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Why research beats anecdote in our search for knowledge

By Tim Dean

Originally published on

UNDERSTANDING RESEARCH: What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? We begin today by looking at the origins of research.

It is comforting to feel like we understand the world around us and reassuring to have an explanation for everything. But where does our understanding come from and how reliable is it?

Certainty is seductive, so we tend to cling to it. We hunt for evidence that buttresses it, while ignoring or rejecting evidence that threatens to undermine it.

How does it all work?
Flickr/Helga Weber, CC BY-NC-ND

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The Australian is at it again – and climate deniers hear voices

The Australian newspaper has spent the last week dispensing more misinformation about climate. It all started with a claim from climate ‘sceptic’ Jennifer Morohasy accusing the Bureau of Meteorology of fudging temperature records. Graham Readfearn has the details and, in an amusing tale of a radio interview, shows just how reliable Morohasy is:

Climate change conspiracy theories and the ABC radio interview with John Cook that never was.

The Bureau has replied to the accusations here: Bureau of Meteorology Media Statement – Climate Records.

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Here we go again – more misinformation on climate from Graham Lloyd and The Australian

From The Carbon Brief:

Scientists lambast The Australian for misleading article on deep ocean cooling

28 Jul 2014, 13:50| Roz Pidcock

Lloyd cooling


An article in Friday’s The Australian suggested brand new research by two eminent oceanographers casts doubt on scientific understanding of global warming. But the authors of the research have taken the newspaper to task for its coverage of their work.

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Why would anyone ever trust The Australian on climate change (or any Murdoch media for that matter)?

Anyone with any degree of scientific literacy has long given up on The Australian, but it’s good to know that there’s wider recognition of the abysmal state of its climate reporting.

The Australian Press Council has upheld complaints about The Australian‘s reporting on climate change in September 2013. The series of misleading articles started with Graham Lloyd’s article “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, published on pages 1 and 6 on 16 September.

The APC ruling contains this instructive paragraph:

The Council has concluded that the erroneous claim about the revised warming rate was very serious, given the importance of the issue and of the need for accuracy (both of which were emphasised in the editorial that repeated the claim without qualification). Although based on another publication’s report, the claim was unequivocally asserted in The Australian headline, “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, which also implied the IPCC had acknowledged the alleged error. The impression that the claim was correct was reinforced by The Australian saying the IPCC had been “forced to deny” that it was in crisis talks.

Graham Readfearn has the full story at DeSmogBlog.

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Trusting the experts

Let’s check the science: How can I decide which experts to trust on scientific issues? 

Most of us can’t hope to fully understand every scientific issue that impinges on our lives. Even scientists at the pinnacle of their own fields are novices outside those fields. Nearly always, we must turn to the opinions of experts in the field which concerns us. But how do we decide who to trust, who is the real expert? The world is full of pretenders who are eager to persuade us that they have discovered the indisputable truth on issues from cosmic consciousness to the secrets of perfect health. How can you judge who is really an expert?

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Monbiot: How you measure the depth of our problem: by our inability even to discuss it

h/t to uknowispeaksense.

Original article at George Monbiot.

Ostensible oppression of opposing opinions – claims of rights violated.

If I accuse you of using red flag tactics, am I denying your right to free speech?

How to recognise this tactic

In this tactic, people insist that their right to express their opinion, or their right to free speech, is being denied. This is their reaction to having their opinions dismissed, rejected or ignored by mainstream scientific forums. They refuse to accept that their opinions fail because they do not meet the standards for publication in those forums.

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Want to do something about paywalls preventing your access to articles?

If you like doing your own research and are constantly frustrated when you can’t get access to articles without paying, here’s a hopeful development.

The Open Access Button Project wants to change all this. Here’s the pitch from their website:

 Sign up below to get the Open Access Button, a safe, easy to use browser bookmarklet that you can use to show the global effects of research paywalls – and to help get access to the research you need. Every time you hit a paywall blocking your research, click the button. Fill out a short form, add your experience to the map along with thousands of others. Then use our tools to search for access to papers, and spread the word with social media. Every person who uses the Open Access Button brings us closer to changing the system.

Seems like a worthwhile project to me. You can sign up for the button on their home page, and help with funding as well.

(Hat-tip to Tania Browne at The Guardian)


For those of us in Australia, here’s a very incisive cartoon by Peter Broelman from today’s APN newspapers.

Peter Broelman

dollars over planet any day…

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For Tony Abbott – An intelligent conservative’s view of climate change

Paul Douglas

When I talk to groups and individuals I tell them the truth: it’s good to be skeptical. In a day and age of hackers, scams, media spin and political lobbyists people should be skeptical – it’s a necessary self-defense mechanism these days. And then I remind them that the most skeptical people on the planet are scientists. Science is organized skepticism. The fact that thousands of experts agree on not only climate trends, but the triggers (burning of fossil fuels) is extremely significant.

Paul Douglas, meteorologist, registered Republican, and entrepreneur.

Read more of what Paul Douglas has to say here: Republican Meteorologist & Entrepreneur: Debating Cause of Climate Change is Moral and Scientific Equivalent of Debating Gravity at Global Warming: Man or Myth?

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