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« Beng on the money | Main | Lord Stern FRS »
Thursday
May012014

Lawson's standpoint

Nigel Lawson has a long article in Standpoint magazine, covering the whole gamut of the climate debate, from accusations of denial to climate sensitivity to the language used by the Met Office. Older readers may remember that Lawson was once the editor of the Spectator and his journalistic flair is on prominent display:

The unusual persistence of heavy rainfall over the UK during February, which led to considerable flooding, is believed by the scientists to have been caused by the wayward behaviour of the jetstream; and there is no credible scientific theory that links this behaviour to the fact that the earth's surface is some 0.8ºC warmer than it was 150 years ago.

That has not stopped some climate scientists, such as the publicity-hungry chief scientist at the UK Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, from telling the media that it is likely that "climate change" (by which they mean warming) is partly to blame. Usually, however, the climate scientists take refuge in the weasel words that any topical extreme weather event, whatever the extreme weather may be, whether the recent UK rainfall or last year's typhoon in the Philippines, "is consistent with what we would expect from climate change".

So what? It is also consistent with the theory that it is a punishment from the Almighty for our sins (the prevailing explanation of extreme weather events throughout most of human history). But that does not mean that there is the slightest truth in it. Indeed, it would be helpful if the climate scientists would tell us what weather pattern would not be consistent with the current climate orthodoxy. If they cannot do so, then we would do well to recall the important insight of Karl Popper — that any theory that is incapable of falsification cannot be considered scientific.

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Reader Comments (73)

Thanks for posting one of the best articles yet.
This is worth repeating:
"Indeed, it would be helpful if the climate scientists would tell us what weather pattern would not be consistent with the current climate orthodoxy. If they cannot do so, then we would do well to recall the important insight of Karl Popper — that any theory that is incapable of falsification cannot be considered scientific."

May 1, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I complained to the BBC about the interview in ''Bang Goes the Theory'' by Maggie Philbin of Prof. Slingo who claimed, again, that the flooding was a climate change issue. Maggie asked no relevent questions, indeed she has no science knowledge, she studied english and drama at Manchester University, so this was not expected. I remain unconvinced by BBC answers.

May 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Cue upset climate scientists yelling on twitter that Lawson's words cannot be left unanswered, and the publication's editors need be sacked for the sake of a healthy society.

In the meanwhile any Bob Ward can publish any 'sottise' on any major newspaper and everything's alright. Not to mention the actual scientists who do everything they can to appear aligned to politicians, and ready to be scare-quoted.

May 1, 2014 at 11:56 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

John Marshall

Surely Ms Philbin's expertise in field of drama is entirely appropriate to the elucidation of the greatest dramatic event of the age, state sponsored global warming hysteria.

May 1, 2014 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

John Marshall.

Studying English and Drama at Manchester University is the way to get on at the BBC. The person in charge of its specialist correspondents, and who gave Roger Harrabin his special role as climate supremo is Francesca Unsworth who has a degree in Drama from Manchester University.

Mind you, take a look at the qualifications of the BBC's senior management. How many of them have a science background?

You guessed it.

May 1, 2014 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCobs

Superb article. I like the way he nails climate orthodoxy as evil. Quite right. I know people, hard working people on or about minimum wage who spend their days off huddled in bed with a hot water bottle because they can't afford the heating.

May 1, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterpeter horne

An altogether excellent article. I particularly liked the way he developed the view that the UK's current climate policies are pointless ("inflicting damage ... to no purpose whatever") by showing that they're also immoral. See his concluding paragraphs.

May 1, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

It is a long article, but well worth the time. It touches almost every base I can think of, and does not put a foot wrong.

May 1, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Had to leave the room yesterday morning when BBC Breakfast's Louise Minchin interviewed Vivienne Westwood (with all the reverence which is required when one interviews such an icon of fashion - actually I reckon she knows as much about fashion as I know about macrame, but -- hey - who am I..?)
ANYWAY - somehow Ms Westwood managed to steer the conversation to 'the biggest problem facing mankind' - which, in case you weren't aware, was that 'we are all going to fry'...
No challenge to that viewpoint of course - just the 'honour and privelege' of having her opinion on something (else)which she clearly knows absolutely nothing about..

May 1, 2014 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I am glad Lord Lawson brings Popper into the equation. Falsificationism is an external evaluation standard. Climate science deal with complex and essentially chaotic structures, so strict falsificationism is not applicable. It should be like comparing a successful gambler on horse racing and a gambling addict, both with special systems to beat the odds. The successful gambler will not win every bet, but over time will break even or better. His system will "beat the odds". The gambling addict will trot out a series of very plausible excuses for failure but never admit it is the special system that is false.
Climate science is like a gambling system. It cannot predict every change in the weather, but it should have established by now a track record of more short term successes than failures. It is on this weaker form of falsificationism that climate science fails.

May 1, 2014 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

Your Grace, I assume you meant that Lawson is demonstrating his journalistic flair. Of course, if you think his article is incendiary, then his journalistic flare could also be on display!

[Ouch! Fixed now]

May 1, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Forgot to say I particularly liked his treatment of the ubiquitous “precautionary principle”.

Taking action against all potential cataclysms, however unlikely, is foolish not only because there is an infinite supply of imaginable disasters, but also because many of them contradict each other: How can you prepare for catastrophic global warming at the same time as catastrophic global cooling? Both are possible.

May 1, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Excellent article.

If I may be allowed a related Popperian point: the more phenomena a theory is consistent with, the less its explanatory content.

May 1, 2014 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

In Mr. Lawson's formidable analysis, which as always is a fluent polemic, it deftly places a primed detonator under the weapons grade tosh, that is known to us as the presupposition of man made emissions of CO2 causing runaway atmospheric warming.
Mr. Lawson's literary precision illuminates and very ably, the paucity of reason among the promulgators and advocates of the green agenda and all of its associated pseudo scientific asininity. He posits, how can spending £$€billions on useless palliatives be justified when the burden of payment falls disproportionately upon the poorest members of UK society?

All-in-all, Mr Lawson's penmanship is a cogently thoughtful piece and well worth reading time and again and at the last we have one final and devastating counter........

Nigel Lawson concludes his piece thus:


Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.

You'll not hear an argument from me Sir, pertaining to that truism.

May 1, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Nicely done Lord Lawson.

No vituperation, no namecalling, just well argued with the facts. That is how the edifice will be brought down.

I would like to see 'the other side' do similar. The first one who says 97% loses ;)

May 1, 2014 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

I see the essay is adapted from a speech he gave at the Bath University Institute for Sustainable Energy and Environment in March, which appears to have been a sellout. Anyone know how that was received?

May 1, 2014 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Video here.

May 1, 2014 at 2:42 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Outstanding essay.

May 1, 2014 at 2:48 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

An excellent article, drawing the different strings of scepticism together. Warmists often challenge us to prove that AGW is wrong but they miss the point. There isn’t one overwhelming reason to reject the climate bandwagon but loads of fairly good reasons. Only when you add them all up do they outweigh the Precautionary Principle on a risk as potentially big as CAGW.

May 1, 2014 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The "precautionary principle" is an exercise in decision theory = part of statistics.
And we know modern-day warmish sceantivists do not do statistics, see the statements of "dame" Slingo.

You would need statistics to weigh up 0.5 degrees of warming against say the probability of bacillums going besirk.

Statistics, like other modern day things eg justice, only is appropriate if it is to slog off white hetero men with.
In all other circumstances , double measures and behind the screen mongering applies.

May 1, 2014 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

A very powerful, and moving, essay. The unimpressive pushers of climate alarmism, and those who provide succour for them in the mass media, would have done better for themselves if they had not caught the attention of such a man, let alone gone out of their way to provoke him.

May 1, 2014 at 3:34 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Bob Ward must have posted a counter by now including all the usual misinformation accusations with ever touching on any specific??

Regards

Mailman

May 1, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Thanks for the video link Bish, the questions session is worth listening to (about 30mins at the end). A very fair hearing I'd say.

May 1, 2014 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I particularly enjoyed this:
"What [the IPCC report] conspicuously fails to do, however, is to make any assessment of the unequivocally adverse economic impact of the decarbonisation policy it continues to advocate, which (if implemented) would be far worse than any adverse impact from global warming."

theduke

May 1, 2014 at 3:56 PM | Registered Commenterpottereaton

Maggie Philbin? Wasn't she married to Keith Chegwin? Need one say more?

May 1, 2014 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

An outstanding piece.

Pointman

May 1, 2014 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Good video of the presentation - including the questions.

There is a bit of a "downer" at the very end.

One sensed that the 'MC' felt a need to apologize for Lawson's presence. He explained how important it was to allow unpopular and diverse views in a university setting. One almost expected him to add - "and no matter how loony!" From the tone of the questions it seems unlikely that Lawson swayed many listeners.

Still a good speech. Interesting that Lawson does not use visual aids even though he clearly had the option to do so.

May 1, 2014 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

Not so much a video as a soundtrack since there is nothing to see other than Lord Lawson from a high angle in poor light. Note, if you will, how feeble the questions and points from the audience are. We are told the catastrophe is upon us or imminent, the science is settled, and the 'vast majority' of scientists are on board with it all. Yet where are the powerful arguments? Where is the convincing data? Where are the tough questions for those who declare their doubts about it all?

It is absolutely astonishing how far and how deeply the climate alarm spins have penetrated into society, and how inadequate our establishment's defences, such as a freely elected Parliament and a Royal Society which once upon a time held to Nullius in Verba, have been to it. The supine 'academy', of which I suspect this audience at Bath is not an outlier, has been particularly pathetic on this matter. We are in a bit of mess as a result. Perhaps something better will emerge from it.

May 1, 2014 at 6:16 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Once again, I would like to point out that Lord Lawson has an approval rating similar to Lord Blair and Lord Mandelson. Toxic. He is a liability.

May 1, 2014 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

esmiff

thank you for pointing out your scientific method in argumentation, so typical for the Scum Left.

May 1, 2014 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

ptw

Dismantling the economy of your country on behalf of a foreign power is unlikely to make anyone popular. The foreign power being the University of Chicago neocon monetarists that even American oil industry bitch Margaret Thatcher disowned.

May 1, 2014 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Lawson asked: "Indeed, it would be helpful if the climate scientists would tell us what weather pattern would not be consistent with the current climate orthodoxy."

There are simple answers to Lawson's question that he should have mentioned for sake of credibility. Current climate orthodoxy is not consistent: a) Mean global temperature over the next decade similar to that experienced in any decade from 1850-1970. b) An incidence of severe precipitation events over the next decade similar to that experienced in any decade from 1900-1970. c) Minimum arctic sea ice coverage over the next decade similar to that experienced in any decade from 1900-1970. d) Probably incidence of severe coral bleaching events over the next decade caused by warm SSTs similar to that experienced in any decade from 1900-1970. e) Probably absence of cold winter nights leading of forest destruction by insects over the next decade similar to that experienced in any decade from 1900-1970. f) Incidence of extreme heat waves (temperatures >3 standard deviations above 1900-1970 mean) over the next decade similar to that experienced in any decade from 1900-1970.

Then he could have said, this isn't what you hear about in the news. Alarmists are alway talking about weather, not climate change.

May 1, 2014 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

May 1, 2014 at 12:52 PM | michael hart

How can you prepare for catastrophic global warming at the same time as catastrophic global cooling? Both are possible.

Double wacks of infinite money?

May 1, 2014 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

"Once again, I would like to point out that Lord Lawson has an approval rating similar to Lord Blair and Lord Mandelson. Toxic. He is a liability."

Really? Someone who left politics over 20 years ago, and was a reasonably well regarded Chancellor of the Exchequer? I hardly think he's on a par with Blair or Mandelson in the demonising stakes. Anyone under the age of 35 would struggle to have any personal memory of the guy. In fact I'd say he's probably better known nowadays as Nigella Lawson's Dad than anything else.

May 1, 2014 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJim

A superb article, difficult to fault. No doubt the Met Office won't be responding with a brilliant counter-article.

May 1, 2014 at 8:52 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I complained to the BBC about the interview in ''Bang Goes the Theory'' by Maggie Philbin of Prof. Slingo who claimed, again, that the flooding was a climate change issue. Maggie asked no relevent questions, indeed she has no science knowledge, she studied english and drama at Manchester University, so this was not expected. I remain unconvinced by BBC answers.

May 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM | John Marshall
==================================================

I listened to "Inside Science" on R4 this afternoon (against my better judgement); to be informed that all scientists agree that "climate change" is happening. If I could be bother to complain, I would, but I am still waiting, nearly three months after I wrote to the BBC complaints department, for an explanation of WHY the BBC made no mention of EU Wetlands directives in their reporting of the flooding across the county in the Levels.

May 1, 2014 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

May 1, 2014 at 12:43 PM | sherlock1
============================================

Westwood was prancing about at Balcombe as well. Nowt worse than celebrity warmers

May 1, 2014 at 9:05 PM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton

May 1, 2014 at 6:21 PM | esmiff
------------------------------------------------

Rubbish. a) he hasn't the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands & b) he wasn't kicked out of office twice for misdemeanours. Indeed, as someone who (never that interested in politics, and stupid enough to think the Labour represented the common man) never thought much of Lawson, he has turned out to be one of the good guys.

All you have done is to display your prejudices in public.

May 1, 2014 at 9:10 PM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton

A superb article, and one that touches almost aspect of the whole scam that I can think of. My favourite quote is a perhaps brilliantly understated belittlement of the AGWistas:

And even in climate science, cause has to precede effect: it is impossible for future warming to affect events in the present.

He even touches on an aspect that does particularly rile me:

But what moves me most is that the policies invoked in its name are grossly immoral. We have, in the UK, devised the most blatant transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich — and I am slightly surprised that it is so strongly supported by those who consider themselves to be the tribunes of the people and politically on the Left. I refer to our system of heavily subsidising wealthy landlords to have wind farms on their land, so that the poor can be supplied with one of the most expensive forms of electricity known to man.

His conclusion, quoted by Athelstan, above, is a truth we all know and fear:

Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.

As for Maggie Philbin – okay, she was a presenter on Tomorrow’s World, but she was not there for her deep scientific understanding and knowledge; indeed, there are very few presenters on the BBC who do have, and certainly none who will ask penetrating questions of those they interview.

May 1, 2014 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR, I agree that they were the best bits amongst a superb essay. I shall send it to my local MP - some unknown person named Greg Barker - but hold out little hope, for the obvious reason. I'm also in touch with the UKIP candidate for the area and hope to at least get energy bills, and their causes, on the agenda for next year - a difficult target with a 45% vote last time, though one of few to actually get a lower majority than in 2005. Re Maggie Philbin and Keith Chegwin, I believe he was the spoonerism for "Beggars can't be Choosers".

May 1, 2014 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterstun

"Dismantling the economy of your country on behalf of a foreign power is unlikely to make anyone popular. The foreign power being the University of Chicago neocon monetarists that even American oil industry bitch Margaret Thatcher disowned."

grow up, esmiff. Which foreign power? Dismantilng a growing economy? Get real. Calling Margaret Thatcher a bitch is just impolite. Which American oil company did she work for?

May 1, 2014 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

In my opinion, Lord Lawson's essay is excellent in tone, structure and content and E. Smiff's comments are roughly at the level of a socially-deprived Year 7 schoolboy.

May 2, 2014 at 4:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Kendall

Thanks for the link to that speech, Bishop. It is excellently argued, although, given the venue (Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the University of Bath), I don't imagine it was exactly cheered to the rafters. Having said that, I'll give Bath credit for inviting Lord Lawson and not then un-inviting him, as, in another context, Brandeis very recently did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

May 2, 2014 at 6:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

esmiff,

Where are these approval ratings for peers of the realm promulgated? I would be interested in checking your claims.

May 2, 2014 at 7:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

I don't quite understand. Posters here criticize Philbin for not having a science background, but forget the likes of Monckton, Lawson, Delingpole, Booker etc etc also don't. Maybe they, too, should shut up about something they don't understand.

Just sayin.......

May 2, 2014 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames

James (8:45 PM): with Philbin and Monckton, Lawson, Delingpole, Booker, etc., it is not a question of qualifications, it is a question of understanding, and of challenging. Philbin displays little of either; Monckton and co display huge quantities of both.

One of the problems with programmes like Bang Goes The Theory is that they are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, lest anyone out there becomes confused (bad for the BBC, as it might make someone watching feel slightly stupid, and we can’t have that…). As a result, few penetrating questions are asked outside the remit of the BBC’s agenda, so those “scientists” selected by the Beeb for the privilege of appearing on TV may utter the most utter baloney, without fear of their views being questioned.

May 2, 2014 at 9:23 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Radical Rodent....."with Philbin and Monckton, Lawson, Delingpole, Booker, etc., it is not a question of qualifications, it is a question of understanding, and of challenging. Philbin displays little of either; Monckton and co display huge quantities of both".

Sure they do. Name me one peer-reviewed paper that Delingpole, Lawson or Booker has published. Just one.

Monckton (I think) can claim one. Not very impressive though is it?

May 2, 2014 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames

James, understanding and challenging science and scientific understanding does not require the publication of peer-reviewed papers; however, it does require the capability of thought, a skill many BBC presenters do seem to be lacking.

However, as you do seem to be a devout believer in the infallibility of “peer-review”, let me again raise the spectre of Diederik Stapel. You do not need to read the full article, just the caption under the photo: “…published fabricated data in 30 peer-reviewed papers.”, to realise that peer-reviewed papers can be completely and utterly WRONG.

May 2, 2014 at 10:19 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Since "James" has not published any peer-reviewed paper either, could he please be the first to follow his own advice, and shut up.

May 2, 2014 at 10:23 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

omnologos. What a silly thing to say. I'm not the one pontificating about global warming. Delingpole, Booker, Lawson, Monckton are and yet they have no scientific expertise!

May 2, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames

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