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« Cancun deal | Main | Josh 62 »

Climate Resistance on Cox

There is an excellent and very thoughtful analysis of Prof Brian Cox's RTS lecture over at Climate Resistance.

Brian Cox is a great science communicator. That is to say, he makes very effective TV programmes, which do not condescend, and do much to encourage an interest in science. But there is surely science as process, and there’s ‘science’ as an institution. It’s not clear which one Cox – who gave this year’s Royal Television Society Huw Wheldon Lecture –  was speaking for. His lecture, given the title, ‘Science: a challenge to TV Orthodoxy’ was disappointing given his previous arguments for scientific research, and didn’t challenge orthodoxy as much as it reproduced it, almost entirely uncritically.

Read the whole thing.

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In the context of political motivation (and my private view that government control of research is a socialist disaster), here is a speech by a former Australian Prime Minister, in 1984, 100 years after the Fabian movement was conceptualised as yet another nutty political theory.

Do read the whole thing. It will help you understand the corrective measures that are required.

Dec 11, 2010 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeof Sherington

Bish, can we have a new thread to discuss what has or hasn't happened at Cancun? Richard Black at 6:48 GMT reports that they're close to a compromise deal. Don't know what Monckton thinks about whether the threat of world government - and the funding for it - has been averted. Lindzen has been assuming nothing was going to happen (worth listening to for other reasons too). I've been in the Lindzen camp - I very much pray he's right, because I think Monckton correctly identifies the goals of a significant subset of the internationalists involved. We'd no doubt be pooling our ignorance for a little while but it could be handy.

Dec 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Make that Richard Black at 8:40 GMT, with agreement still 'close'. The kind of progress I was looking for!

Dec 11, 2010 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I think it is a mistake to take Cox seriously. He is a photogenic (until he opens his mouth) keyboard player in a band in which a talented mate wrote a great MDMA fuelled one hit wonder. He is obviously looking for a media career and will go along with whatever the corporate science establishment says. It isn't a considered opinion.

I couldn't watch his TV series. His enthusiasm and accent came across as phony and the script wasn't to my liking. To be honest, I felt the same about a (local and a trained actor) Glasgow accented guy doing something similar with nice BBC HD pictures. The planet, the planet, the planet !!!

Dec 11, 2010 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered Commentere smith

Richard: A "deal" has now been reached.

Dec 11, 2010 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Normally I like Ben Pile's writings, but I found this article strange insofar as it states in the first two sentences that the subject is a great science communicator who makes very effective TV programmes. And then shows over several pages, that this is manifestly not the case.

I have to strongly agree with e smith, don't like person or programmes at all.

Dec 11, 2010 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

Philip: Nothing binding on the follow-up to Kyoto. Earlier the $100 billion per year into the Green Fund was only to be reached by 2020. No definite amounts per country either, I'm assuming. What the politicians needed, obviously, was a text and an ending that sounded better than Copenhagen. But is there anything binding here?

Dec 11, 2010 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I actually like Cox as a presenter. He did much to generate a sense of "awe" in me at the new CERN with his TV series.

He is going down a well trodden path however, whereby what is an obvious talent for communicating science becomes a zeal for preaching sermons to the public. Dr Ian Stewart made some fantastic programmes about Geology, but then destroyed his credibility in my eyes by driving around in a van with Mann's hockey stick painted onto the side. t's a terrible shame because now whenever I see either of them on TV I automatically turn over.

Dec 11, 2010 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

It might interest the good Bishop, and all who are interested in the Cancun 'results', that, according to the eminent climate change reporter Lousie Gray, of the DT, Lord Monckton has recanted ... but read for yourselves:

It is at the time of my writing just below the headline of the online DT edition ...

Dec 11, 2010 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

Viv, what an atrocious article. Why can't people like Gray tell it like it is: that without strong positive feedbacks there ain't no global warming crisis from our CO2 emissions. Spencer and Monckton (and Lindzen and many, many others) deny that there's scientific support for positive feedbacks. Not to be able to report this after so long is just ridiculous. We should keep hammering home this point.

Dec 11, 2010 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

And the great Brian Cox didn't mention this crucial point either, of course. Such is 'official science': dishonestly stupid - or should that be stupidly dishonest? And people wonder why there is less trust than there was.

Dec 11, 2010 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I venture that media 'spotters' alighted on him as one having a talent at communication (which he has) and some earthy street cred and they have been grooming him ever since. Cox has become a mouthpiece, and doubtless gets fawning praise within the BBC. He is shielded behind his 'talent representative' who assures us that "Professor Cox regrets he cannot reply to all correspondence personally".

Being a mouthpiece isn't always bad: somebody has to communicate and represent others who are less erudite. But there's the ever present danger of becoming a puppet, or a propagandist, or turning the role into a bully pulpit. I'm continually troubled at the lack of understanding of philosophy, religion, and history by prominent spokesmen on science, and I don't consider that those who demonstrate a poor understanding of these fields should be given prominence in communicating science except in their narrow fields of expertise. Cox is competent to lecture on high energy physics, but he is incompetent to be speaking about climate change or astronomy and such like, never mind ethics. Although quite a different personality, I'm reminded of Richard Dawkins, another savvy media manipulator, who doubtless knows a good deal about biology, yet held the chair of Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford for 13 years but is clueless about philosophy, religion and history, without which one cannot possible 'understand' what science is about. Whenever the man opens his mouth on anything but his own specialism he comes across as a pea-brained twit and an ignorant bully, which does no service to science. I fear Cox is treading (or being led down) the same path.

Dec 11, 2010 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Told you CR was worth a read ;-)

Dec 11, 2010 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

@ Viv and Richard re Louise. Chaps, you may be missing the point of her article. Note the title and then the statement that "His arguments are dismissed by most scientists." Very clever attempt to slide out of her previous stance, or just another sloppy piece of ur-journalism?

Dec 11, 2010 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Bromige

Cancun: The "agreement" is much to do about nothing as it has no support in law, and not even the US will contribute to it. It is a show piece.

Cox: He is a cute and somewhat intelligent young man on the make. I envy him. He is making a good bundle for not much work and I suspect has a very active sex life. I don't begrudge him his good luck. He will, however, pay the price in the scientific world. They will not take him seriously. I do not think he cares.

But if given the same choice, I would have taken the same run knowing what I now know about life. Now that I am looking back at what I did and could have done, and looking forward to ever more serious geriatric aliments, I would have opted to have as much fun as possible as long as I hurt nobody but myself.. There is the old saying "We all die, but too many never live."

Dec 11, 2010 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Richard Drake
Bish, can we have a new thread to discuss what has or hasn't happened at Cancun?

I agree that a PM -- post meeting or post mortem -- would be a good topic once the results are published. I for one am curious about Bolivia and what happened with them

Dec 11, 2010 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Regard Cancun Agreement -- some of it is coming out. From CNN

A key sticking point was the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and sets greenhouse gas emissions targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union.

"For us, this is not a step forward. It is a step back, because what is being done here is postponing without limit the discussion on the Kyoto Protocol," Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon told delegates early Saturday.

The agreement does not specify what will happen once the Kyoto Protocol expires, postponing the debate until the next scheduled climate talks in South Africa in 2011.

Dec 11, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

The Guardian fundamentalists, led by Randerson have already admitted defeat, amid much highly amusing wailing and gnashing and US-bashing:

Dec 11, 2010 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

O'Geary @4:47

Thank you for that link. 28 minutes in a person called Rob from Oxfam was asked whether there has been any backlash against Oxfam. His reply was to the effect that all that happens is that every time Oxfam issues a press release on Climate Change, they get the odd crank email. I presume he counts me as a crank because I objected to Oxfam using my donated money on its pseudo-religious political campaign. Can I urge all readers of this blog who consider giving to Oxfam to refrain in future. Donated money is, in my opinion, better applied by other charities.

Dec 11, 2010 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

Cox’s objection to TGGWS appears to be that it broke with what he calls the ‘peer-reviewed scientific consensus’, misleading the audience who may not be sufficiently well informed to understand that the film was a polemic. Broadcasters and film makers should stick to the peer-reviewed scientific consensus.

Consensus like this,

In September 1983, Dr Marshall presented his findings at an international conference in Brussels, Belgium, but his unrestrained enthusiasm, combined with his youthful appearance and informal manner, apparently fed the skepticism of his audience. Marshall's critics contended that the presence of helicobacter in the stomachs of patients with gastric diseases was coincidental, and that the bacteria were probably harmless.

Generations of medical scholars had taught that stomach ulcers were caused by an excess of stomach acid generated by stress and dietary factors. It was also believed that bacteria could not survive for any length of time in the acid environment of the human stomach.

Practitioners of gastroenterology and the pharmaceutical industry were both heavily invested in the theory that peptic ulcers were caused by emotional stress and stomach acids, and could only be treated with repeated courses of antacid medication. While the reduction of stomach acid often alleviated the existing ulcer, inflammation of the stomach lining usually persisted, and most patients found themselves returning in a year or two with another ulcer. Patients were routinely advised to seek psychiatric counseling, find less demanding employment or make other drastic lifestyle changes to address the purported cause of their disease. Volumes were published detailing the alleged psychological causes of gastric ailments, and ulcers remained a frequently cited example of psychosomatic illness.
In this environment, the possibility that the ailment was directly caused by a single microorganism that could be completely eliminated with a two-week course of antibiotics was a threat to the status quo. While many of Marshall's critics had serious scientific questions about his hypothesis, others may have had economic motives in disputing his findings, and Marshall was not shy about saying so. The targets of his criticism soon sought to discredit him and his research. One prominent gastroenterologist dismissed him as "a crazy guy saying crazy things."

By 1994, Marshall's theory of the bacterial cause of peptic ulcers had been largely accepted by the international scientific community.

Dec 11, 2010 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobuk

Nice one Robuk. That's the example I usually give!

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson


Most welcome.

Did you also notice the space given to "la Via Campesina" ("The International Peasants' Movement") one of the nuttiest and most dangerous green groups who want to tie 3rd World farmers into "traditional" (i.e. backbreaking, low-yield") farming. Guardian "Science", indeed.

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

Robuk, That ulcer story is one of the episodes I mentioned in the first post here. Fuller story linked there.

The point is that various Learned Societies and Institutions have adopted the "mainstream" global warming theme. I gave three Australian examples that should cause caution about a quick and shallow judgement.

I simply ask, what quidelines are used to distinguish between the new ideas that will fail and the new ideas that will become mainstream in time?

If the Learned Societies have no guidelines that they can quote, then the conclusion is that they are adding their reputations to a guess.

Any guidelines have to be better than "He's a member of the Cambridge Club so he must be all right" or similar.

So, for the Royal Society of London, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Australian Academey of Sciences and others similar, what guidelines do you use to dismiss the outliers? Remember that very many new advances start off as outliers, that being the nature of the course of innovation.

Dec 12, 2010 at 2:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeof Sherington

I was at a BBRC communication seminar in late 2006 in which Cox spoke about science communication stuff, he mentioned Carl Sagan a lot but didnt say anything new, or that Sagan didnt.

The last speaker of the day I recall was David Whitehouse, who actually knew Carl Sagan, and who had some substantial things to say. he eclipsed Cox.

But today's media prefers the flim flam I guess.

Dec 12, 2010 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered Commenternot Carl

The trouble with the Royal Society, the AAAS, the AAS, Prince Charles, the Archbishop of Canterbury and so on is that they are all members of the "great and good".

As such they automatically buy in to every current and as they think "safe" view and are immune to thinking about anything unless or until it becomes the new paradigm.

Dec 12, 2010 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The helicobacter case is a very good example of the scientific consensus evolving in the presence of new evidence. The chaps got the Nobel prize in recognition of their work, and human knowledge is advanced a tiny bit.

Cox makes it quite clear that the "consensus" is not necessarily correct, but that it represents the best view given the available data. Peer review did "give us the modern world" after all, and the resulting consensus is always changing.

Dec 14, 2010 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commentertom.harrigan

Re ScientistForTruth

Religion is niether a necessary nor desirable part of science. The religious belief of a pure scientist should have zero influence on his/her work. Rather like Mark Twain said of adjectives.

Dec 15, 2010 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeof Sherington

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