Cut and Paste Journalism

by | Jan 25, 2009

BBC bosses today tried to make excuses for the cut-and-paste job by BBC science journalist, Susan Watts, as discovered by Tony at Harmless Sky recently. Answering criticism on Watts’ blog, Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon said:

We did edit sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science. The aim was to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying. You can look for yourself above.

If this is true, it means that the editorial team at BBC Newsnight are shockingly naive. If that is true, then we would like to know, what are they doing producing the networks flagship current affairs magazine programme?

Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt with respect to their editorial oversight, by which we mean that we accept that they are naive, the feature drips with the kind of ideological prejudice that any run-of-the-mill eco-warrior can muster. This is not news, nor is it analysis. It is projection.

Here is a transcript of the feature, Restoring science to its rightful place, with our commentary.

OBAMA: We will restore science to its rightful place [snip] roll back the spectre of a warming planet [snip] we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.

As has been pointed out, this is a cut and paste job, which sets up the background to Watts’ presentation. Peter Rippon claims this has been done innocently, and that ‘fades between each point’ underscore the ‘montage’ of different parts of Obama’s speech, as an ‘impression’ of what he had said, not what he had actually said. But these images are not of Obama, but of a victorian green house in London’s Kew Gardens. Why would different shots of 19th Century greenhouse architecture make it obvious to viewers that what they were hearing was a ‘montage’?

WATTS: President Obama couldn’t have been clearer today, and for most scientists, his vote of confidence will have come not a moment too soon.

So here is Watts’ naked position: Bush was anti science. And now ‘most scientists’ are happy because Bush is gone. Bush = anti-science; Obama = pro-science. Bush is a baddy, and Obama is a goody. Science says so. It proves it. Understand?

Watts says that Obama ‘couldn’t have been clearer’, but she had to splice his words together to get him to make her point.

You don’t need to be a Bush fan to find this kind of retrospective shallow. We’re not Bush fans. Yet, throughout the last eight years, what has struck us is that science has become the stick with which to beat Bush, not because he really stood against science, but because his critics – not just the Democrats – lacked any real substance either. That is to say, as we have in the past, that science is a last-resort of vacuous politics: it fails to make a persuasive case on its own terms, and so borrows authority from ‘science’. Like trying to use ‘science’ to prove that something is immoral, what this reveals is the intellectual exhaustion of the critic.

Watts continues:

In the eight years of the Bush presidency, the world saw the Arctic ice cap shrink to a record Summer low, the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and warnings from scientists shift from urgent to panicky.

So Bush melted the ice cap, right?

There has certainly been a shift in rhetoric from ‘urgent to panicky’, but that shift is not justified by ‘the science’. The IPCC’s AR4 gave no reason to believe that thermageddon was any closer than it was when its predecessor AR3 came out. To make it sound like it did, environmentalist commentators – notably those at the BBC – also had to cut and paste.

And as we have pointed out recently, the panicky tone of environmentalists is owed not to the emergence of new climate research but to their need to sustain leverage over a sympathetic establishment. In fact, the big stories over the last few years – the prospect of an Arctic free of summer ice, fears about peak oil after price hikes, and predictions of ‘warmest summers on record’ – all failed to materialise. If recent history shows anything, it is that environmentalists have reached the point of peak doom.

President Bush came to power at the start of a new decade, a new century, and what many thought would be a new era for science. The news that scientists had pieced together an early draft of the human genome had given a palpable lift to the end of the Clinton presidency.

There are many things you can say about the end of the Clinton administration, but ‘palpable lift’ isn’t really one of them. Clinton’s years were characterised by scandal and political crisis, offset by a very aggressive foreign policy – pretty much what the ensuing Bush administration consisted of. For example, as CNN reported in 1998:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Saying “there will be no sanctuary for terrorists,” President Clinton on Thursday said the U.S. strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a facility in Sudan are part of “a long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism.” […]

The president said he ordered the strike against bin Laden and his compatriots because of “compelling information they were planning additional terrorist attacks against our citizens and others with the inevitable collateral casualties and .. seeking to acquire chemical weapons and other dangerous weapons.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? As it turned out, the Sudanese factory Clinton bombed turned out to be making pharmaceuticals, not WMD. Just a few months later:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — From the Oval Office, President Clinton told the nation Wednesday evening why he ordered new military strikes against Iraq. The president said Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors presented a threat to the entire world. “Saddam (Hussein) must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons,” Clinton said.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? The point we are making here is that it is difficult for people – journalists especially – to locate territory from which to criticise Bush. Clearly, the War on Terror – and all its rhetoric – had roots in the Clinton era. The Bush administration doesn’t look so different, after all. Different styles, maybe, but the same substance. Unless, as Watts claims, they took different positions on science:

Science was riding high. But Bush was less attentive.

But According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, things aren’t so simple:

How can it be said that Bush was ‘anti-science’ if, as the AAAS seem to indicate, research budgets increased during his administration? In ignorance of what she speaks, Watts continues:

Religion, or at least the religious vote, informed Bush policy. His very public distaste for stem-cell research mattered because it raised public suspicion of science. Creationism has grown stronger, to the point that more Americans now believe in the biblical story of creation than evolution.

It’s not as much Bush’s hostility to ‘science’ that Watts worries about, but the failure of his critics to use ‘science’ to influence public policy. One may well say that Bush’s policies didn’t reflect ‘scientific’ opinion. But the point we have made here, many times, is that science cannot produce moral arguments. Science cannot tell you that it is ‘right’ to abort or research on a foetus. These matters, which seemingly characterise the debate that was influenced by religious attitudes, are only illuminated by science to the extent that it says what may be possible to achieve. The problem, as we have outlined in the past, is that Bush’s critics hide their shame – their inability to make moral arguments – behind science. It is a fig leaf.

Watts is deeply confused. According to her, it is ‘the religious vote’ that influences Bush. But in the very next sentence, it is Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ that raises public suspicion, seemingly with the effect of increasing the prevalence of creationism. One moment, Bush is weak because he respond to the vote, the next he is able to manipulate it. Whether we agree with Bush or not, Watts’ complaint is that Bush succeeded in making an argument to the public through the democratic process. Her complaint is with democracy. The science that Watts believes trumps democracy is good, old fashioned arrogance.

And anyway, where did Watts get the idea that adherence to Biblical interpretations of life on Earth increased under Bush? Not from Gallup, which has data going back to 1982:

Bush’s ‘distaste for stem-cell research’ is a favorite of those wishing to cast him in the role of enemy of science. But Watts’ statement simplifies the political reality to the point that it bears no relationship to the truth. US policy requires that Federal funds cannot be used for research on embryonic stem cells. State-sponsored researchers can and do work on stem cells from other sources. And meanwhile, university researchers can and do work on embryonic stem cells – just so long as they don’t use federal funds (which makes for some complicated partitioning of lab equipment in many a US university department). For what it’s worth, we, too, are not impressed by US stem-cell policies. But neither are we impressed by the simplistic portrayal of Bush’s stance, especially when the US’s regulation of embryonic SC research is mirrored in the policies of a host of European nations, including such models of Liberal democracy as Germany and Denmark.


Scientists have got used to attempts to silence them. But now they are speaking out again. Unlike economic recession and wars which pass, climate change does not and there are deadlines if we want to avoid a point of no return. In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world.

On her blog, Watts expands on her claims that scientists have been silenced, in a post that Asher Mullard, an editor at the science journal Nature, describes as ‘a meaty overview of a light at the end of the tunnel after 8 long years for scientists’…

Just last week a Nasa scientist, Jim Hansen, whom Bush had tried to silence in the past warned that Obama has just four years to save the world. But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already promoted many to top advisory positions… crucially on energy policy.

We’ve dealt with Hansen’s ‘four years to save the world’ claim elsewhere. But note that, in Watts’ world, the speculative splutterings of a single rogue scientist become ‘In fact scientists calculate that Obama has four years in which to save the world’.

If Bush did try to silence Hansen, he didn’t try very hard. Hansen has barely been out of the news this century. According to the Washington Times:

A NASA scientist who said the Bush administration muzzled him because of his belief in global warming yesterday acknowledged to Congress that he’d done more than 1,400 on-the-job interviews in recent years.

To pick but one example from his vast output, in 2007, we reported on Hansen’s 3000-word article in New Scientist where he claimed that sea level rise will be orders of magnitude faster than IPCC projections suggest. When the same magazine, in the same month, reported on Harvard scientist Willie Soon’s paper in the journal Ecological Complexity, which challenged received wisdom that climate change is imperilling polar bears, the scientific argument was ignored in favour of speculation about Soon’s alleged links to the oil industry, and that the research was part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the environmental movement’s use of the polar bear as an icon. Who’s being silenced?

Hansen is Watts’ representative scientist. And yet he departs from ‘the consensus’ as spectacularly as any executive of ExxonMobil – he just happens to do so in a more politically correct direction.

Back to the transcript:

But unlike Bush, Obama does listen to scientists. He’s already appointed several to leading advisory positions. And although he has to deal with internal squabbles about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax is the best way to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, at least the Obama team does agree on the goal.

As did all the other presidential candidates. And as do the Socialist Workers, the UK Conservative Party, the far-right British National Party and everybody else.

So Obama has a unique opportunity to fix the recession and fix climate change at the same time. He just has to have the nerve to follow through. And this year of all years, leadership matters, because the world hopes to thrash out a global deal to cut emissions. So if he does stick to his promises on renewables, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, and hybrid vehicles, he’ll help loosen the grip that fossil fuels hold on all our lives.

So Obama can fix the recession and save the world from global warming… But why stop there? Maybe we could ask him to find a cure for cancer and the common cold too, by next week? Oh, and then there’s that eternal question he could answer – ‘why are we here?’ Obama’s to-do list grows as the people reporting on his progress empty their heads of reason. Watts’ analysis is, as we said at the beginning of this post, not journalism, but projection. Her story says nothing about Obama and his policies, nor does it accurately reflect the role of science and its relationship with public policy, nor does it even give a plausible account of the last decade’s political developments. It doesn’t even tell you anything useful about climate change. It is all about Watts, her hopes and her prejudices, informed only by ignorance, hidden behind a veneer of scientific authority.

There’s another question perhaps Obama can answer by, like, yesterday: what are science correspondents actually for?


  1. Kaboom

    Watts’ Up With That?

    She is speaking Truth to Power, and you dare denigrate her journalistic professionalism?

    For God’s sake, just sit back and enjoy the MSM tongue-bathing of Obama for the next six months or so.

  2. Alex Cull

    This example of cut-and-paste journalism is IMO where the BBC have crossed the line between mere spin and propaganda. I will be sending off my complaint today.

    I wouldn’t want to be in Obama’s position, really, and think it likely that nothing he can do will ever match the outpouring of hype we have witnessed during the past six months or so. This is America’s 1997, it appears, when “Things can only get better.”

    Kaboom – I agree about the six months: Obama will be the hope of the Western world, and Bush can be safely blamed for just about everything that has gone wrong with the planet over the last eight years (as can Global Warming, when you think about it.) In the long term? By 2012 I think Obama will need all the skills he can muster and a fair bit of luck too, to avoid having shoes thrown at his head from every quarter.

  3. Stefano

    I think the problem with giving an “impression” is that Obama’s speech and his thinking is quite nuanced. He often gives several aspects and points of view in a single sentence, crafted to address multiple concerns from multiple groups, Left and Right.

    What is hilarious is how each group then goes away thinking that he’s listened to them and is going to do what they want.

    Global warming is just one political issue related to science. It is not the first thing he says. The first issue he deliberately names with regard to science is the cost of heath care. He then talks about new energy sources. And he then talks about educating smart workers. And it is all in the context of building the nation’s infrastructure. And that in turn is in the overriding context of keeping America the most powerful nation on Earth. Of keeping America the most prosperous nation on Earth. The speech doesn’t sound so greenie when you read it backwards, does it? :-D

    Later he mentions global warming, but only after nuclear proliferation.

    I guess a lot of greenies listen to the BBC and so to keep this portion of the audience interested, they have to highlight the part where he mentioned global warming. And the BBC has to highlight it because you’d easily miss it in amongst all the many other issues that Obama says American needs to work on. I know people think Obama is going to be a catastrophe of greenie politics, but I expect he is just very smart. He knows the economy and jobs and technology are the foundation. Let’s see what he actually does, and not judge him on a very clever speech designed to appeal to a very broad audience.

    As for impressions, we could easily edit together, with some fades, that same speech and make him sound like he’s more aggressive and war hungry than even Bush. Just pick out all those parts of the sentences where he addresses the Right wing view… and leave out the second half of the sentences where he swings to address the Left.

    He has clever political skills. All the BBC has done is fall for it.

  4. Demesure

    Watts said : “In the eight years of the Bush presidency, the world saw the Arctic ice cap shrink to a record Summer low, the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and warnings from scientists shift from urgent to panicky.”

    The she continues: “In the eight years of the Bush presidency, global temperatures have DECREASED”. Oh, she forgot to say that ? How bad.

  5. jonlo

    Watts is a lousy journalist and her science knowledge isn’t so great either. She should have been fired for her non-reporting of the Dr David Kelly, but Newsnight keeps her around, apparently as a token speccy science boffin.

  6. jabailo

    To understand the criticism of Bush, you have to understand these things: Bush was very new and very 21st century. Many of Bush’s critics not only failed to recognize the type of sciences that the Bush administration funded — the also rarely understood them! Bush pushed for things like hydrogen fuel cells, but also the underlying technology like nanotechnology, materials that could store hydrogen in the solid state…and so on. Most of the Global Warmers views on technology seem to be from the 1970s… they wanted “more solar cells”. But when you try to explain that the innovations in efficiencies in the past 8 years were due to basic research in the types of things Bush funded…their eyes glaze over!!

  7. James P

    “Hansen .. departs from ‘the consensus’ as spectacularly as any executive of ExxonMobil – he just happens to do so in a more politically correct direction.”

    Very well put. At least I have Ms Watts to thank for pointing me to this site, which is a good read. What worries me is how we are going to turn round mainstream opinion on AGW. Already the ‘warmers’ are claiming that whatever is happening right now at the Poles supports their case. Alaska (where Sarah Palin lives – how delicious!) is having its coldest winter for decades, but somehow this is all explained away by a band who have had so much practice massaging stats that they do it in their sleep.

    I can see it taking a generation to get the wheels off this bandwagon, as so many governments have seized on it as a way of providing pretend jobs and taking people’s minds off their failure to look after the economy…

  8. Editors

    Jabailo – ‘Bush was very new and very 21st century. Many of Bush’s critics not only failed to recognize the type of sciences that the Bush administration funded’.

    We don’t need to answer vapid Bush-bashing with empty praise of him. While it is clearly true that Bush’s critics such as S. Watts lack depth (clearly she hasn’t done any research but just taken stock criticism from the web) we ought not to pretend that Bush was a hero to science, nor that he had an intimate understanding of the research that went on during his administration, and should be credited with it. That said, it is a good that S&T budgets during Bush’s administration were higher that previously.

    Criticsm of Bush’s attitude to science (especially from within the UK) relates to a few very specific areas: the ridiculous ID/creationism in public schools debate, embryo/stem-cell research, and of course, AGW/CC. The fact – if it is one – that Bush funded uniquely C21st research that cannot be understood from a C20th mindset is not really relevent to those debates, which were chiefly matters of policy, not science, anyway.

    As we have pointed out, we are/were no fans of Bush. There is more than one dimension to the debates about AGW, and science more broadly. The fact that we are critical of the anti-Bush criticism that his administration we intent on a ‘war on science’ shouldn’t be seen as sympathy for Bush. It’s not. It’s just a criticism of the phenomenon of the politicisation of science that Bush’s critics were clearly engaged in. We have argued here that this kind of politicisation of science betrays the intellectual vacuuity of those enagaged in it – they have to retreat to science because they can’t make political and moral arguments on their own terms. That leaves plenty of room for criticism of Bush, which is implicit in the argument we make often here: that fears about global warming/climate change represent the same kind of politics as Bush’s War on Terror generated. Warmers have perfected the technique somewhat, though.

  9. Editors

    James P. – ‘What worries me is how we are going to turn round mainstream opinion on AGW. Already the ‘warmers’ are claiming that whatever is happening right now at the Poles supports their case.’

    Welcome to the site, James. To summarise our ‘what should be done’ arguments on this site:

    Mainstream opinion has been moved, we argue, not because of any power that environemntalism has, but because of a failure of political parties/movements to sustain coherent perspectives.

    You point out that the recent ‘discovery’ of Antarctic warming is being weilded to make political arguments. And here is a case in point. These arguments need to be constantly fueled by stories of ‘things getting worse than expected’, yet they die within months: arctic ice recovers, the price of oil lowers, predictions of ‘highest ever summer temperatures’ fail to materialise, and yet the ‘tipping point’ moves ever nearer. Arguments established on the ‘fact’ of environmental catastrophe necessarily lack any other foundation. They amount to little more than ‘do as we say, or there will be doom’.

    Pointing out that these arguments lack substance – both warming and cooling is ‘evidence’ for climate change – fails to address the real dynamic that drives them: a vacuum of political ideas.

    Of course, environmentalism may cease to influence politics as other pressues – such as the economy – increase, or as the reality of environmental polcies bite and turn into vote-losers. But if we want to actively shift the direction, we think that critics of environmentalism – from the Left, Right, or Centre – need to take responsibility for the ascendency of Green ideas. That is to say, rather than look at it as ‘the other’, it is our own failures that have allowed the unpopular, irrational, retrogressive, and weird ideology of environmentalism to acheive such illegitimate influence. The fictional prospect of catastrophe is a convenient device from which political elites can manufacture legitimacy in lieu of ideas which genuinely connect with the public.

    That’s a tough nut to crack. In the meantime, all that we really can do is answer the claims that are made by environmentalism is to continue to argue, and challenge the presentation of the environmentalists case.

  10. Alex Cull

    This is a curious thing. A commenter called Jonathan Castle mentioned, on the Harmless Sky blog, that when Obama said “roll back the spectre of a warming planet,” if you look at the context of the whole paragraph and use the word “warring” instead, it makes much more sense.

    Here’s the paragraph in question:

    “We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

    He mentions Iraq, Afghanistan, the nuclear threat, defending the American way of life and not being defeated by terrorism. “Warming” seems out of context – “warring” would be a better fit.

    In fact, Associated Press reported it as “warring”, as per this report on Yahoo News:

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  11. geoff chambers

    It’s always interesting when you redefine your project for new readers. You say in reply to James P: “… critics of environmentalism – from the Left, Right, or Centre – need to take responsibility for the ascendancy of Green ideas (…) it is our own failures that have allowed the unpopular, irrational, retrogressive, and weird ideology of environmentalism to achieve such illegitimate influence”.
    Sorry, but I can’t see how the success of this weird ideology is my fault, or the fault of the other few (dozen? hundred?) readers of this and similar sites. I’ll take responsibility for my failure to understand it and explain its defects to the few people who might be interested, but its success in infiltrating the corridors of power has been way beyond the power of any conceivable counter-movement to oppose. Rational scepticism has never been a crowd-puller. (Though why scepticism has now been effectively banned from the centre-left media is another, and important, question).
    I appreciate your efforts to concentrate on the practical aspects (“… all that we really can do [to] answer the claims that are made by environmentalism is to continue to argue …”). The obvious place to do this seems to me to be on the mainstream media blogs like the Guardian’s “Comment is Free”. The pathetic quality of most comments makes this a disheartening experience, I know, but I wonder if your readers would be interested in trying to mount a concerted attack on, say, Monbiot’s regular Tuesday rant? A dozen thoughtful well-argued contributors might manage to channel the discussion away from its usual futility.

  12. Alex Cull

    It’s Tuesday and I remembered to go over and see what George was writing about today. Disappointingly, it wasn’t about the aga (that kitchen appliance of the devil!) this time, but about political lobbying and the downfall of New Labour. Some good points there actually, although he strangely fails to mention the sort of lobbying highlighted by the Editors this week (

  13. Stefano

    As regards responsibility, I’d like to hear about the story of how climate change became a political issue debated at the highest levels of power.

    What was that process, who were the movers and shakers? I’d like to know the big picture view of what’s really been going on in the world.

    We can discuss the philosophy of environmentalism, and that’s very important; the world of ideas. Meanwhile who were the individuals involved and what meetings and programs were in motion out in the world? Where does one start even researching something like this?

  14. Editors

    Geoff – ‘It’s always interesting when you redefine your project for new readers.’

    Now now, Geoff. We haven’t ‘redefined’ it. We summarised the arguments we’d made so far on the blog, which we set out with the intention of being a discussion, from which ideas developed, rather than as a manifesto to which we adhered.

    ‘I can’t see how the success of this weird ideology is my fault, or the fault of the other few (dozen? hundred?) readers of this and similar sites.’

    We didn’t say it was your ‘fault’. We said that ‘we’ ought to take responsibility. You can take responsibility for sorting out a mess without assuming guilt for having directly caused it. If we (as in C-R), as we do, take the view that environmentalism has emerged as (amongst other things and circumstances) the intellectual vacuuity of various players, movements, organisations, institutions, etc, rather than out of its own momentum, the logical consequence is that ‘we’ failed to sustain a perspective which prevented that decline. We use the word ‘we’ really broadly here, to encompass environmentalism’s critics on the Left, and Right.

    We (C-R) think that ‘we’ should take responsibility, because otherwise, like the Greens have, we will start to blame the ‘stupid’ public.

  15. geoff chambers

    I wasn’t criticising when I talked about you “redefining” your project. As you say, it’s a discussion, not a manifesto, and sometimes rewording your ideas aids understanding, that’s all. Maybe I express myself badly from living abroad too long.

    Guilt or responsibility – whatever – I don’t see how the small number of sceptics, however you define them, could have made a difference against a movement whose success in grabbing the political helm took everyone (including the green’s themselves, I suspect) by surprise. Of course, we should all try harder in whatever social or political group we happen to operate to persuade and influence, but the idea that, “we” failed, though no doubt true in some abstract sense, seems to me to be a red herring, a negative version of the kind of naive voluntarism which characterises so much green ruminating. “If only we had filled the political vacuum…” is a kind of mirror argument to “If only everyone would turned the thermostat down …”).

    Enough of that. What do you think about Stefano’s question about the “big picture”? You do an excellent job profiling many of the prime suspects, but I’ve yet to see an explanation of how they got to their present positions of power, at least one which rises above “commie conspiracy”. And how can the Astronomer Royal be so thick as to believe in global warming, when I with my maths A-level can see that it’s rubbish? Just thinking about it makes me dizzy.

  16. James P

    >Stefano’s question about the “big picture”.

    Good question. Thinking out loud, as it were, I wonder if it’s the synthesis of the ever-powerful ‘we are all doomed’ message (bad news always sells) with the hand-wringing ‘we are all to blame’ idea, so beloved of Grauniad-reading chatterers. The thought that we can blame both ourselves and the Americans at the same time gives it extra impetus, I think! :-)

  17. geoff chambers

    The story linked by James P above (Hansen has just been savagely criticised by his ex-boss at NASA) is also well covered at Wattsupwiththat with many interesting comments, many speculating on the political/media ramifications. One compares it to Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin (!) I look forward to the coverage in the Guardian.

  18. James P

    “coverage in the Guardian”

    I wonder what Monbiot will make of it? He was on R4 today, laying into Agas of all things, one the key features of which (they help keep you warm) seems to have escaped him!

  19. Bishop Hill


    Your question about where the global warming scare came from is quite interesting, and it’s one I have been looking at recently. Spencer Weart’s book is quite informative, although obviously he’s writing from a cheerleader’s perspective.

    What struck me about the history of the scare is that politicians were very much followers rather than leaders. The story appears to me to be one of a scientific bureaucracy that came up with a storyline that was hard to rebut because they were the sole arbiters of whether they were right or not.

  20. geoff chambers

    to Stefano
    John coleman has an interesting potted history at
    running from Roger Revelle at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute to Maurice Strong at the UN. Bishop Hill is right (well done your Eminence – or should that be eminences, one for the Bish and one for the Hill?) the scientists seem to have led the way. Richard North has a very interesting comment on the Wattsupwiththat Theon thread about the way political social and scientific strands form a loop difficult to break. It would be nice to have a detailed timeline of the early history of Global Warming, on which to pin the kind of information which CR excels in digging out.

  21. Alex Cull

    Re the story of the GW scare, at some point someone will end up writing a definitive book on the history of this phenomenon from its misty beginnings to its end. It should be fascinating reading. The science will be a big part of it, no doubt, but they’ll need to write plenty of chapters on the social, political and psychological fallout from it all.

  22. geoff chambers

    To James P #16 re the Grauniad-reading chatterers:
    The site has been running an average of 4-5 articles a day throughout Britain’s long Arctic winter. Today’s sudden surge to ten articles, if continued unabated, means that within three weeks the Guardian Newspaper will be completely submerged in global warming articles, causing a rise of several degrees in the stress level of the chattering classes.
    One of today’s articles is by one “Gavin Schmidt. From RealClimate, part of the Guardian Environment Network”. Does this mean that RealClimate’s policy of eliminating critical comments will now be applied at Comment is Free? Or is it now Glasnost at RealClimate?

  23. geoff chambers

    to Alex Cull #22
    I agree the definitive history will be fascinating, and meanwhile there’s a rich lode to be mined for doctorates in social psychology, media studies, political science and who knows what. But the social, political and psychological fallout won’t be settled for decades, in my opinion. Old warmists never die, they merely surrender to the law of entropy (eventually). Many commentators at Wattsupwiththat think that the Theon affair is the beginning of the end, and there are some fascinating speculations about a cunning Obama game plan to sacrifice the greens on the altar (how apt, for those who believe in catastrophic warming) of renewable energy. The whole game may have changed from a combat we have to engaged in, to a spectator sport we can enjoy from the sidelines. Polar bear-baiting, anyone?

  24. James P

    “Polar bear-baiting”

    LOL! One of the many to-be-hoped-for ironies will be the fall of Al Gore shortly after the arrival of a Democrat president, and the vindication of George Bush, who will be right for all the wrong reasons!

  25. Jack Hughes

    The climate change bandwagon has so much traction right now because it’s a fusion of several memes:

    1) We’re all doomed
    2) It’s all our fault (whoever “we” are)
    3) Suitably long-term timescale: (about 20 years before everything turns to custard)
    4) The po-mo fetish for apparent compassion – being seen to care about Africa, AIDS, climate, Gaza, etc etc (not the same as really caring for anything or anyone)
    5) Ratchet effect – we are bombarded with unprecedented events that can be easily and lazily blamed on climate change. The hottest / wettest / driest / coolest / most normal month or day or year or cup final or easter since some previous date.

  26. Stefano

    Geoff, the John Coleman article is interesting, thanks. I keep wondering why AGWers keep choosing to believe the AGW theory, and in particular, why they keep preferring the world-changing “solutions”. They will even openly admit, as Gore did, that if the science is not quite there, we should still do these things “for other reasons”.

    In that light, there must be something which they value, which they are more committed to, than merely a science theory. And I’ve kept wondering what that is. “One world government” seems to be the only answer.

    People have been talking about that idea for a long time, and there are many references in fiction literature. Some may counter it is a “conspiracy theory”, but just check out what they are saying here:

    Now many many people have a desire for world peace and a genuine desire for a united world. Perhaps this is what lies deep in people’s hearts when they commit their full and unwavering support to AGW theory, and the IPCC view of the world. They desire a worldwide change, within their own lifetime, to a system of united world peace. And why not? They themselves may be willing to make a few sacrifices, and they don’t harbor ill will towards others, so why not invite everyone else to the party?

    In transcendent spiritual traditions, it is usually claimed that world unity will only be possible when most people are sufficiently spiritually developed that they can put aside their usual egoic differences. In other words, they implicitly acknowledge that such a radical world transformation is not possible anytime soon. (We’re talking thousands of years.) And this is what is so troubling in a way about Global Warming Consensus for the sake of Global Government: most people of the world do not want world government, so efforts to create one will likely end up as merely dictatorial impositions by force.

    Sorry if that is a bit too heady and in the clouds, but maybe there is something we can do, which is to simply remind the AGWers to ask themselves, what do the people of Zimbabwe want? What do the people of India want? What do the people of Argentina want? Remind them to take the point of view of these other peoples of the world, remind them the world is still to big and diverse to be “united” under a simple banner of “environmentalism”.

  27. TonyN

    I have received a reply, of sorts, from the BBC Trust:…com/blog/? p=153

    It looks as though we are going to take the pretty route to a proper response. but we will get there!

  28. TonyN

    I have received a reply, of sorts, from the BBC Trust:…com/blog/? p=153

    It looks as though we are going to take the pretty route to a proper response, but we will get there!

  29. geoff chambers

    You wonder why AGWers “keep choosing to believe the theory” and what it is they value. I’d suggest that the analysis of conscious motives, though vital for knowing what the “movers and shakers” are up to (eg that Maurice Strong has been pushing for “world government” for decades) is inadequate for the analysis of social movements. Many use psychological terms like “mass hysteria”, which to my mind describe the phenomenon accurately, but don’t advance the argument much. CR don’t like going down that route, I think, partly because of their correct assessment that environmentalism is not a genuine “mass” movement, in the sense that they can’t get tens of thousands out on the streets, or win significant support at the ballot box.
    In a previous comment on CR’s article on George’s Aga, I suggested that the kind of demographic analysis developed by the French historian Emmanuel Todd might help to understand the environmentalist phenomenon. Roughly: universal literacy ushered in an era of egalitarian politics. All men can be considered equal, when all can read and write. Mass access to further education, on the other hand, divides the opinionated “haves” from the ignorant “don’t knows”.
    As long as the educated élite were a tiny minority of society, they necessarily kept some linkage with “the masses”, even if only via their servants (think Bertie Wooster and Jeeves). When 30% of the population have a university education, they form a group apart, (the Guardian-reading “chattering classes”) and naturally seek some ideology which distinguishes them from the great unwashed. Higher education enables them to combine left-wing sentiments (internationalism, solidarity with the oppressed) with a sense of superiority (not in terms of race or power or ideological domination -perish the thought!) – but in terms of access to knowledge denied to the common mortal. Such knowledge must be scientific, at least in appearance, and must satisfy their activist desire to assume responsibility for the world’s ills (the B.A. Honours man’s burden).
    The Green Ideal has a strong (and I believe) legitimate aesthetic and moral appeal, and the CO2 mumbo jumbo provides the graphs and statistics which give it the semblance of scientific objectivity. Only at this point do the movers and shakers – bureaucrats, journalists, and last and indeed least the politicians – move in, and an ideal becomes an ideology. The self-interest of the S&M élite (shakers and movers, not sado-masochists, though …) gets the ideal cemented into the political system, without the democratic process getting a look in.
    That’s my idea, anyway, speaking as a paid-up member of the chattering classes…

  30. Alex Cull

    Following on from Stefano’s comment of “They desire a worldwide change, within their own lifetime, to a system of united world peace” and also from Geoff’s comments re the desires and ambitions of an educated elite, I would add that the idea of a world government has had its ardent followers, I would imagine, since before the dawn of socialism. I recall reading, as a student, some of H.G.Wells’s more idealistic novels, such as The World Set Free and The Shape of Things to Come, and thinking: why not a world government? Such a development certainly seemed logical, sensible and attractive, to me at that time. An end to world wars, squabbles between nations, protectionism, inequalities of all sorts, and a unique chance to better the general lot of humankind.

    Now I’ve grown up a bit (or just become middle-aged and cynical, some might say) and the idea of a world government has lost its shine; in my more Eeyorish moments I can’t help thinking it would be an amazing opportunity, surely, for bureaucracy, corruption and incompetence at the current regional and national levels to metastatise into bureaucracy, corruption and incompetence on a truly global scale.

    But I can see that for many, this idea might still be fresh and shiny. After all, who hasn’t, at some point, wished that all of humanity would unite against a common enemy? If all nations forgot their differences and their quarrels with one another and joined forces, what could we not achieve? Americans, Chinese and Russians all on the same side, Israelis and Iranians working together in a common cause. In SF this common enemy has often been aliens – H.G.Wells’s Martians perhaps, or the baddies in Independence Day. But it could equally be climate change. Remember the finale of The Day After Tomorrow, when the survivors were airlifted out of New York, and the Dick Cheney-like new President apologised to the world for causing the disaster (or was that in an episode of South Park? I can’t remember exactly.) The mighty U.S. and humble Mexico on an equal footing, working hand in hand to help humanity against climate chaos.

    I wonder if this kind of sentiment underpins much of the middle-class drive towards decarbonising the world, penalising and demonising all those selfish industrial nations, sending payouts to the people of nations deemed under threat from rising seas, etc., and also the opinion of some that “even if climate change were not real” (I won’t attempt to analyse that phrase), stringent world-wide measures and controls would be a good thing anyway. A United Earth Federation, committed to equality and fairness between rich and poor countries, arbitrating conflicts, regulating trade – and, of course, tightly controlling the entire world’s carbon emissions.

    Something to be excited about! (In certain circles, anyway.)

  31. Stefano

    Geoff wrote:

    “naturally seek some ideology which distinguishes them from the great unwashed. Higher education enables them to combine left-wing sentiments (internationalism, solidarity with the oppressed) with a sense of superiority (not in terms of race or power or ideological domination -perish the thought!) – but in terms of access to knowledge denied to the common mortal. Such knowledge must be scientific, at least in appearance, and must satisfy their activist desire to assume responsibility for the world’s ills (the B.A. Honours man’s burden).
    The Green Ideal has a strong (and I believe) legitimate aesthetic and moral appeal, and the CO2 mumbo jumbo provides the graphs and statistics which give it the semblance of scientific objectivity.”

    I find this interesting and I’ll have to try to read up on Todd.

    The features you mention:
    – solidarity with the oppressed
    – responsibility for world
    – anti-racism, anti-power

    are also described with some overlap in that theory of psychosocial development, Spiral Dynamics. In SD there are 6 or 7 main core codes or social values systems/intelligences, which have arisen progressively over thousands of years. Each new one brought something new which went beyond what the previous value code was capable of. So for example, for thousands of years, the tribal way of life and tribal values were the most advanced form of social grouping available for humans. Later in our history these disparate bands formed into larger social groupings, usually bound together by mythic religions, and eventually came to form nation states. The values that an individual has in a tribal society are quite different to the values of a modern citizen in a democratic industrialised nation. Even the very notion of individuality is quite different in a tribal society, and doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to our modern individualistic egos.

    OK, so at least 6 or 7 major codes or values intelligences are identified in the model. The most recent two, code Orange and code Green, arose roughly with the Enlightenment and with the 60s, respectively.

    The Green core value is the one which most resembles your description of environmentalists. I’m not saying they all are, just that perhaps a fair number of scientists from a certain generation all awoke or developed to the Green sociocultural values stage at the same time, and came to interpret their scientific data from the perspective of Green values/intelligence global responsibility.

    There are a whole host of implications of SD theory, and other theories like it, but let me just mention a couple here. Anyone interested can read the book which is quite accessible, written more for business managers.

    The Enlightenment was more or less the dawn of the Orange code or stage of culture. The theory says that each new code or values stage arises in response to problems that the previous intelligence values stage can’t resolve. Now the Enlightenment gave us the principles and values of science, freedom from dogma, citizenship, one man one vote, technological progress, and the individual “pursuit of happiness”. It also gave us the atomic bomb, global pollution, oil spills, and multinationals stomping over Third World economies.

    Much of what Green values, has to do with a reaction against Orange. It is interesting that AGW theory supporters usually frown upon geoengineering projects. They sound too much like Orange technical fixes (something Orange is usually very good at). It is also telling that in a debate with AGW supporters, the skeptics are often accused of being in the pay of oil companies, ie. they are being accused of being Orange.

    This similar pattern of breaking free from and denying, can repeat itself though the other codes or values intelligences as well. Orange free thinking hates Blue mythic dogma. Blue order and justice hates Red’s impulsive violent power drives. Red freedom hates Purple’s tribal sleepy submission to tribal customs and spirits. The literature fleshes these out, I’m just trying to provide a very quick taste.

    Basically, the more we try to champion rationality, individual freedom, the economy, the industrial machine, the innovations of new technology–the more we will come across sounding Orange to a Green values intelligence which is trying to free us from the abuses and problems of Orange in the first place. We are all in the pay of the oil industry, in the felt sense that we are all promoting a values intelligence that Green feels is already outdated anyway. I think this is why debates against AGW always hit a brick wall; they already know your values, and that is the very thing that they are trying to fight against (although they may never have heard of developmental theories of psychosocial growth, so they mey never have the words or labels to be able to identify just what it is about your whole point of view that they so detest–they just know you are wrong, even if you’ve logically handled point by point everything they said).

    The other implication of SD is that we cannot change a person’s values intelligence. That is a process that seems to take decades, so if you disagree with someone over a values conflict, go away, wait ten years, and then try again. What can be done, however, is realise that the core values can be expressed in any number of ways. Having a Green core value doesn’t necessarily make you an environmentalist, and it doesn’t necessarily make you a supporter of the UN or the IPCC. Rather, we need to be able to find a healthier way for Green intelligence to express itself so that it really does help society. We need to speak to Green core values, and address them in their essence. AGW is just one surface issue, and as we know it has changed from one issue to another over the years. It is as if Green values are trying to find a place in the world, as the demographics indicate that an ever greater percentage of the population in the West is awakening and shifting to Green core values.

    Sorry that’s a bit long, I’m just trying to get the balance between suggesting why it is relevant and encourage people to grab some of the basic material and the research into these cultural core values.

  32. geoff chambers

    To Alex and Stefano
    Interesting stuff. Will the editors here either comment, rap our knuckles, or impose a couple of Hail Marys? I’m keeping busy over at Monbiot’s blog, where he’s laid into Booker, and met stiffer opposition than usual. The Guardian has officially allied itself with RealClimate, thus committing itself to a party line in a way which compromises totally their journalistic independence, it seems to me. It’s the difference between saying “we think Obama is a good guy” and promising to adhere to Democratic Party policy .

  33. Alex Cull

    Stefano: re Spiral Dynamics and Ken Wilber etc., this is fascinating and something I’ve been meaning to read about for a long time, my local library has some relevant books, I think.
    Geoff: I’ve been over to the Graun and had a look – if I’m not mistaken, basically people responding to your comment re McIntyre vs Steig are saying something like: RealClimate are real climate scientists. Therefore: if you disagree with RealClimate, you disagree with climate science (and are thus anti-climate science) and also with science itself (and are thus unscientific/anti-science/a kook.) Absolutely impeccable logic in its awful way, and I think it goes to support Stefano’s comment that “debates against AGW always hit a brick wall.” However, I guess the value is that someone somewhere will read it and start to think for themselves, maybe decide to visit RealClimate and Climate Audit and make up their own minds.

  34. geoff chambers

    Thanks for your supporting comment at Monbiot’s article. I was encouraged by the 5 or 6 contributors who attacked Monbiot’s criticisms of Booker patiently and politely, so when I challenged him to reply to all of us, I didn’t feel like a lone idiot crying for attention. He’s lambasted one blogger at length for an irrelevant citation, but not replied at all to the six of us who attack him on the substantive issue. My hope is that someone at the Guardian is counting the points, and Monbiot will be forced to come down from the pulpit and get his hands dirty with statistics, science, or just plain reasoned argument.

  35. PaulM

    I have just looked at the newsnight clip again and there are no fades between the re-pasted re-ordered snippets.
    Newsnight editor Peter Rippon is not telling the truth.
    There are no fades between the section, just a slight pause such as might be necessary for the speaker to draw breath between the phrases.

  36. Alex Cull

    Paul, I totally agree with you there; I’ve listened to this quite a few times, and the only discontinuity I can hear is just after Obama says “rightful place”, where it sounds as if he’s been cut slightly short. There are no fades that I can detect – you can even hear the faint sound of a plane in the background, and this sound doesn’t fade and return but seems to continue evenly, allowing the “warming planet” segment to merge seamlessly with the “We will harness the sun” segment.

    There’s been no update about this from Susan Watts or Peter Rippon on the Newsnight science blog, since Peter’s “montage” explanation back in January.


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