Vale Bob Carter

Carter_1453436297292_225Bob Carter, known to many Australian geoscientists as a former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University, died on 19 January at age 74. For most of his life he was known to geologists for his work in marine stratigraphy. In recent years he was known to just about everyone for his views on climate change. Here’s what the Australian Institute of Geoscientists said about his scientific contribution:

    During his distinguished career, he published over 100 research papers on taxonomic palaeontology, palaeoecology, New Zealand and Pacific geology, stratigraphic classification, sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, the Great Barrier Reef, Quaternary geology, and sea-level and climate change.

    Prof. Carter served as chair of the Earth Sciences Discipline Panel of the Australian Research Council, director of the Australian Office of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), and Co-Chief Scientist on ODP Leg 181 (Southwest Pacific Gateway).

Most will remember his rejection of mainstream climate science. Essentially he thought that the effect of humans burning fossil fuels got lost in the noise of natural change.

One of his supporters, Jennifer Marohasy at Online Opinion, summarises his position in her tribute.

On the other hand Graham Readfearn at DeSmog Blog gives an account of his activities. He was hugely active:

    Carter was an advisor to many of the most prominent denialist think tanks around the world. From the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK, to the Heartland Institute in the United States, to the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia. At one count, Carter had affiliations with at least ten different organisations.

    He was a regular face at climate science denial conferences and is described by his legion of fans as cheery and supportive.

    The Heartland Institute also has a tribute. Many notable activists in the climate science denial movement have also paid tribute — Fred Singer, Marc Morano, James Delingpole, Mark Steyn and Lord Christopher Monckton.

    Carter didn’t exist in the shadows where his views were confined to fringe blog sites. Carter’s views were given regular and prominent sunlight in mainstream media.

    One of his most vocal supporters was News Corp. Australia climate science mangler-in-chief Andrew Bolt, who unfailingly promoted Carter on his blog and had him as a guest on his Channel Ten television talk show The Bolt Report.

    The mysteriously popular radio host Alan Jones would regularly turn to Carter for an “expert” view on climate change. Even the ABC gave him space. The BBC interviewed him too, to the disgust of some.

Readfearn summarises his impact this way:

    Carter was a key member of the climate change denial movement’s infantry. It is that movement that has fought for decades to delay any government policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The movement has helped to politicize the science, confuse the public and delay action that has real consequences for the public around the world.

Readfearn links to Ian Enting’s comments on a book Taxing Air: Facts and Fallacies by Carter and others. Enting is a seriously qualified mathematical physicist, now retired from his position as Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems (MASCOS.

No doubt he should have also linked to the authors’ response.

Readfearn also links to Professor David Karoly’s comments on Carter’s first book, Climate: The Counter-consensus.

I have met Bob Carter, and attended one of his presentations. It was a tour de force. He was a superb communicator and a very charming man.

He presented material I had no answers for, so I didn’t try.

Later I ran down some of the key information, and found it startlingly in error. For example, he made a statement picked up by Karoly that “there has been no net warming between 1958 and 2005.“ This was illustrated by a graph and what looked like a trend line. I realised later that the line could not have been mathematically derived. It was simple cherry picking.

Some of the others were not so simple, and I’ve forgotten all but one.

I made some notes for a draft post, but never finished it. Maybe I squibbed it. I certainly did not want to get into a public stoush with Bob Carter. In fact I decided that countering contrarians like Carter was best left to proper scientists. I’ve looked and can’t find the draft.

I know that we all have to go, but 74 is too young. I extend my sympathies to his family and friends.

The photo comes from the SMH article.

6 thoughts on “Vale Bob Carter”

  1. I emailed Carter on a climate change issue in 2008. I was delighted when he responded minutes later from Europe where he was waiting for a flight.
    His response was cautious and whilst his response was as I expected, he nevertheless advised care when discussing the point.
    I can’t recall what my query was. That he replied so promptly to a humble student from UNE and suggested I be careful how I used his opinion helped me maintain academic and personal respect for Carter even if his opinions differed so greatly from mainstream science.
    That was my only direct contact with Carter but he did remain as an adjunct professor at JCU. I understand he continued working as a consultant. As Brian said, 74 is a bit early to let go and I am sorrowed by his death.

  2. Geoff, I understand Carter’s adjunct professorship was discontinued by James Cook in 2013. His supporters believe it was because of his climate change views.

    Readfearn reported on it back then. Essentially he wasn’t doing enough to retain the position. Clearly the university did not regard his climate stuff as relevant.

    I’m told that he was also denied library facilities. I heard that another professor hired him one hour a week as a tutor to get around this, but the university wouldn’t play. I’m not sure what his entitlements should have been as a professor emeritus.

  3. Brian: This seems to be an ethical dilemma.

    One the one hand, he seems to have been quite happy to have his skills and prestige used by less worthy people so as to satisfy their greed and to hide their manifest vandalism. That immediately brought to mind a comparison with the thoroughly dishonourable eagerness of some eminent senior military officers, in the late 20thCentury, in allowing some very grubby political and business scoundrels to use their prestige for nefarious purposes.

    On the other hand, the recent behaviour of JCU towards Bob Carter smells to high-heaven of pay-back and just plain nastiness. It brings into question the role of universities as marketplaces of contending or challenging ideas.

    It is a pity he died before he had a chance to review his old view-point in the light of evolving evidence.

  4. Brian

    Thanks for posting this.
    I never met Bob Carter, but a large number of tributes mention his warm human qualities; and above is another such, from Geoff Henderson.

    Bob Carter was a prolific and energetic scientist. “Findings” in science can be used by others in many varied ways. (As can a sentence or paragraph in a novel.) Sometimes a scientist becomes a public protagonist, e.g. Carter, Karoly. Sometimes a scientist tries to stay ‘above’ the fray. It seems that JCU didn’t stay neutral.

    A far more tragic example, in my view, was the work – by thousands of others – which developed the ‘atom bomb’ from research indicating that nuclear fission was possible. I read that Dr Lise Meitner, one of the co-discoverers, would not participate in the Manhattan project or its UK cousin after she guessed what they were up to.

    Genies and bottles.

    Vale Bob Carter.


    [A tribute to Brian too: I value your open-mindedness.]

  5. Thanks, Ambigulous.

    Graham, I think there was little chance that Carter would ever have changed his views. I don’t really want to go into the arguments, because I might do him an injustice, and he has no chance of replying.

  6. Fair enough, Brian.

    Ambigulous: Is it just me or is a heightened awareness of Unexpected Consequences a defining feature of thought in 2015~2016?

Comments are closed.