Paul Nurse on science vs anti-science

Paul Nurse (nobel prize winner, and president of the Royal society) reports on the conflict between science and anti-science:

90 responses to “Paul Nurse on science vs anti-science

  1. Look out for appearances by Fred Singer and James Delingpole. Singer does his usual act of seeming such a nice reasonable elderly gent while Delingpole comes over as well, what do you expect?

  2. God damn it! I sent hours torrenting that and it’s on YouTube!!

  3. Seeing Delingpole tongue tied with the reality of the analogy…awesome! A similar nutty meme that I find ridiculous is the ease with which contrarians accept, “The mainstream media ignores _______.”

    Good example here:
    Iced in and ignored by the msm

    Google news brings up results for ABC, BBC, Al Jazeera, MSN, Guardian…etc.

    Almost like they never thought of the corollary to the lesson my father taught me, “Just because it’s on TV, doesn’t make it true.”

  4. See also:

    “The TV interview that tied James Delingpole’s tongue” The Guardian, January 24th:

  5. The bit that really cracked me up was Delingpole, having said he knows no science, explaining to Sir Nurse how science works.

    • That bit sums up the deniosphere, doesn’t it?

      Apparently the Nurse-Delingpole conversation went on for 3 hours and the latter is complaining how the whole thing was edited down to show him in a bad light. I’d love to see the whole thing!

      • Jeffrey Davis

        Delingpole got a +million hits on his blog by extracting slivers of quotes out of millions of lines of email.

        And he’s complaining about editing?

        You can’t make this stuff up.

    • I quite enjoyed the polite, patient, yet “is this guy for real?” look on Nurse’s face during the interview.

      This interview is resplendant with poetic Delingpole quotes, many of which are top candidates for the silliest thing ever said in scientific discourse.

  6. I think people should not overlook the bigger message that Paul Nurse was presenting. That scientists need to learn to communicate better with the public.

    I know it’s flippin’ hard in the current anti-science climate but it’s the only way this battle is going to be won.

    Believe it or not I have softened more than one denier by getting him to watch this video…

    [Response: Note to readers: I frown on embedded video in comments.

    But this was too good to miss. “It is an awful lot of fun to blow away a Corvette with an electric Datsun.”]

    • Sorry I should have used an html tag. Will remember next time.

      [Response: Not to worry.]

    • Rattus Norvegicus

      Ack! I should have used link tags!. Sorry.

      [Response: Try again!]

    • Thanks for that video. Really cool, and loved how he said an engineer said an electric car couldn’t do under an 18 second quarter mile because he did the math. lol

      • yeah – I kinda chuckled at the 18 second comment, too.

        The hole shots are impressive. It doesn’t hurt acceleration when your engine can achieve maximum torque at zero RPM.

    • That may be part of his message – and, indeed part of what the program was doing. But really scientists have to stop apologising about communications skills. Given any profession, there’s a range of skills – management, technical, communications, marketing etc. not everyone has to be able to do them all and that’s true in any science as much as business. There are very good science communications, there are interesting ones (blogs like this etc.) and there are rubbish ones.
      And (to continue the rant) it’s important to remember that ‘communications’ is the essence of some professions (journos, film, tv, politics, call centers etc.) and not of others (accountants, dustmen). You can’t hold one lots standards up for the other.

      No, IMHO the message is that the General Public and ‘interpreters of interpretations’ etc. have to get a grip. Science is a bit hard. Get over it. Science strives for robust results – criticisms of it should be just as robust. etc.

      • Rob Honeycutt

        havinasnus… I think this is exactly the problem. Too often scientists take the approach of, “I do science, it’s not my job to communicate.” And that is exactly why we’re in the situation we’re in now with climate science. The science matters. The science is telling us that humanity has a very large and challenging issue it desperately needs to address. By abdicating the responsibility to communicate effectively with the public scientists essentially leave the door open to the fossil fuel industry (the source of the problem) to get out and frame the issue the way they want… in a decidedly anti-science manner.

      • Rob Honeycutt, With all due respect…Horsepuckey! Most scientists never get an opportunity to communicate their research to the public, because the public is too busy with the latest breaded McNuggets and Cirque de Soleil. Most scientists I know are actually glad to try and explain what they do–albeit with varying degrees of effectiveness.

        The real reason why we are in the situation we are in is:
        1)Science is now telling people something they don’t want to hear.
        2)The threat could be existential, but is in the remote future.
        3)We don’t know 100% how to deal with the threat, and that scares people.
        4)There is a concerted campaign by greedheads to discredit science–all science.
        5)The American education SUCKS at teaching science, leading to the most science-illiterate population in the developed world.
        6)Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov are dead.
        7) A substantial minority of the US population are blinkered by their political and economic philosophy to the point they have become utterly stupid.
        8)Journalism is dead, especially science journalism. Most papers, networks and even press agencies don’t even have a science desk any more.

        Somehow, I think our problems run a wee bit deeper than a few scientists not being good communicators.

  7. What a lovely fellow is Paul Nurse, and what a prating ass is James Delingpole. Epitomes of their respective milieux, one might say.

  8. Rattus Norvegicus

    Well that’s a good antidote to Curry.

  9. Excellent show, but I can see certain contrarians claiming the high ground.

  10. I find denial of science to have become a general issue.

    One of my hobbies is hand knitting. I measured heat flow through various hand knit fabrics and posted a qualitative ranking of how warm these various kinds of fabrics were to a knitter’s forum. My ranking differed from the conventional folk wisdom of the group. I was not prepared for the “denialist” response that I got. The mood and tone of responses was similar to the mood and tone of (denial) responses to climate change. (What nobody did is to go measure heat flows through fabrics and say that they got different results!) From this, I conclude that professional climate science denial programs work because they resonate with feelings about “science” held by segments of the population.

  11. > knitter’s
    not Ravelry, I hope?

  12. Rob Honeycutt:
    I’ve goto to go with Ray Ladbury on this.

    Have you ever been in a university academic common/coffee room when a researcher has been phoned up by the radio/news paper etc.? Just about never ever will you hear “oh yes, the BBC phoned me up, but I felt my communications skills weren’t up to explaining my latest publication”. Not on your life! It’ll be all “oh yes, I said this” and “I said that” and “best tell the media office” – who, by the way, will be scouring the university for stories to feed the press for publicity.
    Not to mention popular TV programs, the RS lectures, shelves of book, Professorial chairs entitled “… for the public understanding…” etc.
    Some of it’s good and some rubbish. For example, personal opinion, I don’t think Dawkins did a good job as “for the public understanding”; he created rifts where non where necessary and continued to promote the selfish-gene stuff beyond where his colleagues in evolutionary biology would find it useful etc. etc. Such is life. Some people do good, some do bad… that’s life. Same as any profession (god knows we could do with better communicators in how to fill in your tax returns, or the law etc.!)

    Here’s another thing. It takes a long time – maybe a generation or more – for a community to learn how to communicate and teach a complex idea. Differential calculus was a specialist tool developed to solve hard problems in cosmology … and now we can get school kids to understand and use it. But it takes time to learn how to pitch stuff just right so that people at different levels can get it.

    I do think it’s time to stop apologizing for being imperfect.
    What makes much in science fun to understand is the path you have to follow to get there – not the facts at the end of the path. That’s what makes this blog excellent, it takes us through processes. If the ‘public’ want to understand, they should play the game at some level, not be spoon fed the bottom line. they have a duty to do some work.
    Not any different to watching sport on TV – you can be an armchair cricketer/football player etc. But if you learn the rules, players, history and politics, you understand more. If a member of the public doesn’t understand why some cricket match is a draw, the cricket community doesn’t go “oh no, we’re bad communicators!” they go “ah, yes, the Duckworth–Lewis method… not easy”…

    lets stop apologizing.

    • Rob Honeycutt

      Hey guys, all I’m doing is trying to reinforce Nurse’s main point with this whole program. “Scientists need to learn to be better communicators.”

      Frankly, I’m a little surprised at the push back on that very simple concept.

      • Is that his point, or is it that science needs to be better communicated? While I love learning about science, I’ve always found it strange when people claim that it’s the scientists themselves that should be doing the communicating. Many universities also have communication departments and students who are learning to communicate. Why not let everyone work on their actual strengths?

        To me, public-consumption communication from a scientist makes about as much sense as accurate climate science from a member of the Upper House of Lords. It’s not impossible, just not the first place one should look.

      • Rob Honeycutt

        Pough… I can go back and watch the end again but I believe his words were that “we need to learn to become better communicators of science.” I assumed that meant “we, the scientists.”

      • Yes, it was his point. He was quite clear about it. He said that scientists need to get out there and be heard.

      • Rob,
        All I am saying is that scientists are already out there. No one is listening. Americans have simply become too stupid to educate. They’re even too stupid to learn they are stupid.

        What is more, scientists have no direct access except through the media–and when the hardest hitting journalism is to be found on Comedy Central…well that ought to tell you something. The problem is not that there are no good communicators among science. It is that
        1)poeple don’t like the message
        2)journalists and the press have become utterly spineless
        3)no one is talking to the scientists, and when they do they are f**king up the message.

        Again, I think Nurse–and you–are being a bit naive if you think we can solve this by sending a few scientists to speech class.

      • Rob Honeycutt

        Ray… Maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. I mean, come on, we’re talking about the fate of human civilization here.

        I’m sorry but I have a hard time thinking that the president of the Royal Society is naive about this subject.

      • Ray, scientists can get invited onto the Daily Show, or any breakfast show you care to name.

        Due to lack of time, and the danger of getting badly trampled by nasty people, I imagine most scientists don’t exactly seek out these opportunities (except for the few planning on making a career as a walking opinion – Hi J.C)

        But Nurse wasn’t just talking about TV. The problem is in the newspapers, in blog, *particularly* in blogs, because then it spills back into the mass media. RC is an excellent example of doing it right.

        Nobody says it’s easy, or that it’s enjoyable, or that scientists aren’t already doing a lot.

        Nurse’s point is that the journalistic landscape has changed. It’s not about the need to communicate a single danger, but about all of science, and cutting out the “interpreters of interpretations”.

      • Rob, What you are not considering is that when Carl Sagan was warning about the dangers of nuclear war, he was ignored. When he discussed the dangers of environmental degradation, overpopulation and resource depletion, he was not just ignored, but laughed at in policy circles and among much of the public–hell, even by a substantial number of scientists. Asimov? Same thing. No influence on policy despite speaking out on these issues.

        Paul Ehrlich has been speaking out on these issues (albeit sometimes too dramatically) for nearly half a century. Albert A. Bartlett has been speaking out on such issues nearly as long in a strong and eloquent voice.

        Realclimate, this blog and a plethora of other strong voices are speaking out loudly on the Web, and yet Watts-Up-‘is-Arse gets voted the “Best” “Science” blog.

        And then you have the denizens who contribute to the real science blogs, who engage on a one-to-one basis in the trenches with non scientists wherever we encounter them, from parties to grocery lines.

        So, you will forgive me if I am skeptical whether we can solve the problem by teaching some scientists how to communicate in simple declarative sentences. The problem ain’t on the supply side.

        As to naivete by Paul Nurse, why not? He is a geneticist. Why should he understand a problem that is at its root a consequence of human psychology? Humans tend to ignore risks that are remote. They tend to ignore or rationalize things away if they scare them. Most humans are, when you get right down to it, stupid. Of those who are not stupid (and even among the stupid), far more are avaricious than altruistic.

        The problem we are confronting is essentially the answer to the riddle Fermi posed over half a century ago about extra-terrestrial life: where is everybody? We are watching the answer to that unfold. The psychological characteristics needed to survive in a hostile, uncaring environment that is always on the verge of killing you are dramatically different than those required to survive once you have vanquished that environment. The environment in which we evolved valued persistence in the face of adversity and the ability to concentrate on the immediate over long-term planning and accurate, faithful assessment of reality. In our present position of power, we are the biggest threats around–even to ourselves. Failure to accurately assess and accept the truth will be fatal, and we’ll have our own personalized answer to Fermi’s Paradox.

      • Ray said… “Most humans are, when you get right down to it, stupid.”

        Sorry that I’m only pulling out one small quote from what you said but I think this points to the broader issue at hand.

        When well informed people are not stupid. When you get right down to it, the difference in intellectual capacity between any two humans is really quite small. It’s more a function of how the vessel has been filled.

        In the absence of science the disinformers are going to occupy the void. With climate, they have a financial interest in putting out inaccurate information. A HUGE financial interest.

        I know scientists ARE out there. I’m sure you’re doing what you can to communicate the science. What I’m trying to say is, the stakes are getting higher and higher with each passing year. What I believe is required is a greatly enhanced response appropriate to the problem we face.

        I’m not a scientist but I’m spending hours out of every day trying to learn more about this issue and to communicate what I have learned to the best of my abilities. I’m on denier sites all day long trying to figure out how to sway people. I cajole, I try to bond where I can, I try to make friends with deniers. I try to point out the abundant weaknesses of the material coming out from denier sites. I try to lead them to better information. And I take a ton of abuse along the way. I try never to take it personal. I smile (grit my teeth) and try to type polite responses.

        But I come from manufacturing. The arsenal at my side is limited. And I’m fighting very low level battles to try to persuade people. I’m a foot soldier. You (as far as I can tell) are a colonel or a major. People like me need to see people like you finding ways to clearly communicate the very complex science in ways that we can grasp.

        If you belittle or underestimate people you are literally manifesting what you expect. Try the opposite.

        When I first got into manufacturing I remember reading Dr. W Edwards Deming. (Paraphrasing.) With little exception, people are inherently good. They want to do well and be successful at what they do. It is merely the system around them that can promote or inhibit that basic human desire. The job becomes to break down the barriers that inhibit this basic desire.

        I think this applies to the climate issue as well. If we can get the correct information to people in a digestible form they will rise to the occasion. Fixing the system is only a matter of good communication. New forms of communication. Of finding ways to building bridges between ivory towers and union halls.

        Every scientist needs to find some way to channel their “inner Carl Sagan.”

      • Rob Honeycutt,
        When I say “stupid”, I do not mean merely unintelligent. Stupid to me carries a connotation of unable to learn–and one can have a PhD and be stupider than skink droppings.

        Part of the problem is that we are up against human psychology. We suck at perceiving risk. We exaggerate risks that are nearby (e.g. cussing out the guy who cuts us off on the road) or spectacular (terrorism). And we minimize risks that we perceive as remote in time (e.g. smoking and climate change), especially if they have consequences that scare us. To compensate for these shortcomings, we’ve developed a very detailed procedure for dealing withrisk. And it works!!! Well, it works if we use it.

        Climate change is precisely the sort of risk that is likely to kill us. It sneaks up on us. Its most serious consequences are decades away, and they are in fact quite scary. People react to risks like this by downplaying them–just like the risks of smoking. They convince themselves there is no problem before they even look at the evidence, and then they develop rationalizations for why the evidence can be ignored. For this reason, I don’t even try any more with people who aren’t willing to look at evidence. I simply ridicule them. However, if someone is willing to look at evidence, I am more than happy to try and explain it to them.

        I suspect we would have a much better time of this if we could approach people with a solution to the problem. As it stands now, all we can do is tell them that the problem is real and poses unprecedented challenges. I don’t find that very satisfying either..

    • Rob Honeycutt

      Okay guys. I just went back to look. Here is a version of the video broken up in to shorter segments. Go to minute 8:30.

      “Earning trust means more than just focusing on the science. We have to communicate it effectively too. Scientists have got to get out there, they have to be open about everything they do. They have to talk to the media even if does sometimes put their reputation at doubt because if we don’t do that it will be filled with others who do not understand the science and may be driven by politics or ideology. This is far too important to be left to the polemicists and commentators on the media. Scientists have to be there too.”

      • Hate to say it, but I can’t help feeling that that also extends to those with a deep knowledge of climate science who tend to hang out at climate specific science blogs, when ten minutes explaining why Goddard or Eschenbach are wrong in MSM comments would go a long way towards putting a hole in tripe. You can always take a shower afterwards.

      • JBowers,
        You think so, eh? Well, how’s that working out for you? You know the cartoon showing two dogs sitting by a computer and one dog says, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”? How do they know you speak with more authority than the ignorant food tubes who claim to have a “PHD in science,” and spout bullshit but agree with the other ignorant food tubes in political philosophy?

        I periodically venture into the cesspit that is the comment section on Yahoo and other MSM. Afterwards, I never know whether to slash my own throat or make a trip down to the Sportin’ Goods store. For every one of my posts (and no, I don’t post under my real name as I’ve had threats before), there are a hundred racist, stupid Glibertarians doing their best to make me think Idiocracy was a documentary.

        Dotearth has become such a disappointment, because Andy refuses to support science. Where, pray, would you have us post?

      • Ray Ladbury — “You think so, eh? Well, how’s that working out for you?”

        Not much fun, in all honesty, Ray. In fact, it can be thoroughly depressing at times. Still, maybe one day the electorate will hold PhD’s in physical sciences and find it easier to distinguish between pseudo-scientific gobshites and the genuine article. I guess until then we can just hope that science specific blog comments will become more important in forming the opinions of legislators on what the electorate wants, and not MSM comments. I don’t really hold out much hope for that, though. As for threats, I used to get those before discovering that Report Abuse comes in handy.

        “Where, pray, would you have us post?”

        Try the Guardian. They even have an Environment section, and it’s been almost a year now since I had a threat, although it does attract a fair number of trolls who won’t pay to go beyond Murdoch’s paywalls. We even get influxes of Tea Partiers, presumably whenever they get the dogwhistle to go over there and defend the Kochs.

      • J. Bowers: “We even get influxes of Tea Partiers, presumably whenever they get the dogwhistle to go over there and defend the Kochs.”

        Ah, yes, the Koch suckers. I don’t argue with them any more. I post a brief missive outlining the astounding degree of consensus on climate change, and perhaps point out one or two glaring errors. Then I post a link to Unless people are inclined to go to the trouble of clicking a link to get the actual science, they are hopeless.

  13. Philippe Chantreau

    The problem is not that scientists have bad communication skills. Some do, but so do some economists, doctors, etc. The problem is that they’re up against some very specific methods of communication used to propagate a certain message. Because of their training and general ethics, scientists are unlikely to fight that fire with a similar fire.

    • Nor can we. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you’ll eventually be found out.” We’d better hope he was right.

      If scientists deviate one iota from the most conservative representation of the truth, they will lose all credibility. Truth is the only weapon science has.

    • Good point regarding “very specific methods”. May even be something Nurse didn’t or doesn’t get. There are several, the one I’m fascinated by is the “different” use of evidence. People who “do science” look at data and models as things which can be compared with varying degrees of precision, which never perfectly fit (indeed, over precision sounds alarm bells, like Mendeleev results), which support a broad body of understanding and suggest future work.

      A wide range of “interpreters of interpretation” interpretrationalists don’t see it that way. e.g. A graph is treated as definitive, primary data, rather then a visualization of results. But they are doing something different, working outside the same world. People should go back and read Paul Feyerabens’ Against Method to understand the extreme relativism mind set. Some science of other may show that witch-craft isn’t true – but it can only show that it’s not true in the science prescriptive. From the prescriptive of witches, it’s “true”… but they have a different concept of truth, is all… different but (within the relativist world view) equally valid.

      Scientist aren’t – within their practice – relativists, they’re realists. When you cross between these worlds (and then within relativist worlds) the rules of communication break. It matters not one jot how good you are at presenting how you show some result is true, if a member of the audience’s view of “truth” is different to yours.
      People here, for example, look at results for insight into the physical world; many ‘deniers’ (hate the word) look at results for signs of conspiratorial collusion or corruption.
      It is for this reason that many ‘denier’ blogs do not even try to present a coherent picture – they’re not presenting an alternative science (although they my feign it), they’re providing polemic, political ammunition.

      No, sorry; Scientists, by and large, communicate well what they do. If members of the public want to see what’s not there, better communication will not fix that.

      • Havinasnus,
        You know, I agree with most of what you said, but, ugh, no one should ever read anything written by Paul Feyerabens ever again. He is the one exception I make to my rule that books should never be burned. I blame him among all philosophers for the toxic meme that science is just “another way of knowing”, and all the pudknocking, postmodern crap that has come after it. Science works. It has proven it works. That puts it in stark contrast to most of what humans do.

      • Ray Ladbury (for some reason, you post is missing the reply link… sorry if this is posted out of order):

        I agree about Feyerabens if you read him as presenting and possible philosophy of science. But if he’s read – as I’ve used him above – as a Reductio ad absurdum on relativism then I think it’s quite fun.

        But you make a very good point – Delingpole, Booker, et al are the rump end of what ever is left of the postmodern. Like druids, tarrot readers etc. People will cling on to these things because it’s all they can do – real science being to hard – and it suites their mind set. Again, if one cannot persuade them, it’s not due to poor communications skills!

        I’ve no doubt Nurse meant what he said (better communications skills) and said it sincerely. And that’s the problem with the Delingpole interview, he may well look like the nutter he is, but that’s not the problem. The problem is he has a completely different agenda… or set of agendas, given that now he sees his entire worth in the public eye is as Mr. Climategate so it is of intrinsic and economic value to him to promulgate that… cui bono and all that.

      • Havinasnus,
        You can only take threading two deep with WordPress.

        The really pernicious thing about Feyerabens is that he really isn’t anything new, but rather is the latest retread of the anti-rationalist, anti-empiricist philosophy that one can trace back to the sophists. Science is actually a relatively new idea for humans. Science–meaning empirical inquiry guided by theoretical understanding and testable hypotheses–didn’t exist 400 years ago. Prior to that time, empiricists had neither the philosophical framework nor sufficient ability to make accurate measurements for true science to be done. It really was a product of the Renaissance.

        It’s really astounding how quickly it has revolutionized the way humans live. However, there have always been elements who don’t like what science is telling us and that don’t like being told what they can believe even about verifiable facts. The anti-science factions found their answer in the relativism of Feyerabens, and it is one of my goals one day to make a pilgrimage and piss on his grave.

      • Ray: see what you mean about wordpress – I’m a bit new to this one.

        Anyway, what can I say; we’re agreeing violently about stuff post-modern.

        IMHO it needs to keep in mind that when two people appear to be arguing about a fact, they may not, inrealuty, be having the same argument.

  14. Well, now the response to the Horizon programme has appeared by fellow Telegraph ‘journalist’ and colleague of Delingpole, Christopher Booker, here:

    Any contributions to the fray will be much appreciated, though, I warn you, it is pretty torrid.

    • Hard to believe but Booker’s fans make the Wattards look intellingent.

      [Response: Truly hard to believe.]

      • this was a guy who recently “came out” as a creationist. the fact that Delingpole even considers him to be an ally is quite telling. as is the fact the Torygraph insists on publishing their bum-gravy.

  15. Delingpole from 29:47, ‘…shall we talk about Climategate…’.

    Is this a display of cognitive dissonance or a ‘…drat, I cannot truthfully answer that one so let’s steer the interview way from that hole that I have dug…’, moment?

    Thin skins have those who throw darts at others.

    Further, those involved in the media who have demonstrably distorted the message, on such important topics, should be called to account and asked to justify their statements. Also perhaps these media pundits could be taken on a lengthy trips to research stations in the polar regions, jungles or other hostile environments that courageous researchers work in to collect the data that underpins so much of scientific knowledge.

    Perhaps some future documentary could include filming of such a proposition being put to people such as Delingpole, Booker, Phillips and Bolt to name but a few.

  16. What’s wrong with Cirque du Soleil? =~(

  17. There is also a BBC programme Monday night (31 Jan BBC4),
    Storyville – Meet the Climate Sceptics:

  18. Re: scientists speaking out:

    I believe both Ray Ladbury and Paul Nurse have good approximations to reality … but I think many of the arguments are ill-posed, perhaps due to lack of frequent USA-UK experience.

    1) Steve Schneider was a friend. I’ve heard him speak to quite different audiences, and he was utterly superb at communication, by combination of talent and long practice, but others are pretty good as well. Climate scientists have written fine books. I’ve heard excellent talks by quite a few for wildly-differing audiences: {local town meetings, open public meetings, alumni meetings, electrical engineering seminars, small groups of venture capitalists, Stanford students.}

    2) I’ve had conversations with a handful of climate scientists (in both US and UK) that have gone along the following lines:

    CS: (Clearly depressed) I sometimes think I need to quit doing research and put all my energy into communication.

    Me: You scientists are the only ones who can do the research we need.
    All of you need to get good enough to talk to the press and not stumble, some of you need to spend part of your time doing active outreach, and the rare few of you with the talent and skill of SHS will spend a lot of time doing this.
    Meanwhile, it’s up to some of the rest of us to help try to get these idiots off your backs. (Discussion of various things going on, which seem to cheer people on occasion.)

    Very few scientists have the background and skill-set for fighting the marketing tactics of climate anti-science. It is asymmetric warfare, since climate scientists are not paid to do serious investigative journalism and Internet forensics. (This is why it was a bad mistake for certain people to bother Naomi Oreskes, since geoscientists who are also science historians in fact can do such things.)

    Scientists and science institution are not generally accustomed to the kinds of attacks seen in climate science. (It does happen elsewhere, but not in most science disciplines.) Scientists generally have neither the money nor time to pursue appropriate legal remedies (i.e., vs defamation), which is why some of us watch Andrew Weaver’s suit against the National Post with great interest. UCS helps, but is not really set up for this. Maybe some day, or maybe somebody will have to set up the right Defense of Science foundation to help out, with teeth. Should that happen, it would be especially interesting to explore UK defamation laws.

    2) It is necessary for scientists to communicate [Nurse], but hardly sufficient [Ladbury], and I don’t think it’s even the main problem.
    As a very good analogy, who wants to assert that 46 years after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, the reason kids still get addicted to cigarettes is because medical researchers are such poor communicators? And if only they would do better, the problem would go away? Anybody?

    Of course, people always try to address problems by focusing on something they (and other members of their discipline) can do, even if it is only part of the problem. “Communicate better” is something scientists can do.

    3) Finally, it is quite easy to get confused about UK vs US (vs Canada vs Australia vs NZ). Yes, the main language is English (more-or-less, albeit with delightful additions like spruik in Oz, given the number of climate anti-science spruikers elsewhere), but there are always surprises when words don’t mean the same thing, i.e., like can I borrow a rubber?”. Worse are the implicit assumptions.

    a) My wife is British, undergraduate Cambridge, PhD @ Imperial College (~M.I.T. of UK). We still have various UK friends and acquaintances, some quite high in academe and elsewhere, who we see here or in UK. I’ve probably visited UK 30 times, lectured @ {IC, Kings, QMU, Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, and various others}, and attended various alumni meetings around the world. I’ve visited many British companies, talked with GCHQ and Scotland Yard, and spent a few hours with (then Tony Blair’s right-hand man) Peter Mandelson, explaining how Silicon Valley worked and discussing cultural, custom and legal differences. Example: in UK, if someone’s business goes bust, that is The End. I posed the hypothetical question to Peter and his assistants of what would happen if someone had done 2 failed startups and then asked Venture Capitalists for funding. They shuddered.
    I said “VC’s would say “Well, at least they have experience” and that of course, they’d try to understand the reasons for failure and what had been learned. I said “Around here, people assume that if there are no failures, you are either very luck or might not be trying hard enough.” People wrote all this down, albeit in disbelief.

    Of course, we have 2 sets of history books in our house, one set of which thinks that 1776 was a Really Big Deal, and the other of which thinks there was a little trouble in one of colonies about that time.

    The UK is about 60% of the size of California. London is the capitol of the UK in more ways than Washington is the capitol of the US. Cambridge and Oxford play rather strong roles in UK leadership; both are about an hour and half drive from London, less by train. People commute. Much of the leadership know each other well and senior scientists have often moved back and forth between university, industry and government roles.

    I make no claim of being a UK expert, but I know one thing:
    If you are watching BBC, remember that it is the UK, not the USA.

    b) Just as cigarette anti-science was developed and fostered in the US, so was climate anti-science. See, of course, Merchants of Doubt and for a somewhat orthogonal cataloging of funders, fronts, thinktanks and spokespeople, see CCC. It includes a few thinktanks in the UK, Canada, Australia, but really, most of this is in the US, in fact, the majority is centered around Washington, DC. Actually, most are within a block of K-Street, lobbyist-central.

    The UK’s GWPF is a recent, pale shadow of entities like CATO, CEI, GMI, long wired into Washington. Benny Peiser may be a name in climate anti-science… but would not be taken seriously by UK academic friends. (I’ve asked.)

    Attacks like Climategate are relatively new to the UK science establishment. It is hard to think of members of Parliament quite equivalent to {Inhofe, Barton, et al}. When you sell a house in UK, the brochure includes color codes for the energy efficiency of your house. Gas taxes are high. The UK has already bought into many things that many parts of the US would totally reject. Monckton is far more popular outside the UK than inside. In informal conversation with a Fellow of the Royal Society, I once quoted Monckton:
    “You commend Britain’s Royal Society, once a learned body and now a mere Left-leaning political pressure-group…”
    He got a big laugh from that. I commented to another high-ranking UK friend that Monckton was an unwanted import (esp. with SPPI in Washington), please take him back. He said they didn’t want him, maybe we could split the difference, i.e., mid-Atlantic.

    Anyway, despite the anti-science noise from people like Delingpole, climate anti-science in US is far better funded and wired into Washington, it has serious billionaires helping it, it learned tobacco tactics well.

    4) SO, I’d suggest that organized climate anti-science is far less of an issue in the UK. Senior scientists are wired into UK government in different ways than in US and some kinds of things are handled rather differently, a bit more behind the scenes. I’m not at all surprised at Nurse’s comments, which are quite plausible in the UK context. In the US, they are a smaller part of the answer.

    • “4) SO, I’d suggest that organized climate anti-science is far less of an issue in the UK. “

      If only, John. You’re forgetting the BNP and UKIP who are vehemently anti-climate science, and political parties here (common term for UKIP here is “The BNP in blazers”). You mention how politicians tend to know each other more personally here:

      Christopher Monckton > deputy leader of UKIP > brother of Rosa Monckton (Mrs Dominic Lawson) > Dominic Lawson, son of Nigel Lawson.

      That said, Dominic Lawson, through his mother’s side of the family, is a cousin to George Monbiot. Smaller country, higher chance of genetic irony I guess.

      I’m not comparing the GWPF to CATO, but in all honesty they do seem to attract some hefty funding from a meagre donor list, while specifically targetting climate science. Don’t forget who were pivotal in getting the Commons inquiry into CRU kickstarted, and are currently doing the same for the UK’s Met Office.

      • J Bowers, don’t forget that all three main parties, ostensibly at least, support the science and claim to be “green”. Our bigger problem are the broadsheets and the redtops.

      • Dikran Marsupial

        That they would have Monckton as deputy leader tells you everything you need to know about UKIP!

      • i can’t say i’m as optimistic as John Mashey. certainly the Conservatives are supportive of action on climate change in only the very vaguest of senses.

        their ranks — especially the back-benches and grass-roots — are riddled with denialists. Monckton used to work for them. Lawson used to be on the front benches, and was Chancellor back in the 80s. and it was recently noted that (iirc) the 10 most popular Conservative blogs were all run by denialists.

        i have this sinking feeling the only reason they’ve not been screaming about climate science is that they’re too busy twatting up welfare and the NHS, and privatising everything that’s not nailed down. (if they can pry it loose, it’s not nailed down.)

      • uh, by “John Mashey” i obviously meant “Richard C”. apologies to all concerned.

  19. J Bowers:
    I’ve known abut the Lawson/Monckton connection, and even bought Lawson’s book for my collection. And I recall the Viscount’s association with UKIP … but come on, neither of those is the Conservative party and none are the equivalent (in power) of the US Republican Party. GMI had {Seitz, Nierenberg, Jastrow}, GWPF has Peiser. Inhofe showed up at GMI meetings.
    Koch has funded CATO for a long time.

    I have a (high-up) UK friend who went through the GWPF trustees and just laughed: buddies of Lawson, and mostly old guys. Mabye someone is akin to Kochs or Scaife, but they didn’t think so.

    Actually, I didn’t mean (just) the politicians, I meant the senior scientists and politicians tended to know each other, and quite often, senior academics may have spent some time in industry or government.

    SO, I don’t mean to minimize GWPF … but really, I don’t think it has all that much influence, or at least, that’s what I get from my UK friends. They could be wrong, of course.

    • John, Lawson’s in government and has been in British politics for 40 years; as a member of the Upper House he commutes from France to London for the week, every week, to participate, and is referred to as the granddad of British neo-liberal economics. This is the guy credited with turning the British unions against the miners after a single dinner with Joe Gormley. I’ve seen him brush off an impassioned Ed Milliband in debate on climate change like he wasn’t even there, he’s a regular Newsnight guest discussing not just climate change but fiscal policy (only last week), and is quoted by our current Chancellor, George Osborne, as being the one ex-Chancellor he really takes advice from. The GWPF’s trustees are a sideshow; it’s the completely anonymous donors who are giving them plenty of cash to do almost what they want at their leisure ($800,000 in nine months or so for such a small operation), who are the most interesting; we all know how think tanks can get around taking donations from Big Oil.

      (By the way, Benny seems to have dropped off the radar recently. You can barely find any reference to him at Liverpool JMU’s website these days, either.)

  20. J Bowers:
    Yes, I understand about Lawson and his influence.

    But the Upper House is not the US Senate, so Lawson != Inhofe, even if they agree well.

    There’s a difference between a politician having strong views, and having seemingly-independent organizations driving this. Again, read CC to see the extent of these in US, especially.

    My conjecture is that Monckton got involved with Robert Ferguson (at FF then), and they got the idea to set up SPPI as a 1-man front in 2007, giving Monckton some experience in seeing how these worked. Then he suggested it to Lawson, and they’d set GWPF up by mid-2009.

    The whole point of these things is to provide a plausible-seeming mask.
    GWPF is the “best” such in UK, but really, *GWPF* doesn’t seem like much in itself. Again, I distinguish between Lawson as Lawson aqnd GWPF as an organization. If GWPF starts mounting Heartland-style climate conferences, and running GMI/CEI-style seminars in the Parliament building, I will certainly reassess that.

    BTW: have you looked into the charity rules and past cases? Might be a good idea.

    • I’m afraid I agree with John. The difference is that when politicians say astoundingly stupid things in the US, the voters hardly notice or even agree, whereas in the rest of the world they are laughed at.

    • i’d argue that Lawson is very much the British Inhofe. he’s just tailored the product for the home market, as it were.

      as J Bowers mentioned, he’s a veteran of British politics, and he’s therefore quite aware that screaming about communist threats, making Nazi comparisons and advocating witch-hunts against scientists isn’t a good way to influence public discourse. much more effective to keep a veneer of reasonable debate — that way he gets to keep pushing his message.

      that he’s quiet doesn’t make him any less dangerous.

  21. John Mashey — “BTW: have you looked into the charity rules and past cases? Might be a good idea.”

    I have, as have others. I do know that concerns have been sent to the Charities Commission. It’s certainly odd that a charity with a stated charitable object to educate the public about *climate* change should be calling for an inquiry into the Met Office’s short term forecasting for this winter (weather), before winter is even over, and claim that this was the third severe winter in a row (it’s not). Anyway, cheers.

  22. John Mashey, I think that you will find that the national press in the UK is very different from that in the US. It has much more power not only in the UK but also indirectly in Europe : it is one of the reasons why Mr Murdoch takes care to protect his UK titles – The Times, Sun, News of the World.

    Nigel Lawson does have influence by virtue of his connections, not necessarily family. The GWPF does have credibility because it has names representing the idea of leadership. These names are recognised and important in the UK even through the use of titles and not through the worth of the individual.

    The UK is a different society from the US.

    But I wonder if it matters. In the latest Guardian poll on global heating most UK citizens seemed to think that it was important and that something needed to be done about it.

  23. Just finished watching what can only be termed as a companion piece to Paul Nurse’s documentary; Meet the Climate Sceptics on BBC Four. It was excellent, a personal journey by the filmmaker, mostly following Monckton on tour, but had some really good analyses of the sceptical claims and pretty clear about what the issues are.

    It also had an interview with John Abraham. Monckton says, on camera, that “we” will be going through all of Abraham’s financials, and there are people watching Abraham to see if he takes any interesting holidays.

    Lindzen also says he can deal with five degrees (perhaps Fahrenheit). But I just found out Monckton went to the High Court to try and stop the film being aired, and failed… BBC wins battle over climate show

  24. Delingpole says in the interview:
    “I think it is very easy to caricature the position of climate change skeptics as the sort of people who don’t look left and right when crossing the road, or who think that quack – you know, the quack cure they’ve invented for cancer is just as valid as the one chosen by the medical establishment.”

    Hasn’t Monckton tried to patent some wonder medicine that he claims is effective for just about anything? How funny of Delingpole to mention quacks…

    • For Monckton’s medical quackery, please see:

      2008-present: RESURREXI Pharmaceutical: Director responsible for invention and development of a broad-spectrum cure for infectious diseases. Patents have now been filed. Patients have been cured of various infectious diseases, including Graves’ Disease, multiple sclerosis, influenza, and herpes simplex VI. Our first HIV patient had his viral titre reduced by 38% in five days, with no side-effects. Tests continue.

      Christopher: A Man of Many Talents
      UK Independence Party: Latest News
      Friday, 4th June 2010

      • Patients have been cured of various infectious diseases, including Graves’ Disease

        What may seem a cheap shot, either …

        1) Monckton didn’t take the treatment himself, for Graves’ disease or …

        2) he did, and it didn’t help.

        (in case it isn’t clear, Monckton himself suffers from Graves’ disease, which is known, among other things, for …

        Several studies have suggested a high prevalence of neuropsychiatric disorders and mental symptoms in Graves’ disease (and thyroid disease in general), which are similar to those in patients with organic brain disease

        Not that I’m necessarily suggesting that Monckton’s nuttery is caused by a disease that is known to at times cause nuttery.

        He may’ve gotten there on his own …)

    • And in a small instance of synchronicity, I just came across this very apposite quote in quite another context:

      A scientist tells people the truth. When times are good—that is, when the truth offers no threat—people don’t mind.… A magician, on the other hand, tells people what they wish were true—that perpetual motion works, that cancer can be cured by colored lights, that a psychosis is no worse than a head cold, that they’ll live forever. In good times magicians are laughed at. They’re a luxury of the spoiled wealthy few. But in bad times people sell their souls for magic cures and buy perpetual-motion machines to power their war rockets.

      –“Poor Superman,” by Fritz Leiber, 1951.

  25. Re: Abraham: as soon as I saw John’s material, I quickly warned him what to expect (likewise earlier with Barry Bickmore). Monckton makes many threats. I used to be high on his Bad List, see DeSmogBlog, where the Viscount appears and claims I was under investigation, including for such awful acts as “interfering unlawfully on the blogosphere…”

    My comments appear later in that thread. I had written polite letters to Kings and the NHS chronicling the behavior of the Viscount’s endocrinologist Schulte in attacking Naomi. I didn’t hear back … (and didn’t expect to), but so far I haven’t seen Mr Schulte write anything else on climate…

    But again, I strongly urge people to consider the difference between organizations that have a serious life of their own versus having a few well-known people involved. What would happen to GWPF if Lawson lost interest?

    I did note ghat Peiser seems more attached to Buckingham of late, and that McKitrick spent a while there a year ago. (And via friends, I have some familiarity with that, although I’ve never visited it.

    • “But again, I strongly urge people to consider the difference between organizations that have a serious life of their own versus having a few well-known people involved. What would happen to GWPF if Lawson lost interest?”

      Good question. Benny Peiser was involved with the Scientific Alliance (Robert Durward). The SA was then connected with Foresight Communications, a PR firm made up of ex-Whitehall people. A google search of Foresight and the GWPF led to a Conservative Party blog focused on the centre right, where that linked post interestingly prompts an effort to convince Parliament that lobby groups can police themselves. One of the external links from there is to the GWPF which is listed under “centre right organisations”, to the right. I’m wondering if Foresight have anything to do with the GWPF, given there’s a common thread between the Scientific Alliance and the GWPF via Benny? But…

      So, as you pointed out, Benny’s now at Buckingham Uni, which also happens to be the home of another visiting professor, Julian Morris of the International Policy Network, who is listed as a global warming expert by Heartland. At the IPN’s website they have a page entitled, “Adapt or Die: The science, politics and economics of climate change“, where we find a paper, “Climate change and civilisation collapse By Dr Benny Peiser”, along with, “Warming aid, chilling trade? By Julian Morris”, and also a piece by Goklany.

      According to the Price of Oil blog

      Lawson and his think tank are highly political, linked to the Conservative old guard, the right-wing think tank the Institute of Affairs, and its offshoot the International Policy Network.

      So, do I think the GWPF would fold if Lawson lost interest? Not right now, I don’t. ;)

      (I did look through CCC, John, but couldn’t find any reference to the IPN).

      Little addition – Take a look at the advisory board of Foresight Communications as listed at Powerbase; Sallie Baliunas crops up. Quel surpris.

      • Was following up on a couple of the links. An interesting one is the LM network:

        The LM network or LM group is a superficially loose and informal network of individuals and organisations sharing a libertarian and anti-environmentalist ideology. […] The LM network has also worked with other free market think tanks such as the International Policy Network (which took money from Exxon for climate change ’outreach’)

        It turns out that Martin Durkin of The Great Global Warming Swindle fame was/is a “member of the LM crew“.

        Once I started reading up on Scientific Alliance’s co-founder Mark Adams…… it got weird. Spinwatch has a comment on a Guardian article where he’s mentioned, and Wiki has this entry on the New Party which he co-founded; a UK neoliberal political party which was described by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives as, “fascist and undemocratic.” Too bizarre. Benny was also a contributing author to neoliberal mag Spiked, which has ties with LM network.

        Am I reading too much into all of this?

      • LM are an extremely strange lot. LM having originally stood for “Living Marxism”, the house magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party, one of the more well-turned and organised left-wing factions of the 80s.

        now, as you note, they’ve taken a rather surprising lurch into neoliberal and libertarian territory, and seem to mostly be interesting in bashing anything that sounds in the slightest like environmentalism. though from a rather unusual perspective (it’s to keep the poor down, rather than the more common communism-by-the-back-door line).

        they have done the odd good thing — Sense About Science’s campaign to reform our horribly broken libel laws, notably in the recent Simon Singh case. but on the whole they’re a pretty suspect bunch.

      • You know, ligne, over at the Guardian there’s been a consistent group of deniers who have been very hard to really pin down on where their motives are for some of the outrageous crap they come out with. They’re not the driveby Teahadists who come out at night (US time difference), but British, seem to have been environmentalists at some point, and love to launch into Monbiot at every opposrtunity. I think this LM crowd could explain a lot, especially the dogmatic manner in which they behave.

      • it’s entirely possible they’re Spiked readers. Monbiot has not been in their good books for a while.

        i’ve never been able to work out how much of their position is serious, and how much is just that they’re just professional contrarians.

  26. Buckingham = GMU?

  27. I just commented with lots of embedded links. Is there a character limit? The comment had a load of dots that may link together; Foresight Communications, Scientific Alliance, Benny, International Policy Network, Sallie Baliunas, Heartland, Institute of Affairs, Buckingham Uni, and the GWPF. Food for thought, anyway, and no, John, I don’t think that if Lawson lost interest the GWPF would just fade away ;)

    (Comment was saved as a text file)

    [Response: Lots of links will often send your comment to the “spam” pile. But it can be recovered.

    I do recommend fewer links; brevity is the soul of wit.]

  28. J Bowers
    Thanks. SA was on my list, but had seemed rather weak. Foresight is new to me; as usual, the public manifestations are obvious, but some players keep quiet.

    I’ll incorporate this if/when I do a CCC update.
    As usual, the same names appear everywhere.

    • Foresight must have been ironically named. On the other hand, it would seem that their contorted positions leave them ideally positioned for “hindthought”.

  29. The denialosaurs are getting all excited because they think they have found a mistake in Sir Paul’s film concerning the CO2 emissions from natural sources versus manmade sources. Actually, I do remember the segment and I thought at the time it was at best confusing and was probably wrong. I can’t recall whether they were talking about CO2 emissions from volcanoes or all natural sources, and it wasn’t clear if they were talking about net or gross emissions, but Sir Paul said something like “human emissions are 7 times” emissions from natural sources (as we all know the reality is that nature is a net carbon sink – not that reality has ever interested the denialists). I will have to watch again and see if I can find the segment.

    This comes from the people who never questioned Plimer’s claim that volcanoes produced more CO2 than humans and who constantly (and often wilfully) confuse gross and net CO2 emissions. It is also noteworthy that it has taken them more than a week to spot a problem and that in any case nature is a carbon sink. Nevertheless, they will still try to make the most out of one that one tiny fragment.

  30. Well, speaking of anti-science (and since the last open topic was a while back), I’ve got an article up on the topic of the serial demise of global warming.

    The content will not surprise regulars here, but I’m hoping it will be a convenient page to help those who need to better understand the sin of cherry-picking–and its persistent recidivism!