Open Mind

Pants on Fire

August 31, 2009 · 45 Comments

Recent comments pointed to more outrageous false statements by Ian Plimer. This guy is beyond belief … in more ways than one.

So many of Plimer’s comments are laughably, blatantly, ludicrously false, one hardly knows where to begin — a single lifetime simply isn’t long enough to delve into all of Plimer’s mendacity. Let’s just consider this:

IAN PLIMER: No, in the 1930s, it was much hotter. We had from 1920 to 1940 far less arctic sea ice than now, much, much warmer temperatures.

Make no mistake about it, regarding temperature Plimer isn’t talking about the U.S. or the U.K. or Australia, he’s talking about the globe. Regarding sea ice, he’s talking about the arctic.

Here’s annual average temperature for the globe according to NASA GISS:


Compare the 1930s to the 2000s.

Here’s northern hemisphere sea ice extent, combining historical data from the Hadley Centre with satellite data from NSIDC:


Here’s the smoothed mean northern hemisphere sea ice extent:


Compare 1920-1940 to the present.

Ian Plimer: explain.

If you can.

Categories: Global Warming

45 responses so far ↓

  • Dan L. // August 31, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Reply

    Nothing the man says is surprising anymore. It is obviously irrelevant to him if his assertions can be shown to be nonsense.

    Perhaps he realizes that by throwing in his lot with the Watts, Singers and Moranos of the world, he guarantees himself a paid seat at the next Heartland Institute “International Conference on Climate Change”. Betcha he’ll be there.

  • Nick Barnes // August 31, 2009 at 10:54 pm | Reply

    Plimer believes that the sun is made of iron. He has as much to contribute as Bob McElwaine or Archimedes Plutonium.

  • Wag the Dog // August 31, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Reply

    > Ian Plimer: explain.

    He’ll simply reply with a bunch of irrelevant climate modelling questions accompanied with demands that you state all assumptions and show all working.

    It’s kinda like claiming that gravity is a hoax by cherry picking examples of model deviations (e.g. Pioneer Anomaly), pointing out that no one can model gravity at the quantum level, and then challenge anyone who disagrees to predict the change in the Moon’s orbit if every human on Earth were to move to Florida (showing all working and assumptions, of course).

  • Hank Roberts // August 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm | Reply

    Nick, to give the appearance to new readers of evenhandedness, it’d help to cite whatever Plimer had to say about that ‘iron sun’ idea.
    It shows up a lot of places — the author of the idea speaks up for himself, e.g.:

    I think Plimer made some reference somewhere to this guy’s work — but what Google finds is a huge number of second hand comments saying he did so somewhere.

    A real cite would always help, particularly on this kind of thing from this kind of guy — to make the point that citations matter.

  • lenny // September 1, 2009 at 1:00 am | Reply

    Brilliant interview. Jones gives him the rope and Pilmer obliges.
    I thought that the most bizarre Pilmer was this:

    “No, the hottest US temperatures, not the hottest global temperatures. They occur in mid-latitude deserts. They don’t occur in areas such as the US, which is not mid-latitude desert.”

    WTF is that supposed to mean?

  • Former Skeptic // September 1, 2009 at 1:47 am | Reply


    That’s a brilliant catch. Not a mid-latitude desert? When was the last time Plimer looked at a map?

    I hereby invite Plimer to spend a few summer days
    in Death Valley. If that’s not to his liking, I’d like to go tubing with him down the Salt River in Phoenix sometime in June. He’d better bring a thick coat, since the U.S. Southwest is “not mid-latitude desert.”

  • Scott A. Mandia // September 1, 2009 at 2:27 am | Reply


    Now I have another URL to point to whenever another blogger says “but Ian Plimer’s book says…”

    Tamino, I hope you didn’t spend much time with this because the interview truly reveals Plimer’s absurdity.

    Now back to real work…..

  • Shaun Jeffrey // September 1, 2009 at 5:32 am | Reply

    From a very layman point of view, it looks like he’s denying everything which has been proven beyond doubt to be true. He should be banned from contributing to the discussion. How do you measure global temperature anyway? I bet this guy doesn’t even know how to do it.

  • Matt Andrews // September 1, 2009 at 7:44 am | Reply

    Michael Ashley, professor of astrophysics at the University of NSW, reviewed “Heaven and Earth”. Here’s the section where he deals with Plimer’s curious claims about the composition of the Sun:

    Plimer probably didn’t expect an astronomer to review his book. I couldn’t help noticing on page 120 an almost word-for-word reproduction of the abstract from a well-known loony paper entitled “The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass”. This paper argues that the sun isn’t composed of 98 per cent hydrogen and helium, as astronomers have confirmed through a century of observation and theory, but is instead similar in composition to a meteorite.

    It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates. It is comparable to a biologist claiming that plants obtain energy from magnetism rather than photosynthesis.

  • Dirk Hartog // September 1, 2009 at 7:59 am | Reply


    RE: Plimer’s comments on the ‘iron sun’.

    The ‘iron sun’, or perhaps more correctly, the ‘iron-rich sun’, is a theory by O. Manuel. It postulates that the sun doesn’t consist largely of hydrogen and helium, as the astronomers say, but mostly of the heavy elements that are found in meteorites. The core of the sun is supposed to be a neutron star. There are supposed to be rigid iron-rich bodies floating in the sun just below the surface.

    The theory is at the same level of believability as the moon being made of cheese.

    Plimer extensively quotes from Manuel in Heaven and Earth. E.g., on page 116 he quotes evidence that the sun consists mostly of the elements found in meteorites, and that rigid iron-rich structures are just below the surface. On page 120 he repeats many statements from one of Manuel’s bizarre papers on the iron-rich sun. He doesn’t preface them with “one theory is that…” – he just states them as bald facts.

    Perhaps the best evidence of Plimer’s beliefs on this subject is at where Plimer says “As for the Sun being composed of hydrogen and helium, it is not. I cite a large body of evidence to show that there are many heavy atoms in the Sun (as would be expected in recycled supernoval material, as the isotope data shows) and I cite many times the world authority on this subject (Oliver Manual[sic])”.

    Now a lawyer might argue that Plimer is simply saying that the sun isn’t _only_ composed of hydrogen and helium, and that “many heavy atoms” might mean more than say 10 atoms. But I think it is pretty clear that he is agreeing with Manuel, that the Sun is _mostly_ composed of heavy elements, and that hydrogen and helium are a small component.

    You can’t get much more loony than that.

    • Glenn Tamblyn // September 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Reply


      I think you mis-understand Ian

      Here is a post I added to the ABC Australia blog following Ian’s article.
      ‘Here is one choice item from Ian’s ‘lecture’.

      ‘Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day’

      This is a little masterpiece.

      Take one fact expressed accurately but misleadingly to make it seem like he is saying something else then add another fact that is just plain wrong, unless you read it in a different light.

      Did you take his statement to mean that humans have only added 1 part in 10,000 to the CO2 in the atmosphere? That our contribution to CO2 levels is trivial? If so you fell for his con.

      Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were around 280 part per million (ppm). Or 2.8 in 10,000! But that is its part of ALL the gases in the atmosphere. Nitrogen is around 7,000 in 10,000, Oxygen around 2,100 in 10,000. Our emissions since then have raised the level to around 390 ppm, an increase in the CO2 concentration of around 40%!! The increase of 110 ppm is 1.1 per 10,000 – roughly Ian’s magic number. But a 40% increase is no a trivial change. And we know that the source of this EXTRA CO2 is man made because the ratio of carbon isotopes means that the majority of the extra can only have come from very ancient plant material – fossil fuels.

      Then Ian adds the absurd claim that a ‘volcanic cough’ would add this much in a day. Well, if he has conned you into thinking what he wanted you to think, then his second statement is actually true. 1 in 10,000 of CO2 would add 0.039 ppm which a ‘cough’ could easily do. But CO2 levels are actually rising at around 2 ppm per year.

      In the practice of Magic, one of the seminal works is a book called ‘Magic by Misdirection’. How to fool the eye and the mind. And Ian is a magician.

      Using his real understanding of the facts – because he knows the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere – combined with a scrupulously careful selection of words to create a totally false impression – classic misdirection.

      But remember, Magicians deceive INTENTIONALLY. Ian is intentionally seeking to create a false impression.

      So to those of you who are Climate Change Sceptics, and find the supposed case that Global Warming isn’t happening reasonable, why does a Professor of Earth Sciences, who claims to understand better than most other professionals in his own field how everything works, need to resort to trickery?

      Answer, Professor Plimer, who was deserving of so much respect for his defense against Creationism many years ago, seems to have gone over to the Dark Side.

      If you ever get to see Ian interviewed live, check out the self satisfied smirk he can’t help showing. Ah to be so right, and surrounded by so many lesser mortals!’

      He is not loony. He is a master of misdirection and obfuscation. He knows what he is saying and exactly how it will be taken by different audiences.

      In Australian Politics there is a term – ‘dog-whistle’ politics – for the act of stating something that will be taken one way by one audience, and totally differently by another audience. Our ex and unlamented Prime Minister John Howard was a master of this. And Ian ain’t half bad at it either. I suspect that his motives are more to do with ageing, no-longer-in-the-spotlight professor syndrome. But gee, it does help sell those books.

      • Matt Andrews // September 3, 2009 at 12:15 am

        Completely agree that Plimer is a master of the art of using weasel words (though I do think he is also utterly deranged in some aspects, e.g. the iron sun).

        However I don’t agree that his “one volcanic cough can do this in a day” claim can possibly be described as being true. Since the first part of the sentence describes a 100ppm increase, the claim is that a volcano can “do this”. This claim is completely false, as Tamino showed.

        The only way that the claim can be described as true is if the underlying meaning of the “1 in 10,000″ claim is switched mid-sentence, which is nonsensical.

        Plimer has made many claims in his book which are not just deceptive but are simply false. The most comprehensive list of problems with the book is probably the one compiled by Professor Ian Enting.

  • Nick Barnes // September 1, 2009 at 8:52 am | Reply

    Hank, apparently he cites Manuel on page 120 of the book. I don’t own a copy of the book – I weaned myself off chatting with Archimedes Plutonium back in about 1993 – so I can’t check that.,,25433059-5003900,00.html

  • Deech56 // September 1, 2009 at 9:04 am | Reply

    I tip my hat to the interviewer, Tony Jones. It looks like he did his homework. Plimer’s answers seemed to be in the spirit of, “No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it, ay? Beautiful plumage! “

  • Kevin McKinney // September 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Reply

    It’s curious how pseudo-science ideas cluster. I’ve encountered Oliver Manuel’s hypothesis in posts by another denialist.

    It’s as if the software for a sense of proportion & plausibility just gets switched off.

  • Mark // September 1, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Reply

    Dick Hartog, if someone were to use that lawyer-speak weaselling out of Plimers’ idiotic solar statement, then you’re running into the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork’s “May Contain Nuts” statement, the reasoning for which is pretty similar:

    given the idea of multiple concurrent universes, can it be proven 100% that any product does NOT contain any nuts at all?


    But “probably doesn’t contain nuts” wasn’t considered useful so “May Contain Nuts” was put on all products.

  • Hank Roberts // September 1, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Reply

    Nick, thanks, that’s a good cite to the review by astronomer Michael Ashley, who writes: “Plimer believes …. the sun formed on the collapsed core of a supernova. … on page120 an almost word-for-word reproduction … from a well-known loony paper …. This paper argues that the sun … is instead similar in composition to a meteorite.”

    It’s not clear from that whether Plimer even cited the paper, or whether the reviewer just recognized where he got his idea!

  • Stu // September 2, 2009 at 4:07 am | Reply

    IAN PLIMER: “Are you going to respect me in the morning, when I embrace your party line?”

    Best. Pilmer. Quote. Ever.

  • Gaz // September 2, 2009 at 4:52 am | Reply

    For me, the classic Plimerism is Figure 4.2 on page 355 of his book.

    The graph is used to illustrate that “there is no significant temperature increase”.

    The data shown in the graph appear to come from the UAH satellite data series for the upper troposhore and lower stratosphere.

    The trend in that series is insignificantly positive, 0.08C/decade, but the lower troposhere trend is ).125C/decade.

    The source is not shown of course, in line with the rest of the book, and it stops at 2006.

  • Tim Lambert // September 2, 2009 at 9:27 am | Reply

    Plimer cites Manuel five times on page 116 and also on page 120. On page 116 he supports his claim that “There is recent visual evidence of rigid iron-rich structures below the Sun’s fluid outer zone.” with a reference to a web site which has, well, pictures.

  • Ray Ladbury // September 2, 2009 at 9:55 am | Reply

    You know, the real issue is not the mendacity or lunacy of Plimaer, but rather why we have to pay any attention at all to this nutcase. Why on Earth is this man given column inches in “Science News” rather than “News of the Weird”?

    Answer that, and you’ll understand a whole lot more about why science can’t get a toehold in the public mind.

  • Kevin McKinney // September 2, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Reply

    IAN PLIMER: “Are you going to respect me in the morning, when I embrace your party line?”

    “Promises, promises. . .”

    Or, perhaps, “with friends like that. . .”

  • Jim Bouldin // September 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Reply

    Agree 100% Ray. But the world is what it is. Our job is to hand Plimer and others the roller and paint as they endeavor to paint themselves into their various logical corners. And then to show the public where they ended up. And why.

  • Tim Lambert // September 2, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Reply

    In his book (page 287) Plimer cites a paper that he alleges shows “The Arctic was warmer than now between 1920 and 1940. This is reflected in the sea ice and the local climate.[1473]”

    But the cited paper shows no such thing.

  • Glenn Tamblyn // September 3, 2009 at 7:17 am | Reply

    Matt Andrews

    What I meant in that description was that, having convinced the gullible that statement 1 about 1 in 10,000 meant something quite different, then statement 2, the factually false statement about burping volcanoes now appears true in Ian’s carefully constructed world of alternate truths. Call it Plimerworld. You and I may not live in that world, but Ian isn’t writing the book for us. And the biggest problem Plimerworld faces (AKA the Denialosphere) is emigration. As more and more people leave Plimerworld to come join the rest of us, the defenses mounted by the likes of Ian to keep the remaining few at home become ever more strident and loony. The loonier they get, the more we are winning. I hope!

  • Ray Ladbury // September 3, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Reply

    Glenn says, “The loonier they get, the more we are winning. I hope!”

    Well, that would be comforting, except that Plimer and his ilk started off pretty damned looney. I agree they are becoming more strident, but the rank and file are becoming more strident along with them.

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”–Voltaire

  • Marion Delgado // September 3, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Reply

    Ray Ladbury:

    It’s a trap. They’re tempting us to write in to the Torygraph and say something like “That the National Front columnist agrees with the senile Australian mining college professor that the sun is a ball of iron is scarcely news.” So real news sources can quote us.

    But we’re too clever for that. We realize the Torygraph has only 5 readers left, and they’re all in the Deepings.

  • Dan L. // September 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Reply

    > Glenn: “And the biggest problem Plimerworld faces (AKA the Denialosphere) is emigration. As more and more people leave Plimerworld to come join the rest of us…”

    I’m sorry, but this sounds like the deniers’ refrain, “The warmists are getting more desperate as their theory crumbles!” It is whistling in the dark.

    In about three years of intense blog- and forum-hopping on the subject, I’ve yet to see a genuine Plimerworldian defect from the benighted side of the Stupid Curtain.

    I do not believe there is *anything* that would induce them. If the Arctic burps 50 gigatons of methane and the GIS scabs off into the ocean, I’m sure you can predict the spin from Watts, Morano and the choir: “HUMANS DIDN’T DO IT!”

  • Stu // September 3, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Reply

    It’s a good point Dan. People who are genuinely sceptical will make up their minds on many issues. Most of them will probably wind up siding with established science.

    People who are stupid will believe that the sun is mostly iron based on pictures of the surface (which is hydrogen and helium), and other random tripe spouted by the likes of Plimer.

    The obvious ease with which his arguments could be destroyed in a public debate (with someone who knew what they were doing) would go like this edited excerpt from the Jones interview:

    SENSIBLE INTERVIEWER: And you claim that NASA now states the four top years of high temperatures are in fact the 1930s.

    IAN PLIMER: That was in 1930, there was a date in the 1920s, and one in the 1940s.

    TONY JONES: OK, you mean the hottest global temperatures were in that period.

    IAN PLIMER: No, the hottest US temperatures, not the hottest global temperatures. They occur in mid-latitude deserts. They don’t occur in areas such as the US, which is not mid-latitude desert.

    SENSIBLE INTERVIEWER: What? Are you now talking about the hottest temperatures ever recorded on Earth, or the hottest years averaged over the whole globe?

    IAN PLIMER: [I have no freakin idea. Random babble about the 1930s being warm in USA. Stick with what I know!]

    SENSIBLE INTERVIEWER: The USA covers 2% of the globe. Surely it makes more sense to look at global temperatures, which clearly show that globally the warmest period is the last decade or so?

    etc. etc., although Plimer would no doubt try and change the subject before this point was reached.

  • Stu // September 3, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Reply

    Ignore the random Tony Jones in the above… although he did do a very sensible interview, and could have made life much more uncomfortable for Plimer if he’d wanted.

  • Deep Climate // September 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Reply

    I’ve received a (wholly inadequate) response from ABC about my Plimer complaint.

    The Tony Jones interview was just one of several ABC pieces that had previously demolished Plimer’s various assertions. Yet ABC claims that the publication of Plimer’s “Unleashed” piece was in accord with the ABC’s Code of Practice requirement to “take reasonable steps to ensure factual accuracy”.

  • Mark M // September 9, 2009 at 10:48 am | Reply

    Without wanting to sound like a complete sceptic, but how accurate is that artic sea ice extent data from 1900-1960s?

    We measure sea ice now throughout satellite observation. This is a technology they certainly didn’t have back then, so what methods did they use and could they have been flawed?

    [Response: The data are described in Rayner et al. 2003. Historical determinations are certainly imperfect (as are satellite data), but the word "flawed" is often used by denialists to imply just plain wrong -- which is definitely not the case.]

  • janama // September 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Reply

    Glenn Tamblyn said:

    “…..Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were around 280 part per million (ppm). Or 2.8 in 10,000! But that is its part of ALL the gases in the atmosphere. Nitrogen is around 7,000 in 10,000, Oxygen around 2,100 in 10,000. Our emissions since then have raised the level to around 390 ppm, an increase in the CO2 concentration of around 40%!! The increase of 110 ppm is 1.1 per 10,000 – roughly Ian’s magic number. But a 40% increase is no a trivial change.”

    Are you suggesting that the 110ppm increase was totally human emissions cos that’s how I read it? If so that’s an even more ridiculous error than Prof Plimer makes.

    [Response: The 110 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 is entirely due to human activity.]

  • Ray Ladbury // September 11, 2009 at 12:26 am | Reply

    OK, I’ll bite. What besides human activity would be increasing the concentration of CO2–remembering that the source MUST be overwhelmingly fossil.

  • Dan L. // September 11, 2009 at 12:46 am | Reply

    > “Are you suggesting that the 110ppm increase was totally human emissions cos that’s how I read it? If so that’s an even more ridiculous error than Prof Plimer makes.”

    I love it when a denier hangs himself out like this.

    OK, if it didn’t come from human activity, where did it come from?

  • Hank Roberts // September 11, 2009 at 1:24 am | Reply

    “… Obviously he had not seen the flaws in his own argument–but now that they had been shown to him, he refused to admit that they were flaws at all.

    Afterward, Hari had said to Leyel, “I’ve done him a favor.”

    “How, by giving him someone to hate?” said Leyel.

    “No. Before, he believed his own unwarranted conclusions. He had deceived himself. Now he doesn’t believe them.”

    “But he still propounds them.”

    “So now he’s more of a liar and less of a fool. I have improved his private integrity. His public morality I leave up to him.”

    – Isaac Asimov, “The Originist”

  • Hank Roberts // September 11, 2009 at 1:27 am | Reply

    Arrgh. It’s a poor memory, and all that.
    The above quote is from “The Originist” by Orson Scott Card, a story using ideas and characters from the Foundation series.

  • dhogaza // September 11, 2009 at 4:14 am | Reply

    janama’s a well-known, exceedingly ignorant, troll with a long history in various places.

    Shove him under the bus…

  • Glenn Tamblyn // September 11, 2009 at 8:31 am | Reply

    Oh Well, Janama hasn’t come back yet.

    But, hey, recently I have seen people quoting Pratchett, Azimov/Card. There is hope for the world yet.

    If your not careful I might start throwing some old Robert Heinlein around. If you really want Isaac’s opnion on messing with your own planet, look up his short story “Silly Asses”

  • Sy // September 13, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Reply

    ‘Are you suggesting that the 110ppm increase was totally human emissions cos that’s how I read it? If so that’s an even more ridiculous error than Prof Plimer makes.’

    It’s another way of weasel wording the question. For Janama to be right there simply has to have been some change in atmospheric co2 level at some point since the industrial revolution due to any kind of natural forcing, or any human action aside from ghg emissions (such as land use change).

    As the mainstream consensus position shows both of these sets of factors to exist then he is technically correct, and a belief human ghg emissions are the only contributors to atmospheric co2 levels is indeed plain wrong.

    However this is not a position which anyone with any credibility claims, and merely serves as a fairly transparent straw man argument.

    …and keep up the excellent literary references… I love Pratchett and Vonnegut :)

    • Glenn Tamblyn // September 13, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Reply


      Another literary reference appropos lying. I promised some Bob Heinlein,

      What are the two most artistic ways lying?

      “Tell the Truth, but not all of it”

      “Tell the truth. Maybe even tell all the truth. But tell it in such a way that they don’t believe you”

      Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love.

      Plimer et al seem to have added a new variant, in amongst their obvious use of the inartistic variety:

      “Sometimes tell the truth. Maybe even tell all the truth. But tell it in such a way that they think you mean something else”

  • Martin WIlliams // December 1, 2009 at 11:17 am | Reply

    Thanks for this.
    Helped after I saw Daily Mail article by Plimer, googled to see if he was at all on target.

    Horrendous for a professor to be spouting such twaddle; but seems there are various people about with nary a shred of dignity.

    I’ve added some info on Plimer-isms to thread I have, on climate change lies n hysteria:

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