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« Closing the curtain | Main | The new president »

Nurse accuses Lawson of cherrypicking

Paul Nurse has used the occasion of a speech to the University of Melbourne to make an extraordinary attack on Nigel Lawson . Discussing people's concerns over global warming, he suggested that this was causing some to attack the science.

We saw that in Britain with a politician, Nigel Lawson, who would go on television and talk about the scientific case. And he was trained as a politician - you made whatever case you can to convince the audience. So he would choose two points and say "look no warming's taking place", knowing that all the other points that you chose in the 20 years around it would not support his case, but he was just wanting to win that debate on television.

Strong stuff. Very strong stuff.

The audio file is here. Key quote at 42 mins.


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Reader Comments (74)

So what does Paul Nurse think of the current ten year average of UK Central England temperature trend from the Met Office at ? Which points would Paul Nurse pick ?

The ten year average data for the UK CET anomaly is not about "No Warming" but the cooling currently happening in the longest temperature record available.

Feb 16, 2013 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterNot in the pub yet

'0.8C warming in the last century,' so says Nurse. I've always understood that AGW theory held that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere could only affect temperature from about 1960. So, Nurse should have said the, ahem, consensus view is that 0.4C of warming since 1960 is anthropogenic and the 0.4C of warming before 1960 is courtesy of Mother Nature.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

And Nurse has the cheek to complain about "personal attacks on scientists......"

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

It is a war. The battle lines are drawn. It really is time to stop being either surprised or astonished at this sort of stuff.

Surely we have all come to EXPECT it now? If not, why not?

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

When you select today as one of the points, that is not cherry-picking. When you go back to when it was last an increasing trend based from today, that is not cherry-picking either. It's saying it has not warmed for n years. And naturally by that method you end up highlighting the most recent warm peak. Of course you do, you didn't cherry-pick it, it was just defined by the method. What we have to ask Nurse is how long do we expect a flat line. When the CO2 has risen by thirty points in the disputed cherry-picked period, out of about 110 points of anthropogenically produced carbon (do I need allegedly in there?) that is more than a quarter of the CO2 rise and no temp change. They don't like it up 'em.

You know, when a scientist moves into the admin, or society presidency, or committee work, that means he has finished with being a scientist. I wonder whether Nurse would like to debate the question with an Oxfordshire housewife?

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda Klapp

Come on, Nurse, say that to Nigel Lawson face-to-face, not while you are hiding away in Australia.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I know of Nigel Lawson but who is Paul Nurse? Some nobody who has a TV slot I suppose.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Argumentum ad hominem. An unsettled scientist?

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Im looking forward to the skewering thats coming his way very shortly :)



Feb 16, 2013 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered Commentermailman

What does Nurse think is happening with this trend, from our familiar friends at CRU/UEA?

and the present cooling trend in Germany?

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

I dislike the cherry picking point. In science, one cannot cherry pick data (or results from an experiment) to prove the correctness of a theorem, but it is acceptable to cherry pick data to demonstrate that there is a problem with a theorem.

If the theorem is correct, it should be able to explain all data (and all experimental results), even if cherry picked.

This is of course, simply a facet of another well known principle. One can perform say a 1000 experiments the results of which are consistent with the theorem being correct, but it only needs one experiment (properly cinstructed and conducted) that yields results inconsistent with the theorem to demonstrate that the theorem is not correct (or at least not correct in total).

Since the so called basic physics of CO2 is such that whenever the concentration of CO2 increases there must be a corresponding increase in temperature (it does not permit that the temperature can remain static still less decrease), it is an extremely pertinent observation to point out that temperature increase has slowed and/or stalled and/or even fallen slightly. this needs an explanation consistent with the CO2 induced warming theory.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Again I see Nurse has many political value opinions that he clearly wants to pretend are objective scientific facts.

One value he clearly has is that the level of influence in society is too low from climate scientists.

He then goes on to manufacture a case why this is so with only consideration to his pet bogey men.

[It is the arguments of] the ones that are more sceptical and denialist that have gained more traction.

The fact that he only explains lack of “traction” in such a vague way - talking about some vague organised opposing human agency- without once thinking that the perceived strength of expertise in current climate science is weak, or that is clearly seen as riven with overt politicisation, is quite revealing.

This change of gear to vagueness of opponent and lack of consideration of the corresponding weakness or the proposer is typical of Nurses rhetoric.

He seems to think the anointed “experts” should just be seen as scientists and therefore as pure of intent, and so essentially we should just take their word in public policy.

This again confirms my impression of him as a trade union leader in an amalgamated union sticking up for the lowest skilled part in the amalgamation who have the potential to hold the tighter reigns in public policy influence – i.e. here the climate scientists.

The fact that he considers there is “less traction” on the alarmist side is a big give away. You don’t have to look far to see that climate alarmism is common currency with political leaders e.g. Obama’s weird weather rhetoric.

If this isn't good enough “traction” for Nurse then I think we have to worry about his scientism tendency.

Feb 16, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I'm afraid Nurse seems to have lost any scientific credibilty that he may once have had, so I have neither the time nor the inclination to listen to what he has to say.

All I will say is that, of all the people associated with the GWPF, he has just cherry-picked Nigel Lawson to attack. Why is he so keen on cherry-picking? Is it because he cannot refute the arguments of all the scientists and engineers at GWPF?

Feb 16, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Business as usual.

For those not familar with the Left and how it works, take the time to read David Horowitz artcile posted at Powerline. Ignore the title and his political advise and focus on the Left's operations. Google Horowitz if you're not familar with him and his history.


I take it that Nurse simplied called Lawson a clever liar? Lawson should call him out?

Feb 16, 2013 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

A lot of what he said was spot on but I wanted to heckle 'why don't you practice what you preach!' I can certainly agree that science seems to be a creative skill, which explains UEA's climate science and creative writing combo.

My conclusion is that there's no such thing as an impartial sceintist who can comment sagely on things like climate science. The best solution is to have partial people from both sides putting their points. He doesn't like that because his side is losing.

What is it with left wing people who can't see that they've taken a political side? They view the world through a 'I'm not biased, it's everyone else that has a problem' filter. They're really weird. They think money funneled to their side is perfectly acceptable but conservative funding is corrupting. That left wing supporters are following their beliefs but right wing people are bought/evil. That right wing ideas are abnormal but left wing positions are the centre/normal.

Feb 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

In an interview for the New Statesman, Nurse said of politics in relation to science and the Royal Society itself:

"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... I'm happy to see fellows of the Royal Society politically engaged, if that’s what they see as right..."

Haunting the Library picked it up that ball and ran with it here:

Now we have an about-face - true to form of the approaches to debating deployed by the climate clergy - and an altogether more hostile attitude to the influences of politics within science when it serves him (44:12):

"... It also emphasises the need to keep science as far as is possible from political, ideological and - for that matter religious - influence. This can be difficult, because after all we're all human, but it is what we have to do, to keep the politics out of it."

Prior to this, Nurse berated Nigel Lawson's strong arguments during a broadcast because they were "...overspilling political views into science...", which in his opinion meant that "...confidently stated opinions... to attract public and political attention..." were somehow anathema to his own position!

The next time we hear from the Royal Society's Science Policy Centre, we'll know that it will certainly be 'as far as possible' from science!

Feb 16, 2013 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ert

Is this the same Paul Nurse who stated on television that man-made CO2 was seven times as high as naturally-emitted CO2 (when the actual figures are c3% man-made, c97% natural)?

Why, yes it is.

Clearly on top of the detail, then ;-))

Has he no shame? Seriously?

Feb 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

Emotion based science
or Faith based science ?
- which one best describes sci-activist Paul Nurses view ?

Feb 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Bloody idiot!!

Feb 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Of course, Paul Nurse could never be accused of 'cherry picking' himself, could he..?

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The point is, Nurse, old chap, that the recent flat/cooling trend leaves in tatters a decade-worth of cretinously hysterical doom mongering from your very learned colleagues.

People much like yourself, when you think about it, which you don't, and never will.

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterphil and keith's career trick

Hopefully there are enough members of the RS left who have the integrity to take their leader (Dear Leader!) to task and make him explain himself. Once a highly respected organisation, Nurse is sending the RS down the same path as the BBC and turning it into an activist organisation that will one day become irrelevant. Pity really.

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Here’s the bit following your quote. I’ll post the bit before in a sec.

...and that’s of course overspilling your political views into the science.
Several other features have complicated that situation. One has been the failure of some cimate scientists to be as open as they should have been in making all their data available, and this has caused some to argue that the climate scientists are not behaving properly, that their data is wrong or that they’re manipulating it. So that hasn’t been helpful.
Another feature as I’ve already mentioned is the complexity of climate science which leads to uncertainties in prediction, and this allows space for poorly evidenced but confidently stated opinions, which are sometimes mixed with personal attacks and misrepresentations to attract public and political attention. So there’s a bit of an unholy mix in all of this. So what can we learn from it? Firstly it reinforces the point about the need to rely on consensus view of expert scientists, and the need to avoid cherry-picking of data and argument. But it also emphasises the need to keep science as far as is possible from political, ideological and for that matter religious influence. This can be difficult, because after all we’re all human, but it is what we have to do. We have to keep the politics out of it.

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:25 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I think I know why Paul Nurse appears to prefer being in Australia than here, if this is a good example of how the politicians think Down Under: Move about 26:00 minutes in and realise why the end of all civilization in Australia is imminent. As I have mentioned on another post, with politicians like Craig Emerson in charge (citing the World Bank as a climate reference ffs!), there is no hope for that country.

Most of us who contribute to this, and similar, blogs would be referred to as “denialist”; however, what are we in “denial” of? Most, if not all, of us accept that climate change can happen and is happening; that the world is warming; that CO2 is a “greenhouse” gas; that CO2 levels are increasing; that the rise in CO2 is probably human-caused (i.e. anthropogenic); and that the rising CO2 levels might influence the warming of the atmosphere. What we are in “denial” about is that there is any cause for alarm about the “climate change”/global warming; that it is ALL the fault of humans; and that there is anything significant that can be done about it. Not so much as denial, more like yet to be convinced. The alarmists, however, deny that there can be any further discussion or debate about the issue – “the science is settled.” Just who is in denial, here?

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I know you are not supposed to be Snobby and Trolly

But Sir Paul Nurse "Ex Council House Scientist".

Don't forget to call him Sir. now.

Poor old man. He never went to public school like Dellers , Monbiot , Lawson or our Tony ,Dave and Nick and the rest of the Establishment he trying so hard to kiss up to.

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Pharos - There you go just cherry-picking again!!!

I like the bit in Tim Osborne's NAO piece -

"Note also that the winter 2009/10 had the most negative NAO index measured during the almost 190-year record. "

Interesting - Is my memory defective (it often is my wife says) but I thought that IPCC AR4 predicted an increasingly positive trend to NAO ?

Is that right?

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:13 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

him being in oz fits with the "do as we preach not as we do ourselves" part.
they (the posh left) all seem to jet often to australia I cannot imagine it would be for a higher purpose than self service.

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Here’s the bit just before the Lawson bit.

What makes giving scientific advice more complex is the fact that advice is being used to inform public policy, and the development of policy is not based only on the science, but on a wide range of societal considerations and opinions, not all of which are as evidence-based or as rational as science. And when the lines between these two become blurred, that is when science starts to go over into the political debate or the other direction, when those lines become blurred, the science can become mired in controversy, which is not good either for science or for the development of good public policy.
Now given this complexity, I want to consider two controversial areas, to see what lessons can be learnt about how scientific advice should be given. Now one controversial area is climate science - particularly contentious here in Australia.
Now is the world warming? Is human activity responsible? How much is it expected to warm in the future?
Now the consensus view of the majority of expert climate scientists is very clear, that the globe has increased in temperature by around .8°C in the last hundred years, that this is largely due to greenhouse gas emissions, and that these are a consequence, at least in part or in a significant way to human activity, and that a further rise of around 2° or maybe up to 4° can be expected in the next century. That would be the sort of approximate consensus view.
But within this mainstream consensus view there’s quite a lot of debate about aspects of science, and that is a legitimate debate you know, is it 1.5° is it 3° etcetera, and it particularly applies to predicting the future, and it’s made difficult because of the complexities of feedbacks within the global climate system that makes it difficult to come to decisions.
But outside that consensus, and outside that proper scientific debate that is occurring within that mainstream, there are more extreme opinions. At one end it’s argued that there’s either no warming taking place, or if it is taking place then human agency is not important, and at the other end it’s argued that global warming will be absolutely catastrophic, that’s the outliers.
Now there are supporters in both of these extreme positions in the public sphere, but it is the former arguments, the ones that are more sceptical and denialist that have gained more traction, even amongst individuals, even among individuals who normally would trust consensus scientific opinion, so why is this the case? What can we learn from this?
Well, a feature of this controversy is that those that 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 should global warming be due to human activity. I think that is a crucial point. Because these actions are likely to include measures whch involve greater concerted world action, curtailing the freedom of individuals or companies and nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity, potentially risking economic growth. These are all critical key issues about which we should be worried, but what in fact appears to happen is that the concerns at least of some of those worried about these types of actions have led them to try and convince society by attacking the science of the majority of climate scientists, and to use scientific arguments that on the whole are rather weak and unconvincing and nearly always involve the cherry-picking of data.
In other words, what’s happened is that those who are very concerned about the outcomes and what one would have to do, in trying to make their argument have overspilled into the science.

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers - thanks for those postings - interesting.

I think you have to count people like Sir Paul Nurse as useful idiots who will go spouting for the cause until the ice edge reaches the Royal Society.

It is almost as if he, and others like him, hibernated in 2007 and have just woken up and spouted without checking the latest score.

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:30 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

More null verbiage from Nurse. But should we hold on to him for fear of something worse?

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered Commentercui bono

He really is a second rater, isn't he. He misrepresents Lawson's views (and other "denialists"). No scientist of integrity would argue like that. No wonder he wraps himself in the comfort blanket of "consensus".

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

If your model predicts an exponentially increasing line when the real world measure's flat then your model is wrong.

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

Once again we have a resounding silence from the world's most eminent scientists as their great leader trashes their credibility.

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

He used to sell the socialist worker rag. Judging by his pathetic antics, once a Trot always a Trot. As for accusing sceptics of cherry picking - you couldn't make that up. Cherry picking atypical data points has long been the favourite modus-operandi for trolls and eco-zombies infesting sceptical blogs for lack of any substance to make their case.

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

I wonder if Lawson and Nurse could be related? Might explain Nurse's attitude...perhaps a test could be run?

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

I shall never forget Nurse's television show when, supposedly, he was objectively investigating all sides of 'the climate change'debate.

It was abundantly clear that interviews, with sceptics such as James Delapole, were being heavily edited to suite Nurses blatent advocacy.

Indeed, it seemed that whoever at BBC was actually making the edits was so disgusted with what he was asked to do that he made it obvious what was going on.

Nurse probably sees himself as some sort of government cheerleader, but he least of all should accuse anyone of 'cherry picking' after the above disgrace.

The Royal Society, under Nurse, fails science and brings itself and science into disrepute. Attacking Lawson seems typical of knight and loyal servant of 'the cause'.

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Baird


I interviewed Delingpole about the Nurse interview,and he also sent me the letter from the BBC producer that completely misrepresented the programme to him.

I wrote it up here:

Feb 16, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I think it sad that a scientist of his calibre has fallen to this level. At sixty four years young, it is not too late for him to re-engage his mind.

Does he have no friends left who will quietly whisper in his ear: "Actually, Paul, cAGW is now looking like an increasingly foolish prediction."

Science needs his help, not his slings and arrows. Those who infuse such politics into science need to be rooted out, leaf and twig and branch.

Feb 16, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Apart from anything else, paul nurse does his best to demonstrate how not to speak in public.
His metaphor sounded like "mataphor" and he keeps saying "there's.
I found it very difficult to concentrate on what he was talking about.

Feb 16, 2013 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

......a feature of this controversy is that those that 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 should global warming be due to human activity. I think that is a crucial point.

Feb 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM geoffchambers

Interesting, Geoff.

I think it's a crucial point too...... and the corollary even more so since, by extension, if global warming should prove not to be due to human activity, the "political and ideological views" of the deniers would appear to be nothing more than than the application of logic and common sense.

Paul might have a unique insight into the reproductive behaviour of yeast cells - but logic doesn't seem to be a strong point with him.

I loved this quote from an interview he gave to the New Statesman (or Old Trot - as we frothing neocons like to call it) -

"As a scientist, you work in total obscurity until suddenly you earn a Nobel prize. Then journalists ask your opinions about anything and everything and you're expected to say something. There's no reason you should have anything sensible to say."

He seems to have manged to put that behind him though.

Feb 16, 2013 at 5:34 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

CAGW, the modern day Piltdown Man.

Feb 16, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Is there any journalist (or anyone else for that matter) who will be able to contact Paul Nurse in the next few days and ask him if he has ever heard of "the most influential tree in the world" and whether or not it is just possible that a fair minded person might think that that tree, even though it wasn't a cherry tree, was cherry picked?

Climategate reveals 'the most influential tree in the world'
Christopher Booker, Daily Telegraph, 5 Dec 2009.

Feb 16, 2013 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I can't take anything Nurse utters at face value, for me, albeit with a scientific background he is just another Socialist leaning politician who believes in statism, ie, big state government and that: green taxes are somehow going to solve the world's ills.
Lord Lawson, is a fair minded pol, he is if anything overly fair minded and sparing of the alarmist camp fruitcakes.
Nurse, has fallen off his trolley and had to go to Australia to vent his grievous guff - what it does do, it shines a light on the accuser and it illuminates a very small minded and petty unpleasant character.

Feb 16, 2013 at 6:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Nurse recently devoted a Guardian CIF scare piece to how terrible it would be if the UK left the EU as it would lose all those EU science grants.
He didn't know - or chose to obscure - the fact that the UK is a net contributor to the EU and so could replace the grants with money to spare.
So, ignorant and/or obfuscating - a glittering career in politics awaits.

Feb 16, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

TonyCO2: simple reason why, its called brain washing and associating with other of a similar mindset. If everyone you surround yourself with thinks and acts the same - to you that is normal. Now this is fine if the people you surround yourself with are not brainwashed and usually operating off a largely fact based/rational mindset; but I fear Nurse has truly fallen deep down the rabbit hole of political science and the corrupt mindset that leads to - its a slippery slope down the garderobe..

Feb 16, 2013 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterecoGuy

Paul Nurse perhaps does not realise that the GWPF academic advisory council is stuffed full of distinguished professors including some Fellows of his own august Society, who probably wince at some of his cringeworthy utterences.

Feb 16, 2013 at 9:35 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Feb 16, 2013 at 1:18 PM | Steve Jones

Yes, Nurse is rebranding the RS as James Hansen has rebranded NASA. Nurse might want to buy himself one of those "Raiders of the Lost Ark" hats that Hansen wears.

Feb 16, 2013 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

I recently attended a small meeting at the RS, chaired by Nurse. It was non CAGW related.

Those I went with knew nothing of Nurse, or his CAGW opinions, but all emerged remarking that the man was a complete buffoon and simply astonished that he was in charge of anything.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

From the Guardian. Apparently Sir Paul Nurse's New York house hosted a meeting of the "Good Club" whose membership apparently includes: Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, David Rockefeller and Ted Turner.

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterpjb253

The GWPF have mirrored this blog on their website and added a couple of interesting clips, including an old interview between Nigel Lawson v Chris Rapley convened by Paxo

and another with Ed Miliband

Feb 16, 2013 at 10:46 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

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