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« The climate inquisitor | Main | Reminder: Donna in Edinburgh »

Another scientivist

Anthony points out the eructions of an Exeter University geographer named Stephan Harrison, who says that debating sceptics is like wrestling with pigs. 

Ho hum - another day, another academic making a fool of themselves.

Nevertheless, Dr Harrison has an interesting CV. Apparently his research work on glaciers is centred on Patagonia although he previously worked on the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia. Probably fair to say that he has a very large carbon footprint indeed. It's therefore no surprise to see that he is also an very keen environmental activist. He is:

  • An invited member of the Environmental Research Group and the Climate Research Group of the Institute of Actuaries.
  • An invited member of the Carbon Counting Group, an international group of economists, scientists, architects, politicians and environmental activists working in the field of mitigation and adaption for climate change.
  • An invited member of the Climate Justice Programme
  • An expert witness for the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide looking at the impact of mining on mountain glaciers in the Chilean Andes, and specifically the Pascua Lama mine.

And with a background like that, it's no surprise to see him involved with the Science Media Centre too.

So, another scientivist. One can bang on about these people, but I'm not sure it does much good. People in universities are obviously not accountable to the public, and are therefore pretty much immune to public criticism. It's perhaps therefore more useful if we ask ourselves what can be done about them. I have no problem with academics having political views, but in my view there needs to be a clear dividing line between research and political activism. Where such a line cannot be drawn, the public ends up paying half-wit academics to promote their often eccentric, immature and even extreme views. This seems to me to be entirely immoral.

So my question to readers is: Is it possible to formulate some guidelines that would at least make this kind of thing more difficult? Or is the answer just to cut funding to the universities?

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Reader Comments (75)

"Probably fair to say that he has a very large carbon footprint indeed. It's therefore no surprise to see that he is also an very keen environmental activist."

Your Grace, you never fail to amuse us.

Apr 28, 2014 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Almost certainly he's a believer in the biggest failed experiment of the last century. Economic-creationism, AKA marxism.

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterac1

As uncomfortable as it may feel, the source of the problem is not that academics speak loudly on topics which stretch their expertise and credibility, it is not more appropriate to expect and and demand the media to be more professional to filter this noise or at least be skeptical and pursue the inconsistencies. At the same time, I know this also difficult and probably impossible. Further, those who listen need to learn that just because someone appears to have credentials as a "scientist" and is in the "media", it does not mean they are "right' or even deserve any attention. Listeners have a little bit of power by voting with their wallet which media to purchase, or by denying their time to listen to non-credible speakers.

I hope academic funding is closely related to valuable deliverables. Probably not in many cases.

It's gotten so that when I see something in the media ascribed to a "scientist", I move on and don't bother reading. I expect others to to do same, but I do not anticipate that will happening.

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

Even though I am a British taxpayer I don't think there is anything wrong with a university employing academics having views with which I strongly disagree, provided:

1) They are reasonably careful to distinguish between matters of fact and their personal opinions (there is a grey area when it comes to the interpretation of factual evidence).

2) They are willing to defend their views and to answer criticisms. They may not have the time to respond personally to critics but they should be willing to respond in their own publications to reasonable points made by people holding different views, e.g. in economics journals articles written by Keynesians often criticise monetarist viewpoints and vice-versa; adherents of one of those schools of thought never try and pretend that they adherents of the other are flat-earthers who should be ignored.

3) They do not try and ensure that their department, or the entire university, only employs people with similar views to their own.

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

What puzzles me about these people serving on so many committees and research groups is how much time do they actually put in at the job they are paid to do?

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:18 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

How can any 'scientist' belong to a "Carbon Counting Group" and retain credibility?

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Did his first degree at Univ of Leicester, ie not out of the top drawer, intellectually (like Phil Jones, BSc Univ if Lancaster Gawd help us). No doubt he knows a lot of stuff, but the trick is, knowing what to do with the stuff you know - for example, not drawing half-witted conclusions from incomplete and otherwise dubious data. The intellectual snobbery I suppose I am advocating no doubt is not appealing to a lot of people. But I tire of cretins setting themselves up as authorities.

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

Is this the same Dr Stephan Harrison who is a director of The CARIBSAVE Partnership, Climate Change Risk Management Limited and Climate Change Solutions Limited?

No conflicts of interests there then.

Apr 28, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Its the University itself...the management therein. Followed by the Customers.

Any employees contact should (must?) state that one should not shoot off at the mouth without permission from the employer. A commercial business would be hot down on such cases of looseness I think. I would be!

Alas, Universities don't seem to have such a manner/discipline it appears. For me that really means the University really does not exist. Unfortunately, government sponsorship seems to ignore it also, and thats where we the funder come in.

My experience is UK gov (days of old) and behavior of this nature would have been....addressed, firmly and quietly.

Apr 28, 2014 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

welcome to state-sponsored university research!!

in truth, given the amounts wasted elsewhere, these easily-manipulated types are not worthy of much attention.

Apr 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Funny thing about wrestling with pigs is that it is quite easy if you know what you are doing. I imagine the same applies to those who are skeptical of the catastrophic anthropological climate change hypothesis.

Apr 28, 2014 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

Is it a kind of environmentalist hobby this wrestling with pigs? And does anyone here know what other activities environmentalists engage in that requires the co-operation of animals? The mind boggles.

Apr 28, 2014 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

I strenuously object to any effort to "make this kind of thing more difficult." Efforts to censor or silence climate sceptics are nicely backfiring already, revealing the intellectual bankruptcy of the CAGW community; why would we want to imitate their folly?

In the climate wars, let time and reality be our surest weapon.

Apr 28, 2014 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

the slippery slope

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

"The intellectual snobbery I suppose I am advocating"

Indeed. You seem to completely fail to notice that while some of the brightest students get to Oxbridge thru harm work and high intellect, a very significant proportion get there thru privilege and allocated places from the right schools.

Another correlation/causation error in my view.

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Stephan Harrison, a precise product of 50 years of progressive thought. Ignorant, smug and intolerant in equal measure.

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

Which side are pigs with their snouts in the trough?

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Geronimo "Is it a kind of environmentalist hobby this wrestling with pigs?"

I seem to recall that in Climategate, Ben Santer wanted to meet people down dark alleys - well I suppose it is easier for them having strange hobbies than doing real science!

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

What is it with people called Stephan/Stefan?

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:20 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Is it possible to formulate some guidelines that would at least make this kind of thing more difficult?

The first step is to define the term "climate science" or "climatology". Wikipedia is a place to start. At the heading is "climatology".
When climatologists speak outside of these boundaries, they do so as political activists and not as experts. A non-exhaustive list is:-

1. Economic theory
2. Ethics
3. Policy formulation
4. Policy implementation and monitoring
5. Philosophy of science (e.g. science by consensus)
6. Word definitions (e.g. John Cook's "sceptic" definition)
7. Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty
8. Creating and evaluating opinion polls
9. Omniscience

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

We just need full disclosure, so that we judge possible modifying agendas or biases.

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

> Is it possible to formulate some guidelines
> that would at least make this kind of thing
> more difficult?

What kind of thing? Being invited to be a member of various groups? Accepting the invitations? Being an expert witness? Being 'involved' with the Science Media Centre, a charity like GWPF? What is your objection to these exacly?

Do you object as strongly to Richard Tol's 'involvement' with GWPF or his other activities. How about the 'involvement' of other academics on the GWPF 'advisory council', do you object to them? What exactly do you propose for your guidelines? What is it exactly that you want to stop Dr Harrison from doing?

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

This actuarial/climate group is fascinating.
Actuarial work is what fuels how the insurance industry ( and other groups that deal with risk) get thie risk formuals put together.
It appears that there are industry groups 'helping' to get the data they need to charge what is being charged for 'ciimate risk'. sort of like tobacco industry scientists coming up with 'studies' showing tobacco was no big deal.
This "Climate Research Group of the Institute of Actuaries" is worth knowing a whole lot more about.
Of course this high living activist/academic is a weee bit touchy about things that might possibly threaten his place at the trough.

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

You are the only person on this site who actually tempts me into blasphemy (and that includes Zed!).
FFS, grow up, will you? What we would rather like is for Harrison to move on from the idea that debating with climate sceptics is like wrestling with pigs — a concept that might make an eight-year-old feel very clever if he thought it up but simply makes a grown man look like a prat.
Has he even tried debating with a sceptic? Or for that matter wrestled with a pig? Does he have the courage to come to this or any other similar site and try debating because if so he would be the first. In other words he could put his (apparently inadequate) brain where his (patently over-developed) mouth is.

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:50 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I agree with Rob Schneider.
Since apparently the general public believe that if "a scientist" shouts something it is the truth (meaning proven true by science) and since the media tend to publish most the scientists who predict doom (if it bleeds, it leads), this will not stop no matter what regulations.

Only thing I can think of regulation wise is to prohibit ANY scientist from speaking to the media. That does not sit well with me though, freedom of speech and of the press and all...

Apr 28, 2014 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

One guideline might be not to fund time spent on "political activism", academics are paid to teach, do research and organise their departments. I wonder how much time is spent on activist activities during office hours.

Apr 28, 2014 at 6:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

When the hippy Prof was in the mountains in Argentina did he find any live goats.

Hope so he could given them a good milking like the rest of mates have done with Global Warming.

Apr 28, 2014 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I love this obsession the warmists have with "funding". They are always desperate to know how people — always other people of course — are "funded".
Two questions, Zed (serious ones): Are you funded and if so by whom? If not why do you assume that somebody else is?

Apr 28, 2014 at 6:34 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"You seem to completely fail to notice that while some of the brightest students get to Oxbridge thru harm work and high intellect, a very significant proportion get there thru privilege and allocated places from the right schools."

Really? Or just a big chip on your shoulder?

But getting back to the matter in hand, let Harrison's credibility, or lack thereof, speak for itself.

Apr 28, 2014 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

I wish these brilliant climate scientists would give in to temptation and have the public debate about AGW they so studiously avoid. Surely at least one of these intellectual Titans would relish the prospect of representing the warmists and slapping down the very best that the sceptics have to offer.

Invitations to debate have been sent, and accepted, but one side keeps failing to turn up.

Before I forget, here is another wind update for Mr Davey:

0.19 GW as of 1857 BST. The vertical scale above needs to be enlarged considerably to make wind output discernible from the zero line.

Apr 28, 2014 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Are you serious Mike Jackson? When the Bishop asks if it possible to "formulate some guidelines that would at least make this kind of thing more difficult" he is referring to guidelines on the use of analogies? I guess you'll be volunteering to joint the Academic Analogy Police to root out bad or insulting analogies used by people with letters after their names...

Apr 28, 2014 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

I remember one scientist tried to engage and instantly had an FOI put in on his emails for his troubles.

Yes. He said (on BH) that he had received emails from BH commenters that would be embarrassing if revealed. He was asked to reveal them but did not. Some commenters wondered if the mails actually existed. So an FOI was submitted for access to what the law says has to be revealed on request.

His university unlawfully refused the FOI request. The Scottish Information Commissioner considered the case and ruled that the university had acted illegally in not releasing the 'embarrassing' emails.

Bottom line: there were none that fitted the description. So untruthfulness by a 'climate scientist' confirmed.

Apr 28, 2014 at 7:46 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

If funding is an issue, then Harrison's multiple gigs as a climate hype business developer is very much worth investigating.
As to his metaphor about his inability to debate and get the outcome he wants, I would remind the good professor that he is the one who is apparently feeding at the trough.
Regulating the climate hype parasites is a pointless excercise: Let the Harrison's of the world keep crying wolf, claiming the emperor's new clothes are sublime, that the world is doomed.
He is simply joining that long line of disreputable failed prophets/profits, con-artists and confidence men who have fed on the willing and gullble over the centuries.

Apr 28, 2014 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

So I must be 'Big Oil' !
Apr 28, 2014 at 7:56 PM Steve Jones

You are not.

Apr 28, 2014 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

Over at WUWT Steve McIntyre says that Dr Stephan Harrison was a cordial, even complimentary, commentator at Climate Audit between 2005 and 2011. Comments include

I also think that Steve has done a great job in bringing some important methodological issues to our attention. As someone who has done some dendrochronology and worked quite a lot with dendroclimatologists, the discussions on ClimateAudit have made me think anew about the reliability of the data.

I recognise Steve M’s frustration at not having a detailed exposition of climate sensitivity

In a later comment, Steve M notes of Harrison's research in Patagonia
...if Harrison is worried about disappearing archives, then I urge him and other scientists (even Ellen Mosley-Thompson) to archive their own data, lest it become misplaced. Neither the NOAA archive ( nor Pangaea ( contain a single ice core dataset from Patagonia.

Apr 28, 2014 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

"Exeter University geographer named Stephan Harrison, who says that debating sceptics is like wrestling with pigs."

Right......well geronimo got there first but "wrestling with pigs" is a curious turn of phrase. Are we to infer that, somehow Harrison likens to pigs - those brave souls who rebut the perceived wisdom of the alarmist persuasion? Or, is it some sort of parapraxis? Or, maybe.............does he indulge?

Why do we have to pay this idiot's wages?

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

bill said:

Did his first degree at Univ of Leicester, ie not out of the top drawer, intellectually (like Phil Jones, BSc Univ if Lancaster Gawd help us). ... The intellectual snobbery I suppose I am advocating no doubt is not appealing to a lot of people.

It certainly is not appealing. Are you one of those people who think that there should be only two universities in Britain? Having a high IQ does not stop anyone from being an idiot. Plenty of idiots went to Oxbridge - look at our MPs and civil servants.

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

"We are the self preservation society" The theme song of the climate crooks,I preferred the honest real crooks in the film "The Italian Job" at least they provided their own funds to rob the establishment.

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

[self-snipped, too personal]

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Well done, Chandra. Misread it again. You really ought to give up if you don't understand what people are saying or ask politely for an explanation.
What we would like to make more difficult is for the public purse to fund "half-wit academics to promote their often eccentric, immature and even extreme views." Pretty straightforward that. No difficult words or hard concepts in it really?

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:37 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

In relation to my self-snipped comment above, I will say simply that there are myriad cases of flagrant hypocrisy by hacktivists and scientivists, who want everyone to panic about CO2 while they (activists) continue to live large with enormous "carbon footprints" ...... the Marie Antoinettes of clisci activism.

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:54 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Roy Spencer is also coming round to the view that debating with unscientific sceptics is wasted effort.

Read his recent post " Sceptical arguments that do not hold water. "

Apr 28, 2014 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

The activists are trying to censor us, which gives us some moral standing (but no funding), so to try censoring others is not desirable.

Were pressure needed then a request to the Chancellor on why he is funding people NOT working at their job** when he is running a deficit, might be more productive.

** e.g. failing to make data available, working outside the University etc.

Of Dr. Harrison's comments I isolate one and suggest he not attempt to wrestle with a pig...the pig is likely to out smart him.

Apr 28, 2014 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

The fact is that WE know who the skeptics are, that is, a (very) few folk mainly blogging, without any kind of direct say in policymaking or any demonstrable form of institutionalized funding. It is with this in mind that I remain in awe at how much attention skeptics apparently deserve. It is even claimed that skeptics are winning. Amazing.

Apr 28, 2014 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Why do all these climate psientists have beards?

Is it because they are (new) religious zealots?

Apr 28, 2014 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

So Dr. Spencer is now reputable in your eyes. That certainly means we can look forward to your thoughtful analysis of his points.Welcome tot he reasonable side of the debate.

Apr 28, 2014 at 11:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Mike Jackson, define "half-wit academic" and then explain how Dr Harrison qualifies. Then explain which of his views are "eccentric", "immature" or "extreme". Note that an analogy with pig wrestling does not qualify as immature. The full quote, "like mud wrestling with pigs. Firstly you get covered in mud and secondly, the pig loves it”, is usefully descriptive, is not original to Dr Harrison and would probably be considered apt by many scientists.

Then for good measure answer my original question. Do you object as strongly to Richard Tol's 'involvement' with GWPF or his other activities as you do to Dr Harrison's activities. How about the 'involvement' of other academics on the GWPF 'advisory council', do you object to them?

Apr 29, 2014 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

Wrestling with pigs is interesting. You get dirty but the pigs often like it. He should be careful.
Pascua Lama had so many NGO environmentalists grandstanding over it that it is now entirely on hold after over $3 B in expenditure out of some $9 B estimated to complete it. What small glaciers there are that Harrison wished to highlight are miles away. However they managed to get a glacier protection act through Agentinian govt that had such extreme attached protections that you'd never be able to do anything to comply.
This week a $6 B shareholder lawsuit was filed against the company for supposed financial losses to shareholders. It wasn't the company that didn't try to build it, rather it was the environmentalists who made it impossible and the company took huge financial losses.
Perhaps Harrison considers the loss of thousands of jobs and untold tens of millions in tax revenues for both Argentina and Chile a victory?? Human lost opportunity over there while he jets back home to his cushy tenure.

Apr 29, 2014 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

"Or is the answer just to cut funding to the universities?"

Certainly that is the answer for climate science and related hanger-on fields ("climate justice?!?). There is no reason the taxpayer should be funding these people to promote their rather extreme political views.

Apr 29, 2014 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Fitzpatrick

Is he trying to borrow from Mark Twain?

"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time and annoys the pig."

He is the one who appears the more frustrated with any such intercourse.

Apr 29, 2014 at 1:04 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

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