Sir Paul Nurse: Batting for the Team down under

Posted: February 18, 2013 by tallbloke in alarmism, climate, Forecasting, Incompetence, Natural Variation, Politics, propaganda
Tags: , , ,

Hat tip to contributor ‘Bob FJ’ who has alerted me to this transcript of Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse speaking on Australian public radio station ABC Radio National last Saturday. This is just the ‘climate bit’, but the whole thing is worth reading as an insight into Sir Paul’s thinking on matters of science policy and research direction. Apparently, he thinks the sceptics and ‘deniers’ are politically motivated cherry pickers. “Mr Pot, there’s a Mr Kettle on line two for you”.

nursing_the_statistics_jdSir Paul Nurse:

The consensus view of the majority of expert climate scientists is very clear, that the globe has increased in temperature by around 0.8°C in the last 100 years, that this is largely due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and these are a consequence, at least in part or a significant way, of human activity, and that a further rise of around 2° or maybe up to 4° can be expected in the next century. That would be the approximate consensus view.

Within this mainstream consensus view there is quite a lot of debate about aspects of the science, and that is a legitimate debate, you know, is it 1.5° or is it 3°, et cetera, and it particularly applies to predicting the future. And it’s made difficult because of the complexities of feedbacks within the global climate system. That makes it difficult to come to decisions.

But outside that consensus and outside that proper scientific debate that is occurring within that mainstream there are more extreme opinions. At one end it is argued that there is either no warming taking place or, if it is taking place, then human agency is not important. And at the other end it’s argued that global warming will be absolutely catastrophic. That’s the outliers.

There are supporters in both of these extreme positions in the public sphere but it is the former arguments, the ones that are more sceptical and denialist, that have gained more traction, even amongst individuals who normally would actually trust consensus scientific opinion. So why is this the case? What can we learn from this?

A feature of this controversy is that those that deny there is a problem often seem to have political or ideological views that lead them to be unhappy with the actions that would be necessary should global warming be due to human activity. I think that is a crucial point, because these actions are likely to include measures which involve greater concerted world action, curtailing the freedoms of individuals, companies and nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity, potentially risking economic growth. These are all critical key issues about which we should be worried.

But what in fact appears to happen is that the concerns at least of some of those worried about these types of actions, have led them to try and convince society by attacking the science of the majority of climate scientists and to use scientific arguments that on the whole are rather weak and unconvincing, and nearly always involve the cherry-picking of data. In other words, what’s happened is those who are very concerned about the outcomes and what one would have to do, in trying to make their argument have over-spilled into the science.

We saw that, for example, in Britain with a politician, Nigel Lawson, who would go on the television and talk about the scientific case, and he was trained as a politician; you made whatever case you can to convince the audience. So he would choose two points and say, look, no warming is taking place, knowing that all the other points you chose in the 20 years around it would not support his case, but he was just wanting to win that debate on television. And that is of course over-spilling political views into your science.

Several other features have complicated that situation. One has been a failure of some climate scientists to be as open as they should have been in making all their data available, and this has caused some to argue that the climate scientists are not behaving properly, that their data is wrong or that they are manipulating it. So that hasn’t been helpful.

Another feature, as I’ve already mentioned, is the complexity of climate science which leads to uncertainties in predictions. And this allows space for poorly evidenced but confidently stated opinions, which are sometimes mixed with personal attacks and misrepresentations to attract public and political attention. So there’s a bit of an unholy mix in all of this.

So what can we learn from it? Firstly it reinforces the points about the need to rely on the consensus view of expert scientists and the need to avoid cherry-picking of data and argument. But it also emphasises the need to keep science as far as is possible from political, ideological and, for that matter, religious influence. This can be difficult, because after all we’re all human, but it is what we have to do, we have to keep the politics out of it.

  1. “but the whole thing is worth reading”, would love to.
    Is there a link? 🙂

  2. Arfur Bryant says:

    [“Firstly it reinforces the points about the need to rely on the consensus view of expert scientists and the need to avoid cherry-picking of data and argument.”]


  3. we have to keep the politics out of it.

    Yet he mentions “consensus” a dozen time to “support” his argument.

  4. redc says:

    Full transcript is here:—making-science-work/4508096

    (you have to click the “show transcript” button, and hopefully the longish link won’t get mangled)

    And a slight correction, it’s the ABC not ABS.

    [Reply] Thanks, fixed.

  5. mitigatedsceptic says:

    Why does he not come clean and admit that climate is chaotic and unpredictable and that the computer models are simply boy’s toys – fun to play with but dangerous for policy formation.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Here’s the thing, Sir Paul. The earth has warmed for about 27 years since 1940, so what was going on in the other 45 years? Remember so-called greenhouse gases from non-natural sources were increasing during most if not all of those years.

  7. tempestnut says:

    Paul Nurse is developing into one of the hardest people to think of a kind word to say about him. Whilst his persona is that of a quietly spoken genial kind of person, he must have running through him an arrogant streak that is beyond even the most determined of sports persons.

    I have often thought of him as an idiot who just happened to be a little lucky in that he was in the right place at the right time to be given a share in a Nobel science prize. But the way he has set about his crusade on global warming suggests to me that he has a mean streak in him.

    His getting into even suggesting restrictions on individual freedom should get everyone’s alarm bells ringing. Who does he think he represents? It’s not science because he won’t come out and discuss that in public, no he suggests it the exclusive province of the scientific elite. This man holds an influential position and he is abusing it. It’s not for science to decide policy, that is for politics and ultimately if our system wasn’t broken, us the people.

    No this man is a nasty piece of work. He has spared no opportunity to abuse his position and snipe at those who quest both the science and the policy responses. He is not well informed on climate science, his own area of science being more like a language that Physics. He behaves just like many on the left (but not all) whose voices become shrill when the majority reject their views. I think it is to the everlasting shame of both the Royal Society and Science that this man continues in his position. With the establishments complete failure to understand how they have completely cocked up the economy and their subsequent inability to fix it as a result, Paul Nurse is going to find himself a very lonely old man in the future as the country shuns those who have wrought such damage on not only our economy but much of the Western world.

  8. michael hart says:

    “..curtailing the freedoms of individuals, companies and nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity..”

    No, Sir Paul, you know as well as I do that making ENERGY more expensive will curb each and every form of industrial and economic activity (as well as individual freedoms). Always. It is only a question of how much.

    Then just as I felt ready to start chewing my own leg-off he said
    “…And that is of course over-spilling political views into your science.”

  9. Fanakapan says:

    The man is a Biologist, and yet he calls Lawson a Professional Politician, and therefore Unqualified to have his opinions on AGW given a hearing 😦

    I’m getting fed up with these Dicks who would have the public believe that Science is an all encompassing discipline that enables All engaged in research of whatever stripe, to be equally competent of being Authoritative on Any Subject.

    When it comes to the subject of Climate Science, an entirely Dodgy cadet branch of Astrophysics, the truth is that Sir Paul Nurse, is as qualified as I am to give an Informed Opinion, that is to say, Totally Unqualified.

  10. Scute says:

    ” So he would choose two points and say, look, no warming is taking place, knowing that all the other points you chose in the 20 years around it would not support his case”.

    Nurse doesn’t mention those two points are 12, 16, 23 years apart according to how generous you want to be to alarmists. And there are plenty of cherries within those periods. I never pick the 1998 cherry- no need to.

    Notice he says, “…in the 20 years AROUND it…” Not “either side” because he knows you can’t pick dates in the future when you’re citing the flatline to date- and ‘to date’ BTW means you can’t have cherry-picked one end of your time scale.

    Yes, I’ve got my spin radar on.

  11. donald penman says:

    Peer review is to be seen as evidence that AGW is true a theory that has to rely on peer review alone as proof is a week theory,as non scientists we would like to see real evidence for this theory ,we are however expected to accept the opinion of certain scientists without question.

  12. J Martin says:

    Nurse has been well briefed by his minders and remembers his lines quite well. I note that he has sneakily moved the goal posts for the length of time needed for temperature stagnation from 17 to 20 years. He will not be able to sustain this argument for long however, as the solar high has plateaued at half height and has a prolonged decline ahead of it, not only that but the AMO will go negative any year now.

    It’s clear however that he has been brainwashed and hasn’t looked at any contradictory evidence of which there is an overwhelming amount. Indeed I think it unlikely that he will have seen anything other than cherry picked fake warming graphs and is blissfully unaware of the questionable provenance of much of the data behind those graphs.

    He is presumably also unaware that the extreme warmist line that he so blithely extols is being eroded not just by sceptics but now also by NASA, the IPCC (AR5 pre-release) and Professor Phil Jones all of whom are finally coming round to the sceptics view, albeit reluctantly, that it was the sun ‘wot dun it’.

    His status as president of the morally and financially bankrupt Royal Society will not survive the forthcoming cooling as we slide from solar cycle 24 to a near spotless cycle 25 if Livingston, Penn & Svalgaard are proven to be right. This will leave him looking like a rather forlorn and lonely puppet of Greenpeace. Presumably he will have no option but to take early retirement at that point, as he will no longer be able to hold his head up amongst his colleagues.

    His stance as an extremist who has never talked to a sceptic, nor examined any of the contradictory evidence, places him in startling contradiction of the Royal Society’s motto which I have copied and pasted here from the website of the Royal Society;

    The Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ roughly translates as ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

  13. Doug Proctor says:

    Nurse’s summary of the consensus is pretty good – for what it is, a simplification of a simplification of an inadequately modelled simplification of a complex world understood from data far softer than its spokemen acknowledge.

    Nurse and Daryl Hannah and others don’t understand that the danger they speak of is rooted not in the general but the detail. The 0.8C rise is not the issue, but the portion of the 0.8 and EXACTLY how that portion relates the the RISE of CO2, feedbacks included. The details of the rise are, further PRECISELY the determinants between I-don’t-care and we-all-die-now. And through all this, it is the details of the observations as compared to the details of the scenarios that are what count.

    Liberal, creative types live a life of generalities. The Universe speaks to them, while the Parking Police speak to the rest of us. They wish to see the Whole but as all philosophers of all times understand and understood, we can only see, and see poorly, some of the details. Our concept of the Whole is only an extension of the small pieces we see, and if we see those in any fundamentally incorrect way, our concept of the greater is also fundamentally flawed.

    Governments and religions have as their best interest a public that dismisses detail. We go to war because the enemy is bad, not because in the background some group of companies have hobbled the economic interests of others. (The war can be military or global warming: the reasons apply to both.) How are we to know when we are raised and encouraged not to ask about the finer points?

    Details count. Actually, we know this: criminals are only bad a symbolic 5% of the time (when they are not getting what they want with the ease with which they want it). But it is the criminals 5% of life that cause us all their harm. If we could live in suspicion that the powers running our lives may be operating NOT in our best interest 5% the time, we’d be a lot better off.

    And when they are talking, more than 5% of the time..

  14. mitigatedsceptic says:

    Not only does the RS’s motto claim to support scepticism (take no one’s word for it) its arms too carry a message. Three Lions of the English Monarchy in the First Quarter (obligatory I suppose since it was founded by CharlesII) and the rest is plain white – the tabula rasa – no preconceptions!

  15. oldbrew says:

    Sir Paul really should study the recent Hansen et al paper, or look again if he’s already seen it. In amongst the ‘usual’ assertions we find:

    ‘the total climate forcing increased at a slower rate in the past decade than in the prior three
    decades. The slight growth in the past decade is due to a combination of factors: solar irradiance decline, slight increase of stratospheric aerosols, and the lower growth rate of greenhouse gas forcing compared with the 1970s and 1980s.’

    More greenhouse gases causing less forcing – isn’t that contrary to theory?
    Solar irradiance suddenly relevant when other ideas can’t explain reality – amusing.

    One comment that might be interesting to investigate:
    ‘The one major wild card in projections of future climate change is the unmeasured climate
    forcing due to aerosol changes and their effects on clouds.’

    That was the basis of waving away the non-increase of global temperatures between 1940-75 (also discussed in the paper). Only six pages, worth a look IMHO – link just below the heading here:

  16. Zeke says:

    Quote: “In other words, what’s happened is those who are very concerned about the outcomes and what one would have to do, in trying to make their argument have over-spilled into the science.”

    This talk really transcends Climate Change for me, because here he is explicitly stating and reinforcing the view that science is a highly specialized pursuit by those who are specifically qualified in some way, or who are associated with the certain institutions:

    “So what can we learn from it? Firstly it reinforces the points about the need to rely on the consensus view of expert scientists…”

    And he is doing this while acknowledging that the scientists who hold the expert consensus view are not even practicing science – ie they do not preserve and show their data, or they manipulate it; or they are making sweeping predictions in highly uncertain and complex matters.

    I hate to pick on Kuhn fans, because I know there are a lot of them around here (somewhere…(; ), but Kuhn was not the only game in town; Karl Popper vigorously debated Kuhn on his ideas about an elite set of scientists who basically picked the best “paradigm” for everyone else. Popper insisted that science must be falsifiable; it must be replicable; and he in this way was showing that science can be done by anyone. The abundance of brilliant, self-taught, untrained amateurs who have benefited the world through science prove that Popper was on the right side of history.

    Do some really think that if only the right people replaced the current set of elitists abusing science and rationality, that that would be an improvement, or a revolution? I do not agree.


  17. tchannon says:

    ” how to minimize the damage done by the powerful”

    Nothing changes.

  18. oldbrew says:

    Gotta see this. Paul Nurse, Nigel Lawson, Ed Miliband etc. argue their case on TV.

  19. mitigatedsceptic says:

    But notice that the Milliband/Lawson debate seems to have been five years ago. We now have another five years of no warming and a new UK Met Office forecast of no warming at least for the next five years. When will policy makers pay attention to their own science?

  20. oldbrew says:

    @ mitigatedsceptic

    It’s amazing how they keep saying the world is getting warmer when there is no data to support that. You have to think it’s a case of people telling their political bosses what they want to hear, as opposed to the obvious facts. Yes Minister…

  21. james griffin says:

    If Nurse wants the concensus view then fine….the latest survey of scientists and engineers showed what we would have expected…36% pro AGW…meaning 64% against.
    We won you lost Nurse.

    Also please remember the climate has cooled for the last 10,000 years…refer Holocenes.
    Whatsmore CO2 has been 15 times today’s levels and we did not burn up.
    Earth Science wins everytime.

  22. Zeke says:

    Oldbrew links: “When one understands the ‘ethical’ choice that Stern made, it is easy to see that immediate cuts in carbon emissions, brought about by ‘curtailing the freedom of individuals or companies or nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity’ are not necessary at all. They are simply Nurse’s ethical, philosophical and political preferences. And they are ugly ones at that.

    Andrew Montford is the host of the Bishop Hill blog.”

    The reason the experts and academics clearly feel they can pick a new “paradigm” for every one else is because they have made the determination that history, psychology, economics, and even religion can be quantified and made to fit formulas (theirs, of course), which then can be used to make predictions about the future and to develop policies today. But this is as false and preposterous as scientists who claim that the Earth’s complex weather systems are quantified and successfully modeled!

    This historicism is based on the incomplete inputs and parameters of the models and on many carefully omitted variables. The effect of this philosophy is to impede and reverse scientific advancement and understanding because all knowledge must serve the “ethical, philosophical and preferences” of the experts.

  23. tallbloke says:

    The full unedited version of the great global warming swindle:

  24. Brian H says:

    Consensuses once were important because in the wild and woolly world of science it used to be impossible, unworkable, to corrupt and bribe the majority of published researchers. No more.

  25. Brian H says:

    “The Careerist Consensus”