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Monday
Jan132014

Walport and Ridley

Mark Walport has a letter in the Times, taking issue with an article that Matt Ridley wrote a few days before. Matt's article was about cherrypicking in science, and mentioned Briffa's Yamal series.

Sir,

Matt Ridley falls into his own trap in his Opinion column (Jan 6), though the title “Roll up: cherry pick your research results here” is apposite, because that is exactly what Ridley does with respect to the research evidence for global warming.

There can be no sensible arguments against making available the results of properly conducted research for open scrutiny. The arguments for this have been rehearsed very effectively in health — and, in general, the biomedical research community has accepted these arguments. Indeed UK scientists pioneered the controlled clinical trial and the Cochrane Collaboration led the way in the rigorous meta-analysis of all sources of evidence to reach the most reliable conclusions allowing the implementation of “evidence-based” medicine. The pharmaceutical industry, which can certainly be criticised for past practices in not revealing the results of all clinical studies of new drugs, is now moving towards greater transparency, and drug regulators, such as the EMEA, are rightly pressing hard. Iain Chalmers, Ben Goldacre and others deserve much credit for their campaigning for openness.

The same can be said of the climate science community. Following the controversy over leaked University of East Anglia emails there have been substantial efforts in making source data openly available. It is partly through this openness and replicablility of findings by researchers in different institutes the Berkeley Earth Island Institute analysis published last year is a case in point— that drew the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the unassailable conclusion in its most recent report that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”.

This report was a consensus led by 259 scientists, from 39 countries, which assessed the findings of all of the relevant, peer-reviewed scientific literature published between the previous report in 2007 and March of last year. Would that Matt Ridley applied the same rigour when it comes to evidence about the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. The “hockey stick” graphs, prominent as they were at the time, are just one small part of a massive global research effort that provides consistent and overwhelming evidence.

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government

Professor Stephen Belcher, Head of Met Office Hadley Centre

Matt's reply is as follows: 

Dear Mark and dear Professor Belcher,

I am glad to see you recognising in your letter to the Times the need for science, as well as industry, to clean up its act with respect to transparency and data withholding. As for the argument relating to the hockey stick that "following the controversy over leaked University of East Anglia emails, there have been substantial efforts to make source data openly available", it is good that you acknowledge the role that Climategate played in sparking this improved transparency. Indeed, the surmise by Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit that the University of East Anglia had failed to report a Yamal regional chronology that did not have a Hockey Stick shape was an important issue leading into Climategate. Yet it was not investigated by any of the East Anglia inquiries. As McIntyre says, "The existence of this unreported adverse result was only revealed by subsequent Freedom of Information requests - requests that were fiercely resisted by the University." It was wrong that those interested in understanding the hockey sticks had to resort to freedom-of-information requests to get publicly funded data that should have been freely published and wrong that the requests were resisted.

You might be interested in McIntyre's account (to me) of what has happened since: "In 2013, four years after the Climate Audit criticisms, Briffa and coauthors published a re-stated version of their Yamal chronology with a much diminished blade from the previous superstick.  Rather than "discrediting" the earlier criticisms, the re-statement implicitly conceded the validity of the earlier criticism, as shown by the measures taken by Briffa and coauthors to avoid repetition of the earlier mistakes.  While they have avoided some of their earlier errors, their new attenuated chronology still contains important methodological defects and errors, as discussed at Climate Audit. Nor should much weight be given to findings of the Muir Russell panel. Muir Russell did not even attend the only interview with CRU academics on the Hockey stick.  Nor did the panel interview CRU critics. Nor did the Muir Russell panel even ask Briffa and Jones about their destruction of documents to evade FOI requests."

You then go on to say that global warming is unequivocal, with which I entirely agree (if we take a 30-50 year period) though it is the evidence, not the number of scientists who have put their name to a report, that convinces me. (It is equally unequivocal that warming has been slower than the models forecast.) But this is a straw man. My article did not claim that the hockey stick was necessary to prove the warming unequivocal. "Unequivocal" is not the same as "Unprecedented", which was the claim made by the hockey-stick graphs. So I did not "fall into my own trap". May I urge you in future to address the actual arguments of sceptics rather than the almost entirely mythical claim that they think climate change does not happen.

Best wishes

Matt

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Reader Comments (54)

Clearly, people who should know better making straw man arguments, & playing the numbers again as an appeal to authority! As Einstein said, "A scientific consensus can be undone by a single fact!" As I have opined before, playing the numbers game one could prove almost anything!

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Well said Matt Ridley.
I would ony add that it might have been apposite to add that since the latest IPCC report does not have a 'best estimate' for the warming expected to be caused by the ongoing increase in tmospheric co2 levels, we no longer have tight, 'evidence based' science here, but a range of 'expert judgements' which cover a span ranging from 'we can all go home now' to 'OMG we're all gonna fry'.

While this uncertainty reflects the true position, it doesn't justify the spending of billions of taxpayers hard earned money on the mitigation measures lobbied for by financially interested parties at top level BBC 'seminars'.

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered Commentertallbloke

Matt's response is right on target and should leave a mark on any sentient being!

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

The original Ridley article is behind a Times paywall, but there is a free version at Ridley's blog, including an interesting postscript referring to a relevant climategate email that I don't think I had seen before.

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I can't escape the horrible suspicion that Walport and Belcher are out of their depth here.

Imagine this: the whole sorry, dismal, destructive, poisonous, exaggerated cagw assault on humanity has been fuelled and buttressed, and continues to be so, by people utterly out of their depth with the science. Complemented, aided, and abetted by people well within their depth, in fact comfortably afloat in powerful ships on the seas of politics and PR.

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:28 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Walport is certainly out of his depth. He not only fails to grasp what the climate debate is about but also displays a surprising ignorance of the climate science or its history. How I miss Hubert Lamb!

The method of arguing with sceptics has always been with a strawman and never with a proper public debate. The leading alarmists are too frightened for that, as it would demonstrate their incompetence.

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Love Matt's reply.
Do you think Walport and Belcher realised they had two broken legs and possible internal injuries before or after they tried to stand up?!

Jan 13, 2014 at 4:52 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"a massive global research effort"

Redoubling as the evidence keeps disappearing from view (last seen in the deep ocean).

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

This little exchange is a perfect example of why so called academics should not take on journalists in the media!

I am going to quote this passage from Walport as a perfect example of turgid, off topic, audience losing, unrelated gibberish:
""There can be no sensible arguments against making available the results of properly conducted research for open scrutiny. The arguments for this have been rehearsed very effectively in health — and, in general, the biomedical research community has accepted these arguments. Indeed UK scientists pioneered the controlled clinical trial and the Cochrane Collaboration led the way in the rigorous meta-analysis of all sources of evidence to reach the most reliable conclusions allowing the implementation of “evidence-based” medicine. The pharmaceutical industry, which can certainly be criticised for past practices in not revealing the results of all clinical studies of new drugs, is now moving towards greater transparency, and drug regulators, such as the EMEA, are rightly pressing hard. Iain Chalmers, Ben Goldacre and others deserve much credit for their campaigning for openness.""

Nobody cares, Walport, outside your little clique... this is a newspaper not a public enquiry or a commons committee. You have lost your audience before you get to the point .

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

Walport and Belcher do not come across as very well informed or credible.

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

It's interesting that they used the word "leaked"

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterSven

What makes people think Walworth actually wrote Matt Ridley's reply. More like some warmist twerp, after all the Government is full of them.

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Holland

The first words that I heard (or read) Walport utter were about how the seriousness of global warming hadn't got through to the sceptics. It was a failure of communications.

From that moment, I knew he had lost the plot, never ever grasped the plot and never ever would.

It is very disappointing. How refreshing it would have been to have someone who challenged the warmists about their flawed models, challenged Davey about his senseless energy policy and challenged the Met Office about having a model that cannot perform using realist values for key parameters.

But then, the establishment would have been horrified. They have picked the perfect candidate with Walport. He ticks all their boxes.

Jan 13, 2014 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

As McIntyre says, "The existence of this unreported adverse result was only revealed by subsequent Freedom of Information requests - requests that were fiercely resisted by the University."

Tell me about it!

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2012/1/23/a-major-foi-victory.html

Followed by;
http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/10/25/more-uea-footdragging-part-one.html
http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/10/26/uea-footdragging-part-2.html
http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/10/29/uea-footdragging-part-3.html

I guess this is what Walport means when he says "Following the controversy over leaked University of East Anglia emails there have been substantial efforts in making source data openly available."
But not by climate "scientists"

Jan 13, 2014 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

But not by climate "scientists"
Don, I read Walport's letter to Mrs J. When we came to the "substantial efforts ..." bit, those were her precise words. Unfortunately it's only us that takes an interest (or in her case have the interest thrust upon them!) that understand just how idiotic those who try to support the GW stance without understanding it actually sound.

Jan 13, 2014 at 6:25 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I would not assume Walport does not recognize the fragility of his AGW arguments. Many scientists let their political predispositions influence their public policy statements regardless of the lack of scientific evidence. Science may indeed be self-correcting but frequently only after a long period of time, the demise of the "old school" and/or truly embarrassing personal disclosures. (See for example, Clark and Clark's Newton's Tyranny: The Suppressed Scientific Discoveries of Stephen Gray and John Flamsteed)

Jan 13, 2014 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

There can be no sensible arguments against making available the results of properly conducted research for open scrutiny. Despite frankly hilarious claims climate science is still rampant in its use of smoke and mirrors and hiding its data.
And its odd that although Walport has claimed Ridley is wrong he as offered no evidence of why he was wrong and in what way , this mark him out as not much of a academic and even less of a scientists , so he would fit right into climate 'science '

Jan 13, 2014 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

Briefly, in a fleeting moment of humility in the aftermath of Climategate and the AR4 errors, even Mark Walport's predecessor John Beddington, normally as ardent and arrogant an evangelical AGW believer as the Royal Society can nominate, was forced to confess in a 2010 Times interview

'“I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper skepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can’t be changed.”

Mark Walport's moment of humility, in its turn will surely come.

http://www.climategate.com/british-government-suffers-biggest-setback-since-climategate-chief-scientist-speaks-out

Jan 13, 2014 at 7:42 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

I'm in no doubt that Walport's CV met the requirements of the job as advertised. What we now see is how he passed the interview stage.

:¬/ if necessary.

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

"Unequivocal" is not the same as "Unprecedented"

Matt Ridley is right that circumstances analogous to the 20th century warming have happened before. The current 130 year rise in temperature linked with CO2 is unequivocal but is not unprecedented.

At the start of every interstadial for the last 2 million years an increase in temperature and an increase in CO2 have taken place together

What is unprecedented is the cause. This may be the first time since the current ice age began that the positive feedback cycle involved has been triggered by an initial increase in CO2, rather than an initial increase in temperature.

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I see the letter is also signed by Professor Stephen Belcher (is everyone a Prof these days? The title does seem somewhat diluted).

Thought I remembered his track record from somewhere.

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:26 PM | Registered CommenterSimonW

I agree with Sven (5.32pm).

It is interesting that they said "leaked".

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered Commentermiket

I remember it was the failure, years ago, of Mann to supply his data, code and methodology for the HS that first put me in the sceptic camp. It was reading Steve M's frustration as, in post after post he explained the troubles he'd had tracking down the data etc. And it still goes on today, witness the execrable Cooked/Lew paper on consensus where their data was witheld for ages (still is afaik). In fact, I wonder, does anyone know for sure, has Mann ever released all his data, code and methodologies?

BTW: John Simpson (BBC) in his autobiography explained the use of litotes* in editorials. Walport's use seems to be really stretching the definition of it - to the point of making what he says unintelligible: "There can be no sensible arguments against making available the results of properly conducted research for open scrutiny"

* ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g. I shan't be sorry for I shall be glad ).

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Sean Thomas making fun of Professor Corinne Le Quere, director for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/seanthomas/100254179/what-if-man-made-climate-change-is-all-in-the-mind/

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

It's odd how many people with fingers in the climate change pie, still don't know what 'hide the decline' was about. Many still think it refers to temperature measurement. They think if they can convince us that the temperature series (GISS, HadCRUT4, etc) are reasonably accurate we'll shut up. Mark Walport's comments seem like he's another bystander who's missed the point.

Jan 13, 2014 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"The method of arguing with sceptics has always been with a strawman and never with a proper public debate. The leading alarmists are too frightened for that, as it would demonstrate their incompetence." --Quark

And once they started to believe their own ad homs, they'd feel justified not to debate with those dreadful people.

Jan 13, 2014 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Harry Passfield (Litotes)

I am not unhappy that the litote didn't go unnoticed, not bad.

Jan 13, 2014 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

What is unprecedented is the cause. This may be the first time since the current ice age began that the positive feedback cycle involved has been triggered by an initial increase in CO2, rather than an initial increase in temperature.
Jan 13, 2014 at 8:19 PM Entropic man


"may" = climate science weasel word.

Translation: "something that can't be ruled out because there is essentially no evidence one way or the other and the statement may even be complete nonsense, but it supports the view I want to get across"

BS in other words.

Jan 13, 2014 at 10:53 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

On the whole, reading Walport's puffed up drivel, it strikes me that the only meaningful response is a vast boot up his self-important, tax-payer funded arse.

Voltaire, I suspect, would have precisely nailed him for the obvious fraud he is. I only wish I could.

Strip away the government money and these non-entities are revealed as irrelevant teet-suckers, desperate for the lime-light, incapable of any coherent argument.

Jan 13, 2014 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

"a massive global research effort"
It's mostly based on policy, UNFCCC, and to back this up with policy established and funded science. With this pseudo science we no longer have Natural climate change, all climate is now Man made?

It's more a historic massive scientific tradegy?

Jan 13, 2014 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJon

Sir Mark Walport on BBC TV News back in September, talking about weather extremes:
https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20130927_bb

And climate warming is really a bit of a misnomer, it's actually climate disruption, and we're beginning to see the effects of that. So, for example, the floods in the UK in 2000, the heatwave in 2003, the heatwave in the United States in 2012. Climate scientists are increasingly clear that there's evidence that there is human contribution to these events.

Jan 13, 2014 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

How could one pin down the Walports of this world to ask them whether or not they have actually read the Climategate emails and related commentary by McIntyre, the Bishop, etc.?

Presumably they are reading the comments here, but yet in public they appear to have no clue as to what the debate is all about. The feigned or real ignorance of the "hide the decline" issue is a prime example.

Are they just lazy, deliberately misleading or plain stupid? Is this a case of willful ignorance, noble cause corruption or just plain ignorance?

Jan 14, 2014 at 12:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

You can always tell a 'liberal' by their language, Walport and Belcher talk of the "unassailable conclusion' of the IPCC.

No. It's a conclusion, pure and simple. Calling it "unassailable" is just their elitist desire for everyone else to shut up and toe the line.

Jan 14, 2014 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

FYI

http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/another-thanks-to-dave-burton/

Jan 14, 2014 at 1:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

Martin A

A little while ago I was accused here of dogmatism. I tone it down a bit and am accused of weasel words. Make your mind up.

I will rephrase. This IS the first time since the current ice age began that the positive feedback cycle involved has been triggered by an initial increase in CO2, rather than an initial increase in temperature.

Feel free to falsify this statement. Offhand I do not know of any previous technological civilizations dumping CO2 into the atmosphere as we have.

Go back far enough and you find CO2 triggered warming events such as the Deccan Traps eruptions and the recovery from a couple of Snowball Earth episodes. The last possible candidate I know of on this scale was the PETM some 55 million years ago.

Jan 14, 2014 at 1:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

It is interesting that they said "leaked".

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM | miket

Agreed. The correct word is "stolen".

Jan 14, 2014 at 2:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

"This IS the first time since the current ice age began that the positive feedback cycle involved has been triggered by an initial increase in CO2, rather than an initial increase in temperature."

How do you know that? the warming started in the mid-19th century.

"It is interesting that they said "leaked".

Jan 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM | miket

Agreed. The correct word is "stolen".

Whatever the correct word is it is not stolen, which deprives the owner possession.

Jan 14, 2014 at 2:20 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

I'm not aware anyone has demonstrated a positive feedback cycle. It's merely hypothesized in the models.

Besides, if a 2 factor positive feedback exists, it's irrelevant which factor triggers it.

Jan 14, 2014 at 4:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Bradley

Martin A:

"may" = climate science weasel word.

Translation: "something that can't be ruled out because there is essentially no evidence one way or the other and the statement may even be complete nonsense, but it supports the view I want to get across"

BS in other words.

Yep.

Jan 14, 2014 at 4:11 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Obviously, a case of the Chief Scientific Adviser doing his job. What interests me is why now? Did he take the initiative and write (or sign) it without urging? Or did someone command or urge him to do it? Who?

And why bring in this Belcher bloke? Who is he? Was he co-opted to strengthen the message? Did he do the writing?

Jan 14, 2014 at 5:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Ecclesiastical Uncle - good question. There's a lot of government money and political credibility at stake in AGW being the big problem the climate scientists and modellers have suggested it is, and the hiatus/plateau must be a big concern for many. I suspect Walport is new to this and needs his hand held. 17 years and counting.

Jan 14, 2014 at 8:57 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

This may be the first time since the current ice age began that the positive feedback cycle involved has been triggered by an initial increase in CO2, rather than an initial increase in temperature.
Changing "may" to "is" doesn't help, EM.
1. If you think it "is" then why say "may" in the first place?
2. Do you mean this may be the first time or it may not?
3. Where is your evidence of positive feedback?
4. Assuming the evidence of positive feedback where is the evidence that it was triggered by CO2 ...?
5 ... and where is the evidence that this was the first time it was triggered by CO2?

And you then expect us to falsify this particular flight of fancy. Climate science must be the only discipline where you can come up with one of those profound cures for the ills of mankind in your sleep (which turn out on waking to be "the skin is mightier than the banana" or some such phrase) and demand that everyone else prove you wrong.
As I've said before you need to start by providing some evidence that your hypothesis is disproving the status quo.

Jan 14, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Entropic man

"Agreed. The correct word is "stolen"."

And you know it exactly how?

Jan 14, 2014 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterSven

It's a bad idea to go up against Ridley. He won't shut up and is generally correct.

Jan 14, 2014 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

"The last possible candidate I know of on this scale was the PETM some 55 million years ago."
Jan 14, 2014 at 1:21 AM Entropic man

Given that the main temperature series recorded by modern equipment, differ considerably, I no longer have any confidence that we can tell much about 100,000 years ago, let alone 55 million.

Jan 14, 2014 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Presumably they are reading the comments here Jan 14, 2014 at 12:19 AM | Political Junkie

Why presume this? I think it extremely unlikely - even moderately unlikely that they read Matt Ridley's reply, and very unlikely that they investigated any on the references therein, as in going to CA and reading what SM wrote.

I consider it more likely that Walpole had almost nothing to do with any of this - perhaps was asked to proof read the letter before it was sent out, but even that is questionable.

Jan 14, 2014 at 12:22 PM | Registered Commentersteveta

The unequivocal warming and the mountain of evidence they speak of is for natural warming. Manmade warming has already proven to be negligible owing to the experiment we just had of injecting a large and growing plug of CO2 into the atmosphere only to discover that the temperature then stopped rising (from the unusually cool 70's) and then spent 17 years on a plateau. Whatever is driving global temperature, it sure isn't CO2.

Jan 14, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

geronimo

One of the oddities of information is that it can be illegally obtained and still remain in the posession of the owner.
We need some new vocabulary.

Jan 14, 2014 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Martin A, Richard Drake

I've known scientists who who would be reluctant to speak with certainty of the Sun rising tomorrow.

I use "may" as an indication that I have no data suggesting otherwise, but lack complete information.

I've heard of the old saw "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". However, that's the way to bet!

Jan 14, 2014 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

@jamesG "Whatever is driving global temperature, it sure isn't CO2."

And now climate psientists agree- the pause in global temperatures is caused by delining sloar output.
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/13/new-study-claims-low-solar-activity-caused-the-pause-in-global-temperature-but-agw-will-return/

Yet they still can't grasp the concept that increased solar output probably caused the rise in global temperatures.

Typical climate "psience" blinkered and biased.

Jan 14, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

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