BBC Horizon – Attack On Science

Originally blogged at Realclimategate

Well it looks like the BBC have learned very little this year and the response to this program should be interesting. There are more than enough journalists/ news editors around that are very aware of the issues that were glossed over and waved away..

The Professor spoke to Phil Jones, as the enquiries that he said had exonerated everybody, failed to ask a key questions… Could he have perhaps actually have asked Phil Jones.

Why did you ask colleagues to delete emails relating to the IPCC process? And, why did you feel the need to ask?

The program was a defence of ‘climate science’ very very thinly disguised as a general program about attacks on science generally, particulary loathesome was a casual use of deniars by a Nobel Prize winner.

Of course Professor Paul Nurse is completely unrelated to the many fields that make up ‘climate science’ so perhaps he naively thought all was well…

Next time James delingpole gives an interview to anybody with connections to the BBC, I suggest that makes an audio recording of the entire process for himself. A little trick to keep reporters honest one or 2 politicians could have warned him to use.

Why this Professor, could they not find any physicists?

This program may backfire in a spectacular fashion on the BBC…

Have the learnt nothing in the last year.

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5 Responses to BBC Horizon – Attack On Science

  1. Philip says:

    “Why this Professor, could they not find any physicists?”

    Presumably because of his role as the new president of the Royal Society… I had been quite hopeful that the program might offer some new insights, but in the event it seemed to be little more than an exercise in institutional dishonesty, although very skilfully done: placing unrelated comments on TSI and cosmic rays together for the audience to draw the wrong conclusions; putting up Delingpole – plus a brief comment from Fred Singer – as representative of the scientific case against alarmism; shamelessly bringing to bear the authority of Newton and Darwin; and so on. I suppose it is inevitable that the activists responsible for the Royal Society’s decline should have ensured that one of their own takes over at the helm – but what a pity nonetheless.

  2. A C Osborn says:

    They & the Government haven’t learn’t anything. They have become a laughing stock.

  3. N Cox says:

    This programme featured on SBS One on Australian TV 9 August 2011. I was anticipating an informative unbiased assessment of Global Warming / Climate Change with new facts and involvement of knowledgeable scientists in the field. What was on offer was something else – a lacklustre and flimsy superficial coverage simply bolstering the personal view of Professor Paul Nurse.

    The lack of any in-depth discussion or involvement by more than just a few select ‘representatives’ in some coffee shop, ice cream parlour of cluttered office diminished the professionalism and scientific approach. Indeed some of the programme was wasted in perusing original works of Newton and Darwin – totally irrelevant to the matter at hand.

    Curiously Professor Nurse made sweeping statements about “the general consensus of scientists” without any factual support. His proposition that the Global Warming sceptics “cherry-pick” the data to suit their needs is the opposite of the truth. What I have seen through a period of time is the selective use of data by the Global Warming Alarmists and dismissal of anything else that doesn’t suit their ‘theorising’. Moreover the modelling they use is simply a fabrication based on arbitrary ‘feedback’ pertaining to Carbon Dioxide and warming which is not evidenced in real data over the last 10 years.

    Why is it that Carbon Dioxide levels have risen over the past 10 years, but there ahs been some global cooling over thge period? Prof. Paul Nurse chose to avoid such very pertinent questions. Also does NASA truly believe that Solar activity is not a key player in Climate Change on the Earth? Really?

    Personally I have always been interested in true Science and making scientific connections between causation and effect based on factual evidence. Science is about testing of hypothesis, not just consensus of a select few or superficial speculation. Prof. Paul Nurse would do well to remember that.

    Fortunately – for all of us – the real truth lies in the future to unfold. Maybe then we (incl Prof Nurse) can move forward with real science and real scientific study and discussion.

  4. Dr. B. Lott says:

    While some of the above comments are true about the way that “Attack on Science” handled this material, Professor Nurse makes some extremely important points with respect to science communication that is not unique to global warming.

    Firstly, scientists are always skeptical, even of theories we generally hold as “fact”. For this reason, one can ALWAYS find scientists who disagree on any given issue. Scientists will never speak with one voice, so only a consensus voice is possible. This might not even be a majority voice (but only a plurality when there are more than two competing hypotheses). To the scientist, there are no such things as a scientific “truths”; there are only competing hypotheses with which we have more or less confidence. This is Bayesian analysis, and it is fundamental to scientific method (regardless of which particular science we are talking about). See, for example, the recent CERN nutrino data that appear to conflict with the basic underpinnings of Einstein’s theory of relativity. That hypothesis (that the speed of light in a vacuum is the maximum speed in the universe) is as close to a science “fact” as there is, and over 100 years later it is still under constant scientific challenge. Scientifically speaking, there is nothing wrong with being wrong (but there is something wrong with staying wrong). In fact, over time, pretty much everything we take as science fact will be proven to be incorrect in some fundamental way. What we think of as scientific “truth” is actually only a model that approximates reality, and these models always sit atop a series of assumptions that themselves may not be true. A model (or hypothesis) is then evaluated based on its utility (its ability to predict future events and its ability to be manipulated or “engineered”). In point of fact, a hypothesis need not be entirely correct to be useful. Quantum theory (including quantum mechanics and general relativity) completely displaces Newtonian mechanics (Newtonian mechanics is the subset approximation of quantum theory where the objects are large and slow moving). So why do we still teach Newtonian mechanics? Because it is useful. The math is easier and the error relative to quantum theory is negligible. It is therefore a useful fiction. Newtonian mechanics must be a fiction in some way, of course, because everything is. But in this case we know exactly how it is a fiction. We know where it falls dawn.

    This concept of there being no scientific “truths”, so obvious and fundamental to scientists, is anathma to the lay public. The public would like things to be black and white, right or wrong, truth or “lies”. That is a problem, not just with global warming, but with everything scientific that impacts the public. For example, we convict criminals every day based on DNA “matches”, which results in sometimes severe penalties (like long term incarciration or even death in some countries). To the lay public, this is open and shut. If a suspect matches, he must be guilty, right? Nope. To the forensic scientist, guilt and innocence are not a testable hypotheses. Instead, he or she generally evaluates the hypothesis of common source (whether or not the biological sample from the crime scene came from the same individual (usually the accused) who supplied an authentic reference sample). It is the job of law enforcement to make the connection between the biological sample and the crime itself (the sample might be present for reasons unrelated to the crime). But further, to the scientist, a DNA match ONLY indicates that the accused is not excluded from leaving the crime sample. It could still have been someone else, we just don’t know. Population genetics then allows us to calculate the approximate probaility that someone else could have left the crime sample. Using today’s technology this probability can be very very small, but it can never be zero! To a scientist this, like everything else, is an arguable outcome (not a fact). There are plenty of documented cases where a DNA match led to the conviction of an innocent person. This is not surprising to the scientist, because he or she always knew that there was that non-zero probability. The problem with this and the lay public is that such apparent “disagreements” between scientists or “errors” in the data, which are actually neither disagreements nor errors, can lead to a loss of confidence; the concept that scientists don’t know what they are talking about. We certainly do know what we are talking about, usually to a very high degree of quantifiable statistical confidence, but never to certainty. This expectation from the lay public that scientists are either right or wrong is entirely unreasonable, and is in fact fallacious reasoning.

    The second valid point is that Professor Nurse made is that internet debates that include both scientific and lay public give the impression of more expansive and useful “peer review”. That impression is clearly not true. It presumes that the lay public and scientists are “peers”, when they are not. This is true in both directions. I, for example, am a technically savvy scientist. Yet, I take my car to the garage to be serviced rather than service it myself. This is not because I am lazy, it is because the mechanics at the garage are better qualified than I am at auto mechanics. They are experts and I trust their judgement. I do know quite a lot about automobile mechanics, however, but I am certainly not an expert. In other words, I am not the mechanic’s “peer” in that area. In the same way, I elect public officials who are experts in their fields, so that I can do my work without worrying about issues of immigration, or national defense, or whatever. And, while I intimately understand scientific method, I am not a “peer” in all sciences (only in my fields of expertise). It is entirely unreasonable to suggest that the lay public are scientific “peers” capable of digesting the primary data. Professor Nurse specifically points out that scientists MUST become adept at communicating with the public. He believes, as I do, that practically all conflict between scientists and the lay public results from ineffective communication, and that is fully the fault of the scientific expert. To burden the forensic analogy further, I teach forensic students how to be an expert witness in criminal trials. In that instance, the forensic science expert must communicate complex scientific data to a group of non-experts (the jury) in a way that will be useful to them. This means that it must be accurate and convey the important information, but it cannot contain all of the scientific detail, which would obfuscate to issue (disinformation). The expert must convey what the data means, but it is just as important to conver what it does not mean. This can be very hard to do. In one example, a suspect was wrongly convicted of a murder because the expert told the jury that there was “a lot of the victim’s blood” at the presumed crime scene. She meant to suggest that the few droplets present were way more than enough to obtain a DNA profile (it related to a technical aspect of the scientific procedure used). But the jury interpreted this to mean “buckets of blood”. After 15 years in prison, the conviction was overturned. The point is that there is sometimes a wide gulf between what the scientist knows and what they can effectively convey to the non-expert public. Often scientists err by speaking to the public, who have no or non-expert knowledge of the underlying assumptions, as if they were speaking to their peers. And often the primary literature is misrepresented in the popular press by non-experts trying to translate its meaning.

    To this point, I have avoided the issue of climate change in order to de-emotionalize the argument that I wanted to make. I think that anyone reading to this point will see the connection. There will never be a unanimous scientific position on climate change, simply because there will never be a unanimous scientific position on anything. Science does not work that way. A consensus opinion is the best we can ever hope for, and that opinion will ultimatey be judged based on its utility. Human beings will always try to fit issues into absolutes where none exist. It is our nature. The public and the scientist (in his/her individual expertise) will never be peers, nor should they be. I am not a climate scientist. I am therefore only an educated non-expert on the subject like many of you. I have an opinion on climate change, and yes it is a black and white opinion, because I am human and because that is our nature. I, like you, rely on climate scientist to accurately and usefully communicate their findings so that I can make a reasoned decision. I think that “The Attack on Science” was a bit over produced, but Professor Nurse is a surprisingly good communicator for a scientist. Most of us are pretty poor at it.

  5. BWoods says:

    My main criticism was of the BBC.
    Ie fade to voice over, with Nurse saying James said enquiries were whitewashes.
    The BBC, should have allowed the viewer to hear WHY, James said they were white washes..

    Not least the fact that no one even asked Phil Jones if he did delete FOI’able emails.
    And someone who was part of the enquiry team has said, that they didn’t ask unless they incriminate himself… !!

    Delingpole has repeated that Jones deleted emails, and UEA took him to Press complints, and he won. See here.

    An observation by another investigative journalist Heather Brookes for one line in an article, where she mentioned the FOI problems, had UEA contacting her editors. She wrote about the shear GALL of doing this, and explained chapter and verse..

    Heather is not any sort of climate sceptic, and investigative journalist, who amongst other things broke the UK MP’s expenses scandal.

    So my point, was the BBC had broken faith to the public, by not presenting James point to the audience. AT ALL

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