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« 95% Certain? Yes, we are! - Josh 256 | Main | Poor old Baroness Verma »

Lord May under the cosh

Lord May was on the Daily Politics today, being grilled by Andrew Neil on the floods and the evidence - or the lack of it - that they are going to get worse. Cue much wriggling and discomfort from the noble lord. There was also a session on science in the media, with May joined by Steve Jones and Geoffrey Lean.

This is generally good stuff. I was bemused by May and Lean agreeing that science reporting is generally good. This is not my impression at all. May says that An Inconvenient Truth was "maybe a bit over the top" and describes Bjorn Lomborg as a "complete charlatan".

The video should be here in due course.

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Reader Comments (51)

and in their discussions about science journalism did they interview any science no. and what does Bob May know about journalism? Or is he an expert on that as well as everything else?

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJillD

An Inconvenient Truth - 'a bit over the top'..??

It was unmitigated codswallop..!

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

did anybody challenge him - to specifically say WHY Lomborg was a charlatan.. I would have.

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

BBC science journalists report that scientists have developed an invisibility cloak.

They're all using it.

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJillD

Don't tell me, they've found the missing heat, all 4 Hiroshima bombs/s.

And it was melting Antarctic Ice?

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

I can't imagine Lomborg will be very happy. Slander is not to be taken lightly.

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:53 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

At the time Lomborg's "The Skeptical Environmentalist" came out, the Green Standard Response was to attack his science. Which is funny, as there is no new science in TSE, it's simply an extremely well referenced investigation of the dubious origins of many of the classical Green scare stories. All the stuff which has since become familiar to BH readers - Green NGO "research", bad science and plain old Making Shit Up.

Another subsequently familiar Green tactic was the personal attacks and smears directed at Lomborg.

Feb 6, 2014 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

What an unimpressive person May is.
Asked about proof that climate change increased the frequency and degree of natural disasters he responded with a tedious analogy about baseball which simply wasn't an answer to the question.
Is he too thick to see that his analogy didn't answer the question, or so arrogant that he doesn't bother to give an answer that makes sense?
His reponses on the non-climate-change topics discussed in the programme were pretty feeble too.
This is not somebody who inspires respect.

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBart

I'd lay ten to one odds that May has not read Lomborg, doesn't understand the excerpts his lefty mates have pointed out to him, and has not checked a single reference himself. And that he has produced the epithet 'charlatan' on the basis of his own utter ignorance.

Why only ten to one odds?
I'm a very cautious individual. It's got nothing to do with how bleeding obvious it is that I'm right.

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Morgan

A quick web search indicates Charlatan is potentially libellous.

Any lawyers out there?

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Lomborg actually believes in the scientific claims, but roundly criticises the, pre-existing, preferred, 'green' solutions. For such heresy he has been vilified by greens, and professionally persecuted. That certainly helps put things in perspective.

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

May's entire body of scientific work is based on using simple equations of population dynamics for wildlife, tweaking them in this way or that, and drawing conclusions about the real world. The simplifying assumptions underlying these equations completely determine the outcome and are often false. There is very little checking against the real world and no statistics in his work. What he knows about climate is [snip]. His models were used to define the culling of cattle during the British BSE scare, instead of vaccination (which farmers argued for).

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterCraig Loehle

May I add my vote to the 'I do hope Lomborg sues' party?

IANAL but I know enough to suggest he could serious make May pay for that remark. And rightly so!

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Badger

If heretics are also charlatans then Lord May has a cast-iron defence because Bjørn Lomborg is obviously a heretic. After his Skeptical Environmentalist was published the Spanish Inquisition - sorry, I meant to write the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) - decided to investigate his case.

Lomborg was found guilty on the following counts:

1. Fabrication of data;
2. Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
3. Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
4. Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
5. Plagiarism;
6. Deliberate misinterpretation of others' results.

Only climate scientists are allowed to do the things of which Lomborg was accused. He appealed to the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MSTI), which has oversight over the DCSD and MSTI annulled the verdict. One of the reasons why they did so was that the DCSD had not actually given any specific examples of errors by Lomborg!

The bureaucrats in MSTI must have been a right bunch of pedants. Why should efforts to root out heresy be hampered by technicalities like the need to provide evidence? The Ministry did say that the DCSD should consider whether or not to re-open the case against Lomborg, but the DCSD replied Sentence first! Verdict afterwards.

Sorry, I am getting a little bit muddled up. It was actually the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland who said Sentence first! Verdict afterwards. The DCSD simply declined to re-open the case because they said that if they did so they would reach the same conclusions as before.

The Queen of Hearts would obviously have supported them, and presumably Lord May would have too!

Feb 6, 2014 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Out of Lomborg and May there's only one charlatan and that's definitely May. You can sense the disingenuous tone in virtually every interview he gives. I dare say he thinks he's impressive himself, but other than committed alarmists who wouldn't care what he said, I doubt few others are convinced by his wittering's.

Feb 6, 2014 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

If anyone has seen May in the HoL, they won't be surprised by his dogmatism. Every time I have seen an HoL debate on anything related to climate, May pops up to say 'Remember, the Science is settled' or similar.

He doesn't know that atmospheric water vapour concentration has been falling for 60 years, particular in the 680-310 mB range, cloud tops. In other words, the hydrological cycle has been accelerating. This means more rain, less atmospheric latent heat energy.

Feb 6, 2014 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

If, as is claimed, May described Lomborg as a "complete charlatan", Lomborg would appear to have a good case for defamation. Under English law, any published statement alleged to defame an individual in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to think the worse of them is actionable in the High Court. As "charlatan" is defined as a person falsely claiming special knowledge - i.e. a fraud - the statement is prima facie defamatory. Calling him a "complete charlatan" can only make it worse. A defamatory statement is presumed to be false, so it would be for May to prove it to be true, not for Lomborg to prove it to be false. May might find that quite difficult.

The main defences are justification (i.e. the statement is true) and fair comment (i.e. a view a reasonable person could have held). It's hard to see how May could substantiate either of these. But, if a "public figure" (and I think Lomborg would be so defined) is to get compensatory or punitive damages, he must prove actual malice - i.e. a reckless disregard for the truth. That should be possible - especially if May is essentially unfamiliar with Lomborg's books and articles. However, it may be relevant that, under the Defamation Act 2013, the law has been amended strengthening the criteria for a successful claim - especially by requiring the plaintiff to produce evidence of actual or probable harm. That might be rather more difficult for Lomborg but is probably not insuperable.


Feb 6, 2014 at 3:49 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

A biologist who pontificates about climate science ought to be careful who he calls a charlatan. Lomborg is within his area of expertise; May isn't.

Feb 6, 2014 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Peacock

At one point Andrew Neil seem to talk about EA and NE having intention of flooding Somerset levels to create wetland (well they've spent £31million so far

This seems to chime with Dave's comment at yesterdays PMQs, about having to force EA and NE to agree to dredging

It is obvious this is policy, it is stated explicitly in this document from lord beefburgers climate change committee.

By chance yesterday I was making exactly these points at Information Tribunal hearing - though not sure they bought it. (EA claim to have evidence to support their policy but they shouldnt have to disclose it as it would take nearly 3 months to find! And in any case it is in such a form that it can only be "interpretted" by someone with suitable knowledge, eg EA!)

May was waffling on about how you could tell flooding was due to climate change even if none of the individual events could be attributable to climate change (you what mate?)

It only takes seconds looking at Paul Homewoods blog (notalotofpeopleknow that) to see rain in Somerset hasn't been that exceptional this year.

Would you fly in a plane pilot by any of this lot?
Well it makes sense to let them run the country then (into the ground)

Feb 6, 2014 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Shiers

Lord May pushed the green cause very hard in the HoL committee session on shale gas. He accused Cuadrilla of lying. He came prepared with chapter and verse on the Advertising Standards finding that some of Cuadrilla's documentation was misleading or inaccurate. (I can't be bothered to dig out the details but the failings were trivial, especially by the standards of Gore's movie etc).

Feb 6, 2014 at 5:15 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

Forgive this repost (I can't see a simple way to quote an earlier post), but it's an open secret that the EA is under pressure to allow the Levels to flood.
According to The Times 31 Jan:
"Farmland in parts of the Somerset Levels should either be abandoned to nature or converted to less intensive forms of farming that can cope with regular flooding, wildlife groups claim." ...
"The RSPB and the Somerset Wildlife Trust, which own several thousand acres of the Levels, issued a statement yesterday calling on the Government to limit the amount of dredging and to “plan and enable land-use change to provide more space for water”." ...
"A senior member of one wildlife group said: “The Levels could be the Camargue or the Everglades of England. But we cannot say that publicly because people there are understandably very angry and upset.”"

Feb 6, 2014 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

"the Everglades of England"

That should please Monbiot. He could 're-wild' it with crocodiles.

Feb 6, 2014 at 5:56 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I have not yet seen this edition of the Daily Politics but I have just finished watching Christine Lagarde delivering the annual Dimbleby lecture. Much of it was, in her subject area, very insightful. But she also gave great prominence to the threat of climate change, suggesting that the world was approaching a "tipping point" and that sea levels were rising and calling for multi-lateral action to deal with the problem. She also commented on the rise of the influence of NGOs over the past twenty years as an influence on policy makers.

Obviously she is convinced about the problem of climate change and is seemingly unaware of the doubts, uncertainties and inaccuracies discussed here on this blog. Her expressed opinions, as MD of the IMF, is an ominous indicator of the mountain to be climbed to change received opinions in the international establishment.

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Oldtimer; thanks for flagging that up. I caught a bit of her speech but had forgotten to follow it up.
Her position is a bit surprising given the coverage in the general media of the EU's in-fighting over climate targets, etc.. Maybe she thinks it is just an economic/competitiveness issue.
Alongside that, I saw a report that the EU is about to fiddle with the carbon trading scheme to try and lift the prices off the floor.
As you say, there's a way to go yet.....the end of the beginning, perhaps.

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:31 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

Rule 1 of Alarmists PROJECTION
Is Lord May actually the party that respects the limits of science or does he "Climate BenyondSci" extrapolate way beyond the validated and say his fantasies are certainty ? Tick to projection
- Rule 2 For alarmists , unable to come up with credible science argument..then resort to NAMECALLING ? Tick
.. so that makes him seem like the CH******N
(a Prince CH******N indeed)
... Will May be opening up a booth next Walport on his tour ?
- Lets consult JoNova to see if May has any magic cures to peddle

David Rose writes about May:  “…a former Government chief scientific adviser, is paid an undisclosed amount as a member of the ‘Sustainability Board’ of the global banking giant HSBC.  In the section of its website  that deals with its  ‘sustainability’ work, the bank lists its four biggest green business opportunities.  Top of the list is ‘low-carbon energy production such as  bio-energy, nuclear, solar and wind’ – all directly affected by the HoC CC_Committee’s edicts.”
JoNova adds:  What chance did the Royal Society have?  Picture HSBC’s enthusiasm for paying him if he announced the climate models were useless, and the empirical evidence disagreed
..So thru FITs etc. May's CCC has pushed energy costs way up and so the price of every UK product we buy.
...."Quack, quack, quack" I hear
...Get your bike clips on, May
.. It doesn't look like you are FIT to represent Science or the Great British Public

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:37 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Ben Bradshaw MP has used every opportunity he gets, to blame climate change for the current bad weather. In fact he quoted the Met Office, as the source for the forecast that we would be getting more of this in the future. I remember when 7 or 8 years ago, Bradshaw appeared on The Daily Politics. Andrew Neil pointed out that some meteorologists were saying that the earth's temperature was no longer rising. Bradshaw's answer: " well they're wrong". No sign of an apology yet.

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

During the programme Lord May brought up the idea that technology reduced employment. Although he mention a book review, he didn't bother to substantiate this assertion but I wonder where he got the idea from?

Marx writes on page 365 in Das Capital, “with each improvement in the machinery” the capitalist “will employ fewer people”.

Why anyone listens to him is a mystery.

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

jamesp wrote:

"the Everglades of England"

That should please Monbiot. He could 're-wild' it with crocodiles.

Re-wilding is already underway!

'Somerset crocodile' nothing to do with us, say horror film-makers

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

- Re NGOs pressured EA for "Somerset Everglades" Seems the Times has a switched on Climate Journalist. so some people may care to pay for Ben Westers original article
- A complete discussion of it is on

Feb 6, 2014 at 6:55 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

May says that An Inconvenient Truth was "maybe a bit over the top" and describes Bjorn Lomborg as a "complete charlatan".

What a sensible fellow- so great an improvement on Lord Rees ought to be rewarded with a less ephemeral title.

Should some recent viscountcy become available, by attainder of silliness or proposing one abdication too many, May's the man upon whom it should devolve !

Feb 6, 2014 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Could the Somerset disaster be the final straw which tips public opinion against the greenies and eco-loons and exposes the EU control of our country. There seems to be plenty of adverse coverage in the MSM even a bit on the BBC.
One can only hope.

Feb 6, 2014 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterG. Watkins

Robin guenier, Russell

Intriguing that two sceptics should champion lomberg and Lord May should be rude about him. In a 2010 interview with the New Statesman, Lomborg summarized his position on climate change: "Global warming is real – it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world."

Feb 6, 2014 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

'Global warming is real'

The full green shibboleth is 'Global warming is real ... and it's happening now'.

Utterly meaningless but an infallible indicator of an eco-zealot.

Feb 6, 2014 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Billy Liar

If it is a green shibboleth, why did Bjorn Lomberg, a sceptic icon, say it?

Feb 6, 2014 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Surprised no one has provided this link re the Somerset levels. Further articles on the subject at the main website

Feb 6, 2014 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterStevo

Lomborg is clearly contrasting mere disasters and the catastrophe of the terraqueous globe .for rhetorical effect--

The end of the world remains a very tall order

Feb 6, 2014 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

At least a complete charlatan cannot be headless.

Feb 7, 2014 at 12:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

nice one kim

Feb 7, 2014 at 1:03 AM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

At least a complete charlatan cannot be headless.

Really ?

Many have learned otherwise.

Feb 7, 2014 at 4:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Thatcher said that if she was attacked on person. She considered that a good sign that they where out of arguments and that she had won the debate.
It's bloody obvious they don't want to debate "The Sceptical Environmentalist" ?

"Hide the book and it's claims?"

Feb 7, 2014 at 5:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterSanta Baby

According to May new technology increases unemployment. When Andrew Neil asked him why there is record employment in the UK today with new technology influencing every aspect of the environment and industry he replied, "The answer to that is very complicated."

So now you know.

Feb 7, 2014 at 8:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterEpimenides

The worms, in imminent danger of drowning, are turning against urban eco-fascist luvvies like Lord Smith who have now openly declared their desire to depopulate the countryside so they can enjoy, along with the birds, rural solitude.

So, fake IPCC science was apparently created to justify eugenics - only socialist luvvies deserve to live in a World of declining resources. But has anyone told them that no farms means no food? Should we rural folk introduce a new form of blood sport: arrange for coach loads of luvvies to be stranded in the middle of the countryside late at night in bad weather far from roads, allowing the survivors who have proved their superiority to return to the suburbs?

Add packs of hounds to the mix, plus a contract with Sky TV, and we could make a lot of money as well....:o)

Feb 7, 2014 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

What caught my ear was May saying Hubert Lamb was drummed out of the UEA for 'believing in climate change'. I though he was drummed out by the AGW thugs because he did not subscribe to the A part. Need to listen to the passage again.

Feb 7, 2014 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve (Paris)

Question.How has the reduction in dredging reduced the maximum discharge capacity in the rivers.? Discharge Q in rivers is approximately proportionate to to the velocity to the power 2 and cross sectional area to the power 5/3. Consequently allowing vegetation to grow along the river bank which reduces velocity and allowing a relative little amount of silt to reduce cross sectional area may great reduce the maximum discharge capacity of the river.

Feb 7, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Should we rural folk introduce a new form of blood sport: arrange for coach loads of luvvies to be stranded in the middle of the countryside late at night in bad weather far from roads,

I'd sooner waste a bullet on a snipe than a luvvie. Why don't you release raised pheasant instead ?

Feb 8, 2014 at 3:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

EM, agreed, Lomborg is not sceptical of the basic science of global warming. His focus is more on the economics, impacts and policy implications, where he is extremely sceptical of the consensus position. I think that broadly speaking he believes that the proposed cure is worse than the disease, and believes that there are higher priorities. Despite that he has been derided as being as anti-science, which I find rather bizarre.

Feb 8, 2014 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Brady

Russell, John Brady

The end of the world is not due for a billion years yet, when the Sun is due to expand into a red giant, If its atmosphere expands past Earth's orbit we will spiral into the Sun. If not, Earth will survive with surface temperatures of several hundred C.

Climate change will not bring the end of the world, but our current civilization may not survive it. If the price of inaction is the end of our hi-tech civilization, what is an appropriate price to pay for its survival?

Time to start thimking like an actuary. How much should we spend on insurance?

Feb 8, 2014 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Delighted to hear that Lord May thinks Lomborg is a charlatan. I need never again pay attention to anything else he says. .
EM, Lomborg agrees that Global Warming is a real problem. But he, unlike you (I think) puts it rather low down on the things we should currently spend effort on. And he has been caustic about the efforts of things like Kyoto - slowing global warming by days or weeks. If we are to ensure against the collapse of civilisation, we need to know when this is expected, how likely it is and what the premium will be. Do we?

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterosseo


IMHO Lomberg underestimates the problem. The problem with that strategy is currently being demonstrated by our inadequate response to the current run of deep depressions.
For example, outside Reading they are trying to keep an electricity substation from flooding. They had to borrow a high capacity pump because the county's only pump has been sent to Somerset.

The current unwillingness to spend money even on current weather related problems bodes ill for long term mitigation.

There is an assessment of the premium for saving civilisation. It' s called the Stern Review. He reckoned it as about one year's global GDP.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man


In my opinion, we'll be struggling to keep a high tech civilisation running past 2100. Sometime after 2050 there'll be a triple whammy of resource depletion, high population and climate change.

In slightly more detail, how do you feed ten billion people without enough energy to make the fertiliser and run the machinery, while your agricultural land is progressively inundated by rising sea levels?

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

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