Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.  

In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.

My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.

The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.

Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.

Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.

An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?

In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:

In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.

Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.

The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.

Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect

Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.

He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.

His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:

Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”

Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.

Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.

Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.

They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.

Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.

Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press

The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists. 

The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.

Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):

Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.

 He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.

“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

 Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.

The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):

Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.

Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.

The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.   

False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes

Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.

He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.

In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.

Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.

What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.

The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.

Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.

The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.

We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.

But what is cost of this?

Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.

At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.

But again – at what cost?

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility

It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.

For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.

We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.

Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.

For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.

I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

[Note: see also Graham Readfearn’s piece on the same topic – what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]

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[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog’s author. ]

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31 thoughts on “Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

  1. Nick says:

    It’s unpleasant to watch The Oz drift off into cartoon-science nonsense land,knowing they once employed competent science journalists and chose to dismiss them,and also that they fiercely resist efforts to correct them. No diligence at all from Lloyd…the global warming on mars trope is bullshit and was the day it was uttered,and so easily fact-checked…Principia scientifica is a fake science rump run by a man who lies about his legal qualifications,again so easily fact-checked

    The Daily Fail has obliquely acknowledged that David Rose fibbed in presenting scientists views on CS two months ago… long ago and far away.

    So it goes,the dismissal of knowledge and the substitution of gossip and teach-the-controversy

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Thanks Nick – there was so much more I could have said about PSI and the people behind it. It would take at least half a dozen posts to explain the absurdity.

  2. Graham Lloyd is starting to sound more and more like last years doomsayers promoting the end of the world scenario courtesy of a Mayan calendar. I suspect his claims will be exactly as accurate as those fogging the Mayan calendar BS. If Lloyd was honest, he would give up pretending to be an environment writer and try and make a quid writing B grade fiction movies in Hollywood where make-believe is recognised for what it is, light entertainment.

  3. Eric Worrall says:

    I agree Abdussamatov’s extreme view of convection seems improbable.

    But there are convection processes which are important to climate.

    Whenever temperature in the tropics hits around 35c, near a body of water, a thunderstorm or cyclone forms. The thunderstorm removes excess heat from the surface, by dumping it at the top of the troposphere, where it can radiate into space, unimpeded by the bulk of the Earth’s greenhouse gasses.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/11/air-conditioning-nairobi-refrigerating-the-planet/

    You can see this process, whenever you see a thunderhead form – water vapour rising high up into the troposphere, then dumping its heat of condensation to form clouds.

    The hottest temperatures on Earth are usually found far from large bodies of water – because in such places, there is no water vapour to operate the cooling pump.

    The ocean surface in the track of Hurricane sandy showed a -1c temperature anomaly in the wake of the storm – quite a cooling effect.

  4. Steve says:

    I know that this article does mention religion, but did you actually mean to say ‘Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.’?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanence
    Eric,
    Yes, convection combined with evaporation and condensation of water is an important process in the transfer of heat. But I seriously question the idea that all or even most of the heat from the water goes into space. A lot of it would be transferred horizontally. For example the tropical cyclones that often go south along the Queensland border transfer a huge amount of heat away from the equator and towards the higher latitudes.

  5. BBD says:

    Abdussamatov’s crankery turned up in the UK’s inimitably crap Daily Mail on 30 April.

    Interestingly though, he is not mentioned by name. Astrophysicists are incorrectly described as “climate experts” and a quote is attributed to one Yuri Nagovitsyn, who appears to be his boss.

    A further quote is attributed to Vladimir Kotlyakov, of the Russian Academy of Science.

    (Continued below)

  6. BBD says:

    This excerpt from an interview with Kotlyakov from the website of the Russian Geographical Society makes his position plain:

    [Interviewer:] You said ‘in any case’ highlighting the importance of the truth. You are known for being an opponent of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. But what if it turns out that the defining impact on climate is created by the human being, which will be of greater importance to you – the acceptance of the truth or the collapse of own ideals?

    [V Kotlyakov:] This will never happen! It was proved long ago that the solar energy triggers climate change. Greenhouse gases and anthropogenic factor cannot be compared to natural factor. Everything is subjected to the ‘Earth-Sun’ system. So far the data on Lake Vostok serve the proof to it.

    [Interviewer:] You mean they support the orbital theory of climate change?

    [V Kotlyakov:] Does anyone doubt it?

    Kotlyakov, like Adbussamatov, is an old man making dogmatic statements on a field outside his own area of expertise.

    There’s a lot of that about in contrarian circles, isn’t there?

  7. BBD says:

    The debunking reference for this meme is Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010). This is a discussion by the authors with a link to the abstract.

  8. […] The Australian newspaper recycled the ‘news’ from an article from 2007 and is reviewed here and here. […]

  9. Sou says:

    It’s almost impossible to believe that an environmental editor of a national daily newspaper could write that nonsense. The Australian has published so much disinformation about climate science over the years but I thought most of it was opinion pieces. In any reputable newspaper, writing that garbage would be a sacking offence and it would never have been published.

    AFAIK, some people even pay to read The Australian – idiots.

    • Nick says:

      Yes,it’s a mystery…there is no lack of interesting science stories in so many fields to cover,to expand on and to involve local scientists in real exchanges. Yet News Ltd chooses to attack AGW with an incredibly feeble warmed-over piece like this. They do not cover science now,clearly…they oppose one branch of it and otherwise write about technology.This from a paper with an often useful education supplement.

      On second thoughts,it’s no mystery at all!….News Ltd has burned its bridges with repetitive wrongness and mis-citing,and Australian scientists will no longer engage with the paper.

  10. `The Australian` deals in Junk News in the same way you-know-who deals in Junk Science.

  11. […] Watching The Deniers: Of Ice Ages, The view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian a… […]

  12. ancall says:

    Bad journalism is far more dangerous than the bad science!. Sure Abdussamatov may eventually be proved right but not on the evidence available today, writing thinly disguised opinion is not a substitute for reporting science.

  13. Mark says:

    Just so as its actually noted somewhere in the hyperbole….Abdussamatov isn’t talking about a return to a full-on ice age, Canada under 100 metres of ice etc.

    He is talking about a return to conditions somewhere between a Dalton and Maunder minimum although over the years I’ve been watching his pronouncements he seems to oscillate between the two outcomes sometimes saying we’re headed for a Maunder style cold (or slightly worse) and sometimes favouring a less confronting Dalton style minimum.

    • BBD says:

      Oh here we go again with Mark and the complete failure to read the words. See above. Read the words.

      Abdussamatov has got the relative scale of the forcings completely wrong.

      First repeat of pretty picture.

      I wonder how many times we will go over the same ground this time?

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know why this is so hard for you. I wasn’t recommending Abdussamatov, I wasn’t suggesting, asserting or in any way supporting the view that he is right. I was merely pointing out that, contra some of the comment here, he was talking about a return to conditions that have applied in the past 500 yrs, not to conditions that applied 20000 yrs ago.

        I think it works like this:
        BBD thinks that thing over there is coloured stark white.
        I suggest that that thing is a sort of grey colour.
        BBD tells me what a fool I am for think that thing is jet black.

        Dill.

      • BBD says:

        What a surprise. Mark once again fails to read the words or even look at the pretty picture before being wrong again, in exactly the same way as previously. Very boring, Mark.

        Let’s try again.

        Look at the pretty picture (data from Feulner & Rahmstorf 2010). Abdussamatov has got the relative scales of the forcings completely wrong. He grossly over-estimates the effects of solar forcing and completely discounts the effects of GHG forcing. There will be no return to the LIA if there is a Dalton or even a Maunder-type minimum.

        Those words again:

        Abdussamatov has got the relative scale of the forcings completely wrong.

        Look at the pretty red and blue lines!

        And Mark, FFS read the words:

        The current exceptionally long minimum of solar activity has led to the suggestion that the Sun might experience a new grand minimum in the next decades, a prolonged period of low activity similar to the Maunder minimum in the late 17th century. The Maunder minimum is connected to the Little Ice Age, a time of markedly lower temperatures, in particular in the Northern hemisphere. Here we use a coupled climate model to explore the effect of a 21st-century grand minimum on future global temperatures, finding a moderate temperature offset of no more than −0.3°C in the year 2100 relative to a scenario with solar activity similar to recent decades. This temperature decrease is much smaller than the warming expected from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century.

      • BBD says:

        I was merely pointing out that, contra some of the comment here, he was talking about a return to conditions that have applied in the past 500 yrs, not to conditions that applied 20000 yrs ago.

        Please quote it because I cannot see what you are trolling about.

        Even Graham Lloyd wrote:

        Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

        You are just trolling, aren’t you?

  14. john byatt says:

    I was somewhat surprised at The Australian’s opinion piece, it finished up thus
    Peter Stott from the British Met Office says there is a strong scientific consensus that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of global warming over the past 50 years.

    “It is misleading to the public that other theories, such as that most of the warming is caused by solar changes, carry equal weight,” he says.

    Scientists have modelled the expected temperature drop over the 21st century due to waning solar activity and found the change is likely to be dwarfed by the much bigger warming effect of greenhouse gases.

    Hansen says improving observations of ocean temperature confirm the Earth is absorbing more energy from the sun than it is radiating to space as heat.

    “This energy imbalance provides fundamental verification of the dominant role of the human-made greenhouse effect in driving global climate change,” he says.

    But Hansen says two fundamental uncertainties limit the ability of scientists to predict global temperature changes on decadal time scales.

    First, although climate forcing by human-made greenhouse gases is known accurately, climate forcing caused by changing human-made aerosols – such as dust, sulphates and black soot – is practically unmeasured.

    Second, it is not fully understood how efficiently heat is mixed into the deep ocean.

    According to ANU climate scientist and IPCC reviewer Andrew Glikson, reduced solar activity is not the answer for lower than expected temperature increases over the past decade.

    Glikson says over recent decades changes in the rate of sulphur emissions constituted an important factor in either slowing down or enhancing global temperatures. But, unlike CO2, sulphur dioxide and sulphuric acid have atmospheric residence times of a few months to a year or two.

    A better understanding of the impact of sulphur and other particle emissions is of interest in Taiwan. Pao-Kuan Wang, a director at the Research Centre for Environment Change, Academia Sinica, says rising emissions from China are a major concern.

    “China will produce so much aerosol that what we will be worried about is will there be cooling,” he says. “How can you predict how China will act?”

    Wang’s colleague, Huang-Hsiung Hsu, says he is not convinced aerosol emissions can fully explain the pause in warming of the past decade, which he believes is more likely explained by natural variability, including known cycles of sea surface temperature.

    “The problem is the present state of climate models is still too simplistic for nature,” he says.

    “The best job you can do is respond to greenhouse gas emissions.”

    google the opinion piece heading to by pass paywall

    the surface warmed by 0.15DegC in ther last decade or just 2/100s of a degree less than the four previous decades, the extra heat went into the ocean. see realclimate the answer is blowing in the wind

    • Nick says:

      The back end of the piece has real content…but the front end is utter tosh. And as for the subbie’s stupid header…

      The decision by Lloyd to structure the article in such a way ironically highlights the matter that annoys Stott: ” It is misleading to the public that other theories…carry equal weight”!

      Lloyd has apparently unwittingly provided a classic example of the very thing Stott criticises…groan

  15. I seldom leave remarks, but i did a few searching and
    wound up here Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of
    ones soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science | Watching the
    Deniers. And I actually do have some questions for you
    if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it give the impression like a few of the remarks come across like they are written by brain dead people?😛 And, if you are posting on additional places, I would like to keep up with anything new you have to post. Would you make a list of every one of your public pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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