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Real sceptics

An excellent piece by Graham Strouts, looking at scepticism in general but with particular reference to Lomborg and Gore and the Horizon programme.

It seems to me that at some point the science ends and there is a cross-over into politics and ideology, and this is why Lomborg is important because he takes the conversation away from the purely technical issues of CO2 and emissions into what is the most cost-effective response. He could be wrong in his conclusions- I dont know. Pigliucci clearly thinks he is wrong, but his own ideology comes through most strikingly when he defends Gore against the charge of hypocrisy for his high-energy lifestyle while telling the rest of us we must cut back on everything to save the planet: “Gore pays for offsets to his travels in order to achieve a zero-carbon balance, just as he encourages the readers of An Inconvenient Truth to do.”


Beddington on warpath

The sight of a government chief scientific officer on the warpath is not a pretty one. Sir John Beddington, for it is he, is all a-quiver, enraged with the antics of pseudoscientists of all complexions:

We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality... We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method."

"One way is to be completely intolerant of this nonsense," he said. "That we don't kind of shrug it off. We don't say: ‘oh, it's the media’ or ‘oh they would say that wouldn’t they?’ I think we really need, as a scientific community—and this is a very important scientific community—to think about how we do it."

Now, we sceptics have been mightily concerned about cherrypicking. Indeed, we raised the issue with several of the Climategate inquiries. Of the investigations into Jones et al, it was the Oxburgh inquiry, that of course had the most reason to investigate the question of cherrypicking at the Climatic Research Unit: who can forget the selection of proxy series for Osborn and Briffa, for example? That was certainly one that raised a few eyebrows.

But as we know, Lord Oxburgh and his panel decided not to look at this paper and their report is silent on the question of cherrypicking.

And how did Sir John Beddington react? I'm sure readers here remember that he wrote to Lord Oxburgh telling him that he had "played a blinder". Perhaps being inside a university gives you some kind of immunity from Sir John's wrath.


Josh 77


CC Question Time

Tonight I was on the panel for a Climate Change Question Time at Strathclyde University, as part of their green week. As the lone sceptic on a panel of five I was somewhat apprehensive about the reception I would receive - one imagines booing and hissing and throwing of eggs - but it was actually all very congenial and polite. I was somewhat concerned to find myself agreeing at times with some of the other panellists, who included a green MSP, a LibDem, an ex-BBC weatherman and an environmental officer from business.

I thought it went quite well on the whole. I managed to tick off the LibDem for extolling the virtues of green jobs, which got a measure of agreement from others on the panel and a laugh from the audience, and I made some criticisms of the Stern report, which I hope may have opened some eyes.

Thanks are due to Linzi at Strathclyde University for inviting me and for organising a very interesting event.


Climate quango cuts

The Guardian is reporting that the Climate Change Committee, part of the plethora of quangos set up to provide sinecures for environmentalists, is tunder threat of losing its independence. This follows a series of cuts to similar quangos.

Why, we want to know, is it not being closed down entirely?


Are science writers all lefties?

Martin Robbins, writing at the Guardian, worries that the lack of right-wing science writers and bloggers is denting the credibility of science.

Seems like a reasonable surmise to me.

There's a lot of discussion of needing to find common ground in order to put forward a message successfully, which again is something we can probably agree on. I wonder if he might find things easier in this regard if he stopped using the d-word? 


Commenting problems again

I now have the ability to switch off Captcha, so I'm going to try this to see if it makes any difference to the ongoing problems with comments and timeouts and so on. Let me know if it helps.


Cranmer on Buerk

Archbishop Cranmer has picked up on Michael Buerk's contribution to the climate debate.

By equating anthropogenic climate change deniers and those who question the doctrine and policy of state multiculturalism with paedophiles - whom society, rationally or not, now ranks as the lowest form of life and quite beyond redemption - the BBC has shown itself to be intellectually deficient and morally bankrupt.

But His Grace has a question: If a qualified doctor and government adviser (unpaid) can be humiliatingly dismissed for having co-authored a paper in which a reasoned correlation was drawn between homosexuality and paedophilia, why should a BBC presenter (paid by the taxpayer) not be dismissed for purposely inciting hatred against climate change deniers and multiculuralist sceptics by juxtaposing their reasoned beliefs with the perversion of paedophilia?


A pivotal moment for the BBC

Hat tip to several readers who have pointed out Michael Buerk's comments on the BBC Radio 4 show, the Moral Maze:

“not long ago, to question multiculturalism…risked being branded racist and pushed into the loathesome corner with paedophiles and climate change deniers“

I will not respond in kind to this kind of thing. It looks to me like a calculated attempt to provoke a violent reaction. What it really does is to show that Buerk and the BBC are devoid of any integrity. They condemn themselves out of their own mouths.

I hope they continue with this kind of thing. It makes the BBC look like it is staffed by zealots and nutters. It will win them no friends.


The Heretic - a review

This is a guest post, courtesy of Josh and Mrs Josh.

The Heretic by Richard Bean

Royal Court Theatre, London

Book your tickets now, this play is a must-see comedy.

Click to read more ...


Quote of the day

Philip Davies MP, from the House of Commons debate on windfarms:

The bottom line is that these policies will produce for Britain the most expensive electricity in the world if we carry on down this particular route. Is it morally or politically acceptable, particularly at a time of national austerity when families are struggling to pay their bills, for the Government to keep raising them just to meet an EU target? I do not think it is. It will hit the poorest people in our communities first...The point is that I find it nauseating to hear politicians for ever bleating on about how terrible fuel poverty is when those very same politicians advocate policies that entrench fuel poverty in this country and make it worse. They should be honest about what they are doing. They cannot in one breath say, "I want to see more wind power in this country; it will add this amount of money to people's bills," and in the next breath say, "Isn't it terrible how bad fuel poverty is?" I find that nauseating.


Practising what you preach

Commenter Mike Post has enquired about whether the BBC buys carbon offsets when buying airline tickets for its journalists.  Here is the response:

The BBC does not buy carbon offsets for its journalists' airline tickets because - "in considering such questions, the BBC must balance our environmental policies against our responsibility to our licence fee payers, and we do not believe buying offsets represents good use of licence fee income." 



Parliament debates wind farms

There was a Westminster Hall debate on wind farms yesterday. Westminster Hall debates are often sparsely attended affairs, but yesterday's occasion appears to have been rather different, with what the speaker called "an extraordinary number" of honourable members wanting to speak.

Those attending appear overwhelmingly to have been from the government side of the house, with apparently only two opposition members showing their faces. I haven't read the whole transcript, but most people seem to have had little good to say about Labour's great blight on the British landscape.


Greens and a tin-opener

Brian Micklethwait writes about last night's BBC Radio 4 programme about the psychology of climate change. Having read the blurb for the show I had decided to give it a miss, and from what Brian has written I was probably right to have done so. Nevertheless, he makes some perceptive points about the problem facing our opponents given that many people have simply concluded that the world is not going to fry:

The elephant in their room is that they have lost this argument, in the sense that they need unanimity [on climate change], but are drifting further and further away from unanimity. They are ignoring this elephant. They are behaving like that economist, stuck on a desert island with various other sorts of experts, who is wondering how to contrive a tin-opener. "Let's assume we have a tin-opener." This won't work.


Liz Wager on conflicted peer review

There has been an interesting discussion in the Steig thread about whether Eric Steig should have been invited to be one of the reviewers of the O'Donnell paper or not. On the one had there is the fact that Steig, being the subject of the critique, had a conflict of interest. On the other, he would have been the person best able to point out possible flaws in the O'Donnell paper. Opinion among commenters appeared divided. With this in mind I wrote to Liz Wager at the Committee on Publication Ethics - an advisory body for scientific journals - to ask for her thoughts. Here they are:

Should an author whose work is the subject of a criticism in a submitted manuscript be among the invited peer reviewers of the manuscript?

COPE (the Committee on Publication Ethics) doesn't issue general guidance or proscriptions on how peer review should be done but we do mention criticisms in our Code of Conduct for editors, namely

"Cogent criticisms of published work should be published unless editors have convincing reasons why they cannot be. Authors of criticised material should be given the opportunity to respond.

Studies that challenge previous work published in the journal should be given an especially sympathetic hearing."

In developing this guidance, we had in mind letters to the editor rather than new analyses/papers but recognise that practices differ in different areas (apparently maths journals never print correspondence so if you want to criticise another person's work you have to write a new paper).  So COPE says that the authors should be given the opportunity to respond to specific criticism of their work, but we do not provide guidance about whether they should peer review papers criticising their research.  We leave that up to the editor.

Liz Wager, Chair COPE