The Fame Geoff Kelly Deserves

I understand the contemporary fashion of blanking out a person's name when they say something truly stupid. In part, it is to show that the comedy should be directed at the comment, rather than the person. Likewise, it is a principle of charity - you want to give the person an opportunity to improve themselves, and who knows, maybe if they discover they are part of a meme that the world is laughing perhaps they will take the opportunity for self-reflection.

Unfortunately, I doubt whether this would have any effect on a certain individual named Geoff Kelly. After all, he fancies himself a public figure of sorts and promotes himself quite strongly. As the person behind Kelly Strategic Influence these comments are in public interest, as he likes to think of himself as:

* "a widely respected expert in leadership influence"
* "runs a course on strategic communication for graduate students at RMIT University"
* "an in-demand speaker, writer and executive coach on leadership influence, persuasion, and applying leadership communication"
* "a frequent speaker at the Australian Institute of Management"
* "an excellent executive writer, and regularly publishes articles in professional magazines and journals"

I will leave to the reader's own devices to discover how frequently he is published in journals, how often he has been a speaker at the Australian Institute of Management, and even how the graduate RMIT University course is going (he also says he's been "[f]or the last 20 years I've also avoided universities").

As for the veracity with what follows, you can look it up yourself (Facebook) to confirm or refute, although I am fairly confident that you will find the former is the case. The thread and sub-threads on the discussion are over a thousand comments. His intellect, research skills, and humilty are there in multiple threads for all to see. But to give a summary as I perceive it:

1. Nazi apologism

Richard O'Brien's initial post argues that Nazis weren't just the people in charge, they were the people who joined the party for social reasons, they are the people who looked the other way when Jews were persecuted, they were people who asked: "But what do we do about the Jewish problem?" Now a reasonable person understands this. But not Geoff. He kicks off "Still wrong Richard. Still insulting to those who suffered to true NAzis. The violent Left might be a noxious, but it isn't Nazi yet"

I tried to give him a hint: "It's amazing to think that there's people on the Internet who think that people who were members of the Nazi Party weren't actually Nazis. But then again, the Internet these days is accessible to those who were at the bottom of history class." As for people who joined the Nazi Party, Julius Goat has a good comment on this:

Historians have a word for Germans who joined the Nazi party, not because they hated Jews, but because out of a hope for restored patriotism, or a sense of economic anxiety, or a hope to preserve their religious values, or dislike of their opponents, or raw political opportunism, or convenience, or ignorance, or greed.

That word is "Nazi." Nobody cares about their motives anymore.

They joined what they joined. They lent their support and their moral approval. And, in so doing, they bound themselves to everything that came after. Who cares any more what particular knot they used in the binding?"

Later he backtracks and argues what he really meant wasn't party members (the example of Adolf Eichmann was apparently too much), rather just those who thought there was a "Jewish problem". I argued that at the moment that one willingly helps the Nazis in furthering their aims, they become Nazis. The 44% of the German population who voted for them in 1933 were Nazis. Maybe not beforehand, maybe not afterward, but at that point in the ballot box when they gave them power, they had joined them, even if temporarily.

As a warning of things to come Geoff blames the universities for teaching something that he is apparently ignorant in. He doesn't have a history degree himself, or apparently any formal studies in the subject, but his "lifelong passion" for the subject is obviously more than adequate. He was very concerned that historical studies these days include class struggle, colonialism, and gender issues (as if these haven't been part of history for a very long long time). He knows about the content because he's heard from "friends"; "A friends [sic] told me recently she was in a graduate class last year where the history lecturer declared his goal was to convert 90% of the class into marxists [sic] by the end of the semsester [sic]." Needless to say the "friends", let alone the history lecturer were never given names, or even the course or university, despite repeated requests.

2. Denial of Anthropogenic Global Warming

It is unsurprising to discover that Geoff is not a supporter of the overwhelming scientific opinion on anthropogenic-caused climate change. Sea-level rise is a good topic for him because the changes are relatively incremental and subject to regional variation. But empirical studies, conducted by NASA, indicate that not only is it true, it is accelerating. This is rejected on the grounds that there's no mass flooding yet; apparently one needs a Biblical-level natural disaster before the evidence is accepted. As the thread changed to this new subject the remarkable one could only respond in wonder: "What a surprise to discover that Geoff is also an expert on sea level changes! Truly we have a man of brilliance in our midst, an expert in history, logic, and climatology! Even with no formal qualifications in *any* of these subjects. How does he do it?"

Now I am no expert is sea-level change but there is a graph from Church (2008) who is. Geoff then says that this isn't a problem and "Of course we see some rise in a natural warming cycle that coincidentally started around 1880". In reality of course, natural temperature forcings are in *decline* and in total have been for over the past one hundred years. It is greenhouse gas emissions, caused by human activity, which is responsible for the entirety of contemporary net temperature increase. He also had the strange opinion that climatologists prefer to use proxy data and model, rather than using "modern spectroscopy". For what it's worth, proxy data is used for historical, pre-instrument record evidence, and models are for forecasting and hindcasting. Spectroscopy is what climatologists use for contemporary greenhouse gas effects on temperature.

Later he claims: "If there were a sea level rise we would see the same effects on every atoll in every ocean - we don't." This is untrue; the surface of the sea is not flat and local sea level changes can vary from the global average due to many local factors (e.g., regional ocean currents, subsidence, etc). Global sea level increases are, however, are fact, and is accelerating, as NASA shows (apparent in data cahoots with CSIRO).

His next switch is to claim that the medieval warm period was hotter than it is today. Again this is simply not true. He continued to assert it of course, despite multiple requests form multiple people to provide some evidence. "The day you provide a link that shows that it was hotter in the medieval warm period than it is now is the day that you cease to be a liar". Eventually he proffered that once upon a time "grapes [grew] in Germany grew over 100 metres higher than now". No evidence was provided of this claim, but in any case that is localised proxy data from a microclimate in European viticulture. It hardly trumps global studies.

The next switch was what possible benefit would there be to the global climate problem if Australia reduced its carbon emissions to zero. Apart from the fact one could ask what benefit every regional or sub-regional grouping could do to imply that no action is worthwhile, Australia does produce 1.3% of the gross emissions and is among the highest in the world on a per capita basis. You would think that an alleged expert on leadership and persuasion would understand the global influence this would have. Geoff, of course, denies that Australia has ever had global leadership on anything (the founding of the United Nations stands as stark proof to the contrary).

As a further example of his reading skills in another sub-thread Geoff seems to be in denial of the relationship between climate change and polar bear populations. Curiously, he cites as evidence a National Geographic article of a famous photograph. If he'd actually bothered to read the article he would have seen the editor's note that said that "science has established that there is a strong connection between melting sea ice and polar bears dying off, there is no way to know for certain why this bear was on the verge of death". Geoff continues to promote the false claim that Al Gore said (supposedly in "An Inconvenient Truth", but there's no statement in the book or film of this) that polar bears would be extinct by 2012, and refused to accept the evidence of scientific population studies. "Polar bears are doing real fine and are in no danger of extinction", he asserts, contrary to evidence and the classification provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

3. Denial of Research

Like many people who have an opinion contrary to mainstream scientific research, Geoff likes to point out that science has changed in the past (no, really?) and as an example: "Just like the followers of Newton told Einstein there was nothing to see here - Newton had said it all?" Now, as someone who has a modicum of expertise in the history of science and technology I had to ask if he could: "find a single physicist who argued for Newtonian mechanics after Einstein's publication of general relativity." Unsurprisingly, he shifted his ground again (he does that a lot) and said " It was Einsteins [sic] early work they mocked", so I gave him the opportunity to provide evidence from the publication of special relativity, mere decades after Maxell. It might seem like a running theme, but none was provided.

It was the beginning of an interesting new tangent, where Geoff claims "I've worked with research scientists and surgeons doing original research regularly for the last 20 years.... I do indeed know how it all works." He then went on to argue there is no proof in science, based on a headline in The Conversation. Confirmation of hypotheses is, of course, a core activity in science. If he'd gone beyond the headline he would have discovered that the author means that there is no mathematical proof in science, rather there is empirical evidence that provides predictive probabilities; it is not an argument for epistemological relativism.

But unsurprisingly, Geoff also fancies himself an expert in higher education (remember the magical history professor?) As evidence he says that the sting operation which led to the publication of "The Conceptual Penis" that there is a crisis in higher education. On the contrary, the fact this was discredited so quickly - compare with N-Rays and Cyril Burt's false IQ studies - is evidence that higher education is better at detecting fraud.

Weirdly, Geoff argues that there is "a 20 year campaign by The Lancet, to improve a peer review process THEY say produces about 50% of studies with flaws so bad the papers are useless." Later - after three weeks of arguing the point - he actually provided a journal article on the subject. Not from The Lancet, but from the Royal Society of Medicine; close enough, I suppose. One can add this to other material which reviews how widespread fraud is in science. All of which leads to some excellent suggestions on how to improve the peer-review process (pre-public public reviews, post-publication updates etc). In other words, the research community is actually arguing for more peer-review as a solution to problems in existing peer-review. Once again, the evidence does not accord his forthright opinion.

4. An Old Business Degree is Not Universal Expertise

I'm not even going to bother explaining the basics of comparative economics where Geoff argues, in paraphrase, "socialism bad because Venezuela, capitalism good because Australia", except to say one days comparative economics in countries with similar development (e.g., Venezuela and Bolivia, or Australia and Norway). Needless to say, Geoff doesn't like various forms of socialism, even the socialisation of resource values - something which even pro-capitalist economists agree with.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Geoff has a Bachelor of Business (Queensland University of Technology, 1978) and a Graduate Diploma in Management, Management and Marketing (CQU, 1987). As should be fairly obvious these thirty-year-plus qualifications are not sufficient for him to claim the wide-range of expertise that he offers strong and ill-informed opinions on.

After a while the following pattern of behaviour was identified was identified in the tread:

1. Geoff raises a ridiculous assertion.
2. Everyone else asks Geoff for proof.
3. Geoff says he doesn't need to provide proof.
4. Quality, peer-reviewed evidence is provided by others on why Geoff's propositions are plain wrong.
4. Goto (1)

Now it is true that many used colourful language towards Geoff during the thread. But this was borne from frustration, not because the various interlocutors are mean people. It's just that they hate the combination of ignorance and arrogance. Individually those two factors wouldn't be so bad; ignorant and humble, arrogant but right, are both tolerable in a person. Together, however, it's a toxic combination.

It is rare to encounter a person who is so wrong and yet thinks that they are so right. Expert in history, an expert in climatology, an expert in logic, an expert in higher education policy, expert in polar environmental science - and so the list goes on. But when his claims are exposed to factual studies, they were wrong, every time. Why is that? Are the facts wrong? Or is Geoff mistaken? It is indeed curious to think that an expert in marketing, "a widely respected expert in leadership influence", an "executive coach on leadership influence, persuasion, and applying leadership communication", would be considered so poor at the very subjects that they claim expertise in.

There is, of course, the remote possibility that he will change and derive facts from opinions rather than trying to make facts fit his opinions. But with repeat encounters one comes to realisation that this is improbable. Thus, as a short-cut, this single post should provide a summary and warning in advance for those who have the misfortune to encounter Geoff Kelly. It is the fame that he deserves.

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