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Toby's eyes have been opened

The journalist Toby Young has been looking at yesterday’s rather lurid story about biodiversity, and the claim that a million species are going to be lost if we don’t become communists. Or something like that.

Young appears to have done some brief research and has shown that the underlying estimates, sponsored by the UN, are bunk. The authors of the report have taken some data from official “Red List” of threatened species and extrapolated it in precisely the way that the Red List authors say should not be done. They have then published a somewhat hysterical press release, but not the underlying report.

This is a familiar story for anyone who is interested in environmentalism, but Young has been rather taken aback, both at the shoddiness of the research and the way the press have dealt with it. After all, if some brief research has revealed to Young (with a degree in PPE) that some scientific research is nonsense, surely the massed ranks of science journalists would have been expected to find the problems too? But of course, as eco-nerds know, science journalists see themselves as part of the green movement and asking questions is therefore frowned upon. The science-page news articles are declarations of faith, not inquiries, or debates. So with the extinctions story, just as with everything else, science journalists have reprinted the press release or, more daringly, rewritten it in their own words. Nobody, but nobody, asks any questions.

To some extent, the problem can be blamed on a lack of scientific literacy among the press corps. Most people on the science-environment beat are humanities graduates, and would struggle to question the press releases that cross their desks, although Young of course has shown that an inquiring mind can take you a long way. But inquiring minds are not common among science journalists, most of whom are comfortable in their faith.

Sensible people should discount all science headlines, particularly the lurid ones about “new research” (today’s one is about future increases in floods in the UK). Your best bet is to find some contrarians on social media and see what they have to say. The wild headlines are usually shot down on the same day by some awkward customer, but not before the mainstream media have done their damage.

With that in mind, let us return briefly to today’s impending crisis and note that climate models are really, really bad at simulating current rainfall patterns (the IPCC says their ability in this area is “modest”), and thus are no more useful for predicting future floods than tea-leaf gazing. No journalist will mention this awkward fact, but at least Toby Young will not be surprised this time.

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Reader Comments (25)

Climate Alarmist always try to destroy Skeptic claims that extra made made CO2 is plant food and great for mother nature . In which case why is the government announcing it’s going to plant 17% more trees in the UK to achieve its Carbon Net Zero. Why plant more trees when OPEC the M25 Motorway and Heathrow Airport are doing its Alan Tichmarch gardening Forestry job for it already.

Are trees now growing quicker and bigger.We might have to change the name from Planet Earth to Planet Endor. .

May 9, 2019 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

It all points to the religious nature of environmental hysteria. As with your average religion, blind faith is an important part of adherence. To question the dogma is as big a sin as a 'real' sin. Being repentant is as valuable as not 'sinning' in the first place. Which, frankly, is weird. As a casual atheist (Dawkins and gang are upset by religion with a religious fervour I can't be bothered with) I can't understand the excuses that religions dress themselves in. To me there is right and wrong. You might argue what is right or wrong but you can't say one thing and do another and still claim the moral high ground.

I really don't mind those who say they believe in CAGW but then FFS GET ON WITH IT! Don't waste our time by trying to convince me before you do what you think is right. The climate (assuming CO2 affects it) won't respond favourably to good intentions. Climate heaven cannot be achieved by being repentant. You can't have a deathbed CO2 conversion.

Surely if you cared about CO2 and the environment, you'd want the best science, not the best religion to preserve it? Surely you'd do the most effective things, not those that are most pleasing to the clerics? How many creatures will become extinct because they have been hacked to death, while environmentalists fret about my CO2?

May 9, 2019 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


"No doubt our ‘way of life’ does pose a threat to some species, even if it’s not as many as the climate change alarmists say. But it’s a pity the BBC decided not to interrogate these claims and just regurgitated a press release."

No, Toby - it's not a "pity". It is the actual story - why is the the BBC unswervingly serving a propaganda machine? And why are no real journalists pursuing it?

May 9, 2019 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

The 1 million number did seem awfully big, frightfully round and conveniently simple to condense into scary headlines for the targeted audiences via the UN.

If there is no list of species, is there a list of expert compilers of the list, and sufficient detail to compile a Top Ten of dubious experts employed by the UN?

May 9, 2019 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

My own May7th Cliscep comment
\\ BBC making extraordinary claim
Yawn, I’m not even goy to waste my time reading their BS
..cos #1 Truth will out in time

Is it PR or is it news ?
Is their deception by omission ?
The title says “one million species”
.. it omits to say out of how many million s

Therefore it omits important context
and since species may run into millions and maybe a trillion
I’m not worried.

I suspect as usual it’s based on extrapolating , cherry picked data by putting it into dodgy computer models and throwing away half of it. //

May 9, 2019 at 3:31 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The MO TY mentions is the same MO
that WWF to make its extraordinary claim
..that 40% of animals have been lost

They didn't count plentiful species coos they were only looking at species already on the endangered list
.. therefore they missed all the species where numbers had greatly increased.

May 9, 2019 at 3:35 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Speccie comments should be here
but I don't see any yet

May 9, 2019 at 4:12 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Not a great fan of soft hands Toby.

May 9, 2019 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

It's every day. It's every single bloody day. You tune into Classic FM, hoping for a nice sensible wake-up, and there's Moira. Stewart with . Her new. Newreading style which. Involves completely. Illogical pauses and. It's yet another ecodoom story.

May 9, 2019 at 10:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Hi Charlie your name was invoked yesterday
After Look North allowed farmers to say neonics are not bee poison
@Tom pointed to your FW article on the topic

May 9, 2019 at 11:39 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

That link I gace to Speccie comments doesn't work
Maybe something to do with the way the article is dated May 11th

May 9, 2019 at 11:40 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Say that again, Stewgreen - explain what happened?

May 10, 2019 at 7:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Charlie Flindt

It's like the telephone.... a useful part of life has been re-purposed to become an instrument of torment. My latest car has a top of the range aftermarket radio thingy - but the "live broadcast" messages relayed via the device are so uniformly effing awful that I've had to resort to streaming internet content (via a mildly hacked "all you can eat" data phone) to swerve the blizzard of propaganda that suffuses the legacy channels....

May 10, 2019 at 11:33 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Charlie Flindt

It's like the telephone.... a useful part of life has been re-purposed to become an instrument of torment. My latest car has a top of the range aftermarket radio thingy - but the "live broadcast" messages relayed via the device are so uniformly effing awful that I've had to resort to streaming internet content (via a mildly hacked "all you can eat" data phone) to swerve the blizzard of propaganda that suffuses the legacy channels....

May 10, 2019 at 11:34 AM | Registered Commentertomo
May 10, 2019 at 11:55 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Hmmmm. Young says that

Rather implausibly, the IUCN includes species in this category that it designates as ‘vulnerable’, which it defines as facing a ‘probability of extinction in the wild’ of ‘at least 10 per cent within 100 years’. About half the species the IPBES includes in its 25 per cent figure are in this ‘vulnerable’ category. [...] It’s like saying that because Manchester City faces a 10 per cent risk of being relegated in the next 100 years, the club is ‘at risk of imminent relegation’.

I checked and quelle suprise, he's wrong. There are five possible criteria for a 'vulnerable' declaration, a species is added to the list if it meets any of the five, which cover geographic range and population reduction, absolute numbers and finally, estimated probability of extinction. Young has not done the most basic of journalistic homework. (His arithmetic is also wrong, 25% of 8.7 million is not 1 million, the actual SPM is more nuanced and considers other lines of evidence.)

A taxon is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the following criteria (A to E), and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild:


E. Quantitative analysis showing the probability of extinction in the wild is at least 10% within 100 years.

Your best bet is to find some contrarians on social media and see what they have to say. 

Your best bet is to stop getting your 'science' from The Spectator.

May 10, 2019 at 5:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Can't view it, Stewgreen. I do hope no-one said that neonics aren't bee poison - they are insecticdes after all, hence the enthusiasm for using them as seed dressing, where they target specifically the CSFB and nothing else.

May 11, 2019 at 7:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

"Your best bet is to stop getting your 'science' from The Spectator."
May 10, 2019 at 5:02 PM | Phil Clarke

As you believe in Mann's Hockey Stick, can you explain why?

May 11, 2019 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

As you believe in Mann's Hockey Stick, can you explain why?

As these twenty year old studies are now canonical, long accepted, and muliply-confirmed, I would suggest the onus is on you to explain why you do not.

May 12, 2019 at 2:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

I know you guys are not wikipedia's greatest fans, and yet...

Mann's dissertation was awarded the Phillip M. Orville Prize in 1997 as an "outstanding dissertation in the earth sciences" at Yale University. His co-authorship of a scientific paper published by Nature won him an award from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in 2002, and another co-authored paper published in the same year won the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outstanding scientific publication award. In 2002 he was named by Scientific American as one of fifty "leading visionaries in science and technology." The Association of American Geographers awarded him the John Russell Mather Paper of the Year award in 2005 for a co-authored paper published in the Journal of Climate. The American Geophysical Union awarded him its Editors' Citation for Excellence in Refereeing in 2006 to recognize his contributions in reviewing manuscripts for its Geophysical Research Letters journal.[69]

The IPCC presented Mann, along with all other "scientists that had contributed substantially to the preparation of IPCC reports", with a personalized certificate "for contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC", celebrating the joint award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC and to Al Gore.[70][71][72][73]

In 2012, he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union[2] and awarded the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union for "his significant contributions to understanding decadal-centennial scale climate change over the last two millennia and for pioneering techniques to synthesize patterns and northern hemispheric time series of past climate using proxy data reconstructions."[6][69]

Following election by the American Meteorological Society he became a new Fellow of the society in 2013.[74] In January 2013 he was designated with the status of distinguished professor in Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.[75]

In September 2013, Mann was named by Bloomberg Markets in its third annual list of the "50 Most Influential" people, included in a group of "thinkers" with reference to his work with other scientists on the hockey stick graph, his responses on the RealClimate blog "to climate change deniers", and his book publications.[76][77] Later that month, he received the National Wildlife Federation's National Conservation Achievement Award for Science.[78]

On 28 April 2014 the National Center for Science Education announced that its first annual Friend of the Planet award had been presented to Mann and Richard Alley.[79] In the same year, Mann was named as a Highly Cited Researcher by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). In 2015 he was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2016 he was elected Vice Chair of the Topical Group on Physics of Climate (GPC) at the American Physical Society (APS).[69]

On June 19, 2017, Climate One at the Commonwealth Club of California said that he would be honored with the 7th annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Science Communication.[3]

He received the James H. Shea Award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers for his "exceptional contribution in writing or editing Earth science materials for the general public or teachers of Earth science." [80]

On February 8, 2018, the Center for Inquiry announced that Mann had been elected as a 2017 Fellow of its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[7]

On February 14, 2018, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced that Mann was chosen to receive the 2018 Public Engagement with Science award.

I am just curious, at what point exactly does the conspiracy/hoax theory break down?

May 12, 2019 at 2:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

May 12, 2019 at 2:38 AM | Phil Clarke

So much fails with Mann's Stick. Now it is splitting US Democrats as the brighter ones realise that Trump is right.

May 12, 2019 at 8:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

For many years now I have questioned why the BBC needs to have a "Science and Environment" page.

They could just as legitimately call it the "Science and Business" page. Or, better still, just the "Science" page. That might of course mean downgrading the job descriptions of most of the authors (not"journalists") appearing on the page. Unfortunately, I suspect most of their superiors don't actually understand why it might matter, and are in any case too invested into the politics and economics of global warming hysteria.

May 13, 2019 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Our host writes: "Sensible people should discount all science headlines, particularly the lurid ones about “new research” (today’s one is about future increases in floods in the UK). Your best bet is to find some contrarians on social media and see what they have to say. The wild headlines are usually shot down on the same day by some awkward customer, but not before the mainstream media have done their damage."

One can find contrarians on social media attempting to challenge any "new research" or almost any factual published information. Humans are extremely vulnerable to confirmation bias, remembering only what they read that agrees with their preconceptions and failing to assimilate anything that disagrees with their strong beliefs. PEOPLE FOLLOWING OUT HOST'S ADVICE WILL NEVER LEARN ANYTHING NEW THAT CONFLICTS WITH AN EXISTING BELIEF.

According to experts on human cognition, the only way an average human can learn something that contradicts important beliefs is to hear a vigorous debate where both sides are allowed to present their most persuasive data and best counterarguments. Often such debates are slowly carried out over the years in the scientific literature. Mann's sensational claims that the 1990's were the warmest decade in the last millennium were never unambiguously endorsed by the IPCC, they judged it merely "likely" and IIRC "more likely than not" in AR5.

The take-home lesson is that one should not rush to a personal judgment about a subject based on a single scientific publication or even a string of publications from a single group. Due to fear of a disease we don't understand, many people now believe that vaccines cause autism. Due to re-inforcement from social media, they are completely incapable of assimilating the fact that the original research on this subject was proven fraudulent.

If you are not willing to personally review and evaluate the experiments in a paper that made the headline, withhold judgment. Don't become personally invested in any conclusion based on limited evidence. If anything really important has been discovered, it will be followed up by others. If the results remain controversial and personally important to you, wait until some kind of debate is available.

One of three sets of photographs of the 1919 eclipse failed to agree with the general theory of relativity. Waiting for the 1922 eclipse to reach a personal conclusion would have been prudent. Cold fusion was a bust. The talk linked below discusses false "discoveries" in particle physics.

May 19, 2019 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Phil, Wikipedia, faulty as it is, particularly in anything controversial, is far better than the stoat. Connelley, I'm sollyly, fails.

May 21, 2019 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Paleo has a clear lesson, but nevermind warming always increases biodiversity, and cooling always decreases it.

May 21, 2019 at 12:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

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