Rowan Dean Slams JCU Over Peter Ridd Censure on The Young IPA Podcast

Rowan Dean, author of the two new books The Best of The Spectator Australia and Corkscrewed, joined The Young IPA Podcast to talk about the role of The Spectator Australia in the modern media landscape, what it was like living in London during the Thatcher era and the censure of Professor Peter Ridd by James Cook University.

 

On The Best of The Spectator Australia and the magazine’s role in the media today

“One of the things that amazed me…was how prescient much of the writing was. Particularly on the big theme of the last few years…the whole Turnbull coup and Abbott being rolled. Conservatives getting in and then conservatives turning on themselves, or the Liberal Party turning on itself. The split of conservatives from the bed-wetters as we like to affectionately call them. It comes through how prescient many of the writers were about how this would play out and the ramifications that would come from this split. Often I was quite surprised and amazed reading articles and going ‘My God, this was written months beforehand and this writer was right on to what was happening.’”

“The key thing I tell all writers for the magazine is three words: Provocative, insightful and engaging. And that sounds kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised how much writing doesn’t meet that criteria. The articles in the book are provocative, they’re designed to make you think. They are insightful, as I’ve said many of the insights are now become common part of the political discourse. And the key thing with The Spectator has always been the humour/personal style of writing where unlike most other magazines you really feel the different styles of the authors. And I really love that about The Spectator

On the importance of being provocative

“It’s the most fundamental point of any political commentary or cultural commentary. If you’re just going to regurgitate – and this is the problem with the ABC and much of Fairfax – the same established, politically correct, socially acceptable ideas it gets boring. And the purpose for reading is to make you want to put your eyeballs on that page and not go away from that page.”

On living in Thatcher’s London

“I wasn’t very interested in politics at all, and I got swept up very much in the Thatcher revolution. And it astonished me coming back to Australia on holidays in those first few years how Australia was heading down this path of ‘we don’t like individual enterprise.’ They hated Thatcher here.”

“In the 60s, you had a kind of revolution where working class kids smashed through the establishment and became artists or popstars or theatre stars. That was replicated in the 80s by business. Suddenly any kid from the wrong side of the sticks could suddenly become a successful businessperson. Thatcher took that revolutionary 60s spirit and applied it to business. She said to go and be an individual, start your own business, we’ll get rid of the regulation, we’ll make it easy for you to go out and do your own thing. And the atmosphere in London took off.”

On Professor Peter Ridd’s censure

“It’s disgraceful, it’s scary. It flies in the face of everything Western Civilisation has stood for.”

“All of our universities have been tainted with this disease where they think politically correct consensus is the answer to everything.”

 

To listen to the rest of the interview, download and subscribe to The Young IPA Podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and the IPA website.

BoM Blast for Dubious Record Hot Day

IN September 2017, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) claimed a series of new record hot days across south eastern Australia, including on 23 September at Mildura. At that time, the mainstream media reported this as a new record for the state of Victoria, specifically claiming it was the hottest September day ever recorded – all the way-back to September 1889. This claim, however, cannot be verified because the BoM uses a non-standard method for recording temperatures at Mildura, and furthermore the parallel data provided to me in December 2017 as proof of equivalence is flawed and deficient.

Background

On 23 September 2017, a new record hot day for Victoria was claimed at the Mildura airport using an electronic probe in an automatic weather station (AWS) housed in a Stevenson screen.

The BoM claims that measurements from such devices are ‘comparable’ to measurements from traditional mercury thermometers, which were used to measure official air temperatures at Mildura from 13 June 1889 until 1 November 1996.

There is no documentation, however, supporting this contention for Mildura or any of the other nearly 500 AWS spread across the Australian continent. Furthermore, the BoM does not have World Meteorological Organisation, or any other form of accreditation (i.e. ISO 17025) for any of its AWS. In addition, the BoM uses a non-standard method of recording temperatures from such devices. Specifically, while one­-minute averaging of one­-second readings is standard across the world (e.g. in India, UK, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) the BoM records the instantaneous highest one-second readings from a probe as the maximum temperature for that location for that day.

Given electronic probes generally respond more quickly to fluctuations in air temperature than mercury thermometers, it follows that this method – instantaneous recordings from an electronic probe – would result in new temperature maxima under the same weather conditions. The BoM, however, claims that temperature measurements from electronic probes are nevertheless ‘comparable’ with measurements from mercury thermometers because the BoM’s ‘purpose-designed’ probes ‘closely mirror’ the behaviour of liquid-in-glass thermometers, including the time constant.

While this is theoretically possible, to know if it is being achieved in practice it is necessary to analyse parallel measurements i.e. data from an electronic probe and mercury thermometer operating side-by-side for a period of time.

While the BoM has never released reports with parallel data supporting the claim of equivalence, in late October and early December 2017 a first and second lot of A8 forms were released to me – this followed my request to Minister Josh Freydenberg on 26 September for parallel measurements, and more specifically on 22 October for these A8 forms… immediately after I was informed by a whistle-blower that these forms contained the relevant information.

Parallel data from Mildura – preliminary findings

After I manually transcribed and analysed relevant data from a subset of the first batch of over 4,000 scanned A8 forms received on 28 October, I wrote to Minister Freydenberg on 12 November explaining that the values recorded manually on the A8 forms from the mercury thermometers for the period November 1996 to December 2000 at Mildura are significantly different from the official values recorded from the electronic probes.

Just considering the values for September, the mean difference is statistically significant at the 0.05 level of probability, and is +0.34 °C, +0.27 °C and +0.28 °C for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999, respectively. Somewhat surprisingly, the automatic weather stations at Mildura for these three Septembers recorded statistically significantly cooler temperatures than the mercury thermometers.

Analysis of the second lot of forms, received on 4 December, has proven more problematic because of the quality of the available data, and absence of critically important data.

The electronic probe that measured the record hot day on 23 September 2017 was installed on 27 June 2012 and I was initially told that there was parallel data only available through until January 2015. So, there is no reading from a mercury thermometer for Mildura for 23 September 2017.

After scrutiny of the A8 forms actually provided, however, it appeared that the extent of parallel readings for the probe installed on 27 June 2012 would be limited to just the eight months July 2012 to February 2013… except that the BoM had omitted to scan September 2012 – the one month that could provide a direct measure of the equivalence of the relevant probe for that time of year at that location. After informing the BoM of this omission, I have been told it is being looked-into… that the relevant officer will follow-up on the missing month of data.

Meanwhile, if we consider the residual available parallel data… the very hottest days according to readings from the electronic probe (30 November 2012, 18 January 2013, 5 January 2013, 8 January 2013, 6 January 2013, 1 December 2013, highest to lowest) have no equivalent reading from a mercury thermometer. In short, it appears that on the hottest days in Mildura – during the period that manual readings were being taken after installation of the most recent probe – no one was turning-up to take the manual reading from the mercury thermometer. As a consequence, the data for this period from the mercury thermometer is not normally distributed, as shown in Figure 1. This makes statistical analysis using standard techniques impossible as assumptions implicit, for example in a standard paired T-test, are violated.

There are many more maximum temperatures measurements available for the electronic probe (n=948) than for the mercury thermometer (n=115), and the distribution is quite different, with a somewhat more normal distribution for the probe data, as shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2. Distribution of measurements from the electronic probe recording in an AWS.

Considering days when there is parallel data available in the temperature band of interest (the claimed-record hot day in September 2017 measured 37.7 degrees Celsius) the new probe has been found to measure up to 0.4 degrees hotter (e.g. 26 February 2013 the recording for the probe is 37.3, while the mercury thermometer recorded 36.9 on the A8 form). In fact, Table 1 shows that for the last month of available parallel measurements the electronic probe (Tmax-Probe) often recorded considerably warmer than the mercury thermometer (Tmax-LIG).

Tbl 1. This screenshot of the Excel file where I record the transcribed values shows that for the very last month of parallel recordings at Mildura, the electronic probe was often recording hotter than the mercury thermometer by up to 0.4 degree Celsius. (The abbreviation LIG stands for liquid-in-glass i.e. mercury and alcohol thermometers. Also, note that the measurements/data points shown here are as recorded on the A8 forms that are one full day different from the values in the CDO and ADAM databases… this is because the actual recording is of the temperature the afternoon before.)

In conclusion

While it is official BoM policy to ensure that there is approximately five-years of overlapping parallel data when there is a site move or equipment change at an official weather station, this policy appears to be rarely implemented. Indeed, while it would seem reasonable to assume that there would be dozens of reports detailing the results from such parallel studies – none have been made publicly available.

In the case of Mildura, the quality and length of the available parallel data makes it difficult to draw any real conclusions about the equivalence of measurements from the electronic probe installed in July 2012, with measurements from earlier probes and/or the mercury thermometer first installed back in 1889.

The issue of verifying the claimed record hot day on 23 September 2017 is compounded by the BoM’s method of measuring temperatures – in particular the absence of averaging over at least one minute which is standard for electronic probes.

Legislative Growth Slowing, But Still Growing

Not since 1996 has the Commonwealth government passed fewer pages of legislation. IPA research shows that in 2017, the parliament passed 3,707 pages of legislation, a sharp decline since 2012 the number topped 8,000 pages passed:

Likewise, the average number of pages per piece of legislation passed was 27.9, the lowest it has been since 1994:

 

This significant slowdown in regulatory growth ruling the lives of Australians is a cause for celebration. However, while the growth is slower, this research indicates red tape is still growing.

The fact remains that the government still introduced 3,707 new pages of legislation in 2017. Most pieces of legislation impose regulatory burdens on businesses and expand the role of the state in the daily lives of Australians.

Slowing legislative growth is positive but should go further if we are to cut down on the estimated $176 billion of red tape strangling the Australian economy. For instance, the government should follow the deregulatory success of the Trump administration in the United States and adopt a one-in-two-out rule for new regulations.

As long as thousands of pages of laws are added to the mountain of regulation each year, Australian living standards and productivity will continue to struggle.

Peter Ridd Raised $99K To Defend Freedom Of Speech In Just 48 Hours

Last week Professor Peter Ridd launched a GoFundMe to fundraise for his legal costs against James Cook University in the Federal Court.

Amazingly, after a public appeal, he has reached the required $95,000 to cover his defence in just 48 hours.

Institute of Public Affairs Executive Director, John Roskam, spoke to Alan Jones on 2GB this morning about Professor Ridd’s case.

In August last year Professor Ridd was interviewed by Alan Jones on Sky News about his chapter in a book Climate Change: The Facts 2017 published by the Institute of Public Affairs.  In his chapter, The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals, and Problems with Policy Science, Professor Ridd wrote:

Policy science concerning the Great Barrier Reef is almost never checked. Over the next few years, Australian government will spend more than a billion dollars on the Great Barrier Reef; the costs to industry could far exceed this. Yet the keystone research papers have not been subject to proper scrutiny. Instead, there is a total reliance on the demonstrably inadequate peer review process.

Professor Ridd said on Sky News:

The basic problem is that we can no longer trust the scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – a lot of this is stuff is coming out, the science is coming out not properly checked, tested or replicated and this is a great shame because we really need to be able to trust our scientific institutions and the fact is I do not think we can any more…

…I think that most of the scientists who are pushing out this stuff they genuinely believe that there are problems with the reef, I just don’t think they’re very objective about the science they do, I think they’re emotionally attached to their subject and you know you can’t blame them, the reef is a beautiful thing.

JCU claimed that Professor Ridd’s comments denigrated the university and the university directed him to make no future such comments.

Thanks to the contributions of many IPA members and supporters of Professor Ridd, he is able to defend scientific integrity and academic freedom in the Federal Court.

You can now read the Professor Ridd’s full chapter. The extraordinary resilience of Great Barrier Reef corals, and the problems with policy science, here.

Ideas For Experts On Expertise Examining The Crisis Of Expertise

When British MP Michael Gove said “The people of this country have had enough of experts” he electrified the pro-Brexit voters and sent ripples of horror through the global club of those who advise decision-makers and opine on matters of fact and of policy.

One type of reaction to Gove’s incendiary comment I saw at the Mercatus Centre at George Mason University in Virginia early last year, when Peter Boettke and others launched Escape from Democracy: The Role of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy,  a book which proceeds from core premises such as the limits of knowledge, the self-interest of experts, and the need for more transparency in decision-making (further description appears at the end of this blog post).

Eighteen months on the ripples from Gove’s comments have reached the University of Melbourne, which has in response convened a conference of, well, experts: “A Crisis of Expertise: Legitimacy and the challenge of policymaking,” to be held on February 15-16 at the Melbourne School of Government.

Not surprisingly, Gove, Trump, climate change sceptics and other Deplorables all get a mention in the conference blurb, which then frames the key question in the highly limited juxtaposition of experts v populists:

“…trust in experts and established institutions is in decline. The role and legitimacy of expertise in policymaking is increasingly being called into question.

Recently, populist and anti-globalisation movements in a number of countries, and on both ‘right’ and ‘left’, have achieved electoral success, in part by playing on these doubts and by rejecting the claims of experts to specialised knowledge and authority”

Some way or other, you can be sure the experts at this conference will be looking for way for their fellow experts to be restored to their rightful place at the right hand of decision-makers across the globe. But as my colleague Matthew Lesh last year pointed out in an excellent article for The Spectator, experts standing on their authority were in fact fuelling the so-called “populist” backlash, and ignoring the sometimes problematic track record of experts and the need for continued democratic control. He quoted Cambridge classics professor Paul Cartledge on the appropriate role of experts.

“When I charter a vessel or buy a passage on one, I leave it to the captain, the expert, to navigate it – but I decide where I want to go, not the captain.”

And of course John Roskam had this wonderful piece on the UK’s “Michael Fish moment” (“definitely no Hurricane on the way…”), and Daniel Wild in a piece for the IPA Review drew on the brilliant and intellectually brutal Nassim Nicholas Taleb to point on that the predictions of experts cannot be trusted as they have no “skin in the game.” More recently, Dr Jennifer Marohasy wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Josh Frydenberg MP, urging him to adopt the Red Team/Blue Team approach to ensure a transparent process of challenge to the assumptions of climate science and policy.

Truth-seeking is, in any event, assisted by dialogue, including with one’s perceived opponents. Hounding critics in the manner which has been seen in climate science, for instance, is not conducive either to legitimacy or to elucidating the facts, as Simon Breheny pointed out in a chapter from Climate Change: The Facts 2017, an excerpt of which appeared here).

In fairness, participants in the University of Melbourne conference won’t necessarily be standing on Enlightenment notions of scientific notions of objectivity, empiricism or logic – this is a modern University after all.  Presenters carry the baggage of the post-modern turn toward critical theory, so at least one key session will examine “Public institutions and social imaginaries in knowledge production” and “Politics and discourses of expertise”. And so on, and on.

A keynote presenter, Andy Stirling, is a former member of the international Greenpeace board member, and Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex. Naturally, to achieve this august position his successive degrees were not actually in science or technology, but rather “science studies” and “archaeology”, capped by a “D.Phil in science and technology policy”. Which is all very well I suppose, but it does put him at one remove from the actual truth-claims bandied about in the domains in which the populist backlash has featured, such as climate policy, sovereignty, the nanny state, economics, immigration, and trade, to name but a few.

In one sense the Hayek quoting Austrians at Mercatus, the postmodernists at the University of Melbourne, and indeed “populists”, have some common ground: they agree that the argumentum ad verecundiam, the appeal to authority, is dead. The onus is on the experts gathered at the University of Melbourne later this month to map a path back to legitimacy which moves beyond mourning towards a model consistent with democratic accountability and the realistic limits of human reason.

[A precis of points made by speakers during the book launch referred to at the beginning of this article appear below, for the benefit of readers of this blog post, perhaps even including conference participants]

ADDENDUM

These notes summarise comments made by Peter Boettke, the authors, David M Levy and Sandra J Peart, and other guest speakers, at the book launch in May 2017:

  • Experts created this historical moment, not the public, by the way have weaponised expertise in a non-transparent emphatically anti-democratic manner. For example, Obamacare architect Professor Jonathan Gruber who said:

    Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage…And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

  • Economists have definitely contributed to the crisis in legitimacy, as economics has over the past hundred years transitioned from being a tool of social understanding to a tool of social control.
  • All humans are motivated by self-interest, including experts (and not just in the narrow pecuniary interest sense familiar from neoclassical economics).. “Experts have pecuniary and sympathetic interests which induce them to bias”. They can pursue public goals and private goals at the same time. Any premise that experts are only interested in and will inevitably discharge their advice to the betterment of the public good should be discarded at the beginning.
  • [the full quote from Michael Gove is germane to both those points: “I think that the people of this country have had enough of experts with organisations from acronyms saying – from organisations with acronyms – saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong, because these people – these people – are the same ones who got consistently wrong.“]
  • The development of expertise by its nature creates asymmetry in knowledge – the expert simply does know more about the particular domain or issue, and to an extent we must accept that and move on. So it is then a secondary question how much we can ask the expert to explain (so far as is possible) the basis for their decisions (a transparent approach), as opposed to occasions where so much technical expertise is required then it simply must be left to the expert with further explanation (non-transparency).
  • If there can’t always be transparency, then at least the non-transparency much be transparent – the experts should disclose the premises and data sources, and be honest about any doubts. There is a direct analogy to laws governing disclosure in our courts during civil actions and criminal trials, in which both parties are under positive obligations to produce information relevant to determining the matter at hand.
  • There’s a difference depending on whether policy goals are fixed (a linear process) or emerge (a cyclical model), and in the latter case discussion must be part of the expert’s work. Whether it’s Red Team/Blue Team, or some other method, dialogue (including with critics), will produce an outcome with more legitimacy and almost certainly better understanding and better fit of recommendations to better defined objectives.

Labor’s ‘Living Wage’ Will Hurt The Poor, Unemployed

True to form, the unions are using clever marketing to beat the drum for a lousy idea. And true to form, that lousy idea is finding its way into the policy platform of the Australian Labor Party.

Yesterday, opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor hinted that Labor could adopt the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ calls for what they refer to as a ‘living wage’. This comes a day after Bill Shorten used his National Press Club address to declare that ‘[o]ur goal should be a real, living wage – effectively raising the pay of all Australians’.

But by ‘living wage’ Labor and the unions just mean a massive hike in the minimum wage. It’s a cute motherhood statement that disguises a policy which will lock even more Australians out of the labour market.

Currently, the minimum wage is set by the Fair Work Commission in accordance with the Fair Work Act. It’s far from perfect, but at least requires that the FWC consider a range of economic factors in determining the minimum wage. Importantly, one criterion is ‘promoting social inclusion through increased workforce participation’. In other words, the FWC must set the minimum wage with at least some consideration of unemployment, with a view to getting more Australians into the workforce.

The ACTU’s ‘living wage’ would scrap this system, and instead peg the minimum wage at the arbitrary level of 60 per cent of median wages. Under this formula, the minimum wage would rise substantially from its current levels.

Labor and the unions claim that driving up wages so dramatically is urgently needed to achieve greater ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’. But conveniently, they are ignoring several facts.

The minimum wage is already high

Even under the current system, Australia’s minimum wage is among the highest in the world.

In fact, according to the latest-available OECD data, our minimum wage is the third-highest in the developed world, a fraction behind Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Minimum Wage

Hourly minimum wage, as at 2016 levels, shown in US dollars (based on 2015 purchasing power parity)
Source: OECD

In real terms, minimum wage earners receive almost as much – or more than – the unions are asking for anyway

The ‘living wage’ envisioned by the ACTU, as explained above, would require that minimum wage earners receive 60 per cent of median wages.

But the ACTU is ignoring the substantial impact of Australia’s tax-and-transfer system – that is, tax revenue collected by government and redistributed in the form of cash transfers, largely to lower income-earners.

OECD figures show that, taking into account tax and transfers, minimum wage earners receive close to, or in excess of, 60 per cent of median wages.

Income levels

Income levels provided by full-time minimum wage employment, value in percentage of median household incomes, 2015
Source: OECD

Few Australians are actually on the minimum wage

As high as it is, the minimum wage is becoming increasingly irrelevant as fewer and fewer Australians are actually on it.

As the IPA wrote in its report last year, Fair Work and the Right to Work:

[The minimum wage is] being rendered increasingly meaningless by ‘creep’ in pay and conditions contained in awards… The 122 ‘modern’ awards created under [the] Fair Work [Act] almost all contain pay above that set by the FWC. As a result, the award system creates a ‘shadow minimum wage’… across a range of low-paid and low-skilled jobs… Of the 2.3 million Australians on awards, 92 per cent receive pay in excess of the statutory minimum.

Minimum Wages

Minimum pay per week (lowest classification, excluding trainee rates) under various awards, compared with the statutory minimum wage.
Sources: Annual Wage Review 2015-16 [2016] FWCFB 3500; Restaurant Industry Award 2010; Building and Construction General On-site Award 2010; Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010; Cleaning Services Award 2010; Australia Post Enterprise Award 2015; Waste Management Award 2010; Fast Food Industry Award 2010; Banking, Finance and Insurance Industry Award 2010.

In short, for all the bleating of Labor and the unions about how low the minimum wage is, the fact is that the vast majority of Australians earn a wage far in excess of it.

A higher minimum wage will drive up unemployment

Of course, any wage rise is good news for someone who already has a job. But the benefits to workers are far outweighed by the consequences for the unemployed, as higher minimum wages effectively raise the barriers preventing people from entering the workforce.

As IPA Research Fellow Matthew Lesh wrote last year:

The minimum wage prices out people from the employment market. That is, if the minimum wage is $17 an hour, but a person’s work is only worth $16, they will simply be unable to get a job. Pushing people out of employment and onto inevitably lower unemployment assistance is a guaranteed strategy to increase poverty. Stuck in the welfare trap, these workers cannot build on workplace skills that provide the human capital necessary to increase the value of their labour and secure higher incomes in the future. A low-wage job is just a start on the income ladder. A higher minimum wage cuts off the bottom rungs.

Accordingly, for the sake of the more than 700,000 people in Australia currently looking for work – not to mention the hundreds of thousands more who have given up on looking altogether – Australia must resist driving up statutory minimum wages. The only truly equitable industrial relations system is one that gives everyone the chance to enjoy the dignity of work.

Minerals Council Of Australia’s Pre-Budget Submission Points The Way To Cheaper, Reliable Energy And Less Red Tape

The 2018-19 pre-Budget submission from the Minerals Council of Australia provides a number of important public policy initiatives involving lower taxes, less regulation, and less tape. Many of these policy recommendations are consistent with a long line of Institute of Public Affairs research to limit the size, scope and reach of government and expand economic liberty to make Australia more prosperous. Taken together, these initiatives, if implemented, would help to ensure Australian’s have access to affordable and reliable energy in a competitive economy.

The recommendation to cut Australia’s high company tax rate to 25 per cent is the minimum necessary to ensure Australia is a relatively attractive place in which to do business. With business investment near record lows as a percentage of GDP, it is more important than ever that governments make sure Australia is open for business. Cutting the company tax will increase economic output by around $17 billion per year, which will flow to workers as higher wages and shareholders as higher returns.

Importantly, the MCA also recommends a series of sensible, middle of the road reforms in the energy market. The first is to establish One Stop Shops for environmental approvals and assessments between state governments and the Commonwealth government. Such an initiative will reduce red tape and duplication between the two layers of government. The second is to remove the ability of green groups to engage in vexatious litigation which delays the implementation of projects that have already been approved by the relevant Minister. The IPA found that such litigation undertaken under Section 487 of the EPBC Act has imposed costs of $1.2 billion. The IPA strongly recommends that Section 487 be repealed entirely.

The third initiative is to remove the water trigger for coal seam gas and large coal development. These requirements largely duplicate existing state requirements, and strangely targets water use in the mining sector, even though that sector accounts for less than 3% of national water consumption.

The fourth initiative is to remove nuclear actions as an automatic trigger in the EPBC Act and to lift the ban on nuclear power. Australia has around a third of the world’s total uranium supplies, yet it is a vastly under-developed resource. Governments in Australia should look to the potential of uranium energy to play a role in Australia’s future energy mix.

Overall, Australia’s energy market is suffering from years of poor public policy which has promoted unreliable, high-cost renewables at the expense of reliable, low-cost coal. Over the long term the only sustainable solution is for the government to stop picking winners, which means withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement and removing emission reductions requirements as a component of Australia’s energy policy. Australia makes no noticeable difference to the global climate, and it is not in our national interest to pretend that we do.

 

Mildura’s Hottest Day? Really BoM?

Honourable Josh Frydenberg MP
Minister for Environment and Energy

Dear Minister

Re: Suspend announcement of new record hot days – Inform WMO that Bureau’s measurements are currently not comparable with mercury thermometers – Give directive for release of more A8 forms – Establish an audit mechanism

1. BACKGROUND

I write to confirm my receipt of some preliminary information from Mildura – you may remember that I wrote to you on 26th September suggesting that the new record hot day for Mildura announced by the Bureau of Meteorology of 37.7 degrees Celsius recorded on Saturday 23rd September, was unlikely to be a valid record because it was not measured consistent with calibration.

The Bureau have since acknowledged that their method of recording temperatures from electronic sensors is not accredited, though they claim it nevertheless gives readings equivalent to mercury thermometers. Interestingly, your office emailed a journalist, backing them up – claiming that a single electronic sensor can “mirror the behaviour of liquid in glass thermometers”. This is nonsense, because mercury and alcohol thermometers have different time constants. This is one reason the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) insist on numerical averaging: alcohol thermometers (that measure temperature minima) have longer time constants than mercury thermometers (that measure temperature maxima).

Historically, alcohol thermometers were used to measure minimum temperatures, and mercury thermometers were used to measure maximum temperatures – across Australia. Then on 1 November 1996, the Bureau changed their ‘primary instrument’ to electronic sensors.

Anyway, I am grateful for the information recently received from the Bureau (following your directive), which does enable some comparison of measurements from a mercury thermometer with measurements from an electronic sensor, but only for Mildura for the period November 1996 to December 2000. I received this information in the form of over 4,000 scanned A8 forms, and have personally transcribed much of the relevant information, specifically the handwritten manual recording from the mercury thermometers.

2. MY PRELIMINARY FINDINGS

I can confirm, that the values recorded manually on the A8 forms from the mercury thermometers for the period November 1996 to December 2000 are significantly different from the official values recorded from the electronic sensors. If we consider just the values for September, the mean difference is statistically significant at the 0.05 level of probability, and is +0.34 °C, +0.27 °C and +0.28 °C for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999, respectively.

Somewhat surprisingly, the automatic weather stations at Mildura for these three Septembers recorded statistically significantly cooler temperatures than the mercury thermometers. (This is generally consistent with other values on the A8 forms, though winter and summer differences may be more extreme.)

This could suggest that the recent record hot day was, in fact, an underestimation of temperature. However, I’ve since been shown photographs that prove the electronic sensor in place at Mildura for those three years (1997, 1998, 1999) was shorter and thicker (with a correspondingly significantly longer time constant), than the Rosemount sensor that was in place on 23rd September 2017. Furthermore, the Bureau’s own documentation indicates that the Stevenson screen size has also changed – introducing yet another variable. Additionally, it has been brought to my attention that at that time – back in 1997, 1998 and 1999 – the official recorded temperatures were likely to be a numerical average taken over at least one-minute. The recent record was a one second-spot reading. I have confirmed this from the one-minute data for Mildura for 23rd September, also made available to me recently – following your directive.

While the current head, Andrew Johnson, claims the Bureau has always taken one-second readings from electronic sensors, this is at odds with a letter from Sue Barrell, Bureau of Meteorology, to Dr Peter Cornish dated 6th February 2013, available online here. The letter details a methodology much more consistent with World Meteorological Guidelines – specifically reference is made to numerical averaging.

The bottom line is that since the introduction of automatic weather stations over 20 years ago, there has been no documented standard against which Australian temperatures at Mildura, or anywhere else, have been recorded. Of most concern to me is the muddling, (including by your staffers), of the numerical averaging-period with the time constant. The Bureau somewhat confusingly often refers to the time constant as the sensor “averages”.

3. HISTORICAL TEMPERATURE RECORD

I have been reliably informed that when the various variables for Mildura are eventually determined – as they must – the actual hottest day on record for September for Mildura may be 22nd September 2003 or the 28th of September 1928 if temperatures before 1910 are ignored.

Interestingly, the hottest day ever for Mildura according to the official ACORN-SAT record is 10th January 1939; that summer of 1938-39 was exceptionally hot across south-eastern Australia. When I was researching the longer historical temperature record for Mildura a couple of years ago (at the same time I was correcting for Stevenson screen installations and moves from the post office to the airport in back-of-the-envelope type calculations), I determined that the hottest summer on record at Mildura was likely 1905/1906.

Backing this up, a relatively recent study published by Lucinda Coates and colleagues (Environmental Science and Policy, Volume 42, 2014) identified Januaries in 1879, 1896, 1906 and 1908 as being months with ‘significant heat events’ in Australia.

Our Bureau ignores this early pre-1910 historical temperature record, and after 1910 corrects for its political incorrectness through homogenisation as I have detailed elsewhere.

4. ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS

Whilst the historical temperature record issued by the Bureau may have only been of limited, or academic interest, in the past this is no longer the case in view of the current scientific and public policy debate about global warming. These temperature recordings are now the primary input data which determine a range of scientific predictions, projections and model outputs with enormous, fiscal, economic and political implications both for Australia and internationally. If these temperature recordings are wrong then all the consequent scientific, fiscal, economic and political decisions based on this data may be wrong also.

On this basis, given the importance of the temperature record, I would suggest that there needs to be an ongoing and independent oversight audit mechanism/group established to ensure that you and the government can be confident that you are receiving reliable and accurate temperature records on which to base government policy decisions both nationally and internationally.

The fiscal records of government agencies are independently and regularly audited for amounts far less than the fiscal and economic impacts of global warming policies so it would seem only prudent and reasonable that the temperature records of the Bureau of Meteorology, which have such huge fiscal and economic impacts, should be subject to a similar audit regime to ensure their accuracy, integrity and reliability.

Historical temperature records back to 1880 are the primary input data which determine the range of scientific predictions, projections and model output with enormous fiscal, economic and political implications both for Australia and internationally.

Current and historical temperature records for Mildura, as measured and collated by the Bureau, are included in the calculation of global temperatures by the UK Meteorological office and NASA – subsequently relied upon by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change informing the Paris Accord.

Perhaps unbeknownst to these organisations, our Bureau has a ‘novel’ method of recording temperatures from electronic sensors in automatic weather stations that cannot logically give readings consistent with the liquid-in-glass thermometers, which were the primary instruments for Australian temperature measurements until 1 November 1996.

5. RECOMMENDATIONS

Given the importance of the temperature record being correct: there is a need for an ongoing and independent oversight audit.

Inform the WMO that the temperatures recorded by our Bureau are not consistent with calibration, nor any international standard.

Direct the Bureau to desist from announcing new record hot days – not only for Mildura but for all 563 automatic weather stations recording surface temperatures across Australia.

Also, I would be grateful to receive more scanned A8 forms, specifically for the period 1 January 2001 until 30 September 2017 for Mildura. (It could be that I have only received A8 forms for Mildura until December 2000, as the Bureau is awaiting your directive to release the forms after this date.) I also await advice regarding the availability of scanned A8 forms from the other 38 locations with parallel data, as I detailed in my letter to you of 22nd October 2017.

Yours sincerely

Jennifer Marohasy BSc PhD
Senior Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs
Founder, Climate Modelling Laboratory, Noosa
Member, International AltMet Network

The assistance of AltMet Network members LP, KS, JV, MN, PC, PM and RM is gratefully acknowledged in the drafting of this letter.

Originally published on Jennifer Marohasy’s blog here.