Climate Scepticism

Just to say that there’s a new blog in town – it’s called Climate Scepticism. There are a few posts up already, and more to come! I’m planning to post there myself, in the next few days – will probably keep this blog going, as well (intermittently), as well as mytranscriptbox, but am also looking forward to writing some longer articles for the new site. Time to get busy!

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“Why Should You Not Be In Jail?”

Increasingly I feel that comment is superfluous – the climate debate is becoming a parody of itself, and there’s scarcely a need these days to come up with many of my usual rather laborious “Captain Obvious”-type remarks in relation to the howling madness on offer. Was it always this insane? In that spirit of brevity, I present a recent conversation between radio host Thom Hartmann and CFACT’s Paul Driessen:

Paul Driessen: – my background’s in geology, I’ve studied the glaciers, the ice ages and so forth – that’s some serious climate change. My home in Wisconsin was – my home site in Wisconsin was buried five times by mile-thick glaciers. They came, they went – right now, we’re in an interglacial –

Thom Hartmann [interrupting]: Which has to do with nothing.

Paul Driessen [keeps talking]: – driven by natural, powerful natural interconnected, very complex forces that we don’t understand yet, and we certainly don’t have any control over –

Thom Hartmann [interrupting]: Paul, it’s a really nice little schtick – that’s what you should be in jail for, saying that kind of stuff. These are – what you’re saying – are demonstrable lies.

Jail time! For the merest mention of complex climatic forces that we don’t understand yet.

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“Changes in Behaviour”

Climate change – it is said – may bring about a multitude of strange and perplexing changes in the animal kingdom, from humans the size of hobbits to confused polar bears, giant crocodiles, shrinking bumblebee tongues and now bad parenting in beetles. On BBC Radio 4 last week, Professor Rebecca Kilner talked of a scientific study which turned generations of hitherto blameless burying beetles into deadbeat parents, a transformation which, she suggested, might be hastened by our old friend CC.

Rebecca Kilner: … the most fascinating part of this study is that we show that simply by changing the environment, we could create two different lines of behaviour, and then those very different behaviours were immediately passed on from generation to generation. And I think that’s interesting, because it speaks to the nature of how evolution might work. And that’s obviously important in this time of rapid climate change – to understand how world populations are going to cope with climate change, we need to understand more about how evolution works. And what our study suggests is that evolution might actually work more rapidly than was previously supposed – while the traditional view is that it involves the slow and gradual accumulation of random and beneficial genetic mutations, and what we’ve shown is that the environment can induce rapid inherited change in behaviour…

So, will global warming (if or when it ever wakes up from its 18-year snooze) be responsible for a lost generation of badly brought-up beetles? Or hobbit-humans or giant crocs, come to that? Who can tell, really. However, one species that we know has evolved rapidly over the past couple of decades, of course, is the human scientist, who has developed the useful habit of invoking climate change – both as a form of protective coloration and as a survival strategy to gain further funding – and thus could be said to be rare living proof of rapid climate-change induced behaviour change.

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“Everything We Know Is Wrong”

“Everything we Know is Wrong” is the intriguing title of a programme broadcast by BBC Radio 4 at the end of August last year. It made for some very interesting listening, and you can now read my transcript of it here.

From the “decline effect” to a lack of replicability, to financial and career incentives leading to hyped findings, it appears all is not what it seems in the world of scientific studies. There are implications for climate science here, although climate is not specifically mentioned and most of the examples come from medical research (see also Kip Hansen’s excellent recent article on Watts Up With That.)

A sample:

Jolyon Jenkins: According to John Ioannidis, it’s not only possible but pretty much obligatory to hype your findings.

John Ioannidis: Let’s say that I’m spending two years of my life performing a study and analysing these data. And according to my original intention and my original protocol, I see absolutely nothing that seems to be highly statistically significant. I have two options. One is to acknowledge that I have found nothing new, and then probably no-one will want to publish that in a major journal – the promotion committees will say “Well, what have you contributed?” Or I can start exploring that study and that dataset further – I can start data-dredging and coming up with some results that seem to be interesting – they may be even highly significant, in terms of statistical terms – but now I have really deviated from my original intention, I’m entering an area where everything is possible. I can get any result that I want.

Jolyon Jenkins: You can find a pattern in anything, effectively. It’s like seeing faces in shadows. I mean, if you look hard enough, you will always see something that seems to you to be meaningful.

I’ve long thought that the human component of climate change is very like “seeing faces in shadows”; it’s as if the entire planet is some sort of giant Rorschach inkblot test.

One mystery can be quickly resolved, though, and that’s where researchers in three separate laboratories (Portland, New York and Edmonton) ran identical experiments with mice that inexplicably yielded different results.

Fellow fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will of course know that mice “are merely the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who, unbeknownst to the human race, are the most intelligent species on the planet Earth. They spent a lot of their time in laboratories running complex experiments on humans.”

Observing the perplexed humans, in this case, gave rise to some useful results, I imagine – and quiet gales of mousey laughter. :)

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“4 degrees Celsius by 2030”

“Our temperature will rise 4 degrees Celsius by 2030”, or so says Emma Thompson, noted Hollywood actress and, it also turns out, noted climate scientist, glaciologist and Arctic-ologist. When Dr. Richard Betts of the UK Met Office dared to question her time frame for this alarming temperature rise (sensibly placing it after 2070 when current critics of the Met Office will probably all be safely deceased), she responded magisterially: “Are you insane, have you been to the Arctic, have you seen the state of the glaciers? I’ve talked to the experts… this is not scaremongering.”

Given that global average temperature rise has been somewhat disappointing over the last 18 years or so (put it like this, if it was a bunch of shares you’d bought just before the turn of the century, you’d have probably sold it a while ago), a four-degree jump by 2030 would be noteworthy. All caused, as Professor Thompson points out, by Shell draining the Arctic of its oil and presumably collapsing all the glaciers in the process. Shocking stuff.

We can now guess why the BBC has recently decided to dump the Met Office as its weather service of choice – as demonstrated amply by Dr. Betts in that exchange with climatologist Emma, they are clearly far too staid and middle-of-the-road. Why settle for tedious, penny-ante predictions like “Cloudy with sunny spells, chance of a shower at 1pm” when your forecast (courtesy of Emma’s experts) could encompass “entire swathes of the Earth that will become uninhabitable” due to oil rigs?

It will help to restore a much-needed air of doom-laden grandeur to the morning news.

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“Really Good Value For Money”

New transcripts this month, some relating to climate and environment, others to the Sir Tim Hunt witch-hunt and City University woman of mystery Connie St. Louis. I’m going to be lazy and copy the following mostly from my Twitter account:

  • 05/07/15 Dr. Mitchell Taylor: polar bears “appear to be as abundant… as ever, in most populations”:
  • 10/07/15 Prof. Richard Allan; pause due to heat “going to deeper levels” of the oceans, which “slosh about”:
  • 05/06/15 Prof. Keith Shine: pause partly due to older analysis, now “not as much as we first thought”:
  • 13/07/15 On “the world has lost half its wildlife”: BBC in uncritical mode:
  • 12/07/15 Sir Paul Nurse on “Twitter and media storm”: Sir Tim Hunt “should never have been sacked” by UCL:
  • 24/07/12 Connie St. Louis on the media: “learn how to use it as your tool”: : “you can change policies”.
  • 23/07/15 Arctic sea-ice volume up 41% in 2013 – “not to get hopes up, as such, but…”:
  • 04/05/15 Lord Stern talking to John Humphrys on the Today programme:
  • 15/07/15 Three interviews on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, two about the UK’s ever-increasing risk of winter blackouts and one with Lord Smith, head of the new Task Force on Shale Gas:
  • 04/12/14 Sir Tim Hunt inspires students in China: female student – “He told us to explore something new”:
  • 25/07/15 Ed Davey and Richard Howard on the Green Deal’s demise: Howard: “need to get these subsidies down”.
  • 03/04/14 In less than 2 mins, CSL twice mentions need to call science “to account”: Quis custodiet, though?

On the matter of Sir Tim Hunt, I would like to commend Louise Mensch for her unwavering search for the truth, over the past couple of months – if the current crop of paid-up journalists had a hundredth of her drive and dedication, there would be a lot less misinformation in the world.

Back to Ed Davey on renewable energy:

First of all, we’ve had huge success on renewable electricity, under the Coalition. We saw renewable electricity treble, huge increase in offshore wind, onshore wind, solar, biomass and so on. And actually it was really good value for money, because we’ve got to tackle climate change, as you said at the beginning of your introduction. But interestingly, when we set this budget, the prices – electricity prices in 2020 – because its all about affordability – the electricity prices were forecast to be much higher than they’re going to be now, because wholesale prices have come down. So actually, going green is going to be more affordable for the economy, taken whole, not less affordable…

Now, I could have sworn that a few years ago, he was saying renewables were a good choice because wholesale energy prices were going to be higher, and suddenly he’s saying that renewables are a good choice now that wholesale energy prices are lower.

Some naughty and cynical people might suppose that Mr Davey simply uses whatever argument seems expedient at the time, consistency be damned, but that would indeed be a naughty and cynical thing to suppose. :-)

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“Or Professor Sir Tim Witch-Hunt…”

“…to give him his full title”, as BBC comedian Jon Holmes put it.

Here’s a rundown of transcripts I’ve put together (so far, anyway) relating to the Tim Hunt affair, and following the Today programme interviews with Connie St. Louis and Jennifer Rohn on 10th June.

The indefatigable Louise Mensch has much more on this affair, here:

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“Tea And Toast – Boom”

I’ve just finished transcribing an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, which was broadcast back in May and was about the Eigg Electric project:

The project – to power the Scottish island of Eigg’s homes and small businesses almost entirely by solar, wind and hydropower, seems to have largely been a success – bearing in mind, though, that there are about 100 people living on Eigg and the island is about 5 miles long by 4 miles wide, so essentially there’s the population of a single London street inhabiting an area the size of an entire London borough, without the kind of energy-hungry infrastructure generally required by city-dwellers.

I’m not entirely against renewable energy – and if it didn’t require subsidies and was cheaper, more abundant and as reliable as the alternatives, I’d be entirely for it. What I find a bit off-putting about the notion is illustrated by the following exchange, where the BBC’s Tom Heap visits the house of Ailidh Morrison, a local, who puts the kettle on:

Tom Heap: And what is the limit you work under?

Ailidh Morrison: We work – each residential house gets 5 kilowatts, so that would be a kettle, an immerser would take you up to 5 kilowatts, and anything with an element is 2.5 kilowatts.

Tom Heap: Right, so that’s just about to come to the boil, that taking a big 2.5 kilowatts –

Ailidh Morrison: That’s 2.5 kilowatts to run, yeah.

Tom Heap: Right.

Ailidh Morrison: If I had that on and then I tried to put on a toaster and the immerser on at the same time, my leccy would flip off and I’d have to ask the leccy boys to come and switch it back on.

And a few moments later:

Tom Heap: So how much of a problem is it, this 5-kilowatt restriction?

Ailidh Morrison: It’s no problem at all. I’ve never had that kind of problem with it. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and that’s when I still had the toaster, because yeah, I put the kett- yeah, because the kettle’s 2.5, the toaster’s 2.5. So you can have those both on at the same time, so if I had my immerser on in the morning, and go – oh, I’ve put that on to have a bath later, and think oh, I’ll make my breakfast, tea and toast – boom. Out. That’s it off.

Ailidh is okay with this because she’s happy with the community-owned scheme and is signed up to saving the planet from global warming – and that’s fair enough, it’s her choice. I don’t think I’m much of an energy spendthrift, but I think I’d balk at those kinds of constraints – always having to wait for the washing machine to stop before I could make a cup of coffee or use the vacuum cleaner, for example, or constantly having to choose between hot water or a hot breakfast.

It seems a bit like having to count the cracks in the pavement every time you go for a walk, or facing being fined for going a few pence above your household budget, or needing to log the precise number of calories in every single morsel of food you eat.

“Life’s too short” is not a phrase I’d normally use, but am sorely tempted to make an exception in this case.

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BBC Audio Jigsaw Puzzle

Until this week, I’d only been vaguely aware of the recent controversy about Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt, who has been compelled to resign from his honorary position at University College London, following some unwise remarks made at a lunch during the World Conference of Science in South Korea.

My very minor involvement in the ongoing spat that has broken out over this resignation, has been to transcribe a couple of audio segments from the BBC’s Today programme on 10th June:

What interests me is that although we hear Sir Tim’s voice during each of these segments, we never hear the actual interview. What we get first is essentially an extended soundbite, and later on in the programme, we get another soundbite from him which is different from the first, except that it has the same concluding couple of sentences. Somewhere along the line, there has been quite a bit of editing, and it is not clear at all what order the material was originally in.

Why is this important? It’s important, I think, because these edits can subtly change the meaning of what is said. In each segment, BBC presenter Sarah Montague starts by saying “There are three problems with having women in the laboratory – according to the Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt…” which immediately provides a frame for the rest of the piece. The listener understands that this is about Sir Tim’s thoughts about the place of “women in the laboratory” – or indeed, women in science – in general.

Each of the soundbites from Sir Tim ends with “I just meant to be honest, actually.” Honest about what? It isn’t totally clear, although I would suspect most listeners to have been primed to think that he means: honest about his general views on the role of “women in the laboratory”. And this is reinforced during the rest of the second segment, with Connie St. Louis and Dr. Jennifer Rohn being critical of Sir Tim and no-one else being there to offer a different viewpoint.

What else could it have meant, though? In the first piece, Sir Tim refers to “emotional entanglements” that “made life very difficult” and were “disruptive to the science”. In other words, he seems to be talking about the fact that in his own experience, he found falling in love with female colleagues (and them falling in love with him) a hindrance to getting proper work done in the laboratory. Could that be what he was referring to, when he said “I just meant to be honest” – i.e. honest about his personal experiences, rather than honest about his general stance on the role of women in science?

It would be interesting to hear the whole of the original interview in its unedited form. It could be that sitting through all of it would not change most listeners’ impressions of Sir Tim Hunt and his views one jot. On the other hand, there’s a possibility it could then become clear that the BBC has – by carefully selecting and arranging each fragment of audio – subtly guided listeners into a particular interpretation of what they have been hearing.

I’m reminded of an episode of BBC’s Newsnight programme five years ago, where I believe the BBC spliced bits of a speech by Barack Obama together, in order to do just that:

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“What We Say Is Absolutely True”

We’re having a bit of a heatwave here in the UK, and by an astonishing coincidence, Lord Deben of the Committee on Climate Change popped up on the radio this morning, warning of the toasty horrors to come:

John Humphrys: Can’t we wait and see?

Lord Deben: If we wait and see, it’ll be much more expensive and of course the climate will then become much more difficult to live in, even in this country, with much short – with much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water. And we will be better off there than many of the countries of the world, and one of the most remarkable things, if you take the country you’ve just talked about – Bangladesh – Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in, if we do not halt the march of climate change, and we’ll have 170 million displaced people wandering around the world, looking for somewhere to live. We can’t wait for that – we have to put it right, now.

So, “heatwaves one end and flooding at the other”, presumably happening at the same time – goodness me!

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