Andrew Montford and the BBC News

Andrew Montford, who writes the Bishop Hill blog is a noted climate science “skeptic”. In the run-up to the release of the IPCC’s AR5 SPM, the BBC had a number of news reports about climate science. One of the reports included a segment with Andrew Montford in which, if I remember correctly, he made some comments about uncertainty in the models. Andrew Montford is clearly quite heavily involved in the climate change debate (having written a couple of books, running a popular blog, and written some reports for the Global Warming Policy Foundation) but he isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a climate scientist. So, I was surprised that the BBC chose to include him in a report that seemed to be specifically about climate science, rather than – for example – about policy.

Andrew Montford actually has a degree in Chemistry, so maybe he does understand climate science. Can I find any evidence of that? Well, I went through some of his recent blog posts and I must say that it does appear that he doesn’t. As an example, in a recent post he promotes a letter – written by someone called Doug Keenan – to Julia Slingo, the UK Met Office’s chief scientist. The letter relates to a claim in the recently release IPCC SPM which says

The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend, show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C, over the period 1880–2012….

Doug Keenan’s letter is claiming that the statistical model is insupportable and that the confidence intervals should be much wider—perhaps even wide enough to include 0°C. Really, that’s amazing. Could it be true? Let’s actually look at some data. The figure below shows the GISSTemp temperature anomaly data for the period 1880 – 2013. The data points are monthly values, the curve is a 12 month running mean, and the straight line is a linear fit. Without having to do any kind of statistical analysis it’s fairly clear that temperatures today are about 0.8oC higher than they were 130 years ago and that there is likely an uncertainty of about 0.1 to 0.2oC. So, Doug, there really is no chance (or at least the chance is vanishingly small) that the data is consistent with there having been no increase in surface temperatures since 1880.

Temperature anomaly together with a 12 month running mean and a linear trend.

Temperature anomaly together with a 12 month running mean and a linear trend.

So, where does Doug get his claim that the statistical model is unsupportable? It comes from a report written by the Met Office in response to a parliamentary question about the statistical models. When discussing the various statistical models, the report actually says

Furthermore, these comparisons do not provide evidence against the existence of a trend in the data.

These results have no bearing on our understanding of the climate system or of its response to human influences such as greenhouse gas emissions and so the Met Office does not base its assessment of climate change over the instrumental record on the use of these statistical models.

Nor do the results provide any reason to disregard observational evidence of global warming. In an analysis such as that undertaken here, if the tested models are poorly specified then even the most likely of the tested set of models will be a poor representation of the behaviour of the real climate. In such cases the relative likelihood of the models considered here is of little scientific value.

My summary of the report is as follows. To analyse a data set – such as the global surface temperature anomalies – requires some kind of statistical model. The models considered in the report were Linear model with first order autoregressive noise, Third order autoregressive integrated model with drift (ARIMA(3,1,0)), and First order autoregressive integrated moving average model with drift (ARIMA(1,1,1)). Some of these models appear to do a better job than others. If, however, you’re trying to do a linear fit to the data, then such a model will clearly not be good fit to the wiggles (variations in the data), but it does allow you to estimate how much the data values have varied, linearly, with time and to determine any uncertainty in this estimate (i.e., what is the likely linear trend and what are the errors in this trend?). Furthermore, such an analysis doesn’t tell you why the data has behaved in the way that it has. For that, you need to consider physically motivated models/theories that can be used to try and understand the behaviour of the data.

So, the statistical models can allow us to estimate how, for example, surface temperatures have changed since 1880 and to estimate any uncertainties in this change. Hence we get that there is a 90% chance that surface temperatures have increased by between 0.65 and 1.06oC in the last 130 years. This, however, doesn’t tell us why surface temperatures have changed. To understand why, requires physically motivated models and theories. In my opinion, Doug Keenan’s letter to Julia Slingo illustrates that he doesn’t understand basic data analysis and hasn’t understood the Met Office’s report to which he refers. That Andrew Montford has promoted this letter on his blog also suggests, to me at least, that he too doesn’t really understand these things either. Maybe promoting something on his blog doesn’t mean that he endorses it, but – if so – he hasn’t put much effort into making this clear. Given this, I don’t understand why the BBC thought Andrew Montford was someone they should interview when discussing climate change and climate models.

To be clear though, I certainly don’t think the BBC should be prohibited from interviewing someone like Andrew Montford. They might be a publicly funded organisation, but they should have complete editorial control. I, however, have the right to judge them on the basis of who they choose to interview. In this case, I think they got it wrong. If you’re discussing skepticism, climate science blogging or (maybe) climate science policy, then maybe Andrew Montford would be the ideal interviewee. If, however, you’re discussing actual climate science then, ideally, interview climate scientists or those who clearly understand climate science.

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54 Responses to Andrew Montford and the BBC News

  1. I should probably have put this in the post, but if anyone can find evidence that Andrew Montford does indeed understand climate science, feel free to leave a comment.

  2. Skeptikal says:

    The BBC has a duty to provide ‘balance’ when reporting on any controversial subject… and climate change certainly does has some controversy. You might think that Andrew Montford isn’t ‘qualified’ to speak on this topic, but he does have a degree in the field of science. How many self-appointed experts in climate science actually have a degree in ‘climate science’?… that’s a serious question, let’s see you name the climate scientists who actually have a degree in ‘climate science’.

  3. Sou says:

    That episode where Doug Keenan got someone in Parliament to ask a question happened a few months ago. The UK Met slapped him down very politely (since it was a response to an MP) but very firmly, basically telling him his question was “not even wrong”. I think the Met Office could have made the fact it was a slap down clearer than they did for the benefit of the layperson. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

    Andrew Montford probably has connections. There’s no other earthly reason I can think of why the BBC would interview a mediocre fake sceptic about climate science. He’s not just mediocre he misrepresents science. IMO he falls into the disinformer category – a merchant of doubt. He’s a darling of the science deniers for his book(s), mainly. What little I’ve seen of his blog is pretty pathetic – though at one stage long ago I got a mention IIRC (well before HW) 🙂

  4. Sou says:

    FWIW, I think people who don’t understand and those who reject the science shouldn’t carry any weight when it comes to developing climate-related policy either (ie people like Montford) That’s because policies need to be based on the best information. So-called skeptics aren’t doing themselves any favours by rejecting the science.

  5. Tom Curtis says:

    As used by Skeptikal, “balance” is a weasel word. Specifically, it means in his usage that BBC reports should not be balanced with respect to the scientific evidence, but rather should be imbalanced in that 3% of climate scientists are expected to get 50% or more of the coverage because their views happen to be amenable to the political ideology of … Well, I don’t know how many, but certainly less than 50% of Britains.

    In contrast, I believe that balance in science reporting means reporting the views that are best supported by the scientific evidence. In climate science, that means reporting the views of the IPCC. If (and only if) the program is specifically looking at the controversy, then it is acceptable to report the alternate views, but only by showing where they avoid or ignore the weight of evidence. Further, they should not interview any scientist who does not clearly acknowledge where the weight of evidence, and weight of scientific opinion in fact lie. That is because while it is acceptable, even desirable in science to push alternate theories against the tide – it is not acceptable to falsely present your theory as being better supported by the evidence than is in fact the case.

  6. Skeptical, (and I typed this at the same time as Tom so there may be some overlap) I don’t disagree that Andrew Montford has a degree in science. I would argue that he has not been an active scientist in the field of climate science (i.e., I don’t believe that he actively undertakes research in the field). I think your question is a strawman. You probably know that there are no degrees in climate science as such, but that doesn’t mean we are unable to identify those who most would agree are climate scientists.

    I also presented an example of where it seems as though he is promoting something that is clearly scientifically incorrect. So, I can’t really find evidence that he understands the fundamentals of climate science sufficiently well so as to be considered as someone who would be a good person to interview in a BBC news report about climate science. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I can’t find the evidence. Again, I’m not proposing that we should insist on rules with regards to this, just expressing my opinion about the suitability of someone like Andrew Montford when it comes to who should be interviewed by a mainstream news channel when discussing climate science (for balance, I don’t think I would be a better choice than Andrew Montford either).

    Climate change is clearly a controversial topic and I was trying, in the post, to distinguish between reports on the science itself, which I think should mainly involve active scientists, and reports on the controversies (which could include anyone involved). Having said that, it’s not clear to me why we should include much discussion of the skepticism. I know it exists and I know it has influence (and so probably can’t be ignored) but the scientific evidence is very strong and the skepticism largely comes from those who are not active climate scientists. Why should they be given a voice with respect to the science? I suspect you think they should, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument as to why they should. Their existence should not immediately guarantee that they deserve a voice. I imagine their are people who think that we should cure cancer by mediating at the top of high mountains (or some equally silly idea) and yet noone would regard it as acceptable to include such people in every report on a new cancer treatment (okay, I know that climate science skepticism is more mainstream than that, but it still has very little scientific foundation).

  7. I hadn’t realised that Doug Keenan had managed to get the question asked. I tend to agree that the Met Office could have made it clearer that it was a slap-down. Their response is quite complex and, as a consequence, already appears to have been mis-interpreted (probably intentionally, but who can say for sure) by those who would like there to be much more uncertainty than there actually is.

  8. Martin Vermeer says:

    Piers Foster,
    Pierre Friedlingstein,
    Jonathan Gregory,
    David Vaughan. Those are just the UK drafting authors of the SPM. Yes, they all have degrees that count.

    If the BBC could only find a chemist with a bee in his bonnet to represent the other ‘side’ of this ‘controversy’, that speaks volumes, don’t you think?

  9. Why don’t you say which degree our beloved Bishop has, Skeptical?

    You could also tell us that he’s a published scientist since he has his name on one paper.

  10. Rachel says:

    Skeptical, I have a degree in science. It doesn’t make me a scientist.

  11. Skeptikal says:

    If (and only if) the program is specifically looking at the controversy, then it is acceptable to report the alternate views, but only by showing where they avoid or ignore the weight of evidence.

    Ha ha, that’s hysterically funny. Yes, only show the weak points of the alternative view.

    I would suggest that if the ‘weight of evidence’ for global warming was so strong, then there would be no need to complain about any coverage of alternative views as nobody would take the alternative views seriously.

    People are taking these alternative views seriously and, as such, they should be given equal coverage by the media. Trying to shut down the debate by complaining about who’s being interviewed isn’t going to work… it’s only going to make you look like you can’t prove the sceptics wrong.

  12. Rachel says:

    Skeptical, unfortunately people do take alternative views seriously. Look at all the people who have bought into the vaccination causes autism argument. I don’t think someone who believes vaccination causes autism should be given equal weighting by the media with doctors/scientists in that debate. Do you?

  13. Martin Vermeer says:

    Actually I wanted to say what degree it is that Montford holds, but then I saw that willard made it into a riddle already, and far be it from me to spoil anyone’s Trivial Pursuit pleasure.

    Anyway, you’re not part of a research community even potentially without a somewhat relevant Ph.D (mine is in geophysics). And you don’t stay part of any research community for very long unless you’re actively publishing results, and those get cited. Our episcopal friend looks so out of place in the above company, it’s not even funny.

  14. Skeptical, (as Rachel has already pointed out) you seem to be suggesting that because a reasonable number of people believe something, that it then deserves some kind of representation in the media. In the sense that we can’t ignore that such beliefs exist, that may be true,but the idea that somehow this then means that how we present the science should be balanced by the beliefs of people seems a little odd.

    Imagine, hypothetically, science suggested that we make major changes to the way in which we live our lives. Imagine that these changes are going have a big (possibly negative) impact on certain powerful industries. Imagine that these industries then try to influence how much we believe in the science, so that many believe that the evidence is much weaker than it actually is. In such a circumstance, do you think we would have been right to have presented both the science and the skepticism side by side? That trying to be “balanced” would be the right thing to do in such a circumstance? Just a hypothetical example, you realise.

  15. Martin Vermeer says:

    > Andrew Montford probably has connections

    Our friend Nigel?

    Somebody should still do for Britain what John Mashey did for the US, laying bare (partly at least) the political network behind the free publicity given to McIntyre and McKitrick, and the fraudulent Wegman report.

  16. I agree, you’re defined much more by the research you do (or are doing) than by whatever qualification you might have. Today, of course, you would normally have to have a PhD to become part of a research community, but I imagine that the actual qualifications of those involved in climate science are remarkably diverse (Physic, chemistry, geophysics, Mathematics, geology, oceanography, are some I can think of and there are probably more).

  17. Skeptikal says:

    You probably know that there are no degrees in climate science as such, but that doesn’t mean we are unable to identify those who most would agree are climate scientists.

    Yes, I’m well aware that there are no degrees in climate science. Anyone with a degree in any field of science can proclaim themself to be a climate scientist.

    Identifying those who ‘most would agree’ are climate scientists is very subjective. Even defining ‘most’ would be subjective. You might not consider the good Bishop to be a climate scientist, but if he is researching climate science in his own time, then he may be as worthy of the title as anyone who’s being paid to work as a climate scientist.

    The BBC has on occasion given air-time to Al Gore, who has absolutely no claim to being a climate scientist… yet you wouldn’t complain about the BBC interviewing him.

    Andrew Montford is probably more qualified to talk about climate change than most of the activists who the BBC has interviewed over the years.

    Having said that, it’s not clear to me why we should include much discussion of the skepticism.

    Nobody has all the answers, not even the IPCC. It’s not good enough for you to say that “we’re right and you’re wrong, because we say so”. The effects of the global warming theory are speculative… 17yrs without surface warming is proof that it’s speculative. The reality is that you don’t want the public shown the otherside of the coin, because then they get to make an informed choice. You might say that the skeptical case is based on misinformation, but I could say the same of your case. What’s so bad about letting people make up their own minds after they’ve had the opportunity to hear both sides?

  18. BBD says:

    The Parliamentary Question was raised by Lord Donoughue, who is on the Board of Trustees of the GWPF. The whole thing was engineered by the GWPF.

  19. Tom Curtis says:

    In a world were many people still believe astrology, Skeptikal purports to believe that all that is needed for the rational view to gain adherents is that it have some coverage (no matter how small, or biased). In fact most people, whether through inability, or disinclination, are not capable of rationally assessing evidence. They are suckers for the techniques of Madison Avenue – a fact AGW deniers exploit to the hilt. That is why it is of utmost importance that discussions of science in public media focus on the science which is accepted by those in the best position to know. If the AGW deniers were principled, they would not have it any other way. They would utterly reject trying to convince those who are poorly equipped by education and lack of specialist knowledge as a means to their ends; and instead try to gain public acceptance of their views by convincing those who are best informed. Instead, knowing they are unable to convince those who know the evidence, they seek to convince those who do not, and who are poorly equipped to assess it.

    IMO, they thereby show their true judgement of the strength of their case.

    On a minor point, Skeptikal has misrepresented me. I did not say that, when examining the controversy, that the “skeptics” should not be allowed to present their best case. I did say they should only be allowed to present their best case if the best case against them is also presented. Such an examination of “the controversy” can only be balanced if it clearly indicates how few climate scientists accept the views of the “skeptics”, and why they are loath to accept them. Granted, my final sentence means that most “skeptical” scientists on AGW will not be able to present their case, for the are too keen on misrepresenting the relative strengths of the various views. But until they are honest with themselves, how can we expect them to be honest with others? Therefore they have no place in what should be an educational forum.

  20. A short response as I have to rush off. The distinction I was trying to make was between a report that might be about the fact that climate science is so controversial and that includes the skepticism associated with climate science, and a report about the current scientific evidence. I don’t see why we would be benefit by including people in the latter who basically say “well, you see, I just don’t believe this. There’s too much uncertainty.”

  21. BBD says:

    GWPF Board of Trustees:

    Lord Lawson (Chairman)
    Nigel Lawson (Conservative), Secretary of State for Energy 1981-83, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1983-89, author of An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, 2008.

    Lord Barnett
    Joel Barnett (Labour), Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1974-79, Vice-Chairman of the BBC 1986-93, gave his name to the Barnett Formula.

    Lord Donoughue
    Bernard Donoughue (Labour), Senior Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister (first Harold Wilson, then James Callaghan) 1974-79.

    Lord Fellowes
    Robert Fellowes (Crossbench), Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen 1977-86, Deputy Private Secretary to the Queen 1986-90, Private Secretary to the Queen 1990-99.

    Rt Rev Peter Forster
    Bishop of Chester since 1996.

    Sir Martin Jacomb
    Deputy Chairman of Barclays Bank 1985-93, Director of the Bank of England 1986-95.

    Henri Lepage
    French economist and author, joint founder, Institut Euro 1992 (Paris), Chairman of the Institut Turgot (Paris) since 2008.

    Baroness Nicholson
    Emma Nicholson (Liberal Democrat), MP for Devon West and Torridge 1987-97 (first Con, then Lib Dem), former Lib Dem MEP for S E England (1999-2009).

    Lord Turnbull
    Andrew Turnbull (Crossbench), Permanent Secretary, Environment Department,1994-98; Permanent Secretary to the Treasury 1998-2002, Cabinet Secretaryand Head of the Home Civil Service 2002-05.

  22. BBD says:

    No climate scientists or relevant qualifications or active relevant research backgrounds there. Yet all feel sufficiently strongly motivated by something to become actively involved in Lawson’s misinformation machine.

    I wonder, could it be… right-wing politics?.

  23. Skeptikal says:

    I don’t think someone who believes vaccination causes autism should be given equal weighting by the media with doctors/scientists in that debate. Do you?

    I believe that free speech should be preserved. If someone believes that vaccination causes autism, then they have as much right to be heard as someone who proclaims vaccinations completely safe. People aren’t, as you would suggest, completely stupid… they do have an ability to make up their own mind about what anyone says. Yes, some have declined vaccination after the reported link to autism… but as far as I know, in Australia at least, the vaccination rate is still over 90% which shows the vast majority have made the decision to not believe the reported link to autism.

    Shutting down free speech is dangerous. How much weighting the media gives to either side of a particular controversy is a decision for the media… and most likely based on how much controversy there actually is. Instead of complaining that skeptics are allowed to be heard, feel fortunate that you live in a society where everyone gets to be heard, yourself included.

  24. I have wondered the same thing myself. It’s probably reflected here, but I’ve always been surprised by how many economists (or those involved with economics) have strong views about climate science. I should have written it down, but in Joseph Stiglitz’s book, he was quite critical of the typical views of most economists with respect to (I think) societal values. I can’t remember if he thought this was because of how they are educated in economics or whether this was because of the type of people who might choose to do economics. I shall have to try and find the passage in his book.

  25. Marco says:

    Skeptical, vaccination rates in the UK for MMR fell with almost 10%, causing an increase in measles and mumps of more than a factor 10. Several other countries saw the same problem. One of the reasons that the issue was not as large in Australia was that the media by and large ignores the anti-vaccination groups. Yes, that’s right, the Australians are not “smarter”, they just don’t get so much information about the “alternative” view, and therefore could not fall for it.

  26. BBD says:

    Lots of economists on the GWPF academic advisory council…

    I make it at least eight, including Dr. Tol.


  27. Tom Curtis says:

    Again “Skeptikal” tries to distort the meaning of terms. “Free speech” is the right to say as you will without hindrance. It is not the right to have others broadcast what you say, or provide a platform for you to say it. Therefore this is not a free speech issue in anyway. What is at issue is whether public broadcasters in their role of educating the public should be required to educate them on the science, or be required to give equal time to crackpot theories in the name of balance.

  28. Skeptikal says:

    In fact most people, whether through inability, or disinclination, are not capable of rationally assessing evidence.

    Tom, that’s priceless.

  29. Tom Curtis says:

    Skeptikal, I know that you and your cohorts find the fact utterly priceless in your campaign of disinformation. It remains a fact, nonetheless.

  30. Skeptical, I certainly wasn’t suggesting that we do anything that might damage someone’s right to free speech. Having the right to express an opinion doesn’t guarantee you the right to have that opinion expressed by a major media outlet. If anything, I’m expressing my own right to free-speech by writing this blog and by writing this post in particular.

    The vaccination example is probably extremely relevant. The link between MMR and autism was extremely tenuous and any responsible journalist should (in my opinion) have investigated whether or not people’s views about the link between MMR and autism was backed by credible scientific evidence. Responsible journalism would, I think, have reduced how much the media presented the anti-vaccination side of the story and, possibly, prevented a dangerous reduction in vaccination rates in the UK.

    Similarly, if journalists were to go out and talk with professional climate scientists I think that they would (if they were responsible) regard the skeptical arguments as having a much weaker scientific foundation than the mainstream views and would, hence, present the skeptical views less often than they do now. This wouldn’t be infringing anyone’s rights to free speech. It would, in my opinion, be responsible journalism.

  31. BBD says:

    17yrs without surface warming is proof that it’s speculative.

    You are rebroadcasting a falsehood. Please don’t; it may confuse others.

    You are conflating the troposphere with the climate system as a whole and ignoring the ongoing increase in OHC. This is – at best – mistaken and extremely sloppy thinking. At worst, it is deliberate misrepresentation. Please stop; it may confuse others.

  32. dbostrom says:

    No actual scientific controversy available, so we’re being lead in the direction of talking about semantics. Following that hint still takes us to a bad place.

    Somebody said:
    “You might not consider the good Bishop [Andrew Montford] to be a climate scientist, but if he is researching climate science in his own time, then he may be as worthy of the title as anyone who’s being paid to work as a climate scientist.”

    Using “climate scientist” as a term that would be readily understood by university faculty and staff, officers of grant-making entities and the like, Montford would be worthy of the title “climate scientist” if he published academic articles related to the science of climate, similarly to the WG1 scientists he’s criticizing.

    Instead, here’s somebody who can’t or won’t participate in the process of scientific inquiry as a colleague. Thereby, they avoid the often harsh experience of peer review, leaving their ideas untested by people equipped to help. Still, this person has passionate views they feel compelled to proclaim to the world, opinions that are inconsistent with the structure of science. The thoughts expressed by this person are useless for improving our understanding of the topic at hand. There’s a word for such a person: crank.

    In most cases cranks don’t find an audience but this is a special case, for reasons unrelated to science.

  33. Martin Vermeer says:

    Yep, and remember that not so long ago climatology as an academically taught discipline didn’t even exist…

    BTW about chemistry and climatology, while Svante Arrhenius is usually listed as a physicist, he made seminal contributions to chemistry: his Ph.D work, the theory of electrolytes, which was so revolutionary his promotion committee was hesitant to let him pass, yet earned him nineteen years later the Nobel Prize in chemistry 😉

  34. Martin Vermeer says:

    Five lords, one baroness, one sir. Bring on the republic 🙂

  35. dbostrom says:

    And here’s just one of the things that can happen when cranks are accorded respect beyond qualifications, are fully unleashed:

    “Creationists on Texas Panel for Biology Textbooks”
    One is a nutritionist who believes “creation science” based on biblical principles should be taught in the classroom. Another is a chemical engineer who is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Web site of the Creation Science Hall of Fame. A third is a trained biologist who also happens to be a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based center of the intelligent-design movement and a vice president at an evangelical ministry in Plano, Tex.
    As Texas gears up to select biology textbooks for use by high school students over the next decade, the panel responsible for reviewing submissions from publishers has stirred controversy because a number of its members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth.”

    Etc. etc.

    The content of textbooks for Texas helps shape the content of textbooks for much of the United States.

  36. BBD says:

    That’s a plutocracy special-interest lobby group for you!

    So long as we don’t get all muddled up and start thinking that this has *anything* to do with actual science!

    It was, is and always will be about money.

  37. Fragmeister says:

    I think, but I may be wrong, but the school board posts in the states are elected.

    Crossing topics, there is a brilliant section in Dara O’Briain’s Craic Dealer DVD where he disses balance by saying he’d be up for giving balance when horoscopes are read out on morning tv programmes. I couldn’t find it to link it on YouTube.

  38. Marco says:

    Woha, Montford doesn’t even *have* an idea of his own. All he does on his blog is refer to the “science” of others. He’s doing nothing but building a story around that. He’s not too bad at that, and thus he’s pushed forward as a spokesperson. Better than Benny Peiser or a Dick Lindzen, who aren’t that good at the useful soundbyte.

  39. dbostrom says:

    “I think, but I may be wrong, but the school board posts in the states are elected.”

    In Texas they’re nominated (including by self-nomination) and then selected by a political appointee.

    Looking to the Montford on BBC issue, to my mind the only substantive harm that might come from his appearance is that of gifting social status to Montford, helping him become an authority. Blog–>BBC–>testifying under oath, that sort of thing. It happens; look at Michael Crichton, numerous others. Authors of fiction end up being solicited for their opinions on fact.

  40. dbostrom says:

    Correcting myself: the Texas –textbook– panel members are selected by a political appointee.

  41. Yes, he clearly is quite good at that. Good enough that he seems to be contracted, quite often it seems, by the GWPF to write reports on quite a wide range of topics.

  42. Jp says:

    “In fact most people, whether through inability, or disinclination, are not capable of rationally assessing evidence.

    Tom, that’s priceless.”

    I don’t know if it’s priceless, but it’s certainly accurate when referring to deniers. Skeptical’s posts prove Tom’s point; they’re fairly typical of spurious denier talking points without substance.

    He says “People aren’t, as you would suggest, completely stupid… they do have an ability to make up their own mind about what anyone says.”
    An opinion based on what? There are millions of people who believe that virgins will greet them when they martyr themselves; millions who believe that the earth is six thousand years old and was created in six days; millions who believe that climate scientists around the world, getting rich on government pay, are involved in a vast conspiracy to deceive the public; millions who believe in astrology etc….and all of them apparently have the ability to make up their own mind.

    He further says “People are taking these alternative views seriously and, as such, they should be given equal coverage by the media”. Great logic there. Let’s not worry about whether those alternative views can be substantiated; whether the arguments are cogent; whether they have any scientific evidence to back them up, all that’s necessary is that the views are taken seriously.

  43. Vinny Burgoo says:

    If you lot find it this hard to define ‘climate scientist’ with respect to WGI (no, Andrew Montford isn’t one, but nor are others who are actually described as such and have far more influence) wait until the far more important WGII comes out. You’ll likely find everything from evolutionary wallabolologists to intepret(at)ive dancers in there.

    A quick boast: My ex deployed a few of the early ARGO floats. Does that make her a climate scientist? Not in my eyes. She’s better than that. She’s a flumologist.

  44. Fragmeister says:


    Thank you for correcting me. I was a bit uncertain. I should have remembered Richard Feynman’s experiences on a similar board. He was invited to join – he’d never have asked anyone to vote for him for anything.

  45. Tom Curtis says:

    Jp, it is worse, and better than that.

    Worse because the great majority of the population lack the essential skills of critical thinking, ie, a passing knowledge of probability theory and statistics (ie, sufficient to understand the concept of statistical significance), linear algebra, and basic quantified logic; along with the necessary background knowledge to distinguish wheat from chaffe (basic scientific concepts such as newtons laws, laws of thermodynamics; a basic knowledge of geography and history, and of economics).

    In fact, the knowledge of science in the US is so bad that in a recent survey, only 45% of respondents could correctly identify that it takes a year for the Earth to go around the Sun:

    The center of the Earth is very hot [true/false].
    All radioactivity is man-made [true/false].
    Lasers work by focusing sound waves [true/false].
    Electrons are smaller than atoms [true/false].
    Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?
    How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? [one day, one month, one year]
    It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl [true/false].
    Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria [true/false].

    Further, only 12% answered the following correctly:

    “In the ACME PUBLISHING SWEEPSTAKES, the chance of winning a car is 1 in 1,000. What percent of tickets of ACME PUBLISHING SWEEPSTAKES win a car?”

    Only 3% got a simple bayesian analysis right. (The later is unsurprising in that the phenomena is well known.)

    It is worse also in that the West (at least) is currently showing a declining trend in rationalism (or exhibiting a romantic revival, if you prefer a more positive description).

    However, it is better IMO, in that for very few people do these lacks represent a genuine inability. Rather, but culture and education (most of which is not done in schools) we are taught not to value science and not to value rational belief. Rather, the largest educational industry in our society, the advertising industry, actively cultivates irrational thinking as a means to its ends. (It also actively cultivates short term and selfish perspectives for the same reasons.) In the unlikely event that we can reverse the dominance of irrationalism in our society, we can hope for a future where the majority of people can rationally assess evidence. In such a society, AGW skepticism would get short shrift indeed.

  46. BBD says:

    You’ll likely find everything from evolutionary wallabolologists to intepret(at)ive dancers in there.

    Really? Likely as in 66 – 100% probability? I will keep an eye out for them!

  47. dbostrom says:

    Perhaps you have a hard time defining “scientist” but others, not so much. Did your ex publish academic papers related to climate science? No? Then obviously she’s not a climate scientist.

    See? It’s easy.

    This uncertainty over who is and is not a climate scientists seems just as synthetic as exaggerated uncertainty over the science itself.

  48. Rachel says:

    Skeptical, I am not a journalist but a google search reveals to me that journalists have a code of ethics. If you go the webpage of the International Federation of Journalists – – they provide a declaration of principles. The very first one is: “Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.”

    There’s a good article in the Conversation about journalism ethics and climate change – It is written by philosopher, Tim Dean, at the University of NSW. He says: “…there is a moral commitment for journalists to respect facts delivered by experts…”

    If we take the vaccination example again. Let’s say journalist X is writing a story about the MMR vaccine and wants to present both sides. X interviews a scientist and a doctor who both support the use of the MMR vaccine. He then wants to get an alternative view so he chooses a palm-reader who thinks she can predict the future and who collects crystals. The palm-reader thinks the MMR vaccine causes autism and her evidence is palm-reading. This is not balanced reporting in my view. The palm-reader still has freedom of speech as she is free to write a blog about her views on vaccination but she should not be given equal weighting with scientists by the media.

    One of the reasons vaccination rates are so high in Australia is because the government pays parents to have their children vaccinated. In New Zealand, there is no such incentive and the rates are much lower.

  49. Vinny Burgoo says:

    dbostrom – Right. So everyone who publishes an academic article related to proctology is a proctologist. The world gets scarier and scarier.

    BBD – Given the ‘Dance Your PhD’ competition, the lower bound of ‘likely’ is likely much higher than 66% for interpet(at)ive dancers. Evolutionary wallabolologists? Look out for Tim Flannery.

  50. Mike Pollard says:

    It seems to be important that “the great unwashed” have their say, at least that is what my flaming right wing climate change denier brother has berated me with in the past. I’m no climate scientist, although as someone who works on the role of the environment in disease, I may have to develop a serious interest in the not too distant future. When the time does come I don’t see myself looking to the deniers for the information I might need unless they have a (peer reviewed) publication record that proves their expertise.

  51. Jp says:

    “So everyone who publishes an academic article related to proctology is a proctologist”.

    Usually, but not always. If you’re saying is that you don’t have the qualifications but you’re confident that with your vast experience and practical knowledge of that part of the human body you could contribute a lot to a paper studying the anus, I won’t argue with you.

  52. dbostrom says:

    Dancing with spicy stew for a moment…

    A paper that forms a connection between changing habitat of living organisms and climate change is “climate science related.” A paper describing the environment favorable for growth of Staphylococcus aureus isn’t.

    You know the steps. Carry on.

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