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Oz chief scientist: I'm a lobbyist

If anyone was under any illusions about the true role of government chief scientists, this interview with the new occupant of that role in the Australian civil service should dispel them.

Science advocate

Chubb says that he will be a proactive lobbyist for science, helping the government and the public to appreciate the role of science in coping with the major challenges facing society. Doing this, he says, should help to insulate science from budget cuts. "If we can get science and its value to the community sufficiently high up the priority list," he says, "the job should be half-made each year before you go into bat for specifics."

Commendable honesty, but why on earth should scientists have their own lobbyists on the inside of government? This reminds me of the recent scandals here in the UK, where healthcare trusts were revealed to be paying for union reps out of the public purse. Paying for union reps and paying for lobbyists does not seem materially different to me. Either way, these recipients of all this public largesse are not working for the benefit of the people but for themselves and their pals.

I wonder if Sir John Beddington also sees himself as a union rep for the scientific community who just happens to be paid out of public coffers?


Interview with Johnny Flynn

I chanced upon this interview with Johnny Flynn, who played the role of Ben Shotter in The Heretic - the global warming play I reported on a few months back. It's from the education pack prepared for the show, which can be seen here. Other members of the show's team are interviewed as well, but I thought Flynn was very thoughtful. 


What did you find most exciting when you read the play?

Initially it challenged my preconceptions about something I thought I knew. Because you go along with the orthodox perception of these issues and it basically made me really challenge what I was doing about these things, and in some ways compounded what I really felt about the issues of climate change. In my particular case it made me feel like making a more of a concerted effort to make sure my personal efforts were conscious and mindful. So it’s interesting as each different character has a different standing on the issues. My character is an eco warrior to start with and has quite a woolly approach to what he thinks he’s got to do, and then he’s challenged by this brilliant teacher who sits slightly on the other side of the fence. But instead of necessarily bringing him to her camp she just tries to sharpen up his foundations, and what it is he’s acting on. And that’s what it did for me. It makes you sift through whether bandwagons are easier to be attached to, and just know why you’re doing it; peer pressure or common consensus and political persuasions and things like that.

Click to read more ...


Please tell me this isn't true

From here:

Students in a Society and History (SAH) class on “the Impact of Climate Change” at a Tasmanian high school, must donate to a Canadian environmental organisation in order to be awarded points in a “scavenger hunt” and to gain marks.


Brian Cox and arguments from authority

From the Observer's survey of public intellectuals, Prof Brian Cox on arguments from authority (emphasis added):  

Richard Feynman said a "physicist commenting on anything but physics is as dumb as the next guy" and there is something to be said for that. Often, scientists feel they should remain within their area of expertise. But then many people from other disciplines are perfectly happy to offer their opinions on everything. It is incumbent on scientists to step up and be as vocal.

Scientists are trained to take great care over drawing conclusions from evidence and it is worthwhile offering that as a perspective in itself. If you don't put forward the evidence-based case, then how is the debate to proceed? You're left only with opinion. The Royal Society's motto is: "On the word of no one". The dilemma for the public intellectual is to remember at all times that the point of the project is to remove arguments from authority. You shouldn't stand there and say: "I am a scientist, therefore you should think this." That is the antithesis of science.

People who know things clearly make a valuable contribution to public debate, but I'm wary of iconic people behaving almost like cult leaders. It would be unfortunate if public policy were influenced by people with the biggest following.

Being a public intellectual might not be to your taste, but you have to have these debates because if you don't, somebody will. For example, Nigel Lawson will go on Newsnight and make pronouncements about climate change. The scientist can't say: "I don't want to get involved in something so vulgar" because then you get an ex-chancellor talking about climate predictions, which is ridiculous. I suppose I'm arguing for public discourse to be tempered by some kind of knowledge… a radical suggestion!

I think the bit I've emphasised is very welcome. I'm sure pretty much everyone agrees with Prof Cox's sentiments on this subject. That being the case, I wonder if Prof Cox would ask Dr Singh about his evidence that recent warming has been significant. Doug Keenan says he pointed out to Singh that this claim was not supportable a couple of weeks back.

Prof Cox and Dr Singh are appearing on stage together in Cardiff tonight, so there should be ample opportunity.


Preposterous musings - Josh 97

More from the Muppet Meister (and a small tribute to Anthony for getting his paper accepted for publication)


Cartoons by Josh here



Toyland - Josh 96

More Cartoons by Josh here


Acceptable surface stations

Congratulations to Anthony W, whose paper on the surfacestations project has been accepted for publication.

Anthony is seeking support for the publication costs, so if you are still feeling flush after the BH tip drive, do head over there.


Simon Singh's fairy tale

Simon Singh has issued the next installment in his blog series about Fraser Nelson's position on climate change. I am somewhat in awe of this latest display, which is based around the idea that we should make policy decisions assuming a warming of 4°C/century.

Now, as readers here know, the IPCC's last forecasts of a 2°C/century warming are on the cusp of falsification (or even over it, depending how you calculate things), just over ten years since they were issued. Yet here is Dr Singh saying that we should base public policy decisions on the presumption of a warming twice as large!

One doesn't like to be rude, but who on earth bases public policy decisions on hypotheses that are already falsified? 

Who bases life and death decisions on a fairy story?


The Sunlight on Huhne

Via Guido, Bishop Hill readers' favourite politician, Chris Huhne has been receiving some attention from the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics, who are insinuating some dubious practices in Huhne's election expenses.

If this sticks then we may get a new man at DECC regardless of whether Huhne chooses to go.


NZ scientists refuse too

Scientists in New Zealand are refusing to release information about a new temperature index they have published (H/T andyscrase). They have argued that technical details of how the new index was constructed and papers relating to the peer review that is alleged to have been performed are all exempt from the country's freedom of information legislation.

Is there no end to the corruption?


Bureaucrats demand more bureaucracy

It's a surprise, isn't it?

A think tank called the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has issued a report calling for regulation of private universities. According to the BBC:

Anthony McClaran, head of the Quality Assurance Agency - the UK's higher education standards watchdog - welcomed the report.

If you take a look at the HEPI site it's largely run by university people (although some outsiders, including Lord Oxburgh, are involved). If you look at its accounts you discover that much of its funding comes from the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) - it is a fake charity in other words.

So what you see here is the Higher Education bureaucracy attempting to burden private sector providers with as much regulation as possible in order to prevent them from competing. The regulators who will benefit from all the extra work then pipe up and say what a good idea it is. It's naked self-interest and there is not even a hint of the truth on the BBC article.

Public self-servants eh?

(If I had time I'd take a closer look at HEPI - it appears that its chief excutive went from being head of policy at HEFCE to being head of HEPI (on £130k per annum), a body which we have seen derives much of its funding from HEFCE. )


A good day to bury whitewash

Has anyone else been struck by the timing of the official response? On the same day as the local election and referendum results come out?

A good day to bury whitewash, I suppose.


Black scared of comments

Richard Black has put up an article about the government response - with no comments permitted (it's a news article, see).

Tee hee.


Oxburgh's Eleven in the reponse

Sir John Beddington admits that the multiproxy studies, which had were central to the Climategate allegations, were not examined by the Oxburgh panel. Instead they looked at a list of papers chosen by UEA itself, some of which were so obscure that even CRU's most ardent critics had never heard of them.

In our view, the debate about the 11 publications examined by the Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP) is frustrating. While there is no doubt that the papers chosen were central to CRU’s work and went to the heart of the criticisms directed at CRU, the allegations that certain areas of climate science such as key multiproxy temperature reconstructions were purposely overlooked could have been disregarded if the SAP had set out its process of selection in a more transparent manner. (Paragraph 49)

What, then can one say about his concluding remarks?

We note the Committee’s conclusion that the selection of papers examined by the SAP was representative of the work of CRU in all areas in which allegations had been made. We note that once again the primary concern of the Committee related to transparency and communication—in this case with regard to the process for selecting the sample of papers
considered by the SAP—rather than any conscious decision to purposely overlook certain  areas of work.

So to review: Sir John persuades Lord Oxburgh to head the panel despite Lord O having a conflict of interest. Lord O misleads public, parliament and government about the nature of his review. Lord O fails to look at the most criticised papers, having accepted a list proposed by the people he's supposed to be investigating. Sir John congratulates Lord O on having played a blinder. Sir John notes that Lord O has misled everyone and failed to look at the papers everyone is upset about and says it doesn't matter. Sir John says that CRU's science is still sound.



Peer review in the response

We know that Muir Russell and his UEA chum Geoffrey Boulton failed to investigate most of the instances of perversion on the peer review process. We know that the instance they did investigate - the Soon and Baliunas affair - they failed to find out if CRU staff had contacted the journal involved. Instead they exonerated the CRU staff using the following evidence:

  • a report that noted that peer review is often heated
  • Phil Jones' word that he had done nothing wrong.

Knowing this, what can one say about Sir John's statement as follows?

The Government notes the Committee’s conclusion that there was no evidence of attempts to subvert the peer review process, and agrees that academics should not be criticised for commenting informally on academic papers, noting that constructive criticism and challenge is fundamental to ensuring a robust scientific approach.