Jan 042014

letter With storms – and even better, rumours of storms – helpfully filling the usual holiday season news vacuum, I thought the letter transcribed below might be of interest. By a strange coincidence, my wife came across it today when sorting through some old family papers.

It is a letter from her grandfather to her grandmother on the eve of a trip to Ireland (from whence he came) and the night after addressing a local political meeting on his way to the port of Holyhead. The causeway he mentions is unchanged; a mile long embankment about 20ft high with the sea on one side, a road halfway up the other side, and a railway line on top. The weather was not very good.


The Station Hotel

29th Oct 1927

My darling Girl

Here I am after a queer night. The meeting was excellent, about 50 people, most well behaved.

After I had finished my speech I left and the sergeant [of police?] said to me “You cannot go home, all roads are under water; hopeless”. I said “I’m going to Holyhead. Which is the safest road? By Bethgelert or Portmadoc? He said “Portmadoc”. I went.

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At a time when there is more reason than ever to doubt that human activity is causing dangerous climate change, the IPCC’s launch of its Fifth Assessment Report has been a triumph of spin over rational enquiry.

IPCCStockholmWhatever the strange and very lengthy[1] Working Group 1 (The Physical Science Basis) Summary For Policymakers (SPM) may say, there is no doubt that over the past decade and a half, atmospheric Co2 has risen significantly and global average temperature has failed to do the same. This fact contradicts everything that the IPCC has told us in previous reports. It therefore undermines the alarmism, exaggeration and downright misrepresentation that characterise the IPCC process. So how is it that the world’s media has swallowed the scientist’s tale of woe so completely without questioning their extraordinary claim (p12) that they are now more certain than ever, rather than far less certain, that humans are changing the climate.

The answer is quite simple. The document that was so assiduously leaked and spun throughout last week, and finally published on Friday morning when the media agenda had been well and truly established presumably to the satisfaction of the political representatives overseeing the final draft in the Swedish capital is not a really a scientific document at all. It is a proselytising opinion piece that provides no clue as to whose opinions are being represented or precisely what evidence they are relying on.

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Sep 262013



I’m delighted to see that Tony Blair has thrown his weight firmly behind Rajendra Pachauri, and his willing little helpers, as they struggle to finalise the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report in Stockholm.

This is just what people need to help them make up their mind to trust the IPCC.

Back in November and December last year, at least three people that I know of wrote to their MPs about my attempts to discover who attended the BBC’s 2006 climate seminar and Maurizio Morabito’s subsequent revelations at Omnologos. It now appears that two of these people got near identical replies using text that appears to have been drafted by the BBC, although the wording gives the impression that it is the MP’s own.

This is the boilerplate text I’m talking about. Note particularly the phrases I’ve emphasised in bold:

"A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was made for material held by the BBC relating to a seminar discussing climate change held in 2006. The BBC tell me that they refused pattendisclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal unanimously upheld this in its decision of 8 November 2012.

The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that the BBC felt necessary for its independent journalism. Further information about the Rule including the publication of lists of attendees can be found here: www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/chathamhouserule.

I am informed that the 2006 seminar was one in a series of seminars looking at a range of global topics. They are used to inform the BBC’s journalism through debate and access to expertise, though the setting of the BBC’s editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust. Impartiality is key to the BBC’s reporting and is the subject of continuous scrutiny by the BBC and the BBC Trust.

If you would like to complain about the BBC, I suggest you do so directly to the BBC Trust, at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/. "

The availability of a form letter reply suggests that a considerable number of people contacted their MPS who, presumably, then contacted the oh-so-helpful folk at the BBC.

Whatever the ethics of busy MPs, or their staff, using a ready-made replies in these circumstances may be, the BBC’s arrogance in taking upon itself the task of drafting constituency correspondence for elected representatives – if this is what happened – would indicate just how hubristic the management culture at our national broadcaster has become.

I would be very interested to hear in the comments from anyone who wrote to their MP about 28Gate and particularly those who received replies using the wording above.

[H/T to Jockdownsouth for this]

Feb 042013


LordSternLord Stern, Gordon Brown’s climate alarmist of choice whose 2006 report now seems to be taken seriously only by the kind of warmistas who have long since ceased thinking about what they are saying, has made an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The National Farmer’s Union website has noticed even if no one else has.

His Lordship was in confessional mood, owning up to underestimating the likely extent of global warming in his report. He now sees this as being ‘on track for something like 4oC’ by the end of the century, rather than the paltry 2oC – 3oC that he forecast in his report seven years ago.

Well! Economists never were famed for the accuracy of their predictions, even when dealing with matters supposedly within their own discipline and level of competence.

If I remember correctly, the Stern Report ran to some 700 pages, the first half of which was devoted to a summary of the current state of climate science. It has always baffled me why anyone, even Gordon Brown, would entrust such a task to an economist. Perhaps Stern’s interest in the subject has waned a bit over the last seven years, because he certainly seems to have missed out on the new consensus that there has been a global warming standstill for at least a decade and a half. In fact since long before he even started work on his report. Now wouldn’t that be something that would really be worth mentioning at a world economic forum?

But fear not, this is a prophet of doom with sense of humour; or perhaps not.

According to the NFU, stern ‘called for forceful action and highlighted "the exciting growth story" of greening the economy’. It’s astonishing that such views haven’t earned him a job as an EU Commissioner by now. He would be at home among others who think that increased regulation and a decades-long commitment to replace cheap, abundant and reliable energy sources with inefficient, erratic and very expensive new technology is the Yellow Brick Road to undreamed of economic success.

All this would be quite amusing if it wasn’t for the enormous influence that the Stern Report has had on public policy.

It’s worth reading the NFU’s short report in full, particularly for the extraordinarily fatuous quotation from IMF chief Christine Legarde with which it ends. Didn’t she also suggest in a pre-Davos interview that banker’s pay should be diverted to the world’s poor? I don’t seem to be able to lay hands of the source at the moment, but in any case, Ms Legarde’s thinking seems to be more in line with that or a synchronised swimming champion (her first claim to fame) than that of her present eminent role.

[Hat tip to Philip Ferguson who is concerned that farm products are now so expensive that they have to be bulked-up with old horse. Another ‘exciting growth story’?]

Leveson stumped by climate change?

Posted by TonyN on 01/12/2012 at 9:51 am Leveson 4 Responses »
Dec 012012

leveson Apparently Lord Justice Leveson has said that what he most wished to avoid when producing his report on the culture, practices, and ethics of the press, was publishing a document that would be discussed and then put away in a cupboard. I know how he feels.

At the end of last year, someone leaked an email from Bob Ward spinmeister and chief attack dog at the Grantham Institute which was evidently intended to stimulate action on an academic message board dealing with ‘science communication’. Bob was a worried man:

The Leveson Inquiry is considering the culture of both the UK Press and broadcast media. No doubt the ‘sceptics’ are bombarding Leveson with anti-BBC propaganda in the same way they did during the early stages of the BBC Trust report. It would be good if there were some balancing submissions to Leveson from sensible psci-commers.

Until I saw this, I had not realised that Leveson might be prepared to poke into some of the murkier corners of the media which Andrew Montford and I have been trying to illuminate for several years. It was also interesting to see that although Professor Steve Jones’ review of science reporting for the BBC had dismissed our submission out of hand, it had evidently caused concern elsewhere among the warmist ranks. This had dealt with the extent to which BBC reporters and programme makers seemed to be in thrall to environmental pressure groups and climate researchers, a problem that has recently matured into 28-Gate.

So far as the Leveson Inquiry was concerned, we did no more than agree that we should make a submission, but there were lots of other things to do and nothing much happened. Then Fiona Fox, CEO of the Science Media Centre, sent written evidence to the inquiry that caused us some surprise. Although the events relating to the climate debate that she described were familiar to us, her version of the facts and the inferences that she drew from them, were surprising. These mainly concerned a very dodgy press release that suggested global temperatures would increase by 11o C by the end of the century and what she considered to be media excesses in reporting Professor Phil Jones role in the Climategate scandal.

This provided the incentive to write to the Leveson Inquiry, so we asked whether it was too late to submit comments on Ms Fox’s evidence, and warned them that our evidence would conflict with that of Ms Fox. To our surprise we received a positively enthusiastic reply saying that the Inquiry would ‘welcome’ such a submission. Would this distinguished, and presumably fair minded Law Lord give a couple of climate sceptics a fair hearing? It seemed possible.

The document we submitted can be found here. It is long, very thoroughly referenced to documentary evidence, and covers the problems we have had with the BBC over the 2006 climate seminar as well as Ms Fox’s evidence. However it would not have surprised me if that had been the last we heard of it. The auto-responses from the ‘inquiry team’ all said that they receive many submissions, but only those that are used would be acknowledged. So morale was given another boost when, only a couple of days later, we were asked for our consent to the submission being published as evidence on the Inquiry website. However we were not called to give oral evidence.

Now, many months later, Lord Leveson has spoke in four volumes comprising nearly 2000 pages, and goodness knows how many words. He has almost nothing to say about the culture, practices and ethics of the press when reporting on climate change.

Volume 1, Part A, 2.5 – 2.9 addresses a problem raised by various parties described as campaign groups. Under the present Press Complaints Commission (PCC) procedures, it is not possible for a complaint to be made other than by an identified victim. Therefore if you see what you consider to be a misleading report about a matter with which you are familiar, but the inaccuracy cannot be shown to affect you directly, then it is not possible to complain to the PCC. Examples of such ‘generic’ issues in which this situation might apply are immigration, domestic violence, and climate change. The danger of interfering with this situation is, of course, that an organisation like the Grantham Institute which was set up by a billionaire hedge fund manager with a bee in his bonnet about ‘the environment’ might choose to bring complaints against any report on climate change with which their benefactor might be expected to disagree. This would do nothing to promote courageous reporting of a controversial subject.

This problem attracted a flood of submissions to the Inquiry and at this early stage in his report Lord Leveson is at pains to reassure their authors that he has read all those that were published by the Inquiry, taken them into account when writing his report, and referred to them where appropriate (Vol 1, Pt A, 2.8), He also stresses that where evidence had not been taken orally as well, this did not mean that the written evidence was in any way inferior. There is no question,he says, of any of the published evidence being second class. This makes some of the things that he says, or fails to say,later in the report even more surprising.

In the meantime, I wonder if Lord Leveson smiled when he quoted this wonderfully complacent little purple passage from Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian:

“the simple craft of reporting: recording things; asking questions; being an observer; giving context. It’s sitting in a magistrates’ court reporting on the daily tide of crime cases – the community’s witness to the process of justice. It’s being on the front line in Libya, trying to sift conflicting propaganda from the reality. It’s reporting the rival arguments over climate change – and helping the public to evaluate where the truth lies.” Vol 1, Pt B, 3.2

Sadly, It seems far more likely that the irony of The Graun reporting ‘rival arguments’ over climate change to help their readers ‘evaluate where the truth lies’ was completely lost on him.

When, in the next volume, his Lordship makes another foray into the realms of climate change, he relies on evidence from an organisation called Full Fact. (Vol 2, Pt F, 2.27) The Inquiry website shows that they contributed no less than five submissions and a witness statement. The only reference to climate change I can find in any of these concerns a story in the Daily Mail, apparently relying on figures obtained from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) website, estimating the amount that energy from alternatives will cost householders. This could hardly be described as ‘misleading reporting in areas such as … climate change’.
Then, at last, it looks as though Lord Leveson will, on page 491, get down to the nitty gritty of the way the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’ impact on the reporting of climate change. This is how Lord Leveson launches into the subject:

Similar, but more controversial, concerns have been raised by organisations in relation to the reporting of issues as diverse as climate change and drug addiction. It is unnecessary to do more than touch on these: the relevant submissions are available on the Inquiry website for public scrutiny. It goes without saying that the Inquiry has not undertaken the task of forming its own expert scientific judgment on this material and, in any event, it is unnecessary that it should do so. Vol 2, Pt F, 3.30

Scrutiny of the following paragraphs show that he has touched so lightly on climate change that is seems not to be mentioned at all, although he does say that:

… the public must be in a position to understand what is fact (and therefore to be relied on as such) and what is opinion … There is, of course, no bright line for the way that accurate facts are described, or for the choice of accurate facts that are reported and it is recognised that journalists do not have the same standards of impartiality that affect broadcasters. Vol 2, Pt F, 3.32 – 3.33

There are two points here. Firstly, Lord Leveson does not need to form his own expert scientific judgement in order to determine whether there are problems in the way that climate change is reported, any more than Mr Justice Burton in the High Court needed any scientific expertise of his own to determine that Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth’ was alarmist and misleading. Secondly, his Lordship seems not to have considered the problem of distinguishing what is fact and what is opinion in climate change when nearly everyone claims that their opinions, or speculations, are facts.

However, he does recommend that readers should look at evidence published on the website. When one sees that he cites the Welcome Trust, Sense about Science, Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre and the UK Drug Policy Commission, but makes no mention of our submission, that rather undercuts his earlier claim that there is no such thing, in his eyes, as second-class evidence.

Much further on, his lordship grapples, very briefly, with the concerns of various defenders of the scientific orthodoxy about ‘false balance’. They argue that,if both minority and majority views in a scientific discourse are reported for the sake of balance then this is unfair to the majority who, of course, must be right. Wisely he smartly moves on to other things after pointing out that this may be a problem in some areas of medical research. In spite of introducing the subject by citing climate change as one of the areas where false balance may be a problem, he has nothing specific to say on the subject, which may be wise of him, but surely his remit was to deal with difficult issues like this.

Finally, Lord Leveson bids goodbye to the topic of climate change altogether on page 691, never to return to it:

Examples of scare stories are not limited to health journalism; the reporting of climate change is also susceptible to exaggeration. When a Nature paper modelling climate change projected warming between 2 degrees and 11 degrees, almost all the newspapers carried the latter figure in their headlines, with one tabloid splashing a huge 11 degrees on the front page alongside an apocalyptic image. This was in spite of the fact that the press briefing to launch the paper had all emphasised that the vast majority of models showed warming around 2 degrees. Vol 2 Pt F 9.68

Given that our evidence to the Inquiry provided a link to the press release with which the scientists concerned briefed the press by claiming a possible temperature increase of 11o C, without mentioning the 2o C estimate at all, his conclusion is rather surprising. But one does get the impression here that science may not be Lord Leveson’s favourite bag of tricks. Referring to ‘degrees’ four times in one paragraph without once mentioning what temperature scale they may be recorded in hardly inspires confidence in the sceptical reader.

What is remarkable about this four volume, 2000 page mammoth based on evidence that took nine months to gather, is how little it has to say about one of the most controversial areas of media reporting. In order to prepare this article I used ‘climate change’ as a search string and I have summarised all the instances that I could find.

A first take on the Leveson Report yesterday evening at the GWPF website had this to say:

It was also disappointing that Lord Leveson ignored the arguments and comments made by Tony Newbery and Andrew Montford. In my view this renders the section on science reporting in the report little more than a Science Media Centre press release.

The Leveson Report and False Balance

Those kind word are particularly appreciated, coming as they do from David Whitehouse, for so many years the man at the BBC who told us about science when it was in the news. I don’t remember there ever being any angst about impartiality and accuracy in those pre-Harrabin, pre-Shukman, pre- seminars with activist s posing as ‘the best scientific experts’ days.

But perhaps, just possibly, I have taken a too pessimistic a view how our evidence was treated. The last paragraph of our contribution says:

In this submission we have attempted to draw attention to some of the very complex forces and issues that apply to the reporting of climate research, a field of science that has become heavily influenced by politics, and dogmatic convictions.

Submission to Leveson

Perhaps Lord Leveson did read what we said, and understood it well enough to steer as wide a course round the subject as he possibly could. If so, that was certainly not our intention.

Update 02/12/2012: Andrew Gilligan has an excellent critique of Leveson’s recommendations in The Sunday Telegraph. He is particularly scathing about the risks attending his lordship’s enthusiasm for allowing third party complaints, which I touched on above, This would, as Gilligan points out, open the way for aggressive lobby groups to make editor’s lives a misery any time they publish reports on some controversial subjects with which they did not agree.

Nov 292012



Am I the only person who’s wondering why the Government has chosen the day when the Leveson Report was published to let Ed Davey launch his energy bill?

Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has obtained a statement from the BBC on what is beginning to be known as ‘28gate’, although ‘BBC-Gate’ would seem to be more user-friendly. The statement is very interesting, but probably not in the way in which the BBC press department intended.

Here it is:

‘There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage. The event certain bloggers have referred to was one in a series of seminars for BBC editors and managers. They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction. They involved external contributors from business, science and academia. Seminars such as this do not set editorial policy. They can over time and along with many other elements help inform our journalism through debate and access to expertise, but the setting of our editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust.

‘The BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal has unanimously upheld this. The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that is necessary for our independent journalism.

‘IBT were one of a range of organisations and different voices the BBC worked with in delivering these seminars. They are no longer involved. The events were considered against our editorial guidelines and raised no issues about impartiality for the BBC or its output.’

In passing, the straw man argument set up in the first paragraph that the BBC is being accused of ‘censoring climate change reporting’ looks like an attempt to avoid the real issues. The accusation is that the BBC has made a false claim that editorial policy on climate change was informed, and presumably underpinned, by a ‘seminar with the best scientific experts’ when it is now clear from Maurizio Morabito’s research (omnologos blog) that nothing could be much further from the truth. They are also being accused in the blogosphere, and now in the MSM too, of expending a lot of time and money on trying to cover up this fact.

But the most startling assertion in the BBC statement is that the seminar was not intended “to produce programming nor set story direction.” Helen Boaden’s witness statement for the Tribunal hearing does in fact say much the same thing, but goes on to identify output that the seminar did influence, including Dr Ian Stewart’s notorious three part hatchet job on climate sceptics, Earth: The Climate Wars.

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  A great deal of time has been spent drafting a witness statement for the Leveson Inquiry which has now been published as part of the official record of proceedings. It is a joint effort over the signatures of Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and myself and we are grateful to the Inquiry for giving a couple of climate sceptics a fair hearing, something that experience has taught us not to expect.

The submission can be found here in the MS Word version submitted to the Inquiry, with all the links working, and here at the Inquiry website in a PDF version without live hyperlinks produced by the Inquiry. I have leveson2requested that the official version should be reformatted to included the links as their absence is confusing to readers and gives the impression that we have failed to reference important documents that we have quoted from.

This submission is, necessarily, a long document as its purpose is to provide evidence to a judicial inquiry chaired by a law lord and administered by a team of lawyers. So at an early stage it was agreed between us that there was a lesser risk in being long than in failing to be thorough. After all, the submission’s intended audience are primarily people accustomed to reading long and complicated documents presenting evidence.

That said, our efforts seem to have received some praise in comments at Bishop Hill and I was interested to note that several people reckoned that there was material for a book in the subject matter we covered. That was my feeling too, and one of the reasons the submission took so long to write was the constant need to select things to leave out so that the document didn’t become unmanageably long. Many of these topics were quite interesting and could bear further exploration.

I apologise for the number of typos that have survived into the finished text. This is in spite of proof reading by Andrew, my wife, and myself. It’s strange how often commenters on blogs focus on such shortcomings in a document rather than its content. And funnier still that when one tries to enlist such people as voluntary copy editors there never seem to be any takers!

Jun 172012

(This post by Geoff Chambers may be a harbinger of better things to come. I certainly hope so. TonyN)

This dialogue was a result of contact I made with Adam Corner following an article by Ben Pile at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html about some research into scepticism which Corner had conducted at Cardiff University, and his article discussing the research at Guardian Environment. (There was a similar thread later at http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2012/5/28/the-logic-at-yale.html concerning the Kahan research which Corner refers to below)

Comments were pretty brutal, and Adam suggested that he would be willing to continue the conversation if the tone was moderated. We exchanged a few emails discussing my views on this kind of research, and Adam suggested writing a Q&A session for his blog http://talkingclimate.org/

This article is being published simultaneously on both blogs – a world first, I believe.

There is a growing body of academic literature that seeks to understand, explain – and even overcome – climate change scepticism. But is it getting to grips with scepticism, or missing the point? In this exchange between Adam Corner (Talking Climate and co-author of the UK paper) and Geoff Chambers – (a regular commenter at several climate sceptic blogs), they discuss research on the psychology of scepticism.


In the last few months, two academic papers that make similar arguments about the nature and origins of climate change scepticism have been published. If there is one simple message to take from these two studies, it is that simply providing more information – or turning up the volume on the science – is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change. This is because scepticism about climate change is not primarily caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ of the science but by motivated reasoning processes – rooted in ideological differences – that mean that the ‘same’ evidence is not evaluated in the same way. Would you agree that scepticism about climate change has more to do with political views than an assessment of the science?


Of course not. That would be to admit that my politics was overriding my reasoning capacities! The misunderstanding comes I think from confounding the tiny number of active sceptics, who’ve come to a reasoned conclusion, with the Jeremy Clarkson fans who show up in polls. You’re just not going to catch many of us in a survey of the general population. The “old white conservative male” label is no doubt true for the population at large, and can be easily explained, but it tells you nothing about the nature of reasoned scepticism.

I agree with you that turning up the volume on the science is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change, but not for the reason you give. The more people learn about the science, the more they see how dodgy is the climate science responsible for rising energy prices. One of the results of the Kahan study you refer to was that the more scientifically literate tend to be more sceptical.


What Kahan found was that being scientifically literate increased polarisation – that is, it amplified views on either side – but your instant equation of ‘the science’ with ‘rising energy prices’ illustrates an important point: climate science and climate policy get horribly confused. Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science.

But things like rising energy prices, taxes, regulations, and restrictions on people’s behaviour have become synonymous with ‘climate change’. I believe – based on the available research – that this is why many people are sceptical. The answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions, and so the problem itself is downplayed or rejected.


I think we agree about the interpretation of Kahan. Belief / scepticism about climate change is strongly correlated with political views, but scepticism is also correlated with scientific literacy, though less strongly. This is what you’d expect. Conservatives are naturally suspicious of schemes which raise taxes, while environmentalism, sympathy for the third world, and Al Gore have got concern about climate change firmly identified as a left-wing cause.

I agree that “the answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions” – that is to say they look extremely expensive, and are therefore opposed most fervently by those who pay most taxes.

You say: “Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science”. Renewables like wind and solar are more expensive than fossil fuels. If they ever account for a significant proportion of energy supply, they will cause prices to rise. The only reason for renewables is fear of the supposed danger of CO2, which is the central tenet of the climate science consensus.


I share your concerns about things like rising energy prices – although I don’t agree that renewables are to blame. However, your line of reasoning seems to conform what studies of scepticism are showing: your concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving you to question the ‘supposed danger’ of CO2. That suggests to me that if there were other policy options on the table – that didn’t involve rising energy prices – your doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying science would not be as strong. Would you agree?

There is some evidence that when people who are more sceptical about climate change are presented with other policy options – for example ‘geoengineering’ – their perception of the risks that climate change poses increases. Do you think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’?


No I don’t think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’

I disagree most strongly that my concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving my climate scepticism. My scepticism is based on the same scientific grounds as that of other commenters on sceptic blogs, many of whom hold political opinions radically different from mine. We don’t deny that global temperatures have been rising irregularly for centuries, and that anthropogenic CO2 may be responsible for some of the recent rise.

Where we disagree with the consensus is on the higher estimates of climate sensitivity endorsed by the IPCC and the catastrophic effects which are supposed inevitably to follow.

However, I would agree that our political and cultural backgrounds strongly affect the way we express our scepticism. There are Tea Party types who think global warming is a commie plot to install global government; nimbys who don’t like windfarms; engineers scornful of the mathematical models used to generate temperature projections; scientists and academics fearful for the reputation of their professions; and Tories who don’t like hippy treehuggers. It takes all sorts.

Here are a couple of examples of culturally determined inputs to my own scepticism:

1) I was very impressed by reports by the institute of Forecasting suggesting that ordinary members of the public are often better at long-term forecasting that experts, since, in their ignorance, they tend to assume that things will go on much as before, whereas experts get carried away with every leap and bound on their graphs into predicting extreme outcomes. This appeals to my left-wing egalitarian instincts – an Orwell-type faith in the common sense of the common man, if you like.

2) My earliest research into the question of climate change was conducted in the pages of the Guardian, and I was shocked to see this once liberal broad-minded paper adopting a Pravda-like policy of news filtering and censorship, with George Monbiot, a journalist I’d admired, conducting petty vindictive campaigns against fellow-journalists and, after being the first journalist to acknowledge the seriousness of Climategate, making a Maoist-style confession of his error. I’m not personally the least interested in the science of climate change. I’m very interested in the existence of a rational left-of-centre press.

Unlike most sceptics, I think your project of exploring the socio-cultural roots of scepticism is a valid and interesting one. But I don’t think you’ll do it by getting members of the public to tick boxes on your batteries of yes/no questions.


So the biggest reasons for your scepticism are that you are disillusioned with the media and have, in your own words, an ‘instinct’ that the common man is often more trustworthy and reliable than the so-called ‘experts’? I share these concerns, although I don’t necessarily see how they detract from the seriousness of the underlying problem of climate change and what – on even conservative estimates – the negative effects are likely to be. But your explanation of your scepticism suggests that if proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by sceptics, it will be by addressing social concerns like these, not by shouting the science louder.

So how would you say social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism? Do you think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers?


We’re arguing at cross-purposes here. My observations about the common man and forecasting and the Guardian are NOT the reasons I don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. I’ve offered them as possible contributory factors to my coming to these conclusions – a bit of auto-sociological analysis, if you like – as an antidote to the more common observations about conservative white males not wanting to pay taxes.

If proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by informed sceptics, it will not be by addressing any particular socio-political concerns, but by persuading us that their science is right. In this I’m sure I speak for all sceptical bloggers, but, as I pointed out, we’re a tiny minority among the sceptic population at large, and possibly atypical.

You ask how social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism. Ask the sceptics is the short answer. We reveal an awful lot about ourselves in comments on blogs. Bishop Hill had a self-completion survey once of our demographics (age, sex, educational qualifications and geographical spread). However, I feel such a survey would only be enlightening if it covered activists or engaged participants on both sides of the divide.

Finally, do I think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers? Certainly. Clearing up the misunderstandings as to the meaning of climate scepticism and the motivation of sceptics is the first necessary step in any dialogue.

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