There are a few stories doing the rounds of the clash on live Australian TV between UK Physicist Brian Cox and the Climate change denying senior Australian politician, Malcolm Roberts, so let’s take a look and see what happened.
The background here is that Mr Roberts had earlier issued a challenge for anybody to show him evidence that the human production of carbon dioxide is causing the earth’s climate to warm. Brain Cox took him up on that, and so here is how that played out on Australian TV’s Q&A Program on 15th Aug a few days ago …
00:00 It starts with an audience member putting the Climate Change question out. The moderator then asks Brian to comment. He proceeds to do so.
03:22 Malcolm Roberts is then asked to comment. He then touts the usual myths … our records don’t go back very far, warming from the 1700s to the 1800s was higher, and of course tosses i the old favourite that there has been no measured warming for the past 21 years!! … all of it is nonsense and all of it has been robustly debunked.
04:15 Brian jumps in, “I’ve brought the graph” and holds it up … audience cheers. He then proceeds to explain using the graph how you can cherry pick specific points to make this fictitious 21 pause look real.
05:21 Malcolm also tries to use the graph to claim that the 1930s and 40s were warmer than the current decade. Clearly the graph does not show that (Brian simply points to make that point clear). Malcolm that starts to cast doubt upon the accuracy of the graph.
05:55 Panel moderator jumps in and asks Malcolm if he is dismissing the interpretation of a highly qualified scientist and is stating that he simply does not believe it. (Audience vigorously claps in response to that being a good question to challenge him with)
06:00 Malcolm responds and explains that he is saying two things … “First of all the data has been corrupted” … Brian jumps in and asks “What do you mean by corrupted?” … Malcolm, “Manipulated” … Brian, “by who?” … Malcolm, “NASA” (Audience laughs at the absurdity of this claim)
06:20 Moderator chips in and tells the audience, “It’s all good and well to laugh, but we do want to hear what is being said”.
06:33 Malcolm then proceeds to claim that Steve Goddard has shown that the NASA figures has been fudged. He then moves on to expand the claim by adding that the bureau of meteorology (an Australian organisation) are also part of this fudging of the numbers.
Let’s pause for a second. You will be wondering who Steve Goddard is and what is this claim about him revealing that NASA fudged the numbers. You can read about that here and discover that it is all wholly bogus BS, and that even other climate deniers think Goddard is wrong …
The claim was dismissed by Politifact.com, which rated it as “pants on fire”—its lowest possible rating. Politifact contacted Berkeley Earth energy systems analyst and environmental economist Zeke Hausfather, who told them that the problem with Goddard’s analysis was that it ignored the changes the network of U.S. weather stations had undergone over the last eighty years.Goddard’s claims were also criticized by fellow climate skeptic Anthony Watts, who argued that his assertions of data fabrication were “wrong”, and criticized him for using absolute temperatures rather than anomalies in his analysis.
OK, let’s return back to the clip …
06:58: Brian is clearly highly amused, as is the audience, by the weirdness and absurdity of the claim being made that this is a NASA conspiracy.
07:30 Brian points out that the Australian bureau of science have done a brilliant job of laying out the facts, holds up a copy of their report on the topic and labels it superb. Tells Malcolm that he will give him a copy so that he can read it.
08:20 Another panellist, an Australian government minister, is invited to comment on the accusation that he tried to stop an investigation of a coverup to hide this conspiracy. He proceeds to explain that as a government representative they take the best possible advise from the experts, both local and international. He is saying rather a lot of very sensible stuff.
10:00 Another panelist is asked to comment. She cannot believe that they are still having this conversation. “We should be moving on and discussing how we are going to address this”.
11:41 Malcolm claims that the prevailing consensus is not science!! … Brian leans over and hands him the documentation saying “here is the evidence” (audience loves this and claps) Malcolm responds with a generic Richard Feynman quote.
12:48 Another panelist jumps in and starts talking to the young people in the audience. She proceeds to lay out what is actually happening.
14:15 Brian starts to talk about how we know and how we measure. Malcolm tries to claim that the models are wrong, but Brian replies, “Well no, you can check them against the recent past and they do quite nicely” … “If you don’t model it, then how can you go about trying to answer the question?”
16:10 Malcolm keeps claiming that the models are hopelessly wrong and have been proven wrong … “And that’s a fact”
Another pause from me for a quick fact check … nope, that is not a fact, it is just a myth.
17:00 Brian starts presenting more statistical data (clearly he came prepared)
18:10 Moderator asks the Government minister on the panel, “Will you still continue to trust the models”. He replies, “Sure, of course we will”
… and at that point they move on to a new question on some other topic.
If you have time I recommend watching the full 20 minute clip, it is quite entertaining.
Why are there people like Mr Roberts?
It is fascinating that Malcolm Roberts is sure that he has the science and the evidence, and is wholly convinced he is right. He sticks to his stance basically because not only is this his entire career but it also defines his life. He is the founder of a climate denial group and so to permit the real evidence to convince him would wipe out both his credibility (within his own mind), but also his career – he is trapped. In order to retain his emotional investment in all this, he simply rationalises away anything and everything that conflicts. Maintaining his specific stance is a primary psychological driver that far outweighs actually discovering what is really true.
Comments under the various clips and articles on this specific debate deploy terms such as “stupid” or similar to describe the stance taken by Mr Roberts. This is not about human intelligence, or a lack of it, instead it is about how cognitive biases can kick in and blind us to the things that are really true. Mr Roberts is truly sincere, but he is also sincerely wrong, and is quite determined to maintain that degree of wrongness. This is not because of any compelling evidence, but despite it.