Evidently (and evidently again) the Met Office did tell some people that the winter was going to be mild (pettifogging protestations notwithstanding). And likely (and likely again) it did tell some other people that the winter was going to be harsh.
This might mean they have told some other people yet, that the winter was going to be average. Could those people please step forward. You know, that’s the best way for the Met Office to try to pull off a “Derren Brown” and tell the world how good their work really is.
The news about the “exceptionally cold winter” forecast was broken by the BBC’s Roger Harrabin (of Jo Abbess fame), apparently from the pages of the Radio Times. I cannot be 100% sure because I do not read the Radio Times, there is no mention of Harrabin on the RT website and the closest online trace to Harrabin’s words is an article from the Daily Telegraph. Obviously there is no reason to believe the Telegraph has made up Harrabin’s quotes, and given that there’s been no protestation by Harrabin himself the Telegraph story is very very likely to be true.
- Why then, has Harrabin said not a thing about this all in the BBC News website?
- How can the Met Office secretly telling something very important to somebody somewhere in the UK Government at local or national level NOT be an important news item to tell the world about in first person, given it also is has appeared in almost 30 mainstream media articles in the UK?
- Why has nobody at the BBC written anything on the BBC News website, so that the only references you find are in readers’ comments?
UPDATE: Phil Jones reinstated at UEA within minutes of the Russell report being published. Final proof the Professors behave as absolute fools in matters of Public Relations.
And so when the Sir Muir Russell’s Climategate report came out, confusion reigned. Richard Black is now claiming “skeptical circles” had issues with the Oxburgh Science-but-not-science report (what are you implying, Richard, has your BBC colleague Roger Harrabin entered any “skeptical circle” of late?).
And Sir Muir (according to what is reported by Black) appears to have spent untold amounts of public money only to miss at least two of the “five key leaked emails” identified (at no cost to the taxpayer) by Fred Pearce.
There we are then: three Climategate Commissions, and the only thing that is clear is how important FOI is.
If this is the way climate-related stuff is publicly handled, Lovelock might have been right, after all.
WE ARE DOOMED!
Maybe not because of AGW, maybe not because of swine flu, but one day surely something serious is going to hit us, and all we’ll get will be obfuscation, retrenchement, delays, half-baked reports…
ps in the meanwhile…can I have my UK tax money back please?
(thanks to Bill Clement for inspiring the gist of this blog)
In hindsight, it should have been clear long ago. It wasn’t going to be pretty, nor it could have been. On one side, journalists with the vaguest notions of the scientific method, mostly convinced that science is what a scientist does (need to remember Piero Manzoni, anybody?).
On the other side, a number of determined bloggers “that have made themselves experts in general climate science“ (in the words of Roger Harrabin), “ordinary people [who] can say [to scientists] ‘look, you said this, you said that, the two don’t match, explain yourself’” (in the words of Richard North).
Of course, it was going to be carnage. The journalists would not and could not survive the confrontation by any stretch of imagination. And so they didn’t. As noted by Matt Ridley in The Spectator:
It was not Private Eye, or the BBC or the News of the World, but a retired electrical engineer in Northampton, David Holland, whose freedom-of-information requests caused the Climategate scientists to break the law, according to the Information Commissioner. By contrast, it has so far attracted little attention that the leaked emails of Climategate include messages from reporters obsequiously seeking ammunition against the sceptics. Other emails have shown reporters meekly changing headlines to suit green activists, or being threatened with ostracism for even reporting the existence of a sceptical angle
As far as the average skeptical blogger is concerned, scientific journalism in matters of climate should be considered dying if not dead, only a place where to find nice but wholly un-necessary confirmation of one’s doubts. Or should it?
The underlying problem is suggested by Roger Harrabin in the same radio debate mentioned above:
“What’s been difficult for people reporting mainstream debate in the past has been that what we would call our trusted sources of science, people like the Royal Society and the various other corollary bodies in different countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to be the touchstone of probity on this issue, they have been the providers of news and the people who have been doubting these news have generally speaking not been academics, I am on the trawl for academics at the moment in British universities there are hardly any and there have been doubters from other quarters and it’s been very difficult for us to tell what are the credentials when all these establishment voices are lined up on one side, how can we put them against a blogger on the other side that might happen to be a blogger who has for the past 15 years spent 100 hundred hours on the Internet reading climate science and has a good knowledge but we don’t know how to test this“
Note the choice of words…”our trusted sources of science“, “the providers of news“…these are the words of somebody with the mindset of being an information broker between “the scientists” and “the general public”. It is a way of seeing “scientific journalism” as some kind of translation service, from the high-brow vocabulary of the scientists to the simpleton’s expressions even the most empty-headed Joe Public might understand.
Obviously, such a mindset leaves no space at all to a critical analysis of what the scientists say: because “how can we put them against a blogger [whose knowledge] we don’t know how to test“. Harrabin might be more right on this than he is ever likely to wish: after all, as commented by Bill:
The Press, too, have few within their ranks with a genuine science background. The result – regurgitation (syndication) of the few articles written
Mind you, journalists might not see that as an issue. It all depends on what “journalism” is meant to be. Here’s how award-winning science writer Ed Yong recommends scientists to approach interviews:
[The journalists’] job is not to grill you with hard questions – it’s to find The Story and get you to say something interesting. Your job, interestingly enough, is not to answer their questions to the letter, but to get your message across and to do so in an interesting way. Note the compatibility between these two goals.
The easiest way to mutually assured victory is to get your message across in a way that’s interesting enough that you practically hand them The Story on a plate. Journalism is a game but it’s not a zero-sum one. You and the journalist are not vicious gladiatorial opponents; you are engaging in a collaborative venture and treating it as such will help you get more out of it.
The (skeptical) bloggers write about their quest for Truth. The journalists write instead about…”The Story“. Has “The Story” got any relationship with Truth? Who knows, and does anybody care? (hey…some editors go all the way and get rid of reporters trying to find out what the Truth is…).
Just as “The Story” on climate was the overwhelming consensus in 2009, it is now the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating the IPCC documents have been biased in a miriad of ways towards reporting exactly what the paymasters/Governments wanted them to report.
Kudos to all journalists following the new “Story” but don’t expect their articles to become the new WUWT or EU Referendum. They can not: check the somehow inadvertently comical situation described by Ivan Oranski, executive editor of Reuters Health, on how to choose one’s sources. It looks like Mr Oranski has been around the block quite a few times, so to speak. He even recommends “to always read papers you’re reporting on, instead of relying solely on press releases” (no sh*t!). But not even once Mr Oranski dares thinking he could use himself, his ongoing knowledge of the topic, his ability to cross-reference findings throughout the mountains of scientific papers he has read.
The above suggests “scientific journalism” is still a long, long way from getting in the same league as, say, political journalistic analysis of internal or foreign affairs, where a healthy skepticism of politicians’ statements is nowadays a matter of course. One suspects, too many “scientific journalists” haven’t had their Cronkite moment as yet. But there is hope. Here’s an example of a scientific journalist actually using his brains, however briefly (Nicholas Wade, “Ancient Man in Greenland Has Genome Decoded“, The New York Times Feb 10, 2010):
Perhaps reflecting the so far somewhat limited reach of personal genomics, the researchers note that the ancient Greenlander was at risk for baldness, a surprising assessment given that all that remains of him is his hair
There is rampant churnalism, a dearth of fact-checking, misguided attempts at balance at the cost of accuracy. On the other hand, there is plenty of work from non-traditional sources that does espouse these values, including the writings of many freelance science writers and working scientists (and many of the so-called elements of journalism are elements of good scientific practice too).
If you play out this taxonomic game, you quickly see that many people who ostensibly work in science journalism produce work that is nothing of the sort. Likewise, amateurs who wouldn’t classify themselves as science journalists, actually ought to count.
Journalists are even waking up to the extraordinary amount of news they can produce from “inspirations” found in blogs and other forms of online social media. One interesting lead fresh out of the AAAS 2010 meeting: some scientists still don’t get it (will they ever), others understand they need new ways of thinking in order to explain themselves to the outside world.
And of course there is one reliable anchor that hasn’t been much affected by all of this: the minute group of scientific journalists that have actually been scientists themselves, know how scientific publications work, and can read and critique a scientific article on their own, if need be. I am talking about people like journalism-award-winning academic David Whitehouse.
No prize to guess what Dr Whitehouse thinks of climate alarmism.
On Wednesday Feb 11 BBC Radio 5 live’s “News from around the UK with Gabby Logan” programme hosted Richard North, of “EU Referendum” fame and the BBC’s own Roger Harrabin together with renown Mike Hulme and Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology. The recording is available here for a few days still (I don’t think there is a podcast).
The result has been a series of memorable quotes that I am trying to report here, together with a summary of everything that has been said. I shall return to some of this material in the next few days, for additional comments and to ease punctuation and capitalization…
(quick commentary: Richard North is the winner by far, and finds Harrabin move to his side too. Stephen Curry sounds like out of step with what is happening)
NOTE: direct quotes are in italic. Please do feel free to correct any mistake in the transcription:
GL: Gabby Logan (host)
MH: Mike Hume
RH: Roger Harrabin
RN: Richard North (introduced by GL as “political analyst and climate change skeptic“)
SC: Stephen Curry
ADDENDUM: the whole programme is now available via Vimeo (thanks to Climategate2009 for the link)
GL: [The inquiry will be about] how messages from the university of east anglia found their way to the internet. “Mike – are you pleased…What are you hoping it will achieve?”
MH: independent investigation is appropriate about UEA but also the rest of the complex world of climate politics.
RN: “I agree with Mike there“. UEA investigation is only small bit of global issue. What worries RN is the tendency to treat this as an isolated episode but it isn’t, it is part of a continuum. climate politics complex but affects everybody.
GL: Mike – how much damage has this done to the debate about climate change?
MH: questions raised, understandably so. how enduring the damage will be, it depends on the outcome of inquiry. IPCC needs to take errors very seriously, work hard to rebuild trust in scientific evidence. not an easy thing to do, to restore trust that has been damaged.
RN: (chuckles) reminds of MH interview in 2007 saying IPCC is a political process (MH: “Absolutely, it is“). The science is not the issue, “it is the politics of science and the science of politics in a sense“. Needs to be a political inquiry.
GL: Do you think that will take scientists to an area they are totally uncomfortable with?
RN: “Anybody who’s been in academia knows that science is intensely political especially as the main push within scientific departments is funding and getting money and satisfying your paymasters. to try and pretend that somehow somehow science and politics are separate is a pastiche, it simply exists only in storybooks“.
MH: “I would agree with you Richard there“. We’ve got to find good ways to brind scientific evidence to public policy debate. Can’t simply accept science will do its business in its own sphere of influence. We need a process to bring high-quality scientific evidence with all uncertainties attached to it, to a public debate. Think IPCC is probably past its sell-by date. “Science never dictates policy but we have to have high-quality scientific evidence“.
(traffic news, BBC own ads)
GL Talking of Climategate. Can I bring Roger Harrabin. What impact do you think has this row on how climate change is being reported?
RH “Huge impact […] science is on the front pages and many scientists are uncomfortable with that. It is extremely difficult to conduct a very nuanced debate about science, policy and climate change through soundbites of 10 seconds. I say extremely difficult, frankly it is impossible. And that what tends to happen“. The tabloid way is unsatisfactory, not debating it at all is also unsatisfactory. Suggests to start from inquiry. GL agrees. RH: “We know about the climategate affairs, with the stolen e-mails showing scientists blocking access to their data, and that is quite clear, they no longer deny that, they don’t deny that, and they also appear to show they tried to unfairly influence the debate and the way their colleagues were perceived […] their rivals were perceived, and they do deny that. This inquiry…is said to be completely independent by the man who chairs it…will look at what exactly [the scientists] did…an enquiry about best practice in science”. Not just what is best practice now, but also what it was 20 years ago, “when a lot of the the climategate e-mails began“.
GL: RN – how did these e-mails end up in the public domain
RN: “There are some facts in the system that Roger seems to ignore. And I wish he’d stop prejudicing the debate by talking about stolen e-mails. The latest response from the local police is that they are now looking at the misuse of data. All the forensic evidence, and this has been poured (?) over by expert computer people, points to all the file being aggregated on a single server, UEA actually admitted that and there is equally a possibility, in fact a very very strong possibility that this was an inside job and a leak by somebody that was actually disaffected with what was going on. [Talking about intelligence agencies etc] this is actually prejuidicing the enquiry against the reality that it is probably an internal job. Talking about e-mails, hackers and the rest [is] distorting the debate and not helping the listener and the general public to understand [what is going on]“.
RHL Asks what better term to use rather than “stolen”. “This is another one of these things where you probably need a sentence rather than a word” (RN: “Sorry…“) RH: “This is not a helpful debate” (RN: “But you refer to them as being stolen“). RH: “This is how it gets bogged down into arguments. Please. Please. It would be a change [to have a debate where] we could get insights”
RN: The point is that “you are prejudicing the debate. you are making an assumption in your terminology”
GL: RH – impact clearly this is going to have on the reporting of science more broadly and how people know who to trust and where to get their information – it must be very difficult to report on science in an objective way (RN: “It is“) because both sides of the debate are so entrenched (RN: “Yes“)
RH: It is “particularly difficult“. Enquiry is looking very narrow into abuse of data. It is more interesting to “look beyond climategate and the whole of climate science because what climategate and glaciergate, that horrible mistake from the IPCC about the glaciers reveals is that I think a lot of people are ready now to examine climate change at its fundamentals and that will be very helpful. What’s been difficult for people reporting mainstream debate in the past has been that what we would call our trusted sources of science, people like the Royal Society and the various other corollary bodies in different countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to be the touchstone of probity on this issue, they have been the providers of news and the people who have been doubting these news have generally speaking not been academics, I am on the trawl for academics at the moment in British universities there are hardly any and there have been doubters from other quarters and it’s been very difficult for us to tell what are the credentials when all these establishment voices are lined up on one side, how can we put them against a blogger on the other side that might happen to be a blogger who has for the past 15 years spent 100 hundred hours on the Internet reading climate science and has a good knowledge but we don’t know how to test this”
GL: introduces Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology who’s been writing in the Guardian about the potential dangers when science hits the front pages. GL – “Is it important that people got faith in the country’s scientists, they can trust the evidence they are presenting?”
SC: “Fundamentally important“. “Science is the best way to understand the natural world“. Scientist are trained to be skeptical, formulate hypothesis and then experiment to test them. Free to criticize each other’s work. Important to get information across to the public in a way that is digestible.
GL: Do politicians have a “proper understanding of the issues“?
SC: Many “simply don’t have the background to properly understand the scientific progress and it’s a challenge for them”
GL: “Roger has alluded to the fact that the public wants to consume the news in bite-sized pieces and we want things explained very quickly to us. Are some issues like climate change just too complex for the public to understand?”
SC – “They are certainly very complex but I think it’s vitally important that the public can understand and I think probably scientists can do a better job at being open and presenting all the evidence they have accumulated in support of man-made global warming. I don’t think there is any serious doubt in the community about that. There are uncertainties about what is the going to happen in the future but it is a matter then of presenting that complexity to the public. We often have to rely on journalists and other media outlets to present that case. of course they are very adept at putting stories together and of course they are pushed for space or air-time, which tends to drive a simplification. […] those are very difficult issues and it is really a challenging thing to try to put that across. […] scientists and journalists could work together in this a bit more for one another for their needs”
RN: “You talk about trust in science but actually the default mode of the public, of the politicians aand above all of the scientists should be skepticism. We should not trust scientists, we should look at what they say and if they can’t explain themselves properly then automatically we should…(interrupted by GL)”
GL: “you are assuming a lot of knowledge there Richard for people to cross-examine” (RN: “No, no, no, not at all“) GL: “I am talking about the general public reading a newspaper are not necessarily going to cross-examine a scientist who has spent years and years of training, and years and years of research”
RN: “This is precisely what’s happening and in fact ordinary people I mean this whole thing has been led by the grass-root, by bloggers and other commentators just read the comments on, say look at the newspapers online and look at the comments on them. There is far more intelligence and knowledge out there in the British public than in fact sometimes you see within the scientific community and there are internal inconsistencies in the evidence that we have been given, that ordinary people can say “look, you said this, you said that, the two don’t match, explain yourself” and instead of responding to that what you’re getting is this defensive wall saying “no, the debate is settled, the science is settled, there is no debate”. And it’s the scientific community and the political community. Don’t forget, Gordon Brown was calling us flat-earthers, which was a really healthy contribution to the debate. The fact that they have not been willing to entertain discussion and questions and perfectly genuine questions has actually poisoned the atmosphere. They’ve got to learn humility and turn around to genuine inquiries and say…. And ordinary bloggers. Look I’ve got a PhD so I am a scientist and I have pulled down three of the “Gates” but I have been looking through the IPCC report pulling out complete errors. Now, Roger Harrabin called them mistakes. That’s poisoning the debate because the lead author of Glaciergate said this was not a mistake, he’s on record saying that“.
GL – Asks Harrabin to go back to that point.
RH – Moves to language. “I think that phrases like climate deniers and flat earthers have absolutely no place in the debate whatsoever“. Says politicians and “leaders of science” have been heard stating that the debate is over, but if you talk to climate scientists themselves they will say”the balance of evidence is that human activities are changing the climate but there are still many uncertainties“: about the past climate record, the current climate record, how far the climate will change in the future. Government ministers have a much more simplistic view. “Is settled” might mean “Is settled enough for us to think about action“. “To give you an example about the difficulty of understanding all this, I was at a meeting of the Royal Society last year with eminent Professors from around the world, the sort of people that we regard as experts in climate change because they write papers in Nature and Science and I have to say there are very few skeptic papers in those journals. One of the professors asked a question the answer to which I knew, and I am a policy specialist, not a science specialist. I was a little alarmed that I knew this question which was outside his realm of his science and I just happened to pick up on. So I have asked the members of the panel at the Royal Society, would it be a good idea if there were some specialists, some professors of general scientific knowledge in terms of climate change instead of people specialising in some microcosm, tiny, tiny fragmented interest and I was savaged by the panel, they said it was a ridiculous idea and you had to be a top-top person in a very narrow field to get credibility from other scientists. On the other hand Richard has talked about, and here I fully support his view, there are some people on the blogosphere that have made themselves experts in general climate science. And we have to find some way, the IPCC or whatever replaces it has to find some way of giving credibility to their expertise, as well as to the expertise of people who have gone through the Royal Societies of various kinds. I think this whole thing has opened up a huge challenge to the way science is conducted, not just climate science but across the board.”
GL- “Could this actually be a seminal moment”?
RH – Yes. And it is “part of the way we learn to cope to the internet“. Establishment behaves “in a normal way” as if the Internet “is not going to shout back at them“, and without thinking they need to deal with a broad public that was “inconceivable to them when they started their career“. “This is going to make me behave differently“
Not many words out yet about WeatherAction’s “Climate Change, The Solar Weather Technique & The Future of Forecasting”, the conference organized by Piers Corbyn and hosted by the Imperial College in London on Oct 28. Amazingly, BBC’s Roger Harrabin just spoke about it during the midnight BBC Radio4 news, in rather neutral and very appropriate tones as far as I can remember (nothing has surfaced in the BBC News site as yet).
Myself, I have been able to get to the conference and back, just in time and only to hear Corbyn’s opening remarks, when he lamented the immorality of the mainstream obsession with CO2 and compared his work to longitude measurer Harrison, rejected by the scientific and political establishment for a long time despite being right and only winning acceptance by winning the acceptance and trust of users (the Royal Navy, according to Corbyn)
It’s an early Christmas for AGW skeptics in the UK with the BBC all of a sudden abandoning it’s monolithic “the world will turn into cinder” orthodoxy.
Step forward Stephen Sackur, broadcasting a series of programmes about Greenland (with one article saying that “scientific studies of the Greenland Ice Sheet” may not necessarily “indicate that catastrophe is around the corner“; and a video with a very optimistic Greenlander (at around 1m30s) who should be made to tour all Greenpeace and WWF meetings).
And step forward…Roger Harrabin (!!!), finally fed up alongside millions of fellow citizens with the baseless climatic forecasts by the MetOffice, demonstrably wrong for three years in a row. So fed up, Mr Harrabin, that he’s given some BBC space to Piers Corbyn (!!!!!).
Remember the BBC’s Science and Environment team dedicating more than twice as many words to critical rather than to supportive comments for the Japanese Government’s recent decision on emission targets?
They’re back. Only this time, the trouble is how to report about a call by a group of AGWer “to ditch climate policies”. Rather awkward, one would think, as the opponents are AGWers as well. Then magic strikes.
It’s 180 words supporting the “call”; against 177 words making the point against it (and 77 neutral words).
And so it’s full AGW Balance restored! Saving AGW, one day at a time!