Aug 232011

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Before saying any more about Professor Steve Jones’ BBC Trust Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of the BBC’s Coverage of Science, I should probably own up to not having read the whole report. It runs to over a hundred pages, much of which deals with areas of science that I am not particularly interested in. More importantly perhaps, by the time I had read the one part of the report that considers issues I am very familiar with, I had doubts as to whether the rest was likely to be worth reading.

There are a few basic requirements for any kind of review: objectivity, accuracy, breadth of outlook, the willingness to consider even unwelcome material, clarity and precision when writing up the findings. All of these are essential if the end product is to have any kind of credibility, and all of these are lacking in the parts of the Professor Jones’ work that I have examined.

Only a fairly small section of this report less than ten pages focuses specifically on climate change, although this subject seems to be the elephant in the room throughout the introductory sections, which I have only skimmed through. Climate change is, without question, the most important, the most controversial, and most testing scientific issue that the BBC has had to report during the last decade. One might have expected that rather more space would have been devoted to detailed consideration of such an important topic.

If this rather bulky submission wasn’t enough to inflict on readers, there is also an appendix of similar length presenting Imperial College London’s Content Analysis of BBC the BBC’s Science Coverage. This is a terrifyingly dry looking document, but I did catch sight of a familiar name on the title page.

One of the author’s of this paper is Alice Bell, a specialist in the sociology or education and science communication at Imperial who I once had a very minor run-in with on her blog in connection with the ‘Bedtime Story’ climate scare advertising campaign launched by DECC in the run-up to the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. She had said, in passing, ‘I am in no way a climate change sceptic, in fact I find such people a bit worrying’. I suggested to her that I found social scientists who categorise ‘people’ as ‘a bit worrying’ because of a single opinion they hold with which you disagree might, just possibly, be ‘a bit worrying’ themselves. The point seemed to be lost on her. (Update: Alex Cull has an excellent comment about the Context Report and Alice Bell here.

Anyway, when I first had a look at Professor Jones’ report I did the obvious thing and turned straight to the part that deals with the submission that Andrew Montford and I made to his review. This is what he has to say about it:

A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti?global?warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.

There are just a few things about this that I find very surprising.

I’ve never been described, as ‘active in the anti?global?warming movement’ before, and I don’t suppose Andrew has either. Does Professor Jones really think that we spend our time trying to stave off anthropogenic climate change along with all those sanctimonious politicians and green activists whose names litter the pages of the Guardian? Is that really what Professor Jones intended to say? Is that really what he means, or does he mean the exact opposite of what he has said. God knows! but I understand that this report cost the BBC £140,000, nearly half of which went on Professor Jones’ fee. The least that licence payers might expect for that kind of money is a review author who can write clear English.

This may sound like a quibble, but Professor Jones seems to have a very real problem with semantics which I’ll come back to and that is a severe handicap for anyone who is trying to write a review that is intended to be taken seriously.

Then, can anyone explain to me why Andrew and I might choose to write about the global temperature record to a geneticist who is conducting a review of journalism for a broadcaster? Apparently Professor Jones thinks that is what we should have done. And he also seems to think that because we didn’t do this, we must think that the debate about the science of climate change is over. That is just plain silly.

In fact we wrote to Professor Jones providing evidence, and I do mean evidence, that the BBC’s news gathering operation had become far too close to environmental activism and environmental activists to be able to report climate change impartially or accurately (here). That criticism is clearly material to his report, and his failure to address the issues we raised says far more about the rigour with which he has conducted his review than it does about our views on the science of climate change, which are in any case irrelevant to his review. I was under the impression that scientists are people who gather and analyse all the available evidence before drawing a conclusion, but of course we are talking about climate science here and the normal practices of science have long since been suspended for fear of anyone reaching the ‘wrong’ conclusion.

The seminar that Professor Jones mentions was organised by the BBC’s Environment Analyst with the help of an environmentalist called Joe Smith and a self-proclaimed environmental lobby group. The stated purpose was to inform senior BBC staff of the current state of scientific knowledge concerning climate change in order to shape editorial policy on the extent to which sceptical views should be represented in science coverage. One might reasonably expect that this would be just the kind of thing that a review of the accuracy and impartiality of science coverage by the BBC would be concerned with.

The guests who were invited to brief the BBC on this very important subject at a time when editorial policy was coalescing, were described as the ‘best scientific experts’, but in fact seem to have been activists drawn from the ranks of non governmental organisations. I say ‘seem to have been’ because the BBC will not reveal who the experts were in spite of repeated requests to do so. In fact they are at present spending licence payers money on the legal costs of defending a case before the Information Tribunal in an attempt to avoid being made to disclose the names of the attendees. Might one ask whether an apparent need to keep such information secret throws any light on the accuracy and impartiality of the Corporation’s science coverage? Is it just possible that this is a subject that a conscientious and objective author conducting a review of such matters might at least take an interest in?

Evidently Professor Jones is not conducting that kind of review.

But he does mention the seminar in the paragraph quoted above and also, apparently, again in an earlier paragraph on page 67 when he extols what he evidently considers to be a conscientious and virtuous way in which the BBC has formulated editorial policy on climate change. He says ‘There have been seminars with high-profile speakers … ’, so there is no question of his ignoring the relevance of where, and from whom, the BBC has received advice on climate science.

The public certainly have a right to know what scientific advice the national broadcaster has relied on when determining how it should report what is undoubtedly one of the most important topics of our age. Professor Jones has had the opportunity to clear this matter up once and for all in his report, and it is fair and reasonable to ask why he has chosen not to do so, and thereby spare the BBC further embarrassment. The answer may be that had he not dodged the issue, then he would have had to reveal a most unattractive underbelly of influence and manipulation that afflicts the impartial and accurate reporting of this subject within the BBC. But surely that is exactly what a proper review of the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science would be expected to do, isn’t it?

On top of all this, Professor Jones has failed even to report accurately the only aspect of what we said that he deigns to mention. According to him, our submission includes “a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University”. But this is quite untrue. We merely provided evidence, in the form of a letter from the BBC Trust, that Roger Harrabin had been carrying out his duties as co-director of the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme (CMEP) as part of his duties at the BBC. That was a cut-and-dried fact that required no discussion, ‘lengthy’ or other wise, and the question of his ‘freelancing’ is not even raised.

Nor did we suggest that Roger Harrabin’s activities were part of a ‘programme at Cambridge University’. Indeed we provided evidence, in the form of reply to a Freedom of Information request, that Harrabin had made a spurious claim that CMEP operated under the auspices of Wolfson College.

The BBC’s chosen author of this review may prefer to ignore what we told him and that’s up to him of course but untruthfully misrepresenting what we set out clearly and with full references is inexcusable. Our submission was presented in terms that could not possibly be misunderstood. As I have noted here, the BBC Trust has already had to publish one embarrassing retraction as a result of Professor Jones making a false claim about Lords Monckton and Lawson. I wonder how many more may become necessary if what we have seen so far is representative of the standard of Professor Jones’ work.

On a more general but still significant point, there is Professor Jones’ failure to mention either of our blogs, or even that we are bloggers. Those readers who have followed this very strange saga from the beginning, when we wrote to the BBC Trust and suggested that we should make a submission, will know that this was done specifically in our role as bloggers. We pointed out that our bogs had not only carried heavy criticism of the BBC’s partisan reporting of the climate debate, but that some of these stories had fed into the main stream media. We made it very clear that we were making a submission as part of the new citizen’s journalism movement that is increasingly competing successfully with the old mainstream media for hearts, minds, credibility, and public attention.

Not mentioning the blogs may just be mean-spirited and ungracious, but it is probably also an example of the paranoid fear that many high profile scientists who seek to defend the sacred flame of global warming alarmism have about the general public gaining access to sources of information, or views that challenge their own beliefs, over which they have no control. This always raises the question, ‘If your evidence is so utterly convincing, and sceptics are such a load of ignorant morons, what have you got to worry about?’ In the context of a review of the way in which one of the world’s most influential opinion formers with a budget that runs into billions of pounds communicates science which determines a range of pubic policies that have a significant and increasing impact on all our lives, this is indeed strange. What’s to be afraid of about a couple of blogers?

Following on from this, I notice that Professor Jones has, where he wishes to substantiate some of his own claims, provided references with links to documents and other source material. I suppose that it isn’t really surprising that there is no link to our submission, but on the other hand, if it really was demonstrably tripe as his remarks suggest, then surely that would aid his case considerably.

Perhaps the most interesting part of what Professor Jones has to say comes from reading between the lines. He mentions the 2006 seminar twice in his report. However he does not confirm that the participants who briefed the BBC top brass on climate change at a vital time when editorial policy on this immensely important topic was being formed, were in fact ‘the best scientific experts’, as the BBC has previously  claimed, rather than environmental activists, as an eyewitness account and other circumstantial evidence suggests. Had he done so, this might have laid the matter to rest, but instead he has preferred to dismiss the matter. Why would he not clasp such a perfect opportunity to set the record straight?

Can there be a greater irony than an organisation such as the BBC, which owes its exalted place in the media firmament to its reputation for accurate and impartial reporting, has commissioned a report on the impartiality and accuracy of its science coverage from an academic who seems to be quite incapable of either accuracy or impartiality when dealing with the subject he has been asked to review.

One might also wonder whether this choice was entirely fortuitous, of whether the BBC Trust really intended to place this so-called Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of the BBC’s Coverage of Science in what they thought would prove to be a safe pair of hands. If so they have betrayed their duty as guardians of the BBC’s integrity, and that is something that deserves inquiry at a higher level, perhaps by a parliamentary select committee.

_______________________________

Update 23rd August 2011, 16:20

I blush to admit that commenter ‘Q’ has caught me out not doing my homework properly; here. I was far too quick to dismiss Imperial College’s Content Analysis of BBC the BBC’s Science Coverage, which seems to be a document with hidden depths, and I’m not sure I have been fair to Alice Bell either, for which I apologise. The link to a brief, but magisterial, critique of the BBC Review that he provides is well worth following.

49 Responses to “The Jones Review: reading between the lines”

  1. Alice Bell (who you say helped with the report’s Appendix) @alicebell tweeted on 27 July:

    Seriously good editorial in @ResFortnight about the BBC Trust review on science reporting http://bit.ly/rbd7b4

    Perhaps surprisingly, the link to the Research Fortnight provides an article that is fairly critical of the BBC and it’s reaction to the report. Here is how it ends:

    Nowhere in the recommendations are there any measures to help or to encourage journalists to question, critique, or challenge what scientists are telling them. One group, however, will not be too concerned. The BBC’s proposals are likely to be welcomed by university PR offices. The whole point of university research communications is to ensure that a new discovery or novel finding is communicated in the media without being challenged or questioned.

    [TonyN says: Thanks Q, that’s a must-read and I’ll include a link in a post presently. The source, and the intended audience, is as significant as the devastating critique]

  2. I wrote to the BBC Trust complaining about Jones’s use of the term “denier” in his report. I argued that this use of an inaccurate and insulting term showed that Jones was incapable of writing a report on impartiality, and that as a result the Trust should have rejected his report.

    The reply I received contained this:

    I note that you are offended that Professor Jones uses the term “denier” to describe a “sceptic”. However, within the report Professor Jones does clarify his use of the term “denier” or “denialist” as different from that of a “sceptic”. His report says that denialism is “the use of rhetoric to give the appearance of debate” and that “this is not the same as scepticism, for a sceptic is willing to change his mind when provided with evidence. A denialist is not.”

    I have followed the debate on climate change for a number of years, and can honestly say that I am unaware of anyone (on the sceptic side of the debate) who fits that description. It is beyond parody for Jones to characterise those who complain of bias in this way in a report on impartiality.

    If any person named in the report thinks that this paragraph indicates that Jones is describing them as a person who is only pretending to debate and is unwilling to change his mind when confronted with the evidence, then they have been libeled and should consult their lawyers.

  3. Excellent piece. However, there are a few distracting grammatical / editing errors in the copy that a careful reader will be able to fix..

    [TonyN says: Thanks! My wife wasn’t around to read my copy this morning. It should look a bit better now.]

  4. Patrick Hadley:

    You are right in every particular I think, perhaps with the exception of the last. For the accusation of climate denial to be actionable I think it would be necessary to name names, but I certainly share your feelings. I wonder if the ‘clarification’ that was the subject of my last post resulted from a threat of legal action. It would seem quite possible.

  5. Patrick Hadley,

    You write ” I have followed the debate on climate change for a number of years, and can honestly say that I am unaware of anyone (on the sceptic side of the debate) who fits that description.”

    I would have replaced “fits” with ” doesn’t fit” ! But that’s just me.

    But you obviously know better. So can you give some examples of the cases you have in mind? That is, where “sceptics” have changed their minds when presented with the correct evidence.

  6. Patrick Hadley #2
    The communication you received from the BBC is quite typical of the attitude of defenders of the Consensus. It can be summarised:
    “A sceptic is someone who disgrees with me (because he hasn’t seen, or hasn’t understood, the evidence). If he refuses to change his mind after I’ve explained, he’s a denier”.
    A sceptic who persists in his scepticism after he’s been shown that it’s unfounded is like a sinner who persists in his sin. We are to be cast into the outer darkness.

    TonyN
    I understand that you haven’t read the whole report. It’s difficult to do so calmly. The section entitled “Man-made global warming: a microcosm of “false balance”?” (pp66-72) is a monument of partiality.
    It comes straight after a discussion of astrology and herbal medicines, and opens with a paragraph which states:

    A belief in alternative medicine or in astrology and a fear of vaccines or of GM food are symptoms of a deep mistrust in conventional wisdom…However, mistrust can harden into denial… [T]he media… face the danger of being trapped into false balance; into giving equal coverage to the views of a determined but deluded minority and to those of a united but less insistent majority. Nowhere is the struggle to find the correct position better seen than in the issue of global warming.

    The second paragraph mentions:

    an organised response by determined climate-change deniers rather than being objective disagreements with particular programmes

    Later, a definition is offered of “…proponents of the idea that global warming is a myth”.

    They, with many others, practise denialism: the use of rhetoric to give the appearance of debate. This is not the same as scepticism, for a sceptic is willing to change his or her mind when provided with evidence. A denialist is not. Many among them see themselves as intellectual martyrs in a war against political correctness and as worthy successors to Galileo. Whatever the claim – AIDS has nothing to do with viruses, the MMR vaccine is unsafe, complex organs could never evolve, or even that the 9/11 disaster was a US government plot – the syndrome has some consistent themes.

    The association of “climate-change deniers” with 9/11 truthers, creationists, and AIDS deniers is utterly gratuitous.
    Five people are mentioned by name in this section: Newbery, Montford, Lawson, Monckton, and Lomborg, with no indication as to whether they are to be considered as “sceptics” or deniers.
    Attached to the mention of Newbery and Monckton is the false assertion that “The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over“.
    The false association of Monckton and Lawson with the Daily Politics Show has been erased, leaving a second, unexplained, mention of Monckton as “a man who adds to the gaiety of nations and is a skilled communicator of his views”, and a mention of the GWPF, but none of Lawson. the “remarkable revelation” that “Bjorn Lomborg, previously a major sceptic, was now in accord with most climatologists” is also false.
    Add the mention of “a vast conspiracy to hide the truth and of dissent quashed by secret forces” and the bizarre mention of the fact that Hitler was against smoking, and the overall impression given by this chapter is one of utter confusion, dotted with the odd false accusation against named and unnamed “deniers”.
    Surely the least the BBC could do to rectify this absurd situation is to offer you, Montford, Monckton and Lawson the opportunity to debate with Professor Jones?

  7. TonyN,

    I’d say you were a climate change denier ! You can sue me if you like !

    [TonyN says: In order to succeed I’d have to convince a judge that what you say would have some effect, which might be difficult.]

  8. geoffchambers:

    I intend to do one more post about the Jones Review, probably next week, rounding up a whole lot of issues including those you mention.

    So far as a debate with Jones is concerned, I think that any respectable media organisation would offer the opportunity to reply to the kind of attack that has been launched against us by their ace reviewer. But this is the BBC: fat chance!

  9. Just a couple more brief observations re the SteveJones report. Firstly, on a different thread, commentator “anymouse” has already mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating. On the subject of the evidence for global warming, Prof. Jones writes (p.69): “To bring matters up to date, 2011 saw the warmest April in Central England for 350 years.” Now a few months earlier, we also had a record cold winter, but of course we’re told that does not prove or disprove anything, as per this article by Steve Connor in the Independent:

    She may have been one of the many thousands of people who failed to get to work yesterday because of the snow, but Professor Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, is adamant that the current cold weather is merely a natural fluctuation – and does not mean that global warming is all a myth.

    Then Steve Jones writes this (pp.69-70):

    A 2008 survey to which thousands of Earth scientists responded found that 90% agreed that temperatures have risen since 1800 and that 82% consider that human activity has been significant in this. 96% of specialists in atmospheric physics agreed with the first statement, and 97% with the second. Truth is not defined by opinion polls but it is difficult to deny the consensus.

    He is referring, of course, to the famous Doran poll, which was perhaps not the most rigorous survey of its kind.

  10. This offering from Richard Black may be demonstrating the Jones impartiality policy in action
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14768574
    Note how sceptical scientist Spencer is described as a “committed Christian”. Black also finds the space to note that Spencer

    “is also on the board of directors of the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing thinktank critical of mainstream climate science, and an advisor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical Christian organisation that claims policies to curb climate change ‘would destroy jobs and impose trillions of dollars in costs’ and ‘could be implemented only by enormous and dangerous expansion of government control over private life’”

    but has nothing at all about the content of Spencer’s paper.
    The detailed information about Spencer’s spare time activities suggests Science correspondent Black keeps copious notes about scientists’ hobbies and political opinions. I wonder why.

  11. Geoff:

    I don’t remember the BBC ever reporting Sir John Houghton’s links with the evangelical Christian movement in the States as relevant and useful background to his work, or views on climate change.

    And I think that your comment at Bishop Hill is correct. This is a story that has been very carefully prepared, orchestrated, and placed, with the big players (BBC and Graun) carefully briefed, and the indispensable Bob Ward in attendance, all ahead of Wagner’s resignation. It stinks!

  12. True, it does stink. But the good thing, the silver lining to this, if you like, is that it is stinking out in the open. Anyone following this story on the internet, who has eyes to see and a brain to comprehend, will be able to understand what is going on.

    It is ironical that last weekend’s Songs of Praise, on the BBC, featured a Met Office scientist, Julian Hemming, who also has Christian faith:

    Julian works for the Met Office as a tropical prediction scientist – the aim of his work is to be able to warn parts of the world prone to extreme weather that there is an extreme weather event on the way. Julian’s scientific background and his Christian faith sit comfortably together – Julian sees the predictable physical laws of nature as evidence of the ordered mind of the God behind the science. Being able to warn people in vulnerable parts of the world to prepare for approaching cyclones or hurricanes is also an expression of Julian’s Christian faith – a practical step to helping vulnerable communities.

    Religious faith on the climate-orthodox side, good. Religious faith on the climate-heretic side, bad.

  13. TonyN, Alex
    I’ven no problem with people linking their belief about climate change to their religion, or pointing out possible links in the beliefs of others. Making a connection between Sir John Houghton’s religious belief and his comments about the advantages of disasters seems to me fair comment.
    What Richard Black does is rather different. He’s lifted a part of Spencer’s biography from Wikipaedia for a hurriedly written article. Spencer’s political and religious beliefs get more space than the science; and the opinion of PR man Bob Ward gets more space than either. And in the description of his religious allegiance, appears the word “Creation”.
    What possible reason can there be to mention, in an article about disagreement over the interpretation of satellite temperature data, the fact that the author of the paper is “an advisor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation”?
    Black must know, post the Jones report, that anything written about climate sceptics is going to make waves. He must have foreseen reactions like mine, and the many others at Bishop Hill. The only explanation I can see is that, like Hickman at the Graun, he’s deliberately stirring it.

  14. Geoff;

    It certainly seems likely that over the next few months the usual suspects at the BBC will be testing the new limits on how AGW can be reported that the Jones Review seem to have set for them. If so, the consequences are unforeseeable, and may well not be at all what the Jones and the BBC hierarchy that endorsed his findings might expect and hope for.

    Alex:

    Just by the way, I understand that Mike Hulme has strong religious beliefs, and I also seem to remember that either Ammann or Wahl has a theology degree. I am not mentioning this as a criticism in any way. In fact I always find it rather refreshing when I hear of a scientist who is capable of mysticism.

    If you haven’t listened to this recording of Radio 4’s Sunday Worship on the theme of climate change with Sir John Houghton as guest preacher, and some help from his fellow evangelicals form across the herring pond, then it really is worthwhile just for its sheer weirdness. This was broadcast on the weekend following the publication of the AR4 Summary for Policymakers in February 2007.

    Come to think of it, I wonder if Steve Jones …..? Nah! Forget it.

  15. Tony, Geoff, that Sunday Worship recording is fascinating. So much of what Sir John talks about in his sermon comes across now as climate cliché, but would presumably have seemed new enough back in 2007. How time flies!

    By the way, I found this Richard Black article about Sir John Houghton from 2006, where the religious connection is mentioned, in a positive way.

    He is now chairman of the John Ray Initiative, whose mission is to “connect environment, science and Christianity”.

  16. Alex, TonyN
    I’m transcribing Sir John’s contribution to Sunday Worship. Here’s a gem:

    We’re … told that humans are made in the image of God. That means we can be creative too. Science and technology, as for instance as in the report of the United Nations Climate Change panel, are vital to the exercise of our stewardship of the earth.

    I wonder if he regrets linking “being creative” with the work of the IPCC?

  17. Alex
    The Richard Black article you link to is based on a report by the Christian charity Tearfund, for which Sir John Houghton wrote the introduction. It covers much the same ground as Sir John’s sermon. Except that, after 17 paragraphs on climate models and their predictions, it ends with this:

    The positive side of the Tearfund report is that simple measures to “climate-proof” water problems, both drought and flood, have proven to be very effective in some areas.
    In Niger, the charity says that building low, stone dykes across contours has helped prevent runoff and get more water into the soil; while in Bihar, northern India, embankments have been built to connect villages during floods, with culverts allowing drainage.

    So if you can tackle climate change by building low stone dykes, why for heaven’s sake are we spending zillions on vast useless windmills? Even if climate change could be controlled, there’d still be droughts and floods, and so there’d still be a need for stone dykes. Why are there no huge international conferences for the stone dyke experts?

  18. Geoff;

    I’d be very grateful for a copy of the transcript of Sir John’s sermon.

    Tearfund has a rather colourful record where climate change is concerned, including authorship of the ‘research’ that attributed the spread of malaria to the Kenyan Highlands to climate change.

  19. TonyN
    I’ve sent you the transcript under plain wrapper. What’s interesting is how the message is spread throughout the service. There’s Isaiah on disasters, Jesus on sustainable living, and frequent prayers to Gods with bewilderingly changing titles, à la Pratchett. A hymn had even been rewritten to conform to Sir John’s message. You sometimes had to wonder Who was being worshipped.
    There’s a nice circularity about this. Isaiah’s descriptions of catastrophe were picked up by Velikovsky in the fifties and turned into a series of best-sellers (‘Worlds in Collision’, ‘Earth in Upheaval’, etc.). Though most of his ideas are now rejected, he performed a useful service in casting a critical eye on current cosmology and historical chronology. He also created a stir by predicting that Venus would be hot, which so embarrassed the scientific establishment that Sagan quickly resurrected greenhouse gas theory and came up with the runaway greenhouse effect to explain it. “But if Venus, why not Earth?” people said – and the rest is climate science.
    Benny Peiser has drunk at the Velikovskian spring, and Doug Keenan has continued the sceptical prodding at conventional chronology based on carbon dating and tree rings.
    And there was a not particularly interesting article on catastrophe in myth and ancient history at
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/steve-jones/7887202/Gods-floods-and-global-warming.html
    by Steve Jones

  20. I don’t know what version of the Bible Sir John Houghton has chosen to quote from, but it isn’t the autherised version, which seems a pitty. Here are some excerpts from the Isaiha 24 catastrophe, just for the joy of the language:

    1 Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.

    2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.

    3 The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word.

    4 The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish.

    5 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.

    ~~#~~

    16 From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.

    17 Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.

    18 And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.

    19 The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.

    20 The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.

    Now that’s what I call a real catastrophe! Makes he the IPCC, Bob Watson, Schneider, Hansen and the team sound like a right load of wimps.

  21. But on the other hand (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7)

    One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
    The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 
    The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
    All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

  22. Tony, Geoff, re the low stone dyke solution, where’s the drama and sacrifice in that? Why on earth spend a little money building a better drain, when we could be spending a lot more money building a wind farm on the other side of the world?

    Re the Bible, I’m no expert but I think Sir John is quoting from the New International Version, which is somewhat less impressive than the King James. For instance, where the King James has “strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it”, the NIV has “the beer is bitter to its drinkers”, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

    Interestingly, the splendidly-described Isaiah 24 catastrophe does seem to have been appropriated by certain religious-themed climate-change activist organisations, at times.

    This is from the Ecumenical EcoJustice Network, back in 2002:

    Isaiah’s oracle was not written with climate change in mind, but it could have been. Because of nearly three hundred years of industrial use of fossil fuels to provide energy, the environment of the most fragile places on earth is suffering greatly. Tuvalu, a Pacific Island nation, is searching for a country willing to take its people as the islands are being submerged. Global warming is raising sea levels and low lying island states are literally disappearing. Deserts are expanding throughout the world, and glaciers and ice caps are melting at the poles.

    And this is from Operation Noah in 2011 – retired cleric David Atkinson writing about a “Carbon Exodus” (emphasis mine):

    So what do we take from this?

    That a Christian response to the questions forced on us by climate change will recognise that this is not just about science and technology – not just about political will and economic theories – all of these are part of the story. But this is also about a spiritual dimension to human lives – that we live on holy ground and the whole created order is part of God’s gift. That God has given certain parameters for human flourishing, and that when we go astray from these there is judgement – a judgement sometimes expressed in terms of climate change.

    Think for instance of this disturbing paragraph from Isaiah 24:

    “The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”

    I think a calming dose of Ecclesiastes might be in order.

  23. The passage from Ecclesiastes that Geoff quotes would have considerable resonance in an agrarian culture. It effortlessly conveys the power, the complexity, and the mystery of the natural world in a way that would be very difficult to do today. In the NIV translation, its just a load of words:

    Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.

    The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.

    The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
    round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.

    All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
    To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.

    There is a very real risk that as our urbanised society learns more and more about the mechanistic processes of the natural world it actually understands less and less. This would certainly help explain the ready acceptance of the AGW hypothesis by significant sections of the population.

    Alex’s quote from Operation Noah is a real eye-opener too:

    That God has given certain parameters for human flourishing, and that when we go astray from these there is judgement – a judgement sometimes expressed in terms of climate change.

    So, as I understand this, their are some people who retain the pre-enlightenment view that inconvenient natural phenomena are a sign of divine displeasure. For them there is no need of science to explain causation. But isn’t that to assume that all climate change is bad? What did we do to deserve deliverance from the last glaciation I wonder?

  24. Tony, the idea of Divine Providence, that there is a God who actively protects and provides for humans, saving us from disaster (as opposed to sending a disaster to punish us) is one that has perhaps become unfashionable in recent times, in the West at least. However, it seems to be persisting elsewhere in the world.

    One website I quoted described Tuvalu in 2002 as an island nation “searching for a country willing to take its people as the islands are being submerged.” However, there was a recent study (full article is behind a paywall, but the abstract is here), which suggests a less panicked outlook.

    During the month of February 2010, the Portuguese Tropical Research Institute conducted a scientific mission to the atoll of Funafuti, so as to develop an ethno-geographic study.

    The main objective of the project was to evaluate the Pacific people’s awareness to climate change.

    Results have shown that about two thirds of the remote islanders do not fear the rising sea levels and trust that Divine Providence will bet on their survival.

    The small population of fishermen and breadfruit, taro, pulaka and coconut subsistence farmers lack economies of scale because of their remoteness yet persevere with a tranquil, slow-paced existence in a vulnerable and isolated environment where they lack resources for adequate development.

  25. After a disappointing response from my MP ( He (Tory) has been totally assimilated. I had a letter back that actually trotted out BBC PR phrases, like a ‘huge national crown jewel’. Blood diamonds, more like.
    That he is addicted to cosy, career-boosting sofa chats on Daily Politics is nothing at all to do with it. Or his clone boss’ unequivocal sucking up. I feel the issue of multi-billion £ public propaganda is now so key to the running of the country democratically, this will be a vote-swinging issue for me next election as much as defence, education or health ) I have resigned myself to actions elsewhere that may yet bear more fruit.

    While the plethora of reports commissioned in my name (as a current licence fee payer, though after one too many blatant censoring on the few free BBC blogs left, that may change) and paid for by me remain ‘secret’, I remain convinced any contract has been broken.

    But the answer may be more prosaic, in the same way that Al Capone was eventually prevented from pursuing his malign trade.

    ‘…this report cost the BBC £140,000, nearly half of which went on Professor Jones’ fee. The least that licence payers might expect for that kind of money…’

    Beyond being a neat metaphor for much of the BBC’s ‘output’ in general, did we get value for our money? And, if not, as it seems on the most basic of criteria it was a rubbish piece or work, were we defrauded when it was signed off?

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