Friday, February 04, 2011

Keeping the BBC honest: An uphill battle

An email from Viscount Monckton below regarding the BBC propaganda film "Meet The Skeptics":

Many people have been kind enough to get in touch with me about the BBC propaganda film "Meet The Skeptics", in which I was one of a tiny handful of "climate skeptics" featured. The film, a boorish hatchet job tediously typical of today's shoddily unprofessional BBC, was cut by 30 minutes as a result of a successful High Court action in which I drew attention to a couple of dozen factual errors and far-out unfairnesses in the film, most of which were removed or corrected.

I shall have to bear much of the cost of the action, because not all of the errors were corrected and the High Court did not consider I had a right of reply, even though the film-makers had told me I should be given one on any points that stood against me in the film, and that proviso was also written into the contract between us.

The BBC and the film-makers will also have to bear some of the cost, because the judge accepted that the BBC had failed to respond to my letter of complaint to the Director-General in a timely fashion and it was only after I had issued court proceedings that the BBC carried out the drastic shortening and correction of the film.

If anyone is approached by Fresh One Productions, the film company, or by Rupert Murray, the film-maker, and invited to participate in a documentary, however seemingly innocent, my strong advice is not to agree to take part. They are untrustworthy. They dishonoured their word to me. Their breaches of contract and undertaking in making promises they did not keep, acting in conspiracy with the unspeakable BBC, will now go to court for trial.

Another misleading emission from the BBC

After the Paul Nurse programme the other day, eyebrows were raised over one of the claims in the show, namely that emissions from fossil fuel burning dwarfed natural emissions. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:
Bob Bindschadler: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It's about seven gigatons per year right now.

Paul Nurse: And is that enough to explain...?

Bob Bindschadler: Natural causes only can produce - yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year. So there's just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.

Paul Nurse: So seven times more.

Bob Bindschadler: That's right.

Aynsley Kellow, writing in the comments said that this was wrong, and so I thought I would try to clarify things by writing to Dr Bindschadler and finding out his source. This is it.

The source is the Arctic Impact Climate Assessment apparently, although I haven't actually looked for the graph in its original location yet. You can see the 7:1 ratio in the front graph, and you will also see that the graph is comparing two anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide, namely fossil fuels and land-use changes. Dr Bindschadler has agreed that this the graph therefore doesn't support the claim he made in the Horizon programme.

Dr Bindschadler suggests that the 7:1 figure is actually not that far out from the correct figure for net anthropogenic:natural carbon dioxide emissions, so the effect of the mistake is limited. We should note, however, that he was originally speaking about emissions rather than net emissions. But even if you look at the net figures I still don't think the numbers are correct. Prof Kellow has pointed me to this page at Skeptical Science, which puts the net figures at 29 GtCO2 emissions for anthropogenic and a net 17 GtCO2 (450-439+338-332) absorbtion from natural sources. For what Prof Nurse and Dr Bindschadler were actually talking about in the Horizon show, gross emissions, the 7:1 ratio for anthropogenic to natural becomes, by my reckoning 1:27 (i.e. with natural emissions completely dwarfing anthropogenic).*

So in terms of what is interesting us here, the figures in the Horizon show were clearly completely wrong, which I guess we knew. It's good to have confirmation of this though. The question is, what does this mean for Prof Nurse and the reputation of the BBC?

*Note that the Skeptical Science page is talking in terms of GtCO2 while Dr Bindshadler was talking Gt carbon, but it's the ratios we are interested in.


Comment by Professor Aynsley Kellow

I did remark to His Grace [Bishop Hill, above] on the irony of Dr Bindschadler quoting the Hockey Stick at him!

For those interested in the detail of the various fluxes, according to the Koran (AR4 IPCC WG1), I refer you to Fig 7.3, which states the fluxes in GT C pa. Here you will find the following figures for anthropogenic fluxes:

Fossil Fuel: 6.4 GT out

Oceans: 20 Gt pa out; 22.2 in (A net anthropogenic sink of 2.2 GT pa)

Land use change: 1.6 GT pa out; Land sink: 2.6 GT pa in (A net anthropogenic sink of 1 GT pa).

The annual non-anthropogenic flux out is adds up to 190.2 GT pa.

The nonanthropogenic flux in is given as 190.2 GT pa

(This seems strange! The best estimate - it's in the IPCC, it must be true - is that nature is in perfect balance! Wouldn't you know it!)

The IPCC did not see fit to include Dr Bindschadler's volconoes as a separate item.

According to this figure, anthropogenic sink activity offsets half of fossil fuel emissions of 6.4 GT pa, so the net anthropogenic figure is a mere 1.7% of natural fluxes (3.2 of 190.2), if we want to talk nets rather than grosses. This is not something we should ignore, but let's at least state it accurately.

Of course, put in those terms, it doesn't frighten the children and horses. Either Bindschadler and Nurse knew this and wanted to frighten same children and horses, or were talking through their hats.

Either way, it rather destroys the point of the program, since climate science seems most under attack from Sir Paul Nurse.

Scepticism is not an “attack on science”

Scientific institutions undermine their own authority when they say we should ‘take sides’ over climate change

Sir Paul Nurse, the new president of the Royal Society, has followed his predecessors, Martin Rees and Bob May, by making a loud public statement about the climate debate. Nurse claimed in a recent edition of BBC2’s science programme, Horizon, that science is under attack, and that public trust in scientific theories has been eroded. Like his predecessors, however, Nurse fails to understand why partial statements from the president of the Royal Society do more to impede the progress of debate than move it on.

Although it was advertised as a discussion about an ‘attack on science’, the Horizon film was dominated by the climate change debate. In Nurse’s view, the public are less convinced by climate change than they ought to be. This has followed an ‘attack on science’, which Nurse explained in a somewhat one-sided account of the ‘Climategate’ affair, the leaking of thousands of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in November 2009. But as ugly, pointless and unpleasant as that affair was for those involved, if there is something to be said about the character of the debate about climate change, it is that raised passions and low tactics are not unique to either putative ‘side’.

The mistake Nurse made in his treatment of the climate debate is to imagine that it is divided over a simple claim that ‘climate change is happening’. It is this polarisation of the debate into simple categories - scientists verses deniers - that obscures the real substance of debate, its context and its nuances. The reality is that disagreements about climate change are matters of degree, not true-or-false. In turn, disagreements about the consequences of climate change and the proper policy response are also matters of degree.

Thus, the debate is multi-dimensional, and controversy exists throughout. But for Nurse, identifying the areas of disagreement and offering up an analysis isn’t the point. Instead, he takes for granted that ‘the science is in’, and wonders why trust in scientific authority seems to have been eroded. One reason for this loss of trust just might be that controversies and other inconveniences are swept aside by the polarisation of the debate, leaving a perception that authoritarian impulses are hiding behind scientific consensus. But to point this out would not fill an episode of Horizon. Instead, after a rather feeble retelling of the consensus, the film showed Nurse going after the deniers, who, he suspects, are responsible for undermining public trust in science.

This crusade took Nurse to the home of outspoken climate sceptic and Telegraph journalist James Delingpole, who disputes the existence of the consensus and its value to science. The film was clearly constructed around this moment, at which Nurse seemingly delivers a coup de grace to the deniers: ‘Say you had cancer, and you went to be treated, there would be a consensual position on your treatment.’ This ‘doctor analogy’ appears to leave Delingpole uncomfortable, and stuck for words: ‘Can we talk about Climategate… I don’t accept your analogy’, he responds.

Whatever the reason for Delingpole’s hesitance, there are many good reasons for not accepting Nurse’s analogy. The most obvious being that the climate is not like the human body; climate change is not like cancer; climate scientists are not like oncologists; and climate-science research institutions are not like hospitals. But worse is the fact that Nurse’s thought experiment defeats its purpose. He’s asking us to believe that there has been an attack on science and that trust in science is being eroded. But if we presume that Delingpole is forced by the analogy to accept that he should trust the consensus formed by scientists, we must conclude that science is not under attack. An ‘attack on science’ would reject both climate change and medicine.

Nurse’s reasoning is that if we’re not scientists, we are not able to follow the complexities of climate science, and so take arguments about the climate on trust. But newspapers, he observed, are full of contradictory messages. ‘Political opinions’ are expressed through ‘lurid headlines’, causing ‘an unholy mix of the media and politics… distorting the proper reporting of science, and that’s a real danger for us if science is to have its proper impact on society’. Perhaps worse, the internet allows ‘conspiracy theories to compete with peer-reviewed science’. The concern here is that trust in the wrong source prevents the feckless public from responding to the correct messages about climate change, sending us all to our doom. Instead, people should trust in science, because unlike the politically driven newspapers, and internet lunatics, its authority ‘comes from evidence and experiment’.

But there is no attack on science. Even climate-change deniers will still take the advice of oncologists, and will still express criticism of climate-change policies in scientific terms. What Nurse fails to recognise is the difference between science as a process and science as an institution. The reputation of the former is intact; but, as I’ve argued before here on spiked, scientific institutions undermine their own credibility when they interfere in a one-sided way in such debates, regardless of any effort by ‘deniers’. Then, the members of these institutions resort to making BBC documentaries to wonder out loud why no one trusts them anymore.

Aside from the technical complexity that Nurse describes, and the multiple dimensions to the climate debate that he ignores, there is the context of the climate debate to be considered. The background to the climate debate is a collapse of trust in public institutions of many kinds. Echoing this collapse in public reason, Nurse urges, ‘trust no one, trust only what the experiments and the data tell you’. But isn’t this also the message from climate sceptics, who accuse institutional, official science of corruption and political motivation?

It would seem that the sceptics have a good point here. Climate change has come to the rescue of the forgotten old academic department, the tired political establishment, and the disoriented journalist. The possibility of ecological catastrophe injects moral purpose back into public life, in spite of a collapse in trust. Accordingly, local authorities and national governments have, in recent years, transformed their purpose; now their goal is to monitor your bins rather than provide public services. Powerful supranational political and financial institutions have been created to ‘meet the challenge’ of climate change. And these political changes have for the most part occurred without any semblance of democracy; it is presupposed that these organisational changes to public life are legitimate because they are seemingly intended to do good.

Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of public life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy. But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science. The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate change; indeed, the IPCC was established to create a consensus for political ends. Nurse, nearly recognising science’s role in the legitimisation of such political ecology, worries about loss of trust. As he noted in the Horizon film, if scientists are not ‘open about everything they do then the conversation will be dominated by people driven by politics and ideology’.

But the conversation is already driven by politics and ideology; it’s simply that Nurse does not recognise environmentalism as political or ideological, and he does not notice himself reproducing environmental politics and ideology. The loss of trust he now observes is not the consequence of politics and ideology, but the all-too-visible attempt to hide politics behind science and highly emotive images of catastrophe. If the presidents of science academies want their trust back, they will first have to admit to the politicisation of their function in an atmosphere of distrust. Nullius in verba, indeed.


No deal at reconciliation conference

Climate sceptics offer a peace deal. Well, no it wasn't quite like that. But in Lisbon, Portugal, last week, I joined a group of 28 climate scientists, bloggers and professional contrarians who spent three days discussing how to encourage reconciliation in the increasing fractious debate about the science of climate change.

The meeting was the brainchild of University of Oxford science philosopher Jerry Ravetz, an 81-year-old Greenpeace member who fears Al Gore may have done as much damage to environmentalism as Joseph Stalin did to socialism. Post-Climategate, he found climate science characterised by "a poisoned atmosphere" in which "each side accuses the other of being corrupt". Mainstream researchers were labelled "ideologues on the gravy train", while sceptics were denigrated as "prostitutes and cranks".

His dream of an instant rapprochement in Lisbon didn't come off. The eventual make-up of the workshop, paid for by the European Commission, was too lopsided in favour of the sceptical camp.

Those making the trip included heroes of the sceptics such as statistician Steve McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick, plus writers and bloggers such as Steve Mosher, the man who broke the Climategate story, and "heretical" scientists such as Georgia Tech's Judy Curry and Peter Webster.

Avowed non-sceptics included Hans von Storch, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and James Risbey of CSIRO. But the leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA's Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss.

Across the spectrum, participants were mostly united in disagreeing with Schmidt. Climate science, they said, is much less certain than the IPCC mainstreamers say, and peace can be found only if all accept what they dubbed "the uncertainty monster".

Leaving out the cranks, what's to be resolved? Few at the meeting doubted that climate change was a real issue that the world had to address, but they said the science had been corrupted. They agreed with von Storch, who told a public meeting after the workshop that "too much climate science is done not out of curiosity but to support a preconceived agenda".

The biggest, most totemic, issue remains the IPCC's adoption of the "hockey stick" narrative, which holds that 20th-century warming is unique over the past millennium. Most in Lisbon saw this as a scandalous example of IPCC editors taking sides in an unresolved debate, and of how "scientific findings were judged according to their political utility".

Equally contentious is the charge - the pet subject of several in Lisbon - that the IPCC is "in denial" about whether ocean oscillations, which can absorb and release heat from the atmosphere but are not well represented in climate models, could explain the global warming of the past 40 years.

Third, most agreed that there was no scientific basis for the world adopting a target to prevent global warming going above 2 °C. It was "arbitrary", they said, and cooked up by climate scientists with a political agenda.

Much time at the meeting was taken up bitching rather than conciliating. Several complained about how hard it was to get papers published if they ran counter to climate-change orthodoxy. They agreed with von Storch that peer review was riven with conflicts of interest.

And they felt this was most pronounced in the IPCC itself, where reports assessing climate science were routinely written by people sitting in judgement on their own research and that of their critics.

Public trust in climate science had collapsed and had to be rebuilt through reconciliation, they said. Of course, mainstreamers would claim it is hypocrisy for "sceptics" to lash out at mainstream climate science and then invoke the resulting public confusion to demand a seat at the table. But have they a better idea?


Pesky! Malaria transmission to DECLINE in Burundi because of global warming

Malaria experts routinely pooh-pooh Warmist claims that warming will increase malaria incidence but this goes one step further

Malaria transmission will not increase because of global warming in the African nation of Burundi according to a statistical analysis by researchers in Austria and Burundi. Writing in the International Journal of Global Warming, the team explains that rising temperatures will lead to lower humidity and rainfall which will shorten the lifespan of mosquitoes carrying malaria.

Statistician and epidemiologist Hermenegilde Nkurunziza of the University of Burundi and statistician Juergen Pilz of the University of Klagenfurt, Austria, analysed data on monthly rainfall, temperature and humidity data as well as monthly malaria morbidity data from Burundi for 1996-2007.

Data on monthly malaria morbidity for each province of Burundi were collected from Epidemiology and Statistics (EPISTAT), a department of the Burundi Ministry of Health collecting and storing data on epidemiology all over the country.

The researchers used Bayesian Generalised Additive Model (GAM) to process the data and found that although malaria transmission is positively associated with minimum temperature and maximum humidity, increasing temperature in Burundi will not result in increasing malaria transmission.

Malaria is the main public health problem in Burundi with transmission of the disease being strongly influenced by several climatic factors. There are around 2 million clinical cases and more than 15,000 deaths each year. It is responsible for half of hospital deaths among children under 5 years and 40% of consultations in health centres.

Temperature is a significant factor, with higher temperatures reducing the incubation period for the disease. Rainfall influences mosquito populations by increasing the vegetation density and the capacity of larva production and maturation. Higher humidity extends adult mosquito life span to lengths commensurate with increased infection rates.


The sadness of a climate fraud

Phil Jones is speaking tomorrow to the Spalding Gentlemen's Society. There is a brief story in the local paper here. One interesting snippet from the article is this quote by Jones:
I received a lot of nasty emails from November to March/April last year from people threatening to kill me among other things. I passed them on to Norfolk police who said they didn’t fulfil the criteria for death threats.

I'm slightly bemused by this - a death threat that doesn't meet the police's criteria for death threats. I can't help but be reminded of the poor chap who sent a joke tweet about blowing up an airport and received the full penalty of the law.


Solar power fail in South Australia

Difficult to maintain

A SOLAR power station in the state's Far North has been idle for more than a year. The station has been out of action for four of the past seven years.

The Government-owned $3.7 million power plant at Umuwa, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, was upgraded in 2008, but was switched off just over a year later because of safety concerns.

Originally built in 2003, it also was shut down in 2005, for three years, before receiving a $1.2 million taxpayer-funded upgrade.

The 715MW hour station was built to cut the community's dependence on diesel and was supposed to save 140,000 litres of diesel and 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Opposition MP Steven Marshall, who is a member of the Aboriginal Lands Committee, said the Government needed to fix the problem before "moving on to the next photo opportunity".

"This is an example of complete ineptitude, wrong priorities and tokenism ... combining to leave Aboriginal people at a disadvantage," he said.

Uniting Care Wesley indigenous policy officer Jonathan Nicholls said he had been "frustrated" a request for information on the project's status last year from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi had been unanswered. "We accept it is difficult to repair and maintain certain things in remote communities, but we are not comfortable with this sweeping things under the carpet," he said.

Ms Portolesi said the plant had been out of action because of "complex issues relating to meteorological conditions," including electrical storms and wind-blown dust. She said maintenance of the plant had been the responsibility of a private company which went into administration about a year ago.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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