Profile: Professor Michael Ashley
Science, by its very nature, is never 100% settled, says physicist and astronomer Professor Michael Ashley in an open letter to the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and while no scientist would criticise someone for making this obvious point, there are times when the basic facts in a scientific field become so well tested that, for all foreseeable purposes, they are settled. Examples are the physical laws of gravity, the basic theory of evolution, and also the fundamental physics of greenhouse gases that lead to significant climate change in response to unmitigated emissions.
In Sydney Morning Herald (19 March 2010):
An open letter to Mr Maurice Newman, Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Scientists are fairly measured in their public statements. Years of training instils a care with words, and avoidance of value judgements. Well, sod that, I’m angry.
What has me fuming is your speech last week to ABC staff in which you accuse your senior journalists of “group-think” in favouring the scientific consensus on climate change. You refer to “a growing number of distinguished scientists [that are] challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer reviewed research” and you claim that these poor folk are being suppressed in the mainstream media.
Who are these distinguished scientists? I don’t know of a single credible climate scientist who doubts human-induced climate change.
The “skeptical scientists” who are quoted in the media almost invariably have few to no publications in the field and are often in the twilight of their careers. Their “theories” are illogical, incoherent, and inconsistent. Yet far from being suppressed by the media, they are given extraordinary access and are regularly asked to comment. Worse, they are usually portrayed as experts – regardless of their lack of expertise in climate research.
You can easily prove me wrong, all you have to do is name just one scientist who has published a viable alternative theory in a credible science journal, that hasn’t since been debunked. I bet you can’t do it.
You quote your own political reporter Chris Uhlmann as saying:
“Climate science we are endlessly told is ‘settled’ … But to make the, perfectly reasonable, point that science is never settled risks being branded a ‘sceptic’ or worse a ‘denier’”.
Sorry again, but this is a classic straw man argument. Science, by its very nature, is never 100% settled, and no scientist would criticise someone for making this obvious point. That said, there are times when the basic facts in a scientific field become so well tested that, for all foreseeable purposes, they are settled. Examples are the physical laws of gravity, the basic theory of evolution, and also the fundamental physics of greenhouse gases that lead to significant climate change in response to unmitigated emissions.
Rather than criticising your ABC for “group-think”, you should be praising them for being one of the few media organisations in the English-speaking world that has largely avoided being suckered in by the pseudo-science being pushed by the climate change skeptics.
The only black spot is when the ABC is forced to provide “balance” to the “debate” by giving publicity to people who aren’t skeptical in the good sense of “healthy skepticism”, but who are basically deniers of incontrovertible scientific evidence.
To provide true balance, the ABC should instead be giving airtime to where there is truly informed disagreement: the many expert climate scientists who think that the IPCC has seriously underestimated the likely future rate of climate change.
You see, Mr Newman, that’s actually the real “debate” going on in climate science right now. The rest is all huff-and-puff and grubby politics and – unlike the journalists and program-makers you criticise for “group-think” – it is you who have been fooled.
Michael Ashley studied physics and astronomy at the Australian National University and the California Institute of Technology. He is currently a Professor in the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales, where his main research interest is in making astronomical observations from the Antarctic plateau. His research has led him on four occasions to the US Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, and, with his colleagues at UNSW he has developed robotic instrumentation that can operate unattended throughout the Antarctic winter. He has studied the physics of climate, but insists that “if you want the best scientific advice on climate change, don’t ask me, ask the experts who publish regularly in the top journals”.