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HoL on BBC science coverage

The House of Lords Communication Committee questions Brian Cox and Sir David Attenborough on BBC science programming. Is it just me, or do parliamentary committees only ever want to hear from people who aren't going to rock the boat.

That said, there is some interesting probing of the "how to deal with dissent" question, with Brian Cox looking somewhat uncomfortable at one point.

Click to read more ...


Sir John B and the IPCC

As readers no doubt know, I have previously obtained a great deal of Sir John Beddington's correspondence around the Climategate affair. As evidence of Sir John's involvement in setting up the whitewashes grows, I started to wonder about the information that Sir John's office had said they had withheld for one reason or another. In particular I wondered what was covered by this:

* various internal advice from Government Office for Science and other officials to Sir John regarding the UEA incident and the establishment of the independent reviews, and advising on aspects of the handling of this from the viewpoint of the Government and his personal role.

Since there is a presumption in favour of disclosure, I decided to appeal the decision to withhold and I have now received some further information.

Click to read more ...


Comets, climate and admitting you are wrong

The Miller-McClune site (H/T Paddy, via GWPF) carries an interesting story of how a theory of comet-caused climate change turned out to be wrong and how hard it was to get the truth out.

It seemed like such an elegant answer to an age-old mystery: the disappearance of what are arguably North America’s first people. A speeding comet nearly 13,000 years ago was the culprit, the theory goes, spraying ice and rocks across the continent, killing the Clovis people and the mammoths they fed on, and plunging the region into a deep chill. The idea so captivated the public that three movies describing the catastrophe were produced.

But now, four years after the purportedly supportive evidence was reported, a host of scientific authorities systematically have made the case that the comet theory is “bogus.”


Lord Turnbull advises caution

GWPF has issued a report by Lord Turnbull advising caution over UK energy policy.

Lord Turnbull, the former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service (2002 – 2005), has called on MPs and ministers to consider more carefully the rising costs and economic risks of Britain’s unilateral climate policies.

In a dispassionate but devastating critique of current policies, Andrew Turnbull also criticises the blind faith in the propositions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) given that they do not bear the weight of certainty with which they are often expressed.

In his briefing paper for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Lord Turnbull outlines the many doubts and disagreements that exist about key IPCC assumptions.


Non-linear system is linear

Only in climateland - Willis Eschenbach's post at WUWT is very interesting. He shows that the output of a major climate model is essentially just a lagged linear combination of its inputs. This is kind of odd when what they are modelling is a non-linear system.


Wegman paper retracted

USA Today is reporting that the allegations of plagiarism made against Edward Wegman have hit their mark. Said et al, a paper describing the uncomfortably close relationships between cliques of climate scientists has been withdrawn after it was shown that elements of the paper were plagiarised.

The journal publisher's legal team "has decided to retract the study," said CSDA journal editor Stanley Azen of the University of Southern California, following complaints of plagiarism. A November review by three plagiarism experts of the 2006 congressional report for USA TODAY also concluded that portions contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. The journal study, co-authored by Wegman student Yasmin Said, detailed part of the congressional report's analysis.

As far as I can tell, nobody is disputing the paper's findings though.



UKCIP defunded

From the Oxford Mail:

CLIMATE change experts working in Oxford fear their jobs could be lost after funding was cut by the Government.

The UK Climate Impact Programme, set up in Oxford 13 years ago, currently receives £1m a year from the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The programme, part of the university’s Environmental Change Institute, has been told that there will be no more Government support from September.

(H/T DaveB)


Climate cuttings 52

Here is my latest attempt to round up the bits and bobs that I should have blogged about in recent weeks but haven't quite got round to.

Hilary Ostrov noted the IPCC apparently approving their recent report on renewables before they actually reviewed it. Some deft rewriting of history by the IPCC appears to have ensued.

Shub Niggurath takes a look at what I call the "official sceptics" and finds that almost none of them are sceptical of climate change. Does this say more about the nature of their scepticism than the status of global warming research? You would have thought the falsification of the models (or the lack of falsifiability according to some) would have raised a few doubts.

Click to read more ...


Beddington - definitely a lobbyist

A few days ago, I noted the frank admission by the chief scientist in Australia that he saw himself as a lobbyist for the scientific community. I wondered at the time whether our own head boff was working for the benefit of those who pay his salary or just for scientists.

Here's the answer, found in Hansard:

Q5 Chair: Should the Committee, perhaps, re-think its position on the desirability of a Chief Scientific Officer at the Treasury, or do you think the need is even greater now?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I do believe it would be sensible to have a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Treasury. It is a thing I have discussed with Nick Macpherson, the Permanent Secretary in the Treasury. In the run-up to the CSR I did have meetings with the Senior Management Board of the Treasury, which Nick chairs. We were discussing primarily the Science Settlement and there are people in the Treasury who do absolutely know a lot about science and the importance of science, but I don’t think that is a substitute for actually having somebody who comes in from outside who has an appropriate external experience of science and engineering. I do think it is still important. The last month or so has been quite busy, so it is not a thing I have been pursuing with much energy, I confess.


Darrell Ince on the tranny

Darrel Ince is interviewed by Tim Harford about the difficulties of getting corrections made to scientific papers.

Darrell Ince on wrong papers


Boulton's editorial

Geoffrey Boulton has an editorial in the Lancet discussing the Royal Society project on science and the public, which he is leading. In particular, he discusses the first phase of the project, which looks at data availability. Climategate is mentioned:

Conventional peer-reviewed publications generally provide summaries of the available data, but not effective access to data in a useable format. Increasing calls for greater accessibility have not only come from peer reviewers and those who wish data to be more efficiently used, but also from citizens who wish to interrogate scientific conclusions in depth. The latter in particular have often been frustrated by the apparent resistance of scientists to the release of data, and are increasingly making use of freedom of information laws to obtain it. Recent high-profile cases in the UK include the global temperature data sought from the University of East Anglia, which culminated in the so-called Climategate affair, and the tree-ring data series eventually obtained from Queen's University Belfast through the intervention of the Information Commissioner.

The full article is here (free registration required).


A new approach to science funding

I wondered earlier if it would ever be possible to separate scientists from the perverse incentives that encourage them to hype their work and work against the interests of the people who are paying for them. (I'm not saying that scientists necessarily work against the public interest, although some clearly do - simply that this is the direction that their incentives push them)

By strange coincidence Susan Greenfield, the former head of the Royal Institution has come up with a pretty radical set of suggestions that would at least improve things. Firstly she wants to abolish the research councils and divide the pot of research money up between researchers. Secondly, and perhaps more practically, she suggests getting venture capitalists to fund research.

Both of these suggestions would reduce the incentives to work against the public. Quite how practical they are, I'm not sure, but the ideas are certainly worth a look.



Cambridge Conference on the Beeb

BBC Scotland had a correspondent at the Cambridge Conference (neither he nor I were entirely sure why he was there). The results was a short item on Wednesday's DriveTime show, featuring Andrew Watson, Ian Plimer and Alan Howard, the organiser.

H/T Eddie O

Cambridge Conference news item audio


Scientists and the public interest

The Royal Society has launched a new project to consider how science can be made to work for the public.

Scientific research has an enormous impact on our world and the lives of citizens. It is therefore important that science is not, and is not seen to be, a private enterprise, conducted behind the closed doors of laboratories, but a public enterprise to understand better the world we live in and our place in it. Effective dialogue about the priorities and insights of science and its relation to public values is vital. Scientists can no longer assume an unquestioning public trust.

The general theme of the project seems sound. As I have pointed out before, scientists have perverse incentives - as civil servants their economic incentive is to publish more, to attract attention and to grow their funding. The public interest is not particularly a priority. And with the Australian chief scientist noting that he sees himself as a lobbyist for the scientific community - no doubt the same situation applies in the UK - this conflict of interest is laid bare. So the idea of trying to get scientists working for the people who pay them is a good one, but I hold out little hope of an effective remedy.

And anyway, I'm not sure the Royal Society wants anyone to take the project seriously. The project is to be led by none other than Professor Geoffrey Boulton, a man whose record on creating public trust in UK science is a tad shaky, to say the least. The panel also includes Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, whose record is little better.


More data libertarianism

Times Higher Ed is once again hot on the trail of academics who fail to disclose their data.

Academics have been accused of failing to make use of new technology to improve research because they are "selfish" and bogged down in the peer review system.

Speaking at a British Library debate, organised by Times Higher Education, academics and students agreed that researchers had not embraced new technology to share their data and findings.

Addressing the question "What is the future of research?", Matthew Gamble, a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Manchester, said that despite projects such as Galaxy Zoo, which shares academic data with the general public, the culture of the "selfish scientist" was holding back British research.

"Altruism is quickly beaten out of young academics in favour of retaining data and making sure you can produce as many publications as possible," he said.