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Beddington on warpath

The sight of a government chief scientific officer on the warpath is not a pretty one. Sir John Beddington, for it is he, is all a-quiver, enraged with the antics of pseudoscientists of all complexions:

We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality... We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method."

"One way is to be completely intolerant of this nonsense," he said. "That we don't kind of shrug it off. We don't say: ‘oh, it's the media’ or ‘oh they would say that wouldn’t they?’ I think we really need, as a scientific community—and this is a very important scientific community—to think about how we do it."

Now, we sceptics have been mightily concerned about cherrypicking. Indeed, we raised the issue with several of the Climategate inquiries. Of the investigations into Jones et al, it was the Oxburgh inquiry, that of course had the most reason to investigate the question of cherrypicking at the Climatic Research Unit: who can forget the selection of proxy series for Osborn and Briffa, for example? That was certainly one that raised a few eyebrows.

But as we know, Lord Oxburgh and his panel decided not to look at this paper and their report is silent on the question of cherrypicking.

And how did Sir John Beddington react? I'm sure readers here remember that he wrote to Lord Oxburgh telling him that he had "played a blinder". Perhaps being inside a university gives you some kind of immunity from Sir John's wrath.

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Reader Comments (127)


"neither are as bad"

For someone who claims to admire fine writing, your grammar leaves something to be desired. Or is that the Sauternes speaking?

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

James P

Zed has - correctly - been accused of nit-picking before. Let's not make the same mistake ;-)

And FWIW, I regret the Sauternes quip above, which I should have left unsaid.

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


I agree with all you say except

I also think it is fair to compare climate change deniers to creationists.

The problem with this is that the consensus has widened the definition of 'denier' to include any dissent. I am not, by any means, a 'denier', but I routinely find myself characterised as one. This is why I am banging on about the Anderegg paper above. This stuff matters.

I do not appreciate either being defined as a 'denier' for asking a few pertinent questions, or being 'compared' to creationists.

Or, as you will see in an earlier thread about Michael Buerk, casually consigned to the 'loathsome corner' along with racists and paedophiles.

This stuff is corrosive. And it is not debate, nor science. It is politics at its most vicious.

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I have told you before that the Doran and Zimmerman University of Illinois poll, as published in Eos and repeated ad nauseam elsewhere, fails to report on the responses to seven of the nine questions involved in the survey. It has been widely cited as supporting an 'overwhelming consensus', your 97%, but of what?
The only two questions for which responses were reported were 'have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures' Thats all. To over 10,000 Earth scientists listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute directory of geoscience departments. Not even addressing CO2 induced warming - let alone magnitude. Now if you were composing a poll to tease out opinions on the gravity of AGW to the world's Earth scientists, you would surely be tempted to stretch them a little more than that. After all, it took several minutes to complete.

I would put to you the hypothetical thesis that in order to support promotional advocacy, the authors had to resort to presenting the poll results for the two banal introductory questions in order to find anything resembling remotely acceptible figures for their purposes, claiming they are 'key', and that the responses to the remaining seven were so 'disappointing' that they had to be 'buried'.

Perhaps you have a more cogent logical theory about the missing seven?

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos



I wouldn't have if he hadn't made the remark about the quality of writing in the Grauniad. Gander sauce comes into it somewhere, too...

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Sir John Beddington said:

"We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality... We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method."

Presumably Sir John Beddington does NOT believe that adoption agencies should endeavour to ensure that whenever possible children who are already disadvantaged should have the chance to gain a Mother AND a Father by adoption. In other words he is just a typical PC (Political Commissar) type who promotes the idea of "thought crime."

Given his self-proclaimed PC tendencies I would also be suspicious of his views on racism. Many members of ethnic minorities are not exactly thrilled by the way the British left repeatedly lump them together with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. That does not mean they themselves would necessarily condemn such people, but they would condemn the way that PC types use the existence of ethnic minorities to further their own careers and to promote causes that have nothing to do with anti-racism.

Since I believe in freedom I think we should tolerate people like John Beddington, but the supposedly scientific causes that he defends should be defended on their merits, not by lumping critics with people who the PC types would stigmatise as racists or homophobes (i.e. anyone not fully signed up to a PC agenda). Also, at at time of public austerity we should not go out of our way to throw public money at causes that he endorses unless we are convinced that such expenditure is not only worthwhile but also of more worth than competing uses for that money.

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

James P

I hear you, but as I said, let's not travel down that road. It leads nowhere.

Feb 15, 2011 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

ZedsDeadBed wrote:

"the last time I looked over a demographic breakdown of newspaper readers, Grauniad readers were amongst the highest paid, best educated and working in the best jobs of the lot."

That shows a shocking lack of real diversity in the public sector. The top jobs (and the final salary pensions that go with them) should go to talented people who are more representative of the British people as a whole.

That applies not only to the top paid but also those on more modest salaries. School discipline, and hence education in general would be improved immensely if British schools employed fewer Guardian reading wimps. Then teachers would not be at risk of the sack for allowing a couple of teenagers to go on a sledge down a slope involving a terrifying descent of about 13ft!

Feb 15, 2011 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I'd want to see a reference and the stats behind Zed's claim on that.

Feb 15, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad


I think it can be fair to compare those whole deny climate change science with those who deny evolutionary biology. I do not think it is fair to use the creationist tag as a name calling tactic. Among both groups there are those who are genuine skeptics, that is they are open minded and not dogmatic. But within both groups there are those who insist on claiming the mainstream science view is a religion and there are those in both who cherry pick studies they like. A large fraction of both groups find the science in question offends their deep beliefs, political in one case religious in the other - of course there are individual exceptions. In the U.S. there has been organizational convergence of climate change deniers and creationists in a couple of state legislatures.

However, it is not fair to say that truth value of one belief has any logical connection to the truth value of the other. It is possible the world is warming because of us and was created by God ~6000 years ago! ;)

Feb 15, 2011 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike

As to Osama bin Laden supporting AGW, how's he doing that?

via Ouija board somwhere?

02:15 in = doesn't sound like a slip to me....

OT I know but hard to resist.

Feb 15, 2011 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom


Please look over my comment at 9:31pm again.

Your insistence that creationism is intellectually equivalent to 'denialism' is polarising because the 'denier' tag is too frequently misused.

I do not think we are quite connecting here. I agree with your implication that there are unscientific belief systems that are, well, daft, but not with your persistence in trying to delegitimise reasoned dissent by negative association.

Do you have an accurate figure for climate sensitivity to CO2? Of course not. This allows for legitimate debate but this is not tolerated by the consensus and that is both antagonising and frightening.

Feb 15, 2011 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


We lefty sceptics are resigned to the fact that our natural political allies have all gone down with an apparently incurable bout of mass hysteria. It’s a bit hard having our political beliefs slurred by our fellow sceptics.

I heard Tony Benn say in an interview on BBC HARDtalk recently that "we libertarians meet round the back" - talking of left and right libertarians. This is the direction we need to explore. Benn's passion for the radicals of the 17th century has always been an inspiration to me - though I wouldn't agree with him on everything! A new politics is going to be needed after this shenanigans. Stay in there, Geoff.

Feb 16, 2011 at 12:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

This is wayyy late in the thread, but I felt the need:


This was akin to my initial reaction too, but on reflection it's not correct. In the pot and kettle scenario, both the pot and the kettle are black. When you say "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", the presumption is that both parties are throwing stones.

The fact is that this is not a pot and kettle or glass houses situation. What Beddington describes as being abhorrent is exactly what WE abhor - the pseudo-science, the lousy accounting, the cherry picking and the perversions of the Scientific Method. We don't perceive these activities as acceptable practices and we will never entertain them.

Our kettle is not black. We don't throw stones. We are the people Beddington PRETENDS to be, but he is not like us, and neither are the ones he supports - the ones he commends for playing blinders, the ones whose transgressions he is apparently blind to.

He is a very black pot, and he has nothing on our shiny, silvery kettle.

Feb 16, 2011 at 2:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Yeah Mike! An don't we call it Intelligent Design now or ID. Creationism is so 20th Century. :-)

Comparing AGW skepticism (and other labels like denier) to ID is lazy. It's an attempt to malign a legitimate argument with a stigmatized label. As soon as we do this we are no longer talking about the merits of an argument, we're discussing a PR campaign's attempt to control the debate.

Feb 16, 2011 at 2:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

ZBD if you do not think that there is just the small, tiny possibility that the earth is no longer warming, or for that matter most of the reported warming in the past instrumental record was due to a combination of UHI and random fluctiations, or if for that matter, that the small amount of possible warming recorded since 1880 and that projected by the IPCC for the next 100 years, is not more beneficial than harmful; THEN you are not thinking critically, like a student of science should.

Feb 16, 2011 at 6:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

This is a follow up to my post yesterday about GISS apparently trying to alter evidence:

In 1999, Hansen wrote a report showing US temperatures were higher in the 1930s. In 2000, the data were altered to show modern temperatures were higher but the original report was still in the archive.

That report was altered on Jan 18th, 2011 so the 1999 US data weren't visible on the .pdf. The only way to do this was to write to the file but of course, the journalling and archive system will prove who did it. Don't think whoever did it knows that.

Very quickly after this alteration was discovered yesterday, the file was repaired. Seems to me that someone or group has been trying getting rid of the evidence in preparation for a forthcoming judicial investigation into possible scientific fraud at GISS.

Feb 16, 2011 at 8:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander

Feb 16, 2011 at 12:16 AM | Richard Drake

'A new politics is going to be needed after this shenanigans'

Totally agree but with what?

One of the problems, in my mind, with the current system is that modern politicians are 'designed' for the job. We now have 'senior' politicians under forty years old within our democracy that have never done anything but politics. They study politics through university and then move directly into the political system without any real world experience but stuffed full of ideological theory. This may make them an expert on the system but poorly based in common sense real world application.

One proposal I would put forward to try and improve the system would be that to be eligible for a cabinet, or shadow cabinet, position the politician must have been employed outside of the political sphere for a minimum of five years in a position that is related to the cabinet role. Those career politicians that move from one department to another must of had that real world experience prior to starting their political career.

Another would be to ensure that any non cabinet MP represented their constituents rather than towing the party line when voting in the house. It is not above the current technical expertise of local constituencies to include the Commons agenda upon an MPs website with registered constituents being able to vote to provide a live indication to the MP on which way they should vote in the House. This would also provide feedback though the website on how the MP voted, providing the local people a measure of their MPs representational effectiveness. A text or email alert for those registered upon the site would indicate a new motion and cut off time and date. This could also be relevant for any motions that the MP is planning to raise and whether or not they represent their constituents concerns with the motion.

As far as coalition politics go my first, naive, impression was that it would be a fantastic opportunity to get a balanced government but now I feel that the process has overtaken the wishes of those who voted for their representatives and am currently unsure of what to do this May.

Do you have any suggestions Richard?

Feb 16, 2011 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook


I am sure that there are many competent internet techies out there, but my attention was recently drawn to an excellent website It is possible to see snapshots of websites over approximately the past 10 years For example, you can see 18 snapshots of the Met Office website between 2001 and 2007.


Feb 16, 2011 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

I'm not competent to comment on the Anderegg paper but Doran is not just "not perfect" it's totally meaningless and bordering on the dishonest.
Start by looking at and in particular this paragraph:

In our survey, the most specialized and knowledgeable respondents (with regard to climate change) are those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total). Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2.
So in order to get his 97% Doran has whittled down the original 3,146 who replied to the 79 who:
- listed climate science as their area of expertise;
- had published more than half their recent peer-reviewed papers on that subject.
I'm not sure whether that is called 'cherry-picking' or 'torturing the data until it confesses'. Either way the statement "97% of climate scientists ..." should read '97% of the 2.3% who answered in the first place ..."
Why don't you then go to where you can see some excellent reasons why the study was flawed in the first place.

Feb 16, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

... so, since Zed is always keen that we should do our own research, I went looking for Anderegg and came up with (which links to Roger Pielke Sr's blog comments on Anderegg but does include the following from the abstract of the paper itself):

Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
To which, I regret to say, my first reaction was that this is about as convincing as the news that the Pope is against sin. Added to which we already know from a variety of sources, not least the UEA leaked emails that "the relative... scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC .." is very likely to be below that of "convinced researchers" since the "convinced researchers" have been moving heaven and earth to make sure that the "unconvinced" also remain "unheard".
The "relative climate expertise" of the "unconvinced" is a matter of conjecture and not something that Anderegg (who is in any case parti pris, as is Doran) is qualified to pass judgment on.
AND leaving aside the question of whether their publication data and citation is a useful proxy for their actual level of expertise or indeed anything other than the level of incestuousness in climate science (or indeed any other branch of science, come to that).
If that is the best you can do, Zed, then I think it is time to stop. You certainly do your cause (I assume that you have one but it's not clear what it is apart from creating disruption) no favours by continuing to cite papers that even a layman like me can find the faults in on the basis of 10 minutes research.

Feb 16, 2011 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

"Sam"... It would appear that the quoted "1,372 climate researchers " is what Prof. John Brignell (of "Numberwatch") describes as a "Trojan Number" - ie one that serves to hide the true magnitude of the analysed data (in this case I assume that it's 77 or 79). :-)

Feb 16, 2011 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterPogo

I think the figure of 79 was from the Doran paper, was it not? I think Anderegg's 1,372 was picked from a list of those who had published.
The trouble is, whichever way you look at both Anderegg and Doran their methodology does nothing other than bring this sort of research into disrepute. Climate science is not alone. We are told that medical researchers don't behave this way, but they do.
One way of reducing the likelihood of adverse side effects in a drug is to exclude those likely to have an adverse reaction from your trials (for example). As I said elsewhere the other day, it's a great pity Sandy Szwarc isn't currently blogging. Her Junk Food Science blog was excellent at analysing some of their tricks.
As is John Brignell of course.
I don't know what the object of the exercise is in the case of Anderegg and Doran. So you can produce a set of spurious statistics that you claim "proves" something that is totally irrelevant anyway and you use a method which is more full of holes than a Swiss cheese. What's the point?

Feb 16, 2011 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Sam; Pogo

Many thanks for digging.

Keep your notes and references. Should Zed or anyone else start up about Doran 2006 or Anderegg 2010 and how 97% of a small number of cats* scientists support the IPCC consensus, they will be to hand for ready use.

It's high time this particular line of argument was put to bed for good.

*Old joke:

Feb 16, 2011 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Damn you, BBD.
I had 'cats' typed in and then decided against it!!
Have no fear. The links are safe with me. ;<)

Feb 16, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Lord Beaverbrook:

'A new politics is going to be needed after this shenanigans'

Totally agree ... Do you have any suggestions Richard?

Hmm, thanks for the question! I have lots of thoughts, some of them more radical than others. Let me try and give a flavour.

I think, like Hannan and Carswell, that open primaries would make a great deal of difference to some of your concerns. See for example the interesting news last week that Sarah Wollaston turned down a government job because she felt it wouldn't allow her properly to serve her constituents in Totnes. And Wollaston of course had done some very useful work in the community as a GP before becoming an MP. That's the kind of scenario that will happen much more with open primaries.

I don't think that trying to extend democracy into 'real time' is the right way to go, however. Those that are most busy with other things would not be able to track every bit of legislation - yet their opinion should probably count much more! That's the aspect that hasn't changed about the strength of representative democracy. Open primaries are I believe the simplest single step to take the system we have now and make it much better.

But the reason I've mentioned the 17th century is partly because I think we need really deep changes. (Hopefully not including a King called Charles losing his head in the process!) And it was in the 17th century that freedom for the non-conformist Christian voice was established in this country - to use a somewhat ironic term for it! I think we need again to go back to first principles and have the debate about what we stand for as a country. We turned our back on theocracy at that time - and I certainly agree with that decision. But the Muslim challenge raises some really fundamental issues for us, as does the the collapse of the AGW myth (as I believe will happen) as does the banking crisis. We need to have a debate about the most fundamental things of all about this country. It ain't necessarily going to be easy or pretty.

If I had to give myself a political label I would call myself a right libertarian - but I've had a strong sense that what is often labelled 'left' has something ever so important to contribute at this time. That's another reason to go back to before 'left' was defined far too much by the French Revolution and its successors. There is another tradition in this country, with Tolpuddle coming out of Methodism. It's vital, as historians like Gertrude Himmelfarb have emphasized, not to neglect the power and influence of those strands in the transformation of England and the United Kingdom. I don't have answers as to where such digging back into our roots will lead - but I'm deeply convinced it's the only way. We need a new left that's truly new because it's gone back to something much older.

As for fundamental issues that I think should unite left and right, the most important would be the restoration of the gold standard with its clearing system - the Real Bills Market of Adam Smith (which was suspended at the start of the First World War). There was a truly excellent presentation of why this move is an act of justice that would go beyond traditional political boundaries in the Keiser Report on RT at the start of the month (segment starting around 13:30).

Anyhow, enough from me - I'm an amateur! But those are some thoughts.

Feb 16, 2011 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Beddington's remarks evoke in me a complex reaction. On the one hand, I agree that civilized society has benefitted tremendously from actual science, and that pseudo-science is dangerous at worst and distracting at best.

On the other hand, it seems that an embrace of mainstream "climate change" tenets requires a person to swallow large gulps of pseudo-scientific statements of faith. It is a fact that the raw global temperature database at CRU has been altered in a way that would prevent anyone from ever hoping to replicate the methods used to modify it into what it is today. That puts it (and everything derived from it) out of the realm of actual science. We simply have to hope or assume that the correct techniques were used--we cannot replicate the procedure. ("Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?" -Phil Jones)

And so on and so on. Every published study without publicly archived data falls into the same category--it relegates the work to being a form of pseudoscience.

So, as much as I would like to cheer on a statement like Beddington's, I doubt he intends to actually apply pure scientific standards to what he labels real vs. pseudo-science. It is more likely this is another attempt to simply justify forcing a political agenda on an unwilling public. AKA tyranny.

Feb 18, 2011 at 8:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJJ

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