Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo

The intelligent and attractive Dr Jonica Newby presented an entire episode of Catalyst recently. Joanne Nova gets hot and bothered and responds with the usual mixture of myths, cherry picking and misrepresentation of science.

Let us ponder a few of Joanne’s comments…

Jonica’s House

Joanne says …

Dr Jonica Newby reckons things have changed since she bought her house. It’s simply unthinkable that the climate now is not exactly the same at her house as it was when she first moved in — way back in the historic year of…  2000.

Jo makes two mistakes here, firstly Jonica actually stated …

I bought this place 12 years ago. And, in that whole time, it never flooded. Nor in the 20 years the old guy had it before me. In the last two years, it’s flooded ten times. …  I wonder if this is Climate Change, a rogue La Nina or just a really rainy year. Has the weather changed in the last 100 years or not?

Jonica’s anecdotal evidence says that during the past 32 years the amount of flooding was unprecedented. Secondly, Jonica specifically asked the question, was it climate change to blame or was it simply one-off weather event. er… rainy couple of years.

Jonica was not stating this was evidence for climate change; that was presented later throughout the show.

Strawman Arguments

Nova says …

Speaking of cherry picking: what about the endless droughts that were predicted, or the dams that would not ever fill again…

This is a strawman argument. The IPCC nor and Australian climate authority predicted “endless droughts”, nor did they say dams would never fill again.

Desalination Plants

Nova continues …

, or the four expensive desalination plants in Australia that are not being used?

With no details, we’re left to wonder which plants she is speaking of. It’s certainly not the one in Perth which Catalyst pointed out was not drenched in rain (unlike the rest of the country). In Perth and Adelaide

By the end of 2012 up to half of Perth’s drinking water in Western Australia, and Adelaide’s water in South Australia will be supplied by desalination as their new desal plants reach full production capacity.

330 Months

Globally the past 330 months (it’s up to 332 now) have all been above the 20th century average. The chance of this being a natural phenomenon, according to Catalyst, has been placed at about 1 in 100,000; the figure coming from a submitted but yet unpublished paper.

Nova complains and says …

So it’s unpublished. Without seeing the paper it’s impossible to know, and there is no pre-print I can find. But even without the calculations we know that to calculate any probability at all, they would have to start with assumptions we know are wrong. … Nonsense assumptions: either temperatures are flat, or climate models can predict the natural part of the current warming trend.

In part I also found the article slightly confusing, but they certainly don’t assume temperatures were flat. That would have the chance being 1 in 2^230, which is far less than the 1 in 100,000.

The attribution of recent warming has been the topic of many scientific papers as pointed out at Skeptical Science.

Tett et al. (2000) – Estimation of Natural and Anthropogenic ContributionsTo twentieth century Temperature Change
Meehl et al. (2004) – Combinations of Natural and Anthropogenic Forcings in Twentieth-Century Climate
Stone et al. (2007) – The Detection and Attribution of Climate Change Using an Ensemble of Opportunity
Lean and Rind (2008) – How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006
Stott et al. (2010) – Detection and attribution of climate change: a regional perspective
Huber and Knutti (2011) – Anthropogenic and natural warming inferred from changes in Earth’s energy balance
Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) – Global temperature evolution 1979–2010
Gillett et al. (2012) – Improved constraints on 21st-century warming derived using 160 years of temperature observations
Wigley and Santer (2012) – A probabilistic quantification of the anthropogenic component of twentieth century global warming

All of these peer-reviewed papers find that Greenhouse Gases are responsible for the recent decades of warming. Natural causes have either contributed only a small amount or have been a cooling influence.

Magical Step Changes

Nova suggests we ignore all peer-reviewed science and instead rely on an unpublished discussion.

As it happens, most of the warming in the last 50 years probably comes from one step change in 1977. Of course, averages after that step up would be higher than those before, and it has nothing to do with CO2.

This explanation breaks the temperature record into two halves with flatish lines either side show “no warming” and a “magical” step in the middle. Somehow we are expected to simply accept that all the warming occurred in one year, for some unknown magical reason for which there is no known explanation. That’s right, ignore the known increase of a gas that has known infrared absorption properties and for which there are multiple lines of evidence showing it is the cause of most of the warming, and instead simply accept that something unknown did it in 1977.


Nova claims …

Howden and Newby don’t even try to name any evidence that man-made emissions cause significant warming. They just assert this is the case.

It’s been known for over a century that CO2 absorbs heat (history lesson for Nova). Climate scientists use the known laws of physics in climate models to understand the amount of forcing provided by greenhouse gases vs that of natural changes to solar and aerosols.


Nova now rolls out the “PDO” argument …

The climate rolls in a 60 year cycle where temperatures warm for 30 years then cool for thirty years, so getting 27 years of above average temperatures would be — not unusual.

Another well debunked myth, but Nova will try anything. If the PDO were to blame, then why are the past 330 months hotter than average and the months from 1920 onwards colder than average? Both were during “warm” phases of the PDO. Although looking at the PDO for the past 10 years, the hottest decade ever recorded, the PDO’s been neutral.

Australian Share Price

The “Twighlight Zone” is briefly entered as Nova comes up with the dumbest logic to date…

As Ken Stewart points out, the Australian share index has also been “above average” for 330 months or more. Is that evidence of “unnatural forces”? If we start with the wrong assumptions, there are all kinds of ways to get 330 meaningless “highs” in a row.

When one is determining whether the planet is warming or not, it makes sense to look at the temperature of the planet. How is that “meaningless”? If you wanted to examine stock market prices, then yes, looking at temperature records would be meaningless. From Nova’s comment, however, we obtain some understanding of her psych; that she is more concerned about creating ridicule or a cheap laugh, than about seriously examining the state of global warming.

Harvest Time

Another insight into Nova’s thinking. She believes her own mind is sharper than Newby’s and condescendingly remarks …

What Newby doesn’t realize is that it’s called “harvesting” because it’s often those who are close to death who succumb to the heat.

I thought this was pretty obvious myself, and Newby was also clearly aware as she stated “Essentially, it means that they were tipped over the edge by heat stress.”.

Winter is more Deadlier

This is funny and when I get more time I must look into it more. Nova argues that we should be unafraid of a warming climate because more people die during Winter than Summer.

Winter kills more people than summer does. If we could make summers warmer and winters less cold, we’d save lives. Is that so bad?

I dare say having less daylight hours might play a part too, however bizarre thing Nova overlooks in this analysis is that climate change will bring about hunger, starvation and displacement through flooding to millions. The difference in deaths between summer/winter of a few hundred is only a tiny percentage of those that will be affected by climate change.

All Grapes are Liars

Nova whines …

And as far as wine goes, grapes in Australia’s south might be ripening, on average, “20 days earlier than in 1985″, but the raw data from the region where The Brown Brothers winery is, shows that global warming hasn’t hit the area.

Nova once again relies on the flawed analysis of Ken Stewart and suggests that despite the physical proof of grapes ripening early, her webblogger friend says the warming is not happening. Vi-no nothing!

Melbourne hit 46.5 degrees

Nova dislikes the use of a few localised new high records that were set and retorts with some of her own (although the equipment used prior to 1910 may not be as reliable).

The main point Nova failed to rebut was that twice as many new high records were being set than low records. As Catalyst pointed out …

In fact, in the last ten years, the number of stations breaking extreme heat records has doubled those breaking extreme cold.

Nova ignores this fact and instead repeats the previous myth about Adjustments.

Urban Heat Island

Yet another myth is repeated …

Not to mention there weren’t too many car parks in the days before cars, and not too many air conditioners, or 6 lane highways either. Does that matter in Australia? We don’t know. It matters in the US and nearly doubles the trend, but no one has done that audit here.

Someone has done an audit in the US; the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team found the UHI effect to be negligible.

Nova plays “Merchant of Doubt” once again,

Jonica Newby and the Catalyst team even showed a Stephenson screen, up close and in detail, presumably to counter those pesky images of thermometers near air-conditioners, but without giving away that there are hundreds of thermometers in dubious locations whose photos are available online. They realize of course that if they mentioned that, people would just Google and find the darn photos.

No need to google, the BOM has a document listing ALL sites listed in the ACORN with photos of each and diagrams mapping out nearby objects such as trees. The vast majority are usually placed in fields, well away from any buildings or trees.


Yet again Nova suggests the BOM unfairly make adjustments to the temperature record, although as discussed before, it’s her friend Ken that makes the mistake of not adjusting when a site changed location.

Don’t mention the skeptics?

Nova complains that “skeptics” didn’t get mentioned.

 So Catalyst was in the awkward position of responding to skeptical talking points, but without mentioning “skeptics” — not by name and not even to allude that they exist.

The show was about facts, not about hysterical, politically motivated webloggers that like to repeat previously debunked myths in the hope to stir up doubt and confusion. Of the next 100 years Newby says … “Well, as you know, in the show I avoid that because I just want to present the facts, as you said. What will stop people in their tracks is don’t conjecture, don’t look to the future.”

It obviously didn’t stop Nova from repeating the usual climate myths.

Weather is not Climate

Nova objects …

Catalyst decided to break the old rule “weather is not climate”.

Climate is the change in weather over a long period of time. Catalyst did not “break the rule”, they were very specific in their opening narrative saying … “Has the weather changed in the last 100 years or not?”.

Something Fishy

Nova suggests that Catalyst believe that the occasional spurious catch of a different kind of fish is itself evidence of climate change and a warming ocean.

They turned everything you see in your own backyard into potential clues that something unnatural is going on. Is it rainier, dryer, hotter, colder, cloudier, or sunnier, and  even “did you catch different fish this year”?

The article started with anecdotal evidence of various fishermen having caught species that are not normally found in Tasmanian waters, but it followed up with (and lists in their references) peer-reviewed science – Long-term shifts in abundance and distribution of a temperate fish fauna: a response to climate change and fishing practices – their results …

Forty-five species, representing 27 families (about 30% of the inshore fish families occurring in the region), exhibited major distributional shifts thought to be climate related.

Nova wishes to trivialise the matter to avoid the topic of a warming ocean. Something she thinks is not happening despite all the graphs pointing upwards.

Feedbacks are Included

Another condescending remark by Nova turns out to be egg on her face …

Poor Jonica Newby doesn’t realize as she talks about the “greenhouse effect” that the physics is not the issue, … it’s clear she has no idea that feedbacks dominate the climate. … If she had, she’d know the debate is not about the physics, but about the feedbacks.

Poor Joanne Nova doesn’t realise the temperature right now is the result of the warming and any short term feedbacks. The increase is from GHG warming, the effect of solar changes, of aerosol usage and of any feedbacks, including clouds which may not be so negative as Nova wishes.

Jonica is looking at the recent temperature increase, as it stands right now. She not making forecasts based on feedbacks or possible climate sensitivity figures. She is looking at the reality of the change that has already occurred.


What motivated Nova to write so much so passionately about this one Catalyst show and spew forth her gish gallop of usual myths? I expect it’s the combination of a few things – A realisation that her opportunity to become a serious science journalist has passed and secondly, having to confront the Catalyst program listing the facts on a topic she is politically opposed to, and presented by someone that has been far more successful in both the practical application of science, and in the presentation to the public.

As H.G.Wells said … “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo”.

5 Responses to “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo”

  1. Nick Says:

    The “magical step change of 1977” is always good for a laugh. Entertaining the idea that this crude statistical ‘artifact’ has any kind of explanatory or contradictory power –or even any rhetorical value–is an admission of stupidity. Jo Nova and out.

  2. Nice One Says:

    LOL @ “Nova whines”. I reckon you could do a whole post based on Lewandowsky and Nova’s behaviour.

    I tried to reply to Jo in her blog, with a link to your “No warming since 2001” post and it was immediately blocked.

    I think Nova goes beyond simple denial, she is actively blocking posting of information that demonstrates she is wrong.

  3. john byatt Says:

    love it, jo nova has just replied to a letter in which i was debating wes allen in the gympie times.
    what a great day i will have, cannot scan it but might get around to a copy

    debating nova without her being able to control the comments will not be to her liking

  4. john byatt Says:

    I have given the site a plug in a letter, reply to wes allen , not yet printed but may go in this saturday
    reference her denial of nearly every scientific finding on the catalyst show.

  5. john byatt Says:

    anything that anybody would like to tell her

    now is your chance

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