Friday, April 24, 2015

Do you believe wheat viruses can disappear by magic?

Sou | 11:44 PM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment
Some of the deniers at WUWT still believe in magic. They can't or won't see the world for what it is.

Anthony Watts' current stand-in at WUWT, Eric Worrall, has written an article (archived here) about how know-nothing Eric just knows the scientists are wrong, and even if they are right it will all go away - by magic. He's talking about something reported as a "world first" discovery by scientists at an agricultural research station in Horsham, Victoria (Australia).

Even though by now I can probably be considered a slightly jaded denier watcher, the illogic of deniers can still surprise. Every now and again a particularly silly article like that one from Eric, reminds me that if deniers are bad at one thing, it's clear thinking.

Barley yellow dwarf virus increases in a wheat cultivar as CO2 increases

Eric picked up on an agricultural study, in which Dr Piotr Trêbicki reported that increased levels of atmospheric CO2 were associated with an increase incidence of barley yellow dwarf virus in a wheat cultivar. The cultivar they tested was the one most commonly planted in one of the main wheat-growing regions in Victoria - the Wimmera. The result was that the disease increased by 30%. This would translate to a not insignificant decrease in productivity - with consequent impacts on the local and national economy as well as the world supply of wheat.

A 30% increase in the disease is not to be confused with a 30% drop in productivity. The loss from barley yellow dwarf virus varies. Locally, in Victoria, it's reported that losses average around 2% of the crop. Victoria usually produces somewhere between 1m and 3m tonnes of wheat a year, with an occasional bumper year and the slightly more occasional low year. Let's take 2 million tonnes. A 30% increased loss would mean the loss from the virus would increase from around 40,000 tonnes to around 56,000 tonnes a year. At, say, $250/tonne that means the annual loss would increase from around $10m a year to $13m a year for the state. That's not counting losses outside Victoria. (This is back of the envelope to illustrate the scale of the problem. Don't use these numbers as fact.)

Nor are losses spread evenly across producers. If a crop gets infected, a farmer can lose anything up to 80% of her crop.  Not just a year's income, but all the costs involved in planting and growing the crop go down the gurgler.

As you can see, for the cost of some plant breeding, wheat growers could save around $30 million in lost production every decade. It seems like a good trade to me.

The disease isn't limited to Victoria or to wheat. Yellow dwarf viruses are said to be the common virus diseases of cereals world-wide. Therefore finding a solution to the problem would be important for world food production.

It will go away by magic - or let someone else deal with the problem

Of course I'm not criticising Eric's arithmetic skills. He didn't show any for me to criticise. It's his confused magical thinking that I noticed.

Compare and contrast what the lead scientist, Dr Piotr Trêbicki said about the finding, with what dumb denier Eric Worrall said.

Piotr Trêbicki, senior scientist

Dr Trêbicki said he hoped the new findings would help develop crop varieties better suited to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Eric Worrall, denier

Dr Trêbicki’s suggestion that we might be able to infer the problems people will face in 2050, based on his study, seems implausible. History is littered with embarrassing mistakes, made by people who tried to predict the problems which would be faced by future generations.

Piotr is the one taking a realistic, positive approach to the problem he discovered. As he said, this discovery will help plan future research to overcome the problem. For example, there are researchers developing ways to trigger resistance to viruses in wheat, through genetic engineering.

Eric, by contrast, seems to take the view that past problems that were seen were avoided by magic. He doesn't understand that many potential problems are foreseen, action is taken so as to minimise and sometimes completely prevent what would have happened if no action were taken.

Imagine for a moment if there were no family planning programs. Imagine if there were no schools. Imagine if no-one had bothered about the Y2k bug. Or at the local level, if no-one had anticipated that south western WA and Perth would run out of water, and no desal plants were built. Imagine if no-one had planned for waste disposal - waste management and disposal is a huge problem world-wide, but it could have been much, much worse.

Now imagine if the world at large took heed of the Eric's and no-one bothered to follow up on these findings. Imagine that this didn't just happen with barley yellow dwarf virus and wheat. Imagine if the research had never been done, and wheat production started falling as the world's population grew.  Think about other cereals, too. Think about the price of food, famine, poverty, civil wars, international wars - and the rest.

Then breathe a sigh of relief that there are many, many scientists working away quietly in universities and other research centres, planning ahead and determining what problems and benefits will arise in a new high CO2 world. And working on solutions.

This head-in-the-sand approach to ignore real warnings is one of the characteristics of deniers. It led to cartoons of ostriches - though I think the ostrich is much smarter than the average climate science denier.

From the WUWT comments

Kamikazedave should stop reading WUWT if he doesn't want to read articles about CO2.
April 24, 2015 at 4:57 am
Why don’t these clowns make it easy on themselves and us by just telling us what carbon dioxide will NOT do.

johnmarshall makes an illogical jump, assuming that because many plants will survive with less water it means that all the wheat growing areas will be drier. After reading WUWT for a while you get used to the way some people's brains (don't) work.
April 24, 2015 at 5:06 am
Increased CO2 in the atmosphere gives plants a reduced water need. I would have thought that dryer conditions would reduce fungus and other infections.
Perhaps Dr. Idso will know through his extensive experiments on plants.

higley7 has fallen for the "CO2 readings are wrong" trick put about by some denialati several years ago. You'd think by now that such myths would have died, wouldn't you.
April 24, 2015 at 5:07 am
” atmospheric CO2 levels, from 250 – 280ppm in the 1800s, ”
DO not forget that the 80,000 direct chemical bottle CO2 readings from over 200 years, assembled by Ernst Beck, clearly showed that CO2 has gone up and down over the last two centuries, being higher than now during three periods, the latest being in the 1940s when it was as high as 550 ppm CO2. The other two period were in the early and mid 1800s. 400 ppm was not unusual.
It was a case of cherry-picked data when Calendar took this wide-ranging data and chose only certain low values, as “he knew” CO2 has been low and the vast majority of the data, some collected by Nobel Laureate chemists, were discounted on no basis. From this false set of data, he published his false graph and essentially claimed, dishonestly, that CO2 had been historically low for hundreds of years, until humans started adding it to the atmosphere in 1950.
Does he really and truly think that somehow, over a couple of years, atmospheric CO2 could possibly have risen and fallen by more than 200 ppm? By what mechanism could he try to explain that magical feat?

sciguy54 goes for wacky alarmist, talking about "wide-spread panic" setting in and an "apocalypse". He's not familiar with agricultural science - or probably any science at all. He's also a conspiracy theorist with his "fill in your own ideas".
April 24, 2015 at 5:39 am
The good news is that these tests require verification before wide-spread panic sets in, the researchers need to get a “grasp on the mechanism”, and science has overcome many crop issues in the past and will likely do so in the future.
The report was as vague as it could possibly be and neglected to include a link to the actual study. Fill in your own ideas for possible motivation behind those failures.
The phrase ” aphid-spread disease common in plants” would cause me to guess that the virus vector would be aphids. Did the “test conditions” simulate normal insecticide application? This looks like normal ag-school stuff, not a sign of the coming apocalypse.


Western Victorian scientists make world-first climate change finding - report on ABC Rural by Brett Worthington , 24 April 2015 - with a recorded interview worth listening to.

Helping wheat defend itself against damaging viruses - Science Daily article about genetic engineering against viruses, 18 November, 2014


  1. Eric said "History is littered with embarrassing mistakes, made by people who tried to predict the problems which would be faced by future generations."

    And he did it with a straight face. His embarrassing mistake was to back the wrong horse in a one horse race.

  2. The "consensus" are opposed to adaptation. Except when they're in favor of adaptation. But even then, they're opposed to it.

    1. Shades of the article Anthony wrote a few weeks back about soybean yield sensitivity to temperature. Researcher found that yes, soybean yields are sensitive to temperature (a no-brainer really) but suggested that different already extant cultivars and farming methods could achieve better yields in seasons expected to be slightly warmer than the local long-term mean.

      The professionally intentional idjuts, lead by the head WTFUWT honcho hisself, completely beggared the message and shrieked about the "alarmist" conclusions of the study.

      You just can't fix that kind of stupid.

    2. Brandon -

      Do check out the current post over at Judith's crib:


      It is worth mentioning that some climate skeptic messaging has emotive content too (e.g. that which leans towards ‘scam’, ‘hoax’, or ‘left-wing conspiracy’ causation). Yet overall this is massively outgunned by the emotive CAGW storylines pouring out of mainstream sources, and especially the stronger fear memes such as (I paraphrase): “we’re all gonna fry”, “your coastal cities are gonna drown”, “only N days to save the planet”, “your grandkids are gonna die”, and “extreme weather is our fault”.


      ...Overall skeptics tend to major on complex scientific issues and on not acting precipitously, which combination doesn’t make for a strong emotive pitch. And they have a comparatively small voice too; in a communication battle, volume matters


      As of yet, not one "skeptic" is challenging Andy's dismissal of emotionalism and alarmism among "skeptics."

      That's why god invented scare quotes.

    3. Looks like a lively thread. Aren't they all though? One of these days I really must trip over to Aunt Judy's and play with you guys.

      More to the point, the singular lack of self-recognition on the part of "septics" (sic intentional) that their doom and gloom about evil libruhl commie pinkos' Grand Plot to ruin the economy is every bit as fear-motivated as "ZOMG, Greenland is melting" (but far less reality-based) has got to be one of the screwiest things I've ever witnessed in my young life.

      I'm not big on politics of fear myself ... well, I hate it really ... but when even the blandest of cautionary narratives is met with "stop LYING to me you evil alarmist!!" I've kinda' got to wonder what such folks would have me do instead.

  3. Sou,

    Some of the deniers at WUWT still believe in magic. They can't or won't see the world for what it is.

    And how. This example is from the WUWT article, "A Statistical Definition of the ‘Hiatus in Global Warming’ using NASA GISS and MLO data" which you've covered elsewhere:


    I only saw it this morning, and nearly choked. Our good friend Richard S. Courtney provides three reasonably good paragraphs on the principles of equilibrium as it relates to internal variability and then ...

    However, there may be no process because the climate is a chaotic system. Therefore, the observed oscillations (ENSO, NAO, etc.) could be observation of the system seeking its chaotic attractor(s) in response to its seeking equilibrium in a changing situation.

    ... a miracle happens. Does he really not understand that he's just described THE process (at least as far as I understand it) and that his appeal to chaos as "no process" is no better than saying hordes of Leprechauns fleeing Ireland in droves to take up residence in the deep oceans are doing it?

    I was tempted to wrap a copy of Lorenz (1967) around a brick and throw it at his addled head with all the force I can muster, but then he'd just complain that all I do is copy&paste things I don't understand into threads where they're irrelevant. Kind of been his mantra lately ... he really doesn't like me talking about internal variability. Apparently I don't give it the appropriate level of mystery or impenetrable lack of understanding required by the climate contrarian handbook of disinformation tactics.

    A bit off topic for this thread ... the commonality is the magical thinking. I basically needed to have a small rant about it.

    1. That Richard S Courtney seems to be a regular attack-dog, he is certainly generous with his insults.

      The fantasy machine is working overtime at WUWT at present. And they have the cheek to poo-poo global climate model projections!

    2. Harry Twinotter,

      You know "Dr." Courtney's back story don't you? Basically a PR guy for the coal industry from the UK with former ties to the tobacco doesn't cause cancer lobby, lately of ill health apparently from a lifetime of smoking, who does little to dispel the notion that he's got a doctorate in sciences but rather a Dip Phil (Diploma of Philosphy) which is NOT a doctoral-level achievement. The Eli, the Wily Wonder Wabett exposes the chicanery as only a Technicolour Technobunny can: http://rabett.blogspot.com/2008/02/on-astounding-diplphil-courtney.html

      With dbstealey presently quiet for reasons unknown, Richard S. has taken up the baton of WTFUWT enforcer/interference-runner/minister of propaganda and has gone at it with a will. His behaviour is duplicitous, boorishly nasty, tyrannical, thoroughly dishonest and at times, batshite bonkers. IOW, a custom made scruple-free whip for Anthony who is apparently averse to getting his hands dirty, or may not have the time and/or faculty to do damage control when someone shows up and starts talking sense.

      I often ask the nutters: if you think the model projections are so horribly unreliable, why are you not shouting "end fossil fuel use NOW!" from the rooftops? There are some intelligent folk over there, but as a herd, they're dumber than a tank full of belly-up goldfish.

    3. Ha ha ha another nobody claiming to be a IPCC reviewer - it would be like me making a comment on a NASA press release then claiming to be a space scientist.

      I learnt very quickly not to get baited by the attack-poodles, just backhand them back and move on. Any reasonably intelligent person reading the exchange would figure out what is going on.

      I am not surprised AW does not get his hands dirty, it is the way those manipulators like to work.

  4. The wheat crops of our planet as a set of monocultures are an ideal place for viruses, rusts and insects to exploit. It is only through the work of producing new cultivars that are resistant to these pests that we actually have something to eat.
    Eric is a blithering idiot. He would be dead of starvation if it was not for the predictive powers of the botanists producing new cultivars.

    By the way the time differential for new cultivars survival for good production in the field is shrinking. Soon there will be no gap. GM may slow this down. Then we all starve. Is that alarmist enough Eric? Bert

    1. By the way the time differential for new cultivars survival for good production in the field is shrinking. Soon there will be no gap. GM may slow this down. Then we all starve.

      Sounds alarmist, but I am not fully getting it. Which time differential are you talking about? Aren't GM cultures even more of a monoculture? Thus why do you think GM will show down the moment we all starve? :)

    2. It is only through the work of producing new cultivars that are resistant to these pests that we actually have something to eat.

      There was a good piece on Landline today about CSIRO (I think) work on cross breeding wheat varieties ... to lengthen the root systems. Obviously, the deeper the roots can go, the more access they have to deeper water, nutrients etc and the better chance of better crops in worse years.

      Couldn't find the segment when I searched. I'll have a look around later.

    3. Adelady, pasture research here in Australia is also heading in that direction - Farmers are looking at planting deeper rooted pastures to better withstand drought conditions.


    4. Victor we are losing the battle with disease bacteria as they can mutate to evade antibiotics faster than we can invent them. This is really exacerbated by antibiotic overuse in animal production and fish farming. Also by incorrect use in human therapy. We humans are a vast monoculture ready to be exploited.
      It will not be long before we are back to the conditions before antibiotics. When the multiple antibiotic resistant disease bacteria can exist out in the wild we are in real trouble. At the moment they are outcompeted by their wild counterparts that are not antibiotic resistant.
      If we are stupid enough to plant vast tracts of land with monocultures should we be surprised that the pests will take their share.
      The time differential/interval between a new cultivar of many crops being useful , and when some pest makes this cultivar far less useful as far as yield and quality are concerned, is slowly decreasing.
      It is a constant arms race with plant breeders artificially 'evolving ' our crop species and all the various pests naturally evolving to exploit vast tasty tracts of a monoculture of plants.
      GM is not an answer either. It can be quicker for single gene transfer but most characteristics of organisms rely on multiple genes and the poorly understood expression controls. Epigenetic s or the turning off and on of genes by environmental factors that are passed on to offspring is an example of control being more important than the mere possession of good or bad genes. Bert

  5. Just google William Farrer. He supposedly started it all in Australia.


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