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The Royal Society and global warming

One of the themes in the comments on RealClimate's first thread on the CRU hack was that, yes, there may be problems with the Hockey Team, but that we should listen to the learned academies like the NAS and the Royal Society.

A while back I started to make some enquiries into the Royal Society's position paper on global warming. This is a rather outspoken document entitled Facts and Fictions About Climate Change which does a splendid job of (a) creating straw men and (b) failing to knock them down very convincingly.

It was written, according to the RS by "a group led by Sir David Wallace FRS, Treasurer of the Royal Society, and Sir John Houghton FRS, former chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

This explained a lot. Having met Houghton briefly, I could recognise his personality in the writing. He has a way of speaking about people he disagrees with that is unforgettable, if hard to define.

And then the thought struck me. Why was Houghton's style written all over it? Why not any of the others in the group? Who had written what?

So I wrote a letter to the Royal Society officer with responsibility for climate change. After a bit of to and fro-ing I elicited a reply, which was quite forthcoming.

The climate change controversies document was compiled in late 2006/early 2007 with the help of our climate change advisory network and other climate change scientists. The climate change advisory network is an informal group that we use to provide us with advice on climate science related issues on an as-needs basis.

Those involved in the compilation and review of the controversies document included:

Prof John Pyle FRS,  Prof Peter Cox, Sir Prof Brian Hoskins FRS, Prof Tim Palmer FRS, Prof John Mitchell FRS, Prof Chris Freeman, Dr Simon Lewis,  Dr Y Malhi, Dr J A Lake, Dr Nicole Augustin, Prof John Houghton FRS, Prof John Shepherd FRS, Prof Harry Bryden FRS, Prof Rick Battarbee FRS, Prof Carl Wunsch ForMem, Dr Philip Reid, Dr Richard Kirby, Prof Alastair Fitter FRS, Prof Nicholas White FRS, Prof Joanna Haigh, Prof Nick McCave, Prof Martin Parry, Prof John Reynolds, Prof John Harries, Prof Keith Shine FRS, Prof Peter Liss FRS, Prof Chris Rapley, Dr Carol Turley, Prof Michael Lockwood FRS, Prof Nigel Weiss FRS, Prof Phil Jones, Prof Chris Folland, Dr Giles Harrison and Dr Ed Hill.

Recognise some of those names? A veritable who's who of global warming promoters, Hockey players and the like.

But wait a moment, the question was, who wrote the thing? Clearly not all of these people, there are far too many. So I wrote back asking who wrote and who reviewed (as well as asking for permission to publish the list of names above).

And back came the answer that permission was granted. But no mention of who wrote it.

And so I wrote back and asked again, who wrote the paper?

And answer, was there none.

In 2007, when the Royal Society's position paper was written, the official statement of climate science was still the Third Assessment Report. Should we now conclude that the position paper was written by Sir John Houghton, the scientist responsible for that same third assessment report, working alone?


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    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - The Royal Society and global warming[...]

Reader Comments (17)

So something is wrong with this document? What exactly?

Nov 27, 2009 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Oh come on, wake up Frank.

Nov 27, 2009 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Walton

I'm saying we don't know what the position of the fellows of the Royal Society is.

Nov 27, 2009 at 1:51 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I see. And where do you place the likelihood that the majority of the FRS violently disagree with the content of that document but are just too polite to say so? Why don't they come forward? Are they locked up in Al Gore's basement?

(Why would they disagree with it anyhow? What is wrong with it? Where indeed are the strawmen in it? Those arguments, and many worse ones, have been put forward by 'sceptics'.)

Nov 27, 2009 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Want a good laugh - take a look at the motto of the Royal Society in the context of their publishing an "authoritative" propaganda paper for global warming. I'll even let them explain it themselves...

"The Royal Society's motto 'Nullius in verba', roughly translated as 'Take nobody's word for it', dates back to 1663, and is an expression of the determination of the Fellows to withstand the domination of authority (such as in Scholasticism) and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment."


Nov 27, 2009 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil A


Sounds a bit like "Don't put anything in writing!" :-)

Nov 27, 2009 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeE

Mike E


Nov 27, 2009 at 2:38 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Philosopher Jerome R. Ravetz introduced the concept of 'post-normal' science, which is not the good, old-fashioned science that seeks truth. This has been adopted by the climate alarmist 'Team'. While we are angry that scientists have been cooking the books, we are responding according to 'normal science'. Ravetz and this new breed of 'scientists' are on a different track - one with a lust for political control. Ravetz, drawing on neo-Marxism, showed them the way. He said:

" …the puzzle-solving approach of ‘normal science’ is obsolete. This is a drastic cultural change for science, which many scientists will find difficult to accept. But there is no turning back...For us, quality is a replacement for truth in our methodology. We argue that this is quite enough for doing science, and that truth is a category with symbolic importance, which itself is historically and culturally conditioned."

"…climate change models are a form of “seduction”…advocates of the models…recruit possible supporters, and then keep them on board when the inadequacy of the models becomes apparent. This is what is understood as “seduction”; but it should be observed that the process may well be directed even more to the modelers themselves, to maintain their own sense of worth in the face of disillusioning experience…but if they are not predictors, then what on earth are they? The models can be rescued only by being explained as having a metaphorical function, designed to teach us about ourselves and our perspectives under the guise of describing or predicting the future states of the planet…A general recognition of models as metaphors will not come easily. As metaphors, computer models are too subtle…for easy detection. And those who created them may well have been prevented…from being aware of their essential character."

More here:

Nov 27, 2009 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Frank O'Dwyer asks:

Why would they disagree with it anyhow? What is wrong with it? Where indeed are the strawmen in it?

The strawmen in the report are the 12 so-called “misleading arguments”. The report holds out these “misleading arguments” as if they represent the best of the case against the claims of AGW as put forth by the IPCC.

However, the “misleading arguments” presented in the report are not “arguments” at all -- they are merely generalized, unsupported claims.

The report deals with all of these “claims” by the same tactic: by declaring that the “consensus' states otherwise.

For instance, here is “misleading argument 1”:

The IPCC has become too politicised and does not accurately reflect the wide range of views within the scientific community. The IPCC summary for policymakers does not adequately represent the scientific uncertainty.

How does the Report answer this claim? By asserting:

The work of the IPCC is backed by the worldwide scientific community.

This is followed by a long list of all the various science academies that support the IPCC.

This is a fairly convincing argument -- to those who don’t know the details of the situation and don’t know the specifics of the skeptic’s case.

But the devil is very much in the details in these matters -- and it is such details that the Royal Society Report studiously evades.

For example -- and this is one example only! -- the actual argument about the “politicization” of the IPCC rests on such things as the fact that the IPCC chooses to let the authors of the pro-AGW papers decide which papers will be cited by the IPCC and which will be ignored.

Thus, in AR4, Keith Briffa is allowed to choose which tree ring studies will be cited, and which will be ignored -- with the result that Briffa‘s studies, as well as other studies that support his, get cited, while other tree ring studies that don‘t show the modern warming to be “unprecedented“ are simply ignored. No attempt is made to justify the selection of some and the deletion of others; in fact, the existence of the non-cited studies is not even mentioned.

Does that sound like an "independent" assessment of the evidence?

What’s more, as lead author, Briffa is allowed to reject -- i.e. to ignore -- any critical comments from the reviewers of his chapter. The “trick” used to “hide the decline” in the now infamous Jones e-mail was employed in a study that Briffa decided to include in his portion of AR4. When Steve McIntyre, an official reviewer, objected to this “trick” and pointed out how misleading it was to simply truncate the data on the graph -- thereby hiding the fact that these particular tree rings are not necessarily reliable temperature proxies -- Briffa just ignored him and the “trick” was allowed to work its magic.

Mind you, this is only one such review comment that Briffa swept aside. The whole series of objections that Briffa ignored are documented at (I’d give you a link, but at the moment the traffic at that site is so high I can’t get there. When it becomes accessible again, just go there and do a search for “Briffa” and “AR4 comments”. You’ll find Steve’s documentation of the whole shabby exercise. )

And that’s by no means the end of the evidence of IPCC “politicization”. Ross McKitrick, another expert reviewer for AR4, has documented a whole series of such behaviors that show the IPCC to be heavily infected with confirmation bias. See his paper here:

In view of facts like these, the Royal Society’s response of, “The work of the IPCC is backed by the worldwide scientific community” is revealed to be pretty damn lame. Of course the Keith Briffa’s of the world back it -- it’s their baby! Their “backing” proves nothing.

The entire discussion of the 12 “misleading arguments” is flawed in this manner -- it’s all a superficial review that ignores the actual, technical arguments that have been advanced against the IPCC’s findings and instead simply regurgitates what the IPCC says.

The IPCC is held out to be a “comprehensive, objective, open and transparent” process. Well, it isn’t -- not by any rational measure. But you’ll never know any of this if all you read is stuff like the Royal Society Report.

Nov 27, 2009 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Smith

I recognize Prof Nigel Weiss in the list. Weiss can't possibly endorse AGW since he is a "denier" (see Lawrence Solomon CFP series). Putting his name on a declaration contrary to his beliefs shows that something is rotten in the process.
But wait a minute, given all the now celebs in there, it's definitively rotten.

Nov 27, 2009 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJean Demesure

"a group led by Sir David Wallace FRS, Treasurer of the Royal Society"

Well, of course. That makes all the sense in the world. The treasurer. Question: the members get grant money, we know, but are Royal Society assets tied up in carbon derivatives?

Nov 27, 2009 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJ

Question: the members get grant money, we know, but are Royal Society assets tied up in carbon derivatives?

Good question J

On the tickertape forum(?) a few days ago someone mentioned the sale of a large block of 'green' shares in the couple of hours ( ie on the 17th Nov ) before this file started to get some legs on the net.

I'm sure someone, will at some stage, do an analysis of the sale and price of 'green' shares in the aftermath of these disclosures. Unfortunately I don't have the requisite skill to do it but I have a feweling it might make interesting reading.

Nov 27, 2009 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered Commentersingularian

You probably know this already but the origins of the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate can be found in the deliberate conflation of science with religion. This began in 1988 when Mrs Thatcher supported proposals of Professor John Houghton to establish the Hadley Climate Research Centre for the UK Met.Office.
Houghton was brought up as a Calvinistic Methodist in the Presbyterian Church of Wales, remained a strong Christian throughout his life. He sees science and Christianity as strengthening each other and believes strongly in the connection between Christianity and environmentalism. Houghton's evangelical Christianity combined with his scientific background has made him a significant voice in evangelical Christian circles. Winning the support of Richard Cizik one of the most prominent Evangelical lobbyists in the United States is a notable example of how Houghton has had a significant effect. He is currently an elder at Aberdovey Presbyterian Church.
Houghton was the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, an organisation "connecting Environment, Science and Christianity", where he has compared the stewardship of the Earth, to the stewardship of the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve. He is a founder member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

Feb 11, 2010 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterMalmac

This I completely missed in November - so thanks now, your grace. Velly interesting.

Malmac (if you ever see this): I've never been clear how much was the initiative of Thatcher and how much was Houghton in 1988. Certainly I don't think you can read into it that Maggie bought into all of Houghton's theological views. I'd say as a Methodist herself she's always been inclined more to the freedom-loving Wesley's non-Calvinist take on things, based on what she writes in Statecraft. But all of that stuff would be speculation unless one gives specific quotes from 1988. She did give Sir John a big job at that time and that's a very important link in the chain leading to an IPCC partly under his leadership. Another very interesting question arising would be the resulting relationship between Houghton and Maurice Strong, who I would not see as such a keen Methodist :)

Whatever may be said negatively about Houghton, two things in his favour for me would be rejection of youth earth creationism (so that his influence over US evangelicals would be benign in the one area but not in the other, for me) and his high regard for John Ray, who deserves to be treasured as a pioneering English scientist who was surely also a rather nicer human being than Isaac Newton (not that that was all that difficult!)

Newton and Thatcher of course being the two most famous children of Grantham. I'm sure there's a good joke there but I'll let it pass this time.

Mar 5, 2010 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

the stewardship of the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve

Huh? Thought they were condemned to work only after Eve bit in the apple?
The "Garden of Eden" is that place where animals of all varieties (up to the Neanderthal , or not quite, maybe) live in harmony. Lions get their daily steaks from Tesco's, so they do not offend the Zebras. The whereabouts and purpose of Tyranossaurus Rex in the GoE is unclear.

May 27, 2010 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

It's nice to note that despite Phil Jones' scientific misconduct, the RS decline to review his status as a fellow - possibly because the RS now has so little credibility in climate science that disciplining Jones would be churlish.

"Nullis in verba" usually translated as "on the word of no-one" was redefined by Lord May as "Respect the Facts" - a statement that Trofim Lysenko would endorse.

May 31, 2010 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn A

One aspect of the original post doesn't compute. The PDF document you link to, "A guide to facts and fictions about climate change," has the telling phrase "Issued March 2005" prominently below the Royal Society name and logo. Which document are the Society and Bishop Hill really discussing here? Presumably "Climate change controversies: a simple guide," which was published on 30 June 2007 and has recently been moved from its original location:

to the 'archive section of the site' as the new guide is worked on:

May 31, 2010 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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