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« On the media | Main | BBC review is out »

Public investigations

After the charade of the House of Commons investigation into Climategate, one has little confidence that anything coming out of the Palace of Westminster is worth the time of day. However, two new inquiries have been announced that may be of interest to readers here.

Several readers noted yesterday that the House of Commons SciTech Committee are going to investigate Science in the Met Office.

More intriguingly, the House of Lord SciTech Committee is going to investigate the role of Chief Scientific Advisers:

“The Committee is keen to gain a clearer understanding of the ability of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers to provide independent advice to ministers and policy makers within their departments and find out more about their influence across government. We would encourage anyone with any interest in this issue to contact us with their views and experiences on the role that they play.”

Some of the questions to be addressed are:

  • How do CSAs ensure that departmental policies are evidence-based?
  • What is the range of expertise provided by the network of CSAs across government departments?
  • What influence do CSAs have over research spend?

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Reader Comments (25)

How many Chief Scientific Advisers are there? I'm most aware of Bob Watson at DEFRA at the moment, through some fascinating conversations with some DEFRA and ex-DEFRA folk in a social setting recently. Maybe we could note down the names we know. (I admit that I have limited time today and haven't looked into the linked documents. Sorry if all the answers are there.)

[BH adds. All departments have a CSA now. The last hold-out - the Treasury - folded a couple of months ago.]

Jul 20, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

The HoC Select Committees are said to have improved their performance and to enjoy greater independence from the party whips now that they are elected by the HoC and not selected by the whips as before. I see that Mr Graham Stringer remains a member, offering both continuity and a robust view about the results of earlier enquiries. Does anyone know much about the other members?

I posted on an earlier thread (re Norfolk Police) about the inadequacies and inconsistencies between the various enquiries resulting from the CRU emails released into the wild - and contrasting the situation that exists with Hackgate and the NOTW files. The Home Affairs Committee has stated that the earlier police investigations were inadequate (see Vaz speaking here: A similar comment could, I believe, also be made about the Climategate investigations and the conclusions that the government made in Cmd 7934.

I think it would be helpful if those able and qualified to respond to these new enquiries could, at the same time, pick up on all the loose threads and unanswered questions left over from the old ones.

Jul 20, 2011 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Please, please, please Oldtimer! Never post a link to Vaz again! Imagine this scroat ( ) even retaining a seat!

I know it is off subject Bish but if Vas cannot be trusted with his expenses how can he be chairman of the home affairs select committee and hope to be trusted by the U.K. public on anything at all!?

I do truthfully despair at the U.K digging itself out of the "Green" smelly stuff with the people the electorate have representing them. Sir Humphrey would be so proud of this lot and I entertain a little sympathy for the ex-MP's serving a sentence whilst this man is not only free, but still in office!

Jul 20, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

They need to start at the top with Beddington, who isn't a scientist but an economist.

At least Prof McKay, at DECC, has written "Renewable Energy; without the hot air", so knows something about energy (from an academic viewpoint) and is a physicist.

Jul 20, 2011 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Pete H

Indeed what a fine upstanding member of society Keith Vaz is (NOT!) , yet despite the many scandals surrounding him, he remains a UK MP - beggars belief doesn't it?

Jul 20, 2011 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevinUK

I wonder if they will examine how CSA are selected - is it for their reputation for following the scientific method and being objective, or for their ability to make the science fit the policy? Are they political appointments or is the selection process transparent?

Jul 20, 2011 at 6:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSerge


Buggins' turn; The appointment of a person by rotation or promotion, on the basis of length of service (it being that person's "turn") rather than merit or level of qualification. A principle embedded in the higher ranks of the armed services and civil service. A British institutionalised system of pre-determining where culpability resides should awkward questions be asked.

Jul 20, 2011 at 8:36 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

What does anyone expect of these enquiries. Of course the Met Office will be shown to be doing a splendid job in difficult circs and its a shame that difficult economic circumstances make it impossible to have the funding levels they need to do even better. Of course the CSAs are the best of all possible men for the posts, why else do you think we appointed them?
As for Vaz, yes he is beyond the pale. It is only in days like these that someone of his sort could be an MP. That he can criticise the conduct of others as being reprehensible, possibly corrupt etc, though hilarious, just confirms my view that so many modern MPs are such monsters of vanity and self regard that they really have lost touch entirely with the real world.

Jul 20, 2011 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

[BH adds. All departments have a CSA now. The last hold-out - the Treasury - folded a couple of months ago.]

Now I've seen everything! The Treasury needs a CSA? What does he or she advise them on? The most environmentally-friendly colour for printing banknotes?

I think one ought to ask what 'science' these advisers practise. Are they natural scientists or is any sociologist/psychologist etc now also subsumed under 'science'?
One should also ask if the various departments don't have some staff with scientific training - and if not, why not.
These advisers are an extra burden on the taxpayer, and I'd suggest to the Lords that in most cases they simply are unneccessary

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

Bish I can appreciate the problem with the HSI sequel, the information since the first book is astounding. I have been on holiday for ten days and the whole situation gets bizarre. There is only so many twists and turns that one can follow until it all seems surreal. With The help of Josh you could be up for the Nobel prize and the Turner prize for the same book.

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

Hey Diddle Fiddle....The Puppeteer is controlling Australia!

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterFenbeagle

I don't know whether we really have anything very much over the last ten days. The Wallis thing is interesting, but it doesn't amount to much yet. Maybe there's more, maybe not.

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:37 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

For a view on Beddington, [and Hague, head of physics at IC and funded I suspect by Grantham] hear this:

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

BH wrote:

Several readers noted yesterday that the House of Commons SciTech Committee are going to investigate Science in the Met Office.

Unless I was imagining things, I seem to recall a comment in one of the threads over the last few days from Richard Betts, indicating that the Met Office has been shuffled from its longstanding home (Ministry of Defense) to BIS (Department for Business Innovation and Skills), home of (inter alia) the Foresight product, Beddington's baloney.

Knowing that such bureacratic shuffling rarely occurs out of the blue (and/or without rhyme or reason), this is a somewhat curious (if not convenient) coincidence of timing, is it not?!

Jul 20, 2011 at 10:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

Re Sir John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser, a leader in The Spectator, 16 July 2011, has this:
'In a report entitled 'International Dimensions of Climate Change', he calls upon the government to use weather-related disasters as 'policy windows' to push through unpopular policies to cut carbon emissions. Every time there is a flood in Bangladesh, in other words, we can expect another couple of pence of duty on a litre of unleaded.
Sir John Beddington's job is to advise the government on science. Instead, he appears to have appointed himself minister for propaganda. Even the Met Office accepts that individual meteorological events cannot be attributed to climate change. Drought and tempest were with us before industrial civilisation -- though to read Sir John's report it might be easy to imagine they were not. On half a dozen occasions he brings up Hurricane Katrina as supposed evidence of climate change ... He would better earn his £165,000 a year by sticking to hs remit.'
No doubt the editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson, will get a slapped wrist for this!

Jul 20, 2011 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterQuercus

could this week's CAGW developments get even siller....yes...

20 July: Guardian: Suzanne Goldenberg: UN security council to consider climate change peacekeeping
Special meeting to discuss 'green helmets' force to intervene in conflicts caused by rising seas levels and shrinking resources
China, for example, argues that the security council should leave climate change to the experts...

Jul 20, 2011 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterpat

It seems to me that all of the potentially thousands of questions can be reduced to 4:

a) Where are the data stored and documented that demonstrate definitively that Man-made CO2 is causing a catastrophic effect?
b) Do the global models that apparently predict such doom consider all known inputs and are those inputs known to be correctly described?
c) What are the criteria for verification and validation of all models used in such predictions/projections?
d) Do all models currently in use meet those verification and validation criteria?

Jul 20, 2011 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterdusty

Dusty, I'd narrow it down to an even simpler question.
If we are dealing with science here, what are the grounds on which the hypothesis of CAGW can be falsified?
Oh yeah, can you freely release all of your data and computer codes so someone independent can test the reproducibility of your pronouncements?

[The your in this post refers to the 'climate science' fraternity, not to you, dusty]

Jul 20, 2011 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

@Jul 20, 2011 at 9:40 PM | alistair

Cracking interview! Thanks!

Go get 'em, Piers.......

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Orlowski over at El Reg has news about the Commons SciTech committee exploring the ways that "science" has informed alcohol policy. Those of you familiar with the shenanigans of the climate change industry may not be aware that there's an parallel universe in Public Health. Orlowski elegantly describes the mangling of evidence to fit the "message" as "policy-based evidence-making". Well worth a read, as is his detailed demolition of a recent IPCC-style health report.

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Melville

In Britain inquiries have one simple purpose: to tie up the opposition in the process of the inquiry, to force them to spend time and effort addressing the biased questions posed in the inquiry, so preventing them getting involved in serious activism with serious consequences and giving the government the pretence of "having listened" whilst all along allowing them to get on with what they were going to do anyway without all the hassle of having to deal with the activists (who are obviously otherwise preoccupied).

Like BBC complaints, British inquiries are a formality with a stock reply and anyone who contributes thinking they will achieve anything is entirely gullible.

But anyone who doesn't contribute will be counted as supporting the conclusions.

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler

Wouldn't it be great if they examined Sir David King's role in misleading the public over climategate?

See recent 'tinfoil hat' post.

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered Commentertallbloke

Andrew Orlowski's writing is always worth reading. His piece on alcohol research reinforces the dreadful false wisdom of the medical profession. I was told over 40 years ago, in a chemistry night-school class by an excellent instructor, a moonlighting veterinary surgeon who was using teaching chem to finance another science degree,that young people drink far too much alcohol and older people don't drink enough. He insisted that OAPs should be able to purchase a large bottle of good Sherry or Port once each week on the National 'elf and should drink a generous tumblerful each night before bed.
When I grew up in NZ in the 1950s and '60s, binge drinking once or twice each week among late teens and early twenties was regarded as normal behaviour, but something we would eventually grow out of as we were overtaken by marriage and kids. And most of us did give up binge drinking, in time reducing our intakes to very little. A few have not survived over the years, of course, but the majority of my peer group, now in our early seventies, is still chuffing along in quite good health. Surprisingly enough, most of us are still working too.

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

'How do CSAs ensure that departmental policies are evidence based..?'
Er - am I missing something here - or is this not PRECISELY what us over here in Realityland have been banging on for years about - that 'Man-made climate change' - and all the draconian policies which have flowed from that belief - is NOT 'evidence based'..?

Jul 21, 2011 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Our friend Prof Beddington has opened a blog - trendy old thing, him.

Hasn't quite got the hang of responding to the barrage of scorn heaped on him by a sceptical public. I just put it to him that he's increasingly resembling Ceaucescu on the balcony.

Credit to him for the imaginative name, though. "Preparing for the Future" means, I guess, energy poverty, destruction of Britain's manufacturing base, green jobs for the party faithful, punishment for lightbulb smugglers.

Jul 22, 2011 at 12:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

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