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« On Nature's data policy | Main | Nature editorial on Climategate »
Thursday
Nov182010

Disgruntled science bureaucrats

The science establishment in the UK is somewhat disgruntled by the announcement that one of their senior people inside the civil service is to be replaced by a mandarin rather than another scientist. The kerfuffle is centred on the person of Professor Adrian Smith, a statistician who is responsible for advising the government on where to spend research funds. Smith's role is to be merged with another, and the man to fill the new position is expected to be a civil servant.

John Beddington, the government’s Chief Scientist, told a House of Lords committee hearing that the abolition of the position of Director General of Science and Research (DGSR) at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) “was not discussed with me” and that this was “deeply regrettable”.

Talking heads like Lord May are even more vocal:

It is substantially both stupid and ignorant and it is politically foolish. ... If that person is a successful civil servant they are very unlikely to know much about science.

There is also much discussion of the Haldane principle, the idea that the direction of research funds should be under the command of scientists rather than politicians. I can kind of see the point - I don't suppose many of the inhabitants of the palace of Westminster will have a clue about what are likely to be interesting lines of research that are worthy of funding. The last thing we want is research funding being just a reflection of the political prejudices of the current incumbents.

Having said that, I'm not sure we want research funding to be merely a reflection of the political prejudices of the science establishment either, and I sometimes wonder if this is what we have seen in recent years, with a series of scares apparently promoted by senior scientists.

The unhappiness among the scientific bigwigs has culminated in a letter from the House of Lords SciTech Committee to the prime minister, which can be seen here.

I urge you to take appropriate action to ensure that the post of Director General for Knowledge and Innovation is filled in a way which fully meets the concerns of the Committee. Were the holder of the new post to be other than a senior scientist, there would be a significant risk of damaging the relationship between government and the scientific community and of undoing the good work for science in the CSR. I look forward to your reply.

I don't know about you, but the performance of the scientific establishment over recent weeks smacks rather of a sense of entitlement. The private sector has tightened its belt for the last two years, with pay cuts and short-time working the norm since 2008. Most of the rest of the public sector is at least coming to terms with the new circumstances. Yet the scientists have negotiated a remarkably generous settlement under the CSR - a deal of a generosity that is unheard of elsewhere. Now, to add insult to injury, they are demanding that they should get to decide how the money is spent too, and almost seem to threaten the government if they don't get their way.

It doesn't seem right.

Postscript: Take a look at this. The Department of Business Innovation and Technology, where Professor Smith works, can still afford to (part-) fund a network of 90 science officers posted at embassies around the world. These people spend their time on activities such as "reporting and advising major UK partners on opportunities and developments in science...Influencing key players overseas on UK aims and priorities in science and innovation..." and so on. It really doesn't seem right.

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Reader Comments (42)

The beast that would best fill that job of course would be a civil servant (i.e. someone who knows how the internal games are played) with a good science education, and ideally some experience of the real world. Any player likely to come from the science 'establishment' is unlikely to be effective at anything other than pushing the gravy train along.

Nov 18, 2010 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

"It is substantially both stupid and ignorant and it is politically foolish. ... If that person is a successful civil servant they are very unlikely to know much about science"

What science would that be?
This is the gentleman who interprets "On the word of no one" to mean, respect the FACTS.

Nov 18, 2010 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Is it possible that Beddington was not consulted becuase it was realised how much money has been wasted due to his gullibility over global warming?

Presumably Milliband purged the civil service of all dissenters, so there is no one even capable of understanding the possibility that AGW may not be quite what it was cooked up to be

Nov 18, 2010 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Well, that's a possibility golfcharley, but then you are getting into conspiracy theories, so I would tend to rule it out.

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:12 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Entrusting the task to a scientist is prone to entail following the particular interests and prejudices of that scientist. A senior civil servant with a good scientific training would be best. But more generally:
(1) Why should the task be entrusted to anybody in particular. Other countries have independent bodies like the National Science Foundation in the US, the CNRS in France, and suchlike elsewhere, mostly managed by scientists but on a collective-decision basis, never on the dictum of one person. Being independent of the direct influence of the current government seems in general to be a good thing. Having members of the board that are not themselves part of the science establishment would be also good.
(2) Trying to decide in advance which are the research subjects or hypotheses more worthy of scientific investigation has as many chances of succeeding as trying to decide in advance which companies or industries should be promoted. Areas that are not remarkably useful or worthy at any given time (say, investigating the speed of light in 1900, or the behaviour of particles at the boundary of black holes today) may entail extraordinary (and as yet unknown) practical consequences tomorrow, whilst subjects of more urgent concern at the time (such as characterizing the typical physique of "born criminals" in 1900, or the traits of the various "races" of man in 1930) may prove foolish in the end. Freedom of research, I surmise, is best, without having to follow the current fads; quality of research methods and clarity of concepts (as judged by other scientists) should be the only good criterion. Keeping scientists separated from policy decisions would contribute to a more balanced judgement on their part, though one never can be sure that prejudice or bigotry would not take their toll in the choices made.

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector M.

The creatures outside looked from scientist to civil servant, and from civil servant to scientist, and from scientist to civil servant, and from civil servant to scientist again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

The previous government paid for a large chunk of the Royal Society's budget, and the two of them reinforced each other's views on the notion of a crisis due to CO2 in the atmosphere. Prof Beddington, who came across as a reasonably decent sort of chap the two or three times I have seen him on TV, was indeed taken in by the same anti-CO2 campaigning. HMG also funds the Met Office, whose director successfully (in financial terms) converted the WWF from caring about the fauna to caring about the atmosphere, and who seems to have converted the Met Office from caring about the next few days into caring about computers and fanciful output scenarios for many decades, even centuries, into the future. BBQ summers & mild winters seem to be an obligatory foothill, so to speak, of those lofty 'extrapolations'. So what would a sensible new government make of all of this? That these scientists and their policies are value for money? Or that perhaps they led HMG, aided and abetted by strong political forces within it, up a grossly extravagant (as per Climate Change Act), seriously foolish (as per windfarms etc), and fundamentally damaging (as per all the 'educational/behavioural change' initiatives) garden path?

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

The problem is our science establishment has become a monoculture driven by the CAGW cult. This is because under Blair, grants were dished out according to 'relevance' so it became biased towards climate change as if it were a fact, one of the reasons it became a religion with politicians high priests.

Also, no-one in the science hierarchy looked under the hood and picked up the glaring mistake in the physics** which led to the false CAGW scare in the first place.

**The relationship used to predict the effect of aerosol pollution on cloud albedo is effectively a curve fit to the sum of two optical processes with opposite dependences on cloud droplet size. It assumes constant 'Mie asymmetry factor' when Mie assumed a plane wave boundary condition, only valid when light first enters a cloud. It neglects substantial direct backscattering at the upper cloud boundary, a form of optical shielding. As a result, it always predicts cooling when that could be substantial heating. If so, that's a game changer and net CO2-AGW could even be zero.

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander

Scientists discover science

Aris Throttled

Nov 18, 2010 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

Hector

Interesting points. I had wondered whether it might make more sense to direct cash to universities and have them decide on the research priorities. Of course, when I'm running the country scientific research will not be part of the government's remit, but until then...

Nov 18, 2010 at 7:58 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Beddington really really wants a place at the top table. That is both his gripe in his quote above and mine here.

Nov 18, 2010 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

I think it unlikely, whether the direction of funds is chaired by a civil servant or a scientist, that such direction will escape contamination by politics of one sort or another. It is natural that a group will seek to have one of its own in charge, so that the bias is in the "good" direction. A committee might smooth out the personal biases of an individual, but it will remain with its own prejudices. And one must remember that recommendations to said committee are not necessarily made with objective criteria. In the end, grants will go to certain favoured causes, and the favoured causes, once known, affect the grant applications which are made.

Scientia gratia pecunius.

[Caveat: I know no Latin, so the above is just a stab. But you get the idea even if the cases are wrong. Perhaps I should learn Latin, now that I'm in my declining years.]

Nov 18, 2010 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

Beddington really really wants a place at the top table. That is both his gripe in his quote above and mine here.

Nov 18, 2010 at 8:47 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

If Beddington is strongly against it, then it is probably exactly the right thing to do.

In a circumstance where the credibility of science has been badly damaged, being seen to keep the scientist hands out of the cookie jar quite so obviously is good politics. And I'm sure there's a bit of smoke and mirrors involved as well.

Nov 18, 2010 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Beddington, March 2009; "One solution would be to create a new post of chief science adviser to the European Commission."

Sept 2009; Barroso promised to set up two new science positions: a chief scientific adviser, and a commissioner for climate action, "to reflect the fact that climate change is a challenge that needs to be addressed across the whole range of our policies....[and] send an important signal to the world that, independent of the level of ambition that comes out of Copenhagen, Europe is serious about maintaining momentum for action."

The question is: would it be better to keep him in the UK tent pissing out or have him in the EU tent pissing in?

Nov 18, 2010 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

2nd tent should be camp duuugh!

Nov 18, 2010 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

O/T Bish, late at night from Piers Corbyn. I will do penance for this if you insist.

Thursday, November 18, 2010
'I want to be remembered for the science' says Phil 'Climategate' Jones to chorus of titters on Greenie Watch

Professor Phil Jones, the ’scientist’ at the heart of the Climategate emails has spoken out. “Hopefully they will remember me for the scientific papers I have written rather than the emails,” he has said in an interview with the mysterious, paywall-hidden void that used to be known as the Times.

Unsurprisingly, Prof Jones repeated the popular ecofascist mantra that the reason increasingly large numbers of people are sceptical of “Climate Change” is not because of the science but because it suits their evil, selfish, comfort-centric lifestyles.

“I think some people want to believe that we are not able to affect the climate and want to use any bit of evidence to promote the case for doing nothing. They think that [to do something] might lead to such a change in our lifestyles.”

Apparently, says Prof Jones, things have got so bad that there is almost no good science anywhere on the internet any more. According to the Times, channeling Jones: "Google searches for key scientific papers yielded long lists of dismissive postings by sceptics and it was hard to find the actual research. “It’s way down there because of the way Google works. People will potentially get the misinformation first.”

To which this blog says: “Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!” And then adds ruefully: “If bloody only!”

Jones goes on to express his “regrets” for the various incriminating emails which made him a global laughing stock and destroyed the credibility of the Climatic Research Unit, the IPCC and the junk science of the AGW industry generally. Apparently, emails like the one where he referred to “Mike’s Nature Trick” being used to “Hide the decline”, and the one where he encouraged colleagues to breach FOI laws by deleting emails, were “sent in haste.”

Unlike the normal emails the rest of us send, presumably, over which we deliberate for hours and send very, very slowly.

Oh, and it turns out the real villain of the piece is George Monbiot. Jones is still spitting blood over Monbiot’s call for his resignation in the wake of the Climategate emails. “He didn’t retract it for months until after the Muir Russell review came out and even then it was somewhat begrudging. To me it showed he didn’t understand how science was done.”

With you, there, Prof. With you totally.

SOURCE

Astrophyscist and forecaster Piers Corbyn comments:

Well! I will remember Phil Jones even if his tricks get forgotten. I will remember that:

1) In his Emails he named me (in haste??) as Public Enemy number ONE on the Europe side of the Atlantic - in terms of opposing his CO2-led theory of climate change;

2) In E mails, he and his cronies declared they would move heaven and Earth through their very extensive network to prevent publication of work from 'skeptics' such as me and others. And then his crew and the like complain that I haven't published enough!!! Do they really want more?

3) ALL the predictions since 2000 of Jones' et al's CO2 warmist theory have FAILED. CO2 theory can predict nothing, whereas our solar-magnetic lunar approach has proven success and independently proven significant skill - for example in correctly predicting the last two cold & snowy winters and previous floody summers, wheres traditional warmest meteorology predicted the opposite.

Jones, these are scientific tests. You failed.

For the record there is NO EVIDENCE that CO2 changes drive world temperature or climate change in the REAL world & biosphere; and the campaign to reverse the insanity of CO2 Warmist fraudulent pseudo-science and abolish the Climate Change Act is gathering strength - see the report & pics! of Climate Fools Day Conference 27 Oct in Parliament via http://www.weatheraction.com/ and links therein

Nov 18, 2010 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRETEPHSLAW

"smacks rather of a sense of entitlement"

Precisely, and a criticism that can be levelled throughout the whole of UK society. Though not all carry the responsibility that certain self proclaimed scientific “experts” do. Time to ensure that only the best minds are focused on the benefit of the whole of mankind, the present “shotgun” approach to funding has produced a glut of second class attention grabbing research. If somebody is attempting to bring this to an end then more power to them. The sound of pips squeaking can only be a good sign, a very good sign indeed.

Nov 18, 2010 at 11:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Alexander says that "under Blair, grants were dished out according to 'relevance' ". I have been serving as a referee for funding research projects in three Latin American countries, and I found myself somewhat confused when one of them established a norm whereby projects received points on two criteria: "academic quality" and "relevance", and the two were subsequently averaged to get the final ranking. Thus some academically mediocre project may get approved if it was sufficiently "relevant" (the latter meaning mostly "relevant to the current preoccupations of society"). I strongly objected to this. I insisted (1) on assessing projects in terms of academic quality ONLY. Relevance might be a secondary criterion in case of a "tie", but even then one never knows: suppose you have to choose in 1905 between one project on Brownian motion by an obscure patent clerk in Bern, or another project for a newly fangled theory of flight based on ether wind, submitted by an egregious Herr Professor from an outstanding German university, another one on the élan vital of living entities proposed by a French savant, and a fourth one on cooperation and solidarity as an alternative theory to natural selection, this time from an anarchist Russian prince. The second, third and fourth project had all the high profile credentials of the establishment, and all were relevant to world peace, the defense of the spiritual, and the promotion of human harmony. The least "relevant" of them all, sent by the least cited and least prestigious author, was the first one mentioned. And the only one worth supporting.

Nov 18, 2010 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector M.

Footnote missing in my previous comment:
(1) To no avail. I was regarded as a victim of "scientism", a dangerous malady apparently.

Nov 18, 2010 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector M.

Hector, good posts. Thanks.

I still think governments have an important role to play in science, despite the CAGW cult that they helped create. Twenty years from now the CAGW scare will have been forgotten but the need to fund scientific research will still be there. Private individuals can contribute to the advancement of science only so far, and most are only interested in practical research rather pure science. The fact is if it weren't for governments, there would be no money, no urgency and little interest for a space program. 40 years after man landed on the Moon, a private contractor is yet to send a paying tourist to low earth orbit for a few minutes. To reject governmental involvement in scientific endeavours because of the CAGW example amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Nov 19, 2010 at 1:38 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

@sHx

'The fact is if it weren't for governments, there would be no money, no urgency and little interest for a space program'.

Partly true only. It would be better phrased as 'The fact is if it weren't for governments acting as proxies for taxpayers and conduits for their hard-earned money, there would be no urgency and little interest for a space program'

Is/was a space programme a good way to spend all that amount of resources? As I was a young lad growing up at the time, I thought it was all terribly exciting, and maybe it helped to spark my interest in science. But I wasn't the one paying the bills - being a kid and in UK.

If there is little public interest in something, then should not this be taken into account in some way. However fascinating it is to the scientists involved is it right to spend vast quantities on the LHC while 'ordinary people' have public services cut?

I don't claim to know the answers to these questions, but letting scientists alone decide what their playthings will be seems to be open to a high amount of moral hazard. Maybe that's why Beddington is pissed off.

Nov 19, 2010 at 2:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Latimer, thanks for the reply.

I don't understand why the addition of the phrase "acting as proxies for taxpayers and conduits for their hard-earned money" should lift a statement from being partly true to true in whole. One can imagine many more phrases like that which can make the statement 'truer' and 'more complete' still, but that's not necessary.

Certain achievements belong to all humanity regardless of who paid for it. As for those who coughed up the money, they get to benefit from the kudos for eternity. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon he did so on behalf of all humanity, including America's Cold War enemies. He erected only the American flag there precisely because nobody else paid a cent for it. We were proud as humans; Americans were proud because they were humans and Americans. The achievement came not because Americans are an especially visionary people, but because they had a visionary government, at least, where space exploration was concerned. Quite possibly, that achievement helped US citizens as well as the government deal with the shame and humiliation of Vietnam War, which took place concurrently with the Apollo program.

Going back to the main point of Bishop's post, there appears to be two main issues: 1- Whether governments should have a major role in the funding of science, and 2- Whether the government's science funds should be allocated by scientists or public servants. My answers the the first one is, yes, absolutely; to the second one is, preferably scientists. But then again maybe Clemenceau's famous dictum "war is too important to be left to the generals" can apply to scientists and their work as well.

Nov 19, 2010 at 6:00 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

@sHx

I expanded your phrase to emphasise that 'governments' are not the entities that provide the money for the science projects. Taxpayers do.

It is too easy to fall into the trap of believing that 'the government' somehow has a bottomless pit of money and that they are the ones that pay the bills. Especially when you are the one in receipt of the largesse.

Taxpayers have a very legitimate interest in how and why their monies are spent - and if I read the politics of UK and US aright, all recipients of public money - scientists as well - will need to bring this interest into their grant applications. They may think its tough and unfair and a threat to their careers and independence. But after Climategate, nobody wants to fund another fiasco like CRU.

Nov 19, 2010 at 6:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

There is no confirmation that the eventually appointed person won't have a science background, but I notice in the Lord Kreb letter he seems careful to list the previous holders of the DGSR post as each being a FRS.
Maybe what we are seeing here is the Royal Society feeling a bit left out, and their "suspicions" are based on the worry the post might go to some scientist from industry with a less "tenured" mindset?

Nov 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

The problem, it seems to me at least, started when 'value for money in research' , was promoted by the Thatcher Government. This saw the decline of research for research sake. The opportunity to promote their own favoured topic of research within their own academic fiefdom was seized upon by senior department heads. I saw a Ph.D. grant awarded to an art student just so the artist could create nice illustrations for the head of departments upcoming book. This was in a department that was strapped for cash at the time....It was also a department where a certain co-author of a certain paper in '98 began his rise to 'notoriety'.....

Nov 19, 2010 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

It's a bit rich for Beddington to complain when the problem might not have arisen, if he had done his job properly.

Nov 19, 2010 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

When I was an economic consultant, I was involved in sales of complex intellectual products - competition economics, equity valuations of petrochemicals refineries, economic feasibility studies - that kind of thing. These aren't the sort of services you can sell by emphasising benefits and features, as though they were dishwashers or cars. Consulting products can't be sold that way.

We were taught that, from the outset, you had to identify who among your contacts at the prospect company is the Economic Buyer of your offering. As distinct, that is, from the Technical Buyer and the User Buyer.

The Economic Buyer is the one whose agenda is being served, who awards the work and who approves the invoices.

The Technical Buyer is a guy with a check list of qualification points who can rule your bid out, but can't rule it in. He can deny you the work but he can't award it to you.

The User Buyer lives with whatever's bought. He may have written the specs and will assist the TB but again he can't rule you in and is often almost completely without influence when it comes to suopplier choice. If you have ever worked for a company which inexplicably kept reappointing suppliers you knew were inept, you will recognise this position.

The sales process is then all about finding out what the EB wants, why he wants it now, what else the EB may do with the budget rather than giving it to you, and what the EB considers a "win".

I relate this at length because with CAGW, as with the Space Programme, as with the Windmill in Animal Farm, and in effect with all government spending, what you have is a sort of distortion of the above process. All the costs and any benefits of a given course of action are visited on the taxpayer. This is uncontroversial where the benefits are clear, but the taxpayer is never the Economic Buyer of state-provided goods or services. The Economic Buyer is always in effect a civil servant using someone else's money to address his own agenda or that of the Minister he works for. The Minister's idea of a 'win' is, of course, as likely to be personal or party political advantage as it is to be a desire to do good things.

This phenomenon explains basically everything that goes wrong in public sector purchasing. There is the potential for large projects to go as badly wrong in the private sector too. One thinks of almost every new product launched by Alan Sugar since about 1988, for example. The difference is that there is much more accountability for money in private enterprise, unless it's all your own anyway, which explains Alan Sugar.

The climate lobby recognised this early on, and went straight to the money. Once governments were bought in, then everyone down the chain fell into place - down the food chain, below the EB. Taxpayers are User Buyers and are well below the salt. They get the costs and any benefits, but they're not in a position to dispute, question, or opt out of the benefits and costs.

This is how the Moon landings got funded and it's how CAGW got funded. There was no public clamour for either, and to the extent there was, it was orchestrated, rather than responded to, by the Economic Buyers of this kind of dreck.

I don't know what the answer is, but because a course has been set at an Economic Buyer level, it's at that level that a course change will have to be made. Simply being right now about the shoddy science isn't enough - that was what was needed 25 years ago.

Nov 19, 2010 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

"almost every new product launched by Alan Sugar since about 1988"

It has long struck me as ironic how he is now perceived as a business guru - perhaps that tells us all we need to know about UK plc.

I even had a few shares in his company around then...

Nov 19, 2010 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

@ James P

- indeed. In 1988 he and Bill Gates were worth about the same as each other. Sugar is still worth what he was worth then. Gates is worth, what, 100 times more?

AIUI Sugar's company these days is basically a property company. It says it all that he hired someone who he knew to have lied on his CV. Quality act!

Nov 19, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

An interesting post Justice4Rinka. What has now developed is a mindset in the civil service and the National Grid Company that accepts offshore windmills as the only possible option despite the fact that their power costs three times new nuclear and the capital cost is 14.6 times per useful MW that of a natural gas option AND you also have to buy that option to produce 70% of that electricity.

So, how do you combat this? Very difficult because the DECC's own people are civil service stars: http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/what_we_do/lc_uk/2050/2050_winners/2050_winners.aspx

How could I go along to these bright kids and state quite seriously that my own personal research has taken away the false science that propped up the high net CO2-AGW hypothesis? It has to be done though otherwise we'll be fighting the wrong battle and wasting lots of money doing so.

Nov 19, 2010 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Davidson

@ Alexander Davidson

The problem with that is that there is an agenda evident in the Climategate emails to hinder contrarian publication so contrarians can be frozen out as not having published enough.

I don't know how one would go about attacking the corruption and ineffectiveness of peer review. A couple of statisticians have just published a debunking of the statistics used in CAGW alarmism, and the knee-jerk response by CAGW alarmists has been to claim that the statisticians should have spoken to some CAGW alarmists first to get the right view. It's breathtaking in a way.

Any and all claims as to what CO2 levels will be in 100 years' time should be peer-reviewed by energy economists competent to question the assumptions about energy demand, supply, price and availability in 100 years' time. This would stymie any such claims, because they would be regarded by experts as frivolous.

But as long as the EBs keep paying them, alarmists can keep ignoring experts who are off-message.

Very bad laws have a very good chance of making it onto the statute book and staying there for a very long time. I have previously cited compulsory limits on positions by commodity trading regulators, where the original (protectionist) rationale was that they would keep wheat prices high. This changed to a (consumerist) claim that they'd keep petrol prices low and has since morphed into a (socialist) claim that they enable government to control commodity prices. There is not a shred of convincing evidence for any of these claims, nor of any consideration having been given to unintended consequences, but they've been around since 1917.

Other examples are easy to find - the Dangerous Dogs Act, for example. Less harmful than ecofascism but wholly useless and never repealed.

Nov 19, 2010 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

@alexander davidson

National Grid(NG) is a private company with shareholders these days and so no longer has a remit to advise Government on policy from a neutral expert point of view. NG are also a regulated monopolist with guaranteed returns. Thus the more power lines NG build and the more these lines cost then the more money NG makes. Hence NG would happily support building a sub sea power line to connect up to wind farms in the Falklands if asked.

Also in my experience wind was very much a DEFRA/FO thing and didn't find many champions amongst the former energy expert DTI (DOE) civil servants. This is probably one of the reasons they set up DECC to sit on the energy departmental experts from DOE as was.

This is probably one of the many reasons why explicit legal renewable targets were so important to the politicians/activists. I sense there is effectively an unspoken truce in DECC as to whether wind makes any sense or not, but in Civil Service tradition everybody is bound to obey the law and deliver what the people want as expressed through the clear will of parliament. The recent Times/Ridley spat, already well reported on this blog, perhaps shows that some senior people in DECC continue to put sceptical articles in Huhne's box, provided they are first published in The Times of course!

Nov 19, 2010 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark, Edinburgh

I don't know what the answer is, but because a course has been set at an Economic Buyer level, it's at that level that a course change will have to be made. Simply being right now about the shoddy science isn't enough - that was what was needed 25 years ago.

So change the EB seems to be the key, the last UK general election actually gave you a choice of EB's all with the same view so was ineffective. So the next step must be to change one of the main EB's parties views.

Nov 19, 2010 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohnH

Mark, Edinburgh: 'The recent Times/Ridley spat, already well reported on this blog, perhaps shows that some senior people in DECC continue to put sceptical articles in Huhne's box, provided they are first published in The Times of course!'

There's a real problem developing in UK power policy. No-one in government actually knows the engineering issues. They are just handing a blank cheque to whichever supplier is next in line for whatever is on the PFI shopping list, e.g. the Thanet wind farm.

The justification, of course, is 'climate change'. Well. next week we and the US become very cold. Most of the public has ceased to believe in it. Wednesday's Congressional hearing had a very caustic presentation from Lindzen: http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lindzen_testimony_11-17-2010.pdf

Very soon, when power prices escalate due to scientifically unjustified and poorly executed energy policy, effectively repeating mistakes already made by Denmark, Germany and Spain, the politicians won't be able to hide behind the Climate change Act and the CAGW threat. What's worse is that there are better ways of solving the fossil fuel independence problem because all that wind does is to hook you onto fossil fuels..

The writing is on the wall: no companies will invest in a country without good infrastructure, and that means reliable energy.

Nov 19, 2010 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander

@ JohnH:

I'd agree with that analogy, so it seems a bit of entryism is in order, but with whom does one start?

Nov 19, 2010 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

While we may not trust the likes of Lord May very far, he is after all someone who has parlayed his scientific qualifications into an essentially civil service career he is not necessarily worse, or indeed as bad as, a normal civil servant whose qualification is something in the classics.

However an atmosphere of scientific grant giving naturally fosters a politically correct dependency culture. We know that X-Prizes are more 33-100 times efficient than grants http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/10/ratio-of-value-of-government-prizes-to.html when they work & infinitely moreso when they don't (since no prize money is given). That removes the power of patronage enjoyed by politicians & civil "servants" (used so effectively to promote the warming scam). That is how we should be going.

Nov 19, 2010 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Interesting points. I had wondered whether it might make more sense to direct cash to universities and have them decide on the research priorities. Of course, when I'm running the country scientific research will not be part of the government's remit, but until then...
Nov 18, 2010 at 7:58 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I would agree, with the caveat that the unversity professors are banned from getting involved wih commercial enerprises benefitting from the research.

I'd also give tax breaks and encouragement to any commercial enterprise doing blue sky research in the UK.

Nov 19, 2010 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered Commentersandy

o/t but the Guardian has announced
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/nov/19/labour-peer-bryony-worthington
that Bryony Worthington, having spent her brief career nagging politicians into destroying what remains of British industry, is to be made a Labour peer. This has gone up on the comments, but probably won’t stay long

Don’t put your carbon up the flue Lady Worthington
Don’t put your carbon up the flue
There’s a couple of billion tons of it escaping every day
And the chaps in the East
Won’t take the least
Notice of what you say
It’s a trace gas
And one you can pass
Without any any effect
That we can detect
Or hinder in any way
Reason calls Lady Worthington
B*lls Lady Worthington
Don’t put your carbon up the flue

Nov 21, 2010 at 6:31 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers

Too too witty, dear boy.

Nov 21, 2010 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

geoffchambers

She must be a Nulabour peer.

The people's flag is brightest green,
The scarlet one’s no longer seen,
And when your limbs grow stiff and old,
We’ll leave you shiv’ring in the cold.
We’ll close the last remaining mine,
Though sceptics curse and old folk whine.
When there’s no power down the wire,
Just chuck your red flag on the fire.

Nov 22, 2010 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

I have a hypothesis to propose: once a learned scientist accepts a bureaucratic position they cease to become scientists. Witness IPCC and every panjandrum who sits on a "committee". They want their political pronouncements - for that is what they are in truth - treated with the respect they might previously have commanded as proper scientists. A plague on all their houses.

Nov 25, 2010 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered Commentermitcheltj

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