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« Thoughts on aerosols | Main | What DECC knew »

Letts accuse

For such a trifling programme, Quentin Letts' What's the Point of the Met Office is really making waves. Booker reviews it over at the Mail and there's some interesting coverage by Damian Thompson at the Spectator.

Yesterday [Harrabin] went into overdrive. ‘Accusation’, he declared, as he linked to Black’s attack on Letts. The sceptics got ‘their’ programme when the BBC allowed Quentin Letts to raise an eyebrow at the Met Office’s alarmist and utterly false claim that thermometers would shoot up between 2004 and 2014.

Don’t get me wrong: Roger Harrabin is a highly respected science writer. He doesn’t set out to deceive his readers. But, as Letts might put it, What’s the Point of a supposedly impartial ‘environment analyst’ who – apparently – takes offence at his bosses allowing another journalist to offer views different to his own?

Thompson's allegation is based on Harrabin's tweets yesterday - the one saying that sceptics had now "had their programme" and the one entitled "Accusation", which linked to Richard Black's article declaring that the BBC had breached its guidelines by letting sceptics on air.

In fact I'm not sure that Thompson doesn't go too far here. I'm not sure Harrabin "exploded" or that he "trashed" Quentin Letts, or indeed that he implied that Letts was "a tool of the sceptics". Of the two Harrabin tweets yesterday, the first - the suggestion that due balance had now been achieved - was certainly prime evidence that he is so in hock to the greens that he has lost all sense of his duty to inform the public. Linking to Black, in a way he rarely links to anyone on the sceptical side of the debate, was confirmation of this.

I'm just not sure it amounted to an attack on Letts.

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Reader Comments (58)

Harrabin is a "highly respected science writer"? Only by those who are naive enough to believe that the science is settled settled methinks.

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

Roger Harrabin is a highly respected science writer. while if you mean respected by green groups who know he can be trusted to 'deliver' and by CAGW faithful who know he will never offer any challenge to 'the cause' , you would be died right.

On the other hand if you mean respected for his honesty, good journalisms or knowledge on the subject ,you be very wrong indeed.

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Horrorbin respected? "Does not set out to deceive"?
Give us break!

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

We need a term like Godwin's Law for warmist rants - they all lead back to Bob Ward and his war against the GWPF.

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

The sooner Harrabin is pensioned off the better. I do not trust a single word he writes.

The strange thing is that many of the BBC programmes that touch on science in some way, often talk about the need for the sceptical view being heard in science. Which proves I guess that "climate science" is not a proper science.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:16 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

This atmosphere, it's chaotic.

Old Lettsy, impishly, Quentin merely begged the question but a small pebble in a big pond can make ripples everywhere and by magnification of publicity and the keening screams of the Arch priests of alamism has greatly amplified the wavelength to a pleasing if cacaphonic level.

But please, for the love of God someone inform that anguished prattler Damian Thompson - that, Harrabin is no science graduate nor is he even science savvy.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I speculate that the snorting and cavorting by Harrabin is actually based on fear.

We all remember 28gate. After the BBC abandoned its Charter and decided to only present Green activist views Harrabin was effectively made first among equals when it came to science coverage.

But if a programme like this can be made then he may have to defend his faith. And that's not easy to do with the facts being so inconveniently not disastrous.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Thompson also makes a bit of a science gaff by referring to the failed 0.3 C prediction, and then later referring to it as" 0.3 per cent", understandable in someone who mistook a BBC enviro-activist for a science writer.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Don’t get me wrong: Roger Harrabin is a highly respected science fiction writer.
You know it was crying out to be corrected.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

"But if a programme like this can be made then he may have to defend his faith. And that's not easy to do with the facts being so inconveniently not disastrous."

Untidy phrasing but essentially correct. M. C.


Harry Passfield

"Don’t get me wrong: Roger Harrabin is a highly respected science fiction writer."

One word makes all the difference, a rather apt re brush methinks.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Let's not pile in in the comments shall we?

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

What's happended to Bob Ward? This is just the sort of thing that used to get him excited.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

What I think about the BBC and Met Office is on my blog:

Met Office: nothing short of criminal investigations will satisfy me

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:21 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

There's now a transcript of the entire programme, here:

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Re: Harrabin. In my own correspondence with Harrabin in very sharp contrast to those like Black he has appeared to be genuinely willing to listen, but it's like talking to a born again Christian or someone brainwashed by some religious sect because he just will not accept that global warming (i.e. the proganda campaign) is anything other than the gospel truth of Scientology.

I've not lived long enough to know whether someone with such deeply held views which are so counter to the evidence will believe them all their life, however I don't see Harrabin ever being able to look at the evidence in a dispassionate way.

That doesn't make him "bad" - many people also have deeply held religious convictions - but like so many at the BBC it just means he (they) cannot report impartially on this subject.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

The thing to realise about the BBC is that it is the moral centre of everything. They see themselves as normality and anything on either side of them are the extremes. So when they make clearly political programmes and are acused of being left wing they are genuinely bemused. How can they be left wing when they are the centre? When rabid left wing supporters (even amongst their ranks) attack them, they see that as proof they are truly unbiased. They don't realise that most right wing people have written the BBC off as hopelessly biased and have stoped complaining.

If you watch their night time trawl through the papers there is a clear pattern. If there's anything trivial or non controversial or that agrees with te BBC views, they will read articles from all the right wing papers. Anything political or to the more extreme side of the BBC position, they'll read from the Guardian or another non right leaning paper. At the end of the slot they have often read from each paper equally and so convince themselves they have done their bit for impartiality.

When they had Letts present one vagely sceptic radio programme that is their idea of balance against the most extreme alarmist Greenpeace positions they allow. The every day outpourings from Greenpeace agree with the BBC position so can be freely aired as the mainstream opinion. They probably feel very daring and controversial by 'giving' us our say and will follow up with a long tv programme letting anti capitalists put their point.

So Harrabin is probably pleased that they've done their bit towards fairness. He and his buddies will point to the programme every time we say that they're biased. After all, they waved The Climate Wars at us to prove they'd covered climate scepticism and that wasn't remotely sceptical. Linking to the Black's protest was just his way of reminding people that the BBCs position is the centre.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Harrabin is a "highly respected science writer" - the trouble is, he's very selective about what he reports.

He also conveniently chooses to report the strictly accurate "ABC blamed climate change for phenomenon XYZ", despite ABC having no qualifications or credentials to make (up) such a claim.

Botanists have been stunned by the results of their annual hunt for plants in flower on New Year’s Day.
They say according to textbooks there should be between 20 and 30 species in flower. This year (2015) there were 368 in bloom.

It raises further questions about the effects of climate change during the UK’s warmest year on record.

“This is extraordinary,” said Tim Rich, ......The high count was partly due to the growth in the number of volunteers - but mostly due to climate change, he said.

Strangely, Mr Harrabin omitted the fact that 2015 was only the fourth New Year Plant Hunt.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

'That doesn't make him "bad" - many people also have deeply held religious convictions - but like so many at the BBC it just means he (they) cannot report impartially on this subject'

I am not so sure about that.
Many with deep religious convictions are able to play 'devils advocate'. This is a recognition that there are always two sides and both sides need airing. Refusal or entrenched resistance to air both sides is indeed bad, in my opinion.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

The problem with Harrabin is not so much that he is biased, but that everyone at the BBC is biased. Because there are similarly biased journalists in all newspapers - because people who genuinely are passionate about a subject write better articles, But simple commercial pressure forces the papers to put both sides of the argument, because if they are overtly biased, they lose readers.

Unfortunately, the BBC aren't influenced in the same way by their viewers. As a result (and very much like the Guardian living off auto-trader money), they can and will say whatever they personally want without any care of how many of their audience they insult, how biased their reporting or indeed it seems to be they are far more willing to libel people than most newspapers (having experienced this from both the BBC and a newspaper).

This is why I think the BBC model of publicly funding a group of people to push their own views at us is broke. The BBC - as those like Harrabin show - don't even have the slightest clue just how biased they are. As such, there is not a hope they will ever reform - because without the commercial pressure that other media have and without us being able to opt out of the BBC, there never will be a reason for them to change.

So, the BBC will continue as a self-propaganda machine - and unfortunately, rather than getting better as people look elsewhere for their news - the result is the the BBC are concentrating more and more on "people like them" and pissing off the rest of us.

It really is time to privatise them - and perhaps the money we get in will partly offset the huge dent to our economy caused directly by the BBC propaganda!!

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Mike Haseler: This is third time I have read comments from you about The Guardian living off Auto-Trader money - and I have pointed out to you each time that The Guardian sold Auto-Trader in 2014. Please read this article which covers the sale.

Please note, I am no supporter of the Guardian, I just like to see facts presented accurately.

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Miliband was a highly respected political leader.

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Alan Yentob of the BBC is coming in for a bit of flak for trying to interfere with Channel 4.

He is a highly respected broadcaster

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Harry, I said the Guardian are "living off auto-trader money" not "living off auto-trader". And as you say, the information is easily available online if anyone is uncertain what is meant by "living off auto-trader money".

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:35 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Harrabin a "Science Writer", hardly. His science knowledge is zero and he failed his English Lit. at Cambridge. His only claim to fame there was to start the Cambridge Student newspaper.

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Can I just say, I'd like to buy Alex Cull a beer, or other drink of his choice. Sterling work.

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

Harry Passfield to be fair its money they made out of selling Auto trader and the fact they use off-shore tax regimes to 'manage' this money . And you be right to point out the screaming hypocrisy given how often writers for this paper have attacked others for using the same off-shore tax regimes, although oddly never the Scott trust the owners of this paper strange that !

Aug 7, 2015 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Bish's first point is a good one. It's absurd that such a light-hearted programme should have created such a storm.

Thanks very much Alex for the transcript. It shows that quite a small part of the programme was devoted to climate scepticism, the remainder being about the history of the Met Office, weather forecasts and funding. Meanwhile RTCC are claiming that it was a "climate denier half-hour".

Aug 7, 2015 at 1:02 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

there’s fun to be had at

Aug 7, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

It is EXCELLENT that a light hearted programme has generated such a reaction, and created a faux outrage from people exposed for their dirty and secretive tendencies.

No chance of a serious BBC programme about data fiddling under current BBC management.

Under the current climate of fear created within the BBC, an unprecedented opportunity presents itself for ITV/Channel 4. Nobody listens to the self justification from former MP's about fiddled expenses anymore.

Aug 7, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Considering Lett's article was in-keeping with his usual witty offerings, the sour-faced response from leading alarmists reveals their true fury. That's the thing with ridicule you see, it's very hard to recover from.

Aug 7, 2015 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

So - we have now 'had our programme'...

Er - that's it..? One programme..? While the warmists are smugly satisfied on a daily basis with news items about Obama's-speech/fracking/sea-ice/warmest-year-evah/new-wind-farms-capable-of-powering-500000-homes/etc, etc..?

Oh, yes - nice balance....

Aug 7, 2015 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Geoff, yes indeed. There's a great comment from Bob Bingham,
"this is probably orchestrated by Lawson who is getting his mates to do the dirty work so that he can get more air time."

Aug 7, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Geoff, I 'm not registered at the Conversation but am sorely tempted to get in there just to defend Graham Stringer from their loony attack.

The IPCC says that rainfall is poorly understood. That's the mainstream science and he was telling it.
The fact that the journalist can search the loony fringes to find a contrarian view.. and even then not find one that prove Stringer wrong... well that's just dirty journalism.

She may say that the chance of heavy rainfall will increase but:
1) She can't link this particular rainfall to climate change.
2) The increase in rainfall is predicted because warm air carries more water - but the air hasn't warmed (the Pause) so her logic is flawed.
3) Stringer referred to people in the UK (colleagues of the MET Office. Couldn't they find an "expert" in the UK?

Please feel free to express these views there if you have time. I do not have tine to get into another website.

Aug 7, 2015 at 2:37 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

MC, by coincidence I did put a comment that fits with some of what you say:
Regarding the bit about flooding, Stringer is quite correct. The Met Office itself said “As yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is in part due to the highly variable nature of UK weather and climate.”The IPCC has made similar statements. Slingo made exaggerated claims about this, and got into trouble over it, exactly as Stringer says.

Aug 7, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

It sounds like we have finally discovered the true meaning of "climate sensitivity"

Aug 7, 2015 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

GeoffChambers: Enjoyed your comments at the Conversation, 'though not so much your interlocutors. I always think that people who big up their professional titles on blogs are just trying to intimidate with their appeal to their status. The prize goes to David Hickman: Senior Lecturer in Film & Television Production at University of York. Wow! Not gonna argue with you, David. You're something really big in media studies, or something.

However, he turns out to be a devil with the dialectic - he thinks. Like this, from you:

We have here the head of a school of journalism at one of the world’s top universities saying that an elected MP shouldn’t be interviewed on the BBC on a subject of political importance because an expert (who happens to be a colleague of his) says he’s said something wrong.

Can’t anyone see how terrifying this is?

(Which is merely, I aver, an informed opinion) But our David comes back with:
Again, in case I’ve missed something, can you point specifically, with quotes, to where this ‘terrifying’ ban of yours is proposed?
Which, of course you never did: our David can't work at his own constructs so assumes you are not doing so either.

I noticed he did this a few times in the thread: sets up his own straw men, as if they were yours, and then seeks to slay them. I'm just amazed his pomposity didn't make it to R4's Feedback, which just aired about Quentin Lett's piece on the MO. There were no comments in support of Letts. Quelle surprise!

Aug 7, 2015 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

MCourtney, Harry Passfield
Do register with Conversation. Paul Matthews, Robin Genier and I often go there. The advantage is that lurking non-committed academics sometimes intervene, puzzled by the flame war and can be informed. On a Lewandowsky thread a passing professor of philosophy once asked what it was all about. I explained and he came back with “Oh, I see.”
I once pointed out a silly error in an article by Mann and they immediately closed comments.

Aug 7, 2015 at 5:42 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

"Poorly understood" is a climate science euphemism for anything that does not fit their models.

Like the climate, for example.

Aug 7, 2015 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Harry: "Not gonna argue with you, David. You're something really big in media studies, or something."

Not even media studies... He teaches people how to wire up microphones and point a camera (and flatter commissioning editors):

-- David Hickman has been writing, producing and directing single documentaries and series for broadcast television and film for the last twenty years. ... In the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, he is Programme Director of the MA in Digital Film and Television Production. He teaches documentary, directing and cinematography. --

Here is his IMDB profile:

The only notable climate-related thing he has produced seems to be 'Green: The New Red, White and Blue':

-- New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman looks at various "green" technologies--hydroelectric, solar, wind, and nuclear power, hybrid, electric, and hydrogen-fuel-cell cars, clean-coal, bio-fuels, and energy-conservation methods--being adopted by American businesses and families today, to reduce the output of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and ultimately to reduce global warming and ensure political stability throughout the world. --

Friedman is a terrible hack, in spite of his awards. And I don't think we can be much more generous about Hickman. He's comfortable with being told what he may or may not let the participants in his films say and how they must be presented, which is likely why he makes unchallenging films. Censorship loves mediocrity, and producers of mediocre work love censors.

Aug 7, 2015 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

The transcript quotes the classic MO shipping forecast: " backing north-westerly 5 to 7".

As their claimed accuracy is +/- 1 BF, this means they are saying it will be anything from F4 (a strong breeze) to F8 (a severe gale).

This is not in any way useful for the sailor, but it does mean that almost anything that happens will allow them to classify the forecast as "accurate". Apply the same accuracy to the observations and anything from F3 to F9 (!) qualifies.

Aug 7, 2015 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Ben, It's worse than that, the guy (Friedman) is inconsistent. Sometimes his pieces are useful, especially those on the middle east.

Aug 7, 2015 at 8:56 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Do readers remember Letts' brilliant coverage of Phil Jones before the Parliamentary Committee:

Jones was accompanied by his university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, who provided much-needed comic relief. Professor Acton, a younger version of Professor Calculus from the Tintin books, beamed and nodded at everything Professor Jones said. ‘I think that answer was spot-on,’ he cried, after listening to one response from the terror-stricken Jones.

Professor Acton’s left eyebrow started doing a little jiggle of its own. His eyeballs bulged with admiration for the climate-change supremo. His lips were pulled so wide in wonderment they must nearly have split down the
seams like banana skins.

Others, watching the tremulous Professor Jones, will have been less impressed. He may be right about man-made climate change. But you do rather hope that politicians sought second, third, even 20th opinions before swallowing his theories and trying to change the world’s industrial output

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

JF: " Sometimes his pieces are useful, especially those on the middle east."

Those were the ones I was thinking are his worst.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Aug 7, 2015 at 9:02 PM Steve McIntyre

Yes I remember it well.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:10 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

There is an astounding (even by their usual standards) response on the met office blog
"An article published today makes a number of claims..."
There is no link to the article, no mention of who wrote the article or where it might have been published. Discussion on twitter suggests that it is probably the Booker article that is meant, ratther than the Thompson one. So it appears that the Met Office are so scared of Mr Booker that they dare not mention his name. He should be proud - this sort of he-who-must-not-be-named approach is usually reserved for Steve McIntyre.
I imagine that CB might have fun with this in his next column, assuming that somebody draws it to his attention. Thinking one step ahead does not seem to be a strength of the climate science community.

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:39 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

It's now come up on BBC Radio 4 Feedback - features a certain James Pickett from this parish, well done!:

There's a transcript of it, here:

Roger Bolton: Feedback listeners' concerns were shared more widely. In the Guardian, former BBC Science and Environment correspondent Richard Black - now director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit - said that the programme didn't so much ignore the editorial guidelines as "burn them to cinders". This is what the Corporation told us.

Female voice: The light-hearted tone of this series allows him to question and critique even the most sacrosanct of organisations. But we accept that in this episode, about the Met Office, the comments made about science and climate change would have benefitted from broader representation from the mainstream scientific community, although we did hear from a range of contributors, as well as from the Met Office. The range of views expressed was sufficient to meet the requirements of our guidelines for this type of programme.

(Btw, many thanks, Clovis Marcus and Paul Matthews, for your kind words.)

Aug 7, 2015 at 10:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Best start to a holiday ever, luvvin it luvvin it. The Letts program should be saved ready for web broadcast on all relevant blogs during the Paris jolly later this year, along with what I expect the weather to be later this year, it should be very poignant.

Alex, let me add thanks for your outstanding work, if we ever all get together you'll need to leave your car keys at home mate.

Aug 8, 2015 at 7:17 AM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

As the Bish says this was a trifling (and inconsequential) programme. It was hardly a detailed scientific rebuttal and it is difficult to see why some should be threatened by it.


Aug 8, 2015 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered Commentertonyb

Thank you, Alex. I'm afraid they chopped my dig at the Grauniad, the toast-dropping episode and a remark about the BBC charter - in fact most of it, really! Still, I should be grateful that they allowed me to say anything at all, I suppose - you could tell that the alarmists were spitting blood that their idea of balance (i.e. none at all) had been challenged.

This is wot I rote:

"No doubt you will have lots of grumpy emails about Quentin Letts's programme this morning (mostly from Guardian readers whose breakfast he must have comprehensively spoiled), but I nearly dropped my toast for entirely the opposite reason - it was the best programme I have heard discussing 'global warming' on the BBC. It also represents a rare departure from the party line on the subject, introducing a bit of balance (as per the BBC Charter) for the first time I can remember. Well done, BBC - I might even keep listening!"

I'm with Lord B on the car-keys, too.. :-)

Aug 8, 2015 at 12:42 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

jamesp, I think you broke the Grauniad's censorship rules, by making reference to a BBC programme that challenged BBC censorship rules.

Organisations that have to rely on strict censorship, have already lost the trust of the public. This is very sad for the BBC, who rely on the public for financial support.

Aug 8, 2015 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

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