The Age of Stupid

A well known local environmentalist who is convinced that humans are causing the Earth to heat up catastrophically asked me to view the AGW propaganda film “The Age of Stupid” and let him know what I thought of it. It seems he fully expected me to so impressed by the film that I would convert and henceforward carry the AGW flag. Here is the letter I wrote him after watching the programme.
Footnote: I did lend him my copy of The Great Global Warming Swindle, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not do me the courtesy of watching it, and it was returned to me pristine and unviewed. Belief! Eish…

A review of “The Age of Stupid”

Chamonix in 2007. Compare this with the snowless images in "The Age of Stupid".

Chamonix in 2007. Compare this with the snowless images in “The Age of Stupid”.


Well, I have after trial and tribulation managed to watch all of “The Age of Stupid”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a free download site that offered the entire movie in one chunk, so ultimately I resorted to YouTube and watched it in 9 episodes. Given the emotional style of the production, which requires uninterrupted flow to carry the feelings in the intended way, this was not ideal, but perhaps, in a way, it gives me an objective advantage – the fragmentation breaks the subjective grip, and lets one more freely examine the facts without syrupy emotional overhead. The Great Global Warming Swindle is by contrast produced entirely differently, and is much more satisfying to the objective investigator, regardless of ideological persuasion. Of course, both movies strongly express a particular point of view, that’s given, but by and large, one of them relies on tears and the other on data.


Honestly, I had mixed feelings about this production. There is no question that it is technically excellent as a movie, and makes its point with both vigour and subtlety, but as a scientist seeking the truth, I don’t like the style of presentation at all – “Methinks they protesteth too much!” It definitely doesn’t let the facts stand in the way of a good cry.

Right at the beginning, we meet the alpine climber who, in his 80s, laments global warming. Pretty soon his eyes glisten with tears, and the scene of barren rock where the Chamonix ski slope should have been is overlaid with “Here at Chamonix, it’s December and there’s no snow at all. It’s a glimpse into the future.” I don’t know when that scene was shot, but in 2008 and 2009 there was record snowfall at Chamonix, so heavy in fact that for most of December both years skiing was considered dangerous. The bias is painful.

Then we have the chap who was overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He too had tears in his eyes as he told of rescuing a baby from the rising waters. Then we have a TV presenter laying the blame: “Intensity of hurricanes is related to surface sea temperatures. So increased intensity of hurricanes is associated with global warming.” What utter nonsense! There is no connection whatsoever. Hurricane intensity as far as we know is most likely related to polarity, both of the electromagnetic sheath vortex, and of the differential in temperature between the basin beneath the axis of spin (warm) and surrounding water (cold). Another factor is wind shear above warm spots, which actually weakens hurricanes. It has nothing to do with global warming. Also, the catastrophe in New Orleans was not the result of an abnormally fierce hurricane, but because of that city’s below-sea-level vulnerability and dependence on poorly constructed and maintained levees. The incidence and strength of hurricanes in 2006, as well as their landfall percentage, were well below average. The figures are freely available. Was that caused by global warming?
So I didn’t get off to a good start with this movie, but heck, I stuck it out. Well, it didn’t get better. The images of poverty and disease, corruption and barbarism, of millions struggling for food are emotionally deeply compelling. It certainly makes me sad to see evidence of the human and environmental conditions that result from the greed and megalomania of individuals who exert physical dominance over their tribes. But how on Earth is human nature a consequence of man-made climate change? Where does global warming fit in? And how will carbon caps alleviate mass hunger and endemic disease; how could massive industrial rollbacks possibly increase production so the hungry can eat? The Niger Delta scenes are such a mixed message. Corrupt, power-mad people will opportunistically use whatever currency is to hand—witness Gore’s use of AGW—whether it is opium poppies in Afghanistan or oil in Nigeria, it’s just what the Earth offers up in a particular region. We have to deal with human population pressure. We can’t just say “It’s their fault for having children so let them suffer.” It’s energy consumption versus output productivity. The granaries of the world use more energy and produce more food. It seems to me the Age of Stupid belongs to a school of thought and an ideology that is really just anti-capitalist when you boil it down, and we’ve seen how well those schemes have worked in the past. What we really need to do is let pragmatism rein in this rampant idealism. We have a job to do.

The aim of this movie as I understand it, its central message, is that we are corrupting the environment by our misuse of resources. I am wholeheartedly in support of that ethic. What I cannot tolerate is that blatantly false evidence is raised to create the popular impression that human activities control global temperatures, and that all environmental (and even many sociological) evils stem from this. The entire moral effort of a generation has been cunningly steered in a particular direction, and it has been infused with a self-satisfying moralistic anger that defies logic. While this is going on, Gore, Pachauri, and their henchmen are pocketing personal profits amounting to many millions of dollars. Our environmental conscience has been hijacked by greed of another persuasion, but greed it certainly is. This has been achieved by superbly crafted propaganda, and The Age of Stupid is perhaps the best of the lot.

By the time I reached the credits at the end of The Age of Stupid, I was as despondent as I would imagine most people are who are exposed to this sort of message. In my case though, I was most saddened by the power and effect of carefully constructed propaganda in determining, or at least reinforcing what people want to believe. It has nothing to do with the data or the measurements. An Inconvenient Truth presents 35 main scientific arguments to support Anthropogenic Global Warming. Guess how many were falsified by comparison with the measurements? 35! But pathetically few people who carry Gore’s banner ever bother to check his facts, and indeed, when faced with them, simply write them off as “denialism”. If we create a human desert in years to come—and we might—it will be because we put all our ecological effort into uselessly fighting carbon when all the while the real environmental issues, the ones that can really make a difference, are ignored. With our conscience appeased, we will go to sleep thinking we have done the right thing, and we may never wake up.


So I guess we are both depressed by what is going on. I just don’t see the moral justification in lying about it. I look forward to hearing your reaction to The Great Global Warming Swindle. I have the DVD if you’d like to organise a viewing.
Best wishes

Neutrinos, Nautilus, and the Notre Dame, by Hilton Ratcliffe

First and foremost, for me, knowledge is a journey, and I’m happy to hang around with people I can learn from. I prefer to do this in a pleasant way, hence the preference for comfortable chats over a cup of tea. My mother was a veritable teapot, and my late academic advisor, Professor Tony Bray, conducted all our research fuelled by tea and scones. It involves respect, courtesy, charming etiquette, and admission of our own ignorance.


Tony once described what I do as “agricultural astrophysics”. I try not to be disparaging about particle physics because a) I don’t understand it, and b) it sometimes does something useful (or so I’m told). In the field of experimental particle physics, I probably come closest to a glimmer of understanding when I’m thinking about neutrinos. An extra, distinct energy transport mechanism (besides light) was needed to explain conservation of energy and momentum in chemical reactions, so neutrinos were predicted, along with a means of detection (they are optically invisible). When a neutrino impacts an atomic nucleus (preferably a single proton), it emits a flash of mauve Cherenkov light (which is optically visible) aligned with the source. When large bodies of interactive material with prominent protons (like heavy water) are put somewhere shielded from ambient radiative pollution, we do in fact see patterns of Cherenkov light apparently aligned with sources of radio activity.


In order to make sense of this, statistical adjustments are made to get a fit with the model of the day. For example, although the neutrino flux density on Earth according to theory must be on the order of several billion neutrinos per square millimetre per second, neutrino observatories like Sudbury typically see less than one Cherenkov flash per hour. From that they extrapolate a beautiful, complex sub-model like flavour-changing. All this is accomplished without yet dealing with antineutrinos. When matter particles meet antimatter particles, they tell us, there is an energetic explosion and both are annihilated. Well don’t hold your breath! Not a single explosion has been observed, although, they tell us, the neutrino-antineutrino blizzard is thicker than Scotch broth by orders of magnitude.


Nor does something need to be seen to qualify as “observed”. The tau neutrino is listed as the latest addiction of “directly observed” particles in the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and likewise, the MSW effect (oscillation between types of neutrinos) is credited in the literature with having been “directly observed”. With respect, in both cases what was actually observed was the mathematical formalism.


I don’t think it’s hard to see why I plough the fields of science with a tractor I can sit on. These guys just don’t make sense to me. I’m glad they don’t build bridges!


The principles I am following (and which seem to appeal to your sensibilities) are that 1). Physics is a branch of science that deals with quantities that are measurable. 2.) All measurements in physics can be made in four basic dimensions – mass, length, time, and polarity (charge). With these we understand distance and time, and therefore speed and acceleration. Thus we understand the effects of force, and consequently projectile motion, ballistics, friction, optics, and action-at-a-distance (like orbital motion and magnetic fields). Motion can be expressed differently depending on the co-ordinate frame preferred, and that is what we call relativity. Tie physics in with chemistry, and we have a coherent, empirical explanation of our physical neighbourhood. No hocus-pocus. In my view, any theory concocted outside of these (physical) principles is just a mind-game, and falls into the category of “green elephant theories” (after the guy who famously offered US$100,000 to the first person who could disprove his theory that the Universe propagates by green elephants laying speckled eggs in Black Holes. Of course, his money was safe).


Common sense tells us that when we weigh an elephant, we must take into account the creature that rides upon its back and subtract it to get the correct weight for the elephant; quantitative observation tells us that the creature is in fact a flea and that we needn’t bother because the difference is insignificant. Studies involving fine measurement indicate that anthropogenic carbon emissions are a flea on the climate’s back, and spending billions on trying to cut that little flea in half will do nothing but make the poor poorer. The fact of the matter is, we cannot significantly control the climate, for better or for worse. Global warming, when it happens, is a completely natural, inevitable, solar-driven cycle. If it were not for global warming, without any input from mankind, then we would not have emerged from the last ice age. The major problem facing our terrestrial environment is human over-population. If we could cut the population density, then the waste products of human enterprise, including carbon and DDT and methane from sheep, would be cut along with it. That’s the core of the problem, the actual cause of our headache, and taking an aspirin doesn’t cure it. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a myth feeding off our collectively guilty political conscience.


Firstly, on the question of bias, we all have bias. As soon as one has an opinion, one has bias. It’s as natural as having an ego, which after all is just the apparent identity of our consciousness. Both ego and bias are necessarily part of a healthy psyche, unless and until they dominate our personalities. Then we become a right old pain to deal with! Our job as scientists is characterised by a battle to see the results of experiment and observation without the taint of bias, or with as little of it as possible. In a perfect world (which I believe is what we strive for, although it is unattainable), we would let the facts fall where they will, and follow the clues wherever they might lead. I think the first step in this direction is to do the primary analysis of any data set without reference to any particular model. We should look at solar data without first marshalling them into the corral of the Standard Solar Model, and we should look at cosmological data quite regardless of Big Bang Theory. That way we significantly reduce the effect of user bias on the object of observation.


The stars are what they are irrespective of the opinions expressed in the field of cosmology. It amazes me that pronouncements are made about distant objects with such unshakeable certainty when in the cold light of day the reach of verifiable science is not nearly so self-assured. I am reminded of Al Gore’s brazen assertion that “the science is settled” in climatology, a field which rivals cosmology in chaotic outcomes. The most daunting challenge facing space science is that of scale. In an infinite Universe, we will always be infinitely more ignorant than we are wise. In my view, we have more than enough to keep us occupied in the celestial neighbourhood, and would do well to take things one step at a time. Compare the science proposed in Hannes Alfven and Gustav Arrhenius “The Evolution of the Solar System” with Alan Guth’s pronouncements on Inflation Theory, or George Smoot’s take on the CMB, or indeed, even the core principles of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The question I like to ask myself is “How does this theory connect to observed reality?” In a sitting room conversation with Halton Arp a few years ago, the late Fred Hoyle said, “I suppose that in the end, Chip, the Universe will have its say.”


The shocking reality is that research is done for money, not in pursuit of truth. The Theory of Everything which will no doubt be pronounced by high-energy physicists in the not-too-distant future will, I fear, be a set of mathematical sentences so arcane that none could render them false, and they would in any event be based upon experiments that have no intrinsic meaning discernable to scientists in more general research. In short, the magic will be witnessed and explained exclusively by the conjurors themselves, and we will have to decide on blind faith alone whether we believe them or not. What really happens in the Large Hadron Collider remains for the vast majority of us nothing more than conjecture, and I suppose their conclusions are inevitably going to form the basis of a large chunk (or even all) of cosmology. Astronomers will play no part in where astronomy is going.

Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics

I recently retired after 40 years in astrophysics, during which time I succeeded in making of myself something of a pariah, although all I wanted to do was practice physics, physically. I am South African, partially educated at the University of Cape Town, George Ellis’s academic home. At this stage of my life I can say what I like without jeopardising my meagre pension. And what I say is this: thank heavens for George Ellis, Peter Woit, the late Geoff Burbidge, and those few others who had the courage of their convictions and stood up to the corruption of science. My swansong, and indeed also my magnum opus, is my third book, Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks, a treatment of the influence of belief in the formulation of our opinions, scientific or otherwise. In it, I acknowledge the courage of Ellis, Burbidge, and you, Peter. I salute you, Sirs.

Our Rude Forefathers

norway 2



A recent documentary programme on the isolated communities at the Arctic end of Norway’s magnificent, desolate coastal wilderness touched an inquisitive nerve in my consciousness. The camera stroked delicate nuances of colour from almost monochrome, fiercely jagged fjords, and reverently wove its way through the aching streets of boarded-up villages, where only ghosts appreciate the view. I followed the lens as it drifted into a churchyard—yes, such is the power of Christendom that even here, where reindeer fear to tread, there is always a church—and out into an expansive field of hoary graves where a few hopeful flowers remember spring. The tombstones are lichen-covered monuments to memories that themselves have gone cold. The camera quietly records the defunct generations of a millennium or more, now forgotten and left to lie in wait for the occasional sentimental visit by distant relatives or even the Blue Moon intrusion of a cameraman such as he.



I am poignantly reminded of Thomas Gray’s epic Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.


Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.


Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,

Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap,

Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.


Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,

Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;

Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile

The short and simple annals of the poor.


The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.


Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,

If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise,

Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault

The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.


Can storied urn or animated bust

Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?

Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,

Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?


Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;

Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,

Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre.


But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page

Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;

Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,

And froze the genial current of the soul.



I thought of those Rude Forefathers, these really no different from mine, and wondered if the nostalgic scene could bring me closer to the purpose of life. Untouched by all but the most rudimentary of technological remedies and social grace, they lived their lives organically and without pretence. They passed their time in simple, untouched peace, enduring the harshness of nature and unforeseen misfortune without the panacea of analgesics and anaesthetics. They raised their children and their livestock, tilled soil no more than a stone’s throw from their homes, and after all that toil and unwelcome pillaging by Vikings on their way to Iceland, their gift to the future was little more than their progeny and a mouldy tombstone.
That they did not invent vaccines or build pyramids or wage famous wars means they are anonymous in history, and for what they were in life, are now so completely forgotten that they might just as well not have existed at all.

Except for one almost invisible thing: Their seed.

What was the purpose of their lives? We cannot give a measured answer to that question by considering only what they experienced while they lived. We must step back and consider the species without factoring individual peons in the tribe. The satisfactions of life, and indeed life itself, pass in a smoky flash in the eye of eternity. Whatever their allotted span, whatever hardship, pain, or brief pleasure came their way, now it is gone and crumbled to dust. Their personalities and their physiques are not even shadows to be glimpsed by whirring video as we amble through history’s cemetery with more mystery upon our laden brows than before we came. Stripped of all the glamour and badges of showbiz achievement, lives such as these seem utterly meaningless. Except for one thing.

The survival of the species.

That’s it. A ghastly, macabre game of survival against preset environmental obstacles in a Universe that does not feel our pain. Actually, it’s absurd. The yoke of life weighs heavily upon our shoulders, and we have to hypnotise ourselves with temporary escape to find reward and satisfaction. No wonder people have in their quiver of arrows the instinct of belief and irrational awe of the idols of superstition.

Why else would we bother?


The Forer Effect

The Forer effect (also called the Barnum effect after P. T. Barnum’s observation that “we’ve got something for everyone”) is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, aura reading and some types of personality tests. A related and more general phenomenon is that of subjective validation. Subjective validation occurs when two unrelated or even random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectation, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus people seek a correspondence between their perception of their personality and the contents of a horoscope. (Wikipedia).



I am often confronted by well-meaning environmentalists with questions along the lines of, “Even if the AGW model is scientifically untenable, if it causes industry to cut pollution, what’s the harm? Surely it is a good thing?”

There’s no concise way to answer all the implications in those questions (for a start, CO2 is the very opposite of a pollutant). This morning I found a reasonable way of replying. I started to watch a very disturbing programme on BBC illustrating the imminent demise of various species, including several kinds of tiger and leopard, and that is something that really tugs at my heartstrings. I care about threatened species. A lot. But I had to change channels. You see, the message of this documentary was in essence twofold:

1. Tigers are threatened almost exclusively by climate change.

2. If we follow the guidelines set out by the proponents of anthropogenic global warming, we will not only correct the climate so that it becomes more comfortable for all creatures of the Earth, we will save the tigers from extinction too.

That sort of message is so wrong, it’s criminal. And totally immoral. There is absolutely no hard evidence that the AGW corrective measures have any effect on the climate, for better or for worse. “Fighting climate change” has become the mantra of environmentally concerned citizens, who believe that the IPCC is going to save the planet and cure all the ill effects of nature. And save the tigers and polar bears from extinction. The AGW movement is immoral in that it satisfies the environmental conscience of millions of people while having no reason to feel pleased with themselves other than that their climate model has convinced so many people to support them.

“Fighting climate change” is not going to save the tigers, ladies and gentlemen. I am certain of that, for three main reasons: Firstly, the model is not supported by the data, in other words, we have no unambiguous evidence that it does what it claims to do. Secondly, it is prohibitively expensive, and that has obvious consequences for the economies of the world in their efforts to produce enough wealth to pay the taxes AGW brings to bear, and reduces the surplus from which real environmental conservation is funded. Thirdly, tigers are not threatened by climate change. They are threatened by human beings.

We really need to get our feet back on the ground.

Tuskless in Paradise.

Excerpt from The Social Contract – a Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder by Robert Ardrey

Tuskless in Paradise.

A society is a group of unequal beings organized to meet common needs.

In any sexually reproducing species, equality of individuals is a natural impossibility. Inequality must therefore be regarded as the first law of social materials, whether in human or other societies. Equality of opportunity must be regarded among vertebrate species as the second law. Insect societies may include genetically determined castes, but among backboned creatures this cannot be. Every vertebrate born, excepting in only in a few rare species, is granted equal opportunity to display his genius, or to make a fool of himself.

While a society of equals—whether of baboons or jackdaws, lions or men—is a natural impossibility, a just society is a realizable goal. Since the animal, unlike the human being, is seldom tempted by the pursuit of the impossible, his societies are seldom denied the realizable.

The just society, as I see it, is one in which sufficient order protects members, whatever their diverse endowments, and sufficient disorder provides every individual with full opportunity to develop his genetic endowment, whatever that may be. It is this balance of order and disorder, varying in rigour according to environmental hazard, that I think of as the social contract. And that it is a biological command will become evident as we inquire among the species.

Violation of biological command has been the failure of social man. Vertebrates though we may be, we have ignored the law of equal opportunity since civilizations earliest hours. Sexually reproducing beings though we are, we pretend today that the law of inequality does not exist. And enlightened though we may be, while we pursue the unattainable, we make impossible the realizable.

God Particle or Goddamn Particle?

My monthly astrophysical column written for the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.

July 2012

“All truth passes through three phases. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher, 1788 – 1860

The media are awash with rumour, speculation, and no small measure of excitement. No doubt the thirteen million eager sycophants who bought and applauded Stephen Hawking’s monumental best-seller, A Brief History of Time, are leaning forward in their armchairs in rapt expectation—the shady halls of journalism are experiencing a feeding frenzy, devouring the scraps cast out by CERN and regurgitating them with thrilling headlines: The God Particle has been found! It must have been. As the cost of the Large Hadron Collider spirals upwards towards the twenty-billion-dollar mark, the world of armchair scientists prepares a fete of celebration not seen since Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had indeed found confirmation of General Relativity Theory in the solar eclipse of 1919. So what’s all the fuss about?

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The Paradigm Shift Is Upon Us!

My monthly astrophysical column written for the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.

June 2012

I have regrets; not overwhelming, psyche-twisting regrets, but nevertheless there are things in my life that I wistfully wish could have been played otherwise. One of them is that I missed (due to a persistent and mysterious viral infection of my inner ear) Prof Mike Watkeys’ talk at the May meeting of our society. From what I understand from friends who attended, Dr Watkeys nailed his colours to the mast: There is nothing we can do about climate change.

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Bulls**t Baffles Brains, lol!

My monthly astrophysical column written for the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.

Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

The patent for a time machine has been filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office by one Dr. Marvin B. Pohlman of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here is the abstract of his submission:

“The method employs sinusoidal oscillations of electrical bombardment on the surface of one Kerr type singularity in close proximity to a second Kerr type singularity in such a method to take advantage of the Lense-Thirring effect, to simulate the effect of two point masses on nearly radial orbits in a 2+1 dimensional anti-de Sitter space resulting in creation of circular timelike geodesics conforming to the van Stockum under the Van Den Broeck modification of the Alcubierre geometry (Van Den Broeck 1999) permitting topology change from one spacelike boundary to the other in accordance with Geroch’s theorem (Geroch 1967) resulting in a method for the formation of Godel-type geodesically complete spacetime envelopes complete with closed timelike curves.”

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