Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Why can't we all just listen to Jug Suraiya?

Jug Suraiya, the Times of India's self-appointed humorist and contrarian, takes a hatchet to climate science today. He complains that climate change is treated as an irrefutable "fact". He claims that anyone who tries to question climate change is "immediately branded a destroyer of the planet, a dangerous heretic who should be burnt at the stake" and the "warmists" "will not tolerate sceptics any more than did the Spanish Inquisition".

So what evidence does Mr Suraiya offer against the hypothesis of manmade climate change? None whatever! He resorts to citing "dissenters", but names only two, whom he calls "the most notable" -- but neither of them is a climate scientist. The first is a geologist, Ian Plimer: read about him and his error-riddled book here and here. And his response to being challenged on his facts by George Monbiot is here. And Mr Suraiya's second authority is not a scientist at all, but a journalist, Christopher Booker.

Future climate-change deniers will now be able to cite a third authority, the eminent Indian humorist and contrarian, Mr Jug Suraiya. It is a form of proof by mutual reference.

So here are two things to understand, Mr Suraiya. First: man-made climate change is not an "irrefutable fact". It is a hypothesis for which there is, at this point, an enormous amount of evidence compiled by climate scientists around the world. To refute the hypothesis, you need a significant amount of contrary evidence. Plimer's book does not cut it.

Second: you allege that big money -- "huge money", in your words -- is promoting the climate change hypothesis. In fact most climate scientists work at respected universities and government organisations, on public funding. If you want to follow the money, take a look at who is funding the deniers.


Sunil D'Monte said...

Sigh. He's probably perfect for the general TOI audience, who will lap it up. Just sad.

Rahul Basu said...

Actually Sunil, not so. TOI's science coverage has been generally quite good and fairly mainstream (not too much of Quantum Healing and the like). But I guess Jug Suraiya's article which I saw this morning falls under the humour column, and should therefore be treated as such :)

Anonymous said...

Ah...Thanks for this post! I was waiting for some sensible person to refute Suraiya's uninstructed article.

Daniel, from Cosmic Variance has a nice article on the matter:

"Since this issue has profound consequences for centuries to come, I would claim it is the responsibility of every citizen of the world to educate themselves on the topic. It seems to me that each of us has three straightforward choices:
1. go back to school, get a PhD in climate sciences, and form one’s own informed opinions about what’s going on.
2. trust the experts.
3. trust the fringe.

Note that the fringe consists almost entirely of non-experts. And believing the fringe requires you to be convinced there’s a vast scientific conspiracy, with the willing collusion of thousands of experts around the world."


km said...

Apparently, his blog will take contrarian views on topical and "timeless" issues.

Can't wait to read his refutation of income taxes and death.

//OTOH, there's a commenter on ToI who claims he used to watch Ram Leela wearing a sweater but not anymore and seriously offers that as proof of climate change. Sigh.

Rahul Basu said...

Ah! Contrarian mean flat earth theory, creationism instead of evolution, homoeopathy, perpetual motion machines etc....

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sunil, RahulB: about TOI's science reportage, I suppose TOI is large; it contains multitudes.

Anonymous: thanks for the link. Of course people will believe the fringe, though. Conspiracy theories are so much more exciting, especially when their message is "don't worry".

km - good one.

gaddeswarup said...

Do you have any comments on Freeman Dyson's views on global warming? Thanks.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

GS - Dyson is not a climate scientist either. (Nor am I.) He is one of the greats of physics, but seems to share the arrogance of some physicists that they can understand any problem. He is right that it is extremely hard to model the climate of the earth, but the results have been quite respectable. But the major concern is from observations, not modelling, and those are hard to argue with -- they are carefully done, from many different sources, and all seem to tell the same story.

Anonymous said...

Rahul Basu,

Sorry the ToI has a richly deserved reputation for being the Slimes. The group as a whole has long since abandoned any pretense of professionalism and journalistic integrity. Suraiya is not alone in his support of quackery, Swami Aiyar their economics editor has penned edits in favour of Creationism and Climate Science Denial. There is only one newspaper in India that does serious science reporting - The Hindu - and it stands far above and beyond any English newspaper in the world wrt its science reporting. It is not that The Hindu is staffed by geniuses or some such thing, its editors and correspondents simply work closely with scientists when required. Other publications that generally do well wrt science are India Today and Outlook. Out here in the US science reporting has for long been on the skids. Business publications like Forbes and the Wall Street Journal host quacks by the dozen and The Washington Post continues to make an ass of itself by featuring edits on climate science by such scholars of renown such as Sarah Palin and George Will