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« Climate lessons | Main | Bob Ward on openness »

Bob Ward again

Bob Ward is on a roll. Today he has an article in New Scientist in which he gives us his professional opinion as a PR man on how climatology can save itself. This is the bit I found interesting:

"Don't underestimate your critics and competitors". This means not only recognising the skill with which the opponents of climate research have executed their campaigns through blogs and other media, but also acknowledging the validity of some of their criticisms. It is clear, for instance, that climate scientists need better standards of transparency that allow for scrutiny not just by their peers but also by critics from outside the world of research.

I praised Bob yesterday for his call for openness and I'm going to praise him again here for making clear that he doesn't see openness as a limited thing that should apply only to the Royal Society. My one concern here would be the words "for instance". That clearly implies Bob recognises that sceptics have valid criticisms beyond the need for transparency, but the question is, which ones does he think are kosher?

Later in the same piece he says this:

It is also important to engage with those critics. That doesn't mean conceding to arguments based on ideology rather than evidence...

...and again, it's hard to disagree. But arguments based on ideology are a problem from a sceptic perspective too. Can those on the other side let go of the Hockey Stick and the absurd argument that its dramatic shape has been replicated by other studies (conveniently overlooking the flawed ingredients that are behind them)? We can only hope.

The paleo studies are mostly rotten. We just need someone to admit it.

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Reader Comments (26)

Action speaks louder than words. It seems the UEA haven’t been listening.

In breach of calls for openness and transparency in climate science, the University of East Anglia, together with Eugene Wahl and Caspar Amman, have refused to provide documents critical to the inquiry that Muir Russell should be undertaking. …….

Jun 2, 2010 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

'Climate change" is like an ocean liner. Different people on each deck want the ship to go in different directions for different reasons - but they don't know this.

Gore and Pachauri on the top deck - they get richer as the ship steams along. They don't care about anyone but themselves.

Western politicians on the next deck have a residual christianity that makes them feel guilty very easily. And its a great new source of taxes.

3rd world pols see it as another gravy train and a series of jamborees in nicer places than their own hell-holes.

A new generation of eco-bureaucrats in western countries - their jobs depend on it.

And the poor old true believers on the lower decks. Living the dream by doing without modern comforts - to various degrees - and nothing to show for it but a smug feeling inside.

And the eco-posers as well - pretending to believe and talking a good match but doing nothing. They excuse themselves in Toynbee-esque ways. "Waiting for Copenhagen"

Jun 2, 2010 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

@Jack Hughes
That cruise liner had better watch out for icebergs

Jun 2, 2010 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndyScrase

Are Bob Ward's comments really just damage limitation ? As the saying goes if you're in a hole - stop digging. By acknowleding the frailties of some of the AGW scientific fraternity, I guess the hope is that some of the heat (no pun intended) is taken off them and the issue as a whole ? I'm sure being under the world's gaze for many months and probably an influx of FOI requests has been difficult for them (probably not for smiler Acton though). There is also the question of the research funding where the recent controversey may lose them some big bucks.

Seriously if I were the PR guy I would do exactly as Ward is doing now. Having gained a pretty good result from the Willis and Oxburgh reviews a little tactical retreat enables them to fight another day.

Jun 2, 2010 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMacTheKnife

Who are these "opponents of climate research" he describes? The people who won't share data? The people who rig peer review? The people who misstate the limitations to their research? The people who use models that haven't been verified and validated?

Who opposes climate research?

Jun 2, 2010 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

I find Bob Ward's New Scientist piece really interesting.

1. It's clear he has come to realise that there is something more to Climategate than just a few injudiciously worded remarks that have been taken out of context. He clearly now believes that some things occurred that the head of the organisation (CRU) should stand up and take responsibility for. One can imagine that coming to this realisation was a difficult thing for him.

2. His analogy with the Roman Catholic Church's response to allegations of child abuse seems very apt. I imagine that few, if any, Catholics renounced their faith as a result, but many must have had their confidence in its priesthood seriously damaged. The analogy with CAGW as a faith (belief without evidence) and its priesthood is clear.

3. He says it's the head of the CRU (Jones, presumably) who should take the heat. It's interesting that he does not suggest that Acton, as VC of UEA, should be the one standing up there and saying that things went wrong. Acton has been at the forefront of affirming the whiteness of the CRU and it would be a difficult about-turn for Acton to execute at this late stage.

4. Bob Ward admits there have been criticisms that should be acknowledged as valid. But then he goes and blows it by referring to critics of climate science's lack of rigour as "the opponents of climate research".

Jun 2, 2010 at 8:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

There are a couple of ludicrous comments on the New Scientist article. It perhaps shows the low standard to which the readership of NS has fallen. iIdon't know any scientist who still subscribes to it.

Jun 2, 2010 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It may be a genuine attempt to promote intelligent dialogue and let's hope it is. On the other hand it may just be trying to reduce the antipathy generated by climate alarmist trolls in comment threads.

From some of the stuff I see in threads on U.S. blogs however I would say its going to take a lot more than PR to establish any kind of reasonable dialogue.

Jun 2, 2010 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Butt

"arguments based on ideology rather than evidence..."

Who's he talking about here? We doubters don't have an ideology - we're just sceptical of those who do!

As for evidence, I wonder what he thinks he's got? If he means Met Office computer models, aren't they the same ones that couldn't accurately predict the movement of a single volcanic plume over a few days? Now, if only they hadn't had to do something practical...

Jun 2, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

The first commenter on the NS piece says that "We've just experienced the hottest 12 month period in recorded history". He sounds confident, but I've not read that anywhere else. Is he just making it up?

Jun 2, 2010 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Wards NS piece comes across as amazingly shallow to me; it is surprising to see it in a science magazine it seems more suited to "Campaign" or whatever other Advertising/PR journals exist out there.

Ward says:
“Climate science needs professional help to rebuild its reputation”
and then leads into a discussion that isn’t talking about any serious engagement with sceptical thought but more about making an impassioned plea to keep PR involved at the same ridiculous level that has got climate science to the ignominious position it is now in.

It seems Ward is using all his skills here at trying to “re-position” his own brand away from the doomsayer of old. The previous Wardian paradigm - the mantra that any critique of the alarmist position could only originate from nefarious ideologues and vested business, is self evidently collapsing. Criticism of the alarmist position is now coming from many more quarters and notably more vocally from within Climate science. Ward can’t reassure his clients that his previous technique was successful when it is patently obvious that public opinion is turning away from his brand of shrill hectoring; even the previously pliant media is sometimes daring to ask mildly searching questions.

Dare I say that maybe these science institutes should take note and stop using Wards brand of PR?

Jun 2, 2010 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Look, the real problem is not just transparency, but the lack of a defendable error budget or uncertainty calculation. As I noted many times the errors on these measurements and extrapolations combine so fast that all those fancy maps and estimates of global temperature have errors bars on them in the 3-5° C range. If they were honest with their calculations and uncertainty they would (a) gain credibility and (b) conclude their claims are not scientifically or mathematically defendable.

Jun 2, 2010 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrata

Your right that the paleo records are rotten and I think most of the modern temperature records smell pretty bad too.

Jun 2, 2010 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterfrank brown

frank brown

Your right that the paleo records are rotten and I think most of the modern temperature records smell pretty bad too.

Agreed. About the only modern world wide temperature records that could possibly shed light on what really has been happening would be NASA's satellite data, which "Dr" James Hansen has had his filthy hands all over.

I wonder if any of the original "uncorrected" data still exists?

Jun 3, 2010 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Uh, can I kinda suggest

Jun 3, 2010 at 2:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

June 2, 2010 | Phillip Bratby
I had a look at those comments Phillip and simply sat shaking my head in disbelief!

For instance:
" But some effort is warranted to persuade ordinary people - more video of polar bears drowning, maybe"

Why do these people seem to think they have a "right" to use propaganda as opposed to science? It simply bigoted religion.

Has any callous scientist actually taken a video of one of these excellent swimmers, sliding beneath the surface? I seem to remember Attenborough talking over a film of a bear on thin ice but never showing one actually drowning.

I guess that the bears have to pay the price for having white fur and looking cuddly!

Jun 3, 2010 at 6:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete Hayes

Well, thanks for “The Snake” Robert I haven’t listened to it since my days at Wigan Casino, not that I would expect many to remember what happened there. Goodness me time ticks so very fast.

Jun 3, 2010 at 7:07 AM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

The first commenter on the NS piece says that "We've just experienced the hottest 12 month period in recorded history". He sounds confident, but I've not read that anywhere else. Is he just making it up?


The representation of attacks on the AGW theory as attacks of climate science confirms the view that AGW belongs in the family of great previous mass delusions. It is interesting as a delusion that has flourished in a subset of the scientific community, though its not unique in that respect.

It is a bit like accusing critics of Enron's accounting policies of conducting a campaign against generally accepted accounting principles....

Jun 3, 2010 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

You don't want to be suckered by this bloke, he is a snake.
Trying to make Ward see sense on CAGW is akin to requesting an alcoholic to blow up a distillery.
I think he is on a fishing expedition or damage limitation exercise, manoeuvring for a climbdown position.
Remember Rudolf Hess?

Jun 3, 2010 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan

But doesn't Bob Ward's article reveal that environmental journalism has failed too, highlighting the fact that AGW ideology is badly flawed.

When a doctrine fails the test of criticism, it's continued acceptance means it has been turned into dogma.

It is AGW dogma that ordinary people reject, the unquestioning alarmism, the failings of climate science, the politicalisation of science.

No amount of PR can save the AGW hypothesis when we have advocates like Bob Ward.

If climate science is to have a future then it needs to cut away the dead AGW wood in order to thrive.

Jun 3, 2010 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Warning: beware the Greek bearing gifts!

Implicit in what our Greek Bob says is that climate scepticism is a centrally controlled and organised effort - "... recognising the skill with which the opponents of climate research have executed their campaigns through blogs and other media..."

Is there a skilful campaign, or is it just a host of people with open access to information who have asked pertinent and embarrassing questions and refused to be fobbed off and silenced?.

Jun 3, 2010 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Another nail in the AGW coffin.

The Pacific islands are NOT sinking below rising seas.

Lets hear how Bob Ward can explain away another IPCC error.

Jun 3, 2010 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I do like the New Scientist's headline take on the growing Pacific Islands;

"Shape-shifting islands defy sea-level rise"

What is being defied here? Is it the land defying the seas? Is it Gaia defying man?

Doesn't the planet just do and not defy.

Perhaps New Spiritualist is more apt these days.

Jun 3, 2010 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

John: Is there a skilful campaign, or is it just a host of people with open access to information who have asked pertinent and embarrassing questions and refused to be fobbed off and silenced?.

John - so far as I can observe, the existence of an orchestrated campaign has no more claim to reality than the statement that the Himalaya glaciers will have vanished in our lifetime.

So far as I can see, the "sceptics" seem primarily to be individual scientifically literate people who, like me, decided to find out what all this global warming business was about and who, instead of finding articles and books setting it out in simple language, with the formulas derived from the appropriate physical laws, were essentially told that you had to take it on trust and that the science was settled. Only a properly trained "climate scientist" could actually comprehend and evaluate the science of AGW.

Laughable things, like the Met Office stating that their climate models, according to them the same as used for predicting our weather, could predict the climate decades into future, removed any lingering doubt that there might be some validity in it.

I think there were a large number of people who had already pretty well concluded that it was all smoke and mirrors when climategate burst. As soon as anyone downloaded the emails and files and actually read for themselves what the leading Climate Scientists had been up to, it all became only too clear that it immensely worse than just "rude speech, imperfect preservation of decades-old records and what come down to typographical errors" - as one New Scientist blogger put it in reply to Ward's article. No need whatever for a skilful campaign.

In the words of the guy from Stratford on Avon: Truth will out.

Jun 3, 2010 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Spot-on, Martin A.

Climategate just confirmed what I had suspected. And it became a flag we could rally round - it energised us and gave us something concrete to focus on.

Jun 3, 2010 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Michel wrote: "It is a bit like accusing critics of Enron's accounting policies of conducting a campaign against generally accepted accounting principles..."


Jun 4, 2010 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

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