It all started with a report by Roger Harrabin of all people. On Wednesday, under the headline ‘Society to review climate message’, the BBC website broke the news that the Royal Society was to review its public statements on global warming, and that this had been brought about by what appears to be an uprising within its ranks.
Disquiet led forty-three fellows of the Society to demand that the governing council should conduct a review in order to establish what is widely agreed on climate science, and what is not fully understood. At the heart of the rebel’s concerns is lack of objectivity about uncertainties and derogatory remarks about climate sceptics.
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of what is happening. The Royal Society occupies a very special place in the scientific firmament, not just in the UK, but worldwide. The impact of its very partisan outpourings about climate change is thought to have been crucial not only to the last government’s decision to put global warming at the top of the political agenda, but also in persuading national academies of science almost everywhere to throw their weight behind the warmist cause. The ructions behind the grand facade of 6-9, Carlton House Terrace will be watched closely by scientists everywhere, and there can be little doubt that if fellows of he Royal Society are prepared to stick there heads above the parapet, then others will follow their lead.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this news is that no less than three panels at the Society are now considering the problem, and at leas two of them include a number of fellows who have doubts about the current state of climate science. Reaching an agreement will not be easy, and one fellow told Harrabin that it is by no means certain that reaching a consensus will be possible. The message that this would send to the rest of the scientific world would be even more potent than an admission that the evidence has been exaggerated. For years, the orthodox line has been that expounded by Lord May of Oxford when he was the society’s president: the debate is over and the science is settled. It will be very difficult to explain why the fellows of the worlds oldest and most highly respected scientific institution cannot even agree what the situation is among themselves, let alone why they have been misleading other scientists, politicians and the public for several years about the degree of consensus on this subject.
Since the BBC report appeared, the society has put out a statement on its web site claiming that the review has been planned for a long time. This reminds me of the response I received from the BBC Trust recently to a letter about their review of the impartiality of science coverage, and particularly climate change, which is taking place this year. They told me that this has nothing to do with the Climategate scandal or criticisms of the IPCC, it is a purely routine exercise that would have taken place anyway. Such claims do not enhance the credibility of institutions that make them.
Looking at the coverage of this story in the rest of the MSM, it would seem that the Royal Society has only spoken to the BBC, and other reports are based on Harrabin’s original story together with what little information is available on the Royal Society web site. This seems to have been hastily posted in response to the demands of the forty-three fellows. One, headlined, ‘Royal Society to publish new guide to the science of climate change‘ quotes the president, Lord Rees, saying:
Climate change is a hugely important issue but the public debate has all too often been clouded by exaggeration and misleading information. We aim to provide the public with a clear indication of what is known about the climate system, what we think we know about it and, just as importantly, the aspects we still do not understand very well.
His statement raises some questions. Has he just discovered that the debate has been ‘clouded by exaggerated and misleading information? If he has known all along, then where was he while that was happening, and why has he remained silent until now?
He also says:
Lots of people are asking questions, indeed even within the Fellowship of the Society there are differing views. Our guide will be based on expert views backed up by sound scientific evidence.
He appears to be horrified that:
It has been suggested that the Society holds the view that anyone challenging the consensus on climate change is malicious – this is ridiculous.
Those of us who can remember the Society’s antics when Bob Ward was its press officer, vigorously attempting to cut off funding from sceptics, will not be impressed.
In a report at The Times, Ben Webster identifies 72 year old Sir Alan Rudge as one of the leaders of the rebellion. Apparently the dissidents did not conduct a full poll of the 1400 odd fellows, but just contacted their friends, of whom a third were unwilling to sign the petition. Rudge told The Times:
“I think the Royal Society should be more neutral and welcome credible contributions from both sceptics and alarmists alike. There is a lot of science to be done before we can be certain about climate change and before we impose upon ourselves the huge economic burden of cutting emissions.”
He refused to name the other signatories but admitted that few of them had worked directly in climate science and many were retired.
“One of the reasons people like myself are willing to put our heads above the parapet is that our careers are not at risk from being labelled a denier or flat-Earther because we say the science is not settled. The bullying of people into silence has unfortunately been effective.”
Sir Alan is also a member of Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The article ends with a quote from Bob Ward, demanding that the dissident fellows should reveal themselves, presumably so that the warmist PR machine can start the process of character assassination that is their usual response to those who do not toe the party line.
Louise Grey, in The Telegraph, tells much the same tale. She has also spoken to Bob Ward:
But Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Institute of Climate Change, feared the public could misinterpret the new guide as reflecting doubt about man made global warming.
He called on the Royal Society fellows who question the science to come forward with their doubts publicly.
“This could end in public confusion if people think as a result of this the Royal Society is somehow wrong or reassessing the evidence because there is no justification for that,” he said.
Is Mr Ward really blissfully unaware that the Royal Society actually is engaged in reassessing the evidence, and that is because a section of its membership feel strongly enough about the Society’s public position to confront the Governing Council? The statements on the Society’s web site makes this quite clear; it is Bob Ward who is trying to create public confusion about what is happening.
I have posted about the genesis of the Grantham Research Institute here, and it is worth taking a glance at this as it shows just where Bob Ward is coming from, and I will be coming back to this and a rather strange series of interconnections between Ward, the Grantham Institute and the Royal Society, which bodes ill for the peace and calm of that august body in the coming months.
For a totally different perspective on the gathering storm, the obvious place to look is The Guardian, which has given Ward a whole page in which to spread confusion, but under the unintentionally ironic headline, ‘UK Royal Society revives confusion as US concludes climate change certainty’. Ward hammers home his supposedly killer argument about the sceptics within the Royal Society making themselves known:
But now, 43 of the society’s 1,489 fellows have written to complain about some of its statements about climate change published over the last few years. It is not clear exactly what the 43 have concerns about.
And because their identities have not been made public, we do not know whether any of them are climate researchers.
He is certainly on safe ground with his demand. No one in their right mind who is actively engaged in mainstream climate researche would own up to such heresy, for the moment at least. To do so would be an act of professional suicide, but if the Royal Society is forced to admit that there are vast uncertainties associated with global warming then that could change very quickly. Reputable scientists might not have to worry what the likes of Mr Ward say any more.
An editorial in Nature follows the same line of attack with the headline, ‘ Nameless fellows attack Royal Society’s climate stance’, but - another irony - the article is not signed. It concludes:
A new public document is being drawn up, but if the BBC report is right, then several sceptics are on the panel, which is making it tough to get anything done. Nevertheless, the society says the new guide will be released later this summer.
Am I alone in feeling that Nature’s reference to sceptics making it difficult to ‘get anything done’ is yet more confirmation that this once revered learned journal has left the days of objective coverage of science far behind, and strayed far into the murky realms of activism?
There is some fairly predicable arm waving from Sir John Beddington in another Guardian article headed, ‘Government chief scientific adviser hits out at sceptics’, which would suggest that his political antennae are far less well tuned than Lord Rees’s. In view of some of the things he has said about his faith in climate science, particularly to the House of Commons Science and Technology inquiry into Climategate, now would not seem to be a very smart time for him attack sceptics. If the Royal Society fails to endorse the level of certainty that he has been promoting when they revise their publications, or fails even to agree an official position because of divisions of opinion among the fellows, Sir John could find that the ground has been cut out from under him in much the same way as the chairman of the IPCC. And If the Royal Society is divided, what price the warmist’s mainstay in the climate debate: the claim that there is scientific consensus on global warming.
On Saturday, Roger Harrabin returned to the fray on his blog, but in a way that will surprise many who have become used to the BBC Environment Analyst’s usual line on climate matters. Here are a couple of excerpts:
After years of accusing the fossil fuel lobby of using anti-scientific arguments to undermine climate policy, scientists are now themselves accused of being un-scientific.
There are signs in the Royal Society’s current review of its climate communications that they are beginning to understand the seriousness of their predicament and have included some “climate agnostics” on the panels.
But it seems that message has not seeped through to all quarters. And one Fellow of the Royal Society said there’s the whiff of “end of empire” in the air as establishments strive to protect their authority as it ebbs away into the blogosphere.
Do I hear the desperate splash of oars as someone else who has become very vulnerable to changing circumstances rows desperately back towards the shore? This is not at all the kind of reporting that we have come to expect from Harrabin but then the BBC is having a ‘routine’ review of their science coverage.
Later in the post, he has something to say that is relevant to both the present crisis at the Royal Society and to the fiasco that is known as the Oxburgh Inquiry:
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, the Royal Society’s lead on climate change, told me he wouldn’t look outside the realms of the Royal Society for input into the framing of a society review into the UEA affair.
This reveals a very interesting series of relationships. Evidently Hoskins is the Royal Society’s big hitter on climate change, and he is also Director of the Grantham Institute, Professor of Meteorology at Reading University, a leading light in the IPCC ,and a contributor to the Climategate emails. Bob Ward was the press officer for the Royal Society during Lord May’s presidency, which was marked by claims about the science of global warming that went well beyond anything that the evidence would stand and has resulted in the present crisis.
It would seem unlikely that tranquillity will return to the Society’s imposing home in Carlton House Terrace anytime soon.
So let’s give the last word to that doughty seeker after truth, and conveyor of certainty where confusion exists, Bob Ward.
In an interview on the BBC’s Friday PM news programme, Roger Harrabin asked him whether he thought that the Royal Society’s guide to climate change was a reliable guide to the science. This is how he started his reply:
I’m sorry, but the reliable guide is the fact that the projections show that the earth is going to continue to warm in the future …
I think that it is safe to say that far more than forty-three fellows of the Royal Society would be likely to find that response either stupid, ignorant, or intentionally misleading, depending on the level of knowledge of the speaker.
The Royal Society story has not received much coverage in the MSM - yet. It may be that it will not do so directly, but within academic circles it is a convulsion of seismic proportions that may severely test the foundations that the whole edifice of global warming rests on. At the moment we can only wait, and watch the shock waves spread.