Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When is a Non-Expert an Expert? When he is in Denial

I am constantly gob-smacked about how denialists are elevated to the level of Uber-expert when it happens that their view coincides with the denialists one. You see this trick over and over, a selected repetition of the accolades of the pet denialist to add gravatas and authority to what ever they say next. Take the example of Nils-Axel Mörner who is introduced as...

Sadly, the media is not inquisitive enough to report those who question the circus acts of climate change. ... Nils-Axel Morner - a leading world authority on sea levels - wrote an open letter to the president telling him that his stunt was "not founded in observational facts and true scientific judgments". Morner is a former professor who headed the department of paleogeophysics and geodynamics at Stockholm University and past president (1999-2003) of the International Union for Quaternary Research commission on sea level changes and coastal evolution. INQUA was founded in 1928 by scientists who aimed to improve the understanding of environmental change during the glacial ages through interdisciplinary research. In other words, the Swedish professor has gravitas when it comes to sea levels. Alas his letter did not make headlines.

Boo hoo! Poor denialists. All they have is a tiny handful of media outlets such as Fox News (part of the Murdoch empire and the largest US cable news channel) and the Dail Mail (2nd largest UK tabloid). But, lets play the game; let's be 'inquisitive enough' to ask why 'his letter did not make headlines'?

A quick search on Google Scholar for Prof Morner shows that as a retired academic he has not published any peer reviewed papers for a while; from my quick search, since the 70s. Also as a geology professor he has published nothing on sea levels. So, could it be that he is not a world authority of sea levels? It seems so. Next we look to the credibility of the man himself we find he is a "dowsing expert". Yup, another magickal-denialist. Whatever you think of dowsing; it an't science. Kind of takes away from his 'gravitas'? Yup. Here's what hocus-pocus debunker James Randi had to say on the issue;

Morner was tested -- amateurishly -- on a prominent Swedish TV show, "The Plain & Simple Truth," on TV2 on February 27th. Morner was first provided the opportunity to brag about anecdotal successes, then he was tested. A local celebrity -- a singer -- was involved, as is usual with these drearily predictable affairs. The singer chose one of ten cups under which to conceal a packet of sugar. He chose number seven; are we surprised? Morner had designed this test, saying that it was especially difficult for him to do. (???) He said that water or metal could be located "right away," but not sugar. Morner blathered on about "interference" and mumbled about "influences" and "might be here" and the usual alibis, then chose number eight. Wrong. But, said Morner, it was "in the right sector!" But no cigar.

There were 3 serious errors in what could have been a good test: One, the target was not selected by a random means. (3 and 7 are the most-often-chosen positions in a line-up of 10.) Two, an audience member could have secretly signaled Morner. Three, Morner was allowed to do a test of his own choice, one that he said in advance was difficult and strange for him, instead of doing one which he'd done before, for which he has claimed 100% success. Why were water and/or metal not used? This is ridiculous!

So to 'journalist' Janet Albrechtsen who wrote the original drivel article where she fanws over Morner; Scepticism is good to have but it needs to be "in the right sector!" i.e. applied to all, else you're a denialist. So no cigar.

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