Friday, October 7, 2011

Heaven and Earth / Ian Plimer -- Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009

A propaganda war is in full swing over the facts of, effects of, and responses to climate change. Anyone interested in how the public understanding of any topic, particularly scientific topics, can hardly witness the struggle dispassionately. Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth stands as a major offensive by the "skeptical" forces. Close analysis reveals that it is, however, a paper tiger, but in a propaganda war, a paper tiger can be just as dangerous as a real one, if it is not effectively countered.

Heaven and Earth is ostensibly a well-referenced tome packed with scientific observations and conclusion, but upon closer examination, its credibility becomes suspect. Most obvious of all is Plimer's numerous graphs and illustration. They are poorly presented, often unintelligible, unreferenced, and unexplained by the surrounding text. Next most obvious is the lack of references for important claims. One frequently is provided with supporting references for tangential and uncontroversial claims, but when a claim that is critical to Plimer's argument is presented, it usually rests only on Plimer's authority. In the rare instances when it does receive a citation, it often refers to studies that have been discredited by subsequent research.

As early as the third chapter, one gets the general picture: Heaven and Earth is faux research. It has all the trappings of a scientific monograph, without any real substance. It is a blizzard of unrelated facts about earth science, some of which can be employed to give the appearance of an argument against one or another conclusion that has been established by legitimate scientific research. One might be tempted to do more than sample the remaining chapters to look for a change in the tone or substance, but fortunately others have provided a detailed critical examination of the work. This can be found at The critique is edited by Ian G. Enting of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems at the University of Melbourne. Conscientiously sampling the remaining chapters of Heaven and Earth and cross checking the criticism assembled by Ian Enting is enough to verify that the first three chapters are fully representative of the whole of the book.

The main question one is left with is why such a work would be written and published in the first place. Simply examining the source of and seeking the motives for the work is, of course, not enough to credit or discredit it, but once it has been discredited on scientific grounds, an examination of its source and motives provides insight into its role in the propaganda war.

Plimer is a geologist closely associated with the mining and energy industry, working for or sitting on the board of directors for at least four companies. He is also promoted by the Heartland Institute, the mission of which is "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Such solutions include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in health care, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies."

While it is not immediately evident that these are Plimer's motives in publishing Heaven and Earth, Plimer's perspectives on economics and government are made clear enough and are in line with the Heartland Institute. Plimer appears to be a willing spokesperson for politically and economically motivated interest groups that need someone to give the appearance of scientific support for claims that have been discredited among the vast majority of working scientists. The shoddiness of Plimer's Heaven and Earth is clear enough to any mildly skeptical reader. It naturally leads one to question the motives of its author and anyone promoting it.

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