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« Mike Hulme on ABC | Main | Shucks »
Saturday
Jun252011

An open letter to Sir Paul Nurse

Dear Sir Paul

In your article in the FT today, you repeat remarks you have made in the past about scientists having to be open about their work:

Scientists have an obligation to communicate their work to the world, and to be open and transparent about doing it. “Trust me, I’m a scientist” is not a good enough answer to give to policymakers or the general public who are looking to make informed decisions on important topics.

This is an area on which people on both sides of the global warming debate should be able to agree. However, it is clear that many in the climatological mainstream do not share this belief. The IPCC has indicated that drafts and review comments on its reports will not be published until after the main report and that, for Working Group I at least, the panel's new conflict of interest policy will not apply to the Fifth Assessment Report.

As I am sure you will agree, these decisions go against the principles of openness and transparency that you say you favour. This being the case, I am asking you, on behalf of the Royal Society, to make a public call for the IPCC to correct these issues.

I hope you can help.

Yours sincerely

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Reader Comments (105)

A very reasonable request Your Grace.

I wouldn't hold your breath though!

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

So drafts and review comments on its reports will be published after the main report. Your complaint is one of timing not of lack of openness.

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Sir Paul is on a charm offensive. He is under the impression that the only people who criticise the IPCC are nasty and evil deniers, in the pay of big oil.

He would not want to tar himself with his own brush

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Hengist, can you explain whether the timing of the implementation of the Conflict of Interest Policy is about timing or openess, neither or both?

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

@Golf Charley, I didn't comment about the conflict of interest policy. But since you seek my opinion I figure there's a timing issue there , what's good enough for future reports ought to be good enough for AR5 , I guess AR5 is already under way though. Conflicts of interest can be an openness issue but I'm not sure that's what Sir Paul is addressing in his article in the FT.

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

"We must look at the evidence – information that is not a matter of opinion but is based on what we know or think likely."

We must look at the evidence - information based on what we think "likely"?

Maybe the RS should start with a better definition of scientific evidence!

Jun 25, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

@Leo Hickman

To the extent that there may be common ground on a "meeting of moderates", perhaps you could lend your voice to this open letter also?

It would give some a degree of comfort that you are at least sincere in your recent words.

Jun 25, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGSW

I would hope that the majority of UK IpCC lead authors and contributing authors, etc would sign it. If only. Because it is in their own intersts. How about PROFESSOR Arnell at the Walker Institute (Reading Uni) , etc. Or people like Professor Richard Tol.....

Nurse might listen to them

One would hope that fellow RS members would sign such a letter

Jun 25, 2011 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

The message has got through to our scientific establishment that the CAGW scare has, since 2004, probably been the biggest scientific fraud in history.

Nurse is preparing for that part of science to have a very hard time when the public realise it has been conned.

Jun 25, 2011 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

How does Sir Paul know that the family court carries out a rational assessment of the evidence? It sits in secret.

The criminal court remains a much better model for scientific discourse. Scientists need to convince the jury beyond all reasonable doubt and they need to it in public. They also need to put up with the irritation of defence counsel picking holes in their arguments.

Jun 25, 2011 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Bother

"to DO it in public"

Jun 25, 2011 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Hengist

Openness and transparency aren't time-independent. You can't just start being open and transparent when it is least inconvenient, ie after all the decisions have been made - in camera - and the report published. Well you can, but it's not being open and transparent. It's called 'retaining tight editorial control.

Jun 25, 2011 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I would hope that the majority of UK IpCC lead authors and contributing authors, etc would sign it. If only. Because it is in their own intersts. How about PROFESSOR Arnell at the Walker Institute (Reading Uni) , etc. Or people like Professor Richard Tol.....

Nurse might listen to them

One would hope that fellow RS members would sign such a letter

Jun 25, 2011 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Well if Nurse is genuinely into "peace talks" with "moderate sceptics" he cannot refuse that. Nor could any "moderate" alarmist ;-) refuse to ask him to do so.

We will see if the proposers of "peace talks" mean it or are just trying to salami slice a few sceptics.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

@BBD Not to worry, people appointed to the IPCC (scientists) will see the comments and drafts as they draw up the report. You are confusing internal dialogue with editorial control.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Heh, at first glance I read 'However, it is clear that many of those in the climatological museum do not share this belief'.
============

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Cue diversion of the MainStream through the Augean Stables.
============

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

It is important to recognise that scientific advances can be unsettling.

I would say no it isn't important to recognizable the PR effect of unsettling Mr Nurse. But he obviously does, doesn't he? Like a cheap shill.

Any scientific advantage is subsumed into society quietly. But any non-scientist can over exagerate a threat using science as you do Mr Nurse - Look at nuclear. If CO2 is the biggest threat and Nuclear hasn't even killed one person yet in a force 9 earthquake that killed 30,0000 in Japan why has policy "changed" anywhere in the world?

What is unsettling is rhetoric which Nurse is full of.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Normally wouldn't bother but my submission to Google chrome made me subservient to their spell correction:

I meant to say -.>


I would say no it isn't important to recognise the PR effect of unsettling Mr Nurse. But he obviously does, doesn't he? Like a cheap shill.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Hengist
Where did you get the idea that people appointed to the IPCC are scientists? I think about 10% of those who drew up AR4 were; the rest were PR people, graduate students, environmental activists, and similar parasites.
You really must keep up, you know, otherwise you just become an embarrassment to yourself and everyone else.
The IPCC, in case you hadn't noticed, is paid for with taxpayers' money. It claims to producing state-of-the-art information on the state of the climate. Yet you seem quite happy that it should do all this in secret and without checks and balancs to make sure that what it tells the world is not a pack of lies cooked up by activists with an axe to grind and an agenda to pursue.
How are you on secret courts? Are you a fan of Wikileaks and LulzSec? I only ask because it would be nice to know where you're coming from in this matter.
Assuming you know yourself, of course.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMIke Jackson

Hengist

I was not referring to the internal communications protocol of AR5, but its external one.

It's sometimes difficult to work out if you are acting deliberately, which would of course be trolling, or are simply not too bright. Perhaps it's both.

Jun 25, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

@MIke Jackson,
The patronising 'must keep up' remarks would be appropriate if Bishop Hill answered all my points and questions but invariably he doesnt and neither do his loyal followers .

Ive been putting together a wiki on IPCC contributors if youre interested .

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Skeptical_and_Industrial_IPCC_Contributors

I don't see how you get from the announcement that the IPCC are publishing drafts and comments to the conclusion that they are working in secret?

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

@BBD Is that an example of the honest open and polite debate that climate *sceptics* are supposedly crying out for ?

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Hengist

Your list doesn't have Andrew Montford whats going wrong there?

Of course you must know that lists like this have a counter interpretation?


Most people at the end of the WW2 were eager to appear on the death list of the enemy ...

It is all about who is winning that is important to some people

not anything about what is right ;)

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Hengist

No, it's an example of you trolling and refusing to admit that this is what you are doing, even when given an opportunity to do so.

If you want an honest and civil debate, you will have to stop commenting here purely with the intention to disrupt and irritate.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Oh dear Hengist.

You've listed Pielke Jnr as a 'sceptic'. He won't be very happy about that.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Hengist

I don't see how you get from the announcement that the IPCC are publishing drafts and comments to the conclusion that they are working in secret?

This is what I mean when I cannot quite work out if you are being vexations or just thick. I've dealt with this above and I'm not repeating myself. But you are. Why?

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

@ BBD

I do apologise . I was under the impression that the search for truth was a principal purpose of this blog . I didn't mean to 'disrupt and irritate'.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Hengist

Whatever it is you are doing, it is not searching for the truth. For the record, I am publicly and formally accusing you of dishonesty, and of deliberately engaging in vexatious commenting on this blog.

I am going out now. No further comment for an hour or so.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Apology accepted.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

So the IPCC will "be publishing drafts and comments" after the final report has been published. I don't actually have a problem with that provided that it happens. However, it was supposed to happen last time but it didn't and the IPCC members did their best to obstruct anyone who tried to get these comments, why should I have confidence that post AR5 will be any different?

I anticipate that the SPM will appear first, having been doctored to say what the politicians want it to say and that the final reports will then be issued several months later after having been cafefully edited to ensure that they agree with SPM. I doubt if the "early drafts and review comments" will ever see the light of day. Just like AR4 really.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Arthur Dent
What finally tipped me over the edge into outright scepticism was the discovery (in black and white) that the final report AR4 had to agree with the Summary for Policymakers. A little further digging into exactly who was responsible for the Summary brought me to the realisation that science had nothing at all to do with IPCC reports and that a way would be found to repeal the Law of Gravity if it was necessary to comply with what the assorted political hangers-on and NGO activists had decided to tell the politicians.
This is not to make any comment on the science that underpins the global warming hypothesis insofar as there is a hypothesis or any actual science underpinning it. The Ehrlichs, Strongs, Wirths, Gores and their assorted disciples are the ones to blame because they took what science there is and drew unreasonable conclusions which they then happily fed to politicians who don't know any better (why should they?) with a view to ensuring that their view of the world and mankind's place in it was what should be heard.

Jun 25, 2011 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I’m all for Sir Paul opening up a debate about science, but I’m not sure that asking FT readers to think about their toasters is the right way to go about it.
He doesn’t seem to have done any more background reading since the lamentable Horizon programme. He says:

“people like Copernicus and Darwin took the then-unpopular decisions to put forward a new understanding... Today, uncomfortable questions are raised by ... climate scientists... There will always be those who refuse to accept the advances of science no matter how convincing the evidence, but eventually the evidence will win out”.

and then:

“Some latch on to these questions and uncertainties to try and discredit the evidence... Fortunately most people are able to see the difference between genuine scepticism and disruptive obstructionism”.

It seems clear that by “those who refuse to accept the advances of science” and who indulge in “disruptive obstructionism”, he means us. He should be politely asked if that is the case.

Jun 25, 2011 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Sir Paul fosters the egregious error that all criticism in science is "evidence based." In turn, this fosters another egregious error to the effect that all criticism must originate from scientific evidence. In sum, this expresses the sophomoric view that the only genuine criticism occurs between two scientists who have competing theories about the same phenomena. On this view, critic and scientist are in fully symmetric positions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Science is the critical undertaking par excellence. Scientist and critic are not in symmetric positions. Scientists propose hypotheses to organize and explain data and they have the responsibility of showing that their hypotheses do their job effectively and have become reasonably well-confirmed. The harshest critic of any hypothesis is the scientist himself. The scientist makes all of his knowledge available to the critic, including himself, for the very purpose of bringing about the most effective and complete criticism. Robust criticism is the motor of scientific progress. Criticism does not have to originate with another scientist and his data. Criticism can be methodological, logical, or it can appeal to factors such as simplicity of theory. It is such a shame that one can be Lord Scientist and reveal that one has understanding of scientific method that is appropriate for a sixteen year old.

Jun 25, 2011 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Has anyone bothered to look at Hengist McStone BH bio? (Click on his name on any post)

Hint: Website (URL): http://muchachoverde.blogspot.com/2011/06/montys-fib-fest.html

Not very polite at all, calling your host a fibber and then posting it on his website

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Jun 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

I think we can agree it would take a clothing technologist and fashion expert to decide whether the Emperor has any clothes on. Little boys need not apply.

Jun 25, 2011 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

It would be most impressive if Sir Paul, in the interests of being 'open and transparent', would correct the misleading statements on CO2 production that he propagated to the large audience of his BBC Horizon programme. If he were interested in the truth, surely he would make this public correction?

(Or is the public not worthy of honest communication?)

Jun 25, 2011 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Wrong, Rhoda, it's little boys like us who know the emperor has no clothes and aren't afraid to say so because our next research grant doesn't depend on us believing otherwise. Clothing technologists may think he has no clothes but definitely want a piece of the action if this is some be material that may (or may not) be visible at the whim of the wearer while the fashion experts will want it because it's new and different and (in BBC-speak) edgy.

Jun 25, 2011 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Has anyone bothered to look at Hengist McStone BH bio? (Click on his name on any post)

Hint: Website (URL): http://muchachoverde.blogspot.com/2011/06/montys-fib-fest.html

Not very polite at all, calling your host a fibber and then posting it on his website

Tacky, tacky, tacky.
Jun 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM Don Pablo de la Sierra

Extraordinary site.

Hengist still seems to be fighting the post-climategate disinformation war - before we all read the emails, analysed them and minutely dissected the dodgy graphs and mysteriously disappearing data plots.

I wonder who he thinks his readership is - does he really believe that their attention span is so short that he can wind the clock back to December 2009 and get away with "the sceptics faked the emails".

I note he doesn't have any commenters - maybe he's the only reader, in which case he probably finds it convincing.

Jun 25, 2011 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Foxgoose

I occasionally look in on Hengist's blog, but you cannot comment without a Google account which I do not have or desire.

I have suggested to him that if he opens up comments he will enjoy more traffic, especially on those occasions when he starts muddying the waters here. He has so far not done so.

After this afternoon's characteristically inept attempt to disagree with BH and commenters here, he will finally call it a day. One can hope.

Jun 25, 2011 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Shub

Apology accepted.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:57 PM

Either this is astonishingly petty of you, or I am missing something. Care to elaborate?

Jun 25, 2011 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

After this afternoon's characteristically inept attempt to disagree with BH and commenters here, he will finally call it a day. One can hope.
Jun 25, 2011 at 7:31 PM | BBD

Indeed.

I thought the most telling thing was his linked site campaigning against BBC pro-scepticbias.

Clearly a man best left in his own little world.

Jun 25, 2011 at 8:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Hengist McStone is quite a character. From his post:

But Muir Russell did not say that "hide the decline" was "misleading". Why do climate *skeptics* find this so difficult?

From Muir Russell's report (page 13):

On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a "trick" and to "hide the decline" in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading.

Perhaps before describing anothers work as a "fib fest", a bit more humility in your own claims may be appropriate, Hengist.

Jun 25, 2011 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

BBD. This might help

@ BBD

I do apologise . I was under the impression that the search for truth was a principal purpose of this blog . I didn't mean to 'disrupt and irritate'.

Jun 25, 2011 at 4:46 PM | Hengist McStone

Jun 25, 2011 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

So Shub accepts (without gloss) a patently disingenuous 'apology' from HMcS?

Wow.

Jun 25, 2011 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

........ the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading.

Perhaps before describing anothers work as a "fib fest", a bit more humility in your own claims may be appropriate, Hengist.
Jun 25, 2011 at 9:33 PM Spence_UK

Game. set & match, I think, Spence - well spotted.

Jun 25, 2011 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Today is a low point for our august Royal Society. Two weeks ago I sent Sir Paul a formal complaint of professional misconduct against Professor Geoffrey Boulton FRS, who he had just appointed to Chair the Society’s study of “openness in science”.

By his hand, or at his instruction, Boulton emasculated my submission, which was the only definitive one to the Russell Review of the Climategate emails that explained in detail the infamous “delete any emails” email of Professor Phil Jones. My disgracefully tampered submission was then sent by Boulton to the University of East Anglia without any hint that it was only a quarter of my submission from which my name, all the essential evidence and argument had been removed. Professor Keith Briffa however did have a full copy and knew that what he was given by Boulton was only a fraction of my submission and that his response was not remotely a plausible reply to my actual submission.

Needless to say, no mention was made of the fact that the University knew that what it had been given and its reply was incomplete. What Boulton sent was plausibly but falsely rebutted by the University. The Russell Review could then conclude that the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists was not in doubt and that there was no evidence of any attempt to delete information that I had just requested. The Russell Team and Pro Vice Chancellors' office, through which the Review was choreographed, were well aware that that the response was then put onto the Review website in a form that enabled it to be identified it as mine. In November last year the University stated in reply to a FOIA request:

“The submission of Professor Briffa and Dr. Osborn in response to the letter and annex from Prof. Boulton was drafted specifically to deal only with those issues that were put to them by Prof. Boulton. In providing their response they showed the annex in a format that could be clearly linked to your submission to the Russell Review to explicitly demonstrate that your allegations had been formally considered.”

However, well before these facts were known and just days after the Russell Review Report was published, Boulton deleted all his Review correspondence from his University of Edinburgh email account, which would otherwise have been subject to disclosure under the EIR. So much for open science.

Today I received a reply from the Royal Society, stating:

“Sir Paul Nurse has asked me to respond your letter of 13 June about Professor Boulton.

Professor Boulton is not an employee of the Royal Society and did not represent the Royal Society at the Muir Russell Committee.

The Society therefore has no comment to make on your allegations concerning him.”

It was signed by the Society’s Director for History of Science.

Jun 25, 2011 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

@David Holland
If I were Nurse, I would be encouraging Boulton to sue you for libel and would be very unhappy if he didn't.
Paul knows that reputable Scientists don't operate in the way you describe.
So he keeps insisting!

Jun 25, 2011 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

"This is an area on which people on both sides of the global warming debate should be able to agree."

So, to get into the proper spirit--whose paying the bills at the GWPF?

[BH adds: No idea. You think they should just tell us?]

Jun 26, 2011 at 12:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterbigcitylib

Why I am paying the bills at GWPF, bigcity.

I accepted Hengist's apology, and the man, relieved of his torment has now moved on. :)

Jun 26, 2011 at 1:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

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