steve-jonesSteve Jones review of the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science was published while I was out of the country and out of reach of the internet. Since I returned there has been a lot of catching up to  do after a much longer holiday than usual, so as I was ‘a week behind the fair’ so far as the review was concerned anyway, I didn’t do more than glance at a copy online, shudder,  and make a mental note to read it properly when there was plenty of time. As it happened this was fortunate, because the version of the review that the BBC posted on 20th July was not quite the final version.

When I finally downloaded a copy this morning, I found this sad little note on the title page:

On 8 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones’ independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes.
The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones’ intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.


This is what the beginning of the paragraph straddling pages 71-72 looked like before 8th Aug:

The impression of active debate is promoted by prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord Lawson. The BBC still gives space to them to make statements that are not supported by the facts; that (in a February 2011 The Daily Politics show) 95% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, while in fact human activity has been responsible for a 40% rise in concentration, or (a November 2009 Today programme) that volcanoes produce more of the gas than do humans (the balance is a hundred times in the opposite direction).

And this is how it looked this morning:

The impression of active debate is sometimes promoted by statements that are not supported by the facts; that (in a March 2011 The Daily Politics show) 95% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, while in fact human activity has been responsible for a 40% rise in concentration, or (a November 2009 Today programme) that volcanoes produce more of the gas than do humans (the balance is a hundred times in the opposite direction).

One can well understand why Lords Lawson and Monckton would have been a bit miffed. I sincerely hope that someone at the BBC Trust had the grace to blush and apologise, but the ‘clarification’ they’ve provided sounds rather graceless and grudging. Perhaps its a bit difficult to face up to the fact that you’ve published a review of accuracy costing £140,000 which is not only inaccurate but probably libellous too.

Being the slowest site with the news in the whole of the blogosphere can occasionally have its advantages. Apart from the forgoing, which seemed to require an immediate airing, I’ll be posting again later today, or tomorrow, about Professor Jones extraordinary opus. So long after the event much has been said about this document, but there are quite a few things that haven’t been said yet that certainly still need saying. And I fear that there may need to be a bit more ‘clarification’. Accuracy just doesn’t seem to be Professor Jones’ thing.

UPDATE: 21/08/2011

Andrew Montford at Bishop Hill has followed the twists and turns of this story a bit further here and unearthed some other problems.

Last month, the BBC’s Richard Black posted a story that looks very much like an attempt to rehabilitate Phil Jones, the University of East Anglia scientist at the centre of the Climategate scandal. The report’s rather surprising headline was Global warming since 1995 ‘now significant’, and looking at the context of this claim is quite revealing.

To begin with, any pretence that this might be an impartial take on a science story is immediately dispelled by using an obviously photoshoped propaganda image at the top of the page:


Evidently climate sceptics are the kind of vandals who scrawl slogans on pristine whitewashed walls, which quite soon are obliterated by rising sea levels or floods caused by global warming of course and symbolising the relentless march of victorious scientific research. (The more observant among us may notice that the water level is, in fact, falling not rising, but this is a climate story so that probably doesn’t matter.)

With sceptics firmly in the BBC’s sights, the caption to the image reads: Phil Jones’s comments last year have become a touchstone for climate “sceptics”. This of course omits to mention that “sceptics” were pointing out that the global warming trend had run out of steam long before Jones’ admission, or to consider why a supposed expert on such things should have preferred to avoid public endorsement of this important, but very inconvenient, piece of information prior to the Climategate scandal.

In fact it was an article posing the question Has Global Warming Stopped? written by Dr David Whitehouse for the New Statesman that probably first put the matter on the public agenda.

The substance of Richard Black’s story is simple enough, and he sets it out in the first paragraph:

Climate warming since 1995 is now statistically significant, according to Phil Jones, the UK scientist targeted in the “ClimateGate” affair.

This claim is surprising in two ways. The lack of warming in recent years has become common ground between warmists and sceptics, and Black blatantly attempts to win sympathy for the man at the centre of a major scientific scandal by portraying him as a victim who has been ‘targeted’.

The BBC report continues:


Last year, he [Phil Jones] told BBC News that post-1995 warming was not significant a statement still seen on blogs critical of the idea of man-made climate change.

And later in the report, just in case the message hadn’t got through:

Professor Jones’ previous comment, from a BBC interview in February 2010, is routinely quoted – erroneously – as demonstration that the Earth’s surface temperature is not rising.

So blogs are to be condemned for not anticipating that Jones would amend his opinion in June 2011? How very strange!

Jones’ new claim is that by taking into account the data for 2010, a warming trend can now be found that meets the 95% confidence threshold indicating that it is not down to chance. But so far as I can see, he has not published this claim in a peer-reviewed journal, but has simply told the BBC who, presumably, can be relied on to headline it without giving any consideration to whether the information is reliable.

Dr David Whitehouse, a one time BBC science correspondent and editor, has an excellent analysis of the rather tendentious reasoning that underlies Jones claim at the Global Warming Policy Foundation in which he says:

I look forward to another BBC News item, dated mid January 2012, based on data to 2011, whose headline is, Global Warming since 1995 ‘now not significant (again).’


He also points out that a recent paper by Kaufman et al (2011), published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms yet again what many peer reviewed papers have already said, that there has been a warming standstill since 1998, something that Black’s article failed to mention, preferring to dwelling on the lack of warming if the reference date is three years earlier. It would be interesting to know whether he and Jones discussed this.

If we look at the Climategate correspondence, we find that the climate research community is very concerned about the global warming standstill, and particularly about the public finding out what is happening.

Back in October 2009 there is an email from Narasimha D. Rao of Stanford University to Stephen Schneider headed BBC U-Turn on climate.


You may be aware of this already. Paul Hudson, BBC’s reporter on climate change, on Friday wrote that there’s been no warming since 1998, and that pacific oscillations will force cooling for the next 20-30 years. It is not outrageously biased in presentation as are other skeptics’ views.



BBC has significant influence on public opinion outside the US.

Do you think this merits an op-ed response in the BBC from a scientist?



Evidently in the strangely distorted world of climate science, reporting something that is true, but inconvenient, is enough to get the reporter lumped in with ‘other sceptics’. It’s true that the prediction about 20-30 years of cooling came from Professor Don Easterbrook, who is openly sceptical about AGW but, as we shall see, the temperature standstill since the 1990’s did not come as news to the Climategate scientists. It is also rather startling that Rao is under the impression that if climate researchers choose to debunk a report at the BBC they have only to ask for space in which to do so.

Schneider was not slow to alert the rest of the climate community to Hudson’s heresy with a supremely arrogant sneer:

Hi all. Any of you want to explain decadal natural variability and signal to noise and sampling errors to this new “IPCC Lead Author” from the BBC?


And presently, Michael Mann added his take on the situation:

Michael Mann wrote:

extremely disappointing to see something like this appear on BBC. its particularly odd, since climate is usually Richard Black’s beat at BBC (and he does a great job). from what I can tell, this guy was formerly a weather person at the Met Office.

We may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here?



There is also Kevin Trenberth’s dramatic, and now infamous, contribution:

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.

Then Tom Wigley, Jones predecessor as director of the CRU, suggests some ideas for damage limitation:

At the risk of overload, here are some notes of mine on the recent lack of warming. I look at this in two ways. The first is to look at the difference between the observed and expected anthropogenic trend relative to the pdf for unforced variability. The second is to remove ENSO, volcanoes and TSI variations from the observed data.

Both methods show that what we are seeing is not unusual. The second method leaves a significant warming over the past decade.

These sums complement Kevin’s energy work.

Kevin says … “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”. I do not agree with this.


Phil Jones seems not to have contributed to the discussion at all, although he was copied in on it, and he was clearly aware that there had indeed been a global warming standstill for some time.

In July 2005 he had written to John Christy:

This is from an Australian at BMRC (not Neville Nicholls). It began from the attached article. What an idiot. The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.


This email ends:

As you know, I’m not political. If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences. This isn’t being political, it is being selfish.


Of course there can be arguments as to whether there has been a global warming standstill since 1995 or 1998, but there can be no argument that there has been a global warming standstill, although Blacks report gives no hint of this. Nor can there be any doubt that the most influential researchers on the climate scene were well aware of the fact long before Hudson dropped his bombshell just before the Climategate story broke or Jones came clean in his 2010 BBC interview during the aftermath.

Towards the end of the report, Black says:

Shortly before the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Phil Jones found himself at the centre of the affair that came to be known as “ClimateGate”, which saw the release of more than 1,000 emails taken from a CRU server.

Critics alleged the emails showed CRU scientists and others attempting to subvert the usual processes of science, and of manipulating data in order to paint an unfounded picture of globally rising temperatures.

Subsequent enquiries found the scientists and their institutions did fall short of best practice in areas such as routine use of professional statisticians and response to Freedom of Information requests, but found no case to answer on the charges of manipulation.

Since then, nothing has emerged through mainstream science to challenge the IPCC’s basic picture of a world warming through greenhouse gas emissions.

Global warming since 1995 ‘now significant’


There are two points here. Black acknowledges that Jones and his colleagues were criticised for not involving professional statisticians in their work, which of course depends heavily on statistical analysis. Therefore isn’t it rather strange that the BBC should be prepared to give Jones’ claim about a statistically significant rise in temperature when this research has apparently not even been peer reviewed let alone signed off by a professional statistician. And is it really fair-minded to say that nothing has emerged since Climategate to challenge the mainstream on global warming as exemplified by the IPCC? The window that the Climategate emails has provided on the characters, ethics, state of mind, competence and behaviour of top climate scientists should be enough to make anyone cautious about what they are telling the rest of us.


As if deconstructing the Codebatemmittee on Climate Change (CCC) singlehanded wasn’t enough to keep us busy, Alex Cull and I have just completed the transcription of the 98-minute Guardian Climategate Debate held on July 14th last year. It can be found here.

There were many detailed and interesting accounts of the debate on the net, including those by Alex and Robin Guenier here, Maurizio Morabito here, and Atomic Hairdryer here.

In addition to the audio recording of the debate, the Guardian put up a five minute video extract, and an report by  Damian Carrington here, in which he said:

Something remarkable happened last night in the polarised world of "warmists" versus "sceptics": a candid but not rancorous public debate… to my knowledge, never before have all sides of this frequently poisonous debate shared a stage. The outcome was illuminating.

and asked:

Will the friendliness that broke out at the Guardian debate prove a mere holiday romance? Or will it be the start of a new way of conducting and communicating the science, especially online, that will shape how the world lives for centuries, as demanded by many? I’m cautiously optimistic.

A year on, it’s safe to say that the cautious optimism of the Guardian’s environment editor was misplaced. While a small number of scientists, led by Judith Curry, have accepted discussion with sceptics, the mainstream media haven’t budged an inch, while the government moves to ever more extreme positions, egged on by the Greenpeace/IPCC complex of government-financed non-governmental organisations, paid to lobby governments to persuade them to do what governments want to do anyway.

I don’t intend to analyse the debate. The point of our transcription is to enable everyone to make up their own mind. The main impression I took away from the transcription was that no true debate took place, which makes me wonder whether a debate is even possible, or could ever have the desired result of opening up discussion of the numerous weaknesses in the warmist case – weaknesses which are currently known only to a tiny number of sceptics, and to a slightly larger number of warmist activists who monitor sceptic activity.

I do invite anyone who is interested in the question of how to “win” the argument to read the transcript, looking at the structure of the debate, as well as the content, and ask themselves, how could the debate have been “won”? How could anyone make a well-constructed case, given the constraints of time and circumstance?

To show what I mean, here is just one example of the way the argument was never engaged:

Continue reading »

Jul 082011

judge At lunchtime today, the government announced that there will be a full judge-led inquiry into the News of the World scandal and witnesses will give evidence on oath.

This tale of telephone tapping and copper bribing is huge in the UK at the moment, and seems likely to remain so for some time to come partly, or even mainly I suspect, because there is nothing the media like better than writing about themselves. Looking at the affair objectively, it is very difficult to see what makes this story quite so important.

Yes, there are people like the Dowlers, and the families of servicemen who have died on active service, who have suffered appallingly and quite unnecessarily at the hands of unscrupulous journalists, but although I have the utmost sympathy for them, what’s new about that? Most of those who have had their phones hacked are celebrities who have put themselves in harm’s way by courting publicity in the course of realising their ambitions. I find the sight of the ludicrous Lord ‘Two Jags’ Prescott huffing and and puffing and quivering and whingeing about his privacy being invaded quite revolting.

Now that the acceptance – as though we have not always known it – that our politicians, of all political parties, have been grovelling to a ruthless press baron for decades in order to gain his support is adding spice and legs to this story. The Andy Coulson connection has brought the scandal to the doors of Downing Street itself, and no doubt David Cameron’s prestige will suffer some damage as a result, but in a month or two it is not likely to merit more than a footnote.

No one has been killed. International relations have not been thrown into chaos. If the reputation of British tabloid journalists and politicians will be somewhat dented, then they were pretty battered already. Public policy, and the decisions that affect all our lives, have not been and will not be impacted in any way.

In the long term there may be, for a while, some improvement in the conduct of the press. It may even be that News International will, briefly, have rather less influence on political life here, but so long as the opportunities and the rewards for hacks and politicians remain the same, there will be those who will continue to behave disreputably, and it is most unlikely that any kind of inquiry, however rigorous,  will come up with a reliable way of preventing this.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this whole grubby affair lies in the alacrity with which a quasi-judicial investigation has been set up when politicians are seeking to protect their own interests. All those involved face being dragged before a judge and cross-examined under oath about their motivation and behaviour. There will no doubt be further casualties among the foot soldiers, but those at the top who are just far enough removed from the action will be able to posture and boast, ‘We called for an enquiry and have got to the bottom of this’.

Contrast all that is dominating the headlines at the moment with what happened in November 2009. Then, prima face evidence came to light that scientists, on both sides of the Atlantic, and with truly global influence on public policy, had been behaving over the whole of the last ways that gave grave cause for the gravest concern. Was any serious consideration given to a judge led inquiry with those involved giving evidence under oath? Oh dear me no! But then it wasn’t in the interests of politicians or the press to really find out what had been going on, was it?

Jun 272011

One of the things that I’ve noticed about the climate debate is that, whereas sceptics tend to have a sense of humour – and particularly an appreciation of the absurd and the ridiculous – that is something which is much harder to find among warmists. The following trenchant little diatribe was published in the Sunday Times in November 2009, just before Climategate and the Copenhagen climate summit fiasco hit the headlines. I apologise to any sensitive dog-lovers who stumble across this post:

As someone who yearns to live a green, ethical life, I wish these climate change experts would agree uRodLiddlepon a common strategy. Last week we were told to help the environment by eating dogs, but I scarcely had time to saute a spaniel before Lord Stem announced that we should give up meat altogether.

That’s all very well- but I have three dalmatians and a golden retriever in the freezer, so what am I meant to do? I’m not even sure what bin to put them in. They’ll probably end up as landfill, and that’s not going to help anyone, is it? Lord Stem thinks meat is bad because the animals we eat tend to be extremely flatulent. Well, sure, but has he been out for a curry with John Prescott? One rogan josh and that’s both icecaps gone. The cows, by comparison, are nowt.

Meanwhile, the climate-change lobby has been urged to be a little less sensationalist (“Eat dogs or all the polar bears will die!”) in its apocalyptic warnings, so as to get the message across a little better. And what is the message? Another report, from last week: global temperatures have been dropping since 1998 and are expected to do so fall quite a bit yet. Hold the fricassee of poodle for a while, then, and hold the mung-bean risotto.

Sadly, the original is now behind Rupert Murdoch’s pay wall.



In the post HEL P! Huhne and £1 per week cost of decarbonisation TonyN mentions an important 360-page document from the Committee on Climate Change: “The Fourth Carbon Budget: Reducing emissions through the 2020s.” After a well-publicised internal struggle between the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change which even the BBC could not ignore, see here the government accepted the CCC report and agreed to tighten up carbon emissions policy until 2027, with unknown, and probably unknowable effects on the economy for decades to come.

TonyN reports with amazement that the official estimate of the cost of their new targets is nowhere to be found in the document upon which the decision was based. Alex Cull found the probable source of the government’s vague estimates of cost in another document from the same body: “The Renewable Energy Review“. See here.

Both these documents, and much else, can be found on the Committee’s website at . It is also worth looking at the DECC press release dealing with Chris Huhne’s announcement of the new carbon budget in parliament. Continue reading »




The following comment from JunkkMale originally appeared on the What the hell are we doing to out children? thread. Given the dramatic news it contains, it seems to deserve a thread of its own. Also, with the suggestion from an influential government advisor that global warming should now be removed from the national curriculum and schools should be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to deal with the subject, it would seem that JunkkMale’s concerns are still very much on the agenda. In fact that they were very much in advance of their time.

I want to make it quite clear that the discussion here is not to be about private education versus state education. The issues that made the old thread so successful, and that I hope will be given more attention here, do not concern where children are taught, but what and how they are taught, with particular attention to the extent to which political expediency and fashion should influence education, if at all.

Seems longer.

It was only back in October of last year that a simple question inspired a thread post of mine that was kindly picked up and elevated by the site owner to a thread of its own.

Beyond the exchanges here, much has happened in the area of kids’ education; sadly little I can honestly say that is too encouraging.

But there does seem to be a sense of good folk no longer being too busy, or easily dismissed into doing nothing. Certainly complemented by many with a lot to say!

However the struggle is real, frustrating and exhausting. Despite the awesome power and opportunities presented by the internet, more traditional mechanisms of policy and information seem still to thrive and dominate.

One thing in particular I have noticed (not least from personal experience) is the removal of accountability. And with that, from Minister to public media, the means of check and balance have been seriously eroded.

I still await answers to questions on education claims made by Philip Hammond and Alistair Darling, and have seen challenges to claims made in print and broadcast either ignored or, in two cases, share the same ‘considered’ reply that the input was noted but not felt enough to act upon. Plus, of course, still no word at all from the AQA or the publishers, despite repeated requests. And senior state educationalists on how, precisely, a child who knows their science can rationalise facts with dogma.

Words are cheap. Actions count more.

I have that small question to thank for one my family has now taken.

It alerted me to take a greater interest in my sons’ education, from the teaching methods to the impositions of curricula from ‘on high’, to woefully poor exam questions that not only are unanswerable but also point to a very skewed attitude on the whole topic of state education.

The secondary school my boys are at was and is a good one. I believe the staff do their best with what they have got. And I have been happy to try and work with them to help improve matters.

But some things are too important to risk. And time, to allow the grinding mechanisms of public sector self-assessment to become more constructively critical, much less change, is a window too small to let pass because of any social idealism.

In September my two sons start at an independent school; one where, from the head down, the dedication is to getting the kids a great education in the basics so that, when the time is right, they have the necessary building blocks to make their own decisions, as well and as objectively informed as we can make them.

It took a lot of soul-searching, and a major amount of family budget re-juggling, but I hope it will be worth it.

This thread need not expire at all, as the education of all our kids is too vital to let any compromise become the norm by simply getting tolerated, but I’d like to thank all here who have shared my journey thus far, and helped in getting me to come to the only course I think I could rationally make.

I’ve moved some comments here from the old thread to this one.

May 232011

Let’s get something absolutely straight about the climate debate, and the government propaganda that fuels it. Britain’s  Climate Change Act 2008 has not made us the world leader in Co2 reduction legislation. There  cannot be a leader in a one horse race. In a one horse race, there is no one to lead. With a field of one, there is no race in any real meaning of the term. Other competitors have failed to show up on the starting line.

Last week the UK government announced carbon reduction targets for the period 2023-27, in accordance with requirements set out in the Climate Change Act 2008. At the time that this extraordinary piece of legislation was going through parliament, we were repeatedly told that it would make us the world leader in de-carbonisation and the battle against climate change. There may have been some justification for such a claim then, but there is absolutely no justification now. The chaotic collapse of the Copenhagen summit, and the acceptance at Cancun that no global agreement on emission control is even in sight, have changed ‘the environmental’ landscape completely, and seemingly irreversibly.

Yet the government, and of course the rest of the media who regurgitate its press releases without a thought, are still trumpeting the old mantra, except that the tense has changed. No longer are we to become the world leaders, but according to Roger Harrabin’s BBC report on the new carbon budgets this is a “world leading agreement …”. Leading who?  Who is following? Continue reading »

May 162011

While flicking through the Sunday papers yesterday, this headline caught my eye:

Cameron has the makings of a truly great prime minister

and I wondered how anyone could be seriously making such a claim at this time.

The author of the think-piece was Peter Oborne, sometime editor of the Spectator and now a columnist on the Daily Mail, so there could be little doubt about where the author was coming from politically. But in the preamble to his contention, there was an interesting canter through post-war political history.

There have only been two great prime ministers since the Second World War: Attlee and Thatcher. Attlee achieved greatness because in barely five years he established the basis of postwar Britain: the National Health Service, a universal welfare state and a managed economy – all funded by massive personal and corporate taxation.

Attlee’s vision was so powerful that for three decades all prime ministers, whether Conservative or Labour, accepted his fundamental insights about social and financial management. By the mid-1970s, however, it had failed. Not until 1979, and the emergence of Margaret Thatcher, did Britain discover a leader capable of challenging the vicious cycle of decline.

Like Clem Attlee, Thatcher redefined the British state. By cutting taxes, taming the trade unions, and encouraging the market, she unleashed tremendous productive forces. Like Clem Attlee, her vision was so powerful that all prime ministers since have found it hard to escape from her shadow. But the Thatcher settlement could not last forever: by the time Gordon Brown was evicted from office exactly one year ago, the British state was facing a crisis of comparable’ magnitude to the 1970s.

I couldn’t find much to quarrel with there, except that one very important word seemed to be missing: nationalisation. Continue reading »

Last Monday evening, BBC2 broadcast a Horizon programme with the title Science Under Attack. Both the title and the content of the programme were deeply misleading but, no doubt unintentionally, it may reveal far more about the scientific establishments confused and panic-stricken reaction to the onslaught of criticism that it has witnessed since the Climategate scandal broke just over a year ago than either its illustrious presenter or the programme makers realise or intended.

The white knight who galloped to the rescue of our beleaguered ‘community of climate scientists’ (the presenter’s words) was Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist and the newly appointed president of the Royal Society. His rather blokeish, seemingly modest, but relentlessly confident and avuncular style in front of the camera, together with a gift for appearing to explain complex issues in a fair-minded and easily digestible way, were more than enough to lull any audience into a complacent acceptance of anything he might have to say. So what went wrong? Continue reading »

© 2011 Harmless Sky Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha