Sir John Houghton: Objective scientist or driven ideologue?

Posted: May 1, 2013 by tallbloke in alarmism, atmosphere, books, Forecasting, Incompetence, Philosophy, Politics, propaganda

Sir John Houghton, an ex-boss of the IPCC, and the hockey stick graph, visually demonstrating that the flawed hockey stick graph has never played any important role for the IPCC statements. H/T Lubos Motls

Wikipedia tells us:

He was the lead editor of first three IPCC reports. He was professor in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, former Chief Executive at the Met Office and founder of the Hadley Centre.

He is the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, an organisation “connecting Environment, Science and Christianity”,[1] where he has compared the stewardship of the Earth, to the stewardship of the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve.[2] He is a founder member of the International Society for Science and Religion. He is also the current president of the Victoria Institute.

Jon Jones alerted me to a press cutting this morning. I was amazed:



Sir John Houghton thinks so. Former director of the Met Office, former chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and former co-chair of the International Commission on Climate Change he is an influential voice in the global warming debate. He is currently demanding, in a letter to the Observer, an apology from Benny Peiser, a man-made global warming agnostic who, he claims, has put words in his mouth that he has never spoken:

“I demand from Dr Peiser an apology that he failed to check his sources and a public retraction of the use he made of the fabricated quotation.” The particular words complained of are “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen”.

Wow. And the warmists cast aspersions on Roy Spencer because he is a churchgoer?

Now, we won’t be debating any specific religion on this thread, but that doesn’t prevent us discussing the scientific implications of his world view, or his publications,  including:

  • Does God Play Dice? 1988, Intervarsity Press
  • Global Warming, the Complete Briefing, 1994, Lion Publishing (2nd edition 1997, Cambridge University Press; 3rd edition 2004, Cambridge University Press
  • The search for God; can science help? 1995, Lion Publishing
  • Physics of Atmospheres, 1977. 2nd edition 1986, 3rd edition 2002, Cambridge University Press.
  • Climate Change, the IPCC Scientific Assessment, eds J.T. Houghton, G.J. Jenkins and J.J. Ephraums, 1990, Cambridge University Press
  • Climate Change 1992, the Supplementary Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment, eds J.T. Houghton, B.A. Callander and S.K. Varney, 1992, Cambridge University Press
  • Climate Change 1994, Radiative Forcing of Climate Change and an Evaluaion of the IPCC IS92 Emission Scenarios, eds J.T.Houghton, L.G.Meira Filho, J.Bruce, Hoesung Lee, B.A.Callander, E.Haites, N.Harris and K.Maskell, 1994, Cambridge University Press
  • Climate Change 1995, the Science of Climate Change, eds J.T.Houghton, L.G.Meira Filho, B.A.Callander, N.Harris, A Kattenberg and K.Maskell, 1995, Cambridge University Press
  • Climate Change 2001, The Scientific Basis, eds J.T.Houghton, Y. Ding, D.J.Griggs, M.Noguer, P.J.van der Linden, X.Dai, K.Maskell, C.A.Johnson, 2001 Cambridge University Press
  1. oldbrew says:

    There’s always a market for doom gloom and disaster. Easy way to get a headline for some people.

  2. tallbloke says:

    This goes a lot deeper than that. Houghton has been projecting his vision of an innate ‘sinfulness’ of humans before a mysterious very powerful being with a penchant for punishment onto an allegedly dispassionate scientific assessment.

  3. oldbrew says:

    ‘Houghton has been projecting’

    Preaching more like 🙂

    Surely the general body of scientists is not swayed by this kind of talk?

  4. nzrobin says:

    Have to say Mr Houghton doesn’t sound like an unbiased scientist to me. Sounds more like one the old ‘hell, fire and brimstone’ preachers of the past.

  5. As someone else on this blog said his book “The Physics of Atmospheres” ( I have a copy) is poor and shows Houghton has no understanding of thermodynamics, heat transfer or fluid dynamics. It contains sections (which could well be plagiarised) such as the lapse rate and Reynolds number which are included for show and not used elsewhere. He mentions the greenhouse effect on Venus but does not recognise the lapse rate there. He makes assumptions in other sections which have no basis of fact. How the heck did he get recognition?

  6. tallbloke says:

    OB: Dunno, the institutiionalised scientists allowed a preacher to define the overall theory of the universe.
    The Big Bang theory was dreamed up by Abbe Georges Lemaître

    The enlightenment didn’t last long really.

  7. Barry Woods says:

    I went to this (my local church, my kids went to the toddler group)

    Global Warming and Climate Change:
    A Challenge to Scientists and Christians

    On Thursday 17th June 2010
    Professor Sir John Houghton FRS CBE
    spoke to a full church at St. Mary’s.

    “Haven’t we first to tackle World
    Poverty, then Climate Change?
    because unless
    we tackle Climate Change now,
    the plight of many of the poorest
    will be enormously worse” – Sir John Houghton

    I thought that awful! help the poor NOW, would mitigate against climate extremes NOW and in the future, natural and or man-made..

    pdf of slides, audio of talk, audio of q/a session all linked here:

    I’m in the q/a audio..

    John personally warmed me about Lawson, Booker and the tobacco industry, big fossil fuel denial industry afterwards…

    from the slides:

    “Pharoah & Joseph had
    7 YEARS
    So have we
    2016” – Sir John Houghton

  8. Johnnyrvf says:

    Such a pity that Sir John is so ignorant about Christian Theology…….

  9. oldbrew says:

    TB: ‘The Big Bang theory was dreamed up by Abbe Georges Lemaître’

    Here’s the English version:
    ‘In the beginning there was nothing – which exploded.’

  10. tallbloke says:

    OB: It’s certainly hard to think of another theory which violates energy conservation quite so early in its exposition.

    But of course, if you believe in miracles… 🙂

  11. Doug Proctor says:

    We of the west, told by our betters that we live in the Age of Reason, tend to think that religion does not play a part in political or socio-political decisions made in our name. How naive we can be!

    The Lords from Oxford and Cambridge, the aristocrats with Knighthoods who sit on Boards of both corporate and government nature, are well aware of the “Christian” nature of the decisions that are made. This is not disrespectful, just a nod to the prevailing culture of our Governors. Go back to 1922 (or thereabouts) and the Balfour Declaration that was to give the Jews a homeland in Palestine: back then, just as today, there was a consideration that Jesus could not return to Earth until certain conditions were made, one of which was that the Jews were back again in the land of their origin, Israel. The idea that George Bush Snr., a good born-again-Christian, did not have this in mind – as do the Southern Fundamentalist Christians – when looking to support Israel against all common economic and military logic (other than keeping the mid-East disrupted), is silly. Just think of the apparent contradiction with the anti-Semitic American South and the pro-Israeli American South: Jesus says the Jews have to be in their homeland, and so it must be (recall that a large percentage of fundamentalist American Christians either hope or believe that Jesus will return during their lifetimes, and you’ll understand how important this condition is considered).

    Religious – or moral, if you will – thoughts are prevalent in our Western government thinking. It is not just the Islamists that believe in a religious influence, but the regular-if-strong, Christians. (Think Mitt Romney, the Mormon: was he going to ignore his religious teachings while in office?)

    How many have said that the environmental movement is a religion? Religous feelings develop naturally, from the child beliefs of spirits in nature into whatever surroundings encourage. If you don’t feed someone something religious, they won’t belive in nothing, they will believe in anything (remember those “lost” souls you met in their late teens who became followers of The Children of God?). The environmentalists who behave as if Gaia was a nurturing lifeform are following their genetically-programmed prediliction; those that see God in His various forms, have had structure applied to their natural inclination.

    When you believe God is in the World, when you belive God will both judge you and hold you accountable for your actions, there is incentive to tailor your actions to what you think would please Him. Not all actions, by any means, but some (“Dear God, I tried, but I am weak …).

    We secularists are somewhat taken aback by the comments of Governors that suggests religious thoughts influence their worldly actions. In part, because there is no negotiation with the God-fearing or God-pleasing. If polluting God’s creation is an offense against The Big Guy who will meet you without fail one day, then you cannot ignore it without fearful consequence. You have to do something.

    We don’t give tax benefits to prothelyzing religious groups because we are firm secularists who see their activities as benign trivialities. We don’t pay to have madrassaa in our midsts teaching radical Islam to our children, but we do pay the Catholic Church to have Christian religious classes in schools. We want Christian religious beliefs shaping our socio-poltical and economic lives.

    What motivates a man to do his job is important only in how well it motivates him to do it in a manner that we find supportive of other things we want done. If Nature as God means he cleans up the Thames water, he is a Good Man, until he wants sacrifices to the river gods and a temple to Pan in downtown London (and even then, a temple to Pan would probably work as a symbol of our good intent, and a draw for tourism: in all cilvilizations, gods and money are comfortable in the same room). But we must be aware of what motivates someone. Everyone.

    The essence of much of the CAGW debate is the same as the essence of this post: what is the reall motivation, and how does it determine the course of action outside of the surface? Are the environmentalists trying to bring Man and Nature into a state of natural harmony because all benefit (including one’s relationship with God/gods), or are they using environmentalist issues to restructure the world into one of universal socialism, central planning and micro-governance of the individual, to create a World Government in their own image that is anti-capitalist and elitist?

    Whenever someone speaks of returning us to the state of grace in the Garden of Eden, I can’t help but think that the only ones there are white, upper-class intellectuals of a Victorian-era sensibility, the type that used a public school education to create an Empire from the lands of heathens and the ignorant.

    I don’t know what the Bible says about the size of Eden (for the literalists, there must be a size). But I’ll bet my life that there isn’t a lot of room there,and certainly not enough for those like me.

  12. Sean says:

    My wife has a plaque on the wall in the essentially says, cherish the times that are peaceful and quiet for when God speaks to us he whispers. One can only wonder what the message was when light snow fell in October 2008 for the first time in nearly a century when the UK passed comprehensive climate legislation.

  13. Kon Dealer says:

    There’s no nutter like a religious nutter.

    And to quote in terms that Sir John Houghton would understand

    “There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know”

  14. RoHa says:

    “he has compared the stewardship of the Earth, to the stewardship of the Garden of Eden”

    Psst! That comma should not be there. (I’d prefer “compared with” and “contrasted to”, but I won’t fuss over that. Just the comma.)

  15. Kon Dealer says:

    UKIP did not have a candidate in my area, so “spoiled” my ballot paper by writing “None of these tossers” across it.
    I also tore my ballot notification card up in front of the candidates and presented it to the green (and yes he did have a beard that a chaffinch could nest in) candidate and told him to dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner.

    Childish, I know, but highly satisfying:-)

  16. Zeke says:

    “He is the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, an organization “connecting Environment, Science and Christianity”, where he has compared the stewardship of the Earth, to the stewardship of the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve.”

    You don’t have to be a theologian or an eschatologist to notice that lot has happened since chapter 2.

    Once out of the garden they had to eat bread “in the sweat of their faces, until they returned to the ground,” which is “cursed” when compared with conditions of the garden and “brings forth thorns and thistles.” Therefore if the genuine concern of scientists is Biblical stewardship, eradicating weeds and plant pathogens is a return of sorts to garden conditions. And yet sustainability scientists are working tirelessly in the direction of reversing any and all agricultural advances, reducing cultivation for crops and grazing for cattle which they call “land use change,” and reducing water use for growers. Recall the meaning of the word “garden,” and this will clear up the misunderstanding that this was an untamed wilderness. It wasn’t: it was a well-tended, irrigated place and very fruitful in terms of useful and edible varieties.

    And then there was the matter of one brother killing the other; apparently, premeditated murder is very bad for the earth and the soil.

    However, probably the most pertinent passage is in Genesis shortly after the end of the deluge. It is promised that
    “While the earth remains,
    Seedtime and harvest,
    Cold and heat,
    Winter and summer,
    And day and night
    Shall not cease.”

    It has been a hallmark of many pagan religions to require sacrifice in order to avert disaster for crops and harvests, and in order to maintain the earthly seasons; human sacrifices have been instituted by many priesthoods on all continents to ensure seasonal regularity and the fertility of earth. This Earth religion is not new. We may all take note of the success of these superstitious and irrational systems in the past, and seek to avoid it in the future through the use of our rational faculties and good sense.

  17. tallbloke says:

    Don: Excellent! Tell them like it is.

    Doug: Great comment, there is depth here to discuss.

    Zeke: Well said.

  18. Stephen Richards says:

    Was it Houghton that got all upset at Lindzen at a public meeting and started shouting at him and then walked out ? Apparently he prefers fairy stories to the truth.

  19. Zeke says:

    Thank you tallbloke and I want to say as your reader I have been rewarded and educated over the years not just by your own posts, but also by following the links. In particular I was fascinated and enlightened to learn of the top-down, highly funded approach to publicity called “manipulative populism,” and I think we would all do well to familiarize ourselves with this term:

    ” Without meaning to, Mr Farage has, therefore, become a symbol of national protest against the political class and its now bankrupt methodologies of triangulation, voter targeting, focus groups, eye-catching initiatives and advertising gimmicks – all the ghastly apparatus that has been elegantly encapsulated by the political thinker Anthony Barnett in the phrase “manipulative populism”.

    Started by New Labour (who copied it from Clinton’s New Democrats) and duplicated in turn by Conservative modernisers, manipulative populism has hollowed out the three main political parties. Voters have recoiled in despair from what they perceive as their artifice and deceit…”

    Whether it is churches, or dietary fads, or alternative science, I have had a growing concern about all genuine, grassroots movements. I have been alarmed at how many had become co-opted into “global initiatives,” political and economic goals, and flattery and funding by fancy players behind the scenes. It really amounts to focus groups and audience targeting by NGOs, who do not care if it takes crystal skulls and aliens, as long as the goals of political governance and behavior modification are advanced. Sir Houghton’s approach in this case may or may not be one of many examples of the now ubiquitous “manipulative populism.”

  20. Doug Proctor says:

    “manipulative populism”…

    It is manipulative when you use falsehoods or misdirections to convince others to act the way you wish but in a manner they would not choose to were they to have only the truth (or at least fair exchange of opinion). Like Zeke, I have become alarmed at what I am seeing of manipulation but what I am more of the opinion is that our Governors have ALWAYS manipulated us.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that lies and deceit are and have been the mainstay of government since we were too many for all of us to know what was really going on – say, larger than a family of 1! The reward-cost ratio for well-played lies is so great that we see it even in lower animals when they pretend not to have found a good berry-bush so they can have it all to themselves later.

    What I think is happening is that the internet and general education is making it easier for the average Gueiseppe to uncover the lies. This is why Tony Blair said that the FOI act was his biggest mistake, that the Act hinders “good” governance (I forget the exact quote). What he is saying is that life, community and politics are all variations of poker, and poker is a game best played by those who reveal nothing until they win.

    Each day in the papers I read of bizarre bonuses for CEOs, of stuff like Gore getting $22 million for his shares in the CCX that closes 6 months later, of bribes paid to foreign governments by oil or mining companies, of Presidents who justify wars and security measures on the basis of false threats, and I think: this is not new! We just never heard of it before.

    Which is why the fight against the FOI acts is global. Politicians and businessmen have hidden agendas and personal benefits that they KNOW are not socially acceptable, but, damnit, they did all the work and so they deserve it.

    I worked for a man once (may he rest in peace) who replied, when I objected to some piece of business that was in “our” management interests but not those of the investors:

    “F***k the investors! F**k the ivestors! What have they ever done for us? We do all the work and they just ride our coattails!”

    The concept of investor money creating the business was obviously lost on him. However, what he did reveal was what I think is a very, very common attitude at the top: they do all the heavy lifting, so they should get most, if not all, of the goodies. IF there is enough left over, the investors get some, but the fact is, whatever the profit/benefit is, it “really” should go to those at the top because …. well, they did the work.

    As for the staff …. I have also heard it said, “They’ve got good salaries. If they don’t like how much they are getting, they can damn well go somewhere else”, while, of course, these corporate governors cut themselves bigger bonuses for the terrific job “they” have done.