Nursing Climate Science’s Bruises

Posted by Ben Pile on January 26, 2011
Jan 262011

This post was intended for Spiked-Online. They may print it next week, but I wanted to get it out there sooner.


Sir Paul Nurse, the new president of the Royal Society, has followed his predecessors, Martin Rees and Bob May, by making a loud public statement about the climate debate [1]. His claims — the subject of a recent edition of Horizon on BBC2 — are that science is under attack, and that public trust in scientific theories has been eroded. Like his predecessors, however, Nurse fails to understand why partial statements from the president of the Royal Society do more to impede the progress of debate than move it on.

Although it was advertised as a discussion about an ‘attack on science’, the film is dominated by the climate change debate. In Nurses view, the public are less convinced by climate change than they ought to be. This has followed an ‘attack on science’, which Nurse explains in a somewhat one-sided account of the ‘Climategate’ affair — the leaking of thousands of emails between researchers. But as ugly, pointless and as unpleasant for those involved as it was, if there is something to be said about the character of the debate about climate change, it is that raised passions and low tactics are not unique to either putative ‘side’.

The mistake Nurse makes in his treatment of the climate debate is to imagine that it is divided over a simple claim that ‘climate change is happening’. It is this polarisation of the debate into simple categories — scientists verses deniers — which obscures the real substance of debate, its context, and its nuances. The reality is that climate change is a matter of degree, not a matter of true versus false. From this question of degree emerge points of disagreement about the likely material consequences of warming, each of which are also questions of degree. And from these consequences emerge debates about how these Nth-order effects of Nth-order effects of global warming are likely to cause problems for humans. There are then yet further debates about how best to respond effectively.

The debate is multi-dimensional, and controversy exists throughout. But for Nurse, identifying the points of disagreement and offering up an analysis isn’t the point. Instead, he takes for granted that ‘the science is in’, and wonders why trust in scientific authority seems to have been eroded. One reason for this loss of trust just might be that controversies and other inconveniences are swept aside by the polarisation of the debate, leaving a perception that authoritarian impulses are hiding behind scientific consensus. But to point this out would not fill an episode of Horizon. Instead, after a rather feeble retelling of the consensus position — mostly filmed before a NASA video wall depicting the robustness of consensus position — Nurse goes after the deniers, who he suspects are responsible for undermining public trust in science.

This takes Nurse to the home of outspoken climate sceptic and Telegraph journalist, James Delingpole, who disputes the existence of the consensus, and its value to science. The film has clearly been constructed around this moment, at which Nurse seemingly delivers a coup de grace to the deniers. ‘Say you had cancer, and you went to be treated, there would be a consensual position on your treatment.’ This ‘doctor analogy’ appears to leave Delingpole uncomfortable, and stuck for words. ‘Can we talk about Climategate… I don’t accept your analogy’.

Whatever the reason for Delingpole’s hesitance, there are many good reasons for not accepting Nurse’s analogy. The most obvious being that the climate is not like the human body; climate change is not like cancer; climate scientists are not like oncologists; and climate science research institutions are not like hospitals. But worse is the fact that Nurse’s thought experiment defeats its purpose. He’s asking us to believe that there has been an attack on science, and that trust in science is being eroded. But if we presume that Delingpole is forced by the analogy to accept that he should trust the consensus formed by scientists, we must conclude that science is not under attack. An ‘attack on science’ would reject both climate change and medicine.

Nurse’s reasoning is that if we’re not scientists, we are not able to follow the complexities of climate science, and so take arguments about the climate on trust. But newspapers, he observes, are full of contradictory messages. ‘Political opinions’ are expressed through ‘lurid headlines’, causing ‘an unholy mix of the media and politics [...] distorting the proper reporting of science, and that’s a real danger for us if science is to have its proper impact on society’. Perhaps worse, The internet allows ‘conspiracy theories to compete with peer-reviewed science’. The concern here is that, trust in the wrong source prevents the feckless public from responding to the correct messages about climate change, sending us all to our doom. Instead, people should trust in science, because unlike the politically-driven newspapers, and internet lunatics, its authority, ‘comes from evidence and experiment’.

But there is no attack on science. Even climate change deniers will still take the advice of oncologists, and will still express criticism of climate change policies in scientific terms. What Nurse fails to recognise is the difference between science as a process, and science as an institution. The reputation of the former is intact; but, as I’ve argued before here on Spiked, the scientific institution undermines its own credibility, regardless of any effort by ‘deniers’[2]. The members of those institutions embarrass themselves, and then step to the BBC to create documentaries in which they scratch their heads about why nobody trusts them anymore.

Aside from the technical complexity that Nurse describes, and the multiple dimensions to the climate debate that he ignores, there is the context of the climate debate to be considered. The background to the climate debate is a collapse of trust in public institutions of many kinds[3]. Echoing this collapse in public reason, Nurse urges, ‘trust no one, trust only what the experiments and the data tell you’. But isn’t this also the message from climate sceptics, who accuse institutional, official science of corruption and political-motivation?

It would seem that the sceptics have a good point here. Climate change has come to the rescue of the forgotten old academic department, the tired political establishment, and the disoriented journalist. The possibility of ecological catastrophe injects moral purpose back into public life, in spite of a collapse in trust. Accordingly, local authorities and national governments have, in recent years, transformed their purpose — to monitor your bins, rather than provide public services. Powerful supranational political and financial institutions have been created to ‘meet the challenge’ of climate change. And these political changes have for the most part occurred without any semblance of democracy; it is presupposed that these changes to public life are legitimate because they are seemingly intended to do good.

Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy. But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science. The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate; the IPCC was established to create a consensus for political ends. Nurse, nearly recognising science’s role in the legitimisation of such political ecology, worries about loss of trust. If scientists are not ‘open about everything they do’, he says, ‘then the conversation will be dominated by people driven by politics and ideology’. But it is already ‘driven by politics and ideology’[[4]]; it’s simply that Nurse does not recognise environmentalism as political or ideological, and he does not notice himself reproducing environmental politics and ideology. The loss of trust he now observes is not the consequence of politics and ideology, but the all too visible attempt to hide it behind science and highly emotive images of catastrophe. If the presidents of science academies want their trust back, they will first have to admit to the politicisation of their function[5] in an atmosphere of distrust. Nullius in verba, indeed.

[1] Ben Pile. A sideways step from climate panic to Malthus. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/debates/copenhagen_article/9825/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ben Pile. Why Copenhagen was bound to fail. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/debates/copenhagen_article/7912/

[4] Ben Pile. Political prejudices dressed up as science. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/8508/

[5] Ben Pile & Stuart Blackman. The Royal Society’s ‘motto-morphosis’ http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/3357/

  105 Responses to “Nursing Climate Science’s Bruises”

  1. Your blog may have saved my life. Instead of inchoate fuming during Sir Paul’s presentation, I was able to accurately interpret many of the constructs as they arrived (hooray!).

    This article rather clearly explains (for a science refugee like me) many of the hows and whys of climate hysteria. As you say, it is the trust in Sir Paul and like-minded colleagues that has been undermined – not science. Despite Sir Paul’s clear eminence, I think that anyone with a science background who has taken the trouble to read around the scientific issues will look on in bewilderment at his position. How could he be happy to present the issues in such a blatantly dishonest and manipulative way? I can only hope that any who haven’t already done their reading, will take his presentation as a reason to start getting involved.

    All in all, I reckon it’s been quite an interesting day on the old climate front, with some very rational and relevant articles also from Mike Hulme (Science-under-attack.pdf) and Jerome Ravetz (reconciliation-rationale-ws2011.pdf) to digest as well.

  2. I think Delingpole hesitates upon receipt of Nurse’s analogy because he realises he’s just ‘been had’ but cannot immediately collect his thoughts together to recognise how. What Nurse did with his analogy was slyly substitute diagnosis with treatment.

    As Delingpole has always questioned the diagnosis of CAGW illness, the analogous treatments Nurse thrusts before him as possible cures (whether the choice is scientific or quackery) are irrelevant.

  3. Philip, thanks for pointing out those discussions.

    Full links…
    Mike Hulme: http://mikehulme.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Science-under-attack.pdf

    Jerome Ravetz: (via) http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/25/the-hope-of-lisbon/

    If the Horizon series editor had any imagination, he would get Hulme to author a film.

  4. From the comment section off the delingpole segment on youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36Xu3SQcIE0

    Delingpole could have smashed the doctor-consensus question presented to him if he had replied..
    “did those doctors fudge data, keep other doctor’s opposing reports from being peer reviewed, keep data from being reviewed, and would the cure involve redistribution wealth from rich nations to poor nations?” (buzzwarpyear 1 hour ago)

  5. Obsplak/Peter — I really don’t think there is any need to explain Delingpole’s hesitation. It’s just a stupid piece of film-making, and the question is completely fatuous. Nurse obviously couldn’t get him on anything he actually said. That’s not to say I agree with Dellers, by the way — in fact I don’t agree with his approach to the debate — but that Nurse is not an able critic.

  6. I thought the biggest mistake Delingpole made was to begin by attacking Climatologists by saying they aren’t scientists, then to go on to admit he had no scientific background, had no interest in reading scientific papers and was just an interpreter of interpretations. How can we trust any of his views on science? By focusing on Delingpole the position of ‘climate deniers’ is weakened in the episode.

  7. Medicine has completely different standards of evidence to most scientific fields. For climate change to have the same quality of evidence behind it as any given cancer treatment climate scientists would have to carry out a randomised controlled trial of many planets, up the co2 and then monitor the effects on societies living on those planets.

    This is obviously absurd and no one expects it of them. But to conflate the two very different ways of proving something is true is extremely dishonest.

    We could also ask why medicine developed such rigorous standards. 150 years ago the consensus of doctors would have probably gotten you killed. It’s precisely because of people recognising that science is just as full of value judgements and fraud and nonsense as everything else; and that science is just as capable of being wrong as anything else, that they demand such rigorous study of any hypothesis.

    It’s easy to understand why someone would believe the consensus of (modern) doctors and not climate scientists.

    I know this is largely trivial given the political nature of climate change but it just drives me round the bend seeing the only people ever being critical about this issue being idiot right wingers like Delingpole. They just embarrass themselves and further delude environmentalists. Anyone with half a brain could have dealt with that question.

  8. I wonder how effective it would have been if Delingpole had been asked: “Suppose you had a diagnosis for Oppositional Defiant Disorder and there was a consensus of opinion about your treatment.”? Perhaps not very.

    So much of the pro-AGW camp just don’t want to know about all the areas where modern science is not up to the task of diagnosis, let alone cure.

    The supposed “cures” for AGW are the modern equivalents of lobotomies and electro-shock: great for the prescriber, not so crash hot for the patient.

  9. What people like Nurse and Delingpole and all those who say that AGW is/is not real don’t seem to get [and in the case of people like Nurse, who seem to become visibly upset by the very thought of it] is that the public [that's you and me] are quite capable [thankyouverymuch] of reading/hearing/listening to all sides of the debate and making up our own minds about it in this free market [such as it is] of ideas. People have decided, and the fact that some people have decided to disagree with the “consensus” side is causing poor Nurse a lot of emotional distress. “Science is under attack!”

    You could probably say the same thing about evolution, modern medicine, ect. The scientists can’t seem to accept that somebody somewhere listened to what they and others said, and then disagreed with the pro-whatever side. “How dare they!” they all but say. And then you get talk about some well-coordinated attack by a bunch of people whose combined might couldn’t move an anthill, let alone a mountain.

    If they want people’s faith in science to be restored they might want to start treating people like adults [all while acting like adults themselves I might add] that are completely capable of making up their own minds on an issue, and that they might – shock! horror! – disagree with you about it, and it’s not the end of the world if they do!

    But then that would mean admitting that science is not [or ever was] “under attack” the way they think it is.

  10. If Nurse’s purpose is to defend science against the pernicious criticism of the uninformed, why choose climate science? Anyone defending climate science as a example of expert, unchallengeable knowledge is a fool or a charlatan. Which is the Nobel prize-winning Nurse? Probably a bit of both.
    Unless of course his purpose is not scientific but theological. Could it be a new version of Tertullian’s “credo quia absurdum est”? This phrase is the basis of the catholic doctrine that “unaided human reason is unable to reach certitude, and that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority”. That would fit the president of the Royal Society, and the BBC.

  11. That the programme makers felt it necessary to carry out what was essentially a hatchet job suggests to me a fundamental lack of confidence on their part.

  12. I’m sorry to go off topic, but I thought this might interest Ben and readers:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hJ7LB6_AwMZ6beWcFBcIOowgTM8w?docId=3a83a9ff27f240c2a0246f58484e54b8

    Typically environmentalists are opposed to testing a new technology which could reduce human suffering.

    Also if you fancy a chuckle – The Daily Mash’s take on the same story:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/science-%26-technology/genetically%11modified-mosquitoes-released-for-no-reason-201101273477/

  13. “…Peter — I really don’t think there is any need to explain Delingpole’s hesitation.”

    Ben – point taken. My comment was trying to be more about Nurse using an analogy to switch arguments, rather than the response to this from his opponent. This is important I think, because it suggests that both Nurse and the BBC understood beforehand that they could not win the CAGW argument (and be seen winning it in the ‘money shot’) without, basically, cheating.

    Argument A (which both parties had agreed to discuss): ‘is the CAGW diagnosis sound?’
    Argument B (which one party was unequipped to discuss): ‘how do we cure CAGW?’

    It strikes me that Nurse swapped arguments to sabotage an exchange he knows he cannot make progress with. The Catch22 for Nurse is that to make progress with the premise ‘the CAGW diagnosis is sound’ is to expose it to concerns that would instantly destroy it.

    To progress, Nurse would have to tolerate the concerns of his opponent being placed into the space in between, he then has to pick up these concerns, evaluate them and be able to respond in such a way that meets the needs the concerns are an expression of.

    We could say the needs of his opponent are for ‘scientific integrity’. Nurse might counter that his needs (and the urgency with which he feels them) – to ‘save the world’ – render his opponent’s trivial… so much so that they can be swept aside from the space in between without being addressed, much less – met.

    It is this surreptitious swapping of one set of needs with another that we witnessed in the Horizon programme. By switching from the agreed ‘Argument A’ to ‘Argument B’, Nurse was brushing aside Delingpoles’s (and the public’s) needs and replacing them with his own grandiose ones. Once done, he then quickly ‘moves on’ to demand how his opponent will meet these needs (given the obvious, but silly, choice of science or quackery). Nurse’s analogy further hides whose needs are actually now being addressed by dumping them – along with the ‘illness’ – onto his opponent.

    This sleight-of-hand happens time and again in environmentalism – a movement that could be defined by its loss of boundaries. BBC’s ‘Horizon: Science Under Attack’ could be viewed as a natural history programme in which clever humans are closely observed wilfully undermining their own intellects in the pursuit of greed (in this instance, the greed for power).

  14. “It is this surreptitious swapping of one set of needs with another that we witnessed in the Horizon programme. By switching from the agreed ‘Argument A’ to ‘Argument B’, Nurse was brushing aside Delingpoles’s (and the public’s) needs and replacing them with his own grandiose ones. Once done, he then quickly ‘moves on’ to demand how his opponent will meet these needs (given the obvious, but silly, choice of science or quackery). Nurse’s analogy further hides whose needs are actually now being addressed by dumping them – along with the ‘illness’ – onto his opponent.”

    And then he genuinely wonders why more and more people are disagreeing with him. Not only do people like Nurse think we the people can’t think for ourselves, but that the very real concerns of we the people get brushed off as unimportant.

    If there really is a war on science this attitude that alienates your opponents and audiences isn’t going to help your case much.

  15. Ben,
    Apologies for some of my less than sober commentary but today might be a very historicle day – the day of The Battle of The Bridge of Ramses – and, despite the ad nauseam cliches of 24 hr news, this is not ‘people power’ but ‘people impotence’ spilling over into an extraordinary intelligent rage against the lies, the obfuscation, the outright larceny of one or two hundred crooks scattered here and there. And forged on those ‘dangerous’ arab streets!? How pale that theaetre in which those pathetic philisophes of ’68 sat around discussing the ‘next’ life as the Peugeot strikers where starved out compare to this and these youth forged in iron. It is not the Arabs that must learn from us, it us that must learn, humbly from the cradle of civilization, Egypt, today, with our piffling middle class tantrums in the street and our rock star sons pissing on lamposts. O to Cairo, to Alexandria, to Suez here we come and bow before your bravery and intelligence and civilization!
    ——–
    And, Ben, what is more pathetic – a BBC reporter cowering in his hotel or a Sky reporter cowering in his hotel? A bit like the donkey with two bails of hay! What a pass! And you wonder why some might despair of the west? But it is good we, the self immolated ones, take a back seat, for by watching we might relearn that rage that might once again retake it’s own?
    ——–
    But today is the day of revolution! Wow. I Love how this means our egos are meaningless – in this historic fire burned and burnished – or who knows and who cares, merely ash – can we cleanse the ash of the already unjustly dead – this rage on the Cairo street can – however distant and cowardly we hide behind our Western and ‘civilized’ walls. How stupid and how arogant when civilization was always where it began – in Egypt.

  16. Lewis, I have just merged your last comments into one. Please try to keep your comments vaguely on topic, even if you do find the events in Egypt exciting. Maybe consider having a cup of tea before committing your ideas to comments.

  17. But I forgot, this is a directionless rage – however intelligent it is, because of that extraordinary individuation of sensibility, we cannot organise – which, Ben, in itself, is revolutionary, if you think about it – so no one is grabbing the telecom tower etc – no revolution by program – so old! It is protest by TV. But this works, as it did in Tunisia?

  18. Sorry, Ben, I will try to behave in future. I’m obviously getting a bit carried away and, with you (I presume), I see this moment as merely the exteria to an event that has been happening under ground for a long time. If you want me to be on topic, then I must say, in the the most clipped Nurse accent, the scientific evidence and the ‘conscensus’ shows revolutions can never happen. Nor doubt about the body or the mechanism of my election. Nor Kants moral imperative (with exceptions). Nor the granite of a thousand years, upon which I sit.

    Sorry.

  19. PS I can’t help teasing you.

    [BEN: And I can't help unpublishing your comments.]

  20. I’m not sure I follow Peter S’s analysis in terms of “the space in between”. What I saw (admittedly in the short extract on Youtube) was the President of the Royal Society offered a prime slot to inform the public about the rôle of science in society, and using it to beat an eccentric blogging journalist in argument.
    Either Nurse really believes that Delingpole is a key player in climate scepticism, in which case he is pitifully ignorant (no offence to Dellers – he makes me laugh – but he’d be the first to admit he’s not the one making the running. He merely reports the work of others); or he is deliberately ignoring the sceptical science, in which case his programme was hypocritical propaganda.
    Ben says: “Nurse fails to understand why partial statements from the president of the Royal Society do more to impede the progress of debate than move it on”. It seems to me that he understands perfectly what he’s doing. Impeding the debate is just what he wants to do. He sees it as his duty, and that of the BBC. This view of his rôle makes him unfit to be president of the Royal Society.

  21. Geoff, can we really say that Nurse pretends not to understand? That he doesn’t seem to understand is about as much as I think we can really go on.

  22. But, you forget, Geof, about the meaning of ‘insulse’?

  23. Here’s an extract from the Horizon programme. Sir Paul Nurse is talking to Dr Bob Bindschadler of NASA.
    PN: The scientific consensus is of course that the changes we are seeing are caused by emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. But given the complexity of the climate system, how can we be sure that humans are to blame for this?
    BB: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It’s about 7 gigatons per year right now. And natural causes can only produce – volcanoes popping off and things like that and coming out of the ocean – only produce about one gigaton per year, so there’s just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.
    PN: That’s seven times more.
    BB: That’s right.
    PN: I mean, why do some people say that isn’t the case?
    BB: I don’t know, I think that they get worried about the details of the temperature record, or the, or the carbon dioxide record but again, you need to stand back and look at the big picture, and there really is no controversy then if you do that.

    Is Nurse so stupid as to think that this is a convincing argument that: “the changes we are seeing are caused by emissions of carbon into the atmosphere”? Of course not. Therefore he is a liar.
    We need to get the accusation that key figures in the media and the political and scientific establishments are liars, involved in a deliberate propaganda campaign, into the media. Maybe a good libel case would clear the air.

  24. A few years back, the medical consensus was that ulcers were caused by stress and bad diet. The “science was in” there was a “consensus among the world’s experts” that stress & greasy bad food.

    Until one doctor, who was roundly thrashed by all the Nurses in the global medical field, refused to be conned by “the consensus” examined the evidence and figured out the symptoms were very much like those of a simple bacterial infection.

    Even after he found the guilty bacteria, the Nurse Consensus types of the time called him a liar, slimed him with lies and innuendos and mocked home openly.

    Except they couldn’t explain how he successfully treated scores of long suffering ulcer patients with a common antibacterial medication.

    SO much for Nurse & his medical comparison. Dellers is free to use this example to counter the Horizon/Nurse/Drive-By smear.

  25. Geoff, whether or not Nurse understands the science, I think it’s clear that he has a very low expectation of the public. His performance — which is what the passage you quote from was — was so inadequate because he thinks it’s the only way to get through to the plebs.

    Yes, then, he does expect us to swallow it. And I think he expects his more capable audience to appreciate his amazing ‘science communication’ skills.

  26. geoffchambers, the exchange you provide demonstrates quite clearly that we are dealing with either fools or liars. Anyone familiar with the issue knows that the emissions from fossil fuel consumption contributes only 4-5% of the total annual flux.

    For the President of the Royal Society to preside over such arrant nonsense as that from Bindschadler represents a new low for that once respected Society, first taken on its plunge by long-standing Malthusian Lord May. Just look at the statement – totally wrong, yet swallowed completely by Nurse:

    ‘natural causes can only produce – volcanoes popping off and things like that and coming out of the ocean – only produce about one gigaton per year, so there’s just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.’

    ‘volcanoes popping off’ might produce only a GT pa or so, but other ‘things like that coming out of the ocean’ amount to around 332 GT pa, not to mention the 439 GT pa coming from terrestrial sources.

    If Nurse understood the basic facts of The Science of climate change, he would have known that was wrong. That Nurse swallows such nonsense shows in a single vignette why ‘Science’ as represented by the Royal Society is in such disrepute.

    If he was interested in science as being driven by evidence, Nurse might have pondered the evidence for key predictions generated by climate science (like the evidence for rising water vapour and therefore positive feedback, the missing ‘hotspot’, etc) and understood that most critics of climate science do not ‘deny’ climate science, but question its more exaggerated claims based on analyses that too often confuse model results for ‘evidence and observation.’

    Incidentally, an excellent piece, Ben.

  27. Aynsley Kellow
    Thanks for the information about the carbon cycle. I never get into arguments about gigatons, because frankly, I’m not very interested in science. I’m fascinated though by the sight of hugely important people using their authority to crush intellectual opposition, and doing it so badly. The fact that Nurse carries his paunch like a Cardinal in a bad costume drama and has a name to rival Sir John Falstaff and Sir Andrew Aguecheek makes the whole thing even more entertaining.

  28. Ben:
    Thank you for your very nice summary. I think focusing on Delingpole’s confused response to Nurse’s “When did you stop beating your wife question?” is a mistake. More important, IMHO, is (a) Nurse’s assumptions that led him to that question and (b) Nurse’s lack of mastery of the carbon cycle as pointed out by Aynsley.

  29. Geoff – By ‘space in between’ I mean the neutral space which must exist (ie, be agreed to) between two or more people if an exchange is to take place. It is into this space that words are placed – on the understanding that they will be received, from the space, by the other person(s). The other person digests the intended meaning or value of the words before repeating the process with a response. And so on, as an exchange with the purpose of negotiating the meeting of a need.

    As witnesses to this exchange (ie, as viewers), we understood that – at face value – the shared need of both participants was for ‘convincing science’… and that it was the perceived obstacles to this need being met which differed. For Nurse the obstacle was the actions of a group called the ‘deniers’, whilst for Delingpole it was the actions a group called ‘climate scientists’.

    Nurse is convinced by the scientific CAGW hypothesis. Delingpole isn’t.

    The point I was trying to make in my previous post is that Nurse originally agreed to make the space available and to the parameters of what would be placed into it – descriptions of the perceived obstacles preventing CAGW being convincing and – in exchange – possible redescriptions of these objects which lessened or eliminated their effect). But Nurse then sabotages the space by throwing in an analogy (‘cancer’) – with the intent of forcing Delingpole into a new position… that of also being convinced by CAGW and using the space from thereon merely to negotiate a cure (or ‘treatment’). The mutual need which the space was set up to attempt to meet is appropriated by Nurse who tries to change it from ‘convincing science’ to ‘saving the world’. Delingpole’s response rightly rejects what Nurse placed into the space in between (as well as stating a resentment of Nurse’s abuse of it).

    By merging two needs together (one of which is unreal), Nurse, like all environmentalists, believes that ‘CAGW has to be convincing – otherwise the world will end’. But in this internal psychological muddle of needs, the world will not end directly because of a failure to meet a need for convincing science… the world will end because such a failure will leave Nurse’s felt need to save it unmet.

    It is that mad, obese need – and the urgency with which its ambivalent demands are felt – which led Nurse to wreck not only the space in between himself and Delingpole but also (in doing so) his authority as a scientist.

  30. Aynsley ‘ geoffchambers, the exchange you provide demonstrates quite clearly that we are dealing with either fools or liars.

    Isn’t it worse if they aren’t fools/liars? Isn’t it worse that Nurse is intelligent, and thinks he’s helping the public (whom he thinks are fools, mislead by liars) to understand the truth? Isn’t that what we need to explain and challenge?

  31. One aspect of the Nurse / Delingpole exchange which makes it interesting is simply the rarity of any form of direct contact at all between the opposing sides in this ‘debate’. We may all wish for different protagonists, but the very fact an exchange took place – and broke down – makes this one worth valuing and looking at in some detail.

  32. Geoff, I just posted your excerpt from Horizon (with appropriate hat tips) on James Delingpole’s blog in the Telegraph and also mentioned this on Twitter with a link back to Climate Resistance. Just a little added publicity!

  33. He is a fool. He is a liar. He is a propagandist. He is corrupt. Beyond any shadow of a doubt.

    What is somebody like that doing leading such a body as the Royal Society?

  34. In my opinion, this blatant propoganda was produced to appeal to the teenager. A deceptively gentle and unthreatening story (fairytale) teller appearing to be completely mistyfied as to why the average person does not swallow the scientifically indesputable truth that man/woman is responsible for climate disruption and must mend his/her ways. It would not surprise me to find this programme being shown and discussed in our schools (uncritically of course). Parents beware.
    I also think that in rejecting the cancer analogy was the best way to deal with the inane question. Had JD deconstructed the question and shown it up for what it was, his response would have been edited out of the programme.
    He paused, thought about the question, realized that it was not valid and rejected it. 10 out of 10 in my book.

  35. Ben,
    Given your prior interest in both Malthusianism and the Royal Society, the following which I have just posted at Bishop Hill might be of interest (if you will excuse the cross-posting):

    I think the telling (and sad) point is that Nurse has clearly relied upon the word of someone and has not bothered to read and understand The Science of climate change. Surely this is rock bottom for the Royal Society, which once stood as an emblem of Enlightenment scepticism, rationality and humanism.

    Bernie Lewin’s recent essay on the Royal Society under Rees (link on this page) is excellent, though it does not really make clear the role of Lord May, whose ascension to the Presidency was surely the tipping point.

    Readers here might enjoy part of a lecture I gave to the Royal Society of Tasmania a couple of years back on May:

    ‘For those who doubt that May is a Malthusian at heart, let me refer you to a paper on the environmental crisis he published in 1971. May’s paper referred to almost no social science literature and demonstrated the kind of naivety social scientists see only too often from natural scientists who wander into the social realm:

    “were the population to continue to increase indefinitely at its current rate, then in 400 years there would be one square yard for each inhabitant of the globe. . . .”
    he opined (p 123).

    He also surveyed the resources question in an analysis largely bereft of economics, but his most remarkable and statement was perhaps his suggestion that studies of overcrowding among rats could tell us something about the human behaviour we might expect:

    “Even though abundantly supplied with food and places to live, overcrowded rat communities provide a spectacle of social chaos, with, inter alia, complete disruption of maternal behaviour, sexual deviations including homosexuality, hyperactive and totally withdrawn individuals: in short, all the forms of aberrant behaviour one finds in say, New York City.”
    (May, Robert M. (1971) ‘The Environmental Crisis: A Survey.’ Search 2: 122-131; p124).

    Perhaps he’d seen Midnight Cowboy a few too many times.’

    Source:
    Aynsley Kellow ‘Stern Warnings and Convenient Truths: How Can Economics Better Inform Climate Policy?’ Lecture Delivered To The Royal Society of Tasmania, 16 October 2007

  36. There are enough pejorative terms being exchanged about this affair elsewhere. I don’t see the point. It won’t win anyone over. It wont convince the undecided. It will just look like any other slanging match.

    We can see for ourselves where particular interests lie. We can see the problems with the argument. We don’t need, therefore, to speculate (which is all we can do) about motives and honesty.

    Surely a debate/discussion should consist of more than merely downloading our feelings about a certain person onto the web.

  37. Peter S. “One aspect of the Nurse / Delingpole exchange which makes it interesting is simply the rarity of any form of direct contact at all between the opposing sides in this ‘debate’. …”

    Yes, the exchange took place, but it wasn’t on a level playing field at all!
    One is a CAGW ‘scientist’ who has won the political battle (for the time being at least), and the other a motivated journalist who is frustrated at not being able to untangle the situation; I know because I read James’ articles!

    The pro-CAGW people have the grants, the places in academia where they can churn out bad science, so as soon as one of their proclamations is found to be false, and there are many, there is another to be digested, helpfully broadcast by the BBC etc. There are sceptics, working for very little financial reward, who are doing what other scientists should be doing and questioning the ‘research’. However, the political climate has ensured that there are no funds for this, not even for independent audit.

    It is all so basic:
    How can the UEA loose the raw data, and no one there seems to care!
    How can the UEA not have any code control on their computer programs, and its OK?
    How can climate scientists review papers properly, without even requesting the original data on which they are based?
    How can climate scientists filter data, just because it ‘looks better’, without any explanation of what is being filtered out or any idea of how poor filtering can introduce artifacts that can be interpreted as a signal?
    It has been shown that a warming planet will put more CO2 into the atmosphere, with a lag of several hundred years, so why are we still building windmills and trading carbon credits?
    Climate models appear to be very good at predicting the past, yet they haven’t predicted the latest bout of cooling, so why are we still spending so much on them. There was the lack of salt for the roads this winter and an expectation of warm winters.
    Anthony Watts’ http://www.surfacestations.org website shows that over half of the USHCN weather stations have errors of at least 2 deg C, so why isn’t anyone rectifying the problem.
    Climate science is settled? Science is NEVER settled, especially when we know so little about the Physics of it.
    Etc etc etc.

    I have realised that, in many areas of life, a persuasive argument can change peoples views. However in science, all that persuasive argument can do is to motivate people to look at the submitted papers, the data, the code and the original explanations in order to attempt to UNDERSTAND what is going on in terms of physical laws. Only then can meaningful (and heated!) discussions take place, with a view to improve understanding.
    This is why TV discussions don’t work.

    Unfortunately we are also in a situation where the elephants under the table are the CAGW Mega-grants, that one side are receiving, and are there to keep the political policy on track: petrol rationing, windmills, political control over the electricity supply to your house etc.

    There are plans by the EU to shut down UK coal powered power stations because they are not ‘clean’ and produce too much CO2. What happens when we end up without power in the winter, and no wind. We have had several cold windless days this winter in the UK. For how many could you endure that?

    At least people are waking up to the situation !!!

  38. Aynsley, thanks for the useful quotes from May. Shocking to see illiberal Malthusian values in their true context.

    (I have to admit, after my previous comment, to having called him a liar in the past. But it was a very straightforward lie, as it happens, about Martin Durkin.)

    The RS have certainly elected more charming president to follow May. But they compare people to rats while smiling.

    Some more discussion about the RS here: http://www.climate-resistance.org/tag/royal-society

    and Rees’s catastrophism here:

    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2010/06/the-grief-lectures-2010-%e2%80%93-part-one.html
    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2010/06/the-grief-lectures-2010-part-two.html
    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2010/08/the-grief-lectures-2010-%e2%80%93-part-three.html

    … I never got round to the final part of the Reith series. As you say, for all the scientific authority of the RS chairs, their social science and philosophical outlook is poverty-stricken.

  39. Ben,
    I’m not sure if any or all of your 1.06 am comments are directed at me and my last post (it’s aim is not clear), but unfortunately the socially naive apocalypticism of Lord May is entirely relevant. Much of the problem with climate science has to do with the extent to which the social beliefs of those who command the scientific heights infuse their pronouncements on science. The same applies in the US. One example: Paul Ehrlich’s introduction of Paul Kennedy as editor of Science. These guys are now the establishment, and we need to know their beliefs if we are to understand their conduct. These are not ‘feelings’, but an evidence-based analysis of those beliefs.

    Incidentally, I agree with your point at 10.29. Most of the time these people think they are doing the right thing – their duty even. It is their belief in the moral correctness of their actions that blinds them to the obvious, such as forgetting to honour the motto (and traditions) of the very institutions they now lead.

  40. Ben,
    Sorry – I see I was not your target. Our posts crossed in cyberspace! You should be in bed (and I should be in the garden)!

    Aynsley

  41. Thanks for excellent analysis. Takeaway messages for me we can use in discussions:

    Climate change only legitimised evolving leftist eco-politics.

    Paul Nurse lacks the most basic climate knowledge – he thinks man produces 7 times the natural CO2 when climatologists agree the value is less than 1/20th. That’s the only gotcha moment in the Horizon programme.

  42. Climate change only legitimised evolving leftist eco-politics.

    I hope nobody takes that message away from this blog. I see no evidence that Nurse is a ‘leftist’.

    We have a minority Conservative government, whose slogan was, not so long ago, “Vote Blue, Go Green”.

    I think the trouble is the Right climate-sceptics don’t notice the turquoise tendencies in their own camp.

  43. Fair enough, Ben – I do tend to misbehave on sites of people I respect(?) – but I lost respect for that venerable old vehicle, Horizon, a long time ago. It’s infintile version of science, with all it’s graphics, it’s patronising belief that the oi polloi might get board and certainly couldn’t understand, made me sad and tired. Strangely enough, this happened when the BBC decided it’s ‘real’ audience was the US and you know what the British establishment think of those ‘ignorant colonials’. So I was not surprised when Sir Paul Nurse decided a debased rhetoric was the order of the day, rather than the explication of vigorous thought.( I find here a strange parrellel with our and the wests ‘fear and loathing’ of the arab and the arab street). Contra Paul Nurse, this is not an individuals existantial advice session but a globes political question, ie “What is to be done?” and not, presicely, about rising temperatures. We are seeing more and more that the ‘street’ is realizing the rotten emptyness of the establishment. We are having a radical education.

  44. On “climate change only legitimised evolving leftist eco-politics”, while I don’t believe it was originally intended that way it has certainly now become a very valuable stalking horse for exactly those politics.

    And Dellers has a known, publicised, medical issue. Was he simply thrown by the reference to personal cancer treatment – it looked that way. Nurse and the BBC must have done their homework: it doesn’t matter whether the cancer question was deliberate or accidental, they should not have put the question personalised as it was. I say shame on them.

  45. I think the trouble is the Right climate-sceptics don’t notice the turquoise tendencies in their own camp.

    A common tactic when they do notice people with “turquoise tendencies” is to label them as leftists. That ensures the ideological purity of their camp.

    (A similar tactic is used by some as they try to “prove” Hitler and Mussolini were socialists. Apparently in a desire to prove that the right is always correct and that all the great dictators have been on the left.)

  46. Ben
    “Isn’t it worse if they aren’t fools/liars? Isn’t it worse that Nurse is intelligent, and thinks he’s helping the public (whom he thinks are fools, mislead by liars) to understand the truth?”
    Excellent point, and I take back my accusation that he is a fool or a liar. (Are blogs subject to libel laws?) I think it would be difficult, however, to make the case, based on this programme, that Nurse is a intelligent man whose purpose is to correct misunderstandings about science.
    An intelligent man cannot go from arguing that man is responsible for warming the planet to arguing that man is responsible for the major part of carbon emissions in 30 seconds and not notice what he has done. He can pretend not to notice, which is what Nurse seemed to be doing. This is speculation about motives, I agree. But this is a TV programme. The BBC has its pensions invested in green energy and won’t tell us what advice they received from scientists about programming on the subject of climate change. They won’t even tell us that they were scientists and not green activists. This is a political scandal. Nurse is now part of that scandal.
    Peter S mentions “the rarity of any form of direct contact at all between the opposing sides in this ‘debate’”. The only contact I’ve seen so far (15 minutes into the programme) is Singer interviewed in a New York diner, while the NASA scientist was interviewed in front of a magnificent 3D model of the planet. You wouldn’t be allowed to conduct an identity parade like that. Why a TV programme?

  47. Dr Michael Cejnar says:
    “Paul Nurse lacks the most basic climate knowledge – he thinks man produces 7 times the natural CO2 when climatologists agree the value is less than 1/20th. That’s the only gotcha moment in the Horizon programme”.
    I disagree. I drew attention to the extract where Nurse discusses natural / man-made CO2 ratios in a post here and at Bishop Hill, which led Aynsley and others to spot his elementary mistake. But my point was the logical fallacy of arguing that a high proportion of CO2 being man-made proved that man is responsible for global warming.
    The commentary is riddled with statements like:
    “… and trust in other scientific theories has also been eroded, such as the safety of vaccines ..”
    “Science created our modern world, so I wanted to understand why science appeared to be under such attack”.

    A simple journalist would not be allowed to get away with describing the safety of vaccines as a “scientific theory”. Why should the President of the Royal Society?

  48. This is an excellent article, but I do have one minor criticism about this sentence:

    “The reality is that climate change is a matter of degree, not a matter of true versus false.”

    I don’t dispute the truth of that, but the current argument is between those who believe that the human contribution to variations in the climate is insignifcant, on the one hand, and those who are determined to blame mankind for the temperature change. It is not, to my mind, a question of degree(s).

  49. Mooloo,

    Let us say ‘European Nihilism’ has many guises and there are, in this historical era, many a demagogue and many an opportunity for demagoguery. In point of fact, the vicious people and their regimes you allude to could not have rhetorically existed without Marx or later Bolshevism. Nor without the whole cultural baggage of the Nineteenth century. The ‘irony’ of history. That by the bye.
    Sir Paul Nurse is the acme of establishment, an establishment that has been chemically separated from any left/right principled ideology, a negative of ideology (in the photographic and Hegelian sense). There is, of course, the false sepia tint of this or that historical memory but otherwise the terms are meaningless.
    What Sir Paul Nurse represents, as a scientist, is the present vacuity of science (for what is it now doing? Certainly not now answering the question “Why are we here?”, a question never really occupied and rapidly vacated by philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world; and “How are we here?”); as an establishment figure, the vacuity of that establishment; as a discourse, a ‘virtuous’ circle of emptiness.
    Perhaps, Delingpole found it difficult because he didn’t expect a human (though sophistical) question from that which is dehumanized? The answer being these are not questions asked of a physician by a patient!

  50. ‘the current argument is between those who believe that the human contribution to variations in the climate is insignifcant, on the one hand, and those who are determined to blame mankind for the temperature change. It is not, to my mind, a question of degree(s).’

    No. For even if either of your alternatives were excepted the real question would still be “What is to be done?”. Ie a political question involving human choice and decision. Supposing the worst extremes, the question, profoundly speaking, would not be the technical questions of mitigation and adaption but of what we want as a society to be. Human choice and human dignity means deciding to be. Otherwise, what for?

  51. Lewis:

    The concept of Scotland can only exist in conjuction with England. But that does not means Scotland is a form of England. Personally I think Mussolini could have existed without Marx, but even if he couldn’t, that doesn’t make him a Marxist.

    (Why do I think Mussolini could exist without Marx? Because the history of Latin America shows proto-fascists well before Marx hit his straps. Santa Ana say. The advent of communism gave the later South American fascists an obvious enemy, but some other ideology could have filled that spot for pretty much the same effect.)

  52. I was astonished by the sheer idiocy and naivety of Nurse. I think he must be one of those “useful idiots” planted there at the RS by the outgoing Rees.

    He seemed to have no understanding of the science of the climate and climate scepticism despite the many books and blogs that cover it. He seemed to have done no preparation for his interview with Delingpole or with the NASA bloke other than look at a few newspaper headlines.

    He talked to Singer and then went off to get a contrary opinion without letting Singer respond. His discussion with Delingpole was idiotic. If he was hosting this program as a scientist then he should have done his scientific duty and as the Royal Society motto says, he should have not accepted anybody’s word. He should have spoken to scientists from both sides and given them a chance to argue. Instead he chose one sceptic, interviewed him in a diner (WTF?) which is a crass place for a scientific discussion and then refused to allow him the right to reply.

    Basically he used his scientific authority (president of RS) to give an imprimatur to Phil Jones without doing any work of his own. He is a disgrace to science. And the BBC paid him for this tripe!

  53. And, also, I dispute the false dichotomy, as does Ben Pyle (read the article) between what are, in affect, nuanced positions that fade into one another. That is to say, no one disputes humans are having (and have had – hence history!) a profound affect on the world in which we live – England (with Italy) the most sifted country that ever existed a case in point! Indeed, I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is having a global affect – Sir Paul Nurses stupid rhetoric has a point here! But the real questions, critically speaking, resolve themselves into political ones – how should we live, how do we want to live? What some find objectionable about this establishment wind, is the pretense of authority for what is purely political, a disingenuouity and hypocrisy we should not, perhaps, be surprised about. It only feels difficult because of our sentimentally about ‘scientist’!

  54. Mooloo,

    I don’t dispute what you say. I was only pointing out what one might call (a la Hume) historical contiguity. For instance, one might be crude (as you have said) and point out the ‘socialism’ of National Socialism, a rhetoric that would not have existed without ‘socialism’. Indeed, one of the appeals, for the the lower middle class and skilled labourer who voted for them, of that partei in 1930′s Germany was this apeing of other ‘programs’. But they are a specific history in a specific time and therefore must assume their antecedents. Or, clearer, why Stalin?

  55. The analogy with cancer is useful case to show the level of out knowledge.

    The medical profession have huge experiance is diagnosing the common cancers. They don’t just identify which type it is, but the extent of the problem. They have knowledge of the pattern of devlopment. Then in the treatment process, then have a huge range of drugs and surgical techniques that are well established, with knowledge of when to apply and (in the case of medicine) what dosage. They also monitor the patient.

    AGW has not happened before. There is considerable uncertainty as to how much the warming will be and the likely consequences, such as see level rise.
    Providing an effective treatment (containing the rise in CO2)needs economic and regulatory measures on a global scale. The treatment is applied by politicians who have other motives, taking advice from the most vocal scientists and from advocacy groups. These interested parties have differing aims and no understanding of policy optimization. It is very much like having the only treatment available being an untested one from a drug company who stands to make big profits. We trust the drug company salesmen to tell us the dosage, the effectiveness and the side effects. The salesmen have only had limited conversation with the scientists, and are paid commission only.

    It is bad science piggy-backing on reputation of good science. A similar case is the using the analogy with the evidence for the harm of tobacco. See
    http://manicbeancounter.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/big-tobacco-and-climate-change-deniers/

  56. ManicBeancounter

    I don’t quite understand your post. You begin with Sir Paul Nurses rhetoric of cancer. But then you end up showing deep sceptism of the purported treatment, because of ‘politicians’ and metaphorical pharma companies. Could you be clearer?

    The premise is that human society (for what else can we be talking about?) is the passive patient of the ‘physician’ – the ‘climate scientists’ – and ‘we’, the ‘patient’, must except their word because we have an existential threat, a ‘cancer’, global warming. Do you think this analogy is sustainable? Do you not realize how authoritarian this fable is? How anti-’science’ it has become?

  57. Geoff -

    I noticed another example involving Dr Bindschadler quite early on in the program.

    First of all, Fred Singer stated, “I’m of the opinion that the major natural effect comes from the sun, and specifically from variations in what is called solar activity. That is not the total radiation from the sun, but it is the emission from the sun of what we call coronal ejections which produces the solar wind. And the solar wind is a particle stream from the sun that pervades interplanetary space and can effect the situation near the earth.”

    There was next a brief bridge section in which Sir Paul talked about the importance of seeing the broader picture, before an interview with Bindschadler in which the following statement is given apparently as a counterpoint to Singer’s, “When you actually look at the data, the sun doesn’t turn out to be that important. On the historical scale – the paleoclimate scale – the sun is important, we know the sun is driving these long cycles, but if you look at the small variations in the solar radiation and the variations in the climate data they don’t match up. So there’s just no doubt that the sun is not a primary factor driving the climate change that we’re living through right now.”

    I suppose that one doesn’t need to accept the cosmic ray theory to understand that these statements are talking about different things, and that the second is therefore not a successful scientific rebuff to the first. But the sleight of hand is done so artfully that it almost goes unnoticed. I thought the program was peppered with constructions like this, designed to lead the viewer to draw the unjustified conclusions.

    Changing subject slightly, I wonder if the Met Office petition from a year or so back – in which 100s of UK academics supported the MO position – may also have been a reflection of this concern that science is under attack. I’ve no doubt that there are those scientists who are happy to allow the science to be misrepresented – presumably because they believe they are saving the planet – but they are surely a small minority. Perhaps many of the other signers were instead looking right past the people occupying the centre position, and instead were trying to address those on the sceptic side who really do attack science – maybe not even aware when they signed that their stand was being used to support the very anti-science attitudes they wanted so much to criticise.

  58. ManicBeancounter

    I’ve reread your post and now I think I do understand – your drawing a contrast, for the sake of hypothesis, between the certainty of an oncologist and the uncertainty of ‘climate scientists’ prognostications? Sorry if I seemed to misread it before.

  59. Philip

    ‘on the sceptic side who really do attack science’ – then they wouldn’t be sceptics, would they, but something else (equally venerable, I’m sure)? Why do you think scientists feel they are ‘under attack’? Perhaps they ‘feel’ ‘under attack’? It is good that some supply the bogey man but when, in history, apart from its nascence, have scientist ever felt under attack? Do physicists feel ‘under attack’? Even biologists, despite the mouse like rhetoric of ‘designers’? Doubt attacks, emptiness, too

  60. Philip
    You make a good point about the way time after time in the programme the rebuttal slides past the point being rebutted without touching.
    There’s an explantion of Nurse’s confusion about why the “science is under attack” which is curiously parallel to Bindschadler’s point about effects being felt on different time scales.
    The “attacks” so felt by Nurse and his brood are very recent, dating back to maybe Warwick Hughes’ first request for data from Jones. The belief of Nurse and co that science has some divine right to popular acceptance goes back further. It is visible in some of the extraordinary one-liners Nurse throw off with unconscious abandon: “Science created our modern world… scientists are perhaps not well-suited for dealing with situations like this, and we perhaps let them run out of our control …” etc. This is Divine Right talk.
    For decades, opinion polls have shown the trust rating of scientists and doctors up in the 80% region, and that of politicians and journalists down at 20% or less.
    The latter two groups have espoused that part of science which touches society most closely – environmentalism – in order to acquire some of that magic public confidence. The Green politician and the environmental journalist partially escaped from their ghetto of mistrust, and dragged science to centre stage. But centre stage is for actors, who must accept the rotten tomatoes along with the adoration. Nurse’s position is that of an absolute monarch who thinks it might be good idea to talk to his subjects. He really has no idea.

  61. Sir Paul Nurse has taken a real ”battering, Ben, even if it’s only from our tiny quintile of the Internet? But do you think his anxieties take cognizance? It is he, himself, that attacks himself, his clumsy discourse proves it. Therefore, there is an end to this maddening unthinking, sometime, soon?

    The old house will no longer work – yesterday, I stepped through the floor, and, today, the estate agent tells me it’s worth a million pounds? When I showed him out, the front door fell off its hinges. ‘Another 100,000 more’ he said, getting into his car. And I thought, as usual, if only Martina was here, she would explain this upside world that, I think, I was born right way up in. Rotten.

  62. Ben, please delete this as you see fit, for it’s not, obviously, germane but I can’t help it. As a coda, at least:

    Eyeless in Gaza, I squint and grasp blindly
    For this mornings coffee. The noise and rumble.
    A newspaper boy running past. My French friend
    Comes in to tell me his office is packing up and going back
    To Paris. How cowardly. And I’ve been here before.
    In Alexandria, for instance.

  63. Quote ‘The film has clearly been constructed around this moment, at which Nurse seemingly delivers a coup de grace to the deniers. ‘Say you had cancer, and you went to be treated, there would be a consensual position on your treatment.’ This ‘doctor analogy’ appears to leave Delingpole uncomfortable, and stuck for words. ‘Can we talk about Climategate… I don’t accept your analogy’.’

    Err, No! There is in practice no consensus on cancer treatment. Presumably Mr Hume made up this ‘fact’. It is not consistent with my families experience on two different occasions.
    When my wife discovered a lump in her breast she went to our family GP for advise and treatment. She was told, that she was too young and not to worry about breast cancer, (she was forty). My wife was upset and asked for a biopsy, only to be told that one should not get emotional and not to waste the NHS’s time and money. My wife persisted, but after several weeks of stonewalling, and increasing anxiety, she made a direct approach to the cancer unit at Kings Hospital, the biopsy followed, and she was informed she had breast cancer. We were advised of the different treatments available and selected one in which the lump was removed within the week.

    Ten years later another lump was discovered. Following weeks of being shunted around by our GP, a different one this time as we had in the mean time moved from London to the country for a change in lifestyle, we contacted a private clinic one morning, arranged a 2:00pm appointment that day, after which the consultant recommended a biopsy. Like the first biopsy this too was positive and she had cancer. The consultant advised us that the lump was very large, too close to a main artery, and inoperable, but could be treated with chemo-therapy. This was quite a blow. After several weeks of agony and ceaseless research into this type of cancer my wife contacted a specialist well woman’s clinic, whos consultants after further biopsies and ultrasound advised us that the cancerous lump could be reduced in size through a course of chemotherapy before being surgically removed. This has all happened and we are now two years on, my wife has a new head of hair and we continue our lives.
    Reflecting on Mr Nurse’s analogy, we experienced no consensual opinion for the treatment of cancer from the many qualified medical practitioners we consulted. Treatment depends upon factors like where you live, how much you can afford, your understanding of your particular cancer, determination to live, meeting the ‘right’ consultant, discussing and agreeing upon a treatment you can hopefully live with.

  64. Nurse urges, ‘trust no one, trust only what the experiments and the data tell you’.

    Is he claiming a climate model on a computer counts as an experiment?

  65. Glad to hear she’s in remission sceptical me.

    All the best.

  66. a comment on Delingpole’s article by henrybrubaker says: “Todays CACC skeptic blog awareness email has lots about the Horizon show, Delingpole and such, albeit through the medium of Bishop Hill in the main. However this one jumps out. I thought it rather good, even if it did take Monbiots odious CACC website to forward it to me through the medium of ‘fake’ email addresses.
    http://www.climate-resistance….”

    You’ve apparently joined the list of blogs who are thought worthy of visits from the Campaign against Climate Change’s (prop. G. Monbiot) troll team. Congratulations.

  67. Nurse hasn’t the foggiest idea about the key part of climate science, aerosols/water vapour interactions supposed to produce dangerous positive feedback. Few understand it and the majority say the idea is baloney. The problem is that from Day 1, the modellers assumed this feedback. In 1988, Lindzen warned them there was no evidence and subsequent work has confirmed this.

    Their belief came about because the optical physics of aerosols, originating from Sagan and introduced to climate modelling by his ex-students, Lacis and Hansen in 1974 at GISS/NAS, predicts the cloud part of ‘global dimming’, the increase of albedo by aerosols supposed to hide present CO2-AGW. But the theory is based on misconceptions and you can easily prove it’s wrong by looking at rain clouds, dark underneath so higher albedo yet have larger droplet size. The theory predicts they should pass more light.

    The other issue is palaeo-climate: you need warming other than Milankovitch effects to come out of ice ages at the required rate. The way out is to correct the physics. There’s a mechanism for high direct backscattering at upper cloud surfaces [for an albedo of 0.7, 40% of the light is directly backscattered]. As there’s a very strong positive dependence on droplet size, pollution makes albedo plummet. This alternate AGW means CO2 loses its monopoly and could be net zero from extreme negative feedback. The proof of such feedback is the reduction of theoretical ‘no-convection’ warming from 60K to 33K by ‘weather’.

    Heating ‘cloud albedo effect’ is a far better explanation of palaeo-climate than CO2 because the latter has a delay of 500-1500 years as oceans warm. If CO2 did act in the way it’s supposed to, it would also prevent a new ice age. Because the cloud effect is self limiting, it’s instantly reversible as ice cover stops fauna and flora from producing aerosols in the cooling World, so allows the IA.

    Having looked at the ‘scientific consensus’ in some detail, it’s plain wrong because it’s based on faulty physics. After NASA learnt there was no experimental evidence for ‘cloud albedo effect’ cooling it created a fake explanation apparently to keep the idea in AR4. Such behaviour is unacceptable.

  68. Geoff – You’ve apparently joined the list of blogs who are thought worthy of visits from the Campaign against Climate Change’s (prop. G. Monbiot) troll team. Congratulations.

    Nah, CACC just repost each of the Bishop’s posts, who kindly links here. In fact, as far as I can tell, CACC does nothing other than repost the Bishop’s posts.

  69. Pardon the cross-listing, but I have just posted this at Bishop Hill:

    It occurred to me to find out who Bob Bindschadler was. I wondered where his expertise lay, given that he was pronouncing on carbon fluxes and modelled tropical cloud formations.

    Answer: He’s a glaciologist, specialising in remote sensing measurements of Antarctic ice.

    He’s probably a damned good one, too. But it explains why he might not be on top of carbon fluxes, and why his word on tropical cloud formations should not be preferred to that of, say, Richard Lindzen.

    But he is a ‘Climate Scientist’, so I guess we should trust him, take him at his word, and not worry about that ‘Nullius in verba’ thingy.

  70. Am I forgiven for, in the end, deciding not to listen? For instance, it was impossible for me to watch more than 15 seconds of Sir Paul Nurse before I knew the whole ‘plot’. Forgive me if I can’t watch the news channels because I know the narrative cliches they will supply? I do try and then have to decide against myself, again.
    Listen, Sir Paul Nurse is merely a cypher but a cypher for what? Like all establishment figures, his very thinness makes him opaque. But think of that real estate your possible broker wanted to sell you? The difference between a real estate agent and Sir Paul Nurse? A conscious and intelligent knowledge that one is lieing and why one is lieing. J’appelle une chat une chat.

  71. Aynsley:
    For the purposes of the Horizon programme, Bob might as well be the janitor. All he and Nurse have to do is stand in front of a screen and go Wow! Here’s part of their dialogue:
    BB: Exactly, so we’re just testing a model here. We’ve got data, we’ve got a model. How good do the model predictions match the data? And your eye will just tell you the answer.
    PN: You see this great thing swirling here and then they swirl up there and then little puffs there and little puffs there? Huh!
    BB: So even that little detail about clouds, models are getting it right (pause) now. And, visually, I think this is just so stunning, because seeing is believing.

    Twenty minutes on, Nurse is saying:
    “The authority science can claim comes from evidence and experiment and an attitude of mind that seeks to test its theories to destruction. Sceptism [sic] is really important. We are often plagued with self-doubt. I often tell my students and post-doctoral workers, be the worst enemy of your own idea. Always challenge it. Always test it. I think things are a little different when you have a denialist or an extreme sceptic. They’re convinced that they know what’s going on and they only look for data that supports that position, and they’re not really engaging in the scientific process”.

    Does any of this matter? As Britain’s importance declines, one of its few assets is the world-wide reputation of its institutions. People believe the BBC. Its programmes are sold world-wide. Nurse is head of the world’s oldest scientific body. His communication talents are those of an enthusiastic high school chemistry teacher. On any other subject but climate change, the critical talents of Britain’s chattering classes (arguably Britain’s greatest cultural asset) would have been aroused to massacre this apology of a programme.

  72. Geoff,
    I think the fact that he used the term ‘denialist’ says it all! It is sad that the Royal Society has reached the stage. Does he know that this expression was deliberately created to associate those who failed to accept ecocatastrophe with holocaust deniers? The earliest reference I can find is the excruciatingly awful review of Lomborg’s book in Nature by Pimm and Harvey, but it featured in discussion in on blogs like Grist as a deliberate strategy, once they realised that calling someone a sceptic was actually praise.

    Leaving aside whether this amounts to an example of Godwin’s Law, anyone who uses the term has, in my opinion, abandoned argument based on reason and evidence, and that’s not behaviour we should expect form a President of the Royal Society — though, after May and Rees, apocalypticism seems to be in the ascendancy.

    But, fundamentally, Nurse is a perfect example of why we should listen to Nobel Laureates only when they are professing their disciplines and assume that – like Bono preaching poverty relief while wearing his Armani sunglasses – their views on any matter might not be all that valuable!

  73. Geoffchambers

    “Science created our modern world…” It is interesting that statement, isn’t it? – partly because it’s a kind of creation myth, naive, ignorant and just damned incorrect – perhaps like the establishment from which he comes. I suppose the proximate reasoning might be Yeats “Watt took a rib from Lock” (bad paraphrase, sorry?) But Watt wasn’t a scientist was he? I was reading Adam Smith the other day and he (even then) pointed out that a large proportion of the technical improvements of production were made by the workers – menial pointless work makes us want to make it less pointless!
    Indeed, the majourity of modern technical invention are, often, an accidental by product of science – the cathode tube was not invented in order to allow us the privilege of watching News 24!
    —–
    2011/01/30 at 12:49 pm
    Or does he mean the ‘Geist’ of the present era – in which case, he’s even more incorrect? To put it crudely, a reversal of cause and affect!
    —–
    2011/01/30 at 1:01 pm
    ‘I think the trouble is the Right climate-sceptics don’t notice the turquoise tendencies in their own camp.’

    A kind of blue melon? And that is not only possible but probably actual. The marvels of our ‘scientist’ invented world!
    —–
    2011/01/30 at 1:10 pm
    Geoffchambers,

    “But, you forget, Geof, about the meaning of ‘insulse’?”

    Sorry, I think I meant insouciance, though in relation to what or why, I don’t know. Apologies.

  74. Aynsley
    You’re right that the use of the word “denialist” is extraordinary, coming from someone who claims to want to calm the debate and separate the science from politics. I accept that the debate is necessarily political, so I’m not shocked by the word. There’s a long tradition of accepting the insults of one’s critics as a badge of honour, from Quakers to the Old Contemptibles.
    The real worry is that, post Climategate, the debate has become even more poisoned by propaganda and ideology. Many on the sceptic side seem to think that the simple revelation of the mindset of scientists at the centre of the IPCC process should be enough to reverse history and efface an ideology. Many on the American Right think the same thing about socialism. This attitude of “We’ve been proved right, the opposition will cease to exist” is naive, at the best.
    When I called Nurse a liar in a previous comment, I wasn’t talking about his scientific claims (of which there are precious few in the programme) but about his explanation of the purpose of the programme, which was completely at odds with the content. He produces no evidence that science is under attack, no counter argument to Singer’s scientific position, no exposition or analysis of the sceptical position at all.
    Compare this programme with the Reith Lectures delivered by Sir Martin Rhees, criticised by Ben here in previous posts; the decline in the standard or reasoning between one RS President and his successor is astonishing. In Britain, all three party leaders are now fervent Greens, and there is no more open debate than there was pre-Copenhagen and pre-Climategate.
    Lewis
    Yes, “Science created the modern world” would pass in a sixth form essay or a pub debate. But when you’re given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to express the philosophy that governs your life work, you’d expect something a bit more nuanced, wouldn’t you? As you say, a creation myth. The sad thing is, if you put this point to Nurse, pointing out the religious and authoritarian tendencies in his thinking, he just wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.

  75. Ben:
    just put up a post my own and then realized that the key concepts arose from a reflection on your own excellent words to which I have added both a link and what I hope is a suitable acknowledgment:
    http://ecomythsmith.blogspot.com/2011/01/ends-should-never-justify-means.html
    The post arose from a comment at Climate Etc. and I hope readers from there will find the foresight to both read and reflect on your central message.

  76. “The mistake Nurse makes in his treatment of the climate debate is to imagine that it is divided over a simple claim that ‘climate change is happening’. It is this polarisation of the debate into simple categories — scientists verses deniers — which obscures the real substance of debate, its context, and its nuances. The reality is that climate change is a matter of degree, not a matter of true versus false.”

    Ben – I’m not sure about the meaning of this sentence. In your opening paragraph you talk about ‘partial statements’ impeding the progress of debate, but isn’t ‘climate change’ itself a partial statement of the full claim of ‘catastrophic manmade climate change’? Although it frequently gets shortened, it is in fact this full statement that the debate centres around. I would argue that it is the shortening (and indeed, renaming) of the claim which quite often ‘obscures the real substance of debate’ – sometimes purposefully. I don’t think there can be much nuance to the claim that man is causing a climatic catastrophe – nor to the polarised responses to it.

    There is of course bucket loads of nuance and context in the evidence used to support this claim – and it is the endless arguing over these interpretations which make up a large part of the so-called ‘debate’. But ultimately, the claim itself can only be resolved as true or false.

  77. @ Geoffchambers
    PN: That’s seven times more.
    BB: That’s right.
    PN: I mean, why do some people say that isn’t the case?
    BB: I don’t know, I think that they get worried about the details of the temperature record, or the, or the carbon dioxide record but again, you need to stand back and look at the big picture, and there really is no controversy then if you do that.
    End of part post

    Let’s assume the President Of the Royal Society, actually believes what he is saying. Then he should not be surprised that people have no confidence in him or his mates from the UEA.

    Science is not under attack only junkett science.

  78. Peter S – I’m not sure about the meaning of this sentence. In your opening paragraph you talk about ‘partial statements’ impeding the progress of debate, but isn’t ‘climate change’ itself a partial statement of the full claim of ‘catastrophic manmade climate change’?

    Yes, and that’s why I go on to unpack the notion of climate change to its consequences: “From this question of degree emerge points of disagreement about the likely material consequences of warming, each of which are also questions of degree. And from these consequences emerge debates about how these Nth-order effects of Nth-order effects of global warming are likely to cause problems for humans. There are then yet further debates about how best to respond effectively.”

    I then go on to speak about the context of the climate change debate, which is where the eco-presuppositions enter.

    But ultimately, the claim itself can only be resolved as true or false.

    But there is no single, unambiguous claim. Indeed, it needs to be unpacked in almost every instance.

  79. I’m rather amused that the attribution of the howler on the carbon cycle is now given by Delingpole to Booker. Geoff Chambers and I pointed this out in an exchange here on Climate Resistance at 2100hrs GMT, cross-posted at Bishop Hill, fully 22 hours before Booker posted his piece to appear next day in the Sunday Telegraph, in which he said he had ‘noticed’ the mistake. I know journalists like to protect their sources, but a little attribution (both personally and for this blog) would be nice! Actually, Booker might have not been reading any blogs on this, but I was surprised that Delingpole attributes the point to Booker, because I immediately drew Delingpole’s attention to the mistake on Friday evening, using the ‘Contact’ section on his website!

  80. Ben – the problem with unpacking the notion of climate change to its consequences is that it might lose its ‘catastrophic’ prefix in the process and instead become ‘bothersome manmade climate change’ or ‘slightly irritating manmade climate change’. I cannot see how adding nuance to the degree of future catastrophe the claim asserts will make it any more or less convincing.

    I suspect that that those making the claim of manmade climate change knew in advance that it was unlikely to be accepted either by politicians or the public (partly due to the poor quality of its supporting evidence). Tacking ‘catastrophic’ onto the front of the claim suggests that the intent was to motivate a desired response through terror rather than conviction.

    The polarisation might be primarily over the presence of the unambiguous ‘c’ word in the claim -dropping it may well allow for more nuance, but it cannot be a condition of the claim being more broadly accepted – as it might still be untrue. To borrow form Nurse’s analogy – it would be like his perfectly healthy patient agreeing to accept a diagnosis of ‘cancer’ only if the doctor dropped ‘life-threatening’ of the front of it.

    I believe I could be taking at cross-purposes here.

  81. it might lose its ‘catastrophic’ prefix in the process and instead become ‘bothersome manmade climate change’ or ‘slightly irritating manmade climate change’.

    Great! I’m not troubled by that at all.

    I believe I could be taking at cross-purposes here.

    I don’t believe that you are, but I think we might be!

  82. “the problem with unpacking the notion of climate change to its consequences…”

    Sorry – I meant the problem for Nurse

  83. A complete transcript (more or less) of Horizon: Science Under Attack is now here:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20110124_hz

    Building on Geoff’s excerpt, I think it’s all here; probably needs a few corrections and tweaks…

  84. Alex
    Is the transcription your work? And the others at the same site? If so, many thanks, and congratulations. My short excerpts which I posted here and at BishopHill enabled others to spot a scientific howler which I was quite unaware of. Warmists’ reliance on the spoken as opposed to the written word (Inconvenient Truth, the Abraham rebuttal of Monckton which led to the creation of the “rapid response team”…) is an interesting example of the regressive nature of their movement.
    Peter S
    Try insisting on discussing Catastrophic AGW on warmist threads and you’ll see what McIntyre calls the “pea under the thimble” tactic come into play. First they will insist that no-one mentioned catastrophe, then that no-one important – e.g. in the peer-reviewed literature – mentions catastrophe. If you point out that there is a spectrum of arguments in play, from the morally neutral science at one end to the doom-mongering at the other, you are accused of conspiracy theorising.
    Warmists seem to have a blind spot about society and the social sciences. They see people and the planet, and nothing in between. If you try and introduce any structured thought between the twin poles of their thinking, by discussiing politics or social science, you’re a conspiracy theorist. Perhaps “People v the Planet” is an entirely satisfactory close circuit explanatory system to them.

  85. “The film has clearly been constructed around this moment, at which Nurse seemingly delivers a coup de grace to the deniers. ‘Say you had cancer, and you went to be treated, there would be a consensual position on your treatment.’ This ‘doctor analogy’ appears to leave Delingpole uncomfortable, and stuck for words. ‘Can we talk about Climategate… I don’t accept your analogy’.”

    From his subsequent comments, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Delingpole agreed to the BBC interview on condition it stuck to talking about Climategate (the issue he considers himself to be an expert on).

    In its research for this programme, the BBC would have quickly found two quite lengthy online articles Delingpole has recently written about himself. In one, he reveals his private – and successful – battle with hypochondria (a debilitating anxiety about imagined illnesses, of course), whilst the other discusses his reluctant decision to quit a longtime smoking habit because of worries over the well-known health risks it poses for a man of his age.

    Nurse and the BBC of course could have chosen any number of analogies to illustrate ‘consensus’ and many of them would have been more fitting to the point it was being used to make. We can only wonder what was on their minds when Nurse, out of the blue, asked Delingpole to imagine he has cancer. Perhaps the cameraman frantically zooming into Nurse at the start of his analogy gives us a clue…

    A separate – but connected – point worth making is that Delingpole made a mistake in allowing the interview to take place in his home. With the knowledge that it was likely to be a challenging (if not hostile) encounter, he might have been tempted to think being on his own territory gave him an advantage and would be less stressful. Indeed, the BBC might have encouraged him in this belief – knowing, in fact, that the opposite is true. The moment Nurse, the BBC and its equipment passed through his front door, Delingpole would have already been feeling his personal space to have been breached and occupied by the very forces he intended to overcome. Although programme’s formula has Nurse travelling to meet his interviewees, it’s interesting to note his encounter with sceptic Fred Singer takes place in the neutral – and public – territory of a cafe… both parties are more comfortable and contained and Nurse clearly does not have the will – or the way – to attempt tripping up the man he is talking with. I think Delingpole would be wise to insist future exchanges take place on neutral territory.

  86. Peter, I simply don’t see the point of poring over the film and its circumstances to speculate about the motivation of the film-makers. Let’s stick to the argument: it’s a poor analogy which reveals an even poorer understanding of the debate Nurse has stepped into.

  87. You need to know sociological and post-modernist vocabulary to understand the phrase properly. In those contexts, “norm” and “normal” refer to the cultural standards and prejudices and shared illusions within closed groups. Only those enlightened by proper post-modernist, and thus “post-normal” viewpoints and eddycation, are qualified to assess theories and sciences and opinions freed from the shackles of mere normative thinking.

    The conclusions and very nature of the Scientific Method are thus just the opinions of culturally befogged pre-Post Normal humanoids.

  88. Oops. Dropped the first sentences above: “Post Normal Science is now the Big Push being used to justify going full bore with Precaustionary Principle remedies. Beware.”

  89. Brian, I think it is unfair to see ‘post-normal’ and postmodern as synonymous.

    It is possible to talk about post-normal science, and indeed the post-modern condition descriptively, rather than prescriptively.

  90. Ben
    I understand your desire to avoid the kind of pointless discussion which often results from speculating on motives, but in the case of the Nurse Horizon programme, there’s not much else to discuss. It’s headed “Science under Attack”, but Singer and Delingpole, the sceptics interviewed, are not attacking science. The AIDS sufferer interviewed is not attacking science. It arises out of Nurse’s sense of shock on reading a letter about attacks on science. But there is absolutely no explanation of what is in the letter. How many viewers would know aout the attempt to prosecute Mann?
    Peter S’s information about Delingpole was news to me. So the newly elected head of the world’s oldest scientific body interviews a journalist for three hours, then, knowing that he is a hypochondriac and ex-heavy smoker, chucks away the interview, throws him an irrelevant question about cancer, and films him squirming.
    You talk about “the debate that Nurse has stepped into”, but the debate is what the debaters make it. Nurse’s treatment of Delingpole passes the “dog bites man” news test for me.
    “Top scientist takes up gutter journalism” is a message worth getting out to a wider audience.

  91. Geoff, I think there’s plenty left to discuss. We can discuss how it’s Nurse’s vacuous perspective that makes him feel ‘under attack’. We can discuss Nurse’s inability to recognise the political nature of his intervention in the debate, and the ideological presuppositions he brings to it. We can discuss his limited view of science as a thing that legitimises authority, rather than creates possibilities for understanding and changing the world.

    Nurse’s question about cancer can be seen as insensitive, but Andrew Dessler made the same point a few years ago. (See here and here). It’s just one of those patronising little thought experiments that goes around, another one being the defence of the precautionary principle in which an ‘expert’ tells you that there’s a 1% chance of a catastrophic engine failure.

    They are cheap enough points that Nurse — the great science communicator — makes. No need to over-state it, or to make Delingpole a victim.

  92. Geoff, and everyone, re the transcripts, yes they’re mostly mine, from various audio and video sources on the net; there’s much that’s of interest but is not indexed or searchable, and is also (especially video) likely to be not around for long.

    What struck me most in Science Under Attack (especially when looking at the bare words without the distracting visuals) is the lack of any argument of substance.

    “Earning trust requires more than just focussing on the science. We have to communicate it effectively, too. Scientists have got to get out there. They have to be open about everything that they do. They do have to talk to the media, even if it does sometimes put their reputation at doubt.”

    It could be argued that James Hansen, Vicky Pope, Mark Serreze, Julia Slingo, John Holdren et al have “talked to the media” a great deal. And we know what the outcome has been!

  93. ‘But isn’t this also the message from climate sceptics, who accuse institutional, official science of corruption and political-motivation?’

    This sentence demonstrates the intellectual relativism I find in all your writing about climate change. Of course this is the message from climate sceptics, but Nurse’s point was that this message has little basis in fact.

    There’s plenty of debate going on in climate science (as in fact the Climategate emails showed). But as in all areas of science and indeed life, they tend to spend the most time debating things they’re the least sure of.

    The fact is, not all argument is productive. He made the point well that much of the argument about climate consists of the scientists having to refute claims made by sceptics based on minutiae without regard for the bigger picture (2008 being colder than 1998 despite the general warming trend, or corrections upwards to the temperature of a single Tasmanian weather station despite the fact overall there was no bias).

    ‘Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority’

    He might. You don’t know this though because he didn’t say, instead he focussed on the issue at hand.

    ‘But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science.’

    I don’t think that’s true. For instance this special article from the Scientific American in 1959 raised concerns about global warming: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=carbon-dioxide-and-climate.
    The modern green movement is generally dated to the publication of Silent Spring in 1962.

  94. Tiger says,

    ‘But isn’t this also the message from climate sceptics, who accuse institutional, official science of corruption and political-motivation?’

    This sentence demonstrates the intellectual relativism I find in all your writing about climate change. Of course this is the message from climate sceptics, but Nurse’s point was that this message has little basis in fact.

    I think you may have missed the point here, Tiger. The paragraph immediately following the passage you quote goes on to consider the sceptics’ point, and the paragraph following that returns it to Nurse’s answer, scientism:

    Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy.

    Nurse seems to claim that the sceptics’ ‘message has little basis in fact’; his, on the other hand, comes from science. So it’s odd to see your complaint that

    ‘Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority’

    He might. You don’t know this though because he didn’t say, instead he focussed on the issue at hand.

    I do know this, and this is what he says in my view. However, I had a word limit that precluded quoting large passages of text. If you want to take issue with the paraphrasing of his argument, go right ahead.

    The point is, however, Nurse is naive about the extent of the politics that precedes the science. This is a point you attempt to answer:

    I don’t think that’s true. For instance this special article from the Scientific American in 1959 raised concerns about global warming: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=carbon-dioxide-and-climate.
    The modern green movement is generally dated to the publication of Silent Spring in 1962.

    Well, as we all know, there are even earlier discussions about the effect of CO2 on the climate that preceded even the article in SciAm. But does this really demonstrate that the science is prior? We can find eco-centric historical strands running back to Aristotle and beyond. Modern environmentalism, however might better be associated with Malthus. Contemporary environmentalism I think might be better explained as post-modern environmentalism.

    The possibility of climate change was understood very early, of course, but again, you miss the point made, which is that The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate.

    We might notice here that Ehrlich’s population mythology had made predictions about the 1980s which did not materialise. Yet as those predictions were not materialising, Brundtland was writing ‘Our Common Future’ for the UNEDP, putting the case for ‘the marriage of economy and ecology’. With or without ‘climate science’ (without, as it happens, in 1983) this stands as a political thesis, and it is one Thatcher absorbs in 1988 when she explains to Nurse’s predecessor:

    The Government espouses the concept of sustainable economic development. Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world provided the environment is nutured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late Twentieth Century. I have spoken about my own commitment to science and to the environment. And I have given you some idea of what government is doing. I hope that the Royal Society will generate increased popular interest in science by explaining the importance and excitement of your work.

    It is at that moment that the Royal Society is given its (eco-) political duty. It’s not for (nearly) another decade and a half that the IPCC claims to produce an unequivocal consensus on climate. And the UN has, by this time, convened many environmental institutions, starting way back, after Ehrlich’s doom saying.

  95. The 1959 Scientific American article linked by UnexpectedTiger above is fascinating, since it contains the refutation of global warming theory, and strong evidence of the waythe politics precedes the science logically, if not chronologically.

    It says:
    “We have only to extrapolate existing records of temperature and fossil-fuel consumption to predict the climate of the future … in the past 100 years man has added about 360 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As a result the atmospheric concentration has increased by about 13 per cent. The carbon dioxide theory predicts that such an increase should raise the average temperature of the earth one degree F. This is almost exactly the average increase recorded all over the world during the past century! If fuel consumption continues to increase at the present rate, we will have sent more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the air by the year 2000. This should raise the earth’s average temperature 3.6 degrees”.[=2.0°C]

    immediately following this falsified prediction is another:
    “In less than 1,000 years, if consumption continues to increase at the current rate, we will have exhausted the currently known reserves of coal and oil”.

    “.. if the carbon dioxide content of the air were to increase sevenfold, the acidity (pH) of sea water would not rise more than .5 above its present value”.

    Note that the first prediction has been falsified. The other two, on fossil fuels and ocean acidification, have been so radically revised (in the catastrophic direction, of course) in the past 50 years as to make any predictions questionable.

    Much of the science is therefore wrong (which is no criticism of a fifty-year-old article, of course). Yet the politics (supposedlybased on the science) hasn’t changed an iota.

    The article ends:
    “We shall be able to test the carbon dioxide theory against other theories of climatic change quite conclusively during the next half-century … if carbon dioxide is the most important factor, long-term temperature records will rise continuously as long as man consumes the earth’s reserves of fossil fuels”.

    Again, a prediction falsified, at least over the past ten years. But where was the testing aagianst other theories? (Unless “redefining peer-review” etc. counts as testing).

  96. What you seem to be saying is that the fact that the environmental movement was growing at the same time as climate science was developing is evidence in itself that the output of hundreds of scientists was an expression of their ideological prejudices. I don’t think this argument makes much sense without reference to the actual science. (Although maybe you expected people reading this to have read your other posts where you justified this more fully.)

    I also think you might be missing one of the main reasons scientists get irritated about government climate policy. Because the current plan (such as there is one) is ‘We need to limit warming to 2C so we’re not going to take enough action to make this likely’. If they came out and said ‘We’re taking minimal action because a 4C rise isn’t such a big deal’ I’d still disagree with it as a citizen, but current policy is just scientifically wrong.

    And you vastly overestimate the influence of environmental issues on policy. Of course politicians love the rhetoric of climate change (why wouldn’t they? grand visions of Brtain in 2050 with zero accountability at the next election), but substantive action not so much. Aside from the EU I can barely think of a ‘powerful…supranational institution’ but perhaps the most powerful, the WTO, is actually hostile to environmental policy as a distortion of global free trade (eg their decision on Chinese wind subsidies).

    Geoff, there are lots of reasons they might have been wrong about the temperature rise (influence of particulates, the late 70s oil crisis, the switch from coal to gas), but regardless climatology was in its infancy then and I doubt the study they took that from claimed much certainty about the number. The idea that temperature stopped rising 10 years ago is just wrong though. Because of year-to-year variability you need to look at a longer periods than 10 years but the last decade fits perfectly well into the trend of continuously rising temperature since 1970.

  97. What you seem to be saying is that the fact that the environmental movement was growing at the same time as climate science was developing is evidence in itself that the output of hundreds of scientists was an expression of their ideological prejudices.

    I think you’re drawing too much from what’s been suggested. ‘The output of hundreds of scientists’ has little to do with it. If you read around the blog, you’ll see the point discussed frequently, with the things to bear in mind being that i) there’s a difference between logical and historical priority; and ii) that there’s a difference between the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 and society’s sensitivity to climate. We might ordinarily be able to ‘trust’ the ‘output of hundreds of scientists’ as far as the former (climate’s sensitivity to CO2) is concerned, were it not for the fact that they (the former and latter) are so routinely confused in today’s world.

    I also think you might be missing one of the main reasons scientists get irritated about government climate policy.

    I’m none the wiser for your explanation. And I don’t really see the sense in trying to understand the debate through the eyes of irritated scientists.

    you vastly overestimate the influence of environmental issues on policy.

    Which policy? What was my estimation of the ‘influence of environmental issues’? What is the real ‘influence of environmental issues’? I’m sorry to say I’m detecting a great deal of hollow criticism here.

  98. I’m not sure either of us are understanding each other. I’m hearing two positions here:
    - Scientists are basing their ideas on what the politics of the day says should be true rather than reality, and so their ideas about climate are wrong and we don’t need to worry. (What else does the phrase ‘logical priority’ mean?)
    - The accepted scientific view on climate change is correct, but we shouldn’t really care because we’ll adapt to changes easily.

    Your view may be that the question of scientific fact is being hopelessly confused with the question of the proper political and moral response. But if you think this is a bad thing then you need to be extra sure not to confuse the two questions yourself, which it seems to me like you’re doing.

    Because whatever we do, it does need to be based on reality. If we accept the science but we reckon we can adapt then fine, but surely a bit of planning ahead wouldn’t go amiss? Seeing as it takes 15 years to build a train line from London to Manchester. Or if we think it’s important to limit temperature rise to 2C, we should take the actions the science says will make that likely (this was my possibly unclear point).

    ‘Accordingly, local authorities and national governments have, in recent years, transformed their purpose.’
    ‘Powerful supranational political and financial institutions have been created’

    I took this as meaning that you believe a large part of what governments do now is connected to the environment. Maybe not though.

  99. I’m not sure either of us are understanding each other. I’m hearing two positions here:
    - Scientists are basing their ideas on what the politics of the day says should be true rather than reality, and so their ideas about climate are wrong and we don’t need to worry. (What else does the phrase ‘logical priority’ mean?)
    - The accepted scientific view on climate change is correct, but we shouldn’t really care because we’ll adapt to changes easily.

    Who said anything about scientists?

    Your view may be that the question of scientific fact is being hopelessly confused with the question of the proper political and moral response. But if you think this is a bad thing then you need to be extra sure not to confuse the two questions yourself, which it seems to me like you’re doing.

    OK, what is confused, where? Untangle them for me.

    If we accept the science but we reckon we can adapt then fine, but surely a bit of planning ahead wouldn’t go amiss?

    Accept what science? Adapt to what? Planning for what? Do you not see how much you’re presupposing here?

    Or if we think it’s important to limit temperature rise to 2C, we should take the actions the science says will make that likely (this was my possibly unclear point).

    Why 2 degrees? Why not 1.9? Why not 2.12? Should we aim for 2, or is 2.1 okay? What if we aim for 2, but we only get 1.8, is that good, or bad? Which ‘science’ tells us how to aim for 2 degrees — in the real world, not projected scenarios?

    ‘Accordingly, local authorities and national governments have, in recent years, transformed their purpose.’
    ‘Powerful supranational political and financial institutions have been created’

    I took this as meaning that you believe a large part of what governments do now is connected to the environment. Maybe not though.

    Yes, well that’s half of half an answer. This was what you said:

    you vastly overestimate the influence of environmental issues on policy.

    This was my reply:

    Which policy? What was my estimation of the ‘influence of environmental issues’? What is the real ‘influence of environmental issues’? I’m sorry to say I’m detecting a great deal of hollow criticism here.

    You obviously haven’t read much of this site, and you’re bringing a lot of your own interpretation to what you’re taking at face value. That’s fine, usually, but you came here to accuse me of ‘intellectual relativism’. I wonder if trying to work out what people’s arguments actually are before you take issue with them is ‘intellectual relativism’. Maybe you should try some.

  100. Another eminent scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society with a rather shaky grasp of the climate debate, it seems, is Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is due to give the Michael Faraday Prize lecture tomorrow (10th Feb 2011) at the RS; her lecture is entitled: “The end of the world in 2012? Science communication and science scares.”

    On Monday this week, she was on BBC Radio 4′s Start the Week with Andrew Marr. After some discussion about the Mayan calendar and various theories about the arrival of planet Nibiru, there is the following exchange:

    Andrew Marr: What’s interesting – I mean, so, just to be absolutely clear for all those listening, um, of all those theories about the imminent end of the Earth, and the Earth’s going to change on its axis and rotate in a different direction – there is no scientific evidence for any of this, as far as you’re concerned, absolutely none.

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell: No. And what’s interesting about all these theories is they start with a little bit of correct science. Yep. There probably will be more solar storms around 2012, 2013 but not that many more. And then they build on this and they turn it into something scary. We’re seeing the same thing with some of the climate deniers, starting with a grain of good science, build on it, turn it into something scary. And with climate deniers, you can see that there could be a motive.

    Andrew Marr: Well, you say scary, because presumably part of the motive there is to remove fear, because we are, you know, the climate change thesis can be as scary as anything you like. And it’s the sense that perhaps it’s not going to be so bad, that maybe motivates people there.

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell: You mean it’s all going to end in a year and a bit, and therefore it’ll all be okay.

    Andrew Marr: No I was thinking of the climate change argument more, the climate change deniers, so called, um, their motive may be to, as it were, remove scare, you said they were going to make things scarier but actually it might be the other way, it might be…

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Yes, the climate deniers would assert that actually climate change isn’t happening.

    I found this rather remarkable, coming from a highly respected astronomer and physicist who narrowly missed out on a Nobel Prize for the co-discovery of neutron stars in 1967. To be generous, this is perhaps just a single moment of woolly-mindedness in a radio studio on a Monday morning, but even so. What she is saying is not only incorrect but illogical – she says one thing and then appears to completely contradict herself a few seconds later. Extraordinary.

    Very big hat tip, by the way, to commentator Martin Brumby on one of the Bishop Hill threads, who mentioned listening to this; but for his comment, I would have missed it.

    Links:

    BBC Radio 4: Start the Week: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006r9xr
    (7/02/2011): The above excerpt starts at the 28:40 mark.

    The Royal Society
    http://royalsociety.org/The-end-of-the-world-in-2012/?from=homefeature

  101. Sir Paul Nurse is correct that science is under attack and it seems your article just proves the point. If you can’t win the argument then just attack the scientist. Creationists attack evolution by false arguments with not data except its just to complex to have evolved. Climate deniers attack climate change with email conspiracies supposedly showing scientists trying to trick the public. Hell, just tune in to right wing talk shows to get all the attacks (on anything) you can stand. The real problem is that when its too lated to reverse the change (this will be soon) you will just be on to another subject and not pay for the damage. What can we do to reduce CO2 emissions, that should be the discussion.

  102. I haven’t paid attention to the thread for a couple of weeks (preparation for teaching and research grant applications have been calling!)

    Ben is correct to ask:
    Why 2 degrees? Why not 1.9? Why not 2.12? Should we aim for 2, or is 2.1 okay? What if we aim for 2, but we only get 1.8, is that good, or bad? Which ‘science’ tells us how to aim for 2 degrees — in the real world, not projected scenarios?

    The 2° ‘target’ is entirely political, selected by the European Union. Its is part of the ‘thermostat’ fantasy – that we can dial in the temperature we want by stabilising carbon at some particular level. Anyone who knows the basics of climate science understands we are talking about a coupled non-linear system. If there is not strong positive feedback (for which the observational evidence is weak), warming will be mild and not dangerous. If there is such a feedback (no evidence, but absence of evidence is, after all, not evidence of absence), there is no guarantee that the ‘thermostat’ will deliver only 2°. To suggest otherwise is to misrepresent the science.

    Babble (never a more appropriate pseudonym, surely!): You haven’t been paying attention, have you? Nobody here, least of all Ben, has ‘just attacked the scientist’. We have, for example, refused to take their word. We have pointed out that a geneticist, even a Nobel Prize winning one, can be (and was) wrong about the basics of climate science, and that he was wrong to take the word of a glaciologist on a point on which he was not expert. We have been faithful to the ideals of the motto of the Royal Society (‘on the word of nobody’) while its new president has betrayed that ideal in a risible plea that scientists should be trusted. I have no views about Sir Paul Nurse, although I feel a little sorry for him for such a foolish ‘own goal’, but I do have views about his views.

  103. [...] complaints about the treatment of climate scientists in a Horizon programme last year, of which I pointed out: Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with [...]

  104. [...] is a point which is lost on them and the many scientists wheeled out to comment on climate matters. As I have argued here previously, the current President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, is as oblivious to the political [...]

  105. Wow . Loads of responses. Not sure if i can read them all. However , those that I have read seem to tap into the change in societal opinion of science, in the round,.among the public, Might it be useful to look at how science is conceived in other politically or philosophically sensitive areas to help understand the public response to the threat of man made climate change. I personally don’t think that opinion – political or otherwise – about climate change is really about climate change.
    The idea of science as a “process” has been ruined by the likes of Dawkins and others While they advertise critical thought, they also ask us to take “scientific argument on trust” . They also actively maintain science as an “institution” (ben) .Science is about ideas, yet they dismiss the material realisation of ideas that include faith or religion or pseudo – religious belief in a man made Apocalypse .
    Lets not ruin anything. Right or wrong , who knows. I certainly don’t

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