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« Zero Waste Scotland | Main | Intolerant correspondence »

Thought for the Day

The BBC's Thought for the Day, the religious three minute spot each morning, today covered the trustworthiness of statistics, in what might be read as a commentary on Sir John Beddington's call for intolerance.

File below.


Thought for the day

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    In the context of our times, where orthodoxy is only the permissible theology, neutrality on climate change is a mark of dissent.

Reader Comments (25)

Rhidian Brook is certainly right about the unreliability of statistics, but it's difficult for an empiricist to follow him to the conclusion that knowledge has to be supplemented with love to get the full picture. Furthermore, though christians might be expected to be disposed towards tolerance in scientific debate because of their love for the human being on the other side, this isn't invariably how it turns out when they think something challenging to the status of the church is at stake - eg. in the case of Galileo or Darwin.

Mar 25, 2011 at 5:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Nice words -- I have no idea what he said.

Mar 25, 2011 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

I'm with DPdlS on this. I heard the piece on the car radio this morning and failed to understand what the speaker's point was.

To be fair, I was waiting for the inevitable "and that's a bit like " conclusion so was puzzling over how some unspecific blather about statistics and climate change was going to arrive at that particular station.


Mar 25, 2011 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterwoodentop

Argh - attacked by unintended html. The above should read:

I'm with DPdlS on this. I heard the piece on the car radio this morning and failed to understand what the speaker's point was.

To be fair, I was waiting for the inevitable "and that's a bit like [insert today's deity here]" conclusion so was puzzling over how some unspecific blather about statistics and climate change was going to arrive at that particular station.


Mar 25, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterwoodentop

well AGW is a religion...they might have found their true home

Mar 25, 2011 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Who said statistics are like a bikini? What they show is all very interesting and delightful, but what they hide is absolutely essential and germane to the proposition.

Mar 25, 2011 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterPerry

I think we are being prepared for the day when the proclaimed consensus breaks down, the establishment admit they may have been wrong about some of the data but (like any religious following would be urged to do) we should nevertheless retain faith in the expensive treatment that our leaders have been advocating because all of the other beneficial reasons outweigh any of the short term discomfort. We should do this as a matter of faith ...

Mar 25, 2011 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

would have been nice to know which side of the argument he was supporting, seeing as he implied his freind "won" the argument and all.

Mar 25, 2011 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commentersunderland steve

He read some statistic he picked up from 'somewhere' he couldn't recall, but believed non the less, and used it to back an argument. The argument was utterly refuted by evidence, be he resisted the evidence because it didn't fit his preconceived idea.

So, he says, we should be wary of people using statistics to win an argument.

So we should be wary of him.

Logic fail.

Mar 25, 2011 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I thought I knew a bit about religion, Christianity in particular, and I know where love fits there, but this little ever-so-beautiful speech utterly mystified me. I replayed it twice and I am still wondering what on earth the point of it all was.

Mar 25, 2011 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

It left me baffled, too. I caught it this morning after it had started and wondered if he had declared a position at the start. Clearly he hadn't, and I'm still left wondering whether the 'definitive' stats were from the IPCC or somewhere more reliable.

As his argument seemed to be that perhaps they shouldn't be trusted anyway, it's hard to know what to conclude, but it was nicely presented (unlike Dr Giles Fraser's contribution a couple of days ago, where he called the King James Bible the 'KJB'. Pah!).

Mar 25, 2011 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Slightly O/T but another example of the beeb's relentless on-message-ness when it comes to CAGW.
From the current issue of the Radio Times (for those not from the UK, the BBC's own listings magazine), about Niall Ferguson's Channel 4 series "Civilization: Is the West History":

If you've been following this series, you'll be used to Niall Ferguson's thunderbolts. This week there's a biggie, a piece to camera in Senegal reflecting on how the pseudo-science of eugenics corrupted the West's civilising mission in Africa: It's worth remembering, Ferguson tells us, that 100 years ago "racism wasn't some backward-looking, reactionary ideology; it was the state of the art, and people then believed in it as readily as people today buy the theory of man-made climate change."
Ouch! The equating of climate science with eugenics comes in the middle of an otherwise shrewd tour of colonial rights and wrongs.

Note the last paragraph in which the reviewer David Butcher effectively says Ferguson is *wrong* to draw the analogy, rather than contenting himself with commenting that it's a view some might find controversial.

Absolutely all-pervasive groupthink.

Mar 25, 2011 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougieJ

Just listened to this out of interest, and its strikes me as psuedo-intellectual bollocks. So considering it was on Radio 4, no news there then.

The only theologian I would like to have met was the minister of a local Perthshire village, who regularly (and I mean every week) had to be carried home from the pub by his parishioners. This was in the 1950's when Highlanders were still by and large God-fearing, so many would dutifully turn up for his sermon the following morning (albeit I'm sure some with more curiosity than religiosity). After the usual stirring lecture on how to be a good Christian, he would, to his eternal credit, end his sermon with the reminder to those present that they should of course "try to do as I say, and not as I do".

Mar 25, 2011 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Articulate, well-spoken, in with the BBC crowd. Also very feeble, reeling from a recent intellectual humiliation, and totally lacking in any penetration into his chosen topic of 'statistics'.

Mar 25, 2011 at 9:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Actually that is not fair, there is another theologian I would like to meet - although preferably in a pub - Richard Holloway. Never read any of his books, but whenever I have heard him on TV or radio, I have always liked what he said, no matter what the subject. He's always thought provoking, but not for the sake of it.

Mar 25, 2011 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

DougieJ: Matt Ridley drew the parallel between eugenics and global warming in his 1999 book "Genome" before he became persuaded of the seriousness of the AGW threat, which was before he became less convinced. It seems to me that he and Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine have followed a similar trajectories.

Mar 25, 2011 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Peakall

@ Alan Peakall - not quite sure what you mean about Ronald Bailey. A quick googling seems to indicate he is pretty much a warmist, albeit far from an alarmist, whereas Matt Ridley may call himself a lukewarmer but he's to all intents and purposes a sceptic.

Regarding the sometimes annoying but generally wholly admirable Niall Ferguson, do we sceptics get to play the 'argument from authority' card too? Because, sorry to be brutal, but Harvard (and, er, Oxford) trumps UEA in anyone's book, doesn't it?

Mar 25, 2011 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougieJ

"Who said statistics are like a bikini? What they show is all very interesting and delightful, but what they hide is absolutely essential and germane to the proposition." --Perry

Warmist climatology statistics are more like a burka: revealing nothing except membership in a religion that requires a total cover-up. (No disrespect to any authentic religion intended.)

Mar 25, 2011 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

yes, figures are funny things:

26 March: Australian: Hedley Thomas: Operator of dam 'invented' rain data
EXTREME rainfall so rare it happens on average once every 2000 years has been "invented" by the government operator of a major Queensland dam as part of its explanation for releasing huge volumes of water that caused most of Brisbane's January flood...
But no such rainfall event was measured by any rainfall gauges. Instead, the claim was manufactured by SEQWater after it modelled the rapid rise of levels in the dam, repositioned rainfall data to an area immediately upstream of the dam, and then doubled it...
He (Senior independent engineer Michael O'Brien)said: "To get the inflow rate, SEQWater had to manufacture an unmetered rainfall event over the dam, which was twice the size of any of the metered rainfall events, and this becomes a rainfall event with a one in 2000."
The technical report by SEQWater shows it relied on a manual gauge of dam levels, not the actual rainfall in gauges, to extrapolate data to claim the occurrence of a one-in-2000-year event.
However, in doing this, SEQWater disregarded the data from a nearby electronic gauge, which showed dam levels lower than those in the manual gauge.
Mr O'Brien said SEQWater's methodology in adopting the data from the manual gauge, ignoring the data from the electronic gauge, and then having to "scale this rainfall up by a factor of two to match the rapid lake level rises" would become a "major technical argument".
"When they calculated the dam inflow rates that would be necessary for the manual gauge board to be correct, they had very high inflow rates -- much higher than any other time during the whole event," he said...
A panel of hydrologists and engineers has categorised the Brisbane River flood as a "dam-release flood", meaning it was largely the result of massive releases...

Mar 26, 2011 at 2:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely connected to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

I am gobsmacked, absolutely speechless.

So I will have a rant in the privacy of this blog:

Evolution’s experiment with intelligence must surely be a failure!

See what happens when emotional fools in high places let the hearts rule the head. Blair follows Bush into Iraq. AGW becomes accepted orthodoxy. And so on and so forth and we rush down the Gadarene slope into poverty and extinction.

So please therefore, back to logic and its offspring, science, where will be inconsistencies enough, maybe examples of Godel’s theorem and inevitable, and maybe our own fault and sortable.

So don’t blame the poor folks who are forced into malpractices by the organizational mire that the frontier between science and government is. They do what they have to do because that’s what’s wanted of them. Make the organization fit for purpose.

There, I feel better for that!

Mar 26, 2011 at 6:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

@ pat - Thanks for posting that, it ties in what Prof. Ansley Kellows and others on here were suggesting in the immediate aftermath of the floods, i.e. that the water levels in the Wivenhoe Dam at least were being kept higher than they should have been (for fear of 'climate change' instigated droughts), such that when the serious rains came there was less storage capacity behind the dams to impound run-off and ameliorate the peak flows downstream.

It could also be the case that as well as the water levels in the lake starting too high, the dam operators then left it too late to open the Wivenhoe gates, and by the time they did (or had to) the spills then coincided with the peak flow rates from other tributaries downstream. AFAIK these dams were built primarily for flood prevention rather than water storage, and the dam operators have a statutory duty to manage the water levels for the former. I guess that explains why they are now using and manipulating dodgy data to exaggerate the magnitude of the actual rainfall event - at the very least they trying to deflect attention away from the fact that the water levels behind the Wivenhoe Dam were already too high prior to the rains.

To summarise, without the dams, the floods would most likely have been worse (they undoubtedly did impound some run-off), but had the lake levels been kept lower and released earlier/managed better (i.e. primarily for flood prevention purposes rather than municipal water storage) the floods would have been much less worse downstream. It will be interesting to see what line the insurance industry's lawyers will take on this.

Mar 26, 2011 at 7:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

In the second half of his talk, Rhidian Brook clearly equates statistics with knowledge after, in the first half, clearly drawing a distinction between them (he had statistics, his friend had knowledge). After that, he equates knowledge with love, love with perspective, and perspective with imagination. None of the latter four equations hold.

Statistics ≠ knowledge, knowledge ≠ love, love ≠ perspective, and perspective ≠ imagination. Therefore, obviously, statistics = imagination. :-) Not likely.

It all just once again goes to show, if we ever forgot, that trying to think about science from a religious vantage always leads to confusion. Mr. Brook is obviously sincere and sounds like a nice civilized guy, but he needs to know that beliefs that are sincerely and lovingly held are not thereby made correct.

Also, there's nothing like knowledge to grant perspective, and nothing like its pursuit to dignify imagination.

Mar 26, 2011 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

Reading, seeing, listening to religious sermons at Bishop Hill's is disconcerting. It takes me right back to the times when I first visited BH and made sure that this is not some religious stake-house where gospels are quoted and love of gods is preached.

Mar 26, 2011 at 10:48 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Blair follows Bush into Iraq.

It would also be much better if people didn't introduce irrelevant political points in arguments, as though the point they make is some self-evident truth.

There are others who consider the removal of a genocidal fascist dictator from power is a good thing and who admire Bush and Blair for their courage in Iraq.

Mar 26, 2011 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

OT, obviously.

Wivenhoe is a multi-purpose dam. It wasn't built just for flood prevention, but for water supply and power generation as well.

After a massive drought which forced the government to build de-salination plants, there was every reason to keep the water levels at 100%... for water supply purposes. For flood prevention purposes the dam was only at 40% full.

Three months prior to the flood some people tried to score political points thus:

Opposition questions water release from Wivenhoe

By Melinda Howells and Chris O'Brien

Posted Wed Oct 6, 2010 12:52pm AEDT

The Queensland Opposition has questioned why water is being released from Wivenhoe Dam in the state's south-east.

The dam level has reached 100 per cent of capacity and controlled releases began this week.

But Opposition spokesman Jeff Seeney told Parliament that the dam is not completely full.

"Is not this release of water from Wivenhoe Dam, when it is holding only 40 per cent its available storage capacity, a clear indication that the Government has learnt nothing from the water crisis and is still failing to plan for the next inevitable drought," he said.

But Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson says the extra capacity is needed to prevent a repeat of the 1974 floods.

"What the Member for Callide [Mr Seeney] - on behalf of the LNP [Liberal National Party] suggests, is that Wivenhoe Dam should not be used for flood mitigation purposes," he said.

"As a result of that, puts into jeopardy the very safety of people in Brisbane and surrounding areas?

"Mr Speaker, this is grossly irresponsible."

That's why the political fortunes of the Labor government shot up, and the Liberal/National opposition's nose dived. And of course, hundreds of lives were saved because the government refused to give in to the opposition on this.

Prior to the Brisbane floods, Bligh Labor government was extremely unpopular. Just last week however the Liberal National opposition decide to get rid of their leader, whatever his name was.

Mar 26, 2011 at 11:37 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

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