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« The new SciTech report | Main | Greens want your pension »

Goldacre on Nurse

(Well he is a doctor after all) :-)

Ben Goldacre has some interesting comments about the media's treatment of Delingpole today.

delingpole clearly a penis, and he's citing it for wrong reasons, but "peer-to-peer" review is not an insane idea

god, i'm really sorry, i like Nurse, but this is kind of slow, feels like a bit of a duty watch.

[Delingpole] is absolutely a dick. but that was weak, and if it was their killer moment, makes the press activity of today a bit ugly tbh

well, sorry, delingpole didnt do brilliantly on a question, and fumbled, but they say they interviewed him for 3 hours. thats the killer mo?

if that was the killer delingpole moment that the bbc have been crowing about all day then i'm actually quite unimpressed

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Reader Comments (68)

I've just finished watching the programme.

RIP Royal Society. He is a disgrace to the Royal Society, and its remaining reputation has been thoroughly destroyed by him. Clearly, the Royal Society is no longer a scientific institution.

Nurse says:

"Trust no-one. Trust only what the experiment and the data tell you. We have to continue to use that approach if we are to solve problems such as climate change."

What a pity he doesn't practice what he preaches. His words will haunt him in the years to come, along with the ghosts of his Royal Society predecessors (the true scientists).

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake

Considering the situation, James Delingpole did a pretty reasonable job. It was obvious to most that the BBC had cherry-picked the clips. Biased BBC is hardly an adequate description.

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake

And yet all Nurse is doing is just restating the alarmists points again and again and again.

This program wasnt aimed at the was aimed at th luke warmers who are still able to be brain washed in to the alarmist camp.

Nurse will get a pat on the back and a note saying "job well done" and then this will be forgotten about until the next time the alarmists think they have to roll out another single view polemic to attempt to paper over the cracks in their religion.



Jan 24, 2011 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Isaac Newtons book needs a good scrub.
How can a man look and touch them great pages, put two and two together and arrive at five

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCmdocker

I wonder how many complaints the BBC will get about this. It was an absolute disgrace.

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

Nurse - the screens!

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Paul Nurse was rather unimpressive inmy opinion he was as glib as any journalist. He did not appear to wish to appraise any of the science but rather enthusiasticly indulged in a hatchet job.
The clips with Delingpole were cherrypicked for maximum effect and he was not a suitable opponent for an intellectual debate (which was not the intention of course)
The GM part of the programme likewise made no attempt to fairly represent meaningful objections to GM which do exist. Paul Nurse chose to have the audience believe that most of us do not believe organic plants have genes.
Its rather sad to see an emminent scientist used in this way

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterPKthinks

Why is Goldacre sceptical about everything except AGW..?

Jan 24, 2011 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Having experience with the press, I am unsurprised by the end product. The big surprise is that Dellers, a member of the "profession", didn't know that (or how) he would be screwed to the wall.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterOdd Man Out

Nurse may live to regret having anything to do with this - a President of the RS who can't even recognise the huge flaws in his own arguments when pleading for the public to succumb to the authority of 'scientists'.

What is 'hiding the decline' if it isn't cherrypicking? The match between the instrumental temperature record and tree rings is so infeasible that a third of it needs to be discarded for any kind of semi-credible fit - and in my discipline the remainder would be laughed at. Whose back did he ride on for his Nobel Prize?

And about that overwhelming body of evidence? Did we see ANY of it - did we heck.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

As an infrequent poster both here and at Delingpole perhaps you'll allow a little cross posting (Especially as there are 1300 posts at Delingpole's item).

The cancer treatment question immediately made me think two things.
1 Helicobacter pylori and ulcers.
2 I bet the consensus treatment will be different in 10 years time.

Seems to me that the accusation of cherry picking constantly raised in the programme could be leveled at both Horizon and the presenter.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

(BH sorry for language)

I have just sent an e-mail to the press office of the Royal Society

Hi, Just watched Horizon on BBC2,

Here is a challenge for Sir Paul Nurse. I will debate with him, on live television the sham science that is Global Warming.

Note: I am not a scientist ( I left school at 15 with no academic qualifications) but I will expose Sir Paul as a charlatan.

If he accepts I will provide real name and address


Just sent a similar e-mail to the BBC

[snip - please don't waste my time by using bad language]

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

"meaningful objections to GM"

Funny how the precautionary principle gets invoked in support of a wild hypothesis like AGW, but is considered completely unnecessary where genetic modification might produce nasty surprises.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

The only definitive outcome from tonight’s viewing?

Bolton 0 – 4 Chelsea

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

The decline of the Royal Society into politics and posturing about climate is sad to behold. The fatuous medical analogy / apology for an argument used by Paul Nurse recalls a trenchant comment on a medical site I spotted last year:

'There is something about jumping on a bandwagon that erodes the critical facilities. I realise the the medical community feels a bit left out by the climate change bandwagon, but that is no excuse for leaping onto it with arguments that range from ridiculous to weak.'

Comment by Stephen Black (

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

I thought his handling of the subject (and particularly the emails) was atrocious. As a scientist, you would think he would at least know to research his subject matter more thoroughly. To pick one email out of hundreds and then let Jones off the hook without even properly questioning him was a disgrace. If that programme is any indication of his approach to his own science, then I have to wonder how he ever won the Nobel. And notice how he didn't have the guts to argue with Singer, but waited until after the interview to airily wave away his theories.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterLC

James P
Goldacre is not really very sceptical. He is very hostile to alternative/complementary medicine, often but not always with good cause, and has done some good stuff on naughty pharmaceutical companies, but overall he is pretty conventional. Although medically qualified, and therefore entitled to call himself a doctor, I don't think he has ever actually practiced medicine in the normal way.

At least he is fair minded enough to spot a stitch-up when he sees one, although I have to say I am most disappointed that Delingpole couldn't kick the fake cancer treatment analogy over the stands...."your analogy is utterly irrelevant, and your dichotomy completely false. I defy you to explain how these two scenarios are in any way comparable, and even if they were, I would not leave a cat in the hands of the medical equivalents of Mann, Hansen, Pachauri and co, never mind a dearly loved relative or, God help us, the productive capability of the entire planet"

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Watched the 'show' from Holland. Missed the beginning and did not know who Nurse was. He looked to me just to be a bad journalist, but so he is the chairman of the Royal Society! Amazing; a disgrace for the profession because of his comparisons to aids and cancer treatments etc. In that respect I fully sympathize with Delingpole. Nurse does not seem to know much about climate research.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Puk

For me, Nurse came across as naive, arrogant and patronising - an unlikely combination indeed!

Naive because he assumes that only peer reviewed papers have any value - other interpretations are not worth considering. But, as we all know, there are plenty of scientists (and others who are equally qualified - science is not a closed shop after all) who question the so-called consensus. But he's blind to that. He's also unquestiongly assumes that climate scientists actually do real science with the utmost integrity.

Arrogant because he sees the real problem as the difficulty scientists have in communicating the true facts to the masses. Introducing spurious subjects like AIDS and cancer is a cheap trick to try to persuade the great unwashed that establishment science knows know it makes sense.

Patronising because he makes the offensive assumption that the general public are just too dumb to understand the science. He came across as a bit of a twit.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

Am I the only one who thinks JD came out of it reasonably well? At least they did not edit out his view that the medical analogy was a false one. And JD also scored points by highlighting the flaws in the peer review process and even proposing an alternative approach.

Sir Paul says we need to take the debate to the media - but won't that mean giving more air time to the opponents of CAGW? Perhaps I don't fully understand the meaning of the word debate.

And what was the funniest clip from the whole film? The NASA scientist waving at a massive split screen which is changing more or less in real time and proclaiming that one needn't examine the data - one only needs to see how the clouds bubble up at the same time to realise how good the modelling is.

What a pity Sir paul didn't ask anyone about the Met Office forecasts for winter ...

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

nurse seems a chubby goodhearted amigo, or so he has been framed by the psychopaths?
Anyways I liked his potato story.

the patients analogy has some interesting tangents to libertarianism:
-In the UK where one is coerced by death panels and assorted tools, one does not have too much choice when been proposed a therapy.
-on the continent, though, more freedom is given : People condemned to cancer ALWAYS go for a 2nd opinion.And some more, and for good reason. Many DON'T go for the standard therapies and consider another path to certain death.

I thought JD's rebuke of the patient story was strong, as was his perception on science moving away from arcane (closed) peer review to open internet bulletin board style communication of report drafts.

JD's 3hours interview: Can we have the raw material? The data, and also the code. Please.
Instead of the 3 minutes filtered by the famiglia.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

For the cogniscenti this programme was a seminal moment. Powerful television, persuasive for the average guy and gal with little or no 'science' background but utterly lacking in content. There is clearly a long, steep road to climb for those who understand the paucity of 'evidence' which backs up the cAGW hypothesis.
Singer, God Bless him and James D. as the only advocates of the 'deniers' position. Please......
The Nobel Prize has already been demeaned and it is sad that it has fallen even lower.
Nurse and Cox ( my hero Brian) will be very embarrassed in 10 - 20 years time and,sadly, we may have to wait that long before the science is settled unless riots in the streets with escalating fuel taxes intervene.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

"Onwards and Upwards"
We must all send yet another round of letters to the BBC and now the Royal Society.
The Royal Society is just a political organisation there to deliver the science to fit the policy. I thought James was totally justified in not answering such a stupid question. Nurse must think the public are as gullible as he is. And ‘fat cats’ are not just bankers! Notice how well fed Nurse is - a real ‘science fat cat’ - I wonder how many lunches and all expenses paid jolly trips have contributed to his enormous belly!

The only positive note was a mention that a third of the public don’t buy the global scare story - and I don’t think this offering will be enough to sway any minds in a warmists direction. We have much work to do, to reach out to those people and show them that united we can defeat both these bankrupt institutions, the BBC and the government.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterFay Tuncay

If Sir Paul Nurse reads these postings, here's a question for him: "Are you prepared to state your falsifiability criteria for the AGW hypothesis?"

An acceptable answer would be: "In the event that the Annual mean GISS temperature anomaly stays below a maximum of X Celsius for a perid of Y years I will declare the AGW hypothesis refuted."

You may scoff at the common man's reluctance to defer to expert opinion, and your point about the need for patients to defer to medical specialists is well made, but this 'ere common man has a condition which must be met before 'e can believe in Global Warming: the globe must... er... get warmer. If it don't, Sir Paul, I won't. My minimum X is 0.98C; my Y is two years. Assuming that you accept scientific method, what are your falsifiability criteria, your X and Y?

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

I think media broadcasts have a lot to go and change as well?

The raw data would be fantastic (esp JD and Singer interview) , as well as a discussion blog.
Crucial would be to have the internet follow up and background be catered for independently.
I read the bbc is reducing internet content , which fits appropriately.

I think the complete whole tea ceremony with Singer would be enjoyable.
need to put on the kettle now

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

3 hours...?

I've seen 20 minute program slots cobbled from 60 odd hours of tape (in the old days) which produced amazing narratives unrecognisable to pretty much all the subjects....

The BBC are quite practiced at this sort of thing, I just wonder at the degree of collusion between Nurse and the producer and the amount of bonhomie and alcohol and planned probing that preceded the on camera stuff. Full marks to Delingpole for going in there but, I think he should have taken a chair and a bullwhip.

It seems to take somebody from "left field" to unbalance the BBC as was the case with the amusing E -car spat a few days back.

The RS doesn't have an unblemished history of always being right and being fair and open minded.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom
Jan 24, 2011 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

another take on the patients thing would be a downtrodden GP that tells you you have cancer, the data is irrefutable he tells you while taking another swig from the little bottle in his shirt pocket, and that's why YOU have to mortgage the house and buy NOW 5 years Avastin and Erbitux from him. Why ? because every minute counts he says (swig).

Outside the "free" NHS world, a normal person would say: holdon Wait a minute..

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

I should add that I've read and re-read sections of Goldacre's "Bad Science" and am utterly perplexed as to why he doesn't practice what he preaches - really....

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom

I didn't get the HIV guy. He says the doctors gave him 2 year max to live when the diagnosis was made thirteen years ago (if he didn't pop his pills)... but here he was today - reasonably fit and healthy, pill-free and squaffing back the yoghurts. Nurse didn't bat an eyelid at all this and there I was thinking the guy was worthy of a science documentary all to himself.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter S

Pure smug appeal to authority with no inkling whatsoever of the extent of mischievous data manipulation supporting environmental and political advocacy that has overwhelmed the geoscientific community, his colleagues and peers, obvious long before, and merely confirmed by, the CRU emails. More significantly, he had to have been privy to the pervasive RS drumbeat in the background to the resulting whitewashes.

Thanks and respect to James D, for putting his head in the Lion's mouth.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I really hope nurse lives to regret that program and his smugness through the whole thing. Very cleverly contrived to appear to address the points and appear to give them fair consideration, only to avoid most of the issues entirely.

Jan 24, 2011 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean Houlihane

agree on Goldacre. I've done exactly the same and similarly puzzled.

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterQ

The bias shown in this programme was extraordinary, surpassed only by how childlike and obvious it was.
The visual graphics of anyone being heretic to AWG were subliminal propaganda at its worst.
The proposed associations between the work and scientific scrutiny of past members of the royal soceity and Mr nurse were circumstantial at best, and to portray AGW sceptics and an individual that believes yogurt cures HIV in the same light was vastly disingenuous to viewers trying to understand the complexity's of the debate.

The misinformation, and lack of essential information, cherry picking of recorded interviews, bias propaganda, to name a few of the faults, made this effort at restoring scientific trust laughable, and a dereliction of duty on behalf of the bbc.

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterCmdocker

I think zebede is spluttering on the other thread about your challenge.

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Lots of hot air and noise from an RS president, a journo, the BEEB and the many experts on blogs, none of which bears any relevance or has any effect upon the Little Girl who is presently shouting the loudest:-

“The Little Girl – La Nina – plays havoc in Sri Lanka causing woe and agony in the East”

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Those of you who wish to complain to the BBC you can do so from the following link

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterEdbhoy

to be fair to Nurse it wasn't as (blatantly) biased as I had expected.

at least the freedom (not up to now) of data was noted & accepted by him as a good way forward.

but the Jones bit made me cringe, no need to elaborate for you Bish + no mention of Warwick Hughes correspondence which kicked a lot of the scepticism AKA deniers of AGW.

Nurse hasn't a clue (I sincerely hope,he appeared genuine) on the history/science behind this affair. so sad he hasn't the sense to do a bit of digging for himself.

if this guy represents the RS then they need to rebrand to RSPCAlarmists.

ps. who was that NASA guy, who dazzled us with science with his 3D globe?

Jan 25, 2011 at 12:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

[Snip - please calm down]

I liked the simplifications for the simple people those "minds as big as a universe" make.
The story with the 3 crowd control poles and tape was funny.
Event A is a climate science dotation to university X
Event C is another climate science research grant to university X
Look ! Event B: the thermometer readouts in town X , how they go up! It must be causal :)

Pure causality and correlation plays could be de mystified here by legions of Phd economics thesises.

Jan 25, 2011 at 1:40 AM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

Would anyone except a scientist watch this programme? And any scientist watching it would see through his appalling lack of logic. This programme has done nothing for the cause of AGW alarmists.

Jan 25, 2011 at 7:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Jan 25, 2011 at 1:40 AM | phinniethewoo

[snip - please try to keep a lid on things]

Surely as a scientist Nurse should have been asking why someone given 2 years to live had survived for 13 whilst not taking ant-virals? I would be interested in the answer even if no one else is.

Jan 25, 2011 at 7:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Absolutely adored it, couldn't have been any better, apart from playing the theme tune at the beginning, you know the one I mean dut der dut der dut dut der...... dut der dut dur de dut.

I sat there nursing my poorly four year old son trying to explain why daddy wanted to watch an important program presented by a 'Dr Nurse' who was head of the top scientific body in the UK.

How could I not chortle when Dr Nurse appeared and actually reminded me of Dr Bunsen Honeydue from the muppets, my appologies Dr Nurse but the inner child in me was let loose to it's fullest extent last night.

It didn't end there once we went over to NASA my missus chirped up heh hey now we 've got Beaker on and the tears started rolling down my cheeks. What's that Beaker it's a model thats making clouds? Even the four year old was cheered up enough to engage in laughter.

We had to go on and create the rest of the characters, Kermit was sat in his office at the UEA and, sorry Dellors, Sam the Eagle represented the press.

To top it all off she actually asked who produced this then Jim Henson, is he making a come back? To which I eventually replied through gasps no it's Jim Hanson he's orchestrated all this, but there was only puzzled looks.

Best tv entertainment I've had in a long time. Still can't stop smiling.

As far as the science goes only the BBC could have dreamed this up, I think of the three of us it was targeted to my four year old who thoroughly enjoyed it.

Jan 25, 2011 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

[Snip - venting]

Jan 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrde

Odd Man Out.surprised that Dellers, as a member of the 'profession', didn't know that he would be 'screwed to the wall'.
So if the President of the Royal Society (no less) arrives on your doorstep as 'a disinterested seeker after truth', do you say 'I don't talk to people like that' ?
He will have been well aware of what the BBC are capable of getting up to; after all,in his last 'discussion' with Monbiot they pulled a very similar trick (Remember the video clip beforehand of George on his Welsh estate, caring for the planet ?)
If you can't express your views on our State Broadcasting System where can you turn, the 'unbiased' MSM ?

Jan 25, 2011 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad
Jan 25, 2011 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy


Surely as a scientist Nurse should have been asking why someone given 2 years to live had survived for 13 whilst not taking ant-virals? I would be interested in the answer even if no one else is.

science is about being interested in the anomalies and not jumping to conclusions.
Nurse's scientific interest is in the psychology of what he deems a "mad man" , not in the specific medical case.

maybe he was a false positive, but that would be a blemish to the program because that can be easily sorted out with the HIV diagnostics. Was very anecdotal this whole chapter.

It cannot be frozen joghurt is the new cancer drug. For starters to freeze the live cultures in is just making their lives more difficult. I would eat warmed up joghurt instead?

Jan 25, 2011 at 9:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

After watching Horizon on BBC2 last night, I checked the TV listings to see if "Only Connect" is on BBC4 next Monday.
It isn't.

But I did notice that between 10 and 11 o'clock they're showing a program called "Meet The Climate Sceptics", described thusly:

Storyville Documentary which goes to the heart of Climate Sceptics to examine the key arguments against man-made global warming and tries to understand the people who are making them.

BBC4? Climate Change? They'll probably get an audience well up into the tens.

Anyway, back to last night's strange Horizon. The title was "Science Under Attack". Judging by its contents it should have been called: "I'm Sir Paul Nurse, the new head of the Royal Institute. And I haven't got the faintest idea why everybody doesn't believe in Climate Change". Not very snappy perhaps, but accurate, nonetheless.

This hour-long program - which was supposed to be about "Science Under Attack", remember - was very oddly constructed. Basically 40 minutes about climate change, a couple of minutes about Aids, another couple of minutes about GM crops, then back to climate change. At the beginning of the 40 minute section about climate change Sir Paul told us:

Many people seem unconvinced that we're warming our planet through the emission of greenhouse gasses

Having set up a nice strawman, he then proceeded to demolished it with an argument which could be boiled down to: "I think we should all accept the consensus". Didn't actually provide any evidence at all to support this, but he did visit NASA and had a look at some cool demonstrations. And he had a nice little chat with an uncomfortable-looking James Delingpole. He also made the bizarre claim that Climategate was all about just 1 email, and that that had been misinterpreted anyway. So a fuss about nothing then, blown up out of all proportion.

Towards the end of the program, he went on to say:

Over the next few years every country on the globe faces tough decisions over what to do about climate change. I've been thinking how scientists can win back the confidence we're going to need if we're going to make those choices wisely

Well Sir Paul, a word of advice. You're not going to do it with programs like this.

Jan 25, 2011 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Boyce

Sir Paul is, of course, the new boss of the Royal Society, not the Royal Institute as I wrote above.

My apologies for any embarrassment this may have caused Sir Paul

Jan 25, 2011 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Boyce

Can everybody try to resist the temptation to vent their feelings.

Jan 25, 2011 at 9:24 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I don't always agree with Delingpole, but he was mad not to tape the interview. He loathes and mistrusts (rightly) the AGW propogandists, so why was he not more suspicious?

If it was me I would have recorded it, waited for the prog to be released, then posted my version showing all the points Nurse didn't have answers to.

Jan 25, 2011 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

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