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« Russell review under way | Main | Andy Lacis comments »

He never said it

Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen

Well, well, well. According to the Independent, Sir John Houghton's best-known aphorism never actually passed his lips.

It's not the sort of thing I would ever say. It's quite the opposite of what I think and it pains me to see this quote being used repeatedly in this way. I would never say we should hype up the risk of climate disasters in order to get noticed.

The source appears to have been an Australian journalist who said it appeared in Houghton's 1994 book on global warming. This appears not to have been true.

I wonder why Sir John kept mum for all these years?


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Reader Comments (22)

Interesting reading the comments on the Independent website. Even if he didnt say, what he is alleged to have said, but allegedly hasnt, apparently he did say "As a climate scientist who has worked on this issue for several decades, first as head of the Met Office, and then as co-chair of scientific assessment for the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, the impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a "weapon of mass destruction".

In other words he has announced disasters, and has been listened to because of that, but denies that he said that you had to announce disasters in order to be listened to.

Like Chapter 9 and its synopsis thereof, as per Frank O'Dyers interpretation of Lacis views, the conclusions of the action are so obvious, that it neednt be stated, and in fact it would be offensive to be stated explicitly.

Feb 11, 2010 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

wow wikipedia gets updated quickly

Feb 11, 2010 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterChuck

He did, however, describe global warming as a "weapon of mass destruction" in this gruniad article (which he wrote himself, according to the by line):

Feb 11, 2010 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Professor Houghton was a speaker, on at least two occasions, on climate and CO2 issues at the Foundation for Science and Technology. I know, because I was a member at the time and heard him speak on both occasions. There is no formal record of the first occasion (in early 1990s) in his IPCC role, as the Foundation did not then publish what was said. Everything was under Chatham House rules. Publication of the formal speeches started 1995, although the q and a sessions that followed the speeches remained under Chatham House rules (people can speak frankly without fear of being named and quoted in the media).

You can read a written report of his second (1998) speech here:
You have to scroll down to p17.

You will see that he was one of three speakers. This was normal practice, the preference being to get opposing views on the subject of debate and discusssion. In 1998 the subject was CO2 and the speakers were essentially in agreement about AGW. This did not necessarily extend to members of the audience, at least one of whom (a distinguished meteorologist himself) strongly and vocally disagreed with the AGW thesis.

I remember the evening in because the last speaker was Dr Mary Archer (wife of Geoffrey Archer). Towards the end of her remarks she is quoted as saying:
"We also need to think seriously about other options for reducing
the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. The case for nuclear
power is weakened by the current low cost of fossil fuels, and
substantial new nuclear generating capacity will not be created
unless and until the world becomes more frightened of global
warming than it is of nuclear radiation and accidents."

It is possible that that comment became somewhat mangled and incorrectly attributed to Professor Houghton after the event.

Reading the speeches now, it is startling to be reminded how convinved most there were about AGW. There are also a couple of references to the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, which did not register with me at the time.

Feb 11, 2010 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Apparently 'all these years' you mention are illusory. According to The Independent the saying was fabricated in 2006 by a hostile journalist, together with a made-up reference to 1994.

Feb 11, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Apparently 'all these years' you mention are illusory.

2010 - 2006 = 3...4 yrs, which is still a respectably long time for a quote to knocking around in the media, regardless of the fact that the 1994 reference is now known to be bollocks.

Given that this quote has been so regularly and prominently attributed to him for at least 3 years, it's odd that he should choose to deny it now and be considering legal action. It is extremely doubtful that any will continue to attribute the quote to him from now on - unless some new evidence shows him to be "confused" on the matter.

I mean, it's not like he's a scientist trying to get his name off an IPCC report, or anything, it is?

This is a good opportunity for skeptics to show how they respond to errors in their work; although, to be clear, the reason for the quote being so widely used is that it was seen as indicative of a general alarmist disposition, rather than contrary scientific evidence.

The IPCC, on the other hand, has quoted and misquoted all kinds of junk and held it up as well-grounded, scientifically scrutinised fact.

That's not anything like an equal trade of sins, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Feb 11, 2010 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterdoobie


"This is a good opportunity for skeptics to show how they respond to errors in their work"

The latest among thousands.

You haven't done too well so far.

Feb 11, 2010 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Did he say it? Well they said he did say, what they say that he said, but he said he didn’t say, what they say that he said, because he said he never would say, what they say that he said. But he did say, what he would have said, had he said what they say that he said, and they wondered why he didn’t say, that he didn’t say, what they say that he said, for so long? It is said that he didn’t say, that he didn’t say what they say that he said, for so long, because it couldn’t be said, that what they say that he said, was untrue. But now it could be said, that what they say that he said, could be true. So he has said that he didn’t say what they say that he said, though he did say, what he would have said, had he said what they say that he said.

Feb 11, 2010 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Hang on, has anyone actually seen this 1994 edition of this book ? Do we have any direct testimony that Stoughton didn't say this, other than his own ?

Feb 11, 2010 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterfFreddy

"You haven't done too well so far."

In what respect? Seriously, please elaborate.

Feb 11, 2010 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterdoobie


That was a general observation of 'sceptics' and not aimed at you personally.

All I mean is that the deny-o-sphere is filled with incorrect claims and misquotes and poor logic - far more of it than you'll ever see corrections for. I'm talking about the really egregious crap here, for example stuff that is logically or factually wrong rather than just probably wrong. Stuff such as the worst of the arguments which are rebutted at Drop in on pretty much any 'sceptic' blog and you'd never know any of it was wrong - in fact likely as not they'd be pushing those sorts of claims.

And if there are corrections, which is rare, the corrections are almost never given the same prominence as the original trumpeting of whatever nonsense it was. Indeed the same stuff is pushed over and over. That's why the 'sceptic' arguments I'm talking about are alive and well and, like zombies, keep getting up no matter how often they are killed.

I'm not saying that's all they post, nor that it is universally true, but it is true of the majority and the loudest.

The ratios are different too - it's like 9999:1 error from the IPCC vs 1:9999 from the 'sceptics'. (if we are talking about WG1-type stuff).

The 'sceptic' errors are also far more significant. Delete or correct the errors so far found in the IPCC report and I doubt it would be shorter by more than a page, or that it would do much to the big picture facts. Do the same to the 'NIPCC' report from Heartland and you might be left with the covers (there isn't much in it apart from IPCC ad homs to begin with).

It really isn't an 'equal trade of sins' - just not in the way you think.

Feb 11, 2010 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Frank O'D,
Bunk on you.
AGW true believers like you are immune to critical thinking or rationally considering the improbablity of AGW being the first time an apocalyptic prediction actually came true.
And as for the claim that the subject of this thread never stated that it was cool to fabricate stuff to raise the fear level, since we now know the IPCC does just that, and that a great deal of effort by CRU, Mann, etc. to do the same thing as well, why is he suddenly now claiming to be so different?
My bet is he said something close enough to it that the attribution is probably pretty close enough. Now, with real scrutiny gearing up, he is suddenly feeling the need for a clarification or two.

Feb 11, 2010 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter


"AGW true believers"


"like you are immune to critical thinking"

Ad hominem. A falsehood. And based on a false premise.

Maybe you'd do better if you addressed what I actually wrote.

"the attribution is probably pretty close enough."

He never said it = "close enough"?

Says it all really.

Feb 11, 2010 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

F O'D,
I would suggest that your reliance on 'deny-o-sphere' sort of leaves your plaints about strawmen drifting away like....straw.
True believers, like people who people who depend on pigeonholes such as 'deny-o-sphere' are by definition immune to ciritcal thinking.
Show us the critical thinking that looks honestly at the IPCC bunkonium sale, for instance.
In an interview, it is very common for journalists to sum up a position by the interviewee.
and the journal stands behind it.
I don't know if the exact quote was made or not. But we see in the current post about the IPCC chair, that he deninitively relies on utter bs to sell the IPCC premise. He is perfectly happy to use made up, non-reviewed stuff, if he deems it useful.
That is not significantly different from what Sir John Houghton was believed to have said until, he suddenly found it to be anathema.
Since he gave silent assent to the aphorism credited to him for multiple years, I think his sudden excercise in conscience is not completely credible.
I will look forward to what the reporter who wrote it has to say in regard to his alleged creativity.
Here is what a professor who follows this closely says:
""I've seen it printed in many books. He is well known for making these statements. I've used that quote on many occasions from one of the books on climate alarmism. If he makes the claim that he never said this then he has to clarify that," Dr Peiser said.

"If he publicly says that he never made that statement then, of course, I wouldn't use it, but this is the first time I've heard [his denial] and this has been going on for 15 years. This quote has been used for the past 15 years," he said."
From the link.

So at the least, your haste to condemn those who have repeated his (alleged) quote is uncalled for.

Feb 12, 2010 at 12:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

So can someone go to the library and read the franking book?
Make sure it's the right edition.

Feb 12, 2010 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

John Silver

I read somewhere that it's not in any of the editions.

Feb 12, 2010 at 9:59 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

If it is not, and he never said it in any venue, then it is worth dropping.
But in this day, when AGW promoters are using other Orwellian tactics, it is worthwhile to at least keep open the idea that the memory hole is also being deployed.

Feb 12, 2010 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Read oldtimers post. The allegation is he said it. It could be someone else said it and it was wrongly arreibuted to him. It could be he said it in one of his talks before the recorded era. zwhether he said it or not he sertainly acted on that alleged statement.

Feb 13, 2010 at 5:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Soory correction... had a wine or two..
Read oldtimers post. The allegation is he said it. It could be someone else said it and it was wrongly attributed to him. It could be he said it in one of his talks before the recorded era. whether he said it or not he certainly acted on that alleged statement.

Feb 13, 2010 at 5:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Philip Stott has an interestng new post on this issue:

He has found (via a friend of his) what is probably the original source of ths Houghton comment which morphed into this controversial version.

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.” Sir John Houghton, ‘Me and My God’, ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, September 10, 1995.

Feb 16, 2010 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

For completeness sake, after looking on the web, I also found that the original Houghton comment was quoted in this 12.04.2009 paper by Hans Von Storch:

Feb 16, 2010 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

"[W]e have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements,
and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide
what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."
- Stephen Schneider (quoted in Our Fragile Earth by Jonathan Schell)

"We've already had too much economic growth in the United States. Economic
growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure."
- Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

Paul Ehrlich deserves special attention, because his views sum up the
anti-human trends of political-environmentalist thought -- trends that
frequently manifest themselves in predictions of global famine or plans for
draconian measures to halt or reverse population growth. In "The
Population Bomb", Ehrlich predicted that the "battle to feed humanity is
over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions
of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs
embarked upon now. Population control is the only answer."

Of course, that inevitable mass starvation didn't happen unless you were
unlucky enough to have it imposed upon you by a Communist government in
Ethiopia. But Ehrlich has persisted in his predictions. He predicted
global famine in 1985 and was wrong. Now he says that the population of
the United States will shrink from 250 million to about 22.5 million before
1999, because of famine and global warming.

He still recommends reducing population by force, saying: "Several coercive
proposals deserve serious consideration, mainly because we will ultimately
have to resort to them, unless current trends in birth rates are revised."
Among Ehrlich's "coercive proposals" for the United States are
deindustrialization, liberalized abortion, and tax breaks for people who
have themselves sterilized. Ehrlich has many supporters in the
environmental movement.

Feb 19, 2010 at 5:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterSharpshooter

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