Sources of climate misinformation

Where does Craig Kelly get his information?

I think most of Craig Kelly’s climate change posts are badly mistaken, but he doesn’t just make that stuff up. He gets it from somewhere. But where does it come from? And how reliable is it?

Here’s an assessment of four sources of information that he has used, three individuals and one organisation.

Here’s what I found

Conclusions are only as good as the information sources they are based on. All four of these sources of information are good communicators who present well. But their work doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

In every example I investigated, their work was tainted by mistakes and fallacies:

  • ignoring data and cherry picking the information they used, or
  • claims not justified by the evidence, or
  • misrepresenting data, or
  • inaccurate data, or
  • inaccurate or mistaken analysis, and
  • ignoring the large amount of data and expert analysis available.

Because these sources are not reliable, Mr Kelly’s claims based on them are generally mistaken.

Summaries of my assessments

Dr Jennifer Marohasy

Craig Kelly has made a number of posts alleging dodgy practices at the Bureau of Meteorology. He says BoM has been deleting and altering records to press the climate alarmist agenda. (For example, posts on 10 July 2020 and 12 September 2020.)

These claims parallel, and seem to be based on, the writings and website of Dr Jennifer Marohasy, an Australian biologist who has been employed by a conservative “think tank” which opposes established climate science.

I have examined several key claims made by Dr Marohasy, and found that broadly they don’t have merit.

  • Dr Marohasy’s analysis of how BoM corrects and “homogenises” temperature records is at best inadequate and at worst totally mistaken. She appears to be unaware of several key principles of data collection, she makes many unsupported assertions and accusations, she has carefully chosen data that can be made to appear to be erroneous, and she has not shown significant mistakes on BoM’s part.
  • Her assertions that the 2019/20 bushfires were not the worst on record were mostly unjustified. Out of four claims I checked, only one was correct. Several of her claims were based on wrong data, or no data at all.
  • Her joint paper on predicting global temperature, which claimed to show that natural causes rather than human-caused increases in greenhouse gases, was bad science. The methodology seemed biased towards the answer they were looking for, the data was not fully representative and there were some serious mistakes.

Critics suggest her poor analysis and unjustified conclusions result from determined opposition to the science of global warming and action on climate change which prejudices her methods and conclusions. It is hard not to agree.

Tony Heller

Tony Heller is an American teacher, geologist and computer engineer who has a conservative blog (Real Climate Science) and a YouTube channel. His videos are well made and have a quiet sense of authority. Craig Kelly’s posts of 12 September 2020 and 9 October 2020 used some of his work.

Unfortunately, when I investigated, I found Tony has a bad track record for accuracy.

  • In 2008, while writing for another website, he criticised the observation that Arctic ice was diminishing. But it turned out he was basing his claim on counting pixels on two photos, and he hadn’t counted accurately. The website had to publish an apology.
  • In 2009 he made statements about carbon dioxide freezing which weren’t consistent with climate physics. Again the website had to apologise and Tony was removed from the writing team.
  • In 2014 he alleged US Government agencies had “dramatically altered” US temperature records to make global warming appear worse. But it turned out his analysis was seriously flawed. He appeared not to understand how to calculate weighted averages.
  • In 2015 he accused the Washington Post of being part of the “climate fraud mafia” when it reported the melting of an Arctic glacier. But Tony had misread the satellite photo and The Post was correct.
  • In a 2019 video he gave four illustrations of government agencies hiding data to draw wrong climate change conclusions. But every claim is misleading. He cherry picked data, mistakenly compared different types of data, ignored physical explanations of observed changes and drew conclusions that misunderstood the issue.

As more data is gathered and climate science has become more reliable, it is harder to contest. It appears that Tony has resorted to conspiracy theories to “explain” why scientists come to different conclusions to his.

Heartland Institute

The Heartland Institute is an American conservative “think tank” and lobby group founded in 1984. In the past it actively opposed the medical consensus on the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Tactics included making misleading statements about the evidence, finding whatever medical “experts” they could find to make a contrary statement, and under-stating the risks of smoking.

It seems that Heartland has recycled these dubious tactics in opposing climate science – exaggerating scientific disagreement, highlighting occasional errors and anomalies that don’t change the conclusions of climate science and quoting one scientist as if that single view could outweigh the vast consensus that Heartland doesn’t quote.

Once it resorted to tasteless billboards which said a notorious murderer supported climate science. The Institute said: “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

It seems that the Institute’s influence is waning as financial support from the fossil fuel industry dries up. But Craig Kelly has still used some of its writings, for example in posts on 21 November 2020 and 28 November 2020.

Bjorn Lomborg

Bjorn Lomborg is a Danish political scientist and statistician, and one of the highest profile opponents of climate science and action. Craig Kelly has used his ideas in several posts, including those on 17 October 2020 and 5 January 2021.

Bjorn says he agrees that the world is warming, but believes the effects are over-stated and can be managed better than at present. But I have found many of his statements to be misleading or worse.

  • In a 2020 video, Bjorn claimed the 2019/20 summer bushfires were not the worst on record. But he ignored most of the data that showed they were indeed the worst on record, and based his claims on a misuse of the data on area burnt.
  • Experts have reviewed his books and papers and claimed he habitually misuses data:
    • cherry picking – selectively choosing the data that seems to support his ideas while ignoring data that doesn’t;
    • mis-interpreting data;
    • using incorrect data;
    • making false claims.

Bjorn Lomborg speaks with confident assurance and seems to be reliable, but it turns out that (in the words of one expert reviewer), he has “a long track record of being an unreliable and inaccurate source of information about climate change”.

Garbage in, garbage out

Conclusions are only as good as the information sources they are based on. I wouldn’t want to use the word “garbage” to describe the information provided by Dr Marohasy, Tony Heller, Heartland Institute and Bjorn Lomborg, but the principle of this computer adage applies.

Once there were genuine doubts about some fundamentals of climate science, but it seems that time is long gone. Climate change denial now seems to rely on misrepresentation of the data and accusations of fraud and conspiracy by thousands of scientists. It is past time for the critics to examine themselves and their motives.

Mr Kelly bases much of what he writes on unreliable sources. If he reads these sources and ignores the majority of expert climate scientists, his conclusions are going to be unreliable and easily dismissed.

If ever a claim of his seems convincing, we have good reason to suspect it may be based on inaccurate information made to look reliable.

Read more

I have written up the details of my investigation into these four sources of information:

Photos (clockwise from top left): Dr Jennifer Marohasy, Tony Heller, Heartland Institute and Bjorn Lomborg.

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