IF there was a prize for the most esoteric and stratospherically "out there" theory against human caused climate change, then surely Thomas Watson would be in line for this particular gong.
In an interview in January for the US-based internet radio show "It's Rainmaking Time ", this 83-year-old Australian from Victoria told presenter Kim Greenhouse that carbon dioxide had nothing to do with climate change and that instead, natural variations in "magnetism" were responsible.
Watson said: "The term gravity is - I won't say - an arrogant term, but it's a term that has been used because Newton saw an Apple fall down...I can show that that Apple is attracted to the Earth as the Earth is attracted to the Apple." Later, he added: "CO2 is not the cause of climate change and for anyone to say it's trapping heat and expelling heat is in my opinion telling white lies."
So "When did the lights go on for you that we are living in a magnetic field," asked Greenhouse.
I was attending an open Eisteddfod in Ballarat. We were performing there. I went out with a mate out the back and I saw this bright light and it was moving quite briskly. This whole period took about four-and-a-half to five seconds of time and I said to myself 'Oh God, the moon's gone out of orbit', but it wasn't. The moon was still up there - I viewed it as UFOs. There was a bright white spherical shape with an extremely white glow on the outside of it with a pinkish glow in the middle and I said to myself we are doing something wrong here in this scientific world. It took me another four years to find a common denominator and that turned out to be the electrons or the atom structures. No matter what we do in our life the electron doesn't know how to die and that is part of the spirit of life.
Later in the interview, Watson agrees with Greenhouse that perhaps the UFOs he saw may have been part of a secret government defence project to create flying machines using magnets. He also discusses how he was visited eight years ago by a "gentleman in black" at a time when he had started to study climate change and magnetism. "He was in a trenchcoat in his mid 30s - about 38," he tells Greenhouse. "Well spoken and dominant in his attitude. He gave me the impression that if I kept doing what I was doing, that something would happen to me."
So why am I telling you all this? Because Thomas Watson has co-written several papers and comments on global warming and sea level rise in a number of specialist science journals around the world with another Australian researcher, Alberto Boretti, formerly of the University of Ballarat. Many of the papers have been criticised by established researchers.
Earlier this month, one group of researchers from Australia, including three from the country's leading science agency the CSIRO, decided they had had enough of Watson and Boretti's attempts to wave away the threat of rising sea levels around the world. They gave the pair both barrels. To bring you up to speed here, Hunter et al had written some research in the journal Ocean Engineering  discussing how high coastal infrastructure should be built in the future to avoid increasing the risk of flooding. Watson and Boretti then wrote a "comment " in the same journal.
What did Hunter et al think of this "comment"? "It is a collection of the authors' personal views masquerading as a Comment, the only papers cited in support of the authors' claims being first-authored by Parker (who incidentally also publishes under the name of ‘Alberto Boretti’). The ‘Comment’ should not have been published. " Ouch. But it got worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it. The CSIRO researchers finalised their rebuttal  with this: "... the ‘Comment’ is not a comment at all, but an unrelated statement of Watson's and Parker's idiosyncratic views."
Did the sharp-eyed among you spot the claim that Alberto Boretti was now publishing under a different name - Albert Parker? This is where things become confusing, because it seems that Albert Parker has been using his current name and his former name at the same time. Dr Albert Parker is an automative engineer who used to work for Fiat. He has a long record of publishing scientific papers on engines. Many are listed on his page at the University of Ballarat  where he used to work under the name Boretti.
In January he joined RMIT university as an associate professor to lead a research group as part of a $10 million project to support "leading-edge experiments on alternative fuels for advanced and more efficient internal combustion engines" - so says the RMIT press release . A worthwhile endeavour, no doubt. The press release didn't mention Dr Parker's recent name change, but I understand they do know about it.
As astrophysicist Dr Michael Brown and sea level expert Dr John Hunter have written for The Conversation , some media outlets have reported favourably of Boretti's work on sea levels, even though it has been heavily criticised. Brown and Hunter were critical of how in this case the established system of peer-review had allowed what they argued was some poor science to slip through. The Australian newspaper has also cited Boretti, as has high-profile climate sceptic News Ltd commentator Andrew Bolt.
The Australian Financial Review's Mark Lawson  has also cited Boretti's work favourably and later went on to actually co-author a science paper with Boretti - sorry, I mean Parker . In January, Dr Parker had another paper published, this time in the journal Natural Hazards , which again argued that sea level rise would not accelerate in the future, this time looking at the North Atlantic coast. Then in March, a "comment" on this Parker paper was uploaded to Cornell University's arxiv.org  website - a holding place for science papers which, generally, haven't yet been published or accepted for publication.
This "comment" was uploaded by Alberto Boretti (and using his previous affiliation, the University of Ballarat) - suggesting that Dr Parker is using the same name simultaneously. In December last year, Boretti co-authored a short piece with retired University of Missouri-Rolla professor Oliver Manuel about the properties of the sun which was apparently submitted to Nature magazine. In this paper , Dr Parker is using his older name "Boretti" but his current RMIT affiliation.
Alberto Boretti has also cited affiliations with Missouri University of Science and Technology, formerly known as University of Missouri-Rolla.
As well as co-authoring with a man who thinks magnetism is to blame for climate change, Dr Parker has also been getting help from someone who dismisses the long-established fact that carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere. In 2012, Watson and Boretti co-authored a paper in Energy & Environment - a UK journal known for publishing contrarian papers on climate change. In that paper - The Inconvenient Truth - Ocean level Not Rising in Rising In Australia  - the authors thank John O'Sullivan , who says human-caused climate change is a "fraud".
O'Sullivan has himself been helping another climate science denier Dr Tim Ball  in a defamation case brought by Professor Michael Mann. He is also the chief executive of an organisation called Principia Scientific International, of which Alberto Boretti is listed as a member , as is Oliver Manuel and a host of other contrarian scientists. Principia sits among a hardcore of climate science denial, in that it promotes discredited views  that carbon dioxide cannot warm the planet.
Confused? Well so was I.
I emailed Dr Parker to clear this up. I asked him to confirm that he had published articles about sea level rise under different names and when and why he had changed his name. I asked him if he accepted the science that human emissions were causing climate change. I also asked him why he appeared to be using the names "Boretti" and "Parker" simultaneously. He refused to respond directly to any of these questions, saying only that there was no evidence for an acceleration of sea level rises in the future. I asked again for clarification, but Dr Parker didn't want to address the questions.
He wrote: "i am sorry to see that you are not interested to learn if the sea levels are accelerating or not, but only to deviate from the only issue of interest. i do not play politics and i write in my papers what i see without caring too much of political agendas. sorry can't presently support any sea level accelerating statement."
You can read the whole email trail here .
Image credit: OwnMoment