.:

    Ah, yes: if you open the Publications section on this page (http://iahs.info/) you find that he and Zbigniew Kundzewich are the journal’s two editors. So it’s not even as if Koutsoyiannis has shopped around for a journal with low standards: he is actually self-publishing.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Ha! There you go, the plot thickens.

      Thanks for the little bit of extra digging – I’d not thought to check who the editors of the journal where.

      Thanks JG

  2. Dave McRae says:

    Thanks for the great research.

    I still cannot believe Bolt calls himself journalist.

  3. stopmurdoch says:


    He doesn’t. It’s one of those weird things, he allows everyone else to think he is one but he is just a “columnist.”

  4. Dave McRae says:

    I see 🙂

    Crikey’s The First Dog on the Moon has a beautiful cartoon that mentions our Bolt

  5. mrluigi says:

    By the way, there’s an interesting series of articles on denialism in this week’s New Scientist. A memorable quote from the article by Debora MacKenzie:

    ‘Seth Kalichman, a social psychologist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs … believes the instigators of denialist movements have more serious psychological problems than most of their followers. “They display all the features of paranoid personality disorder”, he says, including anger, intolerance of criticism, and what psychiatrists call a grandiose sense of their own importance. “Ultimately, their denialism is a mental health problem.’

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Thanks mate – much appreciated, I’ll track down. I can see the cries of outrage form deniers already about climate change denial being linked to mental illness.


  6. Nick says:

    Bolt has misrepresented everything and everyone he ‘cites’ or quote-mines in that article. It’s that shoddy. Of course he includes the mind-numbing Romans-grapes-Britain garbage, which is central to Coalition orthodoxy via Plimer.

    The Phil Jones ‘quote’ is sourced from Grudd et al 2002 dealing with northern Scandinavian lake sediments back 7400 years. The warm periods mentioned in the paper as being commensurate with current warming were earlier than the RWP.

    The Hydrological Sciences Journal paper does not even mention tree-ring studies,yet Bolt thinks it does. He is being fed rubbish,and is happy to be so.

  7. Girma says:

    Who is the real denier?

    IPCC projected for 0.2 deg C warming per decade:


    However, the actual observed warming is zero deg C per decade:


    Where is IPCC’s “accelerated warming”?

    Who is the denier?

    • JG says:

      Who is the denier?

      Why, you are.

      Go find yourself a better source than WoodForTrees — don’t just rely on amateur sources that tell you what you want to hear.

  8. Dave McRae says:

    Brilliant cheerypick Girma – why did you choose those start and end dates I wonder, what if we add a year to 1999 start – oh NOOO (but even that is bullshit – put in any year from 1970 for more than 30 years – or any year in 1960, or 1950, 1940, 1930 – how about those?). Way to demonstrate a cheerpick.

    BTW, Girma, you may know his particular brand of crazy – his activism to see graphs made truthier by extending the axis. His legacy and brilliance is celebrated at the parody site DenialDepot esp http://denialdepot.blogspot.com/2009/09/wheres-warming.html

    You can observe his particular brand of denial at http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/04/open_thread_46.php where no matter how slowly things are explained, he is right, he is the sole beholder of truth in science, like Galileo.

  9. Dave McRae says:

    I am so glad Girma is here – his insights are sure to be amazing, modest as he is..

    I solved the global warming problem in just three weeks. In my spare time. I wonder what others have been doing.
    The only result you need to see the history and future of mean global temperature is my soon to be famous graph
    You must now nominate me for you know what… (Oslo)

  10. Girma says:

    Get ready for global cooling!

    According to the IPCC, “For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios.”


    This IPCC projection is wrong as the actual warming was ZERO deg C per decade as shown in the following chart:


    The pattern of Global Mean Temperature is cyclic as shown in the following chart:

    The cyclic nature global mean temperature used to be recognized 12 years ago:

    … For example, in the early 1970’s, because temperatures had been decreasing for about 25 to 30 years, people began predicting the approach of an ice age! For the last 15 to 20 years, we have been seeing a fairly steady rise in temperatures, giving some assurance that we are now in a global warming phase.


    Dear NASA, what changed now?

    Thanks for fossil fuel as it may help us through the coming Big Freeze of about 20 years.

  11. Girma says:

    Dave McRae


    Don’t you have sense of humor?

  12. there is no evidence that mwp was warmer than today. there is certainly no evidence to suggest that it was anything other than a northern hemisphere event. and thirdly what as natural warming to do with present anthropogenic warming? nothing. bolt is indeed a horses arse.

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