A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Jolly hockey sticks - 'global warming' in the dock!

Here is a downloadable .pdf of the already famous paper by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, 'Corrections to the Mann et al. (1998) proxy data base and Northern Hemispheric average temperature series.' Energy and Environment, 14(6), 751 - 771 (2003). This paper rigorously challenges the data on which the idea that we are currently experiencing the warmest period over the last 1,000 years has been based. (See blog for November 6). Read the paper for yourself and make up your own mind (always the best).

Corrected temperature curves after McIntyre & McKitrick)And here is the "corrected" graph (adapted from the original source [above] and the excellent web site: 'Still Waiting for Greenhouse'), showing that we may have got it wrong after all and that the current century is probably nowhere near the warmest of the last 1,000 years (something many scholars thought unlikely in any case from all sorts of historical and other evidence).

Boy, are the discussions over these curvaceous curves going to be hot! As I said in my earlier blog, I can see a second l'affaire Lomborg blazing across the world and web. The 'global warming' faithful are not going to be happy bunnies one bit! It will be sour grapes all round, as in the Little Ice Age (see the graph!). I hope M & M have got thick skins!

Now to plant a small vineyard like my Mediaevel ancestors! But first, as my mother would have declared, a gradely cup of tea. Philip.
And there were serpents in the organic Garden.....

This week the media have become typically over-excited about the sales of 'organic' food - it really is the chattering classes at their most 'gushing'. And that is not my word. For once, the Guardian's John Vidal and Stott the Stag are not entirely locking antlers. In a much more balanced piece than usual, 'Chinks in the organic food chain' (The Guardian, November 7), John writes: "To put the Soil Association's gushing statistics in perspective, that £1bn is only about 2% of the British food market - just 5% of Tesco's annual turnover. Despite a decade of intense promotion by powerful non-government, grassroots groups and supermarkets, the annual market for organic food is still worth less than what the British spend on burgers or fish and chips." (I knew there was something fishy- that's why cod's off! It's codology and conspiracy all round. Caught, hook, line and sinker.)

Moreover, growth in organics last year was down, and the shopper base remains dangerously small and somewhat precious, with only 8% buying over 60% of the organic food on sale. John's article goes on to analyse the commercial serpents coiling to strike in the Garden, and it would have been an excellent comment if only John could have resisted the inevitable side swipes at Sir John Krebs, the admirable Head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) (who refuses to compromise on the science), and at GM crops.

Most interestingly, today's 'Business Section' in The Guardian carries a timely reminder, 'BFG puts organic disaster behind it', of how the 'organic' ideal nearly did for the supermarket chain, Iceland, which attempted, and I quote, "to convert the nation to organic food". The company, now renamed the Big Food Group (BFG), I am pleased to note, is showing signs of recovery having gone back to its roots of specializing in frozen foods. The chief executive, Bill Grimsey, is reported as saying that, "Every week we are championing the British housewife - who is striving to put together a meal for a family of four on a tight budget."

And that, of course, is a most crucial point. When you hear Radio 4 (e.g. the Food Programme) and other largely middle-class broadcasting outlets lauding the 'organic' option, always remember that, in reality, this constitutes only 2% of the British food market at prices which only around 8% of the populace can afford on a daily basis.

In the Garden, it seems that 'organic' agriculture is a pretty expensive fig leaf.

Morning coffee - or should I open that natural, organic, herbal, fresh-as-a-spring-meadow, morning tea nicely wrapped up in cellophane? What do you think? Philip that Old Curmudgeon.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The science behind the Kyoto Protocol increasingly under assault.....

This piece from the Calgary Herald (November 4) is representative of a new type of reporting on the Kyoto Protocol: 'Kyoto critics better duck. Global warming industry doesn't want to hear that their pet project is flawed'. Over the last few months, the science behind the Protocol has been increasingly under attack from a wide range of sources. The latest hits fair and square at one of the pet constructs - the famous, or infamous, (take your pick) temperature 'hockey stick'. The Herald thinks that the 'global warming' bunnies will not be at all happy down there in their model burrows. Here are two direct quotations from the paper's report about the alleged criticisms:-

"That's why Toronto-based analyst Steve McIntyre and University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick had better be battening down the hatches. Their paper, published last week in the respected British journal, Energy and Environment, is arguably the most damaging attack to date on the science behind Kyoto."

"In a nutshell, they convincingly reveal that flawed calculations, incorrect data and a biased selection of climate records led Kyoto ... to declare that the 20th-century temperature rise was unprecedented in the past millennium. After correcting the data ... they found no such increase in global temperature variations had taken place, which places Kyoto's whole rationale in question."

Hm! Fascinating. Do we see a second l'affaire Lomborg looming over the Rockies (Biff, Banff, Boff!)? This, I might add, follows on from the severe criticisms of the science at the recent Moscow Climate Change Conference (where 90% of the contributions from the floor questioned the science), not to mention the challenging new work of Veizer and Shaviv on the cosmic ray flux (CRF) and its capping effects on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, plus various other sundry critiques (see previous blogs for October 4 and 9).

I shall be rivetted to observe how much of the inevitable attack on 'M & M' (as, I gather, they are now referred to) is ad personam and how much on their work. For own part, I am genuinely convinced that the 'global warming' scenario is less and less tenable. But the vested interests in the 'global warming' industry are truly enormous, from the pedlars of wind energy to the 'we-must-go-back-to-the-mud-hut' wallahs - taming such a mythical beast will be nearly as hard as ending the monarchy! Now, what does the butler think of climate .....?

Tea. Earl Grey, of course. No milk. Thanks. Philip. (Actually, gunpowder tea is far classier, especially around November 5).

PS. Don't miss, by the way, the increasingly excellent new web site: Wind-Farm.org. Highly recommended with your tea.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

As ever - The Guardian cheapening the debate.....

If you really want to enjoy The Guardian at its world-wearying worst, then, every Wednesday, the two 'Environment' pages of the tear-stained 'Society' Section will always oblige. These pages are little short of unadulterated green propaganda, larded (of course!) with snide comments about anybody who dares to attempt to criticise such an agenda. Here is a tiny gem from today's offerings under 'Eco Soundings' (2nd down), inevitably, and oh-so-predictably, on the 114 scientists who had the audacity to write to the PM about their concerns over the GM debate in the UK (see October 31 blog). (My own comments are given in italic within [square brackets]):-

'Letters of discontent'
[You can just feel the sneer behind the heading]

'Last week, 114 "independent" scientists wrote to Tony Blair saying they felt "demoralised" by the public hostility to their work, and that the GM debate had been hijacked by "antis".'
[Just admire the use of the scare quotes around the words "independent", "demoralised", and "antis" - classic stuff.]

'But who were the 114? GM Watch, a website that ferrets out humbug, has found that the majority of them work for research institutions or laboratories that have received tens of millions of pounds of funding from Monsanto and Syngenta.'
[GM Watch is a campaigning web site that attacks individuals in an 'ad personam' manner. Try it and see - you will be able to suck more humbug there than in any letter to the PM. But, of course, the site receives unqualified approval from the investigative 'Guardian' - note the word, 'ferrets'. And I just adore the: 'has found that' - every signatory to the letter gave their full affiliation, freely, openly and proudly. And then there is the inevitable - taint by association, the only motive allowable by 'The Guardian' being greed and money. Last, the ultimate ingredient - toss in the word, Monsanto, and mix lightly.]

'Others are well known consultants for the companies, several receive pensions from them, and some are leading lights in anti-environment groups. Very few, concludes the website, are genuinely independent.'
[And I suppose everyone who works for 'The Guardian', and for the ever-noble green organisations, are entirely "independent"? I particularly liked the desperate attack on the poor souls who are clearly not reaping the rewards of their "non-independence" (like yours truly) - those 'leading lights in anti-environment groups.' As it happens, and as was so well pointed out in a letter (2nd down, by Mia Nybrant) published in yesterday's 'The Guardian', these are groups just as deeply concerned about the environment, but, unfortunately for them, they have the temerity to doubt the rationality of the extreme environmentalist position promoted by the propaganda on these pages of 'The Guardian'. And what precisely is 'genuinely independent' - you note, not given in scare quotes? I know many of the signatories, and I can assure 'The Guardian' that they are an extremely independent bunch of thinkers, who have come to their positions because they personally believe in what they are doing. And how about some independent, balanced, journalism at the jolly old 'Guardian' then? Now that would make a refreshing change.]

Overall comment: this little piece exemplifies everything that is currently wrong with the environmental debate in the UK - never mind the arguments, just damn the individuals concerned in any way you can. It is cheap and nasty.

A totally and fiercely independent Philip (and don't anyone dare intimate otherwise!). Coffee - strong and steaming.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Cutting through the dangerous postmodernist cant.....

Highly recommended at the ever-challenging 'Butterflies and Wheels': Meera Nanda on 'Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism'. A superb essay that cuts through much cant:-

"I was not being facetious, nor was I stoking the “science wars” when I suggested that there was a dangerous convergence - unintended, surely, but not entirely coincidental - between the social constructivist views of science routinely taught in science studies, women’s studies, postcolonial studies and allied disciplines, and the views of those who defend creation science, Islamic sciences, or, as in the case of India, Vedic sciences. The point I was making was not that the foot-soldiers of religious fundamentalist movements are sitting and poring over the works of David Bloor, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway or even of that great simplifier, Sandra Harding. They are not - although the more sophisticated among them do cite the classic works of (a hugely misinterpreted) Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and those of local post-colonial and feminist scholars who have popularized the social constructivist critiques of objective knowledge and reason at home. I wanted to show how the promotion of an anti-secularist, anti-Enlightenment view of the world by well-meaning and largely left-wing scholars in world-renowned centers of learning has ended up affirming a view of the world which constitutes the common sense of the rather malign, authoritarian and largely right-wing fundamentalist movements. I wanted to show that that having invested so deeply in anti-modernist and anti-rationalist philosophies, the academic left has no intellectual resources left with which to engage the religious right."

"The problem with doing science as a Christian believer or a Vedantist is not just that it is based upon a wrong understanding of the distinctive self-correcting social dynamic of modern science. The problem is that this whole idea of theistic science is wrong in a politically dangerous way. Postmodernist arguments for faith-based science are being used both by the Christian creationists and Hindu apologists to attack the assumption of naturalism in modern science. The alternative to naturalism is supernaturalism, which means the re-introduction of revelation, miracles and rituals as legitimate sources of empirical knowledge."

Meera Nanda's book - the first to examine the relevance of postmodern theory for developing nations - , Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India (Rutgers University Press, 2003), has just been published.

Do take time to read through the whole of this fine analysis - it merits a really good sauvignon blanc as one grasps the importance of what she is unravelling. Cheers, Meera, and thanks. It needs saying. Philip.

Non-PC Development Studies: No. 2

From time-to-time, I suggest non-PC examination questions for dubious academic subject areas, like 'Development Studies' and 'Environmental Studies'. The first was on October 13. Here is the second:-

"Environmentalism has become the main vehicle for the resurgence of command-and-control ideas after the collapse of the socialist model in the wake of the Cold War." (Adapted from: Tom Bray, 'Heavy hits on enviro-pessimism', The Washington Times, November 4). Discuss, with particular reference to 'global warming'.

Chief Examiner Philip.

The law and GM crop protests.....

"This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not god's - and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?" (Attributed to Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's 'A Man for All Seasons', 1966 Film).

I am relieved for the future of civil society in this country to read the (now revised) BBC News Online Report (November 4 ): 'Blow for anti-GM protesters'. "Four GM crop protesters were wrongly cleared of trespass after a protest at a crop trial, appeal judges have ruled. Two judges at the High Court in London overturned a district judge's decision to acquit the four..."

"The district judge was wrong to accept the protesters' defence that they were protecting the environment, said the judges."

"The four cannot be tried again, but GM protesters will not be able to use the same defence in future trials."

I expect that there will follow a repeat episode of 'Much Whinging in the Marsh' from some elements of the ever-lachrymose, sanctimonious, and self-pitying green movement about the 'injustice' involved. I can't see this. One of the finest men I ever knew (sadly now dead), a founder member of CND, would have had no time for it. His view was simple; he believed passionately in free debate and non-violent direct action, but, if he was arrested (and later jailed, as he was), he calmly, and with immense dignity, accepted that this was the price he must pay for his chosen values. His respect for the law was exemplary. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, he was immensely persuasive through his quiet courage. He was also the kindest of men in argument, and one who would have had no truck whatsoever with violent protest and aggravated trespass, ad personam abuse, or, I suspect, with physical damage to crops and farm equipment.

Since 1999, 'Sense About Science' report that there have been at least 28 incidents of serious vandalism against basic crop trials, with around 52 against the government's Field Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of GM crops. The nadir was probably plumbed when an investigation into crop drought resistance for poverty-stricken sub-Saharan Africa was destroyed (I trust by mistake!)

We are immensely lucky in the UK to live in a country with the secret vote, an independent judiciary, and a relatively free press (not to mention, of course, blogging!). Lobbying, and peaceful, non-violent direct action, will also always have a place in our 'constitution'. I could well see even me protesting against the claims of some 'organic' and health food shops! But there is no place at all in such an open, civil society for aggravated trespass and violent action, either against people or property. Where this occurs, the full force of the law should apply, without fear or favour. Otherwise, we will soon witness the collapse of civil society, with every obsessive and self-righteous pressure group having a temper tantrum and believing that it has the right, unpunished, to resort to aggravated trespass, vandalism, and violence, whether pro-or anti-GM, pro- or anti-abortion, pro- or anti-the death penalty, pro- or anti-hunting, pro- or anti-tax on petrol, and ad nauseam. If we allow this, we open Pandora's box. And the left (and I am mildly of that persuasion) should always remember that violent protest is not just their prerogative - witness the attacks on clinics for women in the US by 'moralists' on the right. And soon there could be such protests over hunting and petrol taxes.

Many people disagree strongly with the actions of certain green protest groups; does that give them the right to trash the offices of such groups or chain themselves to their PCs? Of course not. But if they did, I do hope that they would accept the consequences of their actions.

I would also add that crop vandalism denies me my democratic right to the results of properly-run and approved scientific trials. Philip. [Note: This blog has been slighted amended (at 2.05 pm) after a change in the original BBC report.]

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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