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« A conspiracy of warmists | Main | More from the police »

The two cultures of science

Sir John Beddington has responded to readers' comments on his report "Preparing for the Future", which was much criticised by BH readers for its failure to quantify any of the alleged risks with which it claimed we are beset.

The response, as expected, does little to address criticisms in a meaningful way. Here's what he has to say about the failure to quantify the risks:

It was not in its scope to provide a formal or quantitative risk assessment but to identify a range of threats and opportunities that should be considered as signposts for action by policymakers, and a basis for further, more detailed analysis and assessment.

The failure to communicate risk effectively has been a constant theme of the 18 months since Climategate and indeed in the wake of the CRU disclosures, Beddington himself was much in the media, calling for better communication of risk.

We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that.

It's therefore very disappointing to see Beddington's point blank refusal to put even a qualitative assessment of the size of the risks in the current report.

I was reminded of Steve M's recent ruminations on the differences between the public and private sectors as regards trust - in business, if there is a loss of trust you are finished; in the public sector no such incentive to honesty exists. Ask yourself how the head of risk in a large corporate entity would be received if he were to issue a report to the main board outlining risks facing the company but failed to give any assessment of the likelihood of these events happening in practice. It's hard to see him retaining his job for long.

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Reader Comments (20)

How true.

Having dealt with the UK's HMR&C recently (you know - the organisation recently criticised by the Treasury Select Committee " MPs shine spotlight on HMRC's 'endemic' problems")

where a client was wrongly accused of owing the tax man money, but as HMRC had both his address wrong and two digits of his NI number transposed - he could never convince them he was who he actually was to sort the problem!

Then the HMR&C sold his debt to a Debt collection agency and this innocent man then received 11 calls a day demanding payment.

A Subject Access Request by ourselves finally got the Debt collection agency of his back, but will they give us the exact details of what dept and person in the HMR&C that sold his details? - Will they hell!!

They know that if they release this to us then they will get no more from HMRC.

Still fighting it - now referred to Information Commissioner. But the above article is SO correct in its description of the Public Sector and its lack of credibility and accountability.

Apologies for going off topic – but the problem of the Public Sector in the UK is getting beyond a joke.

Aug 1, 2011 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug UK

I noticed Prof Beddington's response on Friday, and left the following comment (which is still in moderation):

lapogus says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
July 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Dear Sir John,

In my first comment on your report I asked you to provide empirical evidence to support the hypothesis that increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations were the cause of the late 20th Century warming. I note that you have failed to answer this point, and instead rely on argumentum ad populum to assert that “global temperatures are rising as the climate changes, and that human activities are the main driver”. So with repect, I ask again; where is the scientific evidence for late 20th Century warming having been the result of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations? Is this too much to ask considering the billions of pounds the UK is to spend (and our children will have to sacrifice) in a forlorn attempt to influence global temperatures by a tiny fraction of one degree? If the evidence is so strong for CO2-AGW, why can it not be produced?

I not also that just as in report, your response does not address the many comments regarding Prof. Svensmark’s solar-magnetic thesis. Do you not think would be prudent for you as CSA to at least have a look at the findings of the recent research? –

Likewise you failed to address the point I made about the IPCC’s dubious practices as exposed by Nic Lewis –

Nor have you addressed the conclusions of the recent papers by Dr Roy Spencer’s and Prof Lindzen, which both suggest that the IPCC’s models are over-stating warming.

Finally, as you mention statistical significance, I suggest you also familiarise yourself with Douglas Keenan’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal (April 5 2011). [ behind paywall but click on and then click on the link to Douglas' essay - "How Scientific Is Climate Science? " ].

Considering the importance of the issue and the billions it will cost the UK economy (and citizens) to ‘de-carboinise’, I look forward to a response from you which contains some scientific credibility, and not just blind faith and green groupthink.


Aug 1, 2011 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

I am just reading HSI on my kindle. Even though I have been suspicious of AGW for a long time (and had rather assumed that your book would be rehashing old material), I have been stunned by what I have read so far. The arbitrary way in which Mann seems to have gone about creating his temperature reconstruction, has left me in little doubt that he must have known that his work was dishonest!

Thanks for writing HSI - I guess the only way this connects with this thread, is that I wish John Beddington, Paul Nurse, and a few others would read your book and consider what it says about them, when they go on pretending that all is well in AGW science.

Aug 1, 2011 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bailey

My response is one of many concerning whether global warming is actually happening, to which he has responded. He notes that each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last as if it were proof. One might hope that if the current decade turns out to be no warmer than the last he might consider that global warming has stopped. But somehow I doubt it.

Aug 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil McEvoy

Quote, Beddinton, "Several comments have argued that recent temperature trends do not show global warming. It is a fallacy to consider short term trends as an indicator of the underlying changes in the climate. On short timescales natural climatic variability is the dominating influence. The long term trend is clearly one of warming. Global average temperatures are around 0.75°C warmer than they were 100 years ago and a comparison of average temperatures shows each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last and each has set a new and statistically significant record, with the 2000s the warmest decade since records began."

This clearly shows that Beddington doesn't know what he is talking about. He is arguing that the trends from 1980 to 2009 are signficant and a cause for worry.

Decadel Trends;

1980-89 = 0.055C (HADCRUT), -0.008C (UAH) (not signficant)
1990-99 = 0.27C, 0.34C (signficant)
2000-09 = 0.015C, 0.027C (not signficant)

1980-2009 decadal trend;

HADCRUT = 0.16C per decade.
GISSTEMP = 0.16C per decade

RSS = 0.14C per decade
UAH = 0.13C per decade.

The AGW significance of these trends is that satellite decadal trends should been in the order of 0.19C per decade in comparison to surface temps.

Observations don't match IPCC projections nor intepretation by Beddington.

The only thing I can agree on with Beddington is, "On short timescales natural climatic variability is the dominating influence."

Aug 1, 2011 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Quality. To survive in the real world, the emphasis has to be on quality. For govt, not so much.

Government quality science is well represented by the polar bear study. We saw some dead polar bears. Maybe they drowned. Not sure. Must be global warming!

Aug 1, 2011 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

It is about time that a detailed evaluation of the effects of climate change on the UK is undertaken. I suspect that the reason why no such evaluation has been made is because the benefits of a warmer climate for the UK significantly outweigh any negative effects.

Lets face it, many people consider that Southern England has a far better climate than the Midlands or Scotland. I am sure that people living in the Midlands would prefer to have a climate more akin to that of Southern England and those living in Scotland more akin to that experienced in the Midlands. As far as the south is concerned, their climate would shift more akin to a cross between that experienced in the Channel Isles and say the climate around Toulous. Sounds to me to be very pleasant with every one a winner. In fact just think if of the benefits in toiurism if Devon and Cornwall were to be more like the South of France, and just think how i would benefit the vineyards, not to mention the cheaper energy bills (which we soon will not be able to afford due to the silly government policy of energy).

It is about time that people were honest and acknowledge that there is no such thing as global warming, it is a local not a global matter and each country will be affected to different degrees with some being neutral others winners and a few losers. The UK will be one of the winners.

Aug 1, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

update - 5 comments (including mine) have now passed through moderation and appeared on Beddington's blog.

Aug 1, 2011 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

The new game of hiding the pea is to make two seperate statements in the same article and create a link between them in the readers interpretation.

CO2 increases average global temperature....

Global temperatures have risen by 0.8C in the past hundred years....

Ipso facto, CO2 is responsible for all of the temperature rise.
Huhne and Beddington are both cmplicit in this.In fact for someone with an investigative mind there could be a common source to be found, whether that be in the MET or a learned institution.

There is also the game of hiding the incline.

On short timescales natural climatic variability is the dominating influence.
Relating to the lack of increase in warming during the last decade.

So what is the short timescale natural climatic influence on the periods of increased warming that is not provided to the readers of the articles?

Aug 1, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Sir John Beddington: "We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that."

The issue really is not about "communicating uncertainty". The real issue, and expectation that I hold, is that we should expect "communicating the risk and the proposed controls.

A risk should be defined by a simple sentence with three parts: "Because of [threat or event], [consequence] might happen, leading to [impact]."

Unless these three parts defined in the risk statement the risk is malformed and surely not communicated if not mis-understood.

For "high" risks, e.g. those with larger probability and/or larger impacts, then one looks at the likelihood/probability of the uncertain events, and judge the size of the impacts. Then you look at how to reduce the probability or reduce impacts. These "hows" are the "control measures". One then compares the benefits/cost of these "controls" vs. benefits/costs of the uncontrolled (some call it un-mitigated) risks. This is basic stuff.

Aug 1, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

My posting on Beddington's BIS blog is still in moderation - it was submitted at 7:51 am today. Presumably it conflicts with the moderation rules, depending on how liberally those rules are interpreted. Judging from Beddington's contributions, I'm wondering whether BIS should in fact be truncated to BS.

The posting reads:
If the Government decide to create the post of Minister for Propaganda, JB would make an excellent choice. With that title, the general public would know how much credence can be given to his edicts. Instead, making comments under the title of Chief Government Scientific Adviser conceals the fact that those comments are pure propaganda, on issues where the science is still in its infancy and a million miles away from being “settled”. The fact of the matter is that no-one, repeat no-one, knows where the climate is going in the long term, not even the man wearing the hat labelled Chief Government Scientific Adviser. Currently it looks as if global warming (man-made or otherwise) has stalled. Could it be that it has peaked and will start falling? I don’t know but neither does anyone else, including the CGSA. How about showing some humility and giving advice to the effect that you don’t actually know what the heck is happening. As things stand, the Government may just as well take your advice on economic matters – you might have more chance of getting something right.

Aug 1, 2011 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTC

TC - give them time, I posted my comment Friday lunchtime, and it didn't appear until noon today. The wheels of Government move slowly.

BH - hope you had a good break. Two things you may have missed -

and Richard Klein has been responding to one of Hilary's posts -

Aug 1, 2011 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

BTW, I did write by snail mail to the relevant minister (David Willetts) complaining about Beddington and his propaganda, but with parliament in recess for a few months (nice long holidays for some folks), I'm not expecting a response any time soon (If I get one at all).

Aug 1, 2011 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Perhaps O/T but if one wanted to come up with an approximate estimate of the amount of funding available to cooling deniers, how would one go about it?

Aug 1, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

It does seem that Beggington is taking a right royal kicking on his blog :)



Aug 1, 2011 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

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

Too late, I expect, but my thoughts.

A brief look at the Gov’t’s publication ‘Chief Scientific Advisers and their officials: an introduction’ makes it clear that the GCSA gives his advice on request from the PM or the Cabinet Office. He is not asked to provide advice that is not wanted.

In less clear terms, the document also suggests he has a leadership role, evidently in respect of furthering existing government policies.

All seems to be explained.

Government policy on global warming, is for the time being, set in stone. You may be sure that neither the PM or the Cabinet Office will actually be asking Sir J whether global warming is happening or if it will require government to take measures to alter public behaviour, since this is already policy. Of course, therefore, the recent enquiry did not address the question of how serious the risks associated with climate change are, since government policy already is that they are ‘very serious’.

And anyway, as I recall, Richard Betts recently revealed that the whole effort of producing the report was strapped for cash.

Exercise of leadership would cause Sir J to be vocal in the way that has provoked the Spectator and various contributors here to complain, in order to bolster the government's in house and contracted machinery working to further the policy.

Thus far Sir J's conduct follows from his job. His job also probably explains his utterances on the communication of uncertainties to the public.: But, in respect of this, I think he dissimulates. What he nicely avoids pointing out is that the difficulty he faces is that uncertainty is contrary to government policy on global warming, rather than that it is difficult to communicate.

I confess I cannot imagine why he tolerates comments adverse to government policy on his blog. His job, surely, would require him to 'moderate them out'. But maybe he sees them as timely and detailed warnings to his troops and their acolytes.

Overall with the GCSA, it is the job description that is wrong, rather than the person. Change in policy will not be achieved by grumbles at properly subservient bureaucrats, like Sir J in the GCSA post, although they might be capable of following the arguments. It’s the politicians that have to be got at, notwithstanding their total inability to understand anything other than the dirty games they have to play to retain office.

Aug 2, 2011 at 7:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

"Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks. Nothing more"

Chief scientist and defender of the faith

Aug 2, 2011 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

BH wrote in his response to Sir John Beddington:

So in the spirit of “scientific enquiry” you espouse, then can we expect to see you and your team address this new research, understand its impact on AGW and the models which predict it ?

Unfortunately I fear not as Gregory Barkers recent letter to me made clear, its about politics not science.

Do we get to share Gregory Barker's insightful correspondence?

Aug 2, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

@ matthu

That wasn't BH's comment at BIS, it was Andrew Macintyre's.

Aug 3, 2011 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Oops! my mistake conflating two well-known names.

Aug 4, 2011 at 5:06 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

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