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« Judith Curry in Discover | Main | Josh 11 »
Monday
Mar152010

Sir John Houghton in the Times

Sir John Houghton is the former head of IPCC WG1 and also key figure in the story of the Hockey Stick's use as a promotional tool. He has been given some space in the Times today, in which he seeks to defend the integrity of his creation and the honour of climalogists in general.

It's well worth a read, but it's amusing to note that he accepts the glaciergate errors, which you will remember involved the use of claims from a WWF report. At the same time Sir John also claims that:

...a report from Greenpeace or any other campaigning body would not be included because the science would not be considered robust enough.

Whoops.

There are also some interesting claims about the recent lack of warming being a function of El Nino and natural variation. Lucia might have something to say aon thios subject.

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Reader Comments (30)

Circular argument kicks in in his 2nd par.

"Given this dangerous mood of scepticism, it is no surprise that the IPCC — the body that represents the integrity of climate-change scientists across the world — is being attacked."

To say that skepticism is "dangerous" immediately shows his unquestioning assumption of his correctness.

Rest of the article instantly rendered worthless.

Mar 15, 2010 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

My Lord Bishop,
Your opening sentence is over-written. It would suffice to say "Sir John Houghton is ... a promotional tool".

Mar 15, 2010 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

This is the third time in the last few weeks that basically the same "logic" is shown:

You can be a sceptic, you can be a climate-change scientist, but you cannot be both.

It is consistent. It is not an accident, they see themselves as the only truth. If you disagree you are a sceptic, if you are a sceptic then you are not a scientist. This is how these people think.

The slight difference here is that only IPCC climate change sicentists are regarded as worthy.

Mar 15, 2010 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Houghton's article gets a hefty Fisking from Lubos Motl in particularly "robust" form.

Mar 15, 2010 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"If the IPCC has a fault, it is that its reports have been too cautious, not alarmist"

Houghton thinks that, much like Rahmstorf, offence is the best defence.

Mar 15, 2010 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterHoi Polloi

Quote, SJH, "As warming has continued at about the rate projected by the reports, each subsequent report has in general shown increasing confidence in its conclusions."

Quote, SJH, "It is also known that a substantial part of the recent variability is down to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation"

Here we have the same arguement trotted out - when the planet warms it is entirely AGW - when the planet cools it is simply natural variation.

When you cherry pick the data to suit a particular theory then you know you are dealing in propaganda.

The two warming periods of the last 100 years show that from

1910 to 1940 the planet warmed at a rate of 0.15C/decade.

This was followed by a 30 year hiatus of no warming.

1970 to 2000 the planet warmed at a rate of 0.15C/decade.

This is being followed by another extended period of no warming.

So where is the “discernible human impact”?

When the rates and periods of warming are of the same magnitude, one prior to an increase in CO2 emissions and the other after a significant increase in CO2, you would have thought an inquiring mind would ask the simple question, "why is that when the AGW hypothesis states otherwise?"

This simple fact makes a mockery of science because it silences the climate scientists and exposes people like Sir John Houghton as a fool only to himself.

The great bard put it best, "‘facts are chiels that winna ding".

Mar 15, 2010 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

"If the IPCC has a fault, it is that its reports have been too cautious, not alarmist".

If Houghton had been following the Climategate revelations properly, he should know that he can't get away with this tosh any more. He should read the comments that follow his article to get a better understanding of the current popular mood.

Mar 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"I was chairman or co-chairman of the Science Working Group.."

Can't he remember..? :-)

Mar 15, 2010 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

From yesterday's (Sunday) Times, UK,

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7061162.ece

Mar 15, 2010 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

OT. I've unfortunately just been listening to Nicholas Stern on "You and Yours". Dreadful propaganda. I wonder if all this propaganda is part of a concerted fight-back by the government?

Mar 15, 2010 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I've found a few little issues with his strident defence of the IPCC

http://www.di2.nu/201003/15.htm

Mar 15, 2010 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrancisT

Lubos Motl rightly takes apart the idea of the IPCC being too big to fall foul of group-think - thanks again to Trofim Lysenko, Josef Stalin and the enthusiastic consensus of the Russian Academy of Sciences for your insight and inspiration. Sir John Houghton invested fourteen years of his life getting the IPCC going and it's hardly surprising I suppose that he thinks the way he does. As I made clear last month I actually take his word seriously that he has stood against conscious pressure to magnify alarm. The irony being that Houghton himself is a striking example for me of the power of group-think - especially in the way he and his group thinks about those of us who question them:

But scientists are now faced by powerful lobbies who are working to distort and discredit the science behind climate change.

When you think of dear Steven McIntyre in Toronto being fobbed off and mocked behind his back by this coterie for so many years - and the wonderful book by a self-styled Bishop in rural Scotland that tells his story (I must read it sometime!) - and the actions of an otherwise powerless whistleblower in East Anglia, and an unemployed Steve Mosher trying to figure it all out in San Francisco that seminal week of 17th December, and the impact this chain of events has had, all coming from people that only had the truth, with no advantages of power and influence and money ... I do find it completely incredible that back in the UK Sir John Houghton of North Wales and Richard Tyrwhitt-Drake of London (a name only used in unusual circumstances) could inhabit the same culture and planet and see the socio-political situation we abundantly share so utterly differently.

Sir John's not entirely wrong about the foundational part of the IPCC he set up and ran. Most of Working Group 1 isn't too bad, as even Richard Lindzen would say. It's the intense and deceptive propaganda built around it, for those that will never read the big reports, designed to lead to utterly irresponsible policy choices, that are bound to do massive damage to the poor, that this feted climatologist and Christian it seems can't even see. And that I do and I have, with grief and not a little fear, over eighteen years. Except that Climategate really has been a game-changer, as James Delingpole put it in his fiesty debate with George Monbiot at Free Word in December. What an extraordinary thing to be a part of or even just to witness.

As Sir John Houghton faces this turnaround in his own fortunes - even if that only consists of a profound reduction of reputation, not of income - I have a thought for him from James, the brother of Jesus, that has gripped me in recent years:

Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

That's a good test of each of us, as to where our heart really is. And that's really all that matters - as we don't have the power to change the climate, even if we wanted to. It's a humbler role but it can still be an hugely enjoyable one. As Chesterton once pointed out, who ever deserved to see a sunset?

Mar 15, 2010 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I should point out that John Houghton is actually 'of Jesus' in the literal as well as metaphorical sense.

I know because I used to sort and deliver his mail when working as Porter in the Oxford College of that name. The money funded me through my undergraduate days. When I learnt enough Science from some very good teachers to recognise bullshit when I see it. Sad that Prof. Houghton did not learn the same from his fellow Senior Common Room members at the time.

Mar 15, 2010 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterstirling english

No man is a hero to his postie.

Mar 15, 2010 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Phillip

I too had been wondering if the recent splurge of activity by the establishment was a fight back. Over at WUWT there's a story about an Australian political analyst having a pop at Steve Mc. I'm not sure it's exactly an organised campaign, if so it's not very professional, but they are clearly trying their best to regain the upper hand.

Mar 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

"Phillip

I too had been wondering if the recent splurge of activity by the establishment was a fight back...I'm not sure it's exactly an organised campaign, if so it's not very professional, but they are clearly trying their best to regain the upper hand."

They've behaved abominably and unethically.They've trampled on other scientists' careers and reputations. They've had the lion's share of all the funding for years, as well as the publicity. And suddenly when they get caught out a little, they cry foul and say they're in a street fight, and have to respond in a less gentlemanly manner. So they are going to play even more dirty than we've seen from the Climategate fallout. They are behaving like playground bullies. That's what we're seeing. They will take their grubby sciences down into the cesspool with them, so long as they can keep sucking on the teats of government handouts.

As far as Ehrlich is concerned, there's no reputation left to redeem - his was shot to pieces years ago; and Schneider is not far behind. These guys will go down in infamy.

Mar 15, 2010 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Phillip

Did you catch Lord Stern's remark that the case for AGW didn't rely on papers from UAE as there was plenty of other evidence?

I thought the issue was not with what UAE publish but with what they refuse to make public.

Mar 15, 2010 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Oops!

For UAE read UEA.

Mar 15, 2010 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Re Stern. From his remarks twice about the physics being known in the 19th century, you wonder about these numpties who have no scientific training. Unbelievable that they wheel these people out to spin and try to limit the damage from climategate.

How many people has nulabour elevated with honours and positions of influence to spin and propagandise? What are the costs to us taxpayers?

Mar 15, 2010 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Phillip

for a rather depressing look, albeit at only the tip of the iceberg, costs directly to UK taxpayers, and further costs EU wide, see Richard North's blog if you aren't already a reader:

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/

On the other hand, if you'd rather not let your evening be spoilt by the truly mind boggling sums of public money being handed out to the climate change industry and its myriad promoters and hangers on, best not to look.

Still, if anyone is stuck for a business idea guaranteed to bring in easy funding, with no need for any meaningful return on investment or value for money, it's a great source of endless wheezes.

Mar 15, 2010 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrew

The AGW promotion community has entered into a phase best described as 'confusion'.This AGW apologist seems to think that is possible for a process to be at once corrupted and robust, false but true and flawed, but sound.
This is the equivalent of the stage of mourning called 'denial and anger'.

Mar 15, 2010 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Although it is true that warmism will make me poorer and stop me from flying, that is not the reason that I don't believe it. It may surprise sir John, but I am rational enough to understand that the truth doesn't change just because I find it unpalatable. I don't believe it because it is based on lies. The interesting thing about telling lies is that you tend to have to tell more lies to cover up those lies. This article makes that point rather well.

Mar 15, 2010 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Well, was anybody unfortunate enough to hear The Forum "some of the most eminent minds of the 21st century" the other night? BBC World Service has become the backwoods testing ground for domestic media manipulation strategy over the last 4 or 5 years.

There is a creepy, "that was just a blip" mentality that has obviously taken hold at the BBC - if you listen to the pretty gushing endorsements of the twaddle spouted by this utterly independent and well informed panel of eminent experts - you'll see what to expect from the arrogant half wit dicks and dickettes at our state funded broadcaster over the coming months.

Mar 15, 2010 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom

This is the same chap who demanded an apology for not saying “If we want a good environmental
policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.” (only that was exactly what he said).

http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/houghton-and-god.pdf

Pity the journos don't report that - no wonder people have realized that reading the newspapers is pointless.

Mar 16, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

John Houghton is away with the Pharoahs......

http://www.jri.org.uk/index.php/2009/11/joseph-and-climate/

A new JRI briefing paper by Sir John Houghton links the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt and modern issues surrounding climate change. You can download Joseph, Pharaoh, and a Climate Crisis.

"So Joseph stood before Pharaoh who recounted his dreams of cows and ears of corn. After explaining that he could only provide the interpretation God gave to him, Joseph told Pharaoh the meaning of his dreams. Both parts of the dream had the same meaning; they reinforced each other because the message was important. The next seven years, Joseph said, would be years of plenty with very good harvests. After that would follow seven years of famine with very poor harvests. Joseph was, in fact, passing on a climate forecast for Egypt and the surrounding region for the next fourteen years.

He told Pharaoh that’s the forecast demanded immediate action – no time must be lost. Nothing changed there then....

What is the particular message of the story to us today? We face a climate crisis of enormous magnitude and proportions, not local but global, not of 7 years duration but lasting indefinitely.

Information about it has not come through dreams but through science. Many hundreds of scientists representing the world scientific community have got together, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide the necessary climate forecast and to propose to governments what needs to be done."

Those of us in rich countries need to be reminded that, over 200 years since the industrial revolution, we have grown rich through cheap energy from the burning of fossil fuels. We have not realised its effect on the world’s climate nor that the damage falls disproportionately on the world’s poorest.

There is therefore an inescapable moral imperative for rich countries to avoid further damage by rapidly reducing their carbon emissions and to share their wealth and skills with developing countries to enable them to build their economies sustainably.

For Christians this imperative comes over with particular potency. We live in times when we are raping the Earth and exploiting the poor.

Pharoah and Joseph had 7 YEARS

So have we

2016

Mar 17, 2010 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDennisA

John Houghton is away with the Pharoahs......

Nice one. The timing of the message, on 20th November 2009, does indeed seem about as potent as a dead sheep going round the stage at the height of the famine in a production of Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It's interesting too to see all the subsequent posts from the John Ray Initiative, an evangelical Christian outfit that as far as I can see doesn't once see fit to condemn the deeply unethical actions of the Climategate scientists. I wonder where they find the scriptures for those.

Funnily enough, on the evening of 20th November I was myself enjoying a dinner party at the Highgate home of a very old evangelical friend, who'd recently been asked to become an adviser to George Osborne on financial regulation. I was blissfully unaware of the CRUtape letters having been leaked, not having looked at the climate blogs for a little while. But one of the highly intelligent Christian ladies there, who worked at Cambridge, on learning of my background in Maths at that august place mentioned that she'd recently sat next to Martin Rees - Lord Rees to his friends, head honcho of the Royal Society - at another recent dinner event.

I'm afraid that flipped my switch and, no doubt somewhat to the dismay of the gathering, I made clear my disdain for the catastrophism that Rees has adopted in recent years, finishing rather dramatically: "Mark my words, in six months the global warming movement will have fallen apart."

I swear blind that I didn't know a bean about Climategate, unlike Steven Mosher, Steve Mc and quite a few others by that time. So I've quite often thought back to this. How did I know to say that? To how many significant figures was the six months correct? That kind of thing. I'd still say it was more on the money than dear Sir John's exegetical meditations the same day.

The sequel to this was interesting too. One afternoon just before Christmas I was bitterly cold in Camden Town, a travel hub I no longer spend time in very often but where I'd arranged to meet someone in the evening. I had a couple of hours to kill and being a parsimonious type with a daily bus card decided to hop on the first bus that came along up the High Street and later come back the same way. It turned out to be the 214, winding its way up to Highgate. At the Kentish Town station stop sure enough the same friend got on, after a hard day trying to help the Tories, and exclaimed "What on earth are you doing here? You're going completely the wrong way!"

Believing the best form of defence to be attack, especially in Christian circles, I at once retorted: "Don't you believe I'm a man led by the Holy Spirit?" A very enjoyable conversation ensued, taking in an inevitable sojourn at one of the very nice pubs in Highgate village. There were fascinating interactions on the ethics of quantitative easing through the bond market (there aren't any) and whole lot besides. When I mentioned an email about the latest on Climategate I'd sent my friend a few days before he simply said "So it's a conspiracy then?" It seemed as fair as summary as was needed so we moved on. As I hope soon the John Ray Initiative and other such Christian groups will do, out of their deep commitment to the truth.

Mar 17, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

JC,

You can be a sceptic, you can be a climate-change scientist, but you cannot be both.

Scientists and sceptics are the same thing. The problem is that self-described sceptics have appropriated the term. They say they are sceptics, but you shouldn't take their word for it, should you? Is 'sceptic' really an appropriate term for someone who denies that there is such a thing as the greenhouse effect, or who ignores strong of evidence of warming in favor of slim or non-existent evidence of cooling, for example?

Real sceptics, aka scientists, use a method that is self-correcting and are open to having their mind changed by evidence. That's why it was scientists who discovered the himalayan glacier issue in the IPCC report and not 'sceptics'.

'Sceptics' aren't really sceptics and they don't behave like scientists at all. They have no scientific theory. They promote arguments no matter how much they are refuted by evidence (indeed often inconsistent with other arguments they promote). Far from exhibiting scepticism, at the drop of a hat they'll accept any theory that they think contradicts AGW (even if it doesn't) like a credulous child. And many even promote even logical fallacies long after they are shown to be so.

Mar 17, 2010 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Frank, that's preposterous. First, who do we include as 'sceptics'? In the Populus survey for the BBC last month there were, as before, four categories you could choose from as 'closest to your own view':

1. Climate change is not happening
2. Climate change is happening, but it is environmentalist propaganda that it is man‐made
3. Climate change is happening, but not yet proven to be largely man‐made
4. Climate change is happening & is now established as largely man‐made

I personally would have trouble choosing between 2 and 3, which I think are both very true. And behind 1 the wording of the survey's first question is "From what you know and have heard, do you think that the Earth’s climate is changing and global warming taking place?" I think the Earth's climate is changing but I'm honestly not sure if global warming is happening - right now. But if you asked me if I felt that the Earth has warmed in the last hundred years I would say yes, based on the evidence we have. I don't think that everything in the adjusted anomaly figures at every station can be put down to the Urban Heat Island and what have you - though nothing would surprise me. But, as Lindzen always points out, even if you take current figures at face value, it's a very small warming. So big deal. But I think I would opt for category 2 or 3, not 1. The only thing I would be certain about is that I do not accept 4.

Let me call all those in categories 1-3 AGW-sceptics, which you wish to distinguish from real-scientific-sceptics, which is entirely within your right and indeed could in some circumstances be quite helpful.

AGW-sceptics have according to the Populus poll gone from 55% to 74% of the population of the UK in three months from early November, before Climategate, Glaciergate and the rest. As the BBC website reported it

"It is very unusual indeed to see such a dramatic shift in opinion in such a short period," Populus managing director Michael Simmonds told BBC News.

The key question then is are you really saying that your last paragraph:
Sceptics' aren't really sceptics and they don't behave like scientists at all. They have no scientific theory. They promote arguments no matter how much they are refuted by evidence (indeed often inconsistent with other arguments they promote). Far from exhibiting scepticism, at the drop of a hat they'll accept any theory that they think contradicts AGW (even if it doesn't) like a credulous child. And many even promote even logical fallacies long after they are shown to be so.

... applies to 74% of the UK population? That there's no variation in subtlety or appreciation of the scientific issues in the 74%? Because if you believe that, well, you are the credulous one.


I wouldn't dispute that some AGW-sceptics in their enthusiasm to debunk the current orthodoxy make statements that go beyond the science, for example in the influence the Sun can be shown to have had on our small climate fluctuations in the past few decades. But where the 74% are united - and whatever the corresponding figure is worldwide - is in not accepting that "It is now an established scientific fact that climate change is largely man‐made."

Of course within that there is much variation. Richard Lindzen might not agree on all points with Roy Spencer (he doesn't always, as you know) and Steve McIntyre might not agree on all with Ross McKitrick (he doesn't, notably about whether globally average temperature anomaly means anything at all). But none of those people are continuously self-contradictory. And they would all agree that it is not established that climate change is largely man‐made.

We all know that categories are hard but this was a lamentable effort. There are some true scientific sceptics among AGW-sceptics. There are some extremely credulous people among AGW-believers. But there are certainly less of them then there were. Based on the evidence.

Mar 18, 2010 at 2:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard,

I don't think the survey is especially relevant - large percentages of people in the UK don't believe in evolution and large percentages do believe in ghosts, astrology, homeopathy and the paranormal. So what?

All I am saying is that there is a significant chunk of people who meet my description of 'sceptics'. Do you really deny it?

I'm talking about people who will deny that warming has happened on earth and in the next breath will tell you (based on much slimmer evidence) that warming has occurred on Mars. Then they'll tell you that means the sun caused the warming that they deny is happening.

They'll tell you that proxy records are unreliable so we don't know how warm it was hundreds of years in the past, and they'll tell you the modern temperature record is unreliable so we don't know how warm it is now either. Then they'll swear blind it was warmer hundreds of years ago than it is now.

They'll tell you the temperature record is faked to show warming and that it doesn't show warming, or it shows cooling.

These people do exist, and sceptical is not the word to describe them.

Mar 18, 2010 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Frank, I think you may be confusing people. (Indeed, in more ways that one.) It may be different people that argue self-contradictory things. In any case, with 74% now sceptics, some will use more reasonable arguments than others. What matters is that evidence for CO2 being at all likely to cause dangerous warming doesn't exist. It's based on GCMs, it's based on workings of software, not on real world observations and well-understood mechanisms able to be falsified by them. There's no science at the heart of AGW. Strange but true.

As for the relevance of the 74% figure, there are two things for me. The increase of 19% in just three months tells me that once they have been caused to look into it (which Climategate did) ordinary people spot this fallacy in the science. How do they manage that, given their lack of PhDs in relevant subjects? I think they're like Freeman Dyson:

I am not an expert, and that’s not going to change. I am not going to make myself an expert. What I do think I have is a better judgment, maybe because I have lived a bit longer, and maybe because I’ve done other things.

As a tip for you, it's best not to sound too condescending of such people, if you want to win them round. They're already leaving your camp in droves. I expect this to continue. Because common sense in this area happens to align with the scientific (un)reality. Game almost over.

Mar 21, 2010 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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