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« Incredible science - Josh 90 | Main | Light blogging »
Wednesday
Mar302011

The Spectator debate

I'm back home now, and I need to set down my thoughts on the Spectator debate.  I don't intend to go into too much detail, because I need sleep more than I need to write right now.

I was a bit disappointed overall - none of the presentations managed to combine slick presentation with a strong coherent argument and many of them were not really about the motion at hand: "The global warming concern is over, time for a return to sanity".

Here are some of the things that stuck in my mind. The first was the sense of anger in the auditorium. People were just very, very annoyed about what was going on. There were times when the warmists on the stage looked taken aback by the heat that they were receiving.

Simon Singh's presentation was memorable, but unfortunately mostly for the wrong reasons. He set up what he called a credibility spectrum, with scientists and academies on one side and sceptics on the other and called on us to trust the establishment on the climate change issue. His whole presentation, while outstanding in terms of slick delivery, was an intellectual void, amounting to little more than ten minutes of argument from authority, a point later made by Graham Stringer. It struck me as a little ambitious to even try this sort of fallacious approach to an audience that was likely to be both hostile and well informed on climate science itself. As catcalls of "what about the hockey stick?" rang out, it was clear that many people knew exactly what has been happening. Asking these same people to trust the word of the scientists struck me as a foolish mistake.

Tim Palmer presented a moderate figure although there was little that struck me as noteworthy about his presentation - a familiar recounting of the IPCC story, with the IPCC graphs to demonstrate that CO2 is the culprit. Science didn't want to minimise the uncertainties, he said, and there were a few sniggers among the audience. I was struck by his repeated use of the phrase "the risk is unequivocal", which is probably a better way of expressing the warmist case than some in the past.

Sir David King's contribution was little better than Singh's. It seemed to lack any coherent thread and appeared to be largely an attempt to blind with science: a procession of numbers and graphs the meaning of which was lost in a wall of obfuscation. I didn't warm to him.

On the sceptic side, Lawson was sound and witty - I liked the notion of the IPCC as the Ark of the Covenant of the Conventional Wisdom, but again, I didn't hear anything that surprised me. He was much better at sticking to the motion than most of the others though. At one point he referred to schoolchildren being scared to death about global warming, and I noticed Bob Ward shaking his head a few rows in front of me.

Graham Stringer spoke mainly about the Climategate inquiries, and carried a certain authority as a sitting MP. His point about the detrimental effects of greenery on the poor was an important one.

Benny Peiser's talk was the one that intrigued me. He essentially argued that the science is irrelevant - that the public have made their minds up and that they vote out any party that pushes the green line too far. He also noted that they have moved on to other issues, such as the economy.

Votes were taken before and after the debate, and although sceptics won both by a clear majority there was a swing to the warmists on the night.

I managed a couple of words with Simon Singh after the event, but didn't seem keen to talk - his wife was waiting to take him home. I also said hello to Andrew Neil, who said he had read my book, which was nice.

Then there was the obligatory post-mortem at the pub, and it was nice to meet several BH regulars in the flesh.

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Reader Comments (32)

Typo - Sir David Singh is a King.

Mar 30, 2011 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

You are tired! - "Sir David Singh"?

Mar 30, 2011 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterR2

Bish

I look forward to your detailed review but as I have posted under "light blogging" I thought it was a disappointement. However, it was good to meet you, Josh and other like minded souls.

Does anyone fancy some form of occasional get together in London if only to have a good rant about the useless Coalition etc.

My email address is maynardpg@willis.com

Cheers

Paul

Mar 30, 2011 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Maynard

The swing to the warmists might just've been crafty tactical voting. You vote "don't know" at the start knowing well which way you're going to vote at the end, thus helping create a swing effect.

Mar 30, 2011 at 11:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

Underwhelmed. That's that's the one word I would also use to descibe the half-dozen AGW debate's I've seen. Skeptics always win. Believers don't know the damage they do. They invariably declaim "LOUDER, LONGER, BETTER," and it fails again. "We just aren't getting our message out."

Such is the view of the rapid response team gathered up in the wake of climategate, and seen in new Google.org funding.

Believers invariable tell us that all scientists believe the earth is warming and mankind is to blame. The IPCC says so, and die consequences will follow. In other words, appeals to authority followed by alarums.

That his never penetrates the media constantly astounds me.

In the US, the problem is that science journalists are invariable members of the Society of Environmental Journalists. The SEJ held a 'debate' over balanced reporting - "most scientists agree...some dissent" - without hearing from any critics, naturally, and decided to dispense with any honesty altogether. In other words, science journalists in the US reflect environmental activists alarm, not science judgement.

It appears the Spectator debate fell into the pattern for AGW debates seem elsewhere.

Mar 30, 2011 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

@Paul Maynard

I'd be up for an occasional London based meet. My best format would be early evening drinks somewhere central. With the opportunty for hardened souls (probably not me) to go for a meal afterwards if desired.

Anybody else interested?

Mar 31, 2011 at 7:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Orson,

Those guys in the States are only playing catch up with the BBC.

Mailman

Mar 31, 2011 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

YES-I know. (a bigger place and population gets dupped more slowly)

Andrew-
Is there any word on recordings of the Spectator Debate?

Mar 31, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

Shame nobody asked King the question that made him run out of the room during the Russian debate...

Mar 31, 2011 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Paul Maynard - I've heard about you "internet groomers" who want to meet up "in the flesh". My mummy says it isn't safe.

Mar 31, 2011 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Probably the most worrying remark was Lord Lawson's about children being scared to death about global warming. It seems that schools only teach the establishment's view on the subject and continue to show Gore's science fiction film. Clearly the department of education will never encourage healthy scientific debate as scepticism is contrary to government's green policies.

Mar 31, 2011 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

The supporters of the motion would have benefitted from having on their team a speaker of the calibre of Professor Vincent Courtillot (professor of geophysics at the University of Paris Diderot and Director of the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris). See this video.

Mar 31, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Guenier

"Sir" David King might have kept his reputation as a scientist had he hewed to the decent obscurity of the Chem Labs in Cambridge. But he wanted to do scientific vaudeville as Chief Scientist, and so shouldn't be surprised that we all laugh at his pratfalls. It's a pity that he's done his bit to drag the reputation of all science in the mud, but that's part of the price of his vanity.

Mar 31, 2011 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Latimer and everyone who was there or would've been if they could've:

OK, that's it, I'm starting a fund for the next "event" where I have enough time to get over from Switzerland. Would definitely love to overindulge in a pub afterwards. If Josh (looks "alarmingly like Monbiot") and/or Atomic (paraphrase: Piers Corbyn on steroids) are there, I might even be able to find you. Or I'll just eavesdrop til I identify you, something I love to have an excuse for (esp in English).

Back to the Bishop's latest.

Mar 31, 2011 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterKendra

Oops, hat tip to Paul too, had only quickly skimmed comments so missed your suggestion (arent' you the one who described Atomic in the last thread?)

Mar 31, 2011 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterKendra

I suggest that the talk by Professor Courtillot I mention above (see this video) is essential viewing

Mar 31, 2011 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Guenier

So close and yet so far…….I got to the debate only to then have to return home again to attend to the tummy pains of my five year old daughter, an obvious priority but would have loved to meet the “residents of Bishop Hill” and put “a face” on the comments.

Mar 31, 2011 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterH

@ Robin - thanks for the link to Professor Vincent Courtillot's excellent presentation - recommend all to watch. As the Prof says, the oceanic & solar-magnetic correlations cannot be easily dismissed.

Mar 31, 2011 at 3:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

I remain concerned that the "don't know"s were largely won over by a reassuringly bland and unruffled establishment presentation.. Singh's contribution can be easily neutralised by pointing out that the science academy's "block votes" ignore the range of opinion in those establishment. A head count of members would significantly weaken the impact of his powerpoint. However, he got away with it on the night.
The layman still wants to be told who to trust, so it still remains to genuinely discredit the AGW theory and it's proponents along with it.

Mar 31, 2011 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Clewlow

Andrew Neil hey? He's probably the most effective interviewer on our television sets at the moment - and very entertaining with it.

Mar 31, 2011 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

"The first was the sense of anger in the auditorium. People were just very, very annoyed about what was going on."

My first thought was that famous scene from "Network" 1976 "but first you've got to get MAD"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KvZI8BsSxw

I hope Andrew Neil remembers this during a live newsnight broadcast, we can live in hope :)

Mar 31, 2011 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

The Credibility Spectrum comes from Greg Craven. Trying searching for him at wattsupwiththat to learn more about him.

Mar 31, 2011 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

I agree with Robinson that Andrew Neill was great and was appalled that someone chose to bring a child to explain that after all he at least was not brainwashed. O'Geary may be right that the swing to the warmists may well have been crafty tactical voting but I think some of the genuine "don't knows" may well have been impressed by Professor King.

I would have liked someone in the audience to have pointed out that Sir David's 400,000 year temperature presentation was the same as Al Gore's and perpetuated Gore's confusion of cause and effect. Can you really credit it that even Sir David does not know that the warming came first over that period and that the CO2 which followed could not possibly have been the cause?

Mar 31, 2011 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave W

I agree with Robinson that Andrew Neill was great and was appalled that someone chose to bring a child to explain that after all he at least was not brainwashed. O'Geary may be right that the swing to the warmists may well have been crafty tactical voting but I think some of the genuine "don't knows" may well have been impressed by Professor King.

I would have liked someone in the audience to have pointed out that Sir David's 400,000 year temperature presentation was the same as Al Gore's and perpetuated Gore's confusion of cause and effect. Can you really credit it that even Sir David does not know that the warming came first over that period and that the CO2 which followed could not possibly have been the cause?

Mar 31, 2011 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave W

I fancy a pint in London sometime somewhere central. I don't get back to Blightly much - just once a year for a couple of weeks. I'll be back some time in June this year. How about a regular meet-up for fans of His Grace - I don't know - let's say Wednesday night in The Princess Louise (208 High Holborn, Holborn, London WC1V 7BW)?

I have no affiliation to this pub - it's just one I remember fondly from my last visit to London. Sam Smith's very good value beer... I don't know - let's say Wednesday 8th June at 7PM? I'll be there.

Mar 31, 2011 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Blightly?

Mar 31, 2011 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

I think perhaps a "credulousness" (is there such a word? My spell-checkers says yes) spectrum would have been more appropriate.

Apr 1, 2011 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

I wasn't there so thanks for this account. I wonder how Dr Peiser arrived at the statement "that the public have made their minds up". There has never been a plebiscite anywhere in the world (to my knowledge) on the topic of global warming so how is he supporting this assertion? Is it opinion or fact? Dr Peiser's argument sounds intriguing to me also , but for probably very differrent reasons.

Apr 2, 2011 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Instead of pettifogging on this thread, how about doing some arithmetic elsewhere? I'm still waiting.

Apr 3, 2011 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I'd be happy to join an occasional London evening rant session.
Especially something concentrating on how to get politicians to climb down from their positions without losing face (necessary). As "the science is now in" as the Goracle once said it is the wider political arena that matters.

Apr 3, 2011 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterTFNJ

@Hengist McStone

Dr. Peiser is referring to opinion polls - he's not making anything up. Average Joe is sick and tired of living in fear, while also living in (increasing) poverty. And the boy who cried "wolf!" paid a high price, as will the Green movement.

Apr 4, 2011 at 5:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBadcop666

@Badcop666
Yes occams razor suggests the answer is probably opinion polls, but which opinion polls? The statement 'the public has made up it's mind' is far stronger and complete than can be gleaned from any opinion poll based on sampling.

Apr 6, 2011 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

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