Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Garth, Jim, but not as we know it

You probably don't need me to tell you that there's been a wee bit of climate change denial - sorry, disagreement - in the Herald recently, mostly centred on the person of Garth George. I've written enough about his views on the climate, but I really had thought that we could ring-fence the issue, preferably by literally putting a fence around him.

Unfortunately, the virus has spread to a place you may never have suspected. I've never understood the point of Jim Hopkins; he's the 'funny man' of the opinion page, but I personally find his writing so interminably self-indulgent - and not in an interesting and droll Steve Braunias way - that, until now, I had never managed to read one of his columns end-to-end. But he's wacky! He goes where serious commentators can't, using the tool of satire to throw the high-and-mighty from their perch! He writes satirical poetry and puts it in his column! And he wears red glasses!

Crazy. Here goes Fridays column, entitled "Dodgy science gets us all off the hook":

We've seen two examples of monetary muckiness recently. In one case, already touched upon, an author embellished his text with words that weren't his own - a hanging offence for students writing a thesis but not, apparently, so grim for those who teach them.

The other concerns a gaggle of Newton's heirs, scientific geezers beavering away, recording data, analysing statistics and reporting only what is provable and true.

Except these crooks haven't. They've cooked the books. They've lied.

They've falsified the facts to induce needless panic and alarum in the bosoms of the groundlings. Along the way, they've blackened the reputations of others who challenged their conclusions, whilst earning for themselves great renown and large amounts of dosh.

When did this happen? Hopkins regales us with examples: the Piltdown Man was a hoax! Of course, the 'discovery' of the Piltdown Man was 'made' by an self-styled 'amateur archaeologist', and before too long actual scientists had shown it to be a fake. Moving on...

But these egregious boffins have done more than remind us that the purest of research is prone to the corruptions of ambition and income. What they've done is wilfully attempt to influence public opinion - and political outcomes - around the world.

For these data-bodgers weren't investigating the mating habits of the Lesser Crested Gobsnot. No, they were climate scientists. Or, more precisely, pseudo-scientists, twisting the truth to produce results which they and their employers desired.

As some playwright said, "ay, there's the rub". I like to think I'm a reasonably skeptical person, but that has limits. It's one thing to say that the structure of modern science institutions - Nobel prizes, Royal Societies, publications in Nature - might alter incentives to a point. It's another thing to say that a vast conspiracy of nearly every climate scientist in the world is trying to destroy the planet, with the result that Jim Hopkins has to turn his lights out when he leaves the room. But here he goes:

What's been revealed, although without enthusiasm by our credulous media, is that an influential cabal of researchers in England and America colluded to mislead us yobbos, perhaps so we'd more readily accept draconian measures like flatulent ETSs and the flying of kaumatua to Copenhagen. [Ah, throw some casual racism in there, excellent.]

A single email, one of many leaked by hackers and reprinted in the Guardian last weekend, proves the point: "I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

"Mike's trick?" "Adding in?" "Hide the decline?" Such words warrant only the opprobrium of their author's peers. But no whistles were blown on this gravy train. Instead, these co-conspirators acted as warm-mongers, shouting "Fire" in the scientific theatre although they knew there was no blaze.

This has all been dealt with by far more qualified people on the internet and elsewhere already, but let's look at these three shameful phrases with a more charitable eye:
  • "trick": The art, knack, or faculty of doing something skilfully or successfully. (OED)
  • "adding in [the real temps]": "Would you mind adding in the flour to the cake mix?"
  • "hide the decline": Maybe, you know, it's an apparent decline - like hiding a mirage.
Even if, of course, this email does flag an egregious violation of scientific ethics and procedure, you would think that it would discredit the scientists involved, and perhaps make us a little more skeptical of the science in general. But that's not enough for Jim Hopkins:

This is wonderful news, folks. Truly, it is!! As Madoff was to money, these cons are to climate. They've given sackcloth and ashes such a bad name no one will want to wear it.

Because we now know all this hand- wringing, finger-pointing, cringing, wimpish, guilt-inducing "We're to blame and it's killing the planet" palaver, embraced as a new religion by countless control-freaks, wowsers and old, bewildered hippies is based on totally dodgy data.

It's bollocks!! The "facts" are a crock!! Whoopee!!! Send those pseuds a huge bunch of flowers and a note saying, "Thanks for letting us off the hook."

See, the interesting part of this is that he is so over the top that, even at this stage of the article, I couldn't tell whether he was going to get to the end and say, "But anyway folks, this is all a ridiculous non-controversy that I have skewered with my pointed wit See you next week."He couldn't possibly be trying to argue that these emails mean that climate change isn't happening. Could he?

Because we are. You may not believe it yet - and certainly most journalists won't. "Where there's muck, there's money," definitely applies in their industry. It feeds on the apocalyptic. And global warming was the KFC of disasters, a cataclysm so yummy no scribe could resist it.

Especially since the usual suspects; big business, Uncle Sam, globalisation, flash motor cars, fast food - all things most journalists instinctively dislike and wish to demonise - were allegedly the root of the evil.

[...] So it will take the scribes some time to overcome their addiction. "It won't happen overnight," as Witi would have it, "but it will happen". And when it does, look out, for the wrath of the writers will be swift and savage. No one suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous reporting more intensely than a fallen angel.

What does that even mean? Just because you wear red glasses doesn't mean you don't have to make any sense. In a sense, Hopkins is worse than Garth George. At least the latter doesn't dress his rubbish up in purple prose - he's just a man who tells it like it is, or at least like it was in the 1950s. You don't have to untangle metaphor after turgid metaphor to work out that he's not keen on male homosexuality.

Lucky then he's only published every fortnight.


  1. I used to think that Hopkins was merely not funny, but his latest demonstrates that he has the same minimal reasoning power as George or any number of people who claim "common sense" is on their side.

    So, private e-mails exchanged between climate scientists contain short-hand phrases, disparaging comments about dissenting scientists and other non-scholarly language. Big fucking deal. Hack into any mail server and compare the personal views of individuals with the crafted face of the insitution.

    Twats like Hopkins and George don't understand that doing science is hard. Nature is complex and pulling cause and effect out of real measurements is tough going. Their inability to understand the science isn't evidence against it.

    The most pathetic aspect for me is that Hopkins (presumably) thinks that thousands of climate scientists would risk their careers and professional reputations by engaging in a vast conspiracy for... what, exactly? A chance to attend another conference with other spotty scientists? Except for a few notable entrepreneurial exceptions, scientists don't do it for the money.

  2. At first it sounded like it was going to be a satirical piece - that would take the piss out of the sheer desperation that must be involved in taking a few emails completely - and immediately - out of context to "prove" a conspiracy.

    I should have known better though... as Mark A said, "Jom Hipkins" (urrgggh... see what he did there??) just isn't that good.

  3. Nice a piece about science that also makes fun of Witi Ihimaera and the Maori party. It's nice to know that post colonial stress can also extend to climate change. I guess the high point of his article for me was Jim saying: 'For these data-bodgers weren't investigating the mating habits of the Lesser Crested Gobsnot. No, they were climate scientists', 'lol' Lesser Crested Gobsnot, BRILLIANT?! Where does he come up with this stuff, surely with wit like this Oscar Wilde will never be dead... but he is, and that makes me sad. Running with the theme of melancholy, the low point was his analogous point that tasty fresh and delicious KFC is a kin the global warming.

    Dear Jim, dont mess with the colonel or I will shank you inmate styles.

  4. That dude should totally go out with Sally Jessy Raphael.

  5. oh dear. "Discusting Ignorance" comes to mind. What sanctimonious drivel from someone who's understanding of the scientific method and ability of critical thought is apparently paramount to that of a 4 year old. Plus, Hopkins just isn't as witty or as funny as he seem to think. My favourite is when he says normal words in quotation marks, such as "science", "scientist" and "fact" as though these are merely constructs of the 'conspirators' made to trick us...just like "gravity" and "plate tectonics", or perhaps "outer space" and "the sun".
    What a knob end.

  6. his poetry is worse

  7. That dude totally *is* Sally Jessy Raphael.

  8. I think they're doing a daily "Climate change is hogwash" opinion piece. Today it's Mike Moore's turn with "Scepticism is far healthier than a cooked plate of greens".

    Apparently anyone who even considers *thinking* about climate change possibly being man-made is completely hysterical - according to MM anyway.

  9. Did anyone else notice MM has a look about him like George dubuya Bush did when he thought he was on to something truely insightful? Apparently the insight is likening the Spanish Inquisition to the Green Movement?? Another 'clever' opinion piece writer from the Herald. Sigh.

  10. Editing the Herald is shitDecember 1, 2009 at 6:19 PM





  11. ...I wonder if there's been a study done on the link between caps-lock yelling and brain damage?

  12. Jim Hopkins is a has-been, a person now neither Witi nor remotely funny, trying desperately to drum up attention for- (shrug) something.
    It would be kind to let him go away and shrivel up in a dark corner somewhere-

  13. It's amazing people won't even try to understand what's being said, but then again I suppose that's the point of being a denialist: you deny even what's in front of your eyes...!

  14. I honestly couldn't tell reading his column if it was satire or meant with a straight face. Which means it failed either way, really.

  15. What I've been wondering recently is why the Herald seems to put all the 'climate denialists" into the comedy slots - eg Jim Hopkins, Garth George, Deborah Coddington, the weird smoker at the end of Friday Business...

    Most of the other articles that deal with climate change take the science at face value (notably, in the reprints form the Economist in the Business pages). Is it some kind of perverse psychology where they feel that they have to include anti-science pieces, but let the comedians so it so that they've got plausible deniability when challenged? Or perhaps that's the joke?

    The sad part is that these comics actually seem to believe the rubbish they're writing - and as others have pointed out they're not even very funny when they get on this bandwagon.

  16. You know, I've had the exact same reaction to Jim's columns as you. I've tried to read them a couple of times, but I just can't wade through them. It must be edgy humour for 60 year olds.

  17. Edgy humour for those whose brains have long since passed on. Hopkins is a totally talent and brain free zone. Why the Herald continues to employ such a complete no talent idiot completely eludes me

  18. Oh I don't know, when I saw him at age 10 in a small rural town's celebrity debate I found his off the cuff comments funny. Maybe the comedy impact of the red glasses may be more apparent in a celebrity debate?