Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Expert At Their ABC

THERE IS nothing like an academic credential or two for inspiring faith in a contention. Add a few degrees and, well, you are suddenly credibility itself, which is no doubt the reason why anal thermometers and climate change academics are often very difficult to tell apart.

                                                               Anal thermometer
                                                         Climate scientist David Karoly

When the ABC gives an academic a pulpit, well that can be another matter entirely, as Radio National’s Robyn Williams demonstrated when he handed a recent Ockham’s Razor to Arthur Marcel who, as listeners were told, “lectures at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane”. As it was a Robyn Williams production, Marcel, a catastrophist, was given his head to go on at great length about, what else?, climate change and why doubters and do-nothings are the modern counterparts of those profit-driven murderers who ignored the warnings and ran the Titanic into an iceberg. The liner was propelled to its destruction by boilers stoked with coal and, stretching the metaphor, Marcel went on to observe that Mother Earth is no less endangered for its addiction to that same CO2-spewing toxin.

All very moving and credible, as who could doubt that the ABC and its science editor would present an expert without expertise? Trouble is, Marcel is just that – and to judge by some of his correspondence, he is also just a little bit slow on the uptake, especially in regard to technical matters. More on that in a tick.

First, what are Marcel’s credentials? Is he, for example, a “climate scientist”, whatever that terms means?

Well, no, he is not. According to UQT’s staff directory he is a “casual teacher” in a language department that appears to concern itself with making sure foreign students have sufficient command of English to plagiarise appropriately. If that makes him “a lecturer” then definitions in Queensland must differ markedly from those in other states.

As to Marcel’s apparent difficulty in comprehending simple statements, the following exchange might shed some light:

From: Arthur Marcel []
Sent: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 5:18 PM
Subject: Hi-Per 2 Stroke Oil
Dear Penrite technical person,
I would like to know the exact reason you recommend against using Hi-Per 2 stroke oil in Rotax engines. Is it to do with the rotary valves on some Rotaxes or is it simply a legal disclaimer?
Arthur Marcel
Dear Arthur,
Thank you for your enquiry. Penrite Oil does not make any recommendations for aviation purposes, as our insurance does not cover this application. If you wish to use a two stroke oil in a Rotax engine which is in an aircraft, we recommend that you go to one of the other oil companies (such as Shell) who do have aviation products. I trust this answers your query.
Alan Jeffery, Technical Department, Penrite Oil Company
Many thanks, Alan, for your prompt reply. I take it that you are saying that Penrite recommends against the use of Hi-Per in aircraft due to its insurance arrangements.
Can I ask you just one other question, please? Does Penrite recommend against the use of Hi-Per in land-based Rotax engines such as those used in snowmobiles and water craft?
Arthur Marcel
Dear Arthur,
Thank you for your email. For Rotax engines in land-based or water craft (e.g. Seadoo jet skis), we recommend the use of Hi-Per Two Stroke Oil or our SIN Two Stroke Oil. Under no circumstances are the Hi-Per Two Stroke Oil, the SIN Two Stroke Oil or any Penrite Oil products to be used in aviation applications.
Regards, Alan Jeffery, Technical Department, Penrite Oil Company  
Marcel eventually grasps the message that Penrite's products are not to be used in flying machines, but not to worry -- or not to worry Robyn Williams at any rate -- the casual teacher is all over climate change.

NEXT WEEK ON OCKHAM’S RAZOR: A professor of pastry from the William Angliss School of Catering notes that a doughnut and the ozone layer each comes with a hole and, therefore, the planet is doomed. Robyn Williams leaves early to continue filling sandbags against his 100-metre rise in sea level.


  1. Since the sad demise of Robyn Williams, it is, I respectfully submit, polite to refer to him as the late Robyn Williams.

  2. Welcome back!

    It's QUT (not UQT).


  3. I hope he's not using a 2-stroke engine. Back in the day when I was concerned about AGW (which was in the 90s, way before it became common knowledge and trendy) I learned that a 2-stroke mower emitted 200 times the amount of "green house gases" than a 4-stroke equivalent. Tsk.

  4. Great blog Bunyip! A long overdue commentary delivered with wit and a style of writng I though had disappeared forever...I will be following your musings with great pleasure. Keep it up!!!

  5. Thanks, Professor, a great read from a master of the English language. I will continue to follow the billabong crew's antics in eager anticipation. I particularly enjoy the eviscerating of the old media by the new.