All posts by Paul Matthews

About Paul Matthews

I am an applied Mathematician at the University of Nottingham, with research interests in fluid dynamics, pattern formation, nonlinear systems and numerical methods.

The Last Post

last post

This will be the last post at this blog, though it will remain open for comments for a while.

From now on I will be posting at a new new joint blog, called simply Climate Scepticism. The idea is that it is more efficient in terms of writing blog posts, reading blog posts, moderating comments and running a blog to have one joint blog, rather than several individuals running their own.

As far as I know it’s the first genuinely collaborative venture on the sceptical side (several other blogs have guest posts, but with one main blogger). Another novelty is the production of videos, thanks to the talents of Ian Woolley.

A year and a half ago there was some discussion of climate sceptics getting together and getting organised, See WUWT, Bishop Hill and Pointman.
The arguments in favour (presented by Pointman and Geoff Chambers) are that a coordinated effort would be more effective than a disorganised rabble, and that an organisation would be able to provide a spokesman in the unlikely event of the BBC wanting to adhere to its charter obligations by speaking to someone who didn’t think the end of the world was nigh. Arguments against are that climate sceptics tend to be loners who prefer to think for themselves rather than follow a group, that it could be difficult to find common ground for all to agree on, and that an organisation would be a focus for attacks. Although a majority voted Yes in the WUWT poll, nothing seems to have come of this, so effectively the Nos won.
The new blog might be a small step towards such a cooperative organisation, or at least an interesting experiment to see whether a collaboration is effective or completely unworkable.

So if you’ve been following this blog, please start following instead, and adjust your blogrolls and bookmarks accordingly.

Robin Guenier on Philippe Sands

On 17 September, Philippe Sands, QC and Professor of law at UCL, gave a public lecture (video here, slightly different text here) at Kings College London the UK Supreme Court, as part of a two-day meeting on Climate change and the rule of law.

Robin Guenier has written a detailed and carefully referenced response to the lecture. Robin is a qualified barrister — there is a short biography at the end of his piece. Two previous articles by him have been posted here.

Other coverage of Philippe Sands’s lecture:

Adjudicating the Future: Climate Change & the Rule of Law. A ‘Storify’ of tweets.

World court should rule on climate science to quash sceptics, says Philippe Sands

Donna Laframboise: Silencing Dissent Via the Courts and Supreme Court Justice Carnwath: Climate Activist

A Supreme Court justice and the scary plan to outlaw climate change

See also the #climatecourts twitter tag.

In the introduction to the Philippe Sands lecture, Lord Carnwath says “The purpose of this conference is to stimulate such a debate…”. It will be interesting to see how Sands and others involved with the conference respond to the debate started by Robin’s piece.


Update 12 Oct:

There seems to be continuing interest in this story:

Of legal beagles and climate change views, from Hilary Ostrov, including links to comments from others who were at the meeting.

Judges plan to outlaw climate change ‘denial’, Christopher Booker in the Telegraph, with over 3000 comments.

Adjudicating the future: silencing climate dissent via the courts, Judith Curry.

Justiciable climate? Bishop Hill, with a link to an interesting article on the wisdom or otherwise of courts ruling on scientific matters.

No response yet from the learned professor himself though.

Who will watch the watchmen? A substantial response from the inimitable Christopher Monckton.

Update 29 Oct:

A significant new development: Lucas Bergkamp, a partner in a law firm and emeritus professor has written a paper
Adjudicating Scientific Disputes in Climate Science: The Limits of Judicial Competence and the Risks of Taking Sides which appears to be a direct response to Sands, who is mentioned several times. The Bergkamp paper is discussed at Climate etc. It’s nice to see that Bergkamp cites Robin Guenier’s “thoughtful comments” several times.

Bergkamp doesn’t mince his words. The abstract includes: “Courts should refrain from examining and ruling on climate science, since they are neither authorized nor competent to rule in scientific disputes. Even if judicial competence is assumed, climate science is not ripe for adjudication. To the contrary, the politicization of the science and the socio-political construction of scientific consensus in the climate area render any attempt to rule impartially on the key scientific disputes futile and suspect. Whether in the form of an advisory opinion or otherwise, a court judgment would be perceived as taking sides and, thus, would only aggravate an already badly politicized situation. Courts, including the ICJ, should uphold the rule of law and respect the limits of their authority. They should therefore refuse to opine on climate science and refer scientific disputes back to the scientific community, which is where they belong.”

New IPCC Chair

The previous chairman of the IPCC, railway engineer and soft porn writer Rajendra Pachauri, faces allegations of sexual harassment and has at last been replaced after 13 years in post.

After an election involving representatives of 134 different countries, his replacement has been announced as Hoesung Lee, an economist from Korea, see IPCC press release.  His CV reveals the intriguing fact that he worked for Exxon for three years in the 1970s.  He has been involved with the IPCC since 1992, as part of IPCC WGIII, Mitigation of Climate Change.



Lee appears already to have got himself in something of a muddle regarding the IPCC’s remit.  The IPCC principles say that  “The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive”. However in an interview quoted here he makes a clear policy call for a carbon tax: “Climate change is a typical example of externalities and the way to correct the externality problem is to have a price on certain activities that cause those externalities. In our case, that is a price on carbon emissions – what you may call a carbon tax”.

Mike Shellenberger is not impressed:


Runner-up in the election Jean-Pascal van Ypersele might have been expected to congratulate Lee, but does not appear to have done so, though he did retweet someone describing himself as “the best IPCC Chair the IPCC never had”.

See coverage elsewhere from the BBC, Climate Home, Revkin in NYT, Carbon Brief, Bishop Hill, Nature, WUWT.

Update 7 Oct:

There is a hilarious video of a press conference with the new chair of the IPCC here:

It shows Hoesung Lee and the IPCC’s Head of Communications (who does not communicate his name). After a short introductory statement from Lee, the communications man asks (at about 06:30) “So are there any questions from journalists in the room?”. This is met with a silence so stony that one wonders whether there is anyone else in the room at all. He then asks “Do we have any questions yet from outside the room”. Again, there is silence, so apparently not. So the HoC asks his own question. At about 08:40 the process is repeated. Finally the “press conference” is put out of its misery by an emailed question from Megan Darby at 12:00, who asks about criticism that supporting carbon pricing as a priority represents a politicisation of the IPCC.

RICO Ructions Round-up

Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is the ability of the climate activist community to make make spectacular tactical blunders in the game of Climateball.

The most recent of these is the call for a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) investigation of “corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change”.  The letter is dated 1 September, addressed to President Obama and the Attorney General, and signed by 20 people who in the letter describe themselves as climate scientists.

The letter seems to have been first found around Sept 16th and was discussed by Judith Curry who called it “more insane U.S. climate politics”. (Curry and others had been the target of another insane political attack, the “Grijalva witch-hunt“, just a few months earlier, which seems to have backfired badly).  The sceptic blogosphere has given the letter considerable attention, while climate scientists have kept very quiet about it.

The letter promotes the climate activist conspiracy theory of powerful, sinister fossil-fuel organisations knowingly misleading the public, and employs the familiar tobacco smear.

Those signing the letter included Jagadish Shukla, Ed Maibach and Barry Klinger. All three are at George Mason University.  A painful irony here,  as pointed out by Paul Driessen, is that George Mason was one of the creators of the US Bill of Rights!






As first noted by Roger Pielke, around 20 Sept, Shukla (left, the first name on the letter) seems to be doing rather well out of the climate change industry, as do members of his family. This was picked up by Bishop Hill on Sept 21 and then explored by Steve McIntyre on Sept 28th with his usual forensic detail. Shukla’s so-called “non-profit” organisation, IGES, pompously proclaiming itself as “in service of society”, was in fact paying him millions of dollars.

The second person to sign the letter is Ed Maibach (centre), whose research is in “Climate change communication, public health communication, social marketing”, and whose website says “His research currently focuses exclusively on how to mobilize populations to adopt behaviors and support public policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions…”. Yet the text of the letter says “as climate scientists we…”, so Maibach is misrepresenting his academic credentials by signing the letter – he is not, by any stretch, a climate scientist.  This seems to be a fairly serious breach of professional integrity, in a letter to the President calling for prosecutions.  It’s also curious that someone who is supposedly an expert in communication strategies should make such a communication blunder.

Also signing the letter is Barry Klinger (right).  He attempted to defend the letter in a statement on his web page, repeating the oil and tobacco smears. He claimed that he did not recall any climate contrarians criticising Cuccinelli’s investigation of Mann. As pointed out by McIntyre, several did, and Klinger had absolutely no excuse for being unaware of this since the fact was even reported in the New York Times.

At this point the story might have gradually faded away.  But it was kept alive by a continuing sequence of tactical blunders by the #Rico20 team.

On about 26 September (first noted in a comment at CA) the letter was removed from the IGES site.  This was of course quite pointless, since the letter was available at the internet archive and elsewhere.  This apparent admission of an error provoked considerable interest, see Donna Laframboise, Bishop Hill and WUWT.

Then on 29 Sept a new much shorter note appeared at the same URL where the original letter had been posted, saying:
“The letter that was inadvertently posted on this web site has been removed. It was decided more than two years ago that the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) would be dissolved when the projects then undertaken by IGES would be completed. All research projects by IGES were completed in July 2015, and the IGES web site is in the process of being decommissioned.”
This raises further questions. How do you ‘inadvertently’ post a letter on a website? Was the research relating to all the money taken in 2014 really all completed by July 2015?

Also on 29 Sept, Klinger posted an update on his web page, in which he acknowledges his earlier error. He also says “My own ambivalence about the RICO letter…”. Why would you put your name to a letter to the President calling for prosecutions if you were ambivalent about it?

Other links:

A new low in science: Criminalizing climate change skeptics and blog post


Legal expert: Using RICO against climate change skeptics an attack on free speech

Backfire on the #RICO20 and Jagadish Shukla is imminent; wagon circling, climbdown, dissolution begins

Getting Rich off Climate Extremism



Oct 1: Lamar Smith, Chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee writes a letter to Shukla, regarding the funding of IGES, in particular “This letter raises serious concerns because IGES appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity…”. Expressing concern about removal of documents from the IGES website, he asks them to preserve all electronic documents back to 2009 and provide a list of all employees. See press release and letter.
WUWT reports Pat Michaels saying this may be the “largest science scandal in US history”, which seems way over the top to me.

Oct 5: The story of both letters is reported in Science magazine: Climate scientist requesting federal investigation feels heat from House Republicans. The article includes a quote from Shukla showing the same pompous self-righteousness mentioned above: “We can not believe the viciousness of attacks because we signed a letter as our civic duty with the ultimate goal of repairing our planet”.

Oct 8: Inside Climate News have their spin on the story. “I signed this letter as a private citizen on personal time, urging action on climate change, and I have been shocked by the reaction,” Shukla told InsideClimate News. “Any allegations of inappropriate behavior are untrue.”

Oct 9: Shut Up—Or We’ll Shut You Down in the WSJ.

Oct 14: Call for using RICO Act for climate skeptics is irresponsible and unconstitutional.

Oct 16: reports that Lamar Smith has written to NASA, NOAA and NSF, requesting information regarding funding related to IGES. The article has links to the letters, and also includes a good summary of the history of the story.

What the Pope didn’t say to Congress

The self-delusion of climate activists in the media never ceases to amaze me.

The Pope is currently visiting the USA, and today gave a speech to Congress. Here is the text of his speech.  It contains quite a bit of America-flattering, a lot of calls for ‘dialogue’, concern for the elderly, worries about violence, concern about the refugees, a call for an end to the death penalty, concern about poverty, some positive remarks about wealth creation, concern for the environment, worry about weapons, and the problems facing young people.

His speech did not mention climate change or global warming at all.

Yet here is how his speech was mis-reported by the deluded environment correspondents in the press:

Philip Bump, Washington Post: The pope asked Congress to do one specific thing: Address climate change. It won’t.

Fred Imbert, CNBC: Pope to Congress: Time to act on climate change, poverty

Timothy Cama, The Hill: Partisan applause as Pope Francis urges the US to fight climate change.

All of these have taken something the Pope didn’t say – but presumably something they hoped he might have said – and made it into a headline.

Congratulations to Andy Revkin who correctly reported that the Pope “skirts environmental tussles”. 
The BBC is reporting the speech as calling for an end to the death penalty and help for the migrants.

Update 25 Sept:

Here are some more journalists who have fooled themselves into thinking that the Pope’s speech to Congress was a call for action on climate change:

Alex Pashley, of the comment-deleting RTCC/Climate Home: Pope Francis warns US Congress on climate threat.

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Pope’s climate change appeal boosts hope for bipartisan action in Congress

Update 25 Sept:

Another day, another speech by the Pope, this time to the UN. Full text here. In a 3768-word speech, there is one sentence mentioning climate:  
“I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.” 
I wonder how journalists will report the speech…



Climate propagandists RTCC delete thousands of blog comments

One of the many climate activist groups churning out propaganda, formerly known as RTCC (Responding to Climate Change), have completely revamped their website and changed their name to Climate Home, as explained in an introductory article by their director Ed King.

King shows his usual standards of integrity and openness by failing to mention the main change – which is that their articles no longer allow comments.  Worse still, all the old articles still exist in the new system, but the comments seem to have been deleted.

The old version of the pages, with comments,  cannot be found on the Internet Archive, because RTCC blocked it from search in their site. At the time of writing, they are available in Google’s cache – for example this article misrepresenting the Quentin Letts programme on the Met Office (no comments) can be found in the old form here (154 comments). But this will probably disappear very soon, as Google refreshes its cache. So if there are any comments or threads you want to save, do so now using Google’s cache.

Most of the articles at RTCC did not have as many comments as the one linked above, though this recent one had 93 comments, so it seems that several thousand comments must have been deleted.  Of course, not all of these comments were of vital importance to preserve for posterity,  but many were carefully argued with supporting links, such as many like this from Robin Guenier:


Oil funding

Since the issue of organisations that mislead the public on climate change being supported by oil companies has been in the news recently, it seems approriate to mention that sponsors of RTCC / Climate Home include  Pacific Energy, a company that describes itself as a leading explorer and producer of natural gas and crude oil. Perhaps some kind of corruption investigation is called for.

Sutter reports back from Oklahoma

As mentioned in the previous post, CNN climate evangelist John Sutter went off to deepest Oklahoma for a couple of weeks – one of the most climate-sceptical parts of the US.

He’s now reported back with an article Woodward County, Oklahoma: Why do so many here doubt climate change? This is, of course, a potentially interesting question. But it’s one that he completely fails to answer.

His article is full of amusing sound-bites from sceptics:
“I think it’s a big fat lie.”
“I think all this global warming crap is overblown.”
“The most ludicrous myth that has been forced upon the Earth since the world began.”
But despite the length of the article, there is virtually no attempt to look into the details or the reasoning of sceptic arguments. At one point he does try to do this, but gets hopelessly confused, claiming that climate sceptics show graphs of the upper troposphere when they should be looking at the lower troposphere. No John, it’s the lower troposphere data that sceptics point to, and it shows that the observed temperature is significantly below the model predictions.

There are two rather unpleasant sections, which show just how low people like Sutter are prepared to go. In one, he finds a statue of a stegosaurus with a sign saying it lived 5,000 years ago. Later, he finds some people whose relative died in a fire, and tells them that wildfires are predicted to increase.

There are some amusing aspects to Sutter’s piece. Despite claiming that he went to Oklahama to listen to the climate sceptics, he seems to have been so freaked out by having his cosy metropolitan-elite values challenged that in desperation he tries to find people who share his own views. He “made it a personal mission” and “wandered all over the county on a scavenger hunt for believers”.

His second defence mechanism is to go back to reciting his credo (the climate is changing, we are responsible, 97%…) and to seek support from other climate propagandists. The article, which, remember, is supposed to be about the views of climate sceptics, cites Lewandowsky, Marshall, Hayhoe, Leiserowitz and the Pope!

The only little piece of progress comes right at the end of the article, when he learns that climate sceptics do in fact care about the environment, and admits that it took him far too long to realize it. He quotes one man who describes climate change as “baloney” : “I’m a steward of the land out here. It’s my responsibility to see that even in drought times, the land is taken care of and the land is respected.”

Update 6 Aug:

Sutter has now updated his confused paragraph about the troposphere (suggesting that he may have read this blog). The edited version is just as confused and misleading, and it seems that this is thanks to the intervention of the notoriously unreliable Katie Hayhoe.  The new  inserted sentence from Hayhoe claims that “there were errors in troposphere data, which are commonly misused by climate skeptics”. I’ve asked Sutter if this latest RSS data showing the model/reality mismatch, linked above, contains “errors”.

Roger Pielke on twitter is not impressed by Sutter’s piece:
Wow. @CNN sends a condescending reporter to Oklahoma to find out why people there are so stupid. Reminds me of Borat.
If you want to understand why climate politics is pathologically politicized in the U.S. Read this mocking MSM “news”

An Open letter to John Sutter

Sent to him, 9th July.

Dear John,

I was interested to read your article,
“We can’t ignore climate change skeptics — even if we really, really want to”
on your CNN blog.

It was encouraging to read your remarks
“My hunch — and my hope — is that by talking with skeptics, and by honestly listening to their life stories and points of view, there will be something to learn about how we can move on as a country together”
“My goal, instead, is to understand where they’re coming from — to lend an open, honest ear, to hear their stories”,
since it is quite rare for journalists to express such views.

I have attached my paper, “Why are people skeptical about climate change? Some insights from blog comments”, recently published in the journal Environmental Communication, which discusses exactly the issue you raise, of where climate sceptics come from and what their stories are.

The paper is based on a 2010 blog comment thread, “Reader Background” at The Air Vent blog where over 150 climate skeptics discuss their background and the reasons behind their skepticism.  A more recent thread of a similar type, can be found at Judith Curry’s blog, Climate etc, under the link Denizens II.
I recommend reading the comments on these threads. Of course, these represent the small minority of climate skeptics who actively comment on blogs.  You will note that many of the people commenting there have a strong scientific background.  There is a wide range of views, from ‘lukewarmer’ to more strongly sceptical positions – this indicates that statements such as “xx% of the population are climate skeptics” are misleading and unnecessarily polarising. There is also a very wide range of reasons for becoming skeptical. Some recall previous scares that failed to materialize, such as the 1970s ice age scare (yes, it did happen, despite the attempts of some to write it out of history) when we were told by scientists that we were getting more droughts or storms as a result of cooling of the climate.
Perhaps the most relevant driver for climate skepticism from your perspective as a journalist is the ‘alarmism’ and ‘hype’ associated with the climate change story. As one commenter puts it,
“Then Gore came along with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ that set off my BS alarm”.
I wonder if you are aware of the extent to which journalists such as yourself, churning out the climate scare on an almost daily basis, are responsible for generating skepticism?

A less encouraging aspect of your article is your quotation of Oreskes and Lewandowsky. These people have no interest in forming a genuine understanding of climate skepticism. Their aim is to smear and abuse climate skeptics, by labelling them as “merchants of doubt” or “conspiracy theorists” or “deniers”.
If you wanted to find out why people don’t believe in God, would you consult the Pope?
Again, these aggressive attacks backfire, by creating sympathy for climate skeptics. I see that your twitter account says you are “Rooting for the world’s underdogs” – in which case logically you ought to be supporting climate skeptics.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me by email or via the blog.


20 July: After 11 tweet-less days, Sutter said:
“PS: I’m back from Climate Skeptic Land (Oklahoma). Several people told me they don’t believe in climate change BECUASE @algore does…”
(and then apologised for his spelling).

4 Aug: Thanks to Clivere in the comments for pointing to Sutter’s article Woodward County, Oklahoma: Where no one believes in climate change? It’s quite a long article, but he doesn’t seem to have made an effort to understand climate sceptics, beyond getting a few soundbites like “I think all this global warming crap is overblown”. [For some reason he’s now changed the title to “Woodward County, Oklahoma: Why do so many here doubt climate change?”, a question he fails to answer]

Circling the Square

Circling the square

I’ve been attending a two-day meeting at Nottingham, Circling the Square, organised by Reiner Grundmann and colleagues from the Institute for Science and Society at Nottingham. This follows a successful similar meeting last year. The conference has its own blog, where video, audio and text from the meeting are gradually being uploaded.

The themes of the meeting were science and its links with policy, with the public and with the media. Many aspects of science were discussed, including for example drugs policy, where ex-Government Advisor David Nutt gave a keynote talk that contained some interesting points but rather over-stated his case with some dubious claims. But I will concentrate here on the climate-related aspects of the meeting. Whereas some social science conferences on these topics are little more than echo chambers for activists, this is certainly not the case with this meeting, which included a broad range of views.

Mike Hulme – “Scientists speaking with one voice: panacea or pathology?”

Mike Hulme (UEA) is the author of (amongst many other publications) an interesting book Why we disagree about climate change.

On Tuesday morning, he gave an hour-long keynote talk on “Scientists speaking with one voice: panacea or pathology?”, discussing issues around the consensus debate on climate change. He asked whether consensus messaging is normal or useful in science, and whether figures such as 97% actually mean anything. He noted that the ‘high degree of consensus’ was used in the first IPCC assessment (1990), arising from group deliberations, and that more recently this had been picked up by what he called the ‘consensus entrepreneurs’ and ‘consensus defenders’.

He discussed possible motivations for the consensus, including shoring up authority, providing a foundation for policy, and closing down dissent, before describing the so-called linear model, or “the plan” (Sarewitz), or “gateway belief”, which states that establishing a scientific consensus with the public will lead to public support and policy action. He mentioned a recent paper by Van der Linden et al that claimed to find evidence to support this. But bizarrely, their own data in fact does not support the hypothesis at all – their measure of support for action only rose marginally from 75.2 to 76.9, as noted by Dan Kahan, who had previously pointed out that a decade or so of consensus messaging has had no impact.

He also quoted from a paper “Should we aim for consensus?” by Beatty and Moore (2010): “Requirement of unanimity is pernicious” and “the authority of a scientific body is not undermined by questioning, but depends on it”. A key point he made was that consensus is insufficient – far more important than the numerical value of any consensus is the character and integrity of the scientists.

Here is his conclusions slide (HT Mike Schafer)

The ensuing Q&A session discussed whether consensus messengers were mainly from other fields, whether climate scientists had overstated the case, and whether consensus messaging could fail because of the romantic appeal of the underdog.

“Science advice” panel

The remaining sessions were in the form of ‘panels’ where a group of three or four people give very short introductory talks around a theme, followed by a substantial discussion session involving audience and panel members.

The first panel session was on “Science advice” and opened with some words of wisdom from Miles Parker, who had worked at DEFRA. He said that scientific advisors needed to ‘understand their interlocutors’, something that scientists were not really trained to do. ‘If you want to advise, first listen’. Perhaps David Nutt could have benefited from this.
Also on this panel was climate scientist Hans von Storch. He emphasized that scientists have their own values and preferences, and tend to think of their own fields as being particularly significant, and that scientists should be more aware of their own cultural background and ways of thinking. His text has been posted on the conference website.

“Science, uncertainty and science advocacy” panel

On Monday afternoon, Judith Curry was on a panel on the topic of “Science, uncertainty and science advocacy”. Her introductory statement can be seen at her blog. She defined advocacy as “forceful persuasion”, making an analogy with lawyers. She said she was concerned that too many scientists, and too many professional societies, were indulging in advocacy. She also complained that she herself had been (falsely in her view) accused of advocacy. She felt that many climate scientists have done a poor job of assessing uncertainty, and understated it. She pointed out that there is really no code of conduct for scientists communicating with the public, and this had resulted in irresponsible behaviour by some.

On the same panel, Conrad Brunk made some similar points: science is increasingly being used for advocacy, and there is a tendency to downplay uncertainty. Scientists talk to the public in a different way from how they talk to each other, and this can make them vulnerable to criticism.

Daniel Sarewitz made some interesting points about uncertainty. He said that uncertainty is easy to define if you have a large sample of data points, but this is not the case for ‘wicked problems’ such as GM and climate. For example, he said that statements such as “there’s a 10% chance of 6C of warming this century” really have no meaning. He suggested that in such cases we should not use the word “uncertainty”, but should talk about “disagreement” instead.

“Science and the media” panel

This was followed by a panel session on “Science and the media” including Leo Hickman, formerly of the Guardian, now at Carbon Brief, who discussed the role of the advocating journalist, saying that this was valid as long as it was transparent. He also addressed the issue of poorly worded press releases (this was also discussed last year, particularly by David Colquhoun). He proposed that it was important for the scientists themselves to take control over press releases and sign them off personally, rather than relying on University press offices.

Mike Schäfer (Zurich) also spoke about the problems with press releases – according to one investigation, 40% of university press releases contain exaggeration. He also raised concern about possible increasing segmentation, with people selecting their own preferred media source now that so many different sources are available.

“Science and the civil society” panel

On Tuesday after Mike Hulme’s talk there was a session on “Science and civil society” that included Ben Pile. He described a ‘bubble’ of interactions between governments, academia, NGOs and business, from which he said the public was excluded. He criticised NGOs, saying that they were sometimes incorrectly seen as representing the public, and that this amounted to a ‘democratic deficit’. He showed data indicating decreasing hunger and mortality, together with increasing food production and GDP in developing countries such as Bangladesh, and said that statistics showed that climate was well down on the list of risk factors for developing countries – thus challenging the “climate change predominantly affects the poor” narrative.

In the ensuing discussion, Peter Webster mentioned the substantial drop in deaths from storms, which can be attributed to greatly improved weather forecasts. Ben’s controversial remarks about NGOs went unchallenged until, near the end of the discussion, panel member Maurice Frankel (famous for his role in the FoI campaign) said that he didn’t see a problem with NGOs, as they countered the view of the industry lobby.

It was interesting and encouraging to see Ben Pile and co-panellist Stevianna de Saille chatting amicably afterwards, despite being at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their views on environmental activism and green NGOs.

Thanks to Reiner Grundmann and colleagues for organising a very interesting meeting (and apologies to all those panellists I haven’t mentioned).

Angry intolerance backfires

Tim Hunt

Tim Hunt made some very stupid remarks about women in science. He says they were intended as a joke, but they certainly weren’t taken that way. According to his wife, he was told to resign immediately or be fired. He was also forced to resign from other posts. Despite this, he continued to be vilified by the Angry Intolerant Left (AIL), with remarks like

This is a moment to savour.

Sympathy for The Devil? My thoughts on the #TimHunt “witch hunt”.

while others completely misrepresented what had happened:

If someone’s going around screaming “I’M A WITCH” and turning people into toads, politely asking him to stop is not a “witch hunt”.

Some people, notably Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins, said there had been an over-reaction. They were in turn attacked, and their statements misrepresented, by the AIL:

Here is my response to @thetimes, and less predictable apologists for sexism. @RichardDawkins and @ProfBrianCox

In the last few days, sympathy for Hunt seems to have increased. Eight Nobel prizewinners spoke out. The Boston globe wrote an article The right to be stupid, and the Guardian/Observer wrote about the support Hunt received from female scientists, saying that support for him has ‘mushroomed’. These pieces in two left-leaning newspapers, who would normally be expected to follow the PC line,  show how badly the behaviour of the AIL has backfired. An editorial in The Week goes further:
“Look at the savagery with which poor Tim Hunt was hounded for his silly comments about women…A key aspect of tolerance is to make allowances for people’s stupidity, for their gaffes, for their psychological hangups. They deserve a fair measure of ridicule, but we seem much happier turning fools into enemies, demanding their excommunication and savouring their despair.”

The General Election

In a previous post I discussed the possible reasons for the surprise Conservative victory and the failure of the pollsters to predict it.
An interesting article by Diana Beech in the Times Higher suggests that the AIL may have played a role here. An academic at Cambridge, she describes how she approached the election as a floating voter without strong political views, but was put off by the attitude of her (mainly academic) friends and colleagues:
“instead of managing to persuade me to put a cross in the box for the Left, the relentless, self-righteous and intolerant nature of the comments I saw from colleagues on my Facebook feed only drove me away from even considering joining their cause.”
“Of course, I want to see fairness, equality and justice prevail in any policies governing my country. But I didn’t appreciate seeing, time and time again, posts from my peers packed full of expletives implying that I was bigoted for even doubting the Labour or the Green economic approach.”

She voted Conservative. Another backfire for the angry intolerant left.

The Climate Debate

There is an analogy in the case of public opinion over climate change. Some people seem to be puzzled that public concern over climate change, and support for climate policy, are not as high as they would like. Well, I’ve written a paper about this. One factor may be the tendency for some at the extreme left of the climate spectrum to denounce anyone who doesn’t share their views as a “climate denier”, or as “oil shills” or paid by the Koch brothers. While some sceptics and lukewarmers get quite cross about this, I don’t, firstly because resorting to such childish name-calling shows that they have no valid arguments, and secondly because this intolerant aggressive behaviour is likely to backfire. A recent paper, The ironic impact of activists, indicates that some social scientists are becoming aware of this point.