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« It takes a village | Main | Another Beddington inquiry »

Suing academics

Mike Kelly has a letter in his hometown newspaper. This appears to be a response to a critique of some kind and makes some interesting points.

Can I plead for temperate language in this debate as trillions of dollars are at risk of being misinvested?

I am involved in another area of controversy, namely nanotechnology, and when you add in controversies in biomedicine, there is enough around to suggest that the scientific process is being corrupted, and is in need of reining in. You will see my views on this when the Royal Society publishes the evidence it receives in its study of ‘Science as a Public Enterprise‘.

Engineers take legal liability for their work, and can be sued if they are wrong. This should also apply more widely to those who pronounce in the public domain on matters of policy. This would then confine statements to a more measured and nuanced standard.

(H/T Andyscrase)

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Reader Comments (28)

As one who is mandated by his engineering profession to carry PII (Prof Indemnity Ins), I am constantly advised that I am insured when reporting facts that I have measured, calculated or directly observed only. Advice, which I am often asked for and refuse to give, lies outside that cover as it belongs in the realms of 'consultancy'. Rarely have I seen the words 'Engineers claim that....' but frequently see that Scientists are reported as doing so. One wonders what the likes of Beddington might claim in defence when, in my opinion, he is inevitably called to account on one topic or another. Will he be personally liable for any misspent millions/trillions or do his Insurers pick up the tab? He could of course be excused on the grounds that he was merely reporting on the current science but in that case, the Telegraph's Louise Gray (for example) does that on a regular basis and at no cost to the government. Some scientists may have skin thick enough to endure ridicule when it occurs but are their wallets equally endowed?

Jun 5, 2011 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

As an aside, although relevant, you will see that Beddington has led an enquiry which concludes that white asbestos should still be treated in the same way as blue asbestos, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. However, it would be naieve to expect a government enquiry to find otherwise since that might open them up to multimillion claims from those that had followed their advice in good faith.

In my experience scary stories that prove worthless are never retracted, we just see a gradual silence on the subject. Remember the acid rain problem that was going to kill all the trees in the Black Forest...

Jun 5, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

There is an unrecognized crisis of incompetence in ALL of the "consensus" science theories today, particularly in the earth and life sciences, which are not coincidentally those being pushed most forcefully and religiously (and often in direct confrontation with traditional religions) in the public forums. For example, I just visited the "realclimate" site last night (a rare excursion on my part), and found (in a long thread of comments) a strong current of apocalyptic, Malthusian thinking, obviously religiously held (as unquestioned dogma), being given free rein (by Gavin Schmidt, the moderator and a professional scientist -- one of the central IPCC group of climate scientists). Any deviation from the dogma was met with instant, angry dismissal. In such an intellectual climate, a "more measured and nuanced standard" is seen (by the followers of the consensus) as an ugly, anti-scientific intrusion. There is no better illustration than that of the fundamental nature of the corruption: religiously held dogma, being forced on the public as the established truth, against the clearest and most definitive physical evidence (see my blog article, "Venus: No Greenhouse Effect"). And all of our scientific and political institutions, and the media, have been suborned. We are thus like the masses seeking freedom in Iran and other tyrannous Muslim countries right now: repressed by a religious authority that believes it can rule our lives by simply overruling our own good reason.

Jun 5, 2011 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Lawyers can sue doctors for getting an operation wrong.

However lawyers cannot be sued for mucking up a case in court. The theory being that this would put lawyers under paerticular stress while doing an im[portant job that requires their best abilities and is thus not in the overall public interest.

Why doctors, doing an operation, aren't under stress is not explained.

Applying the same rules to lawyers as to the rest of us would gave a salutary effect on lawyer parasitism. This is why laywyers donate $10s of millions to the Republicans and $100s to the Demicrats.

Jun 5, 2011 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

It is so refreshing to see an academic stick his head above the parapet. It should be the norm for academics to defend academic and scientific principles - but it isn't.

Those who don't condemn scientific corruption are, by default, accepting it.

Jun 5, 2011 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

This observation is well founded and powerful. And it means the scientific community by and large (but not universally) needs to grow up. It is not surprise Steve McIntyre, a retired engineer I believe, was the spearhead against the shoddy Hockey Team's antics. All of us engineers actually have to produce results safely - which holds us to higher standard for confidence.

Confidence is EVERYTHING. It is why the theory is interesting, but the error budget is the key. It is why I and others like me scoff at the claims of warmest year or warmest decade. There has never been sufficient proof the measurements are accurate to produce valid tenth of a degree differences over 180 years. There has never been proof even modern readings are accurate over 100 km to under 3°F (but hordes of regional data and simple statistics prove temperatures everyday range within 1 sigma of 3°F within this distance). And there has never been proof that when averaging cells over the globe the final index means anything.

The truth is, when you push GISS and others, the 1998-2008 period is the same temperature as the 1930-1940 warm period. Fact.

We have seen on WUWT a 'scientific' report using two data points! We have seen example after example of hiding inconvenient data and results. The spreading of PhDs over the decades through lower standards has resulted in destroying the scientific method through abuse and arrogance.

It is beyond high time to hold scientists to the level of proof engineers use day in and day out - so that bridges don't fall, airplanes don't crash, cars protect the families they hold and homes don't become death traps.

I have seen scientists attempt to meet the requirements of basic engineering and fail. They find it too hard, to limiting to their imagination.

Too bad. Time to join the modern world, and all its higher standards for performance and ethics.

Jun 5, 2011 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrata

The real problem IMHO is that academics (and many "public interest" groups, including environmental groups) suffer no real, significant penalties for being wrong (or pushing policies that fail). That is, they have "no skin in the game".

In fact, many are rewarded with fame (or notoriety) and showered with honors--Paul Ehrlich comes to mind; Nicholas Stern is another (Al Gore?).

So if there is no disincentive to being wrong, one shouldn't be surprised with the preponderance of wrong predictions and bad advice.

Jun 5, 2011 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterIndur M. Goklany

This is a good point. I am a professional engineer as well as a scientist. You can get away with murder with the latter hat on because most is speculation in the hope no-one else will copy exactly the same work!

Jun 5, 2011 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

Reading this reminds me of so many other parallels - one of the main players in systems thinking in the context of management WE Deming pushes the importance of knowledge in helping managers make good decisions, which includesmeasuring the right things and presenting data in a good way to make sure natural variation is accommodated.

I am in the process of preparing a presentation around this and I came across a "Dilbert" Cartoon where the key characters are bemoaning the lack of a budget. The pointy haired boss replies "Yes we will just have to guess more than usual". Climate science seems to have the same approach from what I read!

Jun 5, 2011 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSerge

Presumably this is different from the Mike Kelly who wrote his own hide the decline e-mail, that I am cutting off the last few data points when temperatures turned down.

Jun 5, 2011 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

Serge, 5:17pm. I have studied W E Deming's work quite a bit, and my hunch is that he would have come down like a ton of bricks, in his brusk and frank fashion, on anyone in industry who tried to make a case as flimsy and as divorced from observational discipline as that which has been foisted on the world by the likes of the IPCC PR machine and its most deeply embedded scientists. Deming loved theory, loved the idea that it could help on progress, and develop what he came to refer to as profound knowledge. But I think his idea of 'theory' would not include rigged computer models cobbled together to provide a marketing pitch for a rather feeble and highly speculative spin of 'positive feedbacks'. It is a pity he is no longer with us. I like to think that had he become engaged with the CO2 Alarm Fiasco, he would have fired a broadside to help sink it below the horizon of concern for respectable thinkers and doers.

Jun 5, 2011 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

"I like to think that had [Deming] become engaged with the CO2 Alarm Fiasco, he would have fired a broadside...." --John Shade

The media wouldn't have printed it. Houston, we have a problem.

Jun 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Just to give a quick precis of this story: An NZ journalist (Rachel Stewart) writes an article for the Taranaki Herald pushing the party line on AGW

In particular, she states that we should question the political motives of the 3% of the scientific community who don't accept the "consensus" (her words). In particular, she has a strong aversion for "denier-for-hire" (her words) Prof Bob Carter, who was invited to speak on behalf of a farming group - Federated Farmers.

It should be pointed out that climate is now an election issue in NZ, - the opposition Labour party wants to bring agriculture into the ETS two years earlier than originally planned - i.e 2013. Under this scheme, farmers would be charged a flat rate for methane and other emissions from their stock.

This story was posted up on Climate Conversation Group (linked in BH post).

The interesting thing, for me, was that Prof Mike Kelly, of Oxburgh CRU enquiry fame, should pop up and write to the Taranaki Herald expressing his concern about the partisan nature of the article (naturally, the article is flagged as "opinion", but we don't get any other opinions in the MSM here)

Prof Mike Kelly's only connection with this story is that New Plymouth (Taranaki) is his home town.

As they say down this way, good on yer mate.

Jun 6, 2011 at 5:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

I was delighted to see Prof Kelly's quick response to counter the vitriol and ignorance in the article by Ms Stewart. Why deranged people wish to disadvantage and denigrate the major export industry of their native country with vicious untruths is beyond me, but it emerged that the same 'journalist' has form when it comes to truthful 'reporting', but that small issue has not diminished her appetite for similar behaviour, it seems. And newspaper managements wonder why their own industry appears to be in a steep and terminal decline!.

Jun 6, 2011 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I wonder whether the fact that Professor Kelly is a New Zealander explains his rather low profile in the UK climate debate. Although his Oxburgh notes were the best thing to come out of that corrupt process, they are only known to sad climate anoraks like us who follow CA and BH. It may be that he takes the view that if Brits wish to shoot themselves in the foot, that's their business, not his.

Jun 6, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

Jane Coles - "Sad Climate Anorak"

Such an evocative expression. I hope Josh is taking notes.

Jun 6, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

I read Prof Kelly’s comments with great interest. He puts his argument in such a straightforward manner. I particularly like his point about engineers and they being liable for their work.

A few years ago, I was out and about in my car and listening to the radio. This was Radio Eireann here in Ireland. I heard a discussion between a senior executive of a pharmaceutical company and the radio interviewer to do with licensing new drugs.

These pharmaceutical companies sometimes spend millions/billions in developing new drugs. Once they have “discovered” a new drug it then has to be licensed by each country in which it is to be made available for sale. The Pharma companies cannot just willy nilly send it all around the globe, put it on shelves and start making vast profits from its sale.

The executive I was listening to explained the procedure quite simply. His company’s drug was licensed within Europe via the EU. He then wanted to make the real bucks in the world’s biggest market, the USA. But, just because the EU accepted it didn’t mean that he had carte blanche to put it on USA shelves.

The FDA is the governing authority in the US for new drugs as I remember his words.

His company had to request the FDA’s permission and they did their own inspecting and checking and this could take some years.

In order to obtain the permission from the FDA, his company had to send TWO CONTAINER loads of material to them. This comprised all of the initial work on the new drug, all the background experimentation, the checks, the double checks, the results from all of these checks and so on. Every piece of information that the Pharma company had, had to be sent to the FDA. In due course, when and if the FDA approved the new drug, it would be licensed. This, obviously, might take years to achieve. And when it did pass the FDA checks, there were “high fives” all around in the board room of the Pharmaceutical Company no doubt.

In the business of AGW, the only confirmation that is required to confirm that mankind is causing the world to warm up are the words of (mainly) two small groups of pseudo scientists in England and the USA.

Neither of these groups has, to the best of my knowledge, ever been obliged, or volunteered to give actual proof that their work is valid. In fact, we know that in the USA, these pseudo scientists have fought tooth and nail to prevent their workings from being exposed to the scrutiny of the world, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process in legal fees.

Something is rotten in the Religion of Climate Scientology.

Peter Walsh

Jun 6, 2011 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRETEPHSLAW

This statement is beyond belief:
"Engineers take legal liability for their work, and can be sued if they are wrong. This should also apply more widely to those who pronounce in the public domain on matters of policy. This would then confine statements to a more measured and nuanced standard"

Engineers can place their designs in controlled chambers to test EMC, temperature extremes, shock, vibration, altitude, water, mould, dust etc. A climatologist is working with data from crummy sources, cannot control environments to test hypothosis, cannot test to desruction, must wait decades to get results to measured changes, and then is supposed to predict the future.

A climatologist can only provide a probability of something happening
Get real¬!

Jun 7, 2011 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterthefordprefect

tfp - Perhaps a small first step would be for them to at least share the data they base their work on?

Jun 7, 2011 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Question: How many professional engineers use "tricks" to "hide the decline"?

Jun 7, 2011 at 11:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

I'd like to thank Prof. Mike Kelly for referencing my recent essay at WUWT and tAV in his article. I'm honored.

Further, though, as a scientist I find a need to respond to the criticisms here of scientists not being held to account for their mistakes.

Science is not engineering. It's not about making something work when most of the physics is already in hand.

Science is about exploring the limits of the known and excursing as far as possible into the unknown. Mistakes are inevitable. Published mistakes are inevitable. In fact, it is often the published mistakes that are most valuable because they show where the new experimental work must be done and where the theory must be improved.

In science, a thoughtful mistake is an honorable estate. Making scientists pay for mistakes is an infallible route to killing science. Science is risk, first and foremost. To lose that understanding is to lose everything.

The sin of the climatologists has been to force their science into public policy. This forced entry has not been rational. It has merely been given a patina of rationality -- painted onto a banal and inchoate inner certainty about imminent disaster. We all know that old story. And as usual, the predicted disaster is still nowhere in sight.

Their models should have -- at the very least -- gone through engineering-quality validation and verification before ever being even remotely considered worth using to make public policy.

Until climate science came along, virtually nothing going into major technological legislative policy -- power generation, medicine, construction, aircraft -- could do so without heavy validation of models shown to work within their design parameters. Government agencies generally have been good about enforcing this standard (when they have not been corrupted by politics), and all engineers understand the need and understand the expense of hewing to this standard.

The fault here lies in the breakdown of governmental process. Parliament in the UK and the Congress in the US should have demanded engineering quality studies of climate models before legislating policy. They have never done so.

This is a lack of diligence and duty that likely would not have been countenanced in other arenas of very important public technological policy. Can anyone imagine governments agreeing to nuclear power plants on the basis of unvalidated academic models? Or the release of a new drug on the single basis of testimony about peer-reviewed literature?

Impossible. But that's climate policy.

So, in taking the steps they have as regards climate policy, the legislators either have gotten very bad advice from their science advisers, or have so bitten the poisoned apple of climate politics -- so very thoroughly polished by the AGW cadre of climate scientists and their green NGO confederates -- that they are unable to make rational decisions about policy.

I've read some of the testimony before Congress, given by climate scientists. The groups of scientists contradict one another over AGW. US legislators clearly decide to believe the group that most appeals to their prior held convictions. There is no evidence that US legislators make any rational effort at getting to the bottom of the disagreement. The whole thing is politics. Their subjective decision to believe one way or the other is not different from an anguished someone -- looking for answers -- who finds his "truth-sayer" in a preacher who delivers the message most salubrious to what the seeker already believes.

This is hardly the way to run a country.

Jun 8, 2011 at 1:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

The problem is not that the "climate scientists" got it wrong but that, in a number of cases, they clearly engaged in fraud, for example, to "hide the decline" hide the algorithms and make fraudulent claims about the Himalayas melting & were very well paid to do so. They should be held to account for doing so. If an engineer's bridge fell down because he had sold the titanium struts and replaced them with cardboard he would, rightly, face charges of manslaughter. The climate fraud is of that level of obviousness.

There is also blame to go round all those supporters who did not check the validity of the maths or actively prevented this beinmg done. Stephen McIntyre should not have been the first to check Mann's Hockey Stick - at the very least some of the "2,500 climate scientists" the IPPC claims should have checked it before making it a mainstay of their case. The behaviousr of Nature in not only repeatedly refusing McIntyre's paper on spurious grounds but publishing many purely ad hominem attacks on him in the interim is not consistent with Nature being a more scientific jouranl than National Inquirer.

Where I think the "climate scientists" can plead innocent is the acccusation that "The sin of the climatologists has been to force their science into public policy". It was the politicians who selected them & poured money into promoting this fraud. The very few "scientists" involved merely provided a "scientific" veneer for politicians who wanted a new "imaginary hobgoblin" to scare us into obedience.

My fear is that, as this fraud subsides, the blame will be put onto scientists as a body, most of whom's only fault was not to unitedly denounce it, while the politicians & media move on to another false scare story (or retread global cooling or anti-nuclearism or terrorism or GM or Russia)

Jun 8, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Engineering failures
World trade Centre collapse
Concorde Fire
Huygens Space Probe radio
Tay bridge
Tacoma Bridge
BP gulf leak

A few thousand dead a few billion cost.

a. If climatologists are right but ignored - what cost?
b. If climatologists are wrong but advice accepted - what cost?

Which error gives the least "cost" a or b.

Does it cost so much just to drive smaller cars and insulate your home. Even removing those wall-warts when not used in the UK would save 1/2 a power station. Another power station if you unplug a sky box when not used.

Jun 9, 2011 at 12:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterthefordprefect

Well you had to go back to 1879 to get that many - and Fukushima were zero [people were injusred though 25,000 were killed by the tsunami is difficult to define as a serious failure. By that standard any day that isn't hotter than the previous one would be a "failure" of the warming theory. I suspect we have had more than 9 of those since 1879.

As regards the question it all depends on what the "climatologists" are predcicting this wee. If it is Sir David King predicting that by 2100 "Antarctica will be the only inhabitable continent" then obviously stopping that (if it were possible by the Kyoto process which it certainly wouldn't be) wopuld be worth a lot. On the other hand if we are to believe the prediction of Sir David King, that warming will be 3 C by 2100 then the effects of warming combined with increased CO2 woyuld probably be significantly beneficial. Please advise what prediction you believe fordprefect and why.

Jun 9, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

*October 2009 Update: Ford Recalls Another 4.5 million Vehicles Due To Fire Risk
*The number of deaths linked to possible unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles in the United States has risen to 52, safety regulators said
*Controversy followed the Pinto after 1977 allegations that the Pinto's structural design allowed its fuel tank filler neck to break off[7] and the fuel tank to be punctured in a rear-end collision,[7] resulting in deadly fires
*Aged wiring in aircraft.
*United Airlines Flight 811 experienced a cargo door failure in flight on Friday, February 24, 1989,
*New Orleans flood defence
*Engineers working on San Francisco's ill-starred Bay Bridge have fingered a culprit in the repair job that went awry Tuesday evening, forcing the bridge's closure: metal fatigue caused by harmonic resonance
*Thames foot bridge
*Lubmin nuclear power plant nearly melted down due to the failure of safety systems during a fire
*Three Mile Island

In the UK 3C makes a lot of difference. In Hotter climates 3C increase will cause deaths. 3C will evapourate more water - how will this effect the hydrological cycle? More snow in winter - floods in summer. You play with the processes that have been relatively stable for centuries at your peril. A 1000 years ago humans could move from rising waters (e.g. doggerland) today it may be more difficult shifting a few cities up the hill a bit or moving populations from unacceptable heat to other countries nearer the poles.

Jun 9, 2011 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterthefordprefect

The new Orleans flood defence failed not because the US Army Corps of Engineers couldn't improve the levees but because the "environmentalists" wouldn't let them. Listening to such folk is clearly likely to be a costly error.

3 Mile Island, like Fukushima is a "catastrophe" in which nobody died or was injured.

The Toyota scare has been proven almost entirely scaremongering.

And this is the worst you can charge engineers with. By comparison the ecofascists have produced literally hundreds of global catastrophe scare stories. If you believe the standards you allege you believe in ford if even one of these had proven only 99% true you would be denouncing "environmentalists",

In fact, of course every last one has proven fraudulant and every last member of the "environmental" movement, who is not wholly corrupt, has been forced to denounce their entire movement as not 1/10,000th as trustworthy as real engineers. OK I grant that so far such honest people total little more than Patrick Moore & presumably yourself.

You have done that haven't you ford - denounced yourself as not 1/10,000th as trustwiorthy as any engineer - after all you wopuldn't want us to think you, along with the other eco-Nazis are not only wholly untrustworthy but deliberately wholly dishonest.

On your other point - last time it was that hot the Sahara was fertile wetland. How catastrophic was that? In Britain 3 C would make us the south of France - I suspect most people wouldn't mind that to much.

Jun 9, 2011 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig


World Trade Centre collapse an engineering failure? I'm surprised you didn't include the Möhne Dam in your list.

Jun 9, 2011 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Check out the pictures of the dams only the section where the bombs hit were taken out the res remains.
2 planes hit the towers. initial damage minor as engineering design intended
Fires started by fuel burn below melting point of steel.
First failure - where were the sprinklers?
beams bend and floors collapse
Second failure at temperatures below melting point why was floor trusses not anchored securely
Tower collapses
Expected after mass of top floors falling one floor depth.

VOSA recalls:
5904 Search Results

Jun 10, 2011 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterthefordprefect

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