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Walport's platitude and attitude

Mark Walport's lecture at the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy is now available on YouTube. It's simultaneously fascinating and infuriating and I encourage readers to watch, although it's an hour long and there's half an hour of questions afterwards, so you will need a clear diary.

Walport is new to his post and to the climate debate and so we should probably cut him some slack, but it has to be said that the scientific part of the lecture was very shallow stuff - much more in the rally-the-troops mould than a serious look at the science of global warming. So we got lots of stuff about carbon emissions and atmospheric lifetimes but nothing - and I mean nothing - about climate sensitivity. This could be seen as an astonishing oversight, but it makes sense if you see his lecture as trying to shore up support for the global warming hypothesis rather than informing the audience.

There was some very dodgy stuff about weather extremes, but in the Q&A Walport was asked, via Twitter, about the IPCC's conclusions about the lack of any appreciable increases in weather extremes. His answer was too poo-poo this position, and say that we are seeing weather extremes now. This is quite a dramatic step for the government chief scientist to take if you ask me. Isn't he supposed to be supporting the IPCC consensus?

There was a whole section on communication, suggesting that the scientific establishment are still labouring under the misapprehension that if they can just get enough PR people or develop just the right message all will be well. I think we have told them where they are going wrong enough times, so let's not labour the point.

Finally, a word on the audience. Cambridge University is supposed to be a hotbed of intellectual activity, but I think it's fair to say that there was not a single probing question delivered to Walport (apart from the one via Twitter) - this was an audience with an oracle, not somewhere where science was to be discussed. And since the great man showed a splendid facility to bat away questions with a combination of platitude and attitude, it is unlikely that any meaningful questions would have got anywhere anyway.

All in all it was pretty poor stuff, but it's still fascinating to watch Walport in action and to wonder who he gets his knowledge of the climate debate from and who is writing his speeches. It's fair to say that he is only getting part of the story.

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Reader Comments (5)

It was feeble stuff, as if he had just started looking into the subject and read something on Wikipedia or from Greenpeace. He misrepresented the state of understanding of extreme events such as droughts, and showed no clue at all about scepticism.

There was in fact one reasonably probing question, from Michael Kelly, at about 52 minutes, saying that renewables don't add up and nuclear was the only answer.

Nov 12, 2013 at 10:13 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Shallow complacent and santimonious. Climate disruption indeed.

We deserve a far better champion of science than this. One that can separate spin from substance, recognise the politicisation of the IPCC, strip away the consensus genuflection to grant project funding and academic career security, and even if global temperatures do continue to rise, which is not at all certain given the present behaviour of the Sun, be prepared to fully recognise net benefits from longer frost free growing seasons and increased atmospheric CO2 as well as the trumpeted harms (remembering that historically warm periods have been net beneficial, as contrasted to cold periods of hardship). And one that does not dismiss sceptics but engages with their sciece based critique rather than dismissing and denigrating them.

And finally also recognises the crass futility of pursuing ruinous social and economic strategies unilaterally, solely for the purpose of grandiose gesture politics.

If I am not mistaken, Matt Ridley's 'The Rational Optimist' was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book prize a while back. Mark Walport should read or re-read it, together with Matt's speeches in the House of Lords recently.

Nov 12, 2013 at 9:05 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

People might be interested in this post I added to the Telegraph comments on The Walport evidence.

...Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, told a committee of MPs that the reason why the number of people in Britain who disbelieve in man-made global warming has quadrupled since 2005 is because their fuel bills have risen....

Sir Mark Walport might be interested in why I am a denier. It is not because my energy bills are going up.

Around 2005 I became aware of a controversy surrounding the Mann et al 1999 paper which presented the 'Hockey-Stick'. Steve McIntyre had written a critique of the maths, which showed it to be incorrect, but had been unable to get this printed in Nature for some very odd reasons - effectively he seemed to have been black-listed because his paper came to the 'wrong conclusions'.

I examined McIntyre's paper. It seemed accurate. I looked for rebuttals to it. What I found in the scientific press was a stream of comments and editorials saying that Steve McIntyre was a liar, an evil man in the pay of 'Big Oil', an incompetent, a troublemaker who should not be given publicity, but, oddly, no credible rebuttal. I saw the scientific establishment rise as one to squash this heresy, not by scientific argument, but by ordering people to disregard him, and the few others who also noted flaws in the fundamental Global Warming theory.

Gradually, EVERY aspect of the theory started to fail. A 'tropospheric hot-spot' was never discovered. Water vapour concentrations failed to rise as predicted - indeed they fell quite significantly. Antarctic ice failed to melt. Average global temperatures stopped rising. On every occasion these failures were met, not by investigation, but by bluster and strange 'marketing' ploys - announcements from the APS and the Royal Society - claims of a 'measured scientific concensus' - approaches TOTALLY at odds from the way science is usually performed.

At the same time ALL the media, including web media such as Wikipedia, were brought on board. On a few occasions editors and others who had published work which was sceptical of Global Warming were sacked from their jobs. Strange arguments were proposed, saying that unless a person had a 'climate science' qualification and his work had been 'peer reviewed', it must be ignored - arguments I have never heard being proposed in any other sphere of knowledge.

Now we are in a strange wonderland, where ALL the tenets of Global Warming are provably false. NO new scientific paper providing evidence for the theory has been created for many years now, and at the technical scientific level it has ceased to exist. Yet it persists as a political construct.

So I am a denier because I am a scientist. Walport is a believer, because he is a politician...

Nov 13, 2013 at 12:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer



Nov 13, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

I'd like to get him in a room with a white-board and a marker pen.....

"Go to the board, Mark, and sketch for me the data that you find most persuasive that [global mean] temperatures are
a) dangerously and/or unprecedentedly high
b) rising unprecedentedly quickly
c) caused by human emissions of CO2
d) have been forecast by models which predict anything other than nothing-much-to-worry-about-here"

And then,
e) Add the supposed 'danger-line' of temperature rise, below which the even the IPCC says it would be beneficial and that the whole game isn't worth the candle.

Nov 13, 2013 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

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