Andrew Neil: The purpose of the Ed Davey interview

Posted: July 23, 2013 by tallbloke in Analysis, climate, data, Ocean dynamics, Politics, Uncertainty

Andrew Neil writes on the BBC website:

Click to access video of the interview at the BBC website

Click to access video of the interview at the BBC website

The Sunday Politics interview with Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey on July 14 provoked widespread reaction in the twittersphere and elsewhere, which was only to be expected given the interview was about the latest developments in global warming and the implications for government policy.

The main purpose of the interview was to establish if the government thought the recent and continuing pause in global temperatures meant it should re-think its policies in response to global warming.

Many of the criticisms of the Davey interview seem to misunderstand the purpose of a Sunday Politics interview.

This was neatly summed up in a Guardian blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business (Tetra Tech) and writes prodigiously about global warming and related matters from a very distinct perspective.

He finished by saying: “[Andrew] Neil focussed only on the bits of evidence that seemed to support his position”.

This is partly right. We did come at Mr Davey with a particular set of evidence, which was well-sourced from mainstream climate science. But it was nothing to do with advocating a “position”.

First, the Sunday Politics does not have a position on any of the subjects on which it interrogates people.

Second, it is the job of the interviewer to assemble evidence from authoritative sources which best challenge the position of the interviewee.

There is hardly any purpose in presenting evidence which supports the interviewee’s position – that is his or her job.

It is for viewers to decide how well the interviewee’s position holds up under scrutiny and the strength of the contrary evidence or points put to him or her.

It is also not clear from his blog if Mr Nuccitelli denies there is a plateau.

He has been a voluble exponent of a controversial “missing heat” theory that somehow the extra energy from global warming has started to bypass the atmosphere (hence the stalling in surface temperatures) and is storing up in the deep ocean; so perhaps he does accept the plateau.

Principle point

Mr Davey said in his interview – and others echoed the point later – that we should not concentrate just on land temperatures, but look at what was happening to ocean temperatures and the polar ice melt for evidence that global warming was continuing unabated.

This is a reasonable point. But in a 15-minute interview we wanted to stick with the metric that most viewers would understand and which has been used most to judge the course of global warming in public debate i.e. surface temperatures, which are central to the science and, for viewers, the principle point of interest.

At the Sunday Politics we are also used to public figures who try to change the metric when the one they’ve put their faith in does not behave as expected. We try not to let that happen.

Moreover, the purpose of the interview was not to question all aspects of climate science, just the one metric that has commanded most attention. Other possible indicators of climate change – ice melt, ocean temperatures and extreme weather events – are a matter of widespread debate in which the science most certainly is not “settled”.

For example, trends in Arctic ice decline and ocean warming are not necessarily irrefutable evidence of continued global warming, though many climate scientists believe they are indeed caused by global warming.

Others point out that satellite observations began in 1979 and caught a decline in Arctic ice already in progress. So the origin of the decline could be many decades ago, and might not have been started by man (though global warming could now be exacerbating a previous “natural” melting trend).

There is evidence of great variability in sea ice in the Arctic from historical records and old newspaper cuttings from decades ago reporting the disappearance of the ice.

A new paper by the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) suggest that Greenland ice sheet melting is related to solar activity and “a considerable fraction of the current withdrawal could be a natural occurrence”.

These are fascinating and contested matters and could easily be pursued in future interviews. The Sunday Politics has no views on their efficacy; but they are issues worthy of investigation and interrogation.

Mr Nuccitelli is also one of the authors of the recent study of climate science abstracts which concludes that 97% of climate scientists are part of the global warming consensus.

This survey has been quoted several times by Mr Davey in interviews to assert that the science is “settled”; he did so again in our interview. It was reasonable to point out that the methodology and conclusions of the survey have been fiercely challenged by Prof Richard Tol, a respected academic quoted extensively in the Stern Report. Other academics have their misgivings.

There is now an argument underway between critics and authors about how much raw data they are prepared to make available for examination; and that neither the academic publication which carried it nor the Guardian will give Professor Tol a right of reply.

These are matters for academia. We simply wanted to point out, when Mr Davey called it in aid, that the survey, especially given the strongly partisan positions of the authors, is not uncontested.

The Sunday Politics has no views on such matters. We have put the existence of this plateau into the broader public domain. It is for others to determine its significance.

Read the full article here:

Comments
  1. tallbloke says:

    Ben Pile has a great article about the wider significance of the Andrew Neil-Ed Davey interview here:
    http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2013/07/23/whats-behind-the-battle-of-received-wisdoms/

  2. tallbloke says:

    Richard Tol has a new draft of his rebuttal of the Cook/Nuticelli 97% consenseless paper here:
    http://richardtol.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/draft-comment-on-97-consensus-paper.html

  3. tallbloke says:

    Too funny. Dana Nutticelli is now saying sceptics were right to view temperature record as a series of hiatus’ whereas he originally created this graphic to say they were wrong.


  4. Stephen Richards says:

    a Guardian blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business (Tetra Tech

    Who works for $millions OIL COMPANY !!! Look at their site.

  5. Fanakapan says:

    Judging by Davey’s less than winning performance, the ‘Scam’ wont stand up to much scrutiny when the mass of the public get on to the fact that Warming seems to be not as advertised.

    I also cant help but think that the Tories will be quite pleased with his lack of presentational skills, if the liberals show themselves to be the hopeless dreamers that they are, then it’ll be more seats for the Conservatives in an election that they dont have a realistic chance of winning 🙂

  6. Tenuk says:

    Fanakapan says:
    July 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm
    “…I also cant help but think that the Tories will be quite pleased with his lack of presentational skills, if the liberals show themselves to be the hopeless dreamers that they are, then it’ll be more seats for the Conservatives in an election that they dont have a realistic chance of winning…”

    Correct. I also think we’ll see the Tories reposition themselves on this issue, following the Met Office lead. Don’t forget they are going full-speed-ahead with fracking for oil and gas, with large tax concessions to facilitate the process. Perhaps their next step will be reduction in subsidies for wind and solar PV.

  7. Brian H says:

    Mr. Neil’s waffling might be less grovelling if he were to refer to Jinan Cao’s contention that GHGs supply the OLR capability that the rest of the atmosphere lacks, and hence are virtually its only cooling agents.