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Phelim McAleer is a film-maker who has produced a documentary challenging the climate change consensus. He appeared on an Irish political program this evening to  debate with a climate scientist, Dr. Kieran Hickey. Now I haven’t watched much of this guy’s documentary yet, but even so, his argument was full of glaring logical fallacies.* 

1) A key plank of McAleer’s argument by the sounds of it is that because the scientific consensus got DDT so badly wrong that they must be wrong this time. 

Rubbish. Even if the scientists did get DDT wrong (and I’ll bet there’s a bit more to this story than meets the eye), that doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong on climate change. Methinks there is some selective thinking going on here. What about other scientific consensuses he omitted to mention? The connection between HIV and AIDS? Cowpox vaccination and Smallpox? Microbes and cholera? Smoking and lung cancer? Indeed, when it comes down to it: Gravity, Genetic theory, Plate Tectonics, Quantum Mechanics and Evolution are all scientific consensuses. It’s just a classic case of poisoning the well

2) Scientists have an agenda. 

The allegation here is that climate change is a big liberal conspiracy. This is an odd one, because the biggest vested interests in the climate change debate have always come from the other side! Get this: the combined revenue of the top 5 oil companies last year was 1.5 trillion dollars. 1,500,000,000,000 dollars. 1.5 million million dollars. That’s more than the entire GDP of Canada. Climate scientists were persona non grata in the White House for most of the last 8 years of the Bush presidency. If it’s a big conspiracy the financial backers must be an odd bunch indeed. Just because scientists are (according to you) bad people, it’s doesn’t make them wrong, Phelim. 

3) Climate change is a fad.

Apparently Phelim was taught in school in the 1970’s that the Ice Age was approaching in our lifetimes. In between there have been lots of fads, many of which have never come true. This argument attempts to conflate fads with real science, which is just ridiculous. Many of these fads never had any sort of consensus scientific backing. They were just media baubles – minority views that caught the imagination of the press for a period of time. Climate Change originated in the 1970’s as a seriously minority view. There was an activism bandwagon on climate change in the 1980’s which was often shone more heat than light. Cultural fads like this come and go, but the difference in this case was that real science began to weigh in over the past 20 years or so. This has swung the pendulum away from pure fad and into the realm of fact. An analogue is Wegener’s continental drift model that began as a minority view, but became in time accepted as a valid scientific theory when the science began to validate many of his arguments. Fads are not science. They lie on the margins, waiting to be validated or disproved. A lot of hard work needs to take place for a fad to become science, and in the case of climate change, this work has been carried out, with the argument pointing in no uncertain terms towards a deeply worrying future for us all. 

Here’s my biggest gripe with the whole thing. Debates are good when one person’s opinion is pitched against another person’s opinion. So if you bring the audience around to your point of view, you’ve won. Well done. A big prize to you. However, when you have a debate against a scientific consensus, then it doesn’t work so well. Even if the audience all agree with you, even if they carry you around on their shoulders in adulation, that doesn’t make your argument right. Science is not determined from public opinion. It has nothing to do with public opinion. It’s based on evidence, and the only way to challenge the science is to use the tools of science against it. These challenges do happen, but they don’t take place in public debate forums. No, they happen in scientific journals, conferences and papers, where each piece of evidence is scrutinised and debated until, you guessed it – a consensus emerges. So, even if the science is wrong in this case, Phelim, what is your alternative? Film-making?

* If you have never heard much about logical fallacies, I recommend you to take a look through this site. It may be the most educational hour or so you will spend this year.

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.. and the weather is terrible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start it off with a bit of a laugh..

First, a rugby theme..

And now for some Brummie polar bears..

Forget about your big rugby and soccer internationals. If you really want to see sport at its rawest and most intense, you can’t beat an under 5’s hurling match.

The ball gets hit out, and immediately 20 pairs of legs are chasing it around like a swarm of bees attacking a mischevious teddy bear. There’s always one though, idling in the centre of the pitch, completely oblivious to the game, imagining that he is a dinosaur: arms outstretched, a big T Rex lollop as he strides through his jungle. Another group in the corner are pretending they are pop stars, holding their hurleys in a way that would have made Rory Gallagher proud. It’s a goal, and suddenly a budding David Beckham travels the entire length of the pitch, completing his victory run with an authentic knee slide on the timber surface.

The game continues. Rarely does the ball come to rest, as it is harried by a score of hurleys, hitting at it from all directions. It’s a kind of social Brownian Motion, as the red team hit the ball towards the blue team and the blue team counter by scoring a masterfully planned own goal. One player rushes over to me with an important message: “Can I have an ice cream afterwards?”.

It’s getting ugly out there. A kid is knocked down, not by one opponent, but by ten of them simultaneously. Now the ball is stuck in a corner of the hall. Light itself is finding it difficult to escape from the huddle. I pity the coaches as they attempt to disentangle players from the melée.

It’s all over and my boys line up against the wall. Inexplicably, they are unbloodied and unbruised. They have only one thing on their minds: the ice creams they believed I had promised them earlier.

Make no mistake, Ireland’s future hurlers are a formidable lot.

I spent yesterday out of the office, exploring one of the most beautiful and delightful cities on the planet. San Francisco is twinned with Cork, and there are some similarities: the proximity to the ocean, the steep hills, the relaxed lifestyle and ambience. Both are cities for living in as opposed to just working in. Of course, San Francisco is so much more: the weather is superb, the complexity, size and diversity of the place is orders of magnitude greater and then in the distance is this enormous feat of engineering- the Golden Gate Bridge. (Actually there are other suspension bridges linking San Fran to the other side of the Bay, but they don’t get a look in). 

Just click on any of these photos for a bigger picture.

San Francisco morning

First on our itinerary was Chinatown. As you walk down through this sizeable district, you quickly begin to forget that you are in the same country as strip malls and banal chain restaurants. It’s a whole world in miniature.  

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Then on to Broadway, the Italian district and in the distance the Transamerica Pyramid. We visited a museum of the Beatnik culture, where I picked up “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac.  

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From here we headed up past the twists of Lambert St and looked out east over the city. The Coit tower is one of San Fran’s famous landmarks. 

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Then on down to Fisherman’s Wharf to look at the Golden Gate for the first time. There’s Alcatraz in the distance. 

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After a nice relaxing meal we visited Pier 39 to do some sea lion watching and to make a visit to Rodney Lough’s photo gallery. After seeing some of the photos I am seriously considering hanging up my camera in shame. This guy is good.

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Then out bicycle trip to the Golden Gate. Cripes. Where do you begin? So many photo opportunities, so little time! If you ever get a chance to visit San Fran, take a bike ride to the Bridge. You won’t regret it and it’s really good value for money.

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Another photo..

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And just one more, taken as the mist was invading the Bay from the Pacific Ocean.

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obama-speech

I have the happy fortune to be in California at the moment to witness a piece of history. The excitement all day was palpable. I was consulting my iPhone all evening as the results started to flow through. Then, sooner than expected, it was all over. Obama had crossed the line of 270 electoral votes and quickly had over 300 votes in the bag. All over bar the shouting, as they say in Ireland.

This is a terrific day for so many Americans. I was in a bar at the time and the whole place went silent when Obama stood up to deliver his victory speech. There were tears in peoples’ eyes. The king is dead*, long live the king.

* Well, metaphorically, and even then not until January… All the fun has been taken out of the modern day political leadership changes, don’t you think? No tumbrils, guillotines, or even chopping blocks these days. Such utter killjoys..

Rainbows. My one abiding memory of my holiday in Kerry this year.

We stayed in Banna Strand, a few miles outside Tralee. There is a marvelously long  beach there, plus a swimming pool and kids’ activity centre so the kids could be entertained whatever the weather. 

That’s not to say we couldn’t travel: there is so much to see in Kerry, it would be a pity to stay in one place all the time. We headed out to Ballybunnion, Dingle, Slea Head, Castlegregory, Killarney, Glencar, Crag Cave, and Fenit Harbour among many other places. All these places may be just names to you, but they are all spectacularly beautiful, especially when the clouds are changing the lighting so often. 

This is the town of Dingle, or to be correct An Daingean – the government changed its name to its Irish form a few years ago resulting in widespread uproar. All over Kerry the name “Dingle” has been erased from roadsigns with white sticking tape..

A seagull by Slea Head, overlooking the Blasket Islands. 

This guy is Brendan the Navigator, a Kerryman reputed to have travelled to Newfoundland and Iceland back in the middle ages.  

This is the Gap of Dunloe: a deep glacial valley beside the Magillicuddy Reeks (Ireland’s highest peaks). The whole Killarney area is Ireland’s equivalent of the Lake District. 

This is Ballybunnion on a freezing, stormy day.

I would like to impart to you all the wisdom I have gained in the past four decades..

Ready?

Ok, well, er.

Hmm.

There must be something there.

Tell you what. I’ll get back to you.

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