The Australian – Michael Ashley reviews Ian Plimer's Heaven + Earth

The Weekend Australian publishes a dismissive review of Ian Plimer’s book Heaven and Earth which has all the usual alarmist ingredients, in the following order:

  1. ad hominem attacks (despite claims to the contrary);
  2. choosing one isolated fact and then trying to discredit it;
  3. extrapolating ingredient 2 to the entire book;
  4. ignoring the main arguments completely; and
  5. hints at censorship.

So firstly to ingredient 1, where the reviewer, Michael Ashley, a professor of astrophysics at UNSW, firstly associates Plimer with a bunch of scientific weirdos, then looks to the argument from authority to discredit his work:

ONE of the peculiar things about being an astronomer is that you receive, from time to time, monographs on topics such as “a new theory of the electric universe”, or “Einstein was wrong“, or “the moon landings were a hoax“.

The writings are always earnest, often involve conspiracy theories and are scientifically worthless.

One such document that arrived last week was Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth.

Before reading any further, I examined Plimer’s publication list on the University of Adelaide website to see what he has published in refereed journals. There are a scant 17 such papers since 1994, two as first author with the titles “Manganoan garnet rocks associated with the Broken Hill Pb-Zn-Ag orebody” and “Kasolite from the British Empire Mine”. Absolutely nothing on climate science.

Tick in the box (and, P.S. nothing in yours either, although there is a hilarious photoshopped image of a binary star system rising picturesquely over Sydney…). Moving on to ingredient 2. The reviewer has chosen a minor issue, covered in about half a dozen pages, and attempts to discredit it, in preparation for using it to discredit the whole work – and what does he choose? Measurement of CO2. All I can say, is that if this is the best the reviewer can come up with, it’s weak as hell:

To appreciate the errors in Plimer’s book you don’t have to be a climate scientist. [That’s fortunate, because you aren’t – Ed] For example, take the measurement of the global average CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. This is obviously important, so scientists measure it with great care at many locations across the world.

Precision measurements have been made daily since 1958 at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, a mountain-top site with a clear airflow unaffected by local pollution. The data is in excellent agreement with ice cores from several sites in Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of scientific papers have been written on the topic, hundreds of scientists are involved from many independent research groups.

Plimer, however, writes that a simple home experiment indoors can show that in a week, CO2 can vary by 75 parts per million by volume, equal to about 40 years’ worth of change at the present rate. He thinks this “rings alarm bells” on the veracity of the Mauna Loa data, which shows a smoothly rising concentration.

Actually, what Plimer says (if the reviewer had bothered to read it) is that measurement of CO2 is notoriously difficult. It was originally carried out by a careful chemical test (the Pettenkofer method) which accurately revealed the atmospheric concentration of CO2. This was abandoned in 1959 for a quick and dirty infra-red spectroscopy test, which has never been validated against the Pettenkofer method:

The raw data from Mauna Loa is “edited” by an operator who deletes what may be considered poor data. Some 82% of the raw infra-red CO2 measurement data is “edited” leaving just 18% of the raw data measurements for statistical analysis.

Some infra-red equipment has a cold trap to remove water vapour. However, CO2 dissolves in cold water and some CO2 is also removed. These other gases are detected and measured as CO2. Gases such as CFCs, although as parts per billion in the atmosphere, have such a high infra-red absorption that they register as parts per million CO2. Unless all these other atmospheric gases are measured at the same time as CO2, then the analyses by infra-red techniques must be treated with great caution.

The IPCC’s Third Assessment Report of 2001 argued that only infra-red CO2 measurements can be relied upon and prior measurements can be disregarded. The atmospheric CO2 measurements since 1812 do not show a steadily increasing atmospheric CO2 as shown by the Mauna Loa measurements. The IPCC chose to ignore 90,000 precise CO2 measurements compiled despite the fact that there is an overlap in time between the Pettenkofer method and the infra-red method at Mauna Loa. If a large body of validated historical data is to be ignored, then a well reasoned argument needs to be given. There was no explanation. Just silence.

Seems a perfectly reasonable questioning of the accuracy of CO2 measurement techniques to me. This is only a side issue, yet it is the focus of the review. The reviewer then moves on to ingredient 3, the extrapolation to the entire work:

Incredible as it may seem, this quality of argument is typical of the book. While the text is annotated profusely with footnotes and refers to papers in the top journals, thus giving it the veneer of scholarship, it is often the case that the cited articles do not support the text.

All these ideas are so wrong as to be laughable: they do not offer an “alternative scientific perspective”.

If a reviewer dismisses something so casually, he should at least have the courtesy to provide explanations. But there are none.

Moving on to ingredient 4, the ignoring of the main arguments. The IPCC claim that the present “warming”, which has ceased since about 2001, is a direct result of anthropogenic CO2. Plimer uses the remaining 490 plus pages of the book to demonstrate that climate change is related to thousands of other factors, and has taken place for billions of years without man’s help, and that the anthropogenic signal (if there is one) is simply lost in the noise. Where is the reviewer’s response to that? Nowhere to be seen.

Finally, ingredient 5, hinting at censorship of publications which do not support the “consensus” (always remembering of course that science isn’t about consensus, but politics is…), because they do a “disservice to science”. And just to finish off, yet another ad hominem for good luck:

Plimer’s book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken [see note below – Ed].

Unfortunately for you, Prof. Ashley, the publishers can’t print copies fast enough!

Read it here.

Note: For those that may not know, Immanuel Velikovsky proposed that that Earth has suffered catastrophic close-contacts with other planets (principally Venus and Mars) in ancient times. Erich von Daniken is one of the key f
igures responsible for popularising the
paleocontact and ancient astronaut hypotheses. So you can see how offensive it is for the reviewer to link Plimer’s work with this genuine “pseudo-science”.


  1. paul brunner says:

    Spot on – Prof. Ashley’s remarks are written proof of why more and more people are climate sceptics. If this is an example of his scientific analysis, no wonder so many of us think we are being led uo the garden path. For many other examples of being led up the garden path by the scientific establishment, he should read Christopher Booker/Richard North’s ‘Scared to Death’

  2. Morry Weiskop says:

    This post needs to be published in the Australian. I’m sending a letter to the ed saying so.

  3. Simon from Sydney says:

    Good luck – I won’t be holding my breath!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Looks like Michael Ashley will be having more to choke on…the new book Air Con by Ian Wishart is apparently launching here this coming Friday, having debuted at #1 in its first week onsale across the Tasman.

  5. barking toad says:

    The hippies have been clutching at straws for a while now.Ashley’s comments confirm the straws are getting very short.

  6. Norman W says:

    Very good comments. I was disappointed that The Australian published this very undistinguished review by Prof Ashley. Ian Plimer is a serious academic who has written a well researched book, and his views should be taken seriously.Ashley’s biased and unsubstantiated attack justifies some of Plimer’s claims about the lack of scientific objectivity of some Climate Changers.

  7. the little skeptic says:
  8. Magnificent takedown. Funny how the alarmists are always careful to pick out the one sceptic they think they can paint as a fringe nutter. But when the alarmist establishment go looking for a hired gun to debate or review the sceptic, their own choice usually looks decidedly fringe-y. Think of the goofballs the ABC hired to comment on ‘Great Warming Swindle’, or the coral reef expert that Radio National recruited to debate Plimer on air. Unimpressive, to say the least.

  9. Garth Godsman says:

    Good work Simon.For what it’s worth, I’ll mention this post on my blogs and Twitter.Interesting that we have a NZ book that is doing exactly the same as Plimer’s at the same time. Sniff the Zeitgeist?

  10. Ezzthetic says:

    So just to clarify – they had this test which they (somehow) knew was extremely accurate, but for some reason one day threw it away in favour of one they know isn’t, and which involved building an observatory at the top of a mountain in Hawaii.An operator then “edits” (wink wink) the data (once he’s checked that his bribe from the IPCC has been paid into his account) …I haven’t got a copy of Plimer’s book, but is there by any chance a footnote referencing a paper by E-G. Beck in Energy and Environment at the foot of the page? This sounds suspiciously like the recycling of his claims.The criticism of Plimer is not that he does not provide sources, it’s that many of his sources have little credibility, and that he just mindlessly parrots their claims, no matter how absurd.And for some reason, his supporters treat his claims as gospel.

  11. Philip Machanick says:

    Plimer is obviously having a tough time getting his well-researched arguments out. For example, The Australian quotes him as claiming that mainstream climate scientists think CO_2 is the only influence on climate. Clearly such a well-credentialled scientist can’t have such an uniformed position. For example: ‘To reduce climate change to the single variable of carbon emissions abandons “all we know about planet Earth, the sun and the cosmos”, Plimer says, and that is a leap of faith no self-respecting scientist should take.”‘. Who is he accusing of this position? The IPCC certainly does not base its summaries on the science on anything that naive. Poor chap, misunderstood even by his own cheer leaders.

  12. Simon from Sydney says:

    @Ezzthetic:The point is that the reviewer chooses an issue of trivial import and attempts to discredit that, rather than addressing the key arguments in the book. The Beck paper is merely one of over 50 citations for the section on measurement of CO2.@Philip:Whether the IPCC think that or not, governments around the world are legislating on that very issue: reduction of CO2. If CO2 is not the predominant driver of warming, such legislation is ultimately pointless. The IPCC should not be encouraging governments to damage their economies by imposing an unnecessary tax, but should advocating adaptation instead.Thanks for your comments.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Michael Ashley published a letter in “The Australian” newspaper a few months ago trying to debunk the cosmic ray/climate hypothesis.He claimed we could not have hundreds of years of data linking cosmic rays to climate because humans did not discover cosmic rays until 1910. For an astronomer not to have known about the isotopes created by cosmic ray bombardment in ice cores is somewhat inexcusable. This record does go back hundreds of years.His credibility is accordingly zero in commenting on climate science.

  14. Chris from Sydney says:

    I thought CFC’s were going to be the end of civilization. What ever happened to that debate? Oh that’s right, it was proven to be a load of alarmist clap trap.

  15. Pete Bondurant says:

    There was nothing wrong with the Pettenkofer method – It was where the pettenkofer measurements were taken that makes the old data unreliable. IR spectroscopy is just as accurate (if not more so)but the big improvement was shifting the sample area to the middle of the pacific instead of Vienna, Paris and other urban land based locations. Surely no-one would disagree that this would make for better measurements? The historical measurements were completely non-standardised and done in areas where the co2 level varied up to 100ppm every day!(depending on time of day, wind direction/speed etc). Ice core data also totally refutes the historical pettenkofer measurements and is in agreement with mauna loa observations. For plimer to suggest that mauna loa data is inferior to the pre 59 data is complete bullshit. For IPCC to use wildy fluctuating, uncalibrated historical urban data instead of the modern standardised Mauna Loa record would be bizarre in the least. He’s a crap scientist if he can’t see this and instead he implies some sinister conspiracy and says they were “silent” and there was no explanation. I can’t stress enough what a crock of shit this is. IPCC chose to ignore the old land based data for very good reasons, common sense being one of them. This whole Pettenkofer/IRS argument is just a big fat irrelevent red-herring. Plimers book is full of them.BTW – your welcome blurb has some glaring errors-warming has not stopped – sorry only idiots think this.-climate science DIDN’T expect a coming new ice-age in the ’70’s. An article in Newsweek and Life does not count.-AGW theory did not start with Al Gore in 2001. It has been actively studied since at least 1896.-The use of the term “climate change” was introduced by your lot (denialists)as part of a tobacco-style PR campaign. I find it hilarious that commentators of an obviously conservative bent, think of the term “climate change” as an example of political correctness gone mad when it was actually their own legion of free-market wank-tanks that coined the term. Do yr freakin research! Seeya – I for one won’t be back to this bottom of the barrel anti-science/conspiracy theory blog.

  16. Michael Ashley is the last person to be offering opinions on another scientists theories. He come from a branch of science that by any objective qualitative or quantitative assessment is the epitome of pseudo-science. One of the peculiar things about being an astronomer is you don’t actually have to do any science. That’s because they learn rote Big Bang Theory and accept it as FACT. And when observation doesn’t meet the theory they use the Einstein dictum of “if the facts don’t fit the theory change the facts”. The sad fact is that the Big Bang astronomy can boast of no quantitative predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation. The successes claimed by the theory’s supporters consist of its ability to retrospectively fit observations with a steadily increasing array of adjustable parameters, just as the old Earth-centered cosmology of Ptolemy needed layer upon layer of epicycles. This has lead to the ridiculous situation where now the 95% of the universe is made up of stuff that can’t be seen or verified. Black Holes, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Gravity Waves, Wimps, Bosons, God Particles. James Hanson is an Astronomer, where do you think he learned to add “Fudge Factors” to temperature data. NASA have been doing it since their inception. And here’s a little something that virtually everyone outside astronomy don’t know. Immanuel Velikovsky is responsible for more accurately verified predictions than one in astronomy. All of them were made before the first object was put in space. Not bad for a heretic. I urge all who read this to judge for themselves whether the New Electric Universe is scientifically worthless. It actually depends on the correct interpretation of SCIENCE.

  17. Pete wrote:”the big improvement was shifting the sample area to the middle of the pacific instead of Vienna, Paris and other urban land based locations.”Since when does siting CO2 readings on top of the worlds most continuously active volcano qualify as an objective measure of atmospheric CO2 levels.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Pete Bondurant writes good sense-mostly. However, when he writes “climate science DIDN’T expect a coming new ice-age in the ’70’s. An article in Newsweek and Life does not count,” he doesn’t.Depite the revisionism of youngsters like William Connelley (et al), people who were there in the 1970s know there was a climate cooling scare. Institutions in the US were founded to deal with serious political-economic problems like crop failure.Climatologist, seasonal forecasting pioneer, and the oldest hurricane season predictor – William Gray of Colorado State University – remembers global cooling as THE pre-eminent climatological issue of that time. In fact, he remembers the last global warming scare of the 1930s and ’40s – which perhaps explains his sagely jaundiced view of the current warming panic.Furthermore, I’m also old enough to recall the cooling scare. My teenaged science book and article collection from then library got a spate of such hysteria. It reinforced the perceived vulnerability to energy shortages, as happened during the Arab oil embargo.These “revisionists” are merely agit-prop cranks – not honest scholars. And so Bondurant is a dupe.-Environemental scientist, Boulder, Colorado, USA

  19. Anonymous says:

    Ian Enting (“Plimer’s numerous errors”, The Australian 15/5) writes that one of Plimer’s errors ‘is particularly blatant’. This blatant error relates to the sinking of New Orleans. Enting is too quick off the mark. Plimer does indeed cite work by Tim Dixon et al (2006) and they do indeed give a figure of 15mm-18mm in their paper but on June 12, 2006 Professor Dixon ALSO reported as follows and used the plural to cover each of his co-authors:”in some cases, the ground had subsided a minimum of 3 feet”. I reckon this is very close to Plimer’s “about a metre”.As a retired Professor in Environment Sciences, in particular relating to timing in complex urban systems and aware of the ‘sinking possibilities’ in New Orleans for many years,(as were my students I hope!) I found Enting’s attack on Plimer to be churlish, self-seeking rubbish and his rush to establish a web site funded by Melbourne University, for alarmist complaints about Plimer, to be troublesome: especially as the site at Melbourne University, has a disclaimer: “This discussion, its contents and style, are the responsibility of the author and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of The University of Melbourne.”Yet no qualms by Ian Enting to present himself, to letter readers with his title and affiliation as a mark of his ‘authority’.Some of us are actually concerned that anthropogenic CO2 MAY not be a relevant driver of climate change. Enting seems to have all the answers: no chance for error there then. No need for any more research funding either.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I notice bloggers on a Crikey piece on Plimer had no idea who this man is ( all that blogging has since disappeared from their site!). Nor it seems did Crikey! He has won the Eureka Prize twice, the Clarke medal and the insanely prestigious Leopod von Buch Plakette from the German Geological Society, and has published 60 papers and 6 books. I could find that out from the internet, but our local journos have perhaps broken fingers or don't like that information, or don't understand the german prize as I notice Wiki doesn't have a link from that foreign name to explain it; maybe they think it's some sort prize for rowing or something. Obviously an intellectual featherweight journo like Tony Jones on Lateline was pathetically out of his depth. In Australia, as usual, they treat debate more like a footy match, when this is such a serious matter it deserves respect and decorum and (…even dare I say wit and humour, "My word!"), especially for someone of this stature. Oh dear, Aunty is becoming so low brow (and heavily biased). In relation to another blogger whinge; I doubt Plimer would ever get anything published in the known anti warming mag "Nature" (oh sorry, serious journal… cough) as some irrate CO2 devotees carp. They would not understand him. He's only been published elsewhere (a lot). I suppose most greenies think their bicycles are plucked from trees; bicycles could not possibly be a result of people like this with dirt on their hands… nor could it possibly relate to them jetting about the planet on ecotourism jaunts & having 4 children (overpopulating the planet… what happened to that Mary White book? Hmmm!), or their double aluminium engines (footprint problems here in abundance) in their "green" car. If they only knew, they would be happier under a banana leaf on a desert island!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Correction, sorry, to above. I meant, it seems to me those journals are known bastions of the pro-CO2 argument, there is not balanced editorial choices; I made a mistake and inversed the sense of that in that last comment:-) I just wish Startrek's Spock was about and he could remove all the emotional twaddle going on (fear) and like Plimer, start asking the bigger questions with a wider overview unbiased by monetary gain matters – funding their own research programs (with the predetermined self fulfilling prophecy outcomes currently popular as a goal.) Beam me up Scotty.

  22. Pete Ridley says:

    I am presently engaged in debate on Professor Barry Brook's blog at and am awaitng his response to my questions surrounding his statement "There are a lot of uncertainties in science, and it is indeed likely that the current consensus on some points of climate science is wrong, or at least sufficiently uncertain that we don’t know anything much useful about processes or drivers". If Professor Brook is correct and we know nothing very useful about climate processes and drivers then how can those who support the "significant human-made global climate change hypothesis" justify their dogmatic stance about CO2?.Regards, Pete Ridley, Human-made Climate Change Agnostic

  23. Anonymous says:

    If climate scientists re-direct their energies and computer models and predict, no doubt with unerring accuracy, the winners of the next months NRL games they can achieve their aims and we can really do some damage to the economy. It couldn't possibly be as complex as the planet's climate. Come on guys, lets start with Centrebet!

  24. Michael says:

    Like others I have noticed the change from "we're heading for another ice age" to "we're heating up" to "well, the climate is changing". I find it incredibly arrogant that any group of scientists can say that they know so much about the earths climate that they can confidently predict what is going to happen. (Just like scientists "knew" that cane toads would not become a pest, and like they knew that giant rats tail grass would not become a pest…etc…etc) In reality all they can do is confidently predict that they don't know what will happen! If they have been wrong in the past they can be wrong again. The earth is a far more complex system than any computer model can simulate.I am also amazed and annoyed by the lack of any objectivity in the climate change community. Surely, for something as important as this could potentially be, we need a rational and objective discussion. Instead of vehemently attacking anyone who proposes another possible cause of climate change, shouldn't we investigate what he has to say. And instead of the usual knee-jerk reactions by media, scientists and politicians shouldn't we be sure of the real facts and causes before committing billions of dollars to combating something that has not been clearly identified. That is insanity and a waste of time, energy and dollars that could be better spent elsewhere.Yes, unfashionable as it may be to say it, many scientists are not objective. A popular alarmist cause is one that gets lots of funding – which directly or indirectly pays their wages. If human-caused climate change is a fact, then the climate change cronies have nothing to fear from an honest investigation. Consequently they have no need to attack those who put forward a dissenting view. Let the facts speak for themselves – but first let's get the facts!I welcome Professor Plimers book and that is why I have it on my website. Good on you Professor!

  25. Apparently, this site is supposed to be a 'humorous and satirical look at climate change propaganda'.I have yet to see any satire or humour in these pages. But, please, show me where it is – I am looking for a good laugh…As for scepticism, it's interesting that this site regards any climate science supporting the AGW theory as all propaganda, and most people posting here are complaining that there is no adequate discussion of this science. Yet they seem to be accepting Ian Plimer's book as gospel; no scepticism there, of course. I believe that the AGW scientists are happy to have a debate. But not in the politically loaded 'The Australian' newspaper or a paperback book. They want it is a respected periodical such as Nature or Geophysical Review. What's wrong with that???If Prof Ian Plimer really has something new to say, why doesn't he challenge AGW mainstream science in the scientific press. He's released papers before in those respected journals.

  26. I endorse the thoughts of Tony (jun 18th, 12:09 pm). There is precious little humour or satire here. Posing a question to "Simon" (the author of he leading post), what exactly are the comments of Ashley's that you consider to be ad hominem attacks?

  27. Simon from Sydney says:

    Comments on this post are now CLOSED.

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