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« Green graft | Main | Fracking get a move on »
Wednesday
Dec052012

Standing up for misconduct

The Royal Society has just published Sir Paul Nurse's annual address to the fellows. His speech this year focused on scientific advice to policymakers, focusing on two issues in particular - climate and genetic modification of crops.

His conclusions are rather good in places:

Scientific advice should be based on the totality of observation and experiment, be based on rational argument, and reflect the consensus views of expert scientists, views which have been rigorously peer reviewed by other independent experts. If there is no strong consensus or if knowledge is still tentative, then these uncertainties should be reflected in the advice.

The idea that scientific advice should be based on evidence and experiment is right up my street. However, the rest of the speech is not so good. Sir Paul rather shoots himself in the foot by harping on about the political views of those who disagree with him, referring darkly to the people who seem to have "political or ideological views that lead them to be unhappy with the actions that would be necessary if global warming is due to human activity". This kind of logical fallacy is a bit rum coming from someone who is lecturing us on rational argument. It's perhaps also a little strange coming from someone who was IIRC a former seller of Socialist Worker.

His views on the consensus are also suspect betraying a worrying ignorance:

The consensus view of the great majority of expert climate scientists is that the globe has increased in temperature by around 0.7 – 0.8oC during the last century, that this is largely due to increased greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of human activity, and that a further rise of around 2 – 4oC can be expected during the next century.

Given that the attribution of warming "largely" to mankind is based on computer models that have proven to be almost devoid on any predictive ability, I think the suggestion that the extent of attribution can be represented as part of the consensus is therefore just a tad premature. In what way do computer simulations represent "evidence" or "experiment"? Does Sir Paul really think that there is "evidence" for attribution?

The same criticisms apply to predictions of warming. What part do computer models really have to play in informing public policy? As readers here know, the evidence - empirical evidence that is - suggests that climate sensitivity is low. Does Sir Paul agree that we should accept these empirical measurements over the model? And if so, why is he talking of 2-4degree warming? (And, by the by, does he have anything to say about the IPCC's rewriting of the scientific record in this area or is this another of those areas he would rather gloss over?)

Then, to round things off, he has a pop at the arguments of sceptics.

What appears to be happening is that the concerns of those worried about those types of action, have led them to attack the scientific analysis of the majority of climate scientists with scientific arguments that are rather weak and unconvincing, often involving the cherry picking of data.

Here, once again, we see Sir Paul apparently defending Phil Jones and his hiding of the decline. Given that hiding the decline was said by the Russell panel to be "misleading" it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sir Paul is once again defending scientists who mislead policymakers. This position is doubly culpable given his statement that the scientific advice should reflect the uncertainties.

The Royal Society is not what it was, is it?

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Reader Comments (48)

He appears a little more unstable each time he's let out. I suspect he'll be breaking the china and wearing a lampshade on his head by the time of his next address, which will at least be entertaining, rather than insulting...

Dec 5, 2012 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterElftone

Notice, its that you have to trust us.

Nothing about opening up the data for all to see. Nothing about having an open process. So its secret emails, hiding the decline.

Move along little people, don't you know your place

Dec 5, 2012 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick

To set his remark that

A feature of this controversy is that those who deny that there is a problem often seem to have political or ideological views that lead them to be unhappy with the actions that would be necessary if global warming is due to human activity. These actions are likely to include measures such as greater concerted world action, curtailing the freedoms of individuals, companies and nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity, potentially risking economic growth

in context, here's an extract from an interview he did with New Statesman:
Despite the grand achievement, Nurse's undergraduate socialist spirit is still alive and well: he wouldn't be against scientists getting involved in activism. "We are citizens, and citizens should be involved in politics, and I think those that have a strong view should be involved in party politics," he says. "I'm happy to see fellows of the Royal Society politically engaged, if that's what they see as right."

Is he really so biased that he can't see what's going on here?

Dec 5, 2012 at 5:52 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

The Royal Society is unfortunately not what it was.

We really do appear to be in Lysenko Land. It doesn't matter what evidence is produced that shows either that the CAGW Consensus is flawed e.g. no tropospheric hot spot, 16 year pause in temperature rise whilst CO2 continues to climb, or demonstrates the inadequacy of "climate science" papers e.g. MBH on the Hockey Stick, Steig on the Antarctic warming, Mann et al on "missing" tree rings. The Paul Nurses of the scientific establishment continue to shout La, La, La we can't hear you.

One can expect lobby groups to do that and probably understand why those scientists that have nailed their colours to the CAGW mast do so, but FRSs?

Dec 5, 2012 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Further to your mention of Nurse's politics, this article in the Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/24/profile-paul-nurse-dna-genes

notes that "Nurse used to sell the Socialist Worker and was involved in a student occupation of the vice-chancellor's office. He remains unapologetic. "A scientist should be engaged with society," he says"

Apparently - according to the article - he did his PhD at East Anglia which might account for his willing blindness concerning the corruption of climate science. Tim Hunt, the UK biologist with whom Nurse shared his Nobel prize, is quoted as saying that Nurse is – "as ever the old socialist". So his politics haven't changed then. I wonder, were Nurse a member - or even ex-member - of the BNP, whether he would be so indulged by the establishment.

You're right Bish, "The Royal Society is not what it was".

Dec 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

I trust Sir Paul Nurse. Right up to the moment he opens his mouth.

Dec 5, 2012 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Means well, as do so many. But he is almost the personification of the hand-wringing, self-congratulatory liberal, desperate to offend no one who might also be thought to be equally well meaning, incapable of understanding any contrary argument, above all brought up within and long since cosseted inside an excessively cosy, self-reinforcing monde that knows it it is right and whose opponents can be treated only with smirking, pitying condescension.

Not one of the more illustrious holders of his office. I doubt he will be troubling historians in 200 years time.

Dec 5, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

"In what way do computer simulations represent "evidence" or "experiment"? Does Sir Paul really think that there is "evidence" for attribution?"

Rhetorical, I know, but I wonder if we could encourage Richard Betts to answer that question.

Dec 5, 2012 at 6:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinhead

Who was the genius who thought that the Royal Society should move into an advising role? David King, perhaps?

Next, they'll found a political party...

Dec 5, 2012 at 6:37 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

"Scientific advice should be based on the totality of observation and experiment"

I.e. these are my principles, but if you don't like them, I have others.
(Pace Groucho Marx)

Dec 5, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Who was the genius who thought that the Royal Society should move into an advising role? David King, perhaps?

Next, they'll found a political party...
Dec 5, 2012 at 6:37 PM | omnologos

Or suggest that it it will get so hot that everyone will have to move to Antarctica:

Independent May 2nd 2004 - wayback machine

(H/T Steven Goddard).

Dec 5, 2012 at 7:09 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Sorry to be OT but, just for fun, I looked up that year 2,000 article from the independent about snowfall being a thing of the past, and I came across this video debunking the article:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nJuAslQPaY

The thing that struck me about it was that it seems to be gently hostile toward CAGW sceptics as well as scientifically illiterate journalism, but what it has to say is pretty close to what sceptics are saying anyway. Specifically there is a statement over the uncertainty regarding how much difference CO2 makes to global temperatures.

Dec 5, 2012 at 7:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Omnologos,


Who was the genius who thought that the Royal Society should move into an advising role? David King, perhaps?

Our host wrote the definitive answer to your question.

Dec 5, 2012 at 7:44 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Still peddling "consensus". FFS.

Dec 5, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Insulting from a supposed scientist but in good company with the supposed 'economist' Davey. Cognitive dissonance, a complete separation from the principles he describes and the conclusions he then draws.These are our leaders, opinion and policy makers. God help us.
Good old fashioned socialists and the Notting Hill variety for that matter believe that money like spaghetti (Panorama c.a. 1960) grows on trees and governments just need to pick (print) it at harvest time and all will be well.

Dec 5, 2012 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

"Scientific socialism is the term used by Friedrich Engels[1] to describe the social-political-economic theory first pioneered by Karl Marx. The purported reason why this socialism is "scientific socialism" (as opposed to "utopian socialism") is because its theories are held to an empirical standard, observations are essential to its development, and these can result in changes/falsification of elements of theory…..

……Scientific socialism refers to a method for understanding and predicting social, economic and material phenomena by examining their historical trends through the use of the scientific method in order to derive probable outcomes and probable future developments.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_socialism

Makes you think just who it is that:-

seem to have political or ideological views

Dec 5, 2012 at 8:50 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

He will have his screed published in the MSM.

We never have that coverage.

Dec 5, 2012 at 8:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry Galt

Sir Paul Nurse is a wonderful example of the archetypical student Socialist who has become successful and now finds it convenient to assume what he sees as the appropriate Establishment mantle of his success, but his muddled pronouncements are evidence that he remains, in his own mind, a student-Socialist. He has aged but not matured.
As to the RS not being what it was, that is arguable as the RS has had varying views on it's own place in the scheme of things over time, as witness the negative attitude of the Astronomer Royal of the day toward the self-taught Horologist, Harrison..

Dec 5, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

"...those who deny that there is a problem often seem to have political or ideological views..."

And so the rhetoric ensues without hinting he has even considered the possibility that the scientists who heighten the idea "there is a problem" could ever be operating from the politcs before the science stance.

For whatever reason, and I tend to think it is smug ignorance, the man is totally disingenuous on this subject and can't be trusted to be a judge on the issue. Which for me really exposes the rest of his address as pretty obvious politicking. Merely angling for influence like a trade union leader. Not the offerings of deep thinker who has anything to say about what science offers society, but how society should be beholden to scientists.

Dec 5, 2012 at 9:03 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

"...those who deny that there is a problem often seem to have political or ideological views..."

And implying that those who insist there is a problem do not often seem to have political or ideological views, they are entirely motivated by dispassionate science or the search for objective truth.

" but how society should be beholden to scientists."

And backhandedly how scientists should be beholden to society.

Well spotted The Leopard In The Basement.

Dec 5, 2012 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

This address might be fit for the BBC but it is not fit for anything else.
It states that the skeptics are extremists.
It overvalues the peer review process (in my opinion)
It overvalues consensus (which means nothing other than a majority) Appeal to authority.
It does not address the endemic problem within the funding process which requires the recipients to reinforce policies already in place.
The concluding remarks about the Royal Society are a figment of the imagination of Sir Paul Nurse.(Once again, in my opinion).

Dec 5, 2012 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Nurse seems to believe that there has been rigorous peer review of climate science. Presumably his evidence for this is model based...

Dec 5, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Here, once again, we see Sir Paul apparently defending Phil Jones and his hiding of the decline. Given that hiding the decline was said by the Russell panel to be "misleading" it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sir Paul is once again defending scientists who mislead policymakers.

Very well said. Over on Quantifying Uncertainties in Climate Science we've had some stimulating interaction - if the Bishop Hill thread is this good, a week out, what's the meeting going to be like?! - but also some criticism of Richard Betts and Tamsin Edwards for not answering all questions, particularly Richard for not getting around to some, old and new, from ThinkingScientist.

Whatever priorities Richard should assign there, there are implicit questions for Sir Paul Nurse here from Andrew Montford. Was he defending Phil Jones and his hiding of the decline in his annual address to the fellows? Given what the Russell panel said is he happy defending scientists who mislead policymakers?

These two questions require answers lightening fast. I'm not trying to 'take the pressure off' one senior Met Office scientist in writing that but I am trying to give some perspective. Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate and head honcho of the UK's premier scientific society, should at once see to it.

And if perchance he doesn't bother, what example is that setting to those further down the food chain?

Dec 5, 2012 at 9:44 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Give me a break, Sir Paul doesn’t need to defend scientists but he kowtows to policymakers hoping he will go further up the food chain.

Dec 5, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

Richard,

I agree with your sentiments concerning Paul Nurse and hide the decline. Hide the decline is scientifically indefensible.

Regarding Richard Betts answering questions, I would very much like Richard to answer the questions I asked, because I think his answers are worth listening too and help inform my knowledge and understanding of the subject of climate models (in which I am a lay observer). However, just for the record, I want to make it clear that I regard this as a favour not an obligation from Richard and I fully accept he has a day job and that engaging and contributing to Bishophill may not be his highest priority (as it is not mine either, despite my concerns highlighted in the uncertainty thread).

Dec 5, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

TS: thanks for making that clear. There is a bit of a 'Greek Chorus' problem sometimes, in these areas, I think. I too would love to see and would learn from any answers.

Dec 5, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I don't know if such a thing as a comprehensive organogram has been compiled showing the links and mapping the arterial flow of climate-related public money between all the establishment research funding councils, the NERC's and DEFRA's and so on, the chief government advisors, the quangos, the environmental research departments, the think tanks, NGO's and fake charities, the Royal Society would appear hidden, but in reality lurking in the strategic command centre like a black widow in the middle of its web.

Dec 5, 2012 at 10:44 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

as with Copenhagen, so with Doha - reality bites:

5 Dec: Daily Mail: More traffic chaos on its way as forecasters predict up to six inches of snow and freezing conditions overnight
Forecasters admitted snow across the South had taken them a little by surprise
British Gas has 10,000 engineers and 60 4×4 vehicles on standby in anticipation of extra heating and gas problems
It comes after forecasters admitted they were taken by surprise when unexpected heavy snow blanketed the South of England overnight.
Experts wrongly said yesterday that London and the South East would be ‘cold and dry’ with ‘scattered showers – some wintry’ in the South West…
They only predicted that snow would settle in the North, with four inches on high ground and just two inches remaining lower down by morning.
Instead, a band of snow wreaked havoc as it moved down across the south of England, with the unprepared home counties awaking to wintry scenes and travel chaos…
Met Office spokesman Mark Wilson admitted today that forecasters had not expected the extreme weather.
He said: ‘The snow has been heavier than we first thought and it has brought the snow to lower levels. It was in the forecast, but the actual snow that fell was to lower levels than we had earlier forecast.
***’This is in the nature of forecasting. It is difficult. The issue of snow was mentioned in the forecast, but on higher ground.’…
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2243251/UK-weather-More-traffic-chaos-way-forecasters-predict-inches-snow-freezing-conditions-overnight.html

Dec 6, 2012 at 12:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Actual science, the RS, and the environment are a tricky balance!

But if the environment is the one that exists within the establishment? Then;-

Knight to Lord?

Checkmate!

Dec 6, 2012 at 12:59 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Green Sand: "historical trends." Almost laughably funny if it were not so sad. I can think of no worse demon (societal) than the belief that just because some statistic has been following a trend, it will continue to do so. Neither chaos nor randomness are predictable, and if they were, what would that say about the world we live in?

Mark

Dec 6, 2012 at 1:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark T

This is how Marxists, sorry the oil companies hijacked global warming for profit.


This is only a small part of the article. It is what got me interested in the first place. Once they realised they could make trillions of dollars from it, there was no stopping them. They also hijacked the anti globalisation movement and the traitors who lead it (George Monbiot and Naomi Klein).

Opposing Views on Global Warming: The Corporate Climate Coup

by Prof. David F. Noble - York University, Toronto, Canada

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=5568


Over the last decade and a half we have been subjected to two competing corporate campaigns, echoing different time-honored corporate strategies and reflecting a split within elite circles. The issue of climate change has been framed from both sides of this elite divide, giving the appearance that there are only these two sides. The first campaign, which took shape in the late 1980′s as part of the triumphalist “globalization” offensive, sought to confront speculation about climate change head-on by denying, doubting, deriding, and dismissing distressing scientific claims which might put a damper on enthusiasm for expansive capitalist enterprise. It was modelled after and to some extent built upon the earlier campaign by the tobacco industry to sow skepticism about mounting evidence of the deleterious health-effects of smoking. In the wake of this “negative” propaganda effort, any and all critics of climate change and global warming have been immediately identified with this side of the debate.

The second -“positive”- campaign, which emerged a decade later, in the wake of Kyoto and at the height of the anti-globalization movement, sought to get out ahead of the environmental issue by affirming it only to hijack it and turn it to corporate advantage. Modelled on a century of corporate liberal cooptation of popular reform movements and regulatory regimes, it aimed to appropriate the issue in order to moderate its political implications, thereby rendering it compatible with corporate economic, geopolitical, and ideological interests. The corporate climate campaign thus emphasized the primacy of “market-based” solutions while insisting upon uniformity and predictability in mandated rules and regulations. At the same time it hyped the global climate issue into an obsession, a totalistic preoccupation with which to divert attention from the radical challenges of the global-justice movement. In the wake of this campaign, any and all opponents of the “deniers” have been identified – and, most importantly, have wittingly or unwittingly identified themselves – with the corporate climate crusaders.

Dec 6, 2012 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

This is the exact moment that socialists, sorry Enron (Kenneth Lay), BP (Lord Brown), Occidental Petroleum (Al Gore) and unknown other energy companies took over American climate policy. Although Gore signed the Kyoto protocol on behalf of the crooks, the senate rejected it 95-0.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A37287-2002Jan12&notFound=true

According to internal Enron documents and the recollections of former employees, Chairman Kenneth L. Lay had the ear of top Democrats in the 1980s and '90s. He and his colleagues used that access to promote the company's interests with the Clinton administration and key congressional Democrats.

In a White House meeting in August 1997, for example, Lay urged President Clinton and Vice President Gore to back a "market-based" approach to the problem of global warming -- a strategy that a later Enron memo makes clear would be "good for Enron stock."

On Aug. 4, 1997, Lay and seven other energy executives met with Clinton, Gore, Rubin and other top officials at the White House to discuss the U.S. position at the upcoming conference on global warming in Kyoto, Japan. Lay, in a memo to Enron employees, said there was broad consensus in favor of an emissions-trading system.

Enron officials later expressed elation at the results of the Kyoto conference. An internal memo said the Kyoto agreement, if implemented, would "do more to promote Enron's business than almost any other regulatory initiative outside of restructuring the energy and natural gas industries in Europe and the United States."

Dec 6, 2012 at 3:49 AM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

Rigorous peer review? I think it would be a good idea.

Dec 6, 2012 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

His conclusions are rather good in places:

Scientific advice should be based on the totality of observation and experiment, be based on rational argument, and reflect the consensus views of expert scientists, views which have been rigorously peer reviewed by other independent experts

Sorry Bish, but I really don't think that's such a great conclusion either. The implication is still of an ordained committee of experts (peer reviewed, no less) handing down their conclusions as holy writ. The fact is that there are many areas of science where there is a great deal of controversy, but this is hardly acknowledged by those seeking to impose their view on policy. What policy should be based on is a dispassionate review of the available evidence, preferably by knowledgeable outsiders rather than "expert" practitioners, who are frequently deeply personally involved in any controversy - I'm sure we can all think of examples!!

It is the expectation that there will be a consensus in any field that is disturbing, along with the implication that only those in exalted positions are entitled to an opinion. While it may take a great deal of specialist expertise to formulate a coherent quantitative physical theory, it takes no such expertise to criticise it, to demonstrate that observations do not match theory. Criticism is far to easily dismissed under this view - after all, how could a mining exec possibly have the expertise to challenge the worlds leading paleoclimatologists, to pick a (not quite) random example. Uncertainty does not arise only when experts disagree, but when any valid criticism is raised, whether acknowledged by "the consensus" or not.

The statement also implies that we should expect there to be a consensus in any scientific specialty. This is frequently not the case, nor should it be. To seek consensus above challenging and questioning established views negates the essence of science. As most here will realise, the yearning for consensus has not exactly lead to great leaps in climate science, why should it be expected to promote progress in any field?

Dec 6, 2012 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Wilson

"Nullius in verba"

I certainly don't take Paul Nurse's word for it when it comes to Climate Change.

Dec 6, 2012 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Nurse! The screens...

Dec 6, 2012 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I suspect Paul Nurse I and I agree on many things including our view of how science should be conducted. There is no doubt is he incomparably better qualified than me. Where we diverge is when he takes on faith those things he should test to breaking point, and that is not down to lack of ability on his part.

Dec 6, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterquelgeek

"Scientific advice should be based on the totality of observation and experiment, be based on rational argument..."

Agree.

"...and reflect the consensus views of expert scientists, views which have been rigorously peer reviewed by other independent experts."

Totally disagree. Consensus has no place in science and peer review is no guarantee of quality.

"If there is no strong consensus or if knowledge is still tentative, then these uncertainties should be reflected in the advice."

Take out the statement about consensus and it then just reads:

"uncertainties should be reflected in the advice."

and the advice should encompass all scientifically plausible views.

My statement would therefore read:

"Scientific advice should be based on the totality of observation and experiment, be based on rational argument, any uncertainties should be reflected in the advice and the advice shoulld encompass all scientifically plausible views."

Dec 6, 2012 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Paul Nurse is not a man, he is not a scientist, he is a politician. He does not have an opinion. He does what he is told by the government.

Dec 6, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

" What appears to be happening is that the concerns of those worried about those types of action, have led them to attack the scientific analysis of the majority of climate scientists with scientific arguments that are rather weak and unconvincing, often involving the cherry picking of data."

This is deliberately ascribing negative motives to people who have genuine concerns about the quality of climate science. According to Nurse, if you point out that observations of the climate give a different picture to those convenient computer model projections, or you highlight the failings of the pressure group packed IPCC reports, or you suggest that there may be other climatic influences greater than the small CO2 effect, then somehow you are 'attacking' the science. It is clear that Nurse is peremptorily shutting off discourse, because there is so much to be gained from maintaining ignorance of the full science outside of the carefully contrived AGW meme, which only ever points to massive state intervention and funding. Nurse is the ultimate psychological projectionist.

Dec 6, 2012 at 5:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterEdward Bancroft

Excellent post, Bishop. Nurse writes:

"If there is no strong consensus or if knowledge is still tentative, then these uncertainties should be reflected in the advice."

Apparently, the concept of "expert scientific consensus" is the only horse remaining for poor Nurse. If Nurse is going to discuss uncertainty, he would do well to sit at the feet of Judith Curry for a year or so.

Dec 6, 2012 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Sir Paul obviously has political or ideological views that lead him to be happy with the actions that would be necessary if global warming is due to human activity.

Dec 7, 2012 at 7:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomcat

Keith Kloor has a post up referencing the "bile" in the comments from the "choir" on this page

Kloor obviously sees no irony in instructing his own "choir" to just see the "bile" in the comments here as confirming Nurses's address whilst he himself adds not a whit of intellectual insight.

Dec 7, 2012 at 9:01 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I just saw Keith Kloor's page. Also featuring in the comments is BBD, the guy who fed off the hospitality of commenters here for a long time, who now thinks they are "...elderly, embittered, right wing loons who hate pretty much everything and everybody except themselves", a group of which he passed himself as being a part of, for a good portion of that time.

How is dismissing right wing loons ok as an argument in a discussion where you seek to show that dismissing a leftie is not ok?

Dec 7, 2012 at 10:31 AM | Registered Commentershub

I can't let the marking of this anniversary speech go by without noting that this is the year, 2012.

This is the special year for the Royal Society, for it was 350 year ago that the Royal Society achieved its Royal Charter.

Two years back the Royal Society celebrated the 350 years for an event that was important to its gestation, but this was not its birth. What is important about the Royal Society is that it is Royal. There were experimental science clubs before, but this was the first state-sanctioning institution for experimental science. Achieving charter was the key, and brilliant as he was, it wasn't Wren who turned it.

In London in 1662 empirical science finally gained a right to publicly proclaim itself as a legitimate practice -- against its persecution, and against religious and Aristotelian dogma. The charter allowed science to prosper. Voltaire new it and so did Leibniz. And so over the next 50 years they and other lovers of experimental science across Europe would lobby hard to gain similar state support, and eventually they mostly achieve it.

Now it seems we are at the other end of this era. Their race is almost run. As Bishop Hill (and Paul Matthews) have shown above, this 2012 Royal Society Anniversary Speech will likely go down in history as itself a demonstration -- much like those demonstrations of old Society meetings -- of how completely this society has been corrupted.

Seemingly unconsciously, like some mute rodent upon a table, the current president exhibits a descent into the forms of dogma and rhetoric out of which those brave men of the Restoration climbed: Their climb so heroic -- out of the devastation of a bloody dogma-crazed civil war; Our fall so pathetic -- into a blundering scare-triggering, grant-chasing decadence.

Of course, lovers of science should all be sad at the demise of the Royal Society, for it is now, as a Fellow recently suggested, 'just another policy-driven quango.' But also, and I really mean this, we might also marvel at how it did endure though its ups and downs for more than 3 centuries as a beacon for disinterested scientific method. It was challenged may times but it was only brought down around the time of the new millennium by what can now be recognized as monumental forces -- forces generated when the wave of environmental enthusiasm channeled into the climate change scare.

Great institutions of science may live again, but these old ones are now so devastated, so distort, so transformed, that it will likely not be them.

Dec 7, 2012 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernieL

BernieL:

Their climb so heroic -- out of the devastation of a bloody dogma-crazed civil war; Our fall so pathetic -- into a blundering scare-triggering, grant-chasing decadence.

Great rhetoric. But here are a couple of dissenting points on this compelling historic narrative - given that we're starting with the English Civil War.

It's not enough to call what came before the Royal in RS dogma-crazed. What came not long before was the translation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures into English, pioneered by Wycliffe and Tyndale, leading to the ordinary person being able to read them for themselves for the first time. There was bound to be some craziness as people were no longer dependent on the experts to read and interpret these 'things concerning Jesus'. But not all the debate was either crazy or bloody. Some of it laid foundations for the rule of law, for personal freedom and concern for the most vulnerable in society, transcendent issues on which the Royal Society would always, quite rightly, have little positive to offer.

Likewise it's not clear to me that a nadir has been reached in 2012. How are we to view the Society's role in supporting the 'science' of eugenics, not least awarding its coveted Copley Medal to Francis Dalton in 1910, six years after his theories and researches among the Herero in South West Africa had inspired the genocide of that tribe by the Germans, including the first concentration camps that could justly be called places of extermination, as well as opportunities for hideous medical experiments by the men in white coats of that generation.

I think it's better to view ourselves in a continual battle between the forces of freedom, including true application of the scientific method for the good of humanity, and those phony totalitarians seeking to manipulate the impulse of the human being to worship. Within this frame not all worship is bad, only that of anything less than the best humanity has conceived, in more ways than one. Unto us a child is born, as Wycliffe first taught us to say.

Dec 7, 2012 at 2:06 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Thanks Richard,

I dont disagree with most of what you say. You might be right that the nadir has not been reached etc. The eugenics movement is as fascinating to the history of science as is our continuing difficulties historians have in dealing with it. Even in this debate -- consider Fleming's treatment of the Ellsworth Huntington in his Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (or my review 'Civilisation and Climate'). At least he mentions him. Most ignore him as an embarrassment for his later prominence in the eugenics movement.

As for my 'out of the devastation of a bloody dogma-crazed civil war'
Indeed, more came before the RC, but that the English Civil War was dogma-crazed is important to the political success of it and empirical science generally. Remember that empiricism was then more commonly known as Epicureanism, and this was synonymous with atheism. How could an atheistic practices possibly succeed without state support? But it got it and it did succeed.

I dont believe that the one can explain the success of the Cromwell without the enthusiasm of the 5th Monarch Men. This was the cult of his army that had them fighting as the very saints of the Apocalypse bring on the new Jerusalem. Many of the wild and crazy preachings and pamphlets of their ministers have been preserve. There influence is evident in the difficulties Cromwell had with them in trying to keep the peace between and after the wars. There was a similar problem explicitly recognized and much discussed by scholars and scientist in the Restoration, and one of them, Wilkins, was especially successfully in marketed science, as promoted by the Royal Society, as a sobering remedy for this enthusiasm.

As for my 'fall so pathetic -- into a blundering scare-triggering, grant-chasing decadence.'
Now, since Lord May and Rees, we find apocalyptic scenarios used by presidents of the royal society to scare people into support of state-instituted science. This is a very stark indication of the corruption of science by exactly those sorts of forces (fear) above which it first proclaimed it would ascend to the betterment of society.

Dec 8, 2012 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernieL

The prospect of power tends to corrupt, and Paul is chasing it with arms spread wide.

Dec 15, 2012 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H

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