(What follows is a comment which Alex Cull posted on another thread. It is quite extraordinary that an ex-government chief scientific adviser and ex-president of the Royal Society should be capable of thinking like this, and Alex’s final comments is typically sharp.)


Happy New Year, all! Here’s a recent interview you may find of interest – Robyn Williams of the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Science Show talking to Lord May; worth a listen/read, in my opinion. An excerpt (emphases mine): Robyn Williams: So what do you make of someone like Lord Lawson, with whom you sit in the House of Lords, who has for many, many years, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer, a brilliant man, but nonetheless talks about climate change consistently over the years as if it is highly questionable. What do you say to him?

Robert May: And particularly amazing more recently is Andrew Turnbull, who I always thought of as a very sensible person. He was the Cabinet Secretary, a civil servant, not a politician. So his career was taking advice from people who knew more about it than him, and he is right up there as a denier. Polly Toynbee wrote an extraordinarily cruel thing about him. I do find it puzzling, but I do have one perhaps unsound potential explanation. These people are all economists, and more recently I’ve come to learn a little bit more about economics and I realise it is very largely (and I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way, it’s just a statement), it is largely faith-based. It doesn’t have much in the way of testable hypotheses and things. It does have things in the way of simple models but they tend to be grounded on beliefs, and the discussions they have would have been a more familiar in Socrates’ Athens than in today’s scientific colloquium. And so I have some sympathy that just as you may believe in perfect markets or general equilibrium or hidden hands, you could have a belief that the climate can’t do that. That is a charitable explanation. There are less charitable ones, that it ultimately derives from other kinds of motives.

I had a look at columnist Polly Toynbee’s article, which I think he might be referring to; it’s from August last year and about why Britain must resist “Tea Party madness” (where else would it be but in the Guardian?) and it, too, is I think worth a read, from a climate change psychology perspective. She writes:

On matters of fact, those of us who are not scientists can only listen to what scientists say and trust such an overwhelming global consensus.

Now that’s what I call faith.

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 »

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: Continue reading »

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