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« Rain, storm, flood; same old | Main | Fool in chief »

Calculated ambiguity

Take a look at the transcript of John Beddington's appearance on the Today programme a couple of days ago. It a masterful performance, replete with insinuation and devoid of explicit statements.

But what we have - what we can expect to see is an increasing frequency of extreme events.

That was neat wasn't it? Are we seeing an increased frequency of extreme events or is this just something that is seen in at the bottom of the climate teapot?

But I think what we're expecting - and actually starting to see evidence of - is an increasing frequency of these extreme events.

There it is again - the calculated ambiguity that leaves Sir John with plausible deniability while allowing him to push the green agenda as far as he dares. Is there any evidence at all of increasing frequency of extreme events? There is little or nothing on global scales and little or nothing at the UK level to the best of my knowledge.

So I wonder does Sir John actually have any evidence of increasing frequency of weather extremes or is he just dropping this into the conversation to add a little green spice to the interview?


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Reader Comments (36)

It would be interesting for someone to track the changes in the party line. Until about a couple of years I'm sure the line was that CO2 emissions would lead to global warming, we're doomed. Then as the warming rudely dived into the deep ocean, the extreme weather argument popped up. Is that right, that its a replacement argument since the warming isn't performing? And what about various studies that have argued that there are no more extreme weather events..or is that irrelevant in that the pushers of the line aren't talking about now, but the future, using the clim-scientists favourite term, 'may' as in "there may be more extreme weather events" ie we don't have a clue but its sufficient to frighten you twerps and keep our agenda on track and no-one, not even a denier, can deny that possibilities are possible.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

Well, at least he has made what, on the surface, seems like a testable prediction. Of course by leaving out any time scales he allows plenty of wiggle room. Furthermore to check the prediction you would need a definition of "extreme" events,or rather a series of definitions, e.g. winds above a certain speed, tides above a certain range, how often particular rivers can be expected to overflow their banks etc. etc.

If climate scientists are worried about the frequency of such events they should be compiling such data. Perhaps they are already doing that and I am doing them a disservice. If so, I hope someone will enlighten me.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Beddington was a typical mediocre academic in the field of population biology (not even a scientist) promoted beyond his pay-grade by, of all people, Gordon Brown, to the position of Government Chief Scientific Advisor. You don't get such promotion and the honours and financial reward from taxpayers that follow, without toeing the party line. Nothing changes on the establishment greasy pole.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:29 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The journalists should be questioning these statements and asking for proof! If they were doing their job properly.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

What's supremely cretin is that these people who should know better are finding solace in evermore ambiguous statements, which ultimately mean nothing at all.

We have already ascertained that according to climate science every possible weather event is compatible with CAGW, as shown by the readiness to make just-so stories available to the media. OTOH this also means climate science cannot seriously "explain" any weather event (the latest vogue is "natural variability"), and we are left with the profound consideration that things happen because they happen.

Likewise, there is an increase of frequency in weather extremes every time a weather extreme makes the news, and sometimes even when it doesn't.This statement is true no matter what, and Sir John will always be right, even if the frequency of weather extremes decreases a day or a week later when there is no weather extreme to report.

Defenders of the Faith are making climate science to sit pretty, and it is dying or already dead because of that.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:36 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

What struck me on Saturday morning was the extent of the repetition of the mantra. Checking Alex's transcript, I see that he said it eight times.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:38 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews


Furthermore to check the prediction you would need a definition of "extreme" events
Easy. Extreme events are “the worst storms /droughts /floods for 15/20 years” - i.e. since the world stopped warming.
The Beddingtons don’t seem to realise that they’ve got a serious problem if extreme events do increase in the absence of rising temperatures, since no-one has a theory of how rising CO2 can cause droughts / floods / pestilence without it getting hotter first.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:42 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I'm a UK citizen, but not a resident for many years, so I wonder whether I am entitled to an opinion at all.
But here goes anyway...

There is just so much to detest in Beddington's statements, but probably the obvious is this:

Basically... No we can't blame any single type of bad weather event on global warming, but we have to expect more of them because of it.

This is every bit as despicable as the arguments made some years ago in American white middle class areas - No, we're not alleging blacks commit crime more than the rest of us, but we're certain that the the crime rate will rise if we let them into our neighbourhood.

I'd love to play poker with this bloke, he's just so transparent in spite of his own belief in his masterly bluff.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

Beddington made this allegation at an Oxford college recently where he was guest speaker with the former astronomer, Reese. There is a video on the Internet somewhere but I do not recommend it. Life is too short.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterEpimenides

What wouldn't surprise me is an increase in the REPORTING of "extreme" weather events (scientifically and in the media) and an increase in the DESCRIBING of weather events AS "extreme" - which of course is not the same thing as there being more of them.
The trouble is that it can seem like there are more of them to the general public and politicians and even to most of the media who are partly managing to fool themselves by their need for sensation and lazily accepting every press release from a desperate warmist.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

I'd say we are actually starting to see evidence that Sir Jack is a Berk.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonah


The Beddingtons don’t seem to realise that they’ve got a serious problem if extreme events do increase in the absence of rising temperatures, since no-one has a theory of how rising CO2 can cause droughts / floods / pestilence without it getting hotter first.

Indeed. This is one of the top five points to make to ignorant alarmists. Another is that even when temperatures did rise there's been no correlation detectable with increases in extreme events. Another - on storms explicitly - is that warming tends to increase temperatures at the poles more than elsewhere, decreasing the temperature differential with the tropics and this has always been taught, well before alarmism, as reducing storminess. (I remember Lindzen pointing this out way back.)

These are all very important but I still feel that Indur Goklany's is the most telling point: that deaths from extreme events have been coming down since 1920. Everyone should know the shape of this graph, policy makers especially, just as much as they do with temperature and CO2. But do they?

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:24 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The elephant in the room, of course, is that the warming predictions and the extreme weather, in fact much of climate science as practised today, is based on computer models that have shown themselves to be wrong.

The BBC is never going to ask Beddington why he supports model predictions that are far removed from observational data but that is the question he must answer.

The Met Office must answer the same question, yet all we get is a stream of half baked excuses while they pray that warming returns soon.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

If Beddington is typical of Chief Scientific advisors, how can we expect humble professors to always act honestly?

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

He doesn't need any evidence for appearing on the BBC. He knows he's there to support their agenda and he equally knows there's no chance of being pulled up on false statements if they support the cause.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Paul: Constant repetition of calculated ambiguity. It shows they know how weak the foundations are.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I think that whatever was driving the warming of the last few decades (probably a combination of solar and ocean cycles) has now peaked and the climate is now returning to the way it was in the Sixties. The warmists are trying to drum up alarm about what used to be typical weather.

It is not unusual to have strong winds in winter, or heavy rain. Most of the flooding was because both of these coincided with very high tides. While it is true that the wind pushed the high tides in our direction, Beddington cannot blame tidal cycles on carbon dioxide.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

It would be interesting for someone to track the changes in the party line. Until about a couple of years I'm sure the line was that CO2 emissions would lead to global warming, we're doomed.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered Commenter bill

Feel free to add comments or links to extreme statements

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

S Cat (9:25): All the alarm comes from models, as you say, but, as Judith Curry points out, the models have shown themselves to be completely useless at regional forecasting - and that's where the rubber hits the road with extreme events, unlike globally averaged temperature anomaly. If the GCMs are running significantly hotter than GATA (and they are) how can we possibly trust them on this, when all the empirical data show no change or improvement? At least AR5 WG1 was explicit and truthful on this last point.

Jan 6, 2014 at 10:03 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Most of us have had a flutter from time to time: the lottery, football, horses ... But it is well known that there are some very seriously addicted gamblers in the world and their dedication to the activity prevents them from seeing that the vast majority of rational people would have nothing whatever to do with it as a reliable source of profit.

Beddington seems to be the type that might spend lavishly on one or other such venture in the firm expectation that he may possibly win a fortune one day. No doubt he is also very sure that the chances of success must increase as time goes on. Every day there is news of some big win somewhere and the winnings appear to be getting bigger. He doesn’t take his outlay so far into account and he is oblivious to the fact that the industry can exist at all only because the vast majority of punters make a net loss.

Isn’t there treatment available for compulsive gamblers?

Jan 6, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Well

Richard, Here is a link to a new Nature paper which makes the radical claim that they have discovered a mechanism which ensures that the effect of CO2 on certan specific types of cloud formation is such that global warming of up to 4 degrees centigrade is certain by the end of the century. The authors claim that their models have now disposed of all the lower estimates of temperature increase. We are (once again) doomed.

Link here.


Jan 6, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Ratliffe

People like Beddington are hoping that the data will catch up with their fears but they know that we're watching them now so they hint and let the audience jump to the conclusions they can't prove. They're happiest when the interviewer or another guest makes the point explicitly. That's why we hear more celebs on climate than scientists.

The weird weather meme has been growing in popularity since the hurricane records flopped and temperatures flatlined. It's a fine line they tred between keeping the pot bubbling and tipping the public off that they're beng conned. I'm sure Beddington et al just think of it as little white fibs. It's a risky strategy because it doesn't leave them the excuse that they kept us up to date at all times. If temperatures fall or the hiatus continues much longer they're on record being deliverately misleading. The same interviewers will be outraged that they were deceived... or at least that's the line they'll take.

Jan 6, 2014 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Tony: If the models are shown to be running hot what's the best way to distract from that? Even hotter ones. Genius.

Jan 6, 2014 at 11:42 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

We certainly have a huge uptick in google searches for "Extreme weather".. That may be largely due to the cold in the USA though. I wandered down to the beach to see the latest extremely high waves as predicted by the Met Office and their BBC. Same old same old, seen it all before. Nothing much to look at, came home for tea and breakfast.

Hallelujah! We have a hockey stick." Our work here is done!

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

"So, for example, the weather we're currently experiencing in our climate is being determined pretty much by the greenhouse gases that were in the atmosphere in the 1990s - there's about a 20 [year] or so time lag."

So like the Sunday roast, CAGW needs to be rested before it is digestible?

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered Commenternick

I heard the fawning interview of Beddington and sent Today an e-mail asking why they had not consulted real scientists who specialise in weather or climate. I pointed them towards Roger Pielke jr (I even attached his testimony on 'Extreme Weather' to the Senate), and suggested Phillip Eden of the RMS for the UK weather.
I don't hold out much hope given the BBC's North Korean style endorsement of the CAGW cause, aided by Roger Harrabin and Steve Jones.

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterwellers

Oh, thanks a bunch, artwest - precisely what I was going to post..!

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

Watching golf on tv last night and commentators in UK and US all seemed convinced that a bad weather year for golf was the fault of 'climate change'. The alarmists have won the battle on moving the meme from warming to extreme weather.

Jan 6, 2014 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

The elephant in the room, of course, is that the warming predictions and the extreme weather, in fact much of climate science as practised today, is based on computer models that have shown themselves to be wrong.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

SC, That prompts me to wonder if the climate models are even capable of producing a single so-called extreme event (depending on how that might be defined). For example, if the grid-cells of a climate model are, say, 100km in size, how could a climate model produce a thunder storm cell with a diameter of 20km? Hurricanes may be larger, but tornadoes are far smaller.

Given its fundamental importance in this context, not least because of computing requirements, grid resolution is discussed less often than it may deserve. I'll tuck that one away for the next opportunity to ask Richard Betts. (I'll be reasonable and won't ask how often climate models predict lightening strikes and forest fires.)

Jan 6, 2014 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"all the analysis shows that as the climate change, er, carries on, you get an increasing frequency of severe weather events, "
i believe this isn't supported by the IPCC analysis.
Also, when one expects something, there has to be a basis for that. It isn't the IPCC.


Jan 6, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterper

I gave this link on another thread recently, a discussion by NOAA scientists of global warming effects on tropical storms. I believe the IPCC view is consistent with ths article, although I haven't compared it to the AR5 WG1 report.

Jan 6, 2014 at 2:29 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Here's one from within the insurance industry:

Jan 6, 2014 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Sir John appears to be channeling his inner Lord Dorwin as usual.

Jan 6, 2014 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

There are standard procedures for analysing the frequency of extreme events. Basically a probability distribution is assumed and a sample fitted to that distribution. Given enough long-term data one can then estimate the magnitude of a maximum annual 100 year flood for example. If a flood event occurs the same procedure can be used to estimate the probability of that event.

Trends in flood frequency are more difficult to determine as the statistical methods are more complex and require meaningful tests of significance. Too often maximum annual extreme events are simply plotted in Excel, a trendline fitted and bingo!

In studies I have done, sometimes the trend increases, sometimes decreases depending on the location. Climatic data and hydrologic data are not stationary, there are cycles and persistence with extreme floods often occurring in clusters in successive years. Hydrologists usually assume the data set is stationary unless there is compelling evidence otherwise.

Jan 6, 2014 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterpotentilla

UK precipitation is highly dependent on the condition of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation, with increased Winter precipitation requiring positive NAO/AO conditions, exactly the opposite of the Summer which requires negative NAO/AO conditions for increased precipitation. This alone suggest that climate change should have little effect on annual rainfall trends.
There is no evidence that a higher average global temperature has resulted in more positive NAO/AO episodes as the GCM's predict, in fact the weaker solar cycle 24 has resulted in record negative NAO/AO states that have not been seen since the weaker solar cycles 12-14.

Jan 7, 2014 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterUlric Lyons

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