Miranda's Devine hocus pocus

There’s an Australian journalist called Miranda Devine who writes for the Sydney Telegraph. Last month she wrote a piece titled, Climate damage doomsdayers have led to a surge in hocus pocus ideas. If you can’t be bothered reading the article, I can tell you that in it she argues that climate scientists are responsible for the drop in vaccination rates by affluent people. This seems to me like a very strange connection to make especially since there is already an established cause for the drop in vaccination rates which is a discredited study linking autism with the MMR vaccine. Here is the evidence that supports placing the blame on this study –  The MMR vaccination and autism controversy in United Kingdom 1998-2005. Miranda Devine did not provide any evidence for her accusation.

It is a reasonable question though, to ask how much faith the general public places in science and scientists. In particular, it would be interesting to know exactly what impact the hacking of personal emails belonging to climate scientists has had on trust in science by the general public. Fortunately for me, a Harvard study conducted in 2008 and 20091 has done exactly that. It found that levels of trust in scientists declined significantly following the email scandal. But that the loss of trust was primarily from people who identified themselves as having strongly conservative views. The authors write,

People are not dispassionate consumers of information. Instead, their motivational states—their values, wishes and preferences-influence what information they pay attention to, how they evaluate data, and the conclusions they draw (31-34). As a result, people are often inclined to accept data and interpretations that appear to validate their prior views. They may search for any evidence that their preferred conclusion is valid and stop once confirmation is found. By contrast, people tend to view with suspicion data that contradict their preferences and beliefs. They give greater scrutiny to and look for reasons to reject the validity of contradictory claims (35-37). Because most real world bodies of evidence-and certainly those related to climate change—have flaws, inconsistencies, and ambiguities, people motivated to accept or reject a claim can often find at least some grounds for doing so.

Before going any further, I want to add here that there have since been eight major investigations into the email hacking scandal and not one of them has managed to find any evidence of scientific misconduct or fraud2. It looks to me like the loss of trust in science as a result of those emails is unfounded.

Let’s get back to Miranda Devine’s assertion that loss of trust in science has caused vaccination rates to fall. If this were the case, we would expect to see a drop in vaccination rates following the release of the hacked emails. I can check this information at WHO. The vaccination rates for Australia look very stable over the last decade. There is a small drop in the measles vaccine in 2008, which was before the email saga so this cannot possibly be the cause. Then in 2009, at the beginning of the email controversy, the measles vaccination rate begins to climb again and continues to do so every year thereafter. So not only is there no decrease after the email hacking, there is actually an increase. But even if we had seen a fall in vaccination rates, it would still be wrong to attribute cause and effect for no reason other than one occurred after the other. This is a logical fallacy.

Miranda Devine also makes the claim that although carbon dioxide emissions have soared, the temperature of our planet has remained unaffected. I’m not sure what part of global mean surface temperatures she thinks has remained unaffected…

source: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/

…because it looks to me like the temperature has risen dramatically. Some people might say, that at the very end of the graph above, there is a slight downwards gradient. Yes, I can see that in the red line, but I can also see that over the last hundred years or so, there are periods when it has gone up and down but the overall trend is still the same: UP.

Global mean temperatures are also just one part of global warming.

This is what’s happening to Arctic sea ice:

source: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

Ice mass in Antarctica:

source: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/20100108_Is_Antarctica_Melting.html

Ocean heat content:

source: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/

The world’s glaciers:

source: http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Glacier_Gallery

Sea levels are rising:


In addition to all of this, we know from temperature records, that so far each year of the 21st century has ranked in the hottest 14 since records began in 1880.

Miranda Devine goes on to say that climate scientists are engaged in propaganda and that they have corrupted science for idealogical purposes. While I think it is perfectly reasonable to take issue with a piece of scientific research or a particular paper and to clearly and logically explain why you think it is wrong or incorrect, it is another thing altogether to label an entire field that consists of thousands of scientists from all over the world as corrupt, and to then blame them for low vaccination rates. It just makes you look rather like a conspiracy theorist yourself. Based upon the unsubstantiated and untrue claims in her article, the only hocus pocus I can find is all of her making.

1. Climategate, Public Opinion, and the Loss of Trust

2. Climate research email controversy