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« Richard Milne on the divergence problem | Main | Pew Centre is big oil funded »
Monday
Nov142011

To politic or not to politic?

Paul Nurse is profiled in the Independent. I think I've seen most of this before in other interviews, but this bit at the end was new:

"Long before he started his tenure at the Royal Society, Sir Paul had been an enthusiastic communicator of science and is particularly concerned with how the public copes with seemingly contradictory statements on complicated scientific issues, such as climate change.

We should try to keep the science separate from the politics. What you get with the polemicists and commentators is that they just mix it all up together,"he says.

Scientists must never cherry pick the data, but this is something that comes naturally to politicians, especially those who have had a legal training where presenting the evidence in the best possible light is all that counts, Sir Paul says.

"They don't have a problem with cherry picking the data because a lawyer will try to win a case in court with cherry-picked data. They try to make an argument like a politician. A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

The statement that the science should be kept separate from politics is probably right, but it does seem to contradict Nurse's earlier suggestion that the Royal Society should involve itself more in political issues.

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Reader Comments (39)

Acknowledged ex-SWP activist Nurse has got a problem. He doesn't have the physics background to realise that the IPCC 'consensus' about climate science is in effect a new Lysenkoism based on four basic, easily provable scientific errors. Then in last February's 'Horizon' programme, in effect a politically-motivated ambush on journalist James Delingpole, Nurse agreed with a major scientific error which he has not apparently corrected.

The error was the claim by an American ice scientist for which he has apologised, that man's CO2 emissions are 7 times natural when in fact it's 3%. Now that's a factor of 233 out, not small by any measure. And if you account for new work by Murray Salby showing that the 3% may be 5 times too high, we get a possible error factor of 1165.

As a scientist I am appalled at such behaviour by someone who is supposed to represent science not politics. The funding of politically-motivated science has to stop and science restored to objectivity even if the ragtag of climate researchers on political vanity projects has to be culled and the Marxist claque which has come to dominate UK science has to relinquish power.

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:40 AM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

"A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

Really?

I'd like to see that.

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMique

I seem to recall that in the field of palaeoclimatology "cherry picking is necessary if you want to make cherry pie". How many palaeoclimatologists have lost their career due to cherry picking?
See here http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2011/6/29/letter-to-a-climate-correspondent.html

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"They don't have a problem with cherry picking the data because a lawyer will try to win a case in court with cherry-picked data. They try to make an argument like a politician. A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

I wonder how he feels about hiding declines?

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

ermm , but isn't spinning a research proposal for best effect, cherry picking studies that support the proposal to get the funds exactly what scientists do? Its been my experience anyhow.

Oh and the people who rise to the top in any organisation tend to those with 'politics' in their blood.

A more cut throat organisation than a University I have yet to see..apart that is from a political party.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

"Long before he started his tenure at the Royal Society, Sir Paul had been an enthusiastic communicator of science and is particularly concerned with how the public copes with seemingly contradictory statements on complicated scientific issues, such as climate change.

I suppose he means the public are too stupid to grasp that three consecutive freezing winters are a direct result of global warming.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:18 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Yes, Nurse's latest statements do seem to contradict his earlier thoughts.

But good all the same to see Nurse condemning cherry-picking. I wonder if he has any opinion on data adjustment.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

"They don't have a problem with cherry picking the data because a lawyer will try to win a case in court with cherry-picked data. They try to make an argument like a politician. A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

Talk is cheap. There are very rare occasions where this would happen. In fact just cherrypicking wouldn't be enough and I wouldn't necessarily agree it should happen myself. Nurse seems very adept at making very broad sweeping statements like this, that serve an immediate rhetorical need, without worrying if they reflect anything that happens in the real world.

Very politician like ;)

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Truly, there is much to analyse in this article by Nurse. Not so much about the topics he addresses, but about the man himself.

I wonder how he would parse into polemic and science the performance of the young man in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh9kDCuPuU8&feature=player_embedded .

(hat-tip: comment by 'nofreewind' to this post which is about another lively lecture: http://notrickszone.com/2011/11/13/german-professor-slams-global-warming-science-calls-manns-hockey-stick-a-very-very-nasty-fabrication/).

The young man involved has clearly worked himself up into a state of considerable agitation over the fact that others have criticised climate alarmism, and he seems determined to persuade others to join him. But we have all seen court-room dramas on the tv, with impassioned speechmakers presenting their evidence 'in the best possible light'. The sensible questions from the audience at the end of the video, asked coolly and calmly and given remarkably feeble answers, is an encouraging sign that he did not do much persuasion. I'd hazard a guess that the buzz as people left the lecture theatre was more about the lecturer than the lecture.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

I wonder if he is preparing to change his views on CAGW ........ just a bit ?

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

“Scientists” are becoming wedded to their PR machines. The more of this type of exposure that they secure the quicker they fall into the world of ”spin”.

The political “spin machines” have contributed greatly to the public’s lack of trust in politicians.

Nurse appears hell bent on leading the Royal Society and the scientific community in the same direction.

Lack of trust in career politicians is something we are aware of and we make allowance for in our judgements and our voting patterns.

Can't do that with our scientific community, to lose trust here is an entirely different scenario, one that could take generations to resolve. But I have no doubt that somebody, somewhere, has a grant to build a computer model to predict the potential outcomes.

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

What he's basically saying is that those he disagrees with are using rhetoric and cherry-picking, but he and those he agrees with are just stating proven scientific fact. And the response to "A scientist would lose their career if they do it" should just be to point and giggle.

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

An extremely abstruse statement, are we to take it he's making reference to the great political scam predicated upon an extremely contentious postulation, namely MMGW, or is he speaking more generally?

Whatever, politics and science, indeed politics is science - in just about all and any circumstance are inseparable - are they not?

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Cherry-picking is minor stuff there has been some out and out lying before now in science and amazingly its not always been the end of a career especial if the person status is such that their forgiven 'minor mistakes after a long noble career'

As for the political angle , well its just shows he really does know nothing about climate science as its leaders have been whoring themselves out to politics for years. Sorry Nurse but 'trust me I am a scientist' simply does not fly with the people any more , I suggest you read the motto of the RS and think about what that actual means .

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

John Shade at 8:46 AM

Watched your young man - a "Doctor" no less, (they seem to be getting younger by the day) - until he started hyping himself up on Coke ..... maybe he's one of Donna's IPCC activists.

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

Surely as a "scientist", Nursey should be aware that this is empirically false:

"They [politiicans] don't have a problem with cherry picking the data because a lawyer will try to win a case in court with cherry-picked data. They try to make an argument like a politician. A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Nurse's Cherry Picking Law

Climate Scientists = Elected Lawyers

A shared domain for those who cherry-pick information and data that suits their arguement, position and pocket.

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

John Shade: Watched Dr. Milne, what a load of old tripe! didn't watch all the way through because I found the way he swifter from the bottle made me a bit nauseous. However he could teach Nurse a thing or two about cherry-picking. First he said we get our news from a neutral TV source, the BBC! Then he said others weren't so fortunate and got there's from right wing news sources showing Fox news and failing to tell us that all the other TV news outlets in the US are supporters of AGW.

He then went on th postulate that people who are right wing don't use logic, but emotion to form views, it's been proved apparently. Didn't Stalin think that as well?

There's lots more, but he was asked about the trick and came out with the old canard that " trick" was a scientific term used in private by scientist. Actually I parses the 1300 mails for the word " trick" and it appeared 12 times, not as trick, bit tricky, trickier, etc. I can't remember exactly what the number of times the word trick was use as a word but it was in the low single figures.

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

John Shade at 8:46 AM

That lecture by Dr Richard Milne at Edinburgh University is astonishing. I am more left than right on most isues but I was cringing at his labelling of most sceptics as right-wingers, and he seemed totally unaware of overtly political perspective and his hypocrisy and. I couldn't watch it all, the first 5 minutes and the last 5 were all I could take. His explanation of the psychology of sceptics like Bellamy and Plimer at 55:10 is truly bizarre. He expands on this at 1:01:15 by stating that right wing people have different brains...

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Sir Paul is obviously quite right about "cherry picking" data. Therefore it is a pity that he did not use the interview to give his opinion on what has been called "the most influential tree in the world."

YAD06 – the Most Influential Tree in the World
http://climateaudit.org/2009/09/30/yamal-the-forest-and-the-trees/

Surprisingly for someone in such an influential position Sir Paul seems to be somewhat ignorant of the history of science. He claimed that if a scientist cherry-picked his data it would end his career. Perhaps he is unaware of the controversy over Millikan's experiment to measure the charge on the electron, for which Millikan got the Nobel Prize.

Robert Andrews Millikan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Andrews_Millikan#Data_selection_controversy

The data that Millikan discarded were probably erroneous so he ended up with the right answer but if a scientist discards data that seems incorrect because its inclusion would produce a result that he "knows" is not true, i.e. a result that would go against mainstream scientific opinion, that opens up a can of worms.

Whether the recent claims that neutrinos can travel faster than light are true or not it is good that the scientists involved made the data available so that other physicists can examine their work for flaws.

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I am a social democrat and a sceptic. What pigeon hole do I fit in?

We are seeing is the creation of a stereotype in order to demonise scientific scepticism.

If you dissent on AGW then you must be western, white, male, middle-aged, ill-educated ranting conservative with a mental history. A cross between Boris Johnson, Eric Pickles and Michael Winner.

Anyone recognise themselves?

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

"They don't have a problem with cherry picking the data because a lawyer will try to win a case in court with cherry-picked data. They try to make an argument like a politician. A scientist would lose their career if they do it."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.........HA

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered Commentersunderland steve

I note that Dr Richard Milne uses a crooked stick as a pointer. Notice the bend (the upturn) in the stick. Is this an metaphoric example of cherry picking?

Not even sticks are safe in the hands of CAGWists.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

There have been various comments on the Youtube lecture by Dr Richard Milne. I noticed that right at the beginning he described climate change as the greatest problem that mankind has ever faced.

So much for the two world wars, the Black Death and other minor problems that mankind has had to face in the past!

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Sir Paul Nurse is a surprisingly poor communicator of science. These are merely platitudes to hide the continued support for CAGW by him. He is merely following the trail set by his predecessors.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterCinbadtheSailor

So much for the two world wars, the Black Death and other minor problems that mankind has had to face in the past!

Not to forget the odd ice age wiping out mankind in Europe.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

I've set up a dedicated thread for the Milne lecture.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I like Dr Richard Milne's analogy with regard Tony Blair and his belief in the reality of Iraqi WMD.

You can argue that many on left and right were equally fooled by the Blair and co. So if those on the right-wing have a different brain then what was happening in left-wing brains that allowed those people to have the same level of faith in what Blair was saying?

When asked about the 'trick' Milne side-tracked the question all together. Why didn't he explain what the acutual trick was? Surely the students were worthy of a proper answer.

Finally Milne admits he is both a scientist and an environmentalist. His use of the word 'denier' showed that he was behaving more like an environmentalist than a scientist. He should have declared this right at the start of this talk.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Politicians cherry-pick data..?
I'm shocked and stunned....

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Sir Paul is probably correct that scientists would lose their careers from cherry-picking data. If a scientist cherry-picked data or hid unfavourable results in developing a pharmaceutical product, then they would lose not just their careers, but their liberty. But all sciences are not the same. Weaker empirical sciences like climatology do not have rigorous standards of independent verification. Partly because scientific institutions have let activists and unelected NGOs determine their agendas, they have failed to distance themselves from the pushy newcomer. In a similar way the IPCC, in trying to get the largest possible named "scientists" on its list, has broadened the definition of climate science.
In economics it is long known that if a fixed price is imposed for a non-homogeneous good, where quality comes at a price, then the quality will fall. The bad will drive out the good. Where quality can command a premium, the quality of all products will be raised. It is time for the Royal Society to start cross-fertilizing best practice to the weaker disciplines. In terms of scientific procedures that means cherry-picking - discarding the rotten fruit and grading the others.
The analogy with lawyers is also not apt. In a criminal case a QC must establish their case using laid down rules of evidence, before an impartial referee. To win a case they must withstand the rebuttals of the defence. The IPCC sets its own standards of evidence and does not have to even demonstrate that the evidence conforms to the standard. Furthermore, any objections to their claims is rebutted by ad-hominem attacks.

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

I once revered the Royal Society. Which is probably why they rank so high in my scale of contempt. They undoubtedly include some jolly good 'Fellows' and I exclude those, but it focuses on their corporate arrogant appeal to authority, abusing their legacy from ages past, to engage in both covert and shamelessly overt environmental propaganda and political advocacy. They clearly see themselves as the chosen ones, the high priests, the unelected supremos in the senate of science, and that their duty is to dictate policy according to their philosophical scriptures.

What have they really achieved? Underwrote and launched the Stern Report? Nice one. Advised the IPCC? A busted flush. Tried to stop Exxon funding research? Hired Bob Ward? Tried to censor sceptical press articles? Tried to dumb down CO2 crop enhancement, tried to raise issues on ocean acidification, promoted geoengineering, whitewashed Climategate Inquiries, nominated placemen on funding committees, even tried to twin fellows to new intake MP's. Even tried BBC counter-polemics.
But now, well, I think they are recognising the natural death of AGW. They are already moving population growth up to the advocacy fore.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

"I once revered the Royal Society." Aye, we can't become disillusioned unless we were illusioned in the first place. But it was a lovely illusion while it lasted.

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Cherry picking comes naturally. Human instinct. Lets take the example of a proven oilfield. It sits, in the subsurface, controlled by the data from seimic profiles and the various sets of core and electric log data in all of the exploratory and development wells in and around it. Recoverable reserves in that field are calculated firstly on the oil in place estimated from the three dimensional mapping of the structure from the seismic profiles and the reservoir properties of the productive reservoir from the points of well control. Then a recovery factor is estimated based on flow pressure tests and the predicted fluid flow characteristics output from a gridded full field reservoir development model, with economic constraints to the ultimate recoverable volume.

So far well and good. If the field in all in your licenced concession area. But mostly, it overlaps into a competitors acreage. And he has mapped it (surprise, surprise) slightly differently.

I have represented one side or the otherr. I have also done field audits. I have regard to the integrity of all concerned. But inevitably, each team ALWAYS guns for more reserves on their side. Its either by a refined seismic map kriged their way, or a density log rerun to give more porosity or oil saturation to a certain well, but its just the way it is.

Which is why political parties need an effective opposition.

And why we need our McIntyre's, our Watts's, our Montford's, our Curry's and (maybe yet) our Betts's and more so badly. And in the meantime, we do our best in the stands

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I see this line "Scientists must never cherry pick the data..." repeated many times, but I consider that this sentiment is mis-understood. After all, most theories are disproved by cherry picking data which shows that the theory does not hold true in the scenario covered by the cherry picked data, It is in the extramentaries where most theories fall apart.

It is legitimate to cherry pick data to show that there is a problem with a theory (if the theory under review cannot deal with the cherry picked data, it shows that the theory cannot be universal and at best is limited in range and/or effect). Conversely cherry picking data and demonstrating that a theory deals adequately with the cherry picked data in no way proves that the theory is sound.

The statement should more correctly read "Scientist must never cherry pick data to show that the theory is sound..."

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Bears remembering that the father of geology, Charles Lyell, was first and foremost a lawyer. Geology has not yet unshackled itself from his cherry picking, but there does exist a dissenting group publishing in New Concepts in Global Tectonics group, so there remains hope, as always.

Nov 14, 2011 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterLouis Hissink

I wonder what happens to the careers of scientists who hide rather than cherry-pick data ?

Nov 15, 2011 at 6:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

I have written to Nurse twice at the right royal society requesting he withdraws the lie that man made CO2 emissions are seven times natural emissions. No reply nor acknowledgement?
If the man believes the above and that lawyers are able to cherry pick evidence then he is an intellectual ignoramus or just a deceitful shyster.

Nov 15, 2011 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Stacey,

I am in the very final stage of an appeal to the BBC Trust concerning the infamous "seven times" statement. This has involved dozens of letters and almost a year of elapsed time. At every stage the BBC have denied that the "Horizon" programme was wrong, or even misleading. All that I have asked the BBC to do is admit that the broadcast could cause confusion and be misinterpreted - this they have steadfastly refused to do.

I will post their final response (due in early December) on unthreaded, when I get it.

Nov 15, 2011 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

"The statement that the science should be kept separate from politics is probably right, but it does seem to contradict Nurse's earlier suggestion that the Royal Society should involve itself more in political issues."

It is only a contradiction if the Royal Society is supposed to be representative of science. But we've long known that the Royal Society is no bastion or defender of real science, and has morphed into a crude advocacy group. Nurse's comment, as President of the Royal Society, actually proves the point, should anyone be in any doubt.

Nov 15, 2011 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

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