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Neither cool nor rational

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“People are broadly concerned, but not entirely convinced”, concludes the latest poll on public opinion of global warming by social marketing group Ipsos Mori.

Despite the deluge of media reports in the last year documenting the scientific consensus on climate change and the startling rapidity at which impacts are being seen around the world – most notably perhaps the ever-decreasing Arctic sea ice – 60% of the British Public is uncertain that climate change is caused by humans, and many others believe that scientists are overstating the problem.

Writing in Sunday’s Observer, Juliette Jowit provides the following explanation:

There is growing concern that an economic depression and rising fuel and food prices are denting public interest in environmental issues. Some environmentalists blame the public’s doubts on last year’s Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and on recent books, including one by Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, that question the consensus on climate change.

While it’s reassuring to know that the public questions the status quo, if Jowitt is correct, what’s frustrating is the ability of blatantly misrepresentative arguments to sway public opinion.

The Great Global Warming Swindle resulted in a record 250 complaints to regulatory watchdog Ofcom (including the first ever peer reviewed complaint), but that’s still a fraction of the 2.5 million viewers. Like many of those who saw the Channel 4 documentary, readers of Lawson’s offering on climate change ‘An Appeal to Reason’ are probably unaware it has been scientifically discredited in almost every review, including one on Nature Reports Climate Change by Sir John Houghton, Honorary Scientist at the UK’s Hadley Centre.

As Sir Houghton writes:

Promised as a “rare breath of intellectual rigour” and a “hard headed examination of the realities” of climate change, this offering is neither cool nor rational….and is largely one of misleading messages.

Lawson’s fundamental misunderstanding of basic scientific concepts is first displayed in his interpretation of the temperature records for the first part of this century, with which he attempts to discredit the science of climate change, and the work of many thousands of researchers who’ve dedicated entire careers to the problem. More recently, he repeats this in an amusing attack on the recent Nature paper by NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig.

Writing as a guest over on Susan Hills’ blog, Lawson’s piece starts off with a failure to grasp the term ‘meta-analysis’ – he clearly thinks that this is merely a lumping together of existing data. On the contrary, Rosenzweig and colleagues have used a powerful scientific tool to analyze changes in early 30,000 phenomena in the natural world – no mean feat – and in doing so, have shown that warming is aready having a worldwide impacts.

As Houghton rightly points out, Lawson is in need of climate science 101. But then, it seems, he’s not alone – at least on that count.

Olive Heffernan


  1. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    Why is it that whenever sea ice is mentioned, it’s only ever Arctic (declining) and never Antarctic (increasing)?

  2. Report this comment

    Demesure said:

    Sir Houghton, first IPCC’s chairman was also the one who said about GW: “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen”.

    So he is not exactly the right person who can credibly state that Lord Lawson’s book is “neither cool nor rational”.

  3. Report this comment

    Alexander Ač said:

    Dear Bishop,

    forget it, Antarctic (on the whole) is probably loosing ice, but much less than the Arctic, and certainly is NOT increasing, where did you find out…?

  4. Report this comment

    Manny said:

    The thesis of this post -if the public is unconcerned, it must be because of malicious counter-propangada– is laughable.

    We the public are unconcerned because the global warmist predictions, drummed up 10 years ago, have not materialized.

    Despite the relentless increase in atmospheric CO2, there was no acceleration of the warming rate; temperatures have actually decreased over the past ten years!. The number of storms has not increased, the amount of rain or drought has not changed, the rate of sea level change has not increased, etc.

    You see, we do not trust propaganda — neither yours nor theirs. Instead, we look out the window, see the same old weather and call you a fearmonger. We also resent your assumption that we are too stupid to adapt to the current rate of climate change — if you do not know how to move a house or change your food supply, don’t assume no one else does.

  5. Report this comment

    Global Warming Investigator said:

    Many people who claim global warming is caused by human beings are actually ‘misinformed’. There is a hidden agenda behind this whole theory. Its not to deny warming, but friend, let me tell you, are humans causing the warming in the Sun, Jupiter, Neptune & the climate change in every other planet in tour solar system? Its a fact, the climate in our entire solar system is undergoing a change, not just on Earth! Research it yourself & think about it. How misleading is the whole theory of Global warming caused by humans. Its a plot to bring in more tighter laws & take away some freedom from we humans by the powers that be.

    My message: Don’t be like sheep: observe, investigate, learn, see the conspiracy…

    [Visit my blog for more information]

  6. Report this comment

    bi -- IJI said:

    From the by-line of GWI’s blog:

    “Investigation on Unexplained/Paranormal phenomena […] Underground Crude Realities […] True Ancient History, Self Help, Abundance, Spirituality”

    GWI, what you need is a tinfoil hat.

    As for “investigating” the “conspiracy”: been there, done that. When climate change inactivists can’t even make up their own minds on what the “Warmist Conspiracy” is, that should be proof enough that the inactivists are chock-full of bull.

    — bi, the “Warmist Conspiracy” is, that should be proof enough that the inactivists are chock-full of bull.

    — bi,

  7. Report this comment

    Alf Jones said:

    After reading Lawson’s posting on Hill’s blog I was disappointed to see him apparently accusing NASA of “doctoring the global temperature record”. Did Lord Lawson really write this? He doesn’t think NASA has “doctored” other evidence as well does he (like the Moon landing)?

    I wonder if he showed his posting to a scientist first … they may have pointed out the other mistakes other than his lack of understanding of meta-analysis.

    The UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre scientists published a paper in “Science” not “Nature” as he states and I couldn’t find any acknowledgment in that study that there had been no warming this century which he also claims.

    Looking at NASA GISS’ website, how corrections are applied is explained quite clearly to my eye and not “mysteriously” as he claims. But I thought the reason NASA’s dataset warms faster than others is because it interpolates over the Arctic where there is less data but is thought to be warming fast.

  8. Report this comment

    Maurizio Morabito said:

    I want to thank Olive Heffernan for being so honest: her blog above, that will surely make Lord Lawson proud despite a tad too many personal attacks, is definitely neither cool nor rational. Exactly “what it says on the tin”…

    As for Rosenzweig et al.: could anybody please confirm or deny if the “30,000 phenomena” are the same 30,000 phenomena mentioned in AR4-WG1, chapter 1?

  9. Report this comment

    John Mashey said:

    Skeptical Science offers a list of common arguments that get repeated endlessly, so often they’ve got numbers and code-names assigned. Each points to a page that explains the argument, explains the errors. Each references articles in the scientific literature for those who want to go further, and cites some of the places the wrong arguments are used.

    This is very helpful since one need not waste time rehashing the same old arguments. SO, here are the codes and current rank numbers:

    Bishop Hill:

    13 [antarctica]


    a little vague, but perhaps you might want to understand the statistics of noisy time series, and understand that nobody expects to prove climate accelerations in only 10 years.

    11 1998

    14 [hurricane]

    scientists worry more about intensity than frequency. The verdict is still out on the latter.

    31 oceans are cooling

    Global warming investigator [sic]:

    15 [mars]

    20 [planet]

    36 [neptune]

    38 [jupiter]

    50 [hotsun]

  10. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    John Mashey

    Reporting that others have pointed out the same discrepancy as I have doesn’t advance the argument one iota.

    I’ve given my source – the area of Antarctic sea ice is going up.

  11. Report this comment

    saurabh said:

    to analyze changes in early 30,000 phenomena the natural world

    Olive, could you amend this bit of sentence? It is unintelligible.

    [Response from Olive: I’ve added in the missing ‘in’ – thanks!]

  12. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:


    The article cited in the original story is talking about areas. I’m merely comparing apples and apples.

  13. Report this comment

    PaulM said:

    Lawson’s book is indeed both cool and rational. What is neither cool

    nor rational is the hysteria exhibited not just by the ‘deluge of

    media reports’ but also by formerly respected journals such as Nature.

    These sources perpetuate a catalogue of selection, distortion and

    misrepresentation of the facts, based on bias and prejudice. This is

    known as ‘confirmation bias’ – data that supports your opinion is

    highlighted, while anything that goes against it is ignored.

    There are several examples right here:

    1. We are told by Houghton and others that the lack of warming over

    the last 7 years is just a statistical blip of no significance. Now

    imagine if instead temperatures had risen very sharply over the same

    period – would that have been dismissed as insignificant? No, of

    course, it would have been seen as ‘proof’ of man-made global warming.

    2. The complaints about GGWS – what Olive omits to tell us is that of

    the comments to channel 4, 6 to 1 were in favour of the programme.

    3. Arctic sea ice – Olive cites the BBC hysteria on arctic sea ice,

    again showing selection bias, ignoring the antarctic

    increase. Globally, sea ice is above average, see the graphs at climate audit.

    The reassuring fact, as Olive says, is that despite – or perhaps,

    because of – the deluge of misleading propaganda, the public are in

    general quite sceptical.

  14. Report this comment

    Patrick said:

    Re Nigel Lawson’ book:

    I wonder has the author read the book or just the reviews? The main drift is :

    1. Some warming is happening (0.6 Degrees C over last century)

    2. On balance he accepts that some of the rise could be due to AGW (but points out that the science is not settled – whether it is settled or not is a subjective view admittedly)

    3. Accepting that it is getting warmer the cost-benefit analysis for action (including carbon credits/alternative energy etc.) is not justified on an investment return basis. He is particularly critical of both assumptions and conclusions of the Sterne Report.

    It is really on Point 3 that Lawson expands most and is far more qualified to give judgement and opinion than a scientist in the Met Office. Also as there are lifestyle, political and economic ramifications for ordinary people is it right in a democratic society that such an economic course of action is mandated without debate? It may not please political environmentalists but if you believe in democracy then doing nothing should be an option.

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