Federal parliament’s climate change sceptics went head-to-head with the nation’s top scientists on Thursday – and the bizarre moments just kept coming.
In a notable early exchange, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts cited a hoax paper titled The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct to call into question ‘peer reviewed’ research, which is often used as the marker to demonstrate global consensus on climate science.
“In that they claim that penises cause climate change,” Senator Roberts said.
“The point I’m getting at is that that was published in a social sciences – admittedly – paper. But it has credibility as it’s been peer reviewed.”
CSIRO’s Dr Helen Kleugh told Senator Roberts the organisation was confident in its peer review processes.
But Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos was not impressed by Senator Roberts’ claims.
“Hang on, Senator Roberts, you’ve quoted two papers, you’ve then jumped to a general proposition that this means every peer reviewed paper in the world is subject to potential for fraud,” he said.
“We really are in a very Kafka-esque world.”
Senator Roberts was also subjected to a subtle putdown from the nation’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel.
Asked by Senator Roberts if it was a scientist’s role to be sceptical, Dr Finkel replied: “All the scientists I know have a healthy degree of scepticism, but healthy is an important word there.
“You have to have an open mind, but not so open your brain leaks out.”
Dr Finkel’s appearance at Senate estimates came amid speculation US President Donald Trump would soon withdraw America from the landmark Paris climate accord.
The chief scientist said America’s exit from the agreement would be “a blow to the accord” but “not fatal”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Thursday that Australia would remain in the agreement regardless of America’s position.
Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, also not sold on the science of man-made climate change, suggested Australia’s commitments were misguided, given China, India and the United States were “lukewarm” towards cutting emissions.
Dr Finkel said it was vital those nations met their goals, but also stressed the need for Australia to show leadership on the issue.
“It’s a little bit like voting. Does your vote count in an election? Does my vote count in an election? No, it doesn’t. But if everybody took the attitude that their vote doesn’t count and no one voted we wouldn’t have a democracy,” he said.
Dr Finkel was also grilled by Senator Roberts on whether he sought out opposing views on climate science, given the issue was still “live” and there was “a lot of doubt”.
“I don’t go out actively looking for competing opinions,” he replied.
“I am by nature an inquisitive, modestly sceptical person. From my perspective, and my perspective is not as a climate scientist, I don’t see any credible competing opinion to the core suppositions of climate science.”
Earlier, Senator Roberts also accused NASA of “massaging” temperature data, sparking another clash with the Science Minister.
“That’s a very serious allegation against a group of people who helped to propel us to the moon,” Senator Sinodinos said.
“You’re alleging that we’re dealing with a group of people who massage data and are essentially dishonest and fraudsters.”
Senator Roberts said he was referring specifically to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a group within NASA.
He also denied he believed in a “global conspiracy”, saying he had deliberately steered clear of using the ‘c’ word.