5Nov

The Fiction Of Neal Asher’s Science (Part One)

Neal Asher wishes to discredit Global Warming, a phenomena backed up by nearly 200 years of science and the laws of physics. Neal has been a science fiction writer for several years, and the quality of his books are not in dispute here; he seems a fine fellow, and a deservedly popular writer. But it is his science, or rather his lack of scientific knowledge, that I wish to dispute, and I do this because I believe posts such as his are damaging. At no point does he back up his statements with evidence, so I want to address what he says, because this is not the first time he has made such claims.

Let’s look at what he says.

The Global Warming faithful have been telling some very pig porkies for a long time and have been getting away with it. However, with Green taxes biting, revelations of bald-faced lies like the Mann Hockey Stick and the stream of bullshit that’s been coming out of East Anglia University, with a steady drop in seasonal temperatures over the last ten years and the last severely cold winter that the idealogically correct Met Office computer failed to predict, people are starting to wake up.

Where to begin… First of all, Neal makes the classic example of citing the Mann Hockey Stick as incorrect. This graph is the famous line graph that shows the shocking upward trend in average global temperatures recently when compared with the past 1000 years. The first mistake here is that there is one hockey stick (whereas there are in fact several). What Neal believes to be true is that the hockey stick was proven wrong. It was originally challenged by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (an economist and a mathematician), who have themsleves been thoroughly debunked. The case was investigated by U.S. Congress, and subsequently more than a dozen scientific papers (there are over a dozen hockey sticks) comprehensively backed up the original graph; moreover, the measurements taken from all over the world, in a variety of different ways, showed more than ever that the average global trend over the past 2000 years now and with the last 150 years revealing a severe increase.

Reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere temperatures for the last 1,000 years according to various older articles (bluish lines), newer articles (reddish lines), and instrumental record (black line). (Source.)

Neal’s second big error is the classic denier technique of cherry-picking data. He states: “with a steady drop in seasonal temperatures over the last ten years and the last severely cold winter”. What usually happens is that he, like many deniers, would pick a year like 1998, which was an unusually hot year – El Niño – and states that the preceding few years are cooler. He doesn’t look at global averages, which are what we should concern ourselves with. (Let’s not forget, we’re talking global climate and not local weather.) You can read more here.

Temperature measurements from satellites, land, sea and air across the globe, from NASA to the Met Office, all point to a global average increase. To state otherwise, with no evidence, you would have to be wilfully blind.

Asher then states that there is “bullshit that’s been coming out of East Anglia University”. He is referring to the hacked emails of climate scientists which, at best, showed that scientists are human beings and can be grumpy. There have been several inquires into the matter, all of which show that yes, the scientists were wrong to suppress access to their data in 1990, but that the science itself is sound. This was bad practice (science should be made free to all) but to make such claims – again, based on no evidence – should cause concern. I should repeat: the scientists at the centre of the row have been cleared. And repeatedly so.

Why does this matter? This is no global conspiracy, no dreaded left wing movement to tax us to death; one that even includes George Bush, admittedly a latecomer to the communist movement, and which dates back to 1824. People are dying, and will continue to die, unless something happens. For such untruths to spread across the internet is deeply, deeply immoral, and only serves to stop lives being saved.

And Neal Asher does this without referencing any peer-reviewed data whatsoever.

I’m afraid I’m heading out so I’ll have to leave it there. I’ll hopefully continue later this weekend.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

33 comments

  1. Thanks for this. I understand bits and pieces of this, but it’s really good to have a bit more of the background explaining clearly not only what is going on, but where the misunderstandings arise from.

  2. Hi Serenity – the best website is http://www.skepticalscience.com/ (who also have an iPhone app) who are doing their best to track the misinformation, and is a very useful tool to have at hand whenever you hear someone state errors with conviction.

  3. One tends to assume that intelligent, creative and literate people (as Neal Asher clearly is) will use their noggins when it comes to the evidence on the subject of climate change. It’s a sad day for common sense when they don’t.

  4. Good for you Mark!

    Asher has sounded off about global warming before (that and gay marriage) and so I’m glad that you have a) called him on it and b) taken a snapshot of his website in order to maintain an independent record of his climate change denial.

  5. I remember scientists saying over ten years ago that global warming would lead to more extreme weather.
    The prediction for Norway was colder, dryer winters and wetter, warmer summers. That has happened.

    The global warming deniers seem to forget that any extreme weather, even abnormal cool temperatures, is a sign that something is wrong with natural weather patterns.

  6. Neal’s problem on this issue is that he makes the mistake of firstly, regurgitating zombie arguments (which you’ve neatly debunked).

    However, I’m also not quite convinced that he’s fully engaged with the scientific arguments on this topic. For example, I recall him posting a link to an interview with famous right-wing crank Vaclav Klaus who was, in his own inimitable fashion, likening the green movement to the Soviet Union.

    The issue that I have with this (aside from it being, well, wrong) is that there’s no engagement with the actual science.

    I’ve no idea what proportion of those that are against the idea of AGW would fit into this camp (though I’d be interested to find out), but certainly the most vocal of them are more concerned about the fact that it looks as though in order to change the way that things are done, it will be necessary to legislate. It is this that they find truly objectionable. It’s a political argument, rather than a scientific one. I find this most distasteful.

  7. Thank you for the kind words, everyone.

    Jonathan – I didn’t know what his opinions were on gay marriage. Doesn’t surprise me, really…

    Richard – oh people like this will never engage in the argument, because they don’t have one. They cling on to whatever myths or rumours, and turn into David Icke; they seem to forget or simply have no idea that their taxes go to subsidise the oil industry (yet don’t complain about that).

    What annoys me is that it’s often presented as a two-sided argument. It’s not. 99% of the world’s climate scientists agree on man-made GW. That’s pretty comprehensive to me.

  8. It was clever of the denier movement to have (successfully, it seems somedays) convinced some of the undecided that the people supporting the view of climate change are engaged in some kind of mystical conspiracy. The vested interests of the climate change-supporters are somewhat vague (what, do they all have shares in solar panel companies and wind farms?) whilst the deniers are backed by big business and governments desperately trying to avoid having to shell out cash for expensive new infrastructure. You’d think this would be more obvious, but apparently not.

  9. Global warming is such a controversial subject among scientists. It is my belief that it is natural but all we have done is sped up the process. The steeper increase over the past 150 years is caused by major human developments such as industry, travel, etc. I think Neal Asher’s comments are blind. Last winter’s freeze (as most of us remember) was caused by a shift in the Gulf Stream which allowed cold water to enter it’s currents. Continued melting of ice-caps will allow all that frozen fresh water to enter the ocean and suppress the current. All we can do is slow it down and prepare for the worst

  10. Hi Chris,

    Yes, another fantastic myth of the anti-gw body, as you can see here: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/climate-change-a-consensus-among-scientists/

    The petition project took over ten years to accrue those few ‘scientists’, and makes up a tiny percentage of those who engage in science. In fact, the petition is just made up of those with a science degree, and even then, signed by some rather questionable folk, as these things often are. To be honest, though, someone with a degree in mathematics might not know all there is to know about climate science, I think it’s fair to say.

    Every time you open a peer-reviewed scientific journal (Nature, for example), each week, every month, there is another article that adds to the overwhelming body of evidence. The science is tighter than that which links HIV to aids and smoking to cancer (itself once disputed publicly thanks due to the funding of tobacco companies).

    I can understand while oil billionaires might not wish to believe in global warming – they have vested economic interests to protect, and the denial industry is as strong as ever.

    What’s your excuse?

  11. Andy, thanks for stopping by – as you can see above, there is pretty much a huge consensus, and not much controversy. (Even though the media like to present two sides of the argument to create a debate.)

    But yes, of course – much of climate change is natural. Every climate scientist will tell you that, I would think. The climate warms and cools according to what’s going on on earth – the current warming problems over the last 150 years, and the most dangerous ever faced, are shown conclusively to be caused by human activity.

  12. I remember that when JK Rowling won the Hugu for the first Harry Potter novel Greg Benford threw a huge paddy about fandom turning its back on science in favour of fantasy.

    …and yet here we have a fantasy writer defending science against a muddle-headed SF writer :-)

    Asher’s views on gay marriage are one of the reasons why I am glad that you took a screenshot. He mentioned them in passing and then later deleted the blog post in question. Wouldn’t like his climate change denialism to disappear down a similar memory hole.

  13. Indeed – the screen grab is an essential tool. :)

    I did a quick search for “gay” in his blog, and though there was nothing on marriage, one can get a flavour of what it was about…

  14. Asher is right-wing, and using right-wing tactics. I’m just surprised he didn’t blame Global Warming on immigrants.

  15. The petition Chris has kindly linked to is hilarious. The idea that having a BSc or an MSc makes you a scientist. And it still only managed 31,487 signatures. It’s nice to have a good giggle of a morning.

  16. The, um interesting, thing about Asher is that he spends a lot of time doing that tiresome thing of whining about how over-run with jobsworths we’ve become and how nannying the state is.

    Sometimes he – through saturation I suspect – might be correct (no tribalist, me). I also seem to recall that he linked to a libertarian party a few years ago. So, it’s odd that he would would complain about intrusions into private lives, but then argue against gay marriage.

    Surely that’s an example of sticking your nose into something that the individual should be allowed to do what the hell they want without intrusion or comment from anyone else (especially if you’re claiming to argue in favour of freedom).

  17. Rachel – yes, that’s brilliant. Ahahaha, I could sign that and I’m pretty far away from being a scientist. :D

  18. Good for you Mark, taking the time to discredit erroneous claims with the real facts and reminding people that the initial facts were still true as well.

    The “ooh it snowed in the UK last year” as proof against global warming pisses me off too. I’m not a climatologist but I recall that it’s possible to have colder winters and still have an increase in annual temps. In fact isn’t it supposed to be more likely in terms of the UK? Especially if the gulf stream moves/disappears.

  19. I remember when I was young, 1980s, that I couldn’t drive down the hill to work as the road was covered in snow and had to go the long and gradual way around. My parents remember snow up the hedges… now it’s a freak occurrence if there is enough snow to build a snowman every couple of Christmases.

    So from experience something is different.

  20. I knew Asher’s research skills were Rather Lacking after he managed to invent Jain killing machines, but hadn’t really expected this. Oh, well.

    (Slightly excessive snark, admittedly. But I started one of his books for the first time the other day, and am still rather nonplussed.)

  21. @Gav – Course this year, we had enough snow to last us through the next decade of Christmasses.

    I’m young, I guess. 26. But I’ve seen enough and felt enough to agree 100% with the sentiment that something is changing; changing little by little every year, perhaps, but changed enough, cumulatively over the course of even my little life, that a year is now a very different thing than those I recall from my time as an adorably miniature person.

  22. Sorry I’ve not responded sooner, everyone (was at Alt.Fiction all of yesterday)

    Thank you for all your comments.

    Neil: yeah, my problem with people reacting to a few cold weeks as a defence is that climate change is about the global climate not the local weather.

    And yes – should people not trust the tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, the decades of conclusive science, we can always fall back on our own eyes over time – the climate is a different place worldwide.

  23. A larger issue here, other than climate change itself, is the treatment of science fiction writers as authorities on real science. Print authors are, from my experience, more likely to get the real science correct than their screen writing counterparts. But that doesn’t make them qualified to make judgements about real – or in the case of climate change, manufactured – scientific controversies. Neal Asher is writing great stuff. I assume that he appreciates that FTL travel violates causality. But I’m not going to assume he’s an authority on reality just because I enjoy his fiction.

  24. Oh Will, I’m not going to let you get away with that.

    No one is accusing Neal as being an authority on anything here and, as I’ve demonstrated above, he clearly has nothing valuable to add to the debate on climate science. SF writers are not scientists – apart from the ones who are/were.

    Now, care to show me the workings out of the climate change debate being ‘manufactured’? Perhaps you’ll have to tell that to the scientists dating back to 1824, a lineage that proved the mechanisms that we still use today. Or perhaps your query lies with the laws of physics? Or perhaps you should be telling off the hundreds of thousands of people who die each year as a result of the results of increasing temperatures?

    Oh, deniers: David Icke called. He wants your conspiracy theory back.

  25. “George Bush, admittedly a latecomer to the communist movement”.

    Better late than never!

    Regards,
    DANNY O’DARE

  26. The true source and scale of the global warming conspiracy is revealed. Naturally, the Illuminati are behind it:

    http://theidiottracker.blogspot.com/2010/02/global-warming-hoax.html

    That’s me convinced then :-)

  27. I knew it! I’m calling David Icke. :)

  28. This is a brilliant piece. I’m awed at the science, which I don’t know at first hand but I’ve read enough articles to know the basic realities. a) science is not a conspiracy b) the East Anglia scientists were utterly innocent of all the major dark accusations made against them, and no one ever really apologised. It’s like Gilligan and the dodgy dossier all over again.

    Climate change is not a fact; it is a consensus hypothesis supported by most if not all reputable scientists. It’s attacked as if it’s a religion, which it’s not, and a conspiracy, if it’s not. The scary thing is that Loud Lies now seem to be accorded the same value in the media as Sober Highly Qualified Peer-Referenced Hypotheses.

  29. Thanks for the kind words, Philip. Yes, I have a suspicion it comes from the media often requiring two sides to a debate, when in reality, there is a staggering amount of peer-reviewed evidence against – well, nothing conclusive on the other hand.

    Most of all, I’m just never sure why people are so willing to believe in the propaganda of the oil companies, when they don’t realise their taxes subsidise a lot of them.

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