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A call for disinformation

The British Medical Journal has reentered the climate fray, with a leader bemoaning the alleged "false balance" in science journalism. Steve Jones' "report" on the BBC's impartiality (ho, ho) is discussed.

I wrote a response, which hasn't appeared as yet. (Perhaps it would be "false balance" to publish it?) I pointed out that one of the results of denying dissenting voices an airing was that it leaves those promoting the majority view in a position where they no longer have to be honest and can exaggerate and scaremonger without challenge.

Some time ago I spoke to a PR guy at the Met Office who acknowledged that scientists there had been wont to exaggerate in the past. However the rise of the sceptical blogs meant that this kind of behaviour would be seen and criticised, with damaging consequences for the Met Office's reputation. He told me that much of his job now involved trying to make sure that the scientists stayed within reasonable bounds in their public utterances.

Another example of this kind of thing, which I outlined in my comment at the BMJ, were the absurd utterances of Sir Andy Haynes at the BMJ conference. Telling an uninformed audience that the social cost of carbon is $1000/tonne could be construed as grossly dishonest, given that the more normally accepted figures are of the order of $30-50/tonne. In fact though, I think Haynes was actually just as ill-informed as his audience and there was no deliberate attempt to deceive. However, with only right-thinking types in attendance there was nobody to call him on his mistake and a large group of influential people went away entirely misled.

The BMJ, it seems, wants more of this kind of thing.


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Reader Comments (81)

What a depressing view from the BMJ. Science by the principles of 'those who shout loudest and longest'.

Dec 23, 2011 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterCamp David

I believe the Hippocratic Oath covers harm and straying outside one's expertise. The proposed Hippocratic Oath for scientists proposed by Rotblat in 1995 has gained no traction - perhaps that is something the RS could champion?

Dec 23, 2011 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Shall we expect medicine to revert to blood-letting now?

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

To its credit, the BMJ has published papers critical of the diet/heart disease hypothesis, so you would imagine that the editor would be capable of a more subtle line on scientific consensus and truth.

It is certainly easy to seize on "anti-scientific" theories like astrology, as Brian Cox likes to do, to demonstrate your muscular support for the scientific world view. However, the history of science is littered with consensus views that turned out to be less than the truth, the wave theory of light to mention just one example of good pedigree, so a little impartiality in reporting might be advisable.

The whole argument rests on the fallacy that because there are examples of theories outside the scientific consensus that are anti-scientific or roundly refuted, all such challenges to orthodoxy can be dismissed in the same way. It is really rather depressing, as Camp David observes.

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

After the Helicobacter pylori story I would have thought the BMJ should be the last place to advocate suppressing dissenting views.

Or perhaps they don't like this particular book

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False
John P. A. Ioannidis
John P. A. Ioannidis is in the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, Ioannina, Greece, and Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, Department of Medicine, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Bish, u thought some of us were over-reacting to Tallbloke's situation. try this:

20 Dec: Minnesota Post: Don Shelby: Probe into climate scientists’ stolen emails gets serious
Agents in Great Britain have executed search warrants and seized equipment from anti-science bloggers who helped spread the stolen emails. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent letters to internet service providers and websites in the United States also involved in spreading the stolen emails. They are all being asked to maintain all evidence of any emails received from a shadowy source known as “FOIA.” “FOIA” was the chief distributor of the stolen emails. Norwich has called in the big dogs…
In the original reporting, Mann was often quoted, misquoted and taken out of context. Though the investigations have found he did nothing wrong, climategate has nevertheless hurt him.
Mann told me that the people who can’t abide the idea of global warming being true “have no legitimate scientific leg to stand on. So, they have turned to criminal acts in an attempt to distract the public and policymakers.” Dr. Mann is convinced that the criminal act shows the work of “industry-funded front groups and the individuals who do their bidding.”…
The question is whether this can be characterized as a simple cybercrime — or are there elements of cyber-terrorism involved?…
So I turned to one of the most respected cyber-terrorism experts in the country, Bruce Schneier. Schneier has been called to testify before Congress. He is the author of eight books on the subjects of cryptography, warfare, crime and terrorism committed by cyber-criminals.
Schneier told me: “What I’ve been thinking about is whether the hack was intended to intimidate, threaten or bully. Then the crime becomes an effort to stop people from doing legitimate research. So, it is not just a data theft, but has a goal of creating a chilling effect, a threat, an intimidation.”
Schneier understands the cyber world, but also the law of unintended consequences. “We are moving into a world in which everything we do is persistent,” said Schneier. By persistent, Schneier means it just doesn’t go away. “A phone conversation is actually archaic,” he said. “Today the conversation is by email or social media and those conversations are persistent.”…
Dr. Mann has long believed that intimidation was one goal of the cyber criminals. “They want to intimidate, stymie, harass scientists who are out in front on the risks of climate change, and they want to serve notice to other scientists of what will be in store for them if they speak out.”…
Not only are our communications on the internet persistent, but so is memory. Dr. John Abraham, thermal scientist at the University of St. Thomas, told me: “Those crimes were used to fabricate lies about world-class scientists — lies that are still being repeated today.”
Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.”
I’m hoping the shoes Scotland Yard and the FBI are lacing up are track shoes.

Wikipedia: Don Shelby
Donald Gilbert “Don” Shelby (born May 27, 1947 in Muncie, Indiana)[1] is a former American news anchor on WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is regarded as an experienced investigative journalist, as his work has earned two Peabody awards and an Emmy Award…

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

22 Dec: PlanetSave: Zachary Shahan: Was Climategate Cyber-Terrorism?
It was obvious to me the second I heard about “climategate” that it was a crime (on the part of the hacker). But it hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be “cyber-terrorism” — now, it seems painfully obvious that it very well could be. Don Shelby of the Minnesota Post delved into this idea this week. It’s really a great piece and I recommend checking the whole thing out. If you’re not yet ready to click over, though, here’s the intro (well, intro and a little more):…

Minnesota Post: About us
MinnPost is a nonprofit, nonpartisan enterprise whose mission is to provide high-quality journalism for news-intense people who care about Minnesota…
Board of Directors…
Advisory Council…ETC

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

"He told me that much of his job now involved trying to make sure that the scientists stayed within reasonable bounds in their public utterances." I find this absolutely incredible. I can just about understand a researcher working for a commercial group on a commercial subject, expanding a little on the truth. But, as a retired scientist, who worked for many years in the public sector: I find deliberate exaggeration out of character. What the hell gets into climate scientists? I'm pretty sure such problems are not found in other areas of science. At least I hope this is so.

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

@Nicholas Hallam

You mentioned that it is "easy to seize on "anti-scientific" theories like astrology, as Brian Cox likes to do".

I don't get 'im. In his book "Why does E=mc2", Cox wrote very lucidly about "useful science", saying that scientists and non-scientists alike are entitled to make conjectures, be they sensible or wacky. Some of these ideas can be put to good use: applying them is useful. So Newton's laws of motion don't have to be "right"; they just have to work well enough for engineers to apply them usefully.

So why doesn't the influential Brian Cox jump in on the side of the sceptics and say something like, "The global warming conjecture may well be right, but so long as its signal to noise ratio remains tiny it's 'usefulness' is low. As a basis for major public policy, the dismal art of Climatology is not 'useful', in fact it's a liability. Unless and until Climatology gains the ability to make falsifiable forecasts, governments should accord it the same status as astrology and ignore it."

Dec 23, 2011 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

Why is the BMJ arguing about climate science as an example here? The fact they want to claim that non-alarmist sceptics should not be listened to before the science itself has achieved a level of skill that makes it self-evident is very disturbing. In effect they are saying that as a science Climate Change Science hasn't got the skill to justify itself and so needs the artificial support from a state broadcaster to help its feeble frame up the stairs and become a paradigm that cannot be argued against.

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Your argument for admitting sceptical views was advanced first by John Stuart Mill in the Essay on Liberty (as far as I recall). Solid libertarian origins!

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterpeter2108

Maybe Jones would have done better to wait read the latest pamphlet from the Bishop before crying wolf!

"Scientists are no longer perceived exclusively as guardians of objective truth, but also as smart promoters of their OWN interests in a media-driven marketplace."
Haerlin & Parr, Nature, 1999, 400, 499.

As for the the lot of them, maybe they should visit Link text for a reminder of how well they keep their house in order!

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H


I found this excellent introduction to Ioannidis's work:

Some excerpts:

"In poring over medical journals, he was struck by how many findings of all types were refuted by later findings."

"Peer-reviewed studies have come to opposite conclusions on whether using cell phones can cause brain cancer, whether sleeping more than eight hours a night is healthful or dangerous, whether taking aspirin every day is more likely to save your life or cut it short, and whether routine angioplasty works better than pills to unclog heart arteries."

"“The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”"

A little more awareness of the presence of bias in medical research might encourage a healthier scepticism about consensus views there and elsewhere.

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Smug blighters these medics, first they steal scientists' titles then they try to dictate their pseudoscoence 'ethics' to us. In some part of the world calling yourself a 'Doctor' when you do not have a PhD is an offence.

Take Germany - medic = Arzt; doctor = Doktor these are NOT interchangeable, but an Arzt who proves himself capable of independent scientific research can become a Doktor.

Put them back in their box.

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

Brent Hargreaves

I suspect that Brain Cox, in common with a lot of able scientists, is a rather confused philosopher of science. Indeed, in the passage you refer to, he appears to run together the Popperian view that scientific hypotheses are merely conjectures whose genesis is immaterial to their truth or falsity, with the Instrumentalist view that hypotheses are simply instruments to which the concept of truth or falsity do not apply - this latter being a view that Popper roundly condemned in connection with the Copehagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory.

Dec 23, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"it leaves those promoting the majority view in a position where they no longer have to be honest and can exaggerate and scaremonger without challenge."

In the American vernacular, it creates an "echo chamber".

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered Commentercrosspatch

“Some time ago I spoke to a PR guy at the Met Office who acknowledged that scientists there had been wont to exaggerate in the past. However the rise of the sceptical blogs meant that this kind of behaviour would be seen and criticised”

So without these pesky blogs, they would have sorted themselves out and issued the necessary corrections? Who’d have thunk it? Excuse me while I check the runway lights in the pig pen...

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

It's a bit unfortunate that the best internet site for debunking some of the more way out medical research "findings" is currently not active.
And still very sorely missed!

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

In effect they are saying that as a science Climate Change Science hasn't got the skill to justify itself and so needs the artificial support from a state broadcaster to help its feeble frame up the stairs and become a paradigm that cannot be argued against.

Leopard, try replacing "climate change science" with "renewable energy" and "a state broadcaster" with "government subsidy" and see where that gets you! :+))

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

@ pat

Until I reached the end and saw where it came from, I was convinced that article had been taken from something off the BBCpeace website.

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

@ Peter Stroud

What the hell gets into climate scientists?


Dec 23, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

So where is this false balance in journalism on the issue of climate change?

There is none!

Where is this due weight in journalism on the issue of climate change?

Again there is none!

The BMJ are talking testicles.

Dec 23, 2011 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

We're all living a lie. It's just that some lies are more equal than others. And the Brit Establishment lies are incredibly equal.

Dec 23, 2011 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Well, it looks as if your comment at the BJM is either still being 'moderated', or, I suspect, censored.
The link on top of this article refers to two comments, but only one comment is shown. Make of that what you will ...

It is also worth pointing out the insidious slur used by the author of this piece, the editor of the BJM himself, no less.
By using the outcry from astrologers in regard to Cox' TV programme, Mr Trevor Jackson seems to put critics of the prevailing AGM 'science' into the box of New Age nutters who don't deserve to be heard.

I think the fact that the only comment visible is by someone who seems to be an astrologer tends to underline Mr Jackson's attempt.

Dec 23, 2011 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

BTW...Boykoff's "seminal paper" is even older than AR4. The BMJ guy really has no idea what he's talking about. Five years of media studies totally forgotten.

Dec 23, 2011 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

"The ideas I think, are right, it will just take a long time for people to see them.”

How sad and how strange. Perhaps he should be reminded of Doctor Judah Folkman, the discovery of angiogenesis and the struggle he had to have it recognised. Under this dogma it would have been compared to astrology and crushed.

In Doctor Folkman's words :

“It wasn't the surgeons who were criticizing, it was basic scientists, and I knew that many of them had never seen cancer except in a dish. I knew that they had not experienced what I had experienced. The idea of tumors growing in three dimensions and needing blood vessels in the eye, in the peritoneal cavity, in the thyroid, and many other places, and the whole concept of in situ cancers and tumors waiting dormant -- I had seen all that. So I kept saying the ideas, I think, are right, and it will just take a long time for people to see them.”

Dec 23, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commentercloud 10

I really have no problem at all with the article. Most of the time crackpots are crazy and should only be given the time of day for the purpose of amusement. The sensible approach is to always go with the scientific consensus and our best and most productive theories.

Perhaps not to the person-on-the-street, but certainly among the echelons of the establishment, "climate change deniers" are indeed the minority crackpots. Look at how they are labelled! If you happen to be of the opinion that "climate change does not equal catastrophe", then there are scientific papers written about you describing what, in your sick and twisted world view, renders you so insane! It's a very odd situation where voicing a nuanced perspective on an extremely complex problem equates you with a homeopath or astrologer. But then, in this particular case, the science is well and truly settled.

I find the whole affair extremely odd. I'm also a bit disappointed that Prof. Cox, who is quite capable of looking at the global temperature series and spotting that it hasn't gone up much in 20 years, defers to the opinion of his colleagues who are "experts" in climate - which of course would normally be the sensible thing to do. But then, he wouldn't get invited back on TV if he said anything against the consensus.

Dec 23, 2011 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeide De Klein

This is what I contributed: funny it's not been put up yet!

'IPCC science cannot be trusted.

1. High CO2 climate sensitivity [positive feedback by atmospheric processes] was the logical outcome of data showing CO2 rose with T at the end of ice ages but when in 1997 it was found that CO2 rose after T, insiders had to switch to calibrating the models against modern warming. This is why we had the fraudulent hockey stick and the one-way manipulation of past temperatures, particularly at NOAA.

Few realise it but there was also a search for the missing ice age amplification – in 2005 Hansen claimed it is the difference between the albedo of wet and dry ice, an explanation lacking in credibility.

In 2007 it was shown that end of the last ice age, warming of the Southern ocean deeps started 2000 years before any significant CO2 rise; regional warming over much of the Southern hemisphere. The same process, reduction of cloud albedo by biofeedback, explains recent Arctic warming now reversing. CO2-AGW/GW is not needed to explain palaeo and present climate but could exist at a much smaller level than claimed.

2. Aarhenius was wrong: there is no ‘back radiation’. Any process engineer knows this. ‘Climate science’ is unique in teaching it and imagining it exists.

3. Cooling by polluted clouds supposed to hide (2) is only true for thin clouds: as they get thicker it switches to heating, another GW/AGW. Sagan got this physics wrong.

4. The claim of 33K present total GHG warming is an elementary mistake because it includes lapse rate. It’s really ~10K, easily proved.

What the IPCC claims has since 1997 been the opposite of science. CO2 climate sensitivity is exaggerated by a factor of at least 6.7 and when you correct the IR science, which is appallingly simplistic, CO2 probably slightly cools the atmosphere now there is IR band saturation near the Earth’s surface.

No IPCC climate model can predict climate. It's time this new Lysenkoism was consigned to the dustbin of Marxist history.

Dec 23, 2011 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

From #0332, advice given in 2003 to Phil Jones and Mike Mann on how to deal with 'false balance'.

3. I see several possible courses of action that would be useful.

a) Prepare a background briefing document for wide private circulation, which refutes the claims and lists competent authorities who might be consulted for advice on this issue.

(b) Ensure that such misleading papers do not continue to appear in the offending journals by getting proper scientific standards applied to refereeing and editing. Whether that is done publicly or privately may not matter so much, as long as it happens. It could be through boycotting the journals, but that might leave them even freer to promulgate misinformation. To my mind that is not as good as getting the offending editors removed and proper processes in place. Pressure or ultimatums to the publishers might work, or concerted lobbying by other co-editors or leading authors.

(c) A journalistic expose of the unscientific practices might work and embarass the sceptics/industry lobbies (if they are capable of being embarassed) e.g., through a reliable lead reporter for Science or Nature. Offending editors could be labelled as "rogue editors", in line with current international practice? Or is that defamatory?

(d) Legal action might be useful for authors who consider themselves libelled, and there could be financial support for such actions (Jim Salinger might have contacts here). However,we would need to be very careful to be moderate and reasonable in our reponses to avoid counter legal actions.

Dr. A. Barrie Pittock
Post-Retirement Fellow, Climate Impact Group
CSIRO Atmospheric Research, PMB 1, Aspendale 3195, Australia

Dec 23, 2011 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Heide de Klein

"But then, he wouldn't get invited back on TV if he said anything against the consensus."

There surely must be a 'market' for concensus-busters. Look at the credit accorded to Robert Peston in his field for scooping the Northern Rock fiasco. There's increasing public appetite for some equivalent figure to declare that the pesky planet's refusal to warm falsifies the AGW theory.

Professor Jones, if you read this, you can make your mark in history by recanting. Write a bestseller entitled, "Groupthink: How I Succumbed to Peer Group Pressure".

The blurb will read, "With devastating honesty, former climatologist Phil Jones takes the reader on a journey of self deception on an epic scale, revealing the cult mentality in the ivory owers of academia and his subsequent breakaway. 'When Prime Ministers and Presidents hang on one's every utterance', writes Prof Jones, 'it takes an almost superhuman effort to then admit that one's lifetime work is fatally flawed; is flat wrong'. To his great credit, the author describes the origins of the Great Global Warming myth and his role in its propagation only to reach his Inconvenient Truth. 'We built our house on sand. As it teetered we shovelled mightily to shore it up. I'm not proud of that. I just hope that in coming clean some of the damage done by our hubris, by our misplaced belief, can be repaired.' "

Dec 23, 2011 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

Some years ago, I visited the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) web site, and looked over their governing members list. Most of them, as I recall (I have not been back lately), were medical doctors, yet they put up on their site authoritative pronouncements of non-medical science. I have found that the medical profession is at the reactionary core of those who stridently defend the consensus theories today, in the face even of clear evidence invalidating any portion of those theories. They are an ensconced priesthood for unquestioned acceptance of current theories. Those who control all of our supposedly authoritative institutions are equally benighted priests, or acolytes, of the received dogma of "consensus" science. The more you learn, the more you hear from them, the more insane you will find their words and actions, because theirs is basically just a holy war against the infidels who would question "established science". The political Left (here in the US) identifies with them, and I call the ridiculous political machinations in behalf of AGW and malthusian-inspired environmentalism, the "War of the Insane Left". Unfortunately, the insanity and out-of-control authority goes back to Darwin, and the now-reigning paradigm of undirected evolution of all that science observes--it is literally an established religion you are up against, if you would criticize the "consensus" on any point (and I wonder how many visitors here stopped seriously considering my words, as soon as I mentioned Darwin).

Dec 23, 2011 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

1) The ClimateGate 2.0 emails contain many, many references to "public relations" aka "PR" and substantive discussions about how to present, spin, and make use of data, people, and reports to the furtherance of the CAGW "cause." In fact there seems to be in many CG 2.0 emails threads an acute hyper-awareness of the PR aspects of their "science."

2) At the conclusion of COP17 Durban, I noticed that the wrap-up news reports from the USA, Aus, and UK all presented "balanced" opposition opinion about the event, but the alleged "opposition" was Greenpeace, WWF, Union of Concerned Scientists, and others of their ilk. I was curious about this and did a survey, noting that not only were these groups used consistently across most Western reporting, but that they all wanted the same thing (to wit, more money), but that not one single skeptic was interviewed or quoted in any of the reporting (the Washington Post couldn't locate Mark Morano or Chris Horner?). In the view of the press, I suppose "balance" is to include only Technocrat Socialists versus NGO Socialists.

Dec 23, 2011 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterGarry

Phil Jones to a journalist just days before Climategate (1).

Fri Nov 6 14:06:43 2009
from: Phil Jones <REDACTED>
subject: Re: 220 words on Copenhagen summit for commissioned article
to: Ian Sinclair <REDACTED>


.............. I know there are climate change deniers trying to malign some of the research going on. They do not write any of this in the scientific literature, only on right wing blog sites. All the climate scientists I know though are fully behind the conclusions of the last IPCC Report in 2007. There is no doubt the world is warming and will continue to warm.


Mission accomplished I suppose.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Harry Dale Hoffman

Yep, you anticipated one person's reaction to your words: "the now-reigning paradigm of undirected evolution of all that science observes". Darwin's theory works, but if evidence does emerge that contradicts it a rational person will be very interested.

Are you suggesting that evolution is divinely directed? You're entitled to your faith.

Most of us here are concerned about lack of integrity in one or two narrow groups of bent scientists. We're pro-science and anti pseudoscience. I would define science as 'holding a view in the light of all available evidence'. Faith, on the other hand, is 'regardless of evidence'.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

@Harry Dale Huffman

My point earlier might go some way towards explaining the issue here. Medics go to medical school to learn about practising safe medicine. Despite purloining the the title of trained scientific researchers (hey, trust me I'm a DOCTOR™), they are not trained to conduct independent scientific research, but to follow known safe practice. Which in their case is determined by some trial and error and the emergence of what usually doesn't kill their patients embarrassingly soon. This could be called a consensus view.

Training of this sort does *not* equip practitioners to do anything other than trying not to kill their patients. They are not a scientific elite of any sort, and in reality, given the strictures of NHS guidelines, can be likened to other professionals whose job it is to deliver the National Curriculum, albeit (usually) with less blood and guts. I'm not demeaning their skillset - you need to know a lot about safe practice and be able to spout an awful lot of confusing jargon, but I repeat, doing what other people tell you to do DOES NOT MAKE YOU A SCIENTIST.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

Perhaps someone should remind the BMJ that, prior to the elucidation of the glycemic index in the 1980s, most if not all physicians gave incorrect and sometimes dangerous dietary advice to diabetics. This misleading advice came with such an impressive pedigree of support from well-known, well-intentioned, but unfortunately not well-educated 'senior' medical men that no one dare question it. If I recall correctly, it was a registered nurse working towards a masters degree in nursing who discovered the error, and not a credentialed MD. Hmmm, methinks there may be a lesson here.

I'm just a clown, and no one needs to listen to me, but me wretched Mum always said "a cobbler should stick to his last" and "physician, heal thyself." Both ring true today.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterCrusty the Clown

[An aside for Brent Hargreaves (Dec 23, 2011 at 2:29 PM ) Life may be imitating your art already. Here are some recent words of Mike Hulme, and beneath or amongst the opaque tangles of convoluted prose, a hint of regret might be discerned:

In the autumn of 1997 I had been proactive with colleagues in compiling a list of nearly 800 signatories amongst European climate change-related scientists to an open letter to the European delegations convening in Kyoto urging them to lend their weight behind the idea of legally-binding emissions reductions targets. It was to be another 10 years before I revoked on this conviction, becoming convinced that this approach was misguided and ineffective (Hulme, 2010a; Prins et al., 2010)...
These three essays signalled my growing unease about some of the ways in which (climate) science was being presented and deployed in public debates. My exposure to a wider range of academic disciplines allowed me to adopt a more critical stance in how I perceived the relations between climate change science, public knowledge and discourse and policy development
...Using newly discovered – for me! - theories and insights from science and technology studies and the geography of science, I became more critical of the ways in which climate change knowledge was made and exercised.


The notion that climate change knowledge is 'made' and 'exercised', brought back to mind the painters at their easels anaology for the creation and defence and deployment of the hockey-stick plot. 'Yes, yes, we get a better upturn there if we use this data set rather than that one. A visual drama, a veritably Schneiderian departure from simplistic integrity. Let's go for it! ' Or something like that, I imagine.]

As for the BMJ, theirs is a political arena now, just as the Lancet before them, and of course the Royal Society too. My guess is the social bubble that seems to equate disputation about the ill-founded alarumising of climate zealots with flat-earthism and the like is the same bubble, or shall we say 'tendency', that has swamped the leadership of such as the Royal Society and the BBC. It is a clear type of intellectual corruption, and it needs endless defence since mere truth will destroy it. Just as the editors of Pravda would no doubt have been quick to counter any hints of revisionism, or indeed realism, detected in the populace, so must the 'thought leaders' circle the wagons and jump on threats to their wordview. Thus penetrating questions about the 'alarm', or the 'science' behind it, are to be thrown out less they 'amplify outlier views on anthropogenic climate change'. Truth as an outlier is an interesting viewpoint. It may well have been one adopted, no doubt with great sincerity and sense of purpose, by the editors of Pravda.

Apart from the fallacy that consensus is a debate-stopper in science, the more profound fallacy is the notion that there is indeed any such consensus other than the one devised and promoted by such as the IPCC, or the one based on that 97% nonsensus survey result.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

A sound medical practice (and by that I don't mean just walking into your clinic, billing for your service and going home) can be as eyeopening a scientific experience as a career in the lab with the mice and the test tubes. It just works in different ways. Medics can be just the bloodletters, cutters, and apothecary businessmen - as their clients with occasional illnesses are wont to see them for, or they can be the foundation for all medical research as we know it.

... ... ...

There are only about four sticks of scholarship the climate consensus has been waving at everyone for years:
1) Ross Gelbspan's 1997 book The Heat is On
2) The Boykoff brothers' paper(s) on 'false balance'
3) Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway's book about tobacco companies
4) The Oreskes Science paper, and more recently Doran and colleagues 2009 and Anderegg et al 2010

Each of these items present such piss-poor arguments that no one would take them on individually - fighting them would be like trying to hold jelly in your hand. But they get cited over and over again, in the most useless of arguments.

These sources are like the Monckton of the sceptical side. I can see the essential point he's making and move on. The warmists on the other hand want to take him down as a whole, can't find one solid thing to hold on to, and end up enraging themselves.

The Boykoff argument nevertheless can be clearly refuted. Accepting its conclusion relies on accepting the premise of the linear science-to-political action model. 'Just as the science was all building up for societal action, the contrarians are interviewed and everything grinds to a halt'. It is pure totalitarian nonsense in its full glory.

Dec 23, 2011 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Is this really so suprising? If you want a textbook example about anti-science, look no further than the medical profession and the history of medicine.

Dec 23, 2011 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Harry Dale Huffman Dec 23, 2011 at 2:31 PM

... Unfortunately, the insanity and out-of-control authority goes back to Darwin, and the now-reigning paradigm of undirected evolution of all that science observes--it is literally an established religion you are up against ....

(and I wonder how many visitors here stopped seriously considering my words, as soon as I mentioned Darwin).

Well, yes. I was not quite sure what you were trying to say but, if you were saying that the theory of evolution is "literally an established religion" then your words are extremely hard to take seriously.

Dec 23, 2011 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

I hope that 2012 will bring a return to more balanced reporting by the BBC on a number of issues, especially climate change and the European Union. The current bias is unacceptable for the national broadcaster and it is becoming evident to a larger number of people who find themselves uncomfortable in the role of dissidents.

Dec 23, 2011 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Once upon a time there was a consensus that the earth was flat; fortunately there were some sceptics around to prove the consensus was flawed.

Dec 23, 2011 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Thompson

This is the same Journal whose editor Dr Godlee stated in her editorial column that climate change repreents a greater threat than both communicable and non-communicable disease back in Oct of this year.

That statement shows that honesty and factuality are not considered necessary components for the organization. How a Medical institution can casually dismiss the welfare of hundreds of millions of people alive today in order to "worry" about people who don't yet exist is beyond my understanding.

Dec 23, 2011 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

'tis the season:

"The journal Science on Thursday fully retracted a controversial study that had linked a mouse leukemia retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome, a disabling illness affecting an estimated one million people in the United States. "

I guess medical papers are trying to equal the quality that climate papers are. And hey, what's a million people anyway...

Dec 23, 2011 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Anon

I'd love to see a copy of your letter to the BMJ.

The Boykoff paper cited by the BMJ as a source for the contention that journalistic balance is to blame for giving a patina of respectability to CAGW skepticism is a typical piece of "artsy-fartsy" liberal arts bullsh*t.

Dec 23, 2011 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

"It was as I began to think about these things that this started to bother me," says Smith.
"I'd always known medical journalism wasn't about the truth, and I tried to write that at
least once a year. It's partly because of the nature of science -- it's about provisional
truths." Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal for 25 years.

Dec 23, 2011 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Vivienne Westwood the climate scientist.

Dec 23, 2011 at 7:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrederick Bloggsworth

Tony Newbery has an excellent response on the BMJ site. Get over there and rate it.

<Re: When balance is bias
Fri, 2011-12-23 11:44

In an article for the Financial Times* entitled Science Under Attack, Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse said, ‘Scientists have an obligation to communicate their work to the world, and to be open and transparent about doing it. "Trust me, I'm a scientist" is not a good enough answer to give to policy makers or the general public who are looking to make informed decisions on important topics.’ This is advice that the BMJ would be well advised to heed.

Trevor Jackson seems unaware of the issues that concern climate sceptics, and therefor of how inappropriate the analogies that his editorial depends on are. So long as pillars of the establishment such as the BMJ and the BBC downplay scientific uncertainties and attempt to dismiss opposing views out-of-hand, an ever increasing proportion of the public - if not policy makers - will turn to the internet as a source of more diverse opinion . Collateral damage to trust in science and scientists is likely to have an impact on government research funding.

*Financial Times Magazine, 25/26 June 2010>

Dec 23, 2011 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post


It is incredible that Doran and Zimmerman got away, and continue to get away with their oft-quoted consensus survey finding. How were they allowed to publish their polled responses to only two introductory questions, neither of which specifies anthropogenic CO2 or its impact, in the AGU's Eos Magazine? The survey contained nine questions. The wording, and the responses to the missing seven poll questions have never been revealed. Presumably they exist, either in the Illinois University archives, the Zimmerman PhD or the records of the polling survey company contracted to run the poll.

One can only assume that the responses, from several thousand Earth Scientists, were found to be rather inconvenient.

Dec 23, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

We should be careful to distinguish between pure science, most famously represented by cosmology, and medical science. The goals of the two undertakings are very different. Medical science exists to serve medicine not the satisfaction of curiosity. Cosmology has always existed to satisfy curiosity. Cosmologists strive to produce the best account of our physical universe that the present state of science and mathematics permits. There is no reason to deny that the account is true though we know very well that all or some of it will be replaced by better work in the future.

Medical science does not have a primary goal of satisfying curiosity. More to the practical point, medical science is usually striving to catch medical practice. The surgeon who cut a hole in a patient's leg and threaded a hollow tube into the patient's heart so that he could inflate a balloon in the end of the tube was justified by the fact that all known remedies had failed to reduce the patient's suffering and this new technique promised relief. The science would follow.

The goals of medical science must not be confused with the goals of science. If that confusion takes place then String Theory might replace Big Bang Theory on the grounds that it is more likely to reduce suffering. As you know, the IPCC has made this transition some time in the past and often praises articles in climate science, so-called, because their conclusions promise reductions in suffering, apply the Uncertainty Principle, or something similar. In his December 5 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Mann promoted that stance as follows:

"...We should respect the role science and scientists play in society, especially when scientists identify new risks. Whether those risks stem from smoking, lead exposure or the increasing use of fossil fuels, scientists will always work to increase knowledge and reduce uncertainty. And we all benefit from that work."

Exposing new risks and reducing uncertainty are not primary goals of pure science. They are goals of medicine, medical science, and a plethora of government agencies such as America's Center for Disease Control, the National Institute for Mental Health, and Health and Human Services. If exposing new risks and reducing uncertainty becomes a goal of pure science then our understanding of the universe will become hostage to the cosmological theory that has the best record on discovering risks and reducing uncertainty about those risks.

Dec 23, 2011 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

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