Peter Ridd and the penalty for dissent.

At the end of September last year, 2018, LibertyFest held a conference in Brisbane, Australia. One of the speakers was Professor Peter Ridd, latterly of James Cook University (a.k.a. JCU) in Queensland, Australia.

Ridd had been in a spot of bother with JCU, and here he is speaking about it.

Oh what a shame! He’s reading it.

I don’t necessarily blame him, because he has probably been instructed at some stage in his life that he should script his speeches: there is still a lot of that nonsense taught. But you only have to home in on the little asides when his eyes lift from the script and the man is actually talking with us, as distinct from regurgitating something he wrote earlier, to appreciate the lift in quality. He has an appealing personality, and that bloody script is hiding too much of it.

To make this speech shootable from the hip could not be easier. It consists of autobiography mixed with scientific data with which he has worked for years. Everything here, if he were answering questions in an interview, he could rattle off effortlessly.

Nevertheless it is still an absorbing story of how an academic hears and reads lies published about his specialist subject, and has the temerity to say so. As a result his university tries to gag him and when that fails it fires him.

I have had, for some weeks, this speech in my stock of to-do material; and what caused me to dig it out now was reading recently in the press that the court had awarded Dr Ridd $1.2m against JCU in damages resulting from unfair dismissal. JCU is appealing the judgement.

We are repeatedly told that the catastrophic alarm attached to climate change is shared by 97% of climate scientists. Awkward bastards like me check the data and of course find that the assertion is garbage. You are actually hard pressed to find a single climate scientist, not dependant for salary, mortgage, and/or pension on conspicuously toeing the line, who agrees with the alarm. But even without our checking the data, stories like this must raise everyone’s suspicion of the claimed consensus. How genuine can be consent when this is the penalty for dissent?

Mark Steyn makes me LOL

The Heartland Institute’s Tenth International Conference on Climate Change on June 12, 2015, had a keynote speech from Mark Steyn.

I include Mark Steyn on this blog every couple of years or I start suffering from withdrawal. The man is great listening, because he’s opinionated, articulate, and funny. I marvel that the first time I covered a Steyn speech here I castigated him for reading it. I knew then that he didn’t need to (no one needs to) but I hadn’t yet seen him shooting from the hip or, if I may mix my metaphors, spreading his wings and flying. I have now, very many times; in fact the speech we’re watching today was eventually chosen from three over which I spent an enjoyable afternoon agonising.

Actually if I’m going to be desperately picky, and I get desperately picky only with speakers who are desperately good, Steyn does have a script – or at least notes. The difference though, since his first appearance here in March 2013, is that he now writes it in spoken, as distinct from written, English. What’s more he has perfected his technique to the point that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

He has a few speaking mannerisms, like that of repeating his phrases a huge amount, but I’m prepared to bet that without my pointing it out almost no one would notice. It’s my job to spot such things, so I do, but I always tell my trainees the same about mannerisms. If you are interesting/entertaining/absorbing enough no one will ever notice. Steyn’s interest/entertainment/absorption is far more than enough, and that’s another reason that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

And he’s funny! He’s laugh-out-loud funny. He really knows how to do it, and let’s not belittle that skill: it is hugely difficult. Steyn can write funny as well as speak funny, and that’s an unusual combination. A central plank of his spoken comedy is that he doesn’t try to do it all the time, when he does he plays it straight-face and throws it away. Throw-away is a wonderful comedy technique, because it doesn’t pressure the audience by begging them to laugh. Nevertheless it is not speaker-proof: it still needs expert timing, and he has that timing.

At one point – and I won’t spoil it by telling you where – Steyn uses his script as a comedy prop. It’s hilarious enough for me to forgive him the script.

And anyway, though a few years ago I could have easily had him throwing his paper away, if he came to me today I would tell him not to bother. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it certainly ain’t broke.

Jay Lehr sits on no fence

On 29 October the Science Director of the Heartland Institute, Jay Lehr, delivered a talk at the AM 560 Freedom Summit in Chicago. He was always going to be forthright: his published headline reads, “There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence proving mankind has affected the climate on a global scale.”

With my trainees, apart from nuanced subtleties concerning structure and so on, I drum into them that ultimately they simply need their audience to leave the venue knowing absolutely and unambiguously what you intended them to hear. Here we have an example of a speaker successfully aiming at precisely that target.

Ah yes! His opening reminds us that he is speaking a week and a half before the US Presidential Election.

I have made the point previously in this blog when the subject of global warming came up that sceptics tend to show their workings, and alarmists tend to show their skill at name-calling. Having covered speeches from both sides of the debate, I have found conformity to this rule to have been astonishingly consistent. It was this that first raised my suspicion of global warming. I remember noticing several decades ago in the school playground that name-calling was a substitute for reason, and I have found that true in a wide variety of fields ever since.

Lehr shows his workings. He churns out statistics almost incontinently. They tend often to be ballpark statistics because he is shooting from the hip, and in this setting statistical precision is not particularly relevant. He is practising a technique that I call tactical omission. By making assertions without always substantiating them, he gets more of them in; likewise statistics that are broadly correct. There is a Q&A session after this talk, and if anyone wants to challenge anything he has said, you can bet every thread on your shirt that he can substantiate his assertions and fine down statistics to several decimal places, but he’ll be doing it in the questioner’s time not his own. It’s a useful tactic.

Also it becomes clear that he is talking to an audience that is not overburdened with scientific knowledge, so his arguments and parallels are couched always in lay terms. Scientists might be tempted to scorn this speech for this reason, but I wonder whether they’d dare debate him face to face?

This is another facet of the climate issue that attracted my attention some years ago. Sceptics repeatedly challenge alarmists to debates, and alarmists use an hilarious range of excuses to duck out. What has kept the ridiculous thing going, even though a baby born the last time there was any warming is now old enough to vote, is political pressure and the lobbying of vested interests on a scale that is eye-watering. The climate change industry is one of the largest in the world, but even if the planet does warm it will be infinitely cheaper to cope with it when the time comes than to pretend that we can do anything about it now. Never has there been so much energy worthy of a better cause.

Since this speech the US have elected their new President, and he has indicated that he plans to dismantle the American contribution to this industry. He doesn’t have to do much. If the taxpayer simply stops subsidising it, the industry will collapse on its own. Like many I am nervous of Trump, but if he finally lays this climate nonsense to rest posterity will bestow on his legacy plaudits more noble than anything Obama can claim. For instance it could unlock untold potential by awakening the sleeping giant that is Africa, kept sedated all this time by expensive energy.

Anyone who has followed the climate issue for any time will find little new in this speech, but I love the forcefulness with which he puts it across – not least in his exploding the preposterous 97% consensus fiction which never anyway withstood more than a few minutes examination. I see that he does a lot of speaking. I’m not a bit surprised.

Matt Ridley reads royally

On 17 October, at the Royal Society in London, Matt Ridley gave a talk that was widely publicised both before and after. Everyone knew that he would be discussing climate change, and adopting a position which would challenge much of its orthodoxy.

This should not be out of the ordinary at the Royal Society which was founded for the purpose of sceptically examining and debating matters scientific, and indeed has a motto – Nullius in Verba – which exhorts it not to take anyone’s word for anything. The trouble is that in recent years the Society had appeared to have become politicised into toeing the establishment line on climate change, and showing to any dissent a level of intolerance which shamed its distinguished history. Therefore the news that this talk would be happening was greeted with eyebrows either raised in surprised and delighted approval, or lowered into shocked disapproval, depending upon the political persuasion of their owner.

Ridley is preceded by Lord Lawson, chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who first offers well-deserved thanks to the Society for having withstood pressure from “fanatics” in holding this event. Then he introduces Ridley, describing him as “the leading scientific writer in the world today”. Ridley’s flattered astonishment at this description is fun to behold. Lawson also describes this talk as a ‘lecture’. This is a significant word because it literally means a reading, and a reading is indeed what we get.

I know, because he has been on this blog twice before – here and here, that Ridley absolutely does not need a script when he speaks. I tell my trainees that those who have learnt to speak without script or notes, but occasionally have to use them, treat those two impostors just the same, coping much better than those who clutch their paper like a drowning man does driftwood.

Ridley could easily deliver this talk with only occasional glances at his script, but he chooses slavishly to read it. Let’s look at the likely reasons.

Timing. It looks as if this is a 40-minute slot. Ridley actually speaks for a little over 36 minutes, allowing enough time for Lawson’s introduction and also a brief word of thanks and conclusion from Benny Peiser. This is courteous, professional and rare. There are some who could hit that sort of precision without the aid of a script, and Ridley may be one of them, but he has other reasons to read.

His slides. Working with a script enables him to change his slides bang on cue every time. It is safer and more precise.

The Press. You may think that I’m about to point out how, with this controversial subject, he has to watch his wording very carefully to minimise his exposure of being vilified by unfriendly reporters, and obviously there is something in that, but actually the issue is far more mundane. With a speech whose profile is as high as this, it’s a fairly safe bet that the press will have been given a transcript. Therefore he has to stick very close to that transcript. Like verbatim.

I suspect he would have preferred not to have read from a script. It robs him of spontaneity, and makes him prey to those rather lame stumblings that you can get when you read aloud. But he really has no choice.

I usually recommend just one technical adjustment to his modus operandi. Rather than turn over each page of the script, it is a little safer to slide each sheet to one side. This is the system habitually used by Chancellors of the Exchequer for their Budget speeches. It is more hazardous beforehand, because the sheets cannot be fastened together by anything more permanent than a paperclip (so you must number your pages), but provided the surface of the lectern is big enough it tends to be a smoother process. Nevertheless from what I have seen of Ridley, I suspect that he uses his system out of choice rather than ignorance of the alternative.

This lecture is historic, being a rare exception to the one-sided barrage of indoctrination that for years we have been fed by the media. It took place very much at the point of a sword, with alarmists fighting ferociously to try to prevent it. Benny Peiser, in his short concluding address, expresses the hope that it might pave the way for an actual grownup debate between adherents of the opposing climate change opinions. What a wonderful thought!

I shall not hold my breath. For years alarmists have fought to suppress debate, offering not arguments but name-calling. Nevertheless we can hope.

Philippe Sands and climate dissent.

Canadian investigative journalist Donna Laframboise has been publishing on Big Picture News, her blog, a series of articles showing how the international establishment is working to silence free speech on the subject of climate change. The latest of these articles, Silencing Dissent via the Courts, described a lecture by Philippe Sands QC at the UK Supreme Court last week. Laframboise suggests with some justification that Sands is seeking to make it internationally unlawful for anyone to express an opinion on climate change that is contrary to the Establishment line.

Personally I am alarmed that lawyers get involved with the expression of any opinions – particularly scientific ones. If someone wanted to question the existence of gravity, for instance, I’d be outraged if a court tried to stop him.

In the case of climate change this lecture looked to me like just another precursor to the attempted United Nations power grab that the December climate conference in Paris will represent. If the proposed treaty goes through the world will, for the first time, have an unaccountable global supranational power ruling over it. And that’s not a crackpot theory, but documented under UN imprimatur. Climate change has been an extraordinarily convenient instrument with which the UN has been able to crank up its grip on world affairs over the past twenty years. That is why politicians and prelates pronounce their conviction at a volume that varies in inverse proportion to the validity of the evidence. The UN is become the fountainhead of authoritarianism.

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming began as a tenuous theory, backed up by little more than computer models making predictions. The globe has refused to cooperate with those predictions. You would be hard pressed to find a single one that has been realized by actual events, even though we are already a long way beyond the computers’ projected timetables. Taken from official data, there has been no increase in global temperature for nearly nineteen years, no abnormal rise in sea levels, no reduction in net polar ice, no increase in severe weather patterns, and five times as many polar bears as when I was a boy. That is not to say that the theory is necessarily wrong, but it does increase what have always been serious doubts. Let us see to what extent Philippe Sands QC acknowledges those doubts.  He begins at 8:05

If you are a lawyer you may find this riveting. If not you may not. I am not a lawyer. The etymology of the word ‘lecture’ decrees it to be a reading. This is a reading. The quality of Sands’ delivery notwithstanding, the people in the room seem to be staying awake; but I would rather be at home with a good book – or even a bad one.

After some preliminary niceties he begins with an account of some meeting some years ago in the UN whereat the islands of Palau were making a noise about imminent submerging under rising sea levels. Interestingly, although he does discuss in detail the legal ramifications of all this, he never actually tells us whether sea levels were rising or have since risen or whether the islands have in the mean time gone on their own sweet way. Having just googled them I can tell you that the indications are the last.

And this sets the tone for the entire lecture. Nowhere does he actually supply any hard evidence to support the climate change theory, merely protesting in impenetrable legalese that international courts have no proper influence over the matter.

The nearest he comes to evidence is an extended argumentum ad verecundiam beginning around the 17 minute mark. He extensively quotes the IPCC. As far as I could tell he quotes no actual data.

The Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change was founded in the ’90s under the auspices of the UN. Let us note the words ‘climate change’ in its name. Why is that significant? Because if there is no climate change there is no IPCC. Its existence and a large number of taxpayer-funded jobs depend upon a presumption encapsulated in its name. Over the years several venerable scientists have left it, protesting that they have been misrepresented. Nevertheless, though independent organisations sent in to audit its work have been critical of its being a political rather than a scientific body, the IPCC has produced five assessment reports, each accompanied by a summary for policymakers. The latter begins life as a draft produced by the IPCC and is then for several days subjected to phrase-by-phrase editing by a huge international panel of political beings ensuring that the summary follows the political narrative they wish to pursue. Therefore what began as a political bit of purported science becomes further politicised out of all recognition. And that’s the authority that Sands quotes. Again I say argumentum ad verecundiam, and pretty shoddy verecundiam at that.

At 43:00 Sands says, “the room for real doubt has disappeared”. He is a Professor of Law. I wonder what terminology he would deploy to tell a student, whose research was as shallow as quoting a single and interested source, that he’d been inexcusably idle.

He continues till 56:22; and essentially he has called for the International Court of Justice via the evidence of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be granted extraordinary powers over matters of scientific opinion, in order to facilitate the signing of a treaty in December which would give the UN unaccountable powers that no body – elected or otherwise – has ever had before.

Both the ICJ and the IPCC are UN bodies. All are impervious to the wishes of any electorate. What was it someone once said about absolute power?

Anthony Watts – a tale of two paces.

On 12 June, 2015, at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington D.C. the Award for Excellence in Climate Science Communication was presented to Anthony Watts.

I need tell you nothing more about this because the award presentation was eloquently preceded by a speech from Tom Harris, Heartland Institute’s Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition.

Harris has a very relaxed, user-friendly style of speaking. Yes he uses a script, but he piles bags of his own personality into the delivery. If he’d been a trainee of mine he wouldn’t need the script, and he wouldn’t – standing at the lectern – have joined in the applause for Watts. As I’ve said before in this blog that’s one of those rare things that feels right and looks wrong, and the microphone makes it sound wrong also. I’m being picky because this is a well conceived, warm and generous tribute to Watts.

Watts comes to the stage at the 7-minute mark and collects his award. He then gives us several minutes of thanks and tributes. Aside from his also applauding from the lectern, if you have to do an extended thankfest (and sometimes you do) this is the way to do it. There’s no shallow, Oscar-style stuff, thanking the family, the dog, and the teddy bear, these are all professional peer-to-peer tributes. Only the names are on his paper. The actual tributes are shot from the hip, with the sincerity that that implies.

At 11:10 he announces a new project. For a reason that will shortly become clear I want you to note the excellently measured pace with which he shoots this section from the hip.

At this conference he also delivered a talk.

He begins by announcing that there is a shortage of time, and then sets off like a rocket. Allow me to quote myself from a recent blog article

Speaking too quickly to save time is essentially futile. Let us look at the mechanics of it. The actual words are not articulated significantly faster: the speed is in the closing of the gaps between words, in particular the natural pauses between phrases and sentences. I reckon everyone who has ever edited speech-audio has tried to save time by closing these gaps, and we’ve all done it only once because we’ve learnt the painful lesson. It doesn’t work! It’s a mug’s game: you slave for hours trimming these things, turn around and find that you’ve saved just a few lousy seconds.

Never speak too fast in an attempt to save time: take out a sentence or two instead. Otherwise your words and sentences can tumble over each other faster than the listener can absorb them.

To save time Watts should have removed something. That would have been a hellishly difficult thing to do because this stuff is so important; but the importance of the information is why he should have trimmed something out. He is addressing an expert audience, so they’ll follow it because they probably already know it; but most of the value of this talk is in educating the world via publishing the video on line. The speed of his talking will turn people away, and squander a valuable opportunity to educate more of the world.

Anthony Watts at the beginning of this posting received an award for communication. Quite right: his online contribution is matchless. In accepting the award he showed how well he can communicate with a live audience. And now he clearly shows how much his communication skill can be damaged by the apparently small mistake of having too much to say in too little time.

An important lesson for us all.

Christopher Monckton exposes motives

On 27 April 2015 there was held, in Rome, what was called a ‘prebuttal’ to the Vatican’s Climate Summit on the following day. A substantial collection of leading independent scientific experts was assembled to convey a simple message. All the empirical data show that there is no climate crisis.

In my previous posting we covered a speech by E Calvin Beisner, addressing the theological arguments in general and in particular how the world’s most poor were the biggest losers as a consequence of the policies being pursued by the proponents of this fictional crisis. Today we look at a speech by Christopher Monckton at that same conference. He is addressing the motives behind those policies.

Monckton opens with a tribute to other speakers at this conference. If you wish to see them go here.

Because he can use humour well, Monckton is often tempted to play the Court Jester. Being good at humour is not the same as being a stand-up comic, and too often he dies. This conference deals with very serious matters. Monckton plays it dead straight and my word but he is a good speaker!

I first became interested in this subject very many years ago. What grabbed my attention was that only one party in the argument actually argued. The sceptics always showed their workings, drawing attention to the data. The alarmists too often merely made unsubstantiated assertions and indulged in name-calling (argumentum ad hominem). The sceptics regularly challenged the alarmists to debates; and the alarmists ran away and hid behind argumentum ad verecundiam or argumentum ad populum. This last intrigued me quite early. The level of persecution meted out to dissent, called into question the genuineness of consent. I dug behind the ‘97% consensus’ claim and looked at the original survey. The ‘consensus’ was phony: a shameless piece of data manipulation. The same data that claimed 97% support could make an equally strong case for 97% against.

I am not a scientist, but I quickly developed a system for myself whereby I checked what data I was able to understand, went and found credible scientists who were saying what I had found, then I followed them. They were the ones showing their workings and they weren’t calling the opposition names. They were the sceptics, and what they said has shown to be correct. I learned that yes, carbon dioxide has a greenhouse effect but it is minuscule. The ‘crisis’ was based on what was never more than a tenuous theory which has collapsed. None of the alarmists’ projections has materialized. You could have been born since there was any measurable warming and now be old enough to vote. Alarmists’ assertions can today withstand not even cursory scrutiny. It’s so easy that I was puzzled that more didn’t do it. Or did they? Not everyone could be fools: some had to be knaves who were authors of the fiction or went along with it for base motives. And were those motives actually base? It took me time to get answers that I could check, and what I found chilled the blood.

And that is what this speech is about.  We don’t see Monckton’s slides, but I am not sure we need to.

I think we need to be afraid.