Postcards from La La Land: Wishart falls through Thin Ice

ThinIceAllow me to pose a question. Which fearless investigative reporter, magazine publisher and author could be bothered to attend a school showing of Thin Ice, the excellent climate documentary put together Simon Lamb and scientists from VUW and Oxford? And did he stand up at the end and make a fool of himself? Well, by his own admission he stood up and asked questions. Whether he made a fool of himself is another matter, but there’s some handy evidence we can look at…

Any New Zealand reader with a passing interest in climate issues will know that I’m talking about Ian Wishart, a writer with an extensive track record of misunderstanding climate science and a tendency to shout about it from the rooftops. Last week he published a “review” of Thin Ice at his Investigate Daily web site. It was also picked up at µWatts. In this “review” he provides all the evidence we need to decide on his expertise.

Wishart claims that the documentary is “littered with factual errors and misleading statements” and proceeds to outline four “misleading claims” made in the film. The trouble is that what he regards as misleading is what the rest of us might call mainstream science. Here’s a very brief rundown:

MISLEADING CLAIM #1: Antarctic ice cores show CO2 causing temperature increases over the aeons

Wishart takes issue with a description of CO2 and global temperatures as moving in “lockstep” — and tries to suggest that because some warming preceded CO2 increases, CO2 couldn’t be responsible for the warming. He claims the film is “highly misleading”.

It isn’t. Watch Naish describe the role of CO2 during the end of the last glaciation (just one of many excellent background videos available at the Thin Ice web site):

Wishart references a 2003 paper to assert there’s an 800 year lag. Later work, handily summarised by Skeptical Science here, suggests that any lag was much shorter. The basic story — orbital forcing drives ice melt, which drives some warming, causes an initial CO2 increase, which sets up a feedback that drives the rest of the warming — remains true, but the more nuanced picture emerging from current work is fascinating.

The basic truth, as Richard Alley famously put it in a superb lecture at the AGU in 2009, is that CO2 is the biggest control knob for planetary temperature. When atmospheric CO2 increases, global temperatures rise, and vice versa.

MISLEADING CLAIM #2: You can trust the computer models, and they show a three degree increase in temperature but it could be double

Here Wishart attempts to rubbish climate modelling by claiming that the CMIP5 model data “has failed epically to account for the massive slowdown in warming over the past 15 years. In fact, the computer projections ran four times hotter for the period than the actual real observed temperature readings”.

After a record hot year in 2014, and 2015 all but certain to beat that handsomely, one might ask what massive slowdown? But set that to one side — climate modellers have been looking at why CMIP5 model runs appear to have been tracking higher than global average temperatures over the last 15 years or so, and many more papers than the one Wishart draws on for his “four times” assertion have appeared.

There’s a good discussion of a selection of those papers in this post by Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate, including one he authored which looks at what happens when you take into account the actual climate forcings over the last 15 years — what actually happened to the El Niño Southern Oscillation, volcanic activity, aerosols and solar activity over the period instead of the assumptions built into the model scenarios.

Here’s a graph of the results, helpfully updated by John Abraham to last month:


As you can see, current temperatures are tracking along inside the envelope of all “forcing adjusted” model runs — with the year-to-date right in the middle. Not much sign of exaggeration there.

MISLEADING CLAIM #3: CO2 is responsible “for most, or possibly all” global warming

This section of Wishart’s “review” is — not to put too fine a point on it — unphysical wibble. Apparently, ocean cycles are responsible for all the warming we’ve seen since the 1970s. All the heat was deposited in the oceans 800 years ago during the Medieval Warm Period, and is only now emerging to cause CO2 levels to rise. Don’t believe me? Here’s Wishart:

…peer-reviewed research from an IPCC-accredited research team […] essentially says the world’s temperatures since the 1970s have been driven not by CO2 at all, but by heat stored in the oceans. By definition, given the oscillation timescales, the heat emerging from the oceans in the 1970s must have been placed in the oceans decades, or even centuries earlier. Again, this means it cannot be related to human CO2 emissions.

There are so many things wrong with this statement, and with the understanding of physical reality on display in this whole section of his review that it would take a much longer article to deal with them all. Suffice it to say that brief exposure to some introductory climate texts, and a bit of basic oceanography would be helpful to anyone tempted to follow Wishart down his long dark rabbit hole of confusion.

MISLEADING CLAIM #4: The West Antarctic ice sheet is melting because of human CO2 production

According to Wishart, ice loss in West Antarctica has nothing to do with CO2-driven warming of the oceans, but is all down to volcanic activity under the ice sheet. “The volcanoes should have featured in Thin Ice. They didn’t, the documentary is simply not credible”, he thunders. Sadly, Wishart is the one with the credibility problem.

As scientists explore the West Antarctic ice sheet, drilling cores and taking measurements, they are indeed discovering that regions of the underlying rocks are geothermally active. There are some volcanoes, and some have certainly erupted violently in the past. But this is geology we’re talking about.

Volcanoes and geothermal regions don’t come and go every few hundred thousand years — they tend to stick around for millions of years. The WAIS volcanoes have seen ice ages come and go — been buried under miles of ice or open to the air or ocean — many times over the last million years. In terms of climate, they’re more or less permanent fixtures. The heat we’re discovering under the ice sheet has been there all along.

In other words, unless you can point to a sudden increase in volcanic and geothermal activity over the last 20 years, you can’t account for current ice loss that way.

We have measured warming oceans, seen ice shelves collapse, and we can send submarine robots under ocean-terminating glaciers to see what’s going on. The experts, the people who actually go to Antarctica — the scientists featured in Thin Ice, no less — look at the evidence and follow where that leads. It doesn’t lead them to volcanoes, it leads them to warming oceans.

History repeats

Most, if not all, of the above misunderstandings of basic climate science were on show in Wishart’s 2009 climate book Air Con, as I showed in my review at the time. If you can be bothered trawling back through the Hot Topic archives (start with some of the links under the review), you’ll see that Wishart aggressively defended his interpretation of climate science, but only succeeded in digging himself ever-deeper into a pit of misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Six years on, it would seem that he’s still ploughing that lonely furrow.

In one respect, however, Wishart’s take on climate has moved on. In Air Con, climate change was a scam put together by a cabal of evil green activists and scientists funded by socialist billionaires and the UN. A recent Wishart book, Totalitaria — which he assiduously plugs in his Thin Ice “review” — apparently1 digs further into the background and “uncovers” that the whole thing is orchestrated by an occult group who worship Lucifer and control the UN.

Oh dear. La La Land is in trouble.

  1. This review at Muriel Newman’s web site provides a handy plot summary, of which this is just a small section:
    These Theosophists oversaw the design of a global education policy designed to “raise consciousness” of nature worship and the spiritual relationships between humanity and nature, and to cause hostility to Judeo-Christian theology among young people.

    The purpose of raising consciousness was really to hasten the return of the Coming One/Satan through an increase in planetary vibrations, Wishart wrote.
    Conspiracist ideation anyone? []

6 thoughts on “Postcards from La La Land: Wishart falls through Thin Ice”

  1. Movement Conservative – and Wishart in particular – seem to operate by the maxime that when you lie, you migh as well make it extreme and outrageous to highten its impact on the mind. A legend that is far removed from reality is harder to disprove by reason and facts than a slight exaggeration. This is why thousands of years old religious stories still hold the minds of large parts of humanity captive in their fary tale reality despite the progress of science and reason. Unfortunately humans have the tendency to want to believe in myths and Wishart is all to happy to dish some up to feed the gullible underbelly of his right wing audience.
    Propaganda at its worst.

  2. Just had an interesting exchange with Mr Wishart on Facebook. He is spruiking his latest magnificent octopus, which claims that Vitamin D is the cure for just about everything, and that sunscreen is, you guessed it, a massive conspiracy by Big Pharma. Funny how everything is a conspiracy for Mr Wishart. Anyway, I warned the people posting a link to his stuff that they should take everything he says with a pinch of salt, and he turned up huffing and puffing and demanded that I name three things that were factually wrong in Air Con. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. So I gave three examples, and he replied with links to “back” his story – two of them to his own books including Air Con (yes, really, his evidence that Air Con is good science was… Air Con), and one to Steve Goddard’s latest bout of cherry-picking of Arctice Sea Ice statistics. Not exactly credible science there.

    The best bit – and I swear I am not making this up – is that he claimed his latest Vit D book is peer-reviewed, because, wait for it, wait for it – two people have posted customer reviews on Amazon!!! One of them was from William Grant, the nutjob World’s Leading Research Scientist on Vitamin D who was the main source of material for the book.

    1. One sometimes wishes perhaps for the good old days where dimwits and their crazy conspiracy quack quack would be ending in the dustbin of book and magazine editors as it should because their writs were unfit for investment by the publishers. These days any crazy geezer with time on their hand and a laptop can self-publish whatever tosh they want and feel oh so great when they get their check from Amazon every month.
      Mixed with a sizeable population of equally dimwitted “customers” who journ to believe in pseudo crap rather than science fact, humanity is on the sad and sorry road to lala land.

  3. CTG,

    I haven’t read Wishart’s book on vitamin D, but there is an immense number of peer reviewed studies showing vitamin D has strong protective effects (not cure) in preventing a range of disorders from type I diabetes to cancer. If William Grant is the same as WB Grant, then he has published a large number of papers in PUBMED in good quality journals and doesn’t state anything out of the ordinary or without good evidence. That said it is possible that Wishart might have over-hyped and not properly understood what vitamin D can and cannot do. Wishart’s main problem is that he cannot distinguish between good or bad quality science and he tends to have an over-inflated sense of his own ability to interpret it.

    1. Yes, Vitamin D is a very useful thing, but there is a lot of debate as to whether it should be used as a dietary supplement, as the Vitamin D Council says, or whether people should focus on obtaining it naturally through exposure to sunlight. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the scientific literature about that.

      It’s Wishart’s approach – that D is the cure for everything (as opposed to having protective effects), combined with his nonsensical conspiracy theories about sunscreen that I am skeptical of.

  4. Ian Wishart and climate change. The whole thing can be summed up with the word idiotic. There’s not much point in going over it all again, and Gareth has covered the whole thing perfectly well. Wishart should stick to murder mysteries, and entertaining people with his conspiracy theories.

    I use a multi vitamin and mineral supplement, just at a normal dose.The evidence on whether it achieves anything is still very mixed, but my reasoning is it probably does more good than harm.

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