Andrew Neil and Ed Davey

Unfortunately my holiday cottage has Wi-Fi, so I haven’t been able to completely ignore what’s been going on in the outside world. I can’t quite resist, therefore, commenting on Andrew Neil’s interview with Ed Davey. Andrew Neil is the host of The Sunday Politics and Ed Davey is a Liberal Democrat MP.

You can watch the interview and also read a transcript. Much of what Andrew Neil claimed was pretty standard “skeptic” arguments and was not really consistent with current scientific understanding. Andrew Neil was quite heavily criticised in Twitter and retorted by saying

So, Andrew, here goes.

Ed Davey mentions the Cook et al. survey which showed that 97% of the scientific literature that stated a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) endorsed AGW. Andrew Neil replied by stating that this survey has been discredited. No it hasn’t. Richard Tol, an economist at Sussex University, has indeed claimed to have discredited the Cook et al. work. However, his paper was rejected by the editor of the journal to which it was submitted, and having looked at his work it is a set of statistical tests that he does not justify, explain, or even attempt interpret. Furthermore, he doesn’t even disagree with the result of the Cook et al. study, he simply disagrees with their method.

Andrew Neil then shows a graph of temperature and CO2 concentrations showing the temperature rising from 1980 and then flattening off in the last decade or so, while CO2 levels continue to rise. Firstly, the graph is a cartoon and really overestimates the slowdown in surface temperatures. It also doesn’t show the rather large change in temperature in 1998 as a result of a large ENSO event. It also shows no errors, which are quite large, so in fact the slowdown is not really statistically significant. Also, despite this slowdown, the 10 hottest years on record happened after 1998. Ed Davey tries to explain that short-term variations can produce these plateaus, but Andrew Neil cuts him off a number of times and doesn’t really let him finish the point he was making. When Ed Davey tries to discuss the oceans and the Arctic ice, Andrew Neil continues focusing on the surface temperatures.

Andrew Neil then goes on to quote Doug Smith, from the Met Office

“It’s fair to say that the world warmed even less than our forecast suggested… We don’t really understand at the moment why that is.”

I’m sure Doug Smith has been correctly quoted, but what Doug Smith was referring to (and what Andrew Neil is referring to) is the global surface temperature. It appears to be rising slower than most models predicted. However, the Earth as a whole hasn’t warmed slower than expected. The ocean heat content continues to rise and the Arctic sea ice volume is dropping dramatically. Global warming is about an increase in energy in the climate system, not simply about global surface temperatures (which is only associated with a few percent of the excess energy).

Andrew Neil claimed he could address the issue of ocean heat content (but didn’t) and claimed that Arctic sea ice melt this year was “normal”. Well, maybe Andrew Neil should read this post so as to see how little he understands about Arctic sea ice. So, I was very unimpressed with Andrew Neil. He regurgitated many typical skeptic arguments and clearly hasn’t spent much time talking with actual climate scientists. Ed Davey, on the other hand, seems to really understand some of the subtleties of the science of global warming. I don’t know much about Ed Davey, but was impressed by his performance here.

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26 Responses to Andrew Neil and Ed Davey

  1. PeteB says:

    Yeah – I thought the graph looked a bit dodgy – I think when you use a moving average smoothing and you approach the end point, you have only past values, not future values, so you should show the uncertainty increases as you approach the end point – it would be interesting to use the same technique and stop at 1998 – I suspect it would look as if temperatures were about to increase exponentially

  2. Yes, that may well explain the graph. I hadn’t actually thought of that. As you say, normally if you were doing a 10-year running average (smoothing) your data point would be in the middle of the range that you’re using. As you approach the end, however, you have no future data points and so the running average becomes unreliable as it is either using a shorter time interval or is dominated by the same data points that were used to produce earlier values. If you go and do a 120 month running average of the HADCRUT4 data using the Skeptical Science Trend Calculator it doesn’t plot the last 5 years, presumably for this very reason.

  3. Here’s what the Met Office says about their decadally smoothed data which indeed indicates an increase in uncertainty towards the end of the time period.

    Toward the ends of the series there are not enough points to calculate the smoothed value. For example, to calculate the smoothed value for 2005 we would need to know what the annual averages were for the 21-year period 1995-2015, but we only currently have annual data for the period 1995-2010. Ideally the smoothing should stop before the filter ‘runs off’ the end of the series, but a series that has been shortened in this way appears not to be up-to-date.

    In order to extend the simple smoothing to the very ends of the time series it is necessary to either extend the data series, or shorten the filter. Howsoever it is done, the data near the endpoints will be treated differently to data in the middle of the series. Extending the data series can be done in a number of ways, but the method used for HadCRUT4 is simply to continue the series by repeating the final value.

    There is an increase in uncertainty associated with estimation of decadally smoothed anomaly values where fewer than 21 years of data are available toward the ends of series. The uncertainty in smoothed anomaly values arising from application of the method for extending the smoothed series is estimated as part of the coverage uncertainty calculation, resulting in increased uncertainty ranges in decadally smoothed HadCRUT4 anomaly values toward the ends of the smoothed series.

  4. PeteB says:

    I suspect such technicalities may be lost on Andrew Neil, (but not by those that fed him the graph !)

    Really – I expect a bit better from the BBC – if they are going to show that graph and concentrate on the ‘flattening’ at the end – they should explain that it is partly a by-product of the algorithm used – so recent points are unduly weighted

  5. Likewise. In fact, the more I think of this interview, the more partisan it appears to be. Andrew Neil doesn’t seem to be interviewing Ed Davey in order to determine his views. He appears to be interviewing him with the intention of illustrating that Ed Davey’s views (which seem quite similar to the views of most climate scientists) are wrong, or questionable.

  6. Skeptikal says:

    Global warming is about an increase in energy in the climate system, not simply about global surface temperatures

    The whole theory is that CO2 ‘traps heat’ by capturing outgoing radiation and returning it, by re-radiating it, back to the SURFACE. Global surface temperatures have long been the benchmark for measuring the energy gain from this back-radiation. Atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, yet the global surface temperatures fail to reflect this. Sea surface temperatures also fail to reflect this. The “increase in energy in the climate system” you refer to is mostly magical heat which can somehow make its way to the ocean depths undetected in its journey. We can’t properly measure the temperatures at the oceans’ depths which makes it a great place to pretend that this missing heat is hiding in… but it ignores the fact that it’s the surface which should be warming. Have you forgotten the ‘settled’ science in your quest to save the world?

  7. You’re only half right. The theory is that CO2 traps energy and returns some to the surface, 70% of which is ocean. Given this, this excess energy doesn’t only heat the surface. It can also heat the oceans, and clearly does so. This means that only a small fraction is available to heat the surface and hence small variations in the amount that go into the oceans can have a big impact on the rate at which the surface is heating.

    This excess energy therefore increases the total energy in the climate system. To reduce this imbalance will require that surface temperatures will need to rise (so that the outgoing flux matches the incoming flux). However, as many have already said, natural variations (ENSO cycles for example) can influence the rate at which the surface warms and can produce short-periods (decade or so) during which temperatures appear not to rise.

  8. BBD says:


    Aside from demonstrating that you do not understand the basics, you have also outed yourself as a conspiracy theorist:

    We can’t properly measure the temperatures at the oceans’ depths which makes it a great place to pretend that this missing heat is hiding in…

    You now have no credibility whatsoever. Nice work!

  9. BBD says:

    Andrew Neil is a disgrace. Another arrogant buffoon who thinks he knows better than the expert community. What really rankles is that this puffed-up idiot is allowed anywhere near microphone since he is using it to push a political misrepresentation of climate science. It is absolutely bloody disgraceful that this has happened. People – starting with AN – should be given the boot, right hard, and right now.

  10. dana1981 says:

    I’ve got a post thoroughly debunking Neil on our consensus paper and on the plateau to be published tomorrow. It was really a horrid display of contrarianism on his part, but I was impressed by Davey’s performance. He did a very good job debunking Neil’s myths in real time, and pointing out that Neil refused to consider any data other than surface temperatures.

    Good point about the decadally smoothed data not being reliable toward the end of the graph as well. I was wondering why it extended to the present despite presumably being a running average.

  11. Thanks. Looking forward to your post. Richard Tol is really starting to irritate me 🙂 Did you see my tweet to you and John Cook with Richard Tol’s skewness plotted together with the location (in the list) of all the 7s. His claim that the data fails the skewness test is – as far as I can tell – largely because his null hypothesis is that the skew should be constant in time (which according to Figure 1b of Cook et al. is not consistent with the data – endorsement fraction changes with time) and because the very small number of 7s (and possibly also the small number of 1s) throws the skew outside his bootstrap 5 – 95% confidence interval (a bootstrap based on a null that isn’t really justified). I think the same is true for the autocorrellation and standard deviation tests. Also his chi-squared is simply illustrating that the volunteer ratings and author rating are different – not really a huge surprise given that this is made very clear in Cook et al. anyway. You probably already know all of this, but it amazes me that Richard Tol truly thinks he has debunked Cook et al.

  12. It is remarkable that, as a serious journalist (or, at least as someone who would presumably claim to be one) he seems to be completely ignoring climate scientists when determining his view on climate science.

  13. BBD says:

    I’d say reprehensible rather than remarkable, but otherwise, yes.

  14. dana1981 says:

    Yes I saw your Tweet. To be honest I haven’t been following the whole stats discussion that closely. When Tol started doing tests assuming the abstract and full paper self-ratings should be identical, I moved on. He seems to think he’s some sort of master of statistics, but he applies these tests that just make no sense to begin with.

    Stats don’t tell you anything if your underlying assumptions are wrong.

  15. Typical MO for these guys. Keep repeating lies and hope people believe it.

  16. Dana, you may have a point. I regularly regret getting involved in this whole stats discussion myself :-). Robert, yup that seems to be standard practice sadly.

  17. Thanks Dana. Quite keen to see Andrew Neil’s corrections to your corrections.

  18. dana1981 says:

    Yes, Neil’s response will be fascinating. I have no idea how he’s going to try and defend himself.

  19. > I have no idea how he’s going to try and defend himself.

    Here you go:

    James Murray expressed disappointment:

  20. Phil Smith says:

    Fortunately in the UK so can complain to the BBC on the errors and inaccuracies included in the programme. I suggest that other BBC licence fee payers do the same. (First time complaint to the BBC for me – usually they do a fantastic job). Complaint is below if you want to use some of it:
    “In the interview with Ed Davey on climate change, several misleading and inaccurate statements were made by Andrew Neil. Complete details of these and why they are inaccurate can be found here:

    For the issue with the “97% Expert Consensus ” paper there is a detailed rebuttal here:

    1) The BBC should not be giving such a prominent voice to such a discredited scientific position. Andrew Neil is the presenter of the program and therefore may be assumed by many viewers to be providing the most up to date, unbiased and accurate information available. This is demonstrably not the case.

    2) Andrew Neil used many of the classic strategies of climate denial e.g. cherry-picking and ‘gish gallop”. All this to support an argument that climate change should not impact government policy. No time was given for Ed Davey to reject these examples.

    3) All the above would be bad enough if a subjective issue was being discussed. The concept of human caused climate change is settled science. Would the BBC entertain having such a program about gravity or is the world round? Rather than educating the viewers and moving the discussion forward the entire section seemed designed for Andrew Neil to peddle his own out-dated, unsupported scientifically and personal misconceptions on human made climate change. “

  21. Thanks Phil. Glad to hear you’ve written to the BBC and thanks for making your template available.

  22. Phil Smith says:

    I have received the following reply from the BBC. No this does not address my concerns about the piece. In fact it makes it worse because Andrew Neil shows where he is coming from when he tries to substantiate his position. If any parts of the science are to be analysed then this should be done in a science programme (although the significant parts of climate change are pretty much settled and it is only minor parts that are still in development in order to complete the picture – so it would not be a controversial programme). To have a debate about the policies to implement based on the scientific advice is a valid exercise for a political programme. This is what should have happened. Anybody know how I can progress this further? I am frustrated that there does not seem to be a way to continue the discussion.

    Dear Mr Smith

    Thanks for your contact regarding ‘Sunday Politics’ broadcast 14 July on BBC One.

    We understand that you felt that Andrew Neil made inaccurate statements about climate change during his interview with Ed Davey.

    We’re sorry that you were unhappy regarding the content of this piece. With respect to this interview, Andrew himself has written a detailed piece which can be found here:

    We trust that this helps to address the concerns which you have raised, but please also be assured that your comments have been registered to our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback made available throughout the BBC, including to programme producers, as well as members of senior management.

    The audience logs help to shape future decisions regarding BBC programming and output.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

    Kind Regards

    BBC Complaints

    NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

  23. Thanks for the comment. I don’t really know what else to suggest to be honest. It’s not obvious that it’s a fight that can actually be won. It’s had a fair amount of exposure and maybe some have learned from it. There is hope, I guess, that coverage will be better in future, but maybe that’s a little optimistic. Just have to keep plugging away.

  24. Fragmeister says:

    I read on an anti-vac site, I think, that writing to the BBC Trust gets a better if slower response as that is when complaints get dealt with properly.

  25. Pingback: Making Science Public | Wotts Up With That Blog

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