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Interpreters of interpreters

I was thinking about all the brouhaha about James Delingpole's "interpreter of interpreters" comment, and I'm not sure I get all the fuss. I mean, James writes opinion pieces, not pop-science. I'm not sure I'm at all convinced by the idea that all columnists who write about science read the primary literature.  Is that really true? Does George Monbiot?

And anyway, hasn't the AGU just set up a rapid rebuttal unit, so that all the environmental journalists know the "line to take"? What are these green journalists if not "interpreters of interpreters"?

(And please can we maintain a bit of decorum in the comments to this one. Thanks)

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And what does Roger Harrabin do? The story he launched about the Met Office keeping two sets of books - one forecast for the government and one for the public - turned out to have not been true. One blog suggested Harrabin had been framed. Green writers don't know everything, it seems.

Jan 31, 2011 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

"Scientists say" - the biggest scam of all.

Jan 31, 2011 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Your Grace, you are guilty of the Uniform Standards Fallacy. One set of standards applies to Delingpole because he is wrong (i.e., on the wrong side). A quite different set of standards applies to Monbiot because he is right. It's Lenin's "Who -- whom?".

Jan 31, 2011 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

The ultimate "interpreter of interpreters" has to be Al Gore. Do we think he read the original peer review papers? Surely a 'movie', used as the sales pitch for an entire movement has to set the standards and if he read them, he didn't do a good job. Dellers is only following in the footsteps of the Vice President of the USA and Nobel prize winner.

Jan 31, 2011 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

It seems likely that most modern research papers are accessible in detail only to specialists, given the propensity to save space by encouraging terse prose and discouraging discursiveness, and any attempt to be relatively self-contained, in order to permit more papers to be published in the journals. All the rest of us MUST rely on interpretations, overviews, review papers, abstracts, and fragments here and there that we can make sense of. And when research papers, not to mention 'grey literature', are used by powerful and often wealthy corporations such as the WWF for their own ends, we have some duty to learn more about them and seek to form our own opinions, even though they must count for little amidst the onslaught of lobbyists on our various institutions.

Jan 31, 2011 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Talking about "interpreter of interpreters", who is better qualified for this award than BBC's R Black on 25 January 2011:

Here he interprets the various whitewashes of last year and also mentions Your Grace along the way.

Jan 31, 2011 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


You are correct.

Very few journalists read the primary lit.

Either they don't have time, or they lack the necessary background to interpret scientific papers.

This is still no excuse for misrepresenting things as much as many of them do though.

Jan 31, 2011 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

well obviously I'm going to agree with the Bishop, but I do. I don't know whether you've seen the transcript of the interview I gave - but in print everything I say looks sane and clear and reasonable. It's only when you add the footage of Sir Paul Nurse gloating, and my moment of hesitation when it looks remotely like I'm caught on a hook.
I've had lots of l'esprit de l'escalier moments since the interview of all the things I could have said. But what I actually said, including the "interpreter of interpretations" bit is just the plain truth. It's what almost all of us do. Who has time to read the peer-reviewed papers themselves? And if so, which ones? The point about Climate Science is that the field is so vast that NO ONE, literally no one, has the time or indeed the expertise to read and comprehend and digest them all.
So my real crime was to be honest, rather than to try to fudge the issue.

Jan 31, 2011 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Delingpole

it would havee been nice to for Richad Black to spell Andrew's name name correctly and mention the Bishop Hill website...

but heaven forbid, the public might be able to look for themselves if the BBC gave that information.

take a look.

Jan 31, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Nice to see you comment here JD. Can't you do something about the trolls (of all stripes) on your blog? Then some of us might think it was worthwhile to comment over there!

Jan 31, 2011 at 7:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

One journalist I've encountered who did always want to know about the primary literature was Jonathan Leake.

Jan 31, 2011 at 7:51 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I think it was Tom Fuller who asked Keith if he read the primary literature. Answer came there none.

I'd be extremely surprised if many - even more than counted on one hand - publishing mainstream environmental journalists actually consume primary literature as a matter of course. I simply can't equate the "on-boardedness" of environmental journalists with the normal sceptical approach expected in other fields of journalism.

I figure one probably doesn't go into environmental journalism unless one is basically green anyway, and while the scientists are telling these enviro-journalists scary bedtime stories and appear to be fighting their corner, why question?

Jan 31, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

I'm [not] convinced by the idea that all columnists who write about science read the primary literature.

I'd bet the farm that few science journalists of any stripe, let alone columnists ever read primary literature. They might read the odd paper brought to their attention by this or that person lobbying for a funding-hungry project but how often does one see in a newspaper or on TV a more or less serious objective literature review aimed at the general public on any science topic?

One does see them occasionally but they're rare beasts at the best of times and Hen's Teeth rare in the field of climate science. (I was pleased to note your point about Leake.)

I am constantly struck by the pitifully low level of understanding of the issue shown by most science correspondents. They write on it for years at a stretch with barely a clue about the IPCC's case, let alone any counter-argument. They swallow the "consensus" nonsense because that's pretty much all they have to go on. Have you ever met one who has carefully read, e.g. any critical book on the issue?

(HSI was, I suspect, reviewed more than most because it's a political/historical rather than a scientific account even if - as it is - it's scientifically informed.)

Many serious - and some not so serious - climate scientists are warning the press that they are getting things badly wrong and doing The Cause no good at all.

Have we seen any improvement?

Nope. In fact, I think it's getting worse, with people who really should know better - such as Profs Nurse and Cox - setting up sundry Committees of Public Safety (Big Science) with, as you'd expect from PR-driven initiatives, the word "sceptic" somewhere in the title.

Incidentally, what struck me about Nursey's Great CO2 Telly-blunder was that if anyone associated with the program had been in any way familiar with the material at the most modest level they'd have caught it. (Many who hang round here would have, I suspect, at least scuttled off to check. It wasn't just an ephemeral blog after all.) It seems almost as if the programme was made without competent advisory input. Odd.

Jan 31, 2011 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

Delingpole makes the interesting point above that “in print everything I say looks sane and clear and reasonable”. Which is why the warmists are using the spoken word, with distracting graphics, in their propaganda war, and it’s why Alex Cull and I (and others?) try and transcribe as much as possible of the audio visual propaganda (Brian Cox, Abraham on Monckton ..) and get it out here.
It was a bit of my transcription on a thread here which was picked up by readers who know more about climate science than I do, and proved to contain the howler which Booker mentioned. I’d urge anyone with the time to spare to transcribe and post the most interesting stuff, particularly on relevant posts on warmist sites like Guardian Environment. They can hardly censor transcripts of the programmes they’re puffing now, can they?

Jan 31, 2011 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

‘Does George Monbiot?’
No George relies on like minded people to inform him, that is why occasionally he get caught out spotting total rubbish when he cannot find one but can’t resist writing an article . Bear in mind that on CIF George’s 30 year old 2:2 in Zoology is the sum total of the science qualifications of its environmentally journalists. Indeed although national newspapers in the UK are chock full of Oxbridge graduates they tend to be English and PPE people , not science at all , so most are indeed Interpreters of interpreters.

Jan 31, 2011 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR


Yes it was indeed your transcript that sparked off the WTF moment. And thank you very much for posting it.

Jan 31, 2011 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Delingpole is on the money here. I am refraining from posting a dissertation on this. I am so holding my tongue on this.

Jan 31, 2011 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Wasn't the original hockey stick paper an "interpreter of interpretations"? That is it gathered together a selection of data studies of past climate proxies and tried to give an interpretation - with some elements of bias. The IPCC, liking this paper's conclusion then interpreted this as being definitive, despite its conclusions being contrary to many other studies. Learned societies, not least the Royal Society then interpret this as being the final arguement, being the opinion of 2500 leading scientists. With learned pronouncements from the leading scientific organisations, the BBC, Guardian etc interprets that the science is settled, so the subject is closed. James Delingpole, in putting himself as a second tier interpreter, might be over-reaching himself in the ranking. However, he actually considers the arguements, unlike those who rely on multi-layered interpretations.

Jan 31, 2011 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicbeancounter

The last time Monbiot seemed to read the primary literature was on Amazongate when he said that the modeling work of Peter Cox proved that the Amazon was in much dire straits than imagined.

Jan 31, 2011 at 11:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

James Delingpole - you did very well in the interview with Nurse, and you should know that you have a huge amount of support.

I posted up the original transcription of your exchange onto your blog as an attempt to at least take the wind out of the nasty and childish attacks being made on you for no other 'sin' than showing the common hallmarks of a thinking man.

Know this - the BBC (and pretty much all the broadcast media) these days have an aversion to allowing anyone onto the airwaves who values taking the time to collect their thoughts together and who show a natural (and engaging) hesitation in choosing their words... so this pretty much excludes about 70% of the population from our screens and gives privilege to a culture which it not in our best interests. The modern BBC has a preference for rehearsed, short, sleek - and usually vacuous - sound bites... which I would say is the primary reason so many people now find the corporation a pointless and un-nourishing waste of money.

On your blog - I would consider temporarily "closing" the right of reply to those who have made it their intent to infantilise, sabotage and ultimately destroy your primary medium of mainstream expression. I would guess that their sole purpose is to provoke the Telegraph into closing your blog - which would be a huge loss for all of us and a huge victory for that tiny minority who do not want an articulate and popular sceptical voice to have a mainstream outlet. If you decide to do this - put some effort into explaining that your action is not a 'ban', but an unavoidable but necessary temporary 'closure' - in order to give space to those who have something interesting to say and to allow for a cooling off of overheated temperaments. And expect a large amount of the usual breathless guff and name-calling directed at you... but from elsewhere.

Feb 1, 2011 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter S

Peter S

"an aversion to allowing anyone onto the airwaves".

There are honourable exceptions, e.g. Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time, where I find the umming and erring of scholars who are not polished performers quite charming. Whatever may have happened to television, Lord Reith's ideals still survive in some corners of radio broadcasting.

Feb 1, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Todays CACC climate skeptic alert email is targeting Bishop Hill exclusively today.

Guess Monbiot et al dont dig what he has got to say.I have just received my copy, so you might experience and inrush of trolls shortly.

Here are the 'headlines' from the email:

* Bishop Hill: I am a number
* Bishop Hill: More trouble at t' Met
* Bishop Hill: Quote of the day
* Bishop Hill: Anthony meets the men from the Beeb
* Bishop Hill: Know your friend
* Bishop Hill: Everyone's a winner
* Bishop Hill: Monckton's injunction
* Bishop Hill: Interpreters of interpreters

Feb 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry Brubaker

Henry, that is exactly what I would expect, for a number of reasons. Bishop Hill has being doing some real damage to the enemy. (The enemy not being everyone that believes in AGW, or emission reduction, or even those that use the word denier. It's a tad more subtle than that, as the Bishop himself's been pointing out.)

Nonetheless, it is a battle and after attempts to discredit Delingpole and Monckton there is bound to be an attack of Montford. We would I think do well to behave with the kind of self-control that will reflect well on our host at such a time. But these latest posts are deadly for those that take refuge in lies, in their fairness, their range and their good humour. That's the real killer, the last one, for the pompous and the power-seekers do hate ridicule. Such a pity that that's exactly what's coming their way. Even Armstrong and Miller got that right.

Feb 1, 2011 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


I've been getting this sort of attention from CACC for a while now, but the trolls seem to have lost interest.

Feb 1, 2011 at 7:48 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

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