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« Stern exposed | Main | The plot thickens »

Nurse raises eyebrows

The New York Times carries a profile of Paul Nurse, and mentions my GWPF report in the process.

Of late, too, conservative critics have attached themselves like barnacles to the society’s hull. The Global Warming Policy Foundation treated the society as a nest of alarmists in a recent report, “Nullius in Verba: The Royal Society and Climate Change.” (The Latin expression is the society’s motto; it translates roughly as “Take nobody’s word for it.”) James Delingpole, the waggishly influential conservative blogger for The Telegraph, lampoons Dr. Nurse as “easily my favorite Nobel Prize winner after Yasir Arafat, Al Gore and Barack Obama.”It’s fair to say his mortar shots have not rattled the windows of the Royal Society. Dr. Nurse hiked his eyebrows and shrugged: “We can’t sit by without exposing bunkum.”

I can't actually think of any occasion when the Royal Society has "exposed bunkum" on the subject of climate change. There was obviously a certain amount of covering up for those implicated in the Climategate affair and those very silly and unscientific papers that went out in the bad old days. But apart from that they have just acted as cheerleaders.

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Reader Comments (34)

From the article:

“Policy debate these days involves trying to rubbish the science, and that is dangerous,” Dr. Nurse says. “Global warming denialists, those who oppose genetically modified crops and vaccinations, or the teaching of evolution: their trick is treat scientific argument as if it’s a political argument, and cherry-pick data.”

More projection from Nurse.

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Dr. Nurse hiked his eyebrows and shrugged: “We can’t sit by without exposing our own bunkum.”

bold additions by jorge to clarify

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Nurse really is a disgrace. History will not be kind to him.

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

What has the world (or our country) come to when the president of the Royal Society uses juvenile terms like "denialist" to refer to those who are showing proper scientific skepticism, and who probably have a better understanding of the science, and where the pseudo-science lies, than he does. Let's not forget that when he applies this term to people he is presumably including Brice Bosnich, who wrote to him on this subject two years ago, as well as a number of climatologists.

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

Actually reading that and trying on my PR hat, I think that article reads quite badly for the RS doesn't it? The weight given to Delingpole and the GWPF is quite surprisingly (grudingly?) respectful and the RS seems to come out a little whiny with talk of "tight" smiles and bleating about punching above their weight.

This passage sound like a threnody:

The society no longer occupies that globe-dominating perch. The United States casts a much longer shadow, with billions of dollars spent on research and industrial might; American scientists dominate many disciplines. And other nations, not least China, are gaining.

Yep, the RS is dwindling when you see little Nurse ineptly promoting the UK against the US work ethic with “We are a bit lazier. We drink more. But sometimes the science we produce is rather quirkier and more innovative.”

Yeah, I'm just seeing Sir Paul stumbling through the street after a late night session quirkily shouting about "deniers" to anyone who passes by ;)

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement


I sense a Josh cartoon coming on...

Sep 3, 2012 at 9:48 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

The fascinatingly frightening thing about Nurse — and if it comes back to haunt him I shall be first in the queue to have a good laugh (well, second maybe, behind Delingpole) — is his bizarre conflation of climate change scepticism with opposition to GM crops.
In my experience there is a range of opinion on the whole subject of crop research but if there is one group that can be relied on (pretty much) to be seen in white suits trashing other people's property for daring to "mess about with nature" it's the cheerleaders for global warming alarmism.
He seems to be following the same trail as Lewandowsky. Anybody who disagrees with "The Science" whatever "The Science" might be is a nutter. I bet a survey of his own Fellows on both subjects would surprise him.
Might even cause him to blow a fuse!

Sep 3, 2012 at 10:05 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Leopard- "This passage sound like a threnody:"

Thanks! I just learned my new word for the day!

Sep 3, 2012 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

"....but I think it's fair to say that nobody actually believes his convenient claim that his approaches to sceptics were spurned..."

Why does it matter if his approach to sceptics was spurned or not? If you are publishing the results of a poll on what sceptics think you've got to have talked to sceptics. If you are admitting you couldn't find any to take your poll, it shouldn't have been published.

Sep 3, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred

Dr. Nurse hiked his eyebrows and shrugged: “We can’t sit by without exposing bunkum.”

Does he recognise it, he speaks it often - bunkum.

The majority of the RS are bought and paid for - that's sad, very sad.

Nurse, is a goverment shill, a puppet and nothing more.

Royal Society: "veritas mortua est"

Sep 3, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan. threnody. There is a threnody reference in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or is it in the Silmarillion?

It's too late at night now to try and locate it.


Sep 3, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Walsh

Indeed. The correlation between anti-GM and CAGW activists is obvious to even the casual observer. Not only on an individual level, but an institutional one as well. FOTE, Greenpeace, WWF, etc are all anti GM.

You'd think Nurse was either unobservant or deliberately misleading.

Sep 3, 2012 at 11:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

Around 1990, a very accomplished science fiction writer complained to one of Richard Linzen's MIT colleagues that "90 % of published scientific papers are junk" to which the academican replied " And so are 95% of the remainder."

As it takes 200 papers to escape the statistical bounds of scientific insignificance, at two papers a year you lot should remain under the adult science radar until the first quarter of the 22nd century.

The reason Nurse's windows remain unrattled is that or every contrarian paper to make the cut on scientific merit, there are 200 geophysics journals WUWT readers have never read.

Sep 3, 2012 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

oooo...Russsell refers to "you lot" - this must be a conspracy theory of his own...lmao

Sep 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


(f)or every contrarian paper to make the cut on scientific merit, there are 200 geophysics journals WUWT readers have never read.

Care to back that up? 200 to one you say. Really?


Sep 4, 2012 at 12:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Wilson

I must say that it had never occurred to me that Einstein had to write c.200 papers to escape 'scientific insignificance', so I thank you, Russell, for this insight; he must have been a very busy young man.

Sep 4, 2012 at 12:11 AM | Registered CommentermikemUK

Russell, what would your preferred metric of junk quotient in science be? Maybe we could measure relevance with that old blunt instrument, citations, perhaps? How many would YOU consider to be needed (over a couple of years, let's say) to reassure yourself that you weren't writing irrelevant nonsense? We will of course assume that publication is in a red-hot field, such as climate science. My personal punt is that if you're getting any fewer than a dozen or so, then you're wasting your time - anybody else care to comment?

Sep 4, 2012 at 1:48 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Sir Paul Nurse's strangely omnibus views seem somewhat akin to that of an aged schoolmaster assessing the merits of a school population viewed from a very small and badly-situated staffroom window;
"Look at them, they're all cretinous troublemakers, every one of them".

Sep 4, 2012 at 2:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I, sort of, have a lot of respect for Sir Paul.
He clambered his way up from the pits to the heights. That is admirable.
My respect is tempered with evidence that he still inhabits the pits.

Sep 4, 2012 at 2:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Russell, do you honestly say you are paid to write this rubbish?

Sep 4, 2012 at 7:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

'those very silly and unscientific papers that went out in the bad old days. '

correction are still coming out ,]
and then there is frankly silly and unsupported claims about the nature of AGW sceptics which are not part of any scientific argument but part of PR approach tiring to paint these sceptics as either mad or bad not merely wrong .

Sep 4, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

There's a presumption in there somewhere that since they are scientists, whatever they do at the office must therefore be science. This does't seem to apply to other professions. For example mine, architecture. I was reminded occasionally that one of my efforts did not rise to that level. Medicine is practiced. So too, law. But not science. This must be because scientists always get it right the first time.

Maybe it was once a pursuit. Will they've finally caught it, the funding don't you know. Why don't we just show them the respect they think they are entitled to and all go home?

Sep 4, 2012 at 10:11 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Perspective people! "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible!" Lord Kelvin, 1895, President of the Royal Society. There were also members of that hallowed institution in the 1920s who after witnessing a demonstrations of John Logi-Bairds television machine, who thought it nothing but bunkum & trickery, no body would want one in their home & there would be no use for it for anyone! Were there not member of the RS who believed that the Negro was incapable of being educated even taking cranial measurements to demonstrte the infereior size of the brain as they arrogantly assumed. There were also members who believed in Eugenics with all that that lead to in the 1930s & 1940s! The list is not endless, sadly. Says it all really doesn't it. Salt & pinches of, when it comes to pronouncements by the RS, me thinks! Global society is littered with pronouncements by eminent people throughout history that have been absolute nonsense, or have had about as much foresight as a turkey stuffing itself ready for a good time at Christmas!

Sep 4, 2012 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

I wonder, did the Dr Nurse ever comment on the Stern Report? His views would be most interesting.

Sep 4, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Sir Paul Nurse's PhD was in Biological Sciences and he received the Nobel Prize [Medicine/Physiology] for his work on cell cycling.

I am glad Sir Paul publicly acknowledges that scientists who do not describe themselves as "climate scientists" are, nevertheless, still competent to asses and criticise the work of people who do describe themselves as "climate scientists".

Sep 4, 2012 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"Heavier than air flying machines are impossible!"

How did he explain the abilities of birds, bats and insects, I wonder? Leonardo realised the possibilities four centuries earlier!

Sep 4, 2012 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Peter Wilson , my university library system subscribes to literally tens of thousands of learned journals, the geology library shelf list dozens of close-set pages long.

Since virtually all the contrarian and crank " bombshell " papers touted here have proven duds in terms of citation - the normal metric, 200 may well be lowballing it.

Thank you for illustrating my point, now please get down to the BL and start counting

Sep 4, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

As a cautionary example of what consuming junk journals to the exclusion of rigorously reviewed ones can do , SayNoToFearmongerss should ask himself:

Why, with thousands of C-list through Z-list journal editors longing for manuscripts to feed the starving printing presses of Ecuador and Uzbekistan, the Michaels's and Wegman's of this world still feel an acute need to establish more under their own editorship?

One hypothesis is that they are in the advertising business.

Sep 4, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Russell, maybe this is familiar to you:

Bright water: hydrosols, water conservation and climate change
R ***** - Climatic change, 2011 - Springer
... important way to R. ***** (B) Department of Physics, Harvard University, 17 Oxford
Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA e-mail: *****@******* Page 2. 366
Climatic Change (2011) 105:365–381 counterbalance human ...

Cited by 7

Seven in two years?? By your own standards that's a 96.5% underperformance. Maybe you should try advertising - you'd have a chance of making more of an impact that way.

Sep 4, 2012 at 11:41 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Silly SNTF: as the journal you refer to has an Impact Factor of 3.35, 7 is overperforming by 208%

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Russell, I asked you this:

"Russell, what would your preferred metric of junk quotient in science be? Maybe we could measure relevance with that old blunt instrument, citations, perhaps? How many would YOU consider to be needed (over a couple of years, let's say) to reassure yourself that you weren't writing irrelevant nonsense?"

You said 200. Your paper has thus far received seven. You report this as overperformance.

Are you Lord Stern in disguise?

Sep 5, 2012 at 8:20 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

As the coments above record, SNTF asked me nothing-- my statement came first and he proceeded to invent a question misrepresenting it :

200 pertains to numbers of journals , not numbers of citations..

Thanks to Peter Wilson for his contrasting honesty of quotation as seen above "

"(f)or every contrarian paper to make the cut on scientific merit, there are 200 geophysics journals WUWT readers have never read."

Sep 5, 2012 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell


You can clearly see what I asked you both on 4/9 and again 5/9 08:20 above. My question arose entirely because I can see exactly how many people take an interest in your work through citation indices.

So maybe you could tell us what the answer to my question is rather than seek to malign me again?

Sep 6, 2012 at 12:05 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Anyone care to take over a circular discussion with someone who reads citation indices instead of the literature they represent ?

Sep 6, 2012 at 3:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

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