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.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Urban Heat Island effect and 'global warming'.....

One of the problems in arriving at a genuine assessment of global surface-temperature changes over the last 200 years or so remains that of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, something which I personally experience every time my (often unheated) commuter train arrives at the edges of London from rural Kent. Many 'global warming' fanatics try to dismiss this issue out-of-hand, or to claim that temperature records are already fully-corrected to take into account this undeniable and well-acknowledged effect. There are other scientists, however, who believe that much of the perceived warming currently taken to indicate 'global warming' from the enhanced emission of 'greenhouse gases' is little more than a proxy for the human urbanisation of the planet.

Dr. Ian G. McKendry of The University of British Columbia has now produced a most useful 'Progress Report' on this question for the latest issue of the scientific journal, Progress in Physical Geography: 'Applied climatology' (PIPG 27(4), 2003, pp. 597 - 606). He observes that, "UHIs continue to present a problem for the detection of changes in the global surface temperature record (the so-called 'greenhouse effect'). Typically the urban bias is removed from climate records on the basis of relatively simple regression models that utilize population size as an indicator of the urban excess.... Several studies have recently exploited long historic records to illustrate that such methods may not be sufficient to adequately correct for the 'urban bias'." McKendry further points out that recent studies have also begun to examine more closely the effects of UHI intensity on meteorological conditions, a topic first considered in 1951. Some of this new work indicates that the UHI effect may well be implicated in changes in both precipitation and storm patterns.

This extremely well-referenced review is thus important for the climate-change debate. McKendry concludes: "Recent studies suggest that attemps to remove the 'urban bias' from long-term climate records (and hence identify the magnitude of the enhanced greenhouse effect) may be overly simplistic. This will likely continue to be a contentious issue in the climate change community..."

I always find it refreshing to read good, cautious science. A very nice piece, and a most elegant example of why we need more applied urban climatologists and more hard work over wild rhetoric.

Philip, in a cooler country town. Late morning coffee?

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Prince of Doom.....

Splendid little piece at Black Triangle on the Prince of Doom, our very own Michael Meacher MP: 'Applying the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle':

"Michael's life must be very depressing. One day we are all going to burn to death due to global warming, the next we are all going to die from cancer. What about the potentially toxic chemicals leaching from the mouse you are holding now! Have you seen any studies refuting the link between computer mice and cancer? Thought not. Be afraid, very afraid. Michael is."

Sino D (see Blog below) just loved that - her long nose shook with marsupial merriment.

Now, what would be our Michael's daemon, I wonder? Lord Philip (again!).
Two old fossils together.....

Hey, I wouldn't mind this little feller as my very own daemon, in the style of Philip Pullman: 'Oldest marsupial ancestor found' (BBC Science News Online, December 12 - great picture).

Two old fossils together - she (with daemons it nearly always has to be the opposite gender, you may remember) possesses such a lovely name as well, Sinodelphys - very Pullmanesque. And if she had a tiny marsupial pouch, it could be mighty useful for hiding things like paper clips and tots of whisky. I wonder how she would get on with Lyra's Pantalaimon?

And, of course, all those fanatic 'global warmers' would just love to associate me with Dark Materials! It's all the Dust you know!

"Come on there, Sino D, time for tea". Lord Philip. (Or as they say in Edinburgh, "You'll have had your tea, then!").
The disgrace of Channel 5.....?

On Monday, 15 December, Channel 5 is due to screen Hear the Silence, a drama about a campaigning mother of an autistic child and a doctor who is an advocate of the link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

I am no medical expert, but, having followed the debate, and having read articles by colleagues who are, I am convinced that Channel 5 has a real chance of plumbing the depths of media morality in relation to the broadcasting of serious science, in whatever form. Thus, although this is not strictly a subject for EnviroSpin, I felt it was vital to cover it.

However, because I am not personally equipped to comment on this matter in detail, I will leave the response to two outstanding authors who are:-

First, the splendid Ben Goldacre of The Guardian 'Life' Section (The Guardian, December 11): 'Never mind the facts':

"The only things that the writers of Hear the Silence get wrong, to be fair, are the science and the story [my emphasis]. As a drama, it's moving and convincing. But when you watch it, and you must, make sure you have this paper next to you. Use it as a tick chart for the half-truths, distortions and omissions."[That first sentence is just excoriating!]

"MMR immunisation rates have now fallen to as little as 60% in some areas, and 84% nationally. Measles cases have almost trebled in six years, and it will get worse. I don't want to be a scaremonger, but it's relatively easy to spot drops in uptake of vaccines that happen immediately after major scare stories, or, perhaps, a major TV drama. The drop after next Monday's drama will contribute to measles outbreaks, and that will cause distress, disability and probably deaths. That's not the small risk of a small risk, like MMR and autism. It's just simple maths."

And then, secondly, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick writing in Sp!ked (December 11): 'MMR: fact and fiction':

"In not a single child has it been established that MMR played a role in causing autism."

"While the public has heard the strident voices of a small minority of middle-class parents of children with autism, the quieter voices and the pressing concerns of the vast majority have been ignored."

I am personally dismayed that a whole suite of my favourite actors, including one of my own all time greats, is appearing in this dangerous drama. Sometimes, I do wish the 'luvvies' would think before they utter! I also believe that it is appalling to treat so serious a multicondition as autism in this manner.

To me, this does not look likely to be art imitating life; more likely, as Ben Goldacre points out so trenchantly in his piece, it might turn out to be art with the potential to ruin young lives - in his words, "It's just simple maths."

I should perhaps mention that, according to reports, all the leading experts in the fields of child and public health, immunisation and autism, have refused to join in the debate that follows the drama.

Philip, for once incensed. Lunch, if I can swallow it.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Now who's the big, bad wolf.....?

Great batch of letters to The Guardian on our George: 'The real expert at exploiting the media' (Letters, The Guardian, December 10) (see Blog for December 9).

Shh! I wonder if they all conspired together to write these? Hm!

Philip through the Fog of Media Myth.
Europe stars again as the Kyoto Protocol farce stumbles on (Ahi!).....

Here's the latest on the Milan Kyoto Protocol talks: 'Kyoto Protocol gasping for air as Berlusconi fails to show for UN talks' (Yahoo!News, December 10).

Mamma mia! No comment needed. Ho mal di testa! Meanwhile, ever-precious Europe is, of course, wringing its hands about GM trees in the protocol rules! Che schifo! Get a life!

A dopo! Philip. Il pranzo.

Aliens and consensus in the moral maze.....

Well, I did enjoy facing the heat of 'The Moral Maze' yesterday evening on climate change - great to lock swords with Ian Hargreaves and Steven Rose, and to witness the precision of Michael Gove and the clever questioning of Claire Fox. And Ceri Dingle was very brave in the face of some tough questioning. I have to say that Michael Buerk is an admirable chair, while the producer paces it all to perfection. What our licence fee is for - BBC Radio 4 at its best (makes up for so much dross on the box).

And here is the most glorious and timely follow-up (only just discovered), Michael Crichton's splendid Caltech Michelin Lecture from January 2003: 'Aliens cause global warming'. Below is a feeler quotation, but do take time to read the whole piece:-

"I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had."

Philip - also morphed into an alien this morning. As the Daleks would say: "Need more coffee! Need more coffee!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Geras jumps ship.....

Our blogging guru, Norman Geras ('Norm' to us all), has had enough of recent problems and downtime with his current Blog and he has now jumped ship to a new URL: http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/. Time to update your Favourites - just, of course, as trenchant as ever. You should note, however, that he will also, for the moment, retain his former Blog*Spot Site as an Archive of older material.

I know the feeling - the numerous 'downs' have certainly been irritating of late (apologies to all readers). I'll hang on in here, however, in the hope that these glitches are ironed out soon. Philip.
Those counterfactuals.....

Excellent blog and discussion by Jane Galt et al. at Assymetrical Information: see 'Kyoto gasps for air' (December 4). Well worth a perusal.

Philip. Lunch calling.

Well folks, today I shall be back 'blogging' on air, this time on that jewel of a programme, 'The Moral Maze' (BBC Radio 4, 8.00 pm). Goodwife Stott says that it is quite in order to mention this here, "as all bloggers do it." Solipsist lot, aren't we?

Anyway, quite independent of this, the programme should prove a must for readers of this particular blog because the subject tonight is..... climate change. "The environment and global warming - whose moral responsibility?" "And what is the legacy we should seek to bequeath to future generations?"

The panel, as ever, is a good one, with Claire Fox, Michael Gove, Ian Hargreaves and Steven Rose, plus three or four witnesses, like yours truly. And all will be chaired by the splendid Michael Buerk.

So, don't miss 'The Moral Maze' this evening for a really hot debate - 8.00 pm GMT, BBC Radio 4. And, if you are out of the UK, you will still be able to listen to it either (a) live online at: BBC Radio 4 (choose Listen Live button to the top right) or (b) later from the recorded archives at The Moral Maze (choose Go to latest programme for the first week and then after this Recent Programmes). Enjoy.

Philip, daring to be a Daniel - getting ready for the fiery pit. Coffee.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Why we have been forced elsewhere.....

Here is good old George 'Savonarola' M. in full conspiracy mode: 'Invasion of the entryists' (Comment, The Groooaaniad, December 9): "How did a cultish political network become the public face of the scientific establishment?"

Well, one reason, George, is the fact that much of the left seems to have abandoned the Enlightenment completely, which has put many mildly left-wing scientists (like yours truly) in a bit of a bind. I have written for Sp!ked myself (though you'll have to poke and prod very deep indeed to find a Trotskyist bone in my corpulent frame!) and, heaven forbid, I have even penned pieces for Dave Spart's The Guardian! I have also scribed for The Times, for The Daily Telegraph, for Country Illustrated, for New Scientist, and for many others. So, what then are my conspiratorial associations, old fruit? [Yes, alright, I'm totally confused - I knew that anyway!] Indeed, I will write for most reasonable outlets so long as I can write honestly about what I believe and if my poor scribblings are not edited out of all recognition (and, I may add, Sp!ked has a better track record than The Grauniad on that front!). My 'natural' outlet would, in the past, have always been The Guardian - but that has become so emotive, so extreme, and so uncritical on the environment that I have been forced to migrate to more rational and tranquil waters. I hope I make up my mind on every issue carefully and on the evidence, an approach that seems to be at variance with the religious zeal of too many Guardian and Indy writers.

Perhaps you and The Guardian might like to think about that a little. We scientists are not so naif as you think. What we do know is that we increasingly have a heck of a job getting careful, critical, science out there through our ever-febrile press. So, like most other folk, we use what we can in a naughty world.

Philip the Eclectic. Coffee and bananas all round.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Down-to-earth causes of flooding.....

I have recently written and spoken widely about flooding in the lovely East Sussex town of Lewes. I have now just read a superb scientific paper on the topic which supports entirely the position I have been taking. I recommend this article to everyone who is fed up with the glib explanations of the 'global warming' fanatics and politicians.

The paper is by Dr. John Boardman, a world authority on flooding and erosion, at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) of the University of Oxford: 'Soil erosion and flooding on the eastern South Downs, southern England, 1976 - 2001.' The Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, N.S. 28, 2003, pp. 176 - 196. Dr. Boardman's research shows clearly that flooding has been a regular event since the downlands were converted to the growing of winter cereals in the 1970s. This practice, unfortunately, leaves the soil exposed during the wet autumn period, which, in turn, leads to run off, to ephemeral gullying, and to rilling. The average rate of erosion is between 0.5 - 5.0 m3 ha-1 yr-1, but storm losses raise this to 200 m3 ha-1 yr-1. Sadly, both soil conservation and flood protection measures have been neglected. Dr. Boardman comments that: "There has been a lack of central government leadership, particularly from MAFF/DEFRA [now there's a surprise!], and local councils have tended to act independently in an uncoordinated manner in reaction to events in their area of responsibility" (p. 193). He concludes that: "The continued cultivation of winter cereals on the South Downs is clearly unsustainable in terms of thinning soils and declining yields, the need for increased inputs of fertilizers and the repeated flooding of properties."

Meanwhile, 'global warming' remains a gloriously pie-in-the-sky excuse for inaction and for the failure to implement down-to-earth solutions that address genuine issues. Saving the world is waffle; preventing erosion and flooding around Lewes is not. And isn't it good to see real field-work research at ground level. Well done, Dr. Boardman. Says it all really.

Philip. Needing tea to bolster his eroding spirit.
Country concerns.....

Country Illustrated is an important, and beautifully-illustrated, magazine looking at rural issues in the UK. It is such a pity that it is not available online. The magazine also most generously hosts articles by yours truly, and, if you can get hold of a copy, I hope you might find my most recent piece, on GM, a little bit more rational than some about this febrile topic: 'A well-judged warning about GM crops' (Country Illustrated, December 2003, pp. 14-16): "Much hot air, and mighty little sense: Professor Philip Stott makes a rational assessment of the over-excited debate on genetic modification and the future of British farming." So says the rather kind strap line - at least I tried!

This December issue of the magazine is a particularly fine one, with articles by Duff Hart-Davis on the slaughter of Highland Deer, on facts about foxes, on the barmy inflexibility of English Heritage over the choice of thatching materials, and on a 'Verdict on DEFRA by the Government's own man' (this by Gillian Shephard MP, former Agriculture Minister, about Lord Haskins' big new report).

I think it is good to read this magazine, even if you do not share all of its tackle and tack - there are voices to be heard, too often excluded in our urbanised and metropolitan isle.

Country Illustrated can be obtained in one of two ways: either by joining CountryClubUK (whereby you receive the magazine free - highly recommended) or directly at the following e-mail: info@countryclubuk.com.

Philip in his tweeds. "Snifter, Old Boy?" "Pull!"
The new Private Frazer Prize - goes to - The Indy.....

With The Turner prize yesterday evening having gone to a potty transvestite, I now propose to award (regularly) 'The Private Frazer "You're doooooooomed!" Prize' for the pottiest paper prognosticating environmental doom and gloom.

With wearisome inevitability, this week's prize must go to .....da!da!da! daaaa! - The Independent on Sunday - indeed for two pieces, namely the following, as well as a page from 'Old Meacher's Almanac', the Prince of Doom himself writing: 'Melting ice "will swamp capitals''' (The Independent on Sunday, December 7).

I suspect that other newspapers will have some job wresting this award from The Indy, although, on occasion, our tear-stained friends at The Grauniad (surely now The Groooooaaniad) might provide some strong competition. (You know who I mean? John, Paul, George, and Ringo [now who is the odd one out there?]).

Doubles all round! And just watch those ice cubes melt! Philip (recalling the fact that the English Channel was only formed some 7000 years ago and that lovely Rye was but a short time past 'next-the-sea' - so unusual changing sea-levels, aren't they? "Now why is there a fossil sea cliff over there, daddy?").

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Converging on doom: "Let us pray....."

I haven't enjoyed a piece so much for some time. An hilarious account, 'You have been warmed', in this week's The Spectator (December 6) of the 'global warming' faithful meeting in St. James, Piccadilly, London at the end of last month to intone together on the doom of the world. I have debated publically myself with some of the protagonists mentioned and Tom Fort's pen captures them to perfection. A gem. Do find time to read this for some festive cheer and sing along with the faithful: "Always look on the dark side of life!"

Philip, warming to the week already.

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

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?