SkepticalScience Pounds Plimer

December 9, 2011

 One of the great things about being here at the American Geophysical Union conference is the opportunity to meet in the flesh with people who have up till now only been disembodied heads on a screen at best.

John Cook, founder of the Mother of All Climate Sites – Skepticalscience.com – is someone I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with here, when I can fight my way thru the crowds that have turned out for his sessions here.

He’s got a new feature at SkSci highlighting the bonehead mispronouncements of Australia’s most odious disinformer, Ian Plimer.

On 30 October, Ian Plimer wrote to The Weekend Australian, lamenting that noone had explained to him how anyone could be concerned about carbon dioxide given that most of its sources were supposedly natural. However, a thorough explanation of how we know humans are causing the increase in CO2 levels can be found on pages 414 and 415 of a 2009 book on climate change. The book is called Heaven and Earth. The author, Ian Plimer.

Plimer contradicting Plimer is not an isolated incident. One of his pet arguments is that carbon dioxide has been much higher in the past, without the Earth going into meltdown. He concludes that carbon dioxide can’t have much of a warming effect. There’s a major flaw in this line of thinking. The further back in time you go, the cooler the sun gets. If it wasn’t for the warming effect of carbon dioxide, the Earth would’ve been a frozen iceball throughout much of its history.

The question that has long burned in my mind was how could Plimer, a geologist, not know that the sun has been steadily warming throughout Earth’s history. A proper understanding of greenhouse warming over geological timeframes requires considering both CO2 levels and solar activity. You would expect this kind of over-simplified misinformation from a blogger sourcing their information from other blogs but from a professional geologist? Well, at this point, the mystery deepens.

It turns out Plimer is aware that the sun has been steadily warming over the Earth’s history. In his 2001 book A Short History of Planet Earth, Plimer explains how the warming effect from CO2 kept our planet from freezing into an ice age when the sun was cooler (emphasis mine):

The early Sun had a luminosity of some 30 per cent less than now and, over time, luminosity has increased in a steady state. The low luminosity of the early Sun was such that the Earth’s average surface temperature would have been below 0°C from 4500 to 2000 million years ago. But, there is evidence of running water and oceans as far back as 3800 million years ago. This paradox is solved if the Earth had an enhanced greenhouse with an atmosphere of a lot of carbon dioxide and methane.

If you’re confused at this point, you’re not alone! Which Plimer are we to believe? The Plimer who considers the full body of evidence and comes to conclusions consistent with the scientific consensus that increased greenhouse gases causes warming? Or the Plimer who cherry picks the data, withholds vital pieces of evidence and misleads the public. I know which I prefer.

6 Responses to “SkepticalScience Pounds Plimer”


  1. Cartoonists and English Majors…who needs scientists at the agu with intellectual pinnacles like those?

  2. Martin_Lack Says:

    Ian Plimer being criticised for disseminating misinformation is not news.

    In September this year he was lambasted by the Vice-President of the Geological Society of London for making the claim that volcanoes are responsible for climate change; something which I commented on in my ‘The road to hell is paved with good inventions’.

    It is a shame he could not have read James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren (i.e. also published in 2009) – it would have saved him a lot of embarrassment.


  3. […] Cook's Plimer vs. Plimer post was also featured by Climate Crocks and Scholars and […]


  4. […] Cook's Plimer vs. Plimer post was also featured by Climate Crocks and Scholars and […]

  5. astrostevo Says:

    Plimer also seems to have the idea that the Sun is made of iron or has an iron core or something very strange like that and there are many, many more things Plimer~wise that have been debunked.

    My favourite astronomical howler of his however is where he writes on on Page 129 :

    “In 1998, the Hubble telescope showed that a moon of Neptune (Triton) since it was visited by the Explorer space probe in 1989.”

    What the ..? “Explorer?” Eh? In all human history there was one & only one spacecraft that ever flew past Neptune – and that spaceprobe (as I thought everyone knew) was ‘Voyager 2′. So easy to check, such a basic thing to get wrong. But neither Profesor Ian Plimer nor his editors caught it. (Shakes head sadly.)

  6. Martin_Lack Says:

    I think Plimer’s greatest mistake was to think that, having taken on and beaten the Young Earth Creationists, it was a good idea to tackle “those who believe in” Global Warming. In terms of his professional reputation, it has been a personal catastrophe; one from which I suspect he will never recover – even if he recants like Richard A Muller has done.


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