Looking for Science in the Science Museum

by | Jan 18, 2011

I have an article up on Spiked today, about the new climate change exhibition — Atmosphere — at the Science Museum, London.

A large wall of projected graphics greets you as you enter the London-based Science Museum’s new exhibition,Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science. Disembodied voices read the words that appear across the monolith: ‘Science can show us that greenhouse gasses are increasing… Science can show us that the carbon cycle is being disrupted… Science can show us what’s already changing…’ But for all the talk of science, it was eco-propaganda on display.

Read it here…


  1. Marie Cooper

    I am a molecular biologist so I know pretty much bugger all about climate science. However, this kind of thing is undermining the credibility of all sciences and scientists, which is something I do understand. It is difficult enough to explain things clearly to people at the best of times, when they are predisposed to disbelieve every word you say it is impossible.
    Now, since you already know that I am a climate idiot, can I ask a silly question. A commenter on cif green in the Grauniad seems convinced that the antarctic ice sheet is getting thinner. What I want to know is how ice that is never warmer than -10 C and usually colder than -40 centigrade can melt. Is it subliming straight into the atmosphere as water vapour at some previously unsuspected phenomenal rate or has the physical chemistry of water changed drastically in the last few years?

  2. Carl Chapman

    The reduction in ice in the Arctic has been balanced by a gain in ice in the Antarctic. The Antarctic sea ice is a at record high since satellite measurements started.

    For details, check http://www.wattsupwiththat.com. Anthony Watts often summarises the sea ice extent.

  3. John Shade

    Well done! I remember many years ago feeling somewhat dismayed after a visit to the science exhibition in Edinburgh called ‘Dynamic Earth’. Aimed especially at young people, the displays took the theories, and the doom-laden prophesies, of the climate alarmists as if they were gospel. It was a thoroughly negative experience, and could only have served to mislead, and depress, any youngster who actually paid attention to the details. Would that I had had your fluency to capture my thoughts and reactions! I hope your piece will be widely read.

  4. Mooloo

    Marie, the “thinner” Antarctic ice is based on satellite readings from GRACE, via gravity readings. They are pumped into various models, using quite a lot of assumptions such as the speed with which the land under the Antarctic is rebounding and the result: rapid ice loss.

    Clearly the results are wrong, and quite a few scientists have pointed out that with the changing of a few dodgy initial assumptions the whole thing falls apart. We have no idea how fast the land is rebounding under the Antarctic, but using models of that put into models of gravity of ice apparently we can be sure the ice is disappearing.

    I find it fascinating that the pro-warming camp cannot step back and think “hey, this is TOO good to be true”. Apparently so long as it fits the mantra they will run with it, despite the total lack of any realistic mechanism for the ice loss. Sublimation my a**e!

    Carl is talking about the exterior ice extent, which is quite different. However the warmers do struggle to reconcile the supposed rapid ice loss on the surface and supposed warmer Antarctic water with entirely normal seasonal ice growth.

  5. Alex Cull

    Geoff, the Caroline Lucas/Home Front article is fun, isn’t it – I’ve been following it for most of today, placing bets with myself as to whose comment is going to vanish next. The Greens’ New Home Front report (produced by the Guardian’s Andrew Simms), has an echo in this recent report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO) – which I had never known the existence of before, but includes Caroline Lucas, coincidentally – proposing carbon ration books for everyone.


    Ben, re the Science Museum, great article in sp!ked. I’ll see if I can visit the exhibition myself at some point. “Younger children press screens randomly, desperately hoping to make the ‘interactive’ exhibits yield something interesting.” I’d love to know what kids have to say about this sort of thing.

    There’s another good article about the Atmosphere exhibition by Alice Bell in the Guardian (“Climate change exhibit Atmosphere may be pretty but it lacks punch”):


    “…exceedingly pretty as Atmosphere is, the highlight of my trip to the museum was gawping at the Apollo 10 capsule. A humble-looking object, it has actually been around the Moon. You can see scorch marks from when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”

    This reviewer at The London Insider liked it, however:


    “After experiencing first hand, the dreariness that is climate lessons at school, you would be forgiven for wanting to forgo a trip to a gallery of this kind. But the Atmosphere Gallery is as far as one can get from the biased and boring climate change drivel we have been bombarded with by sceptics, educators and the media.”

    Climate lessons at school are considered dreary? Drivel? Suddenly I feel more hopeful.

  6. Mooloo

    Climate lessons at school are considered dreary? Drivel? Suddenly I feel more hopeful.

    There is no way that students can hope to grasp the fundamentals of climate lessons, so they will always turn into propaganda lessons. Kids hate that. What’s worse they tend to get the “green” message laid on thick in science and social studies too, so there’s a fatigue element.

    There’s a good reason science traditionally starts with simple stuff: elements, salts, frictionless motion. The kids feel that they can at least learn something and remember it. Oddly they don’t care if it is in any way useful – astronomy and dinosaurs are universally popular – regardless of what theorists say.

    If you want to teach kids properly leave all the political and moral baggage at the door. Teach them skills, basic facts and methods. The rest is puffery.

    I am so glad I became a Maths teacher not a science one (despite a degree in Chemistry). I could not bring myself to teach “climate”.

  7. David C

    The climate change propaganda gives us a great opportunity to educate our children in the evils of trusting the establishment, and understanding the vested interests of authority figures. My eight year old asks everybody he meets if they believe in man-made climate change, and gets a variety of responses. He challenges them all, whether they are pro or anti, and I’m pleased to say doesn’t repeat verbatim my own sceptic views. I may take him to this exhibition to see what he makes of it, but I’m pretty sure he’ll recognise propaganda when he sees it.
    Thanks for the blog Ben – great.

  8. Ben Pile

    David, please let us know what your son makes of the exhibition. I think people would be interested to hear. Please make sure he gets to see some of the good gallerys, too though!

  9. Dominic

    Marie Cooper asks:

    What I want to know is how ice that is never warmer than -10 C and usually colder than -40 centigrade can melt. Is it subliming straight into the atmosphere as water vapour at some previously unsuspected phenomenal rate or has the physical chemistry of water changed drastically in the last few years?

    There are two answers to this.

    First, the warming Antarctic circumpolar current increases the rate of calving of glacial snouts discharging ice directly into the sea. Warmer water also causes the break-up of large sea ice sheets that had previously blocked other glaciers’ advance.

    Ice can move, (or glaciers could not exist) so it’s not a temperature issue, but one of mass balance. Remove the obstacles, increase the rate of calving at glacial snouts and gravity will do the rest, even at very low temperatures.
    This is also suggested as a mechanism for increased melt rate of the Greenland ice sheet.

    By no means everyone agrees that this means catastrophic melting and rapid sea level rise. I recommend a look this from Ollier and Pain in AIG News 2009:


    Even more to the point, recent work has shown that the estimates (and that is all they are) based on GRACE data are likely in error (Wu et al. 2010 http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n9/full/ngeo938.html).

    This study examined assumptions about the rate of rebound in the Earth’s crust that has been going on since the last great ice sheets melted and their weight was removed.

    This ‘glacial isostatic adjustment’ (GIA) is modelled and underpins interpretation of the satellite data. If Wu et al. are correct, mass balance loss estimates from GRACE for Antarctica and the Greenland Ice Sheet are exaggerated by as much as 50%.

    Then there is O’Donnell et al. 2010 showing that the previously unchallenged picture of a uniformly warming Antarctic presented by Steig et al. (2009) was in fact mistaken.

    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2010JCLI3656.1 (Paywall)

    But discussed by one of the authors here:


    The Antarctic is still losing ice mass, as is Greenland. But in all likelihood not as fast as the alarmists would have it. As always, the scientific argument reverts to the true value for climate sensitivity to CO2.

    No definitive answer yet.

  10. Dominic


    I replied to Marie Cooper but I think I may have got stuck in moderation because of links in the comment.

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