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« Geek slapped | Main | UKIP Scotland's climate spokesman »

Royal pickle

Last week, the Royal Society announced the list of new appointments to the fellowship for 2013. For climate geeks the only familiar name that of Imperial's Joanna Haigh, who specialises in the solar influence on climate and who, to the best of my knowledge, has not been associated with any kind of activism. I've spotted one other climate scientist, but not one I've come across before.

Unfortunately, the society seems to have got itself into a bit of a pickle over its decision to elevate Prince Andrew to the fellowship too.

As James Wilsdon bluntly puts it this morning:

Plenty of institutions with a royal history that aren't spending the 21st C with their heads lodged quite so firmly up the Windsor arse.

Jonathan Leake, who broke the story in the Sunday Times (paywalled), noted that the election involved a ballot paper that only allowed existing fellows to vote in favour or to abstain. Apparently only 11% of the electorate voted in favour of the prince, with "a huge number" abstaining.

Leake has also got a choice quote from Lord May, who expresses his "dismay" at the vote and says that

This is not the way to run an election. A ballot where you can only say yes is a bad idea and should be changed.

This takes a certain amount of chutzpah from the noble lord, who chose to retain this "bad idea" of an electoral system when he was in charge of the Royal Society.

Such Soviet-style shenanigans were mentioned in my Nullius in Verba report in connection with the election of Lord Rees as president, with Rees's the only name on the ballot paper. The electoral practices of the society have no doubt been central to its corruption by political activists. Would the fellows have chosen Paul Erlich in a fair election?

Of course, the Royal Society chose to ignore the criticisms I made at the time, refusing even to acknowledge the existence of the report. If they had taken those concerns on board, they might not have got involved in this unseemly row.

[Corrected last line 11.50am. BH].

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Reader Comments (37)

Bish - Last line: "involved"?
[Thanks. Dealt with. BH]

May 5, 2013 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Tall bloke on Haigh

" I won’t be taking anything else she says seriously in future. It’s a nice demonstration of how you can mislead the public while being factually correct though."

May 5, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Scrase

Joanna Haigh has been very actively alarmist on Radio 4. Very few fellows appear to have been elected within the last 20 years because of exceptional scientific achievement. Many of the recent fellows have not practiced science at all. When I was a student (many years ago), the lecturers who were Fellows were to be listened to because you knew they deserved to be Fellows through achievement.

May 5, 2013 at 9:53 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Bit OT Anyone else see Chris Pattern interview with Jeremy Vine on The Andrew Marr show

Poor old Chris Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall have taken their toll on him.

Chris trying to blame the sexist 1960s and 70s just dont wash.Political Correctness dont save anybody from sexual preditors however old they are and how ever long ago and in what ever industry.

BBC need yet another clearout.Chris out and take the BBC Climate Change nutters with him.

May 5, 2013 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

'Prince Andrew to the fellowship ' ask another that has comes cross him and they can tell you the guys [snip] frankly a bit thick , so he should fit right in with the modern RS,

May 5, 2013 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I seem to recall that in the old USSR elections were very similar - you could vote yes or not vote.

May 5, 2013 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Here's a quote from the Sunday Times article: "The rebellion [against Prince Andrew] is being led by David Colquhoun, a fellow and professor of pharmacology at University College London". Colquhoun has a blog, which contains the full article:

May 5, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterSara Chan

Princes Phillip and Charles were appointed previously. I wonder if the Sunday Times makes this clear. Presumably it's a traditional honorary appointment.

May 5, 2013 at 10:38 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Sara, if you have a look at Colquhouns blog you can see that attacking the royals is one of his favourite activities.

May 5, 2013 at 10:49 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Sara Chan & Paul Matthews

Thanks. For those who want to read David Colquhoun's blog post:

where he says that 24 fellows (2%) somehow managed to vote No.

May 5, 2013 at 10:56 AM | Registered CommenterQ

Here's exactly how it was reported this morning on BBC Radio 4 news (h/t Messenger):

Some of Britain's leading scientists are in revolt, according to the Sunday Times. It says they're angry that Prince Andrew has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, despite an over-colourful past and the lack of a scientific background. Some question the wisdom of close links to the Royals, saying it shows a lack of discrimination, which can only harm the Society's reputation. But for many, the objection is to the voting system which was used. The ballot paper only had a space to vote "Yes", so more than a thousand people abstained and Prince Andrew was elected with just 11% of the vote. The Royal Society has accepted that its system does need to be brought up to date.

May 5, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

147 fellows voted yes. That's a lot, isn't it?

Why exactly shouldn't this Andrew guy become a fellow of the RS, apart from the arms deals and the support for East European dictators which Colquhoun lists?

May 5, 2013 at 12:03 PM | Registered Commentershub

They can only vote yes?
And 89% then decided not to vote?
Surely that should mean he should not be installed.
Otherwise what is the point of an election.

This is the stupidest thing I have seen for a while...

May 5, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

Joanna Haigh is not a close relative of mine. Ultimately we are both descended from Vikings, from Haugesund in South west Norway, who did their raping and pillaging in the area of England which is now Yorkshire

May 5, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh.

One assumes that Prince Andrew has been appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the RS, most societies do this (as do most Universities) because it brings the institution prestige by association.

As such I can't really see why Colquhoun is complaining about it when he ought to have been complaining about the appointment on merit (!) of Paul Erhlich

May 5, 2013 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

...'Prince Andrew to the fellowship ' ask another that has comes cross him and they can tell you the guys [snip] frankly a bit thick , so he should fit right in with the modern RS...

I would have voted for Prince Andrew. He would have raised the general level of intellectual attainment of the RS...

May 5, 2013 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Local Houghton Fishing Club blackballed Prince Charles without a second thought.

I say we gotta stand up to em...Send em back to Germany where dey belong
All it takes is few strong-willed citizens...They'd think the sky had fallen in on em

May 5, 2013 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

I hear a rumour that Andy traded in his Air Miles to get this 'honour'.

Me - I thought the Tesco Clubcard vouchers were the better option......maybe I'll do the FRS gig next year....

May 5, 2013 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

It is a society based on Royal patronage. Now suddenly considerations of who a Royal is friends with decides whether he's allowed in?

Where was the unprecedented dissent (as the Guadrian calls it) when Paul Ehrlich was made fellow?

May 5, 2013 at 2:24 PM | Registered Commentershub

A lower turn out than the local elections achieved!

May 5, 2013 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

The Royal Society has become the new home of the "yes men"

I see a Josh cartoon in there somewhere.

May 5, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Watts

When I get to be an FRS, I will be sure to welcome, retrospectively, the entry of Prince Andrew. As a Royal Society, we should be pleased to have such a close link with the royal family, and with such a solid chap as Prince Andrew seems to be.

On the other hand, I would be mightily ashamed that my society chose to admit Paul Ehrlich, a man who for me represents the worst of superficial science and irresponsible scaremongering. As soon as I get to be president, I'll have him out on a dishonourable discharge, and no mistake.

And that's not all. I'll introduce an award for those who have done most in recent years to discredit the noble tradition of Nullius in Verba. I'm thinking of calling it the Nurse Award.

May 5, 2013 at 5:18 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

If the RS is gathering royals with Philip, Charles & Andrew, why has The Princess Royal not been elected? Can someone ask Nurse?

May 5, 2013 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterDr K.A. Rodgers

It gets me that people complain about a royal being involved in The Royal Society. The clue is surely in the name? If he isn't qualified nobody is!
Now why it should be titled a 'Royal' society rather than a scientific one is a different question.

May 5, 2013 at 6:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterWoodsy42

On the bright side, maybe he'll learn a little more science. I hope it's not from Paul Erlich.

May 5, 2013 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Dr KAR, she has, sorry, gender discrimination from me not RS!

May 5, 2013 at 7:03 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

'Plenty of institutions with a royal history that aren't spending the 21st C with their heads lodged quite so firmly up the Windsor arse.'

I somehow can't imagine the Bish taking Viscount Ridley to task for inviting the Princess Royal to celebtrate the reinvention of his coal mine as Earth Art.

May 5, 2013 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Russell, those weren't the words of the Bish. Our host seems more concerned about the principle of elections where one can only vote yes or abstain. Does that aspect bother you?

May 5, 2013 at 8:02 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Bish: thank you for the excerpt from Booker on how the BBC made Joanna Haigh their useful idiot back in 2006. Now respected FRS. It's how one gets along. Or at least was. I sense a titanic clash is brewing.

May 5, 2013 at 8:06 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard, the point is that nobody seems to object to such patronage.

The bish has his 'Nullius in verba' bone to pick with the RS , and I have mine .

May 5, 2013 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Re: skeptics converting in front of the cameras. Richard Muller of the BEST project tried this but his "skeptic cred" was pretty thin.

I've built a convincing cover now as a blowhard skeptic. I've cashed my last cheque from Big Oil. All I now need is the Big Green Payout... Camera! Lights! Action!

May 5, 2013 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Ehrlich has spent a lifetime slaloming from failure to failure to failure.

FRom wikipedia:

All of [Ehrlich's] grim predictions had been decisively overturned by events. Ehrlich was wrong about higher natural resource prices, about "famines of unbelievable proportions" occurring by 1975, about "hundreds of millions of people starving to death" in the 1970s and '80s, about the world "entering a genuine age of scarcity."
In 1990, for his having promoted "greater public understanding of environmental problems," Ehrlich received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award." [Simon] always found it somewhat peculiar that neither the Science piece nor his public wager with Ehrlich nor anything else that he did, said, or wrote seemed to make much of a dent on the world at large.
For some reason he could never comprehend, people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they'd been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days "experts" spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed.
Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.

Here is a fascinating account of Julian Simon the winner of the Simon-Ehrllich Wager. Simon tackles the eco-worriers head on...

May 5, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Re: Keith Briffa vs. Joanna Haigh for the BBC interview segment of a faked "conversion" to CAGW:

One can try a few wild guesses:

1) Briffa may have proved less enthusiastic about a script portraying Mann's hockey stick as slap-shotting all other work out of serious contention,


2) Joanna Haigh filled some BBC quota of non-male talking heads,


3) Joanna Haigh simply impressed BBC producers as more photogenic, camera friendly.

There are not too many explanations for why TV producers would waste the time and attention of a senior scientist in this way (whatever we may think about him, the BBC had very high respect for Briffa to be prepared to use him in this role).

May 5, 2013 at 11:48 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

The bish might better exhort his amatuer statisticians to reckon the odds on four Presidents of the American Asssociation For The Advancement of Science joining Ehrlich as coauthors of a politically charged companion piece to an apocalyptic exercise in climate modeling published in their own Associations' lead journal, Science

Then, they can calculate the probability of both lead authors recieving MacArthur genius awards for a pair of papers, the chair of Harvard's Earth and Planetary Science department characterized as " a political exercise rather than a scientific exercise" .

I doubt this will give the bish's cohort joy for long, for if ( fat chance) they search the scientific literature with due diligence they will discover "nuclear winter"'s nemesis included the late Steve Schneider, who fisked Sagan and Ehrlich's apocalyptic hypothesis in a sober 1986 Foreign Affairs review entitled 'Nuclear Winter Reappraised' ,one of many papers Ehrlich would like the world to forget,

May 6, 2013 at 2:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

"...we are both descended from Vikings, from Haugesund in South west Norway, who did their raping and pillaging in the area of England which is now Yorkshire." --Jimmy Haigh.

Of late, the raping and pillaging has moved on to the area of energy policy.

May 6, 2013 at 5:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Slightly OT but re the BBC propaganda m/c, it was in full blast this am on ocean acidicfication - though it was conceded that effects can take thousands of years to make themselves felt. BBC Breakfast, the morning TV show, also had an item of the benefits of eating insects, worms and grubs to supplement the diets of our hungry world. This another recurring BBC theme, it having promoted the nutritional benefits of insects and grubs on Womans Hour some weeks ago. It ranks with the airtime given to those who want a return to food rationing - and their battle for energy rationing nearing success.

May 6, 2013 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Another member to the fellowship of the stink.
Sir, you once snipped me for too much venting and you were right todo so. You may in your wisdom wish to consider actively encouraging venting for some articles:-)
A learned society who's voting system is as described cannot be a learned society.
As to Andrew Windsor what useful purpose does he serve?

May 6, 2013 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

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