Gerard Rennick and the Dunning-Kruger Effect 1

If there was a competition for the stupidest parliamentarian, now that Craig Kelly is no longer in parliament, the poor, benighted senator Gerard Rennick seems certainly hard to beat. In his latest utterance, he has let the climate science community know that they have missed a vital aspect on which the climate is solely dependent: gravity. In a tweet he said the following: “CO2 is a gas, it cannot trap convection. This matters because convection is the process by which heat is carried away from the earth. What traps convection is gravity. It’s why the surface of the earth is warmer than say the top of Mt Everest…”1. Yes; he actually said that. Such an utterance from Rennick is just as stupid as that from Barnaby Joyce, who blamed climate change on the magnetic field of the Sun2.

While it is difficult to understand what Rennick was thinking in uttering this drivel, I suspect that whoever advised him (if anyone) is equally idiotic or is trying, very successfully, to make him look like a fool. Perhaps the best retort to Rennick’s drivel was from climate scientist Professor Michael E. Mann from the University of Pennsylvania, who said: “Everything *else* you’ve said is gibberish, a stringing together of scientific terms reminiscent of monkeys typing on a typewriter. You have shown you have no understanding at all of the science. Quit while you’re ahead. In fact, quick politics, for the good of your country!”3  If only he would.

On top of this gibberish about gravity “trapping convection” Rennick has accused the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) of doctoring their data. In response to a climate denial article in Murdoch’s The Australian (where else?), Rennick said: “Brilliant article. The Bureau of Meteorology should not be fudging records to perpetuate global warming hysteria.”4  Labor Senator Murray Watt called these allegations “nuts”, and added: “This is the reason why it is impossible to get a sensible climate debate going in this country – let alone come up with some solutions. These kinds of ideas that are coming from right-wing think tanks, and are now being introduced into our Australian Parliament.” Rennick said that the article behind his scepticism was written by Jennifer Marohasy, who has a PhD in Biology from the University of Queensland3. Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow at the far right Institute of Public Affair (IPA), and has responsibility for climate change in the ‘research program’ of the IPA, which is a laugh, as she constantly denies it is happening. Of course, at the time, Rennick had not spoken to the BOM about his assertions4. For Rennick to believe what he said, would also require him to believe that all other meteorological organisations around the world are doing the same thing as he asserts the BOM are doing. Presumably, he does.

Even more ridiculously, Rennick has claimed that without anthropogenic carbon emissions, phytoplankton* would absorb so much carbon from the atmosphere that it would “destroy our plant life”, a hypothesis contradicted by the Earth’s past history5. My professional background is in palaeontology and I have rarely heard such equine ordure, except perhaps from creationists. Photosynthetic eukaryotes (e.g. algae) evolved more than 1.5 billion years ago but it was not until the Mesozoic (251 to 65 million years ago) that the three principal phytoplankton groups that dominate the modern seas rose to ecological prominence6. Plants evolved over 200 million years before the beginning of the Mesozoic7, and they seemed to have done quite well before the modern phytoplankton arrived, and in the hundred or so million years subsequently. So, for Rennick to say that these phytoplankton would absorb so much carbon dioxide to destroy plant life is not just wrong, it is simply stupid.

Rennick has also stated that vaccinating children aged 5-11 against Covid-19 amounts to “experimenting” on children in a Senate committee inquiry. He has also posted anti-vaccine content on Facebook and has stated that it was no big deal for children to catch Covid-19. The chair of the Senate committee, Katy Gallagher, urged Rennick to “talk to a few parents whose children have struggled to breathe with Covid”, and that he should talk to Gallagher’s own daughter who had a rough time when she contracted Covid-198. And he has advertised for those “suffering from Covid vaccine adverse reaction’ to report it to someone who will listen, with Rennick’s gormless smiling portrait in the corner9. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, part of the federal Department of Health and Aged Care, is responsible for monitoring the safety of all vaccines approved for use in Australia. They assess safety data prior to approval, and continue to monitor the safety of vaccines after approval in Australia so they can detect and respond to any safety concerns10.

The Australian Capital Territory has developed a plan to provide 15 hours per week, 600 hours per year of free, universal quality early childhood education for all three-year-old children11. It seems that some states are doing the same12. The mindless Rennick believes that this preschool plan is a Labor Party plot to strengthen government control over child raising9; this despite the plan in NSW being started by the then Liberal Party government. 

As Madonna King asks in her article9: Are people like Rennick deeply stupid before they get to Canberra, or does arriving in Canberra make them act that way? I suspect it is the former, for two reasons: The first being that the Liberal and National parties are conservative and, as John Stuart Mill said: “Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives”. So, it is a fair bet that a member of a conservative party is more likely to be stupid than anyone in a progressive party. The second is that, if you look at their utterances, many of these people say stupid things long before they get to Canberra. That comes with the Dunning-Kruger Effect: the thick are often incredibly confident, while the intelligent are filled with doubt. Rennick is incredibly confident in his abilities, and is also deeply stupid.

*Phytoplankton: freely floating, often minute organisms that drift with water currents. Like land vegetation, phytoplankton use carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and convert minerals to a form that animals can use. Oceanic phytoplankton is the primary food source, directly or indirectly, of nearly all marine organisms. Composed of groups such as diatoms, dinoflagellates and coccolithophores, phytoplankton vary in their concentration seasonally13.




  • JON says:

    Fwitism is alive and well in the Qld LNP. Rennick has run that BoM furphy up the flagpole many times

    This bit of inanity from the AFP Chief shows the abysmal state of leadership in this country. It also shows the dangers of the proliferation of poor quality 5 minute (my term for back of the envelope science based on surveys, etc) “scientific” papers in the last decade (probably longer). Surveys are regularly misleading because the art/knowledge of phrasing questions is either purposely skewed or are posed by people who don’t have adequate specific learning and knowledge.

    My comment to Kershaw is this: even IF the generalisation was accurate – anecdotally it’s bs- so what! My second comment is that before you repeat something you “heard” (not learned), do some basic research to validate it. Conference presentations don’t guarantee accuracy and information is sometimes taken completely out of context. Such tosh coming from the AFP Commissioner is embarrassing. Mind you that organisation has a history of poor leadership as we know from the union raids, the Haneef fiasco, etc.

  • JON says:

    ” Superannuation, he’s reported as saying, was a ‘cancer’. And our ties with Russia apparently need to be closer because ‘they’re part of the West; they drink, they’re Christians, they play soccer, they’re Caucasian’’. ”

    This and a few of his other utterances ought to be printed on a Tshirt. Such stupidity is rarely to be seen in a public figure.

    • admin says:

      I am already up to three pages on my second instalment of the idiocy of Rennick. He is the most extreme case of the Dunning-Kruger Effect I think I have seen.

  • clive pegler says:

    oh I dunno, maybe he’s onto something, after all the reason it’s cooler at elevation is due to the thinner atmosphere at elevation and when air expands, it is cooler. ie, the air is thicker and denser (* insert your own Rennick reference here) at ground level and gravity is a factor in this phenomena. NB: i do write this in jest! So, basically, he has met a truism at a party but walked away with ‘this has a tail, therefore it’s a cat’. 😀

    • admin says:

      I thought it might have been those heat molecules not being able to overcome gravity to get up to the top of Everest.

  • JON says:

    Mr Rennick-Dunning-Kruger is not alone in looking for red herrings. Culpably ignorant and arrogant deniers such as Rennick do so because they know they can fool equally ignorant and credulous people, and because they have no explanation at all for the fundamental connection between greenhouse gases and a warming planet.

  • JON says:

    Indeed BA. It’s bewildering that the leader of any organisation would bring up that sort of trivial rubbish in a parliamentary environment, even given the topic. The reactions in the background were equally worrying – tee hee, snicker, etc. Can only think that the Commissioner was overawed by the Estimates environment.
    Just found this, which doesn’t surprise:

    • admin says:

      Again, I am unsurprised. I know a young copper and he left the AFP and moved to one of the states; he was glad to leave.

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