Against Nature – Channel 4 tonight

March 8th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, climate change | 130 Comments »

So as I’m sure most of you know, tonight there is a documentary about how we don’t need to worry about global warming.

www.channel4.com/science/microsites/G/great_global_warming_swindle/index.html

Whatever your feelings about climate change, there are good reasons to to have serious concerns about the film:

It’s made by Martin Durkin. In 1997 he made a series called Against Nature for Channel 4. It targeted environmentalists, and presented them as ‘the new enemy of science’ and comparable to the Nazis. They were responsible for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World.

As well as the normal objections to the content that you might have expected – and fair enough to have your opinion – there were much more serious problems. Channel Four eventually had to broadcast a prime-time apology. The Independent Television Commission ruled: “Comparison of the unedited and edited transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with [the environmentalists who contributed] had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them… as to the format, subject matter and purpose of these programs.” Etc.

Now, it seems slightly odd to me to get the same bloke to make the same documentary after that’s happened, whatever your feelings on global warming and mankind’s role in it, but there you go.

To me this is about trust. As a viewer I can account for bias, but not out and out misrepresentation.

Incidentally, in general, I don’t cover green stuff in the column, for two reasons:

1. Lots of other people write about it, whereas – especially when I started 4 years ago – nobody was writing about the stuff I write about. And…

2. I tend to do things where people have simply and unambiguously got a piece of science completely wrong, and this tends not to be the issue in green issues, it tends to be more about how you synthesise thousands of little bits of evidence, which is fun for a book, but gives no sting for a column other than “I reckon”, which is exactly the kind of journalism I try to avoid writing.

So, well, if there’s anything totally bonkersly wrong in this, do please let me know. My guess, before it goes out, is that the program will be some political rhetoric about the economic dangers of implementing measures to restrict carbon dioxide emmissions, and the rumour is it might also feature a one-sided view of the “hockey stick controversy”?

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_stick_controversy

I would imagine that few counterveiling views will have wished to participate, because of the the obvious problems with Durkin.

EDIT

So after watching it, I’m just left wishing I could have seen a documentary on a similar subject made by someone I could actually trust, because it’s obviously a really interesting area. The only figure who was on where I had prior knowledge was Piers Corbyn. The program said his predictions on the weather are consistently more accurate than the Met office. As far as I know, from reading around him a year or so ago, this is entirely incorrect, but I would welcome evidence to the contrary. Oh, and Nigel Calder is introduced as the ex-editor of New Scientist (he’s 75, and edited new scientist briefly between the ages of 31 and 35, shortly after its launch).

In the end it’s just frustrating. A program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject is interesting and valuable; a program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject by someone with a proven track record of misrepresentation is not, especially when a lay person – which is what I effectively am for this subject – can already spot what seems to be one howler – Corbyn’s record – at first sight.

I am approaching this entirely as a punter. Call it an experiment: I’ve specifically not double checked all the facts in the documentary. It’s an unnerving feeling, the fear of being misled and in the dark, either by this program, or what went before, I don’t get that feeling often enough, and I’m going to embrace and enjoy it, so I can empathise more with “the publics”, as they call it in thinktank world.

I would absolutely love to see a documentary on similar material by someone I could trust.


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130 Responses



  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 8, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Thanks for following this up, Ben. If people want to know what to expect, Yahoo News has a “story” (ie press release) about the docco here.

  2. Gimpy said,

    March 8, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Ahem. Regarding “Against Nature” and Martin Durkin, the most cursory of google searches will reveal links with a certain Frank Furedi and the former mouthpiece of the RCP Living Marxism magazine (now spiked-online). I have posted previously in the forums on the entryist agenda of former Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) members. This bunch of nutters are getting heavily involved in or even creating pro-science organisations to push their agenda. I have made the point that respectable scientists by unwittingly associating with this bunch risk sacrificing their reputations as independent commentators. Anyway, this is slightly off topic and I do apologise.

  3. sim said,

    March 8, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    It’s interesting that the two main (pseudo)scientists on the programme will be Professor Paul Reiter whose Annapolis Centre for Science-Based Public Policy has received $763,500 in funding from ExxonMobil to play down the human contribution to global warming, and Professor Ian Clark whose Fraser Institute has received $120,000 from ExxonMobil.

  4. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 8, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    so no conflict of interest, then

  5. le canard noir said,

    March 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    The green organisations, like greenpeace, have to shoulder some blame here for abandoning good stands on evidence and science. Far too often single issues are campaigned on and nothing gets in the way of their message. It allows the green message to be easily discredited by those that have agendas in conflict with the truth.

    The badscience in such organisations is difficult to challenge without being seen as an enemy of all that is green and good.

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    i think that’s right, last week’s gm story is a perfect example, and there are plenty plenty more where that came from. gmfreecymru are now convinced that i am a 4 wheel drive owner. (quite funny, they sent me an example of a monsanto person in a local rag saying something stupid and i said “that’s great” (as in “for the column” (albeit well obscure)) and they replied “ooooohhhhh well you think thats GREAT do you well i think we all know where you’re coming from”… or words to that effect..)

  7. le canard noir said,

    March 8, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Yes, global warming is full of uncertainties and doubt – just like any important environmental issue. The Greenpeace’s of this world have a bit problem with dealing with shades of grey and so allow the deniers huge room for manoeuvre.

  8. askakeyboardninja said,

    March 8, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    not seen the prog most are hatchet jobs devised to entertain than inform but that said global warming is about as likley as Nessie being towed up the Thames by a UFO driven by Elvis…if you slightly skeptical read the following

    www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/…4/09/do0907.xml

    www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008597

    www.denverpost.com/harsanyi/ci_3899807

    i wont bother to argue with those on here who still believe we’re doomed dispite reading the above…but before you do just remember the bit about the worlds leading scientisits who said we were heading for an ice age in the 1970’s and called for the worlds leaders to warm up the planet or else….wow good job we ignored them or we’d be baked to a crisp today

    right back to the day job…

  9. askakeyboardninja said,

    March 8, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    apologies telegraph link above is dead now

  10. Gimpy said,

    March 8, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    I think there is a danger of environmental groups coalescing around terms such as Green to form a rigid ideology. This may result in a situation like that in American politics where the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have come to mean a certain stance on a wide range of issue which are connected only in ideological terms. I believe we are already starting to see signs of that where any criticism of the green movement and other causes such as vaccines, vitamins, etc is branded as pro-industry and used as a means of discrediting a argument.

  11. Despard said,

    March 8, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    asakeyboardninja,

    I’m not sure if you are aware of the processes used in science, but one of the key ideas is updating your models due to new data. Who cares what people were saying in the 70s? There’s a hell of a lot of research that has gone on between now and then.

    The whole point of science is to constantly refine your models by incorporating new information about the world. No matter how beautiful or elegant a theory, if it disagrees with experiment it is *wrong* (as Richard Feynman used to say). That’s the only way we can do it – make a model based on our understanding at the time, and then change it as we get more data.

    Global warming deniers are like creationists who already have a model firmly in mind and attempt to make the data fit the model rather than the converse. It’s depressing, irritating and a complete waste of time!

  12. gruff said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    @ askakeyboardninja

    What do you mean you won’t bother to argue? Three newspaper comment pieces, at least two of them from right-wing, pro-business newspapers (I have no idea about the Denver Post, mind), and the debate, for you, is over?

    What are all those climate scientists doing in those interminable IPCC meetings, if not debating the issue to death, looking at every line of evidence, and trying to find an acceptable consensus view? It’s very easy to be a sceptic – simply write 600 words for a sympathetic newspaper and the only review you’ll get is a spell check from a subeditor; building scientific consensus takes a lot more time and work.

    4th IPCC report summary for policymakers: ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/WG1AR4_SPM_Approved_05Feb.pdf

  13. LovePanda said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    Global warming not likely?!? But the atmosphere isn’t the same temperature as space… something must be… er… warming it… and then something else must be keeping that heat in…

    I do agree that green groups can be a bit too on message but its mainly cos they are getting good at using the press and if you mess around with the message too much then it stops getting press.

    Damn media…

  14. doogyrev said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    “You can prove anything with facts” It is almost unbearable to watch, completely biased – only rubbishing other scientific evidence without giving ‘reason’ – I’m astounded CH4 would let this out the door. I wouldn’t mind if there were balanced views and a sober look at the evidence, but it’s just hyped bollocks. Must have been a media studies student on work experience letting it through. Wonder if the ITC will have another go … Tell me how it ends, are we going to melt or not…I’m switching over to watch Spurs give Braga a drubbing (and that’s a fact.)

  15. Kurmudge said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    This site, which is supposed to be dedicated to good science, is gettin g way too many people who have special interests of their own. Why is someone who has a view not in step with conventional wisdom- like, say, Galileo did- automatically discounted? For example, Sim says that anyone whose larger organization, think tank, whatever, ever got a nickel from the ExxonMobil foundation is fatally compromised. Why can’t the science stand on its own? If there is a flaw in the methodology, point it out- don’t fall back on crap like “Well, he gets his money from Big Oil so he’s a liar.” Big Pharma says that the nutritionist pseudoscience gang is a bunch of frauds- so does Goldacre. Does that make Goldacre a paid shill for Big Pharma? After all, they buy ads in his newspaper.

    The hockey stick issue has been settled pretty well, so much so that the actual IPCC has changed its position- not necessarily the policy-makers whose frankly self-interested political bunk of a summary generally is not supported by its own report. the hockey stick’s desperate defenders can’t trash Wegman’s analysis, so they say that Joe Barton requested the analysis, it must be wrong. Grow up, folks. Science stands on its own. Whenever you see that ad hominem stuff you know that there are real data, so they get personal and try guilt-by-association. Michael Mann is just as suspect because his fame, ego, and research funding all depend on preserving his hockey stick error.

    Have things warmed up in general over the last 400 years as Mann, et al say that have? Sure- and no one disagrees, not one expert and qualified scientist, such as Tol or Lindzen, who is today trashed as a “denier” for daring to point out errors in the politically-driven conventional wisdom. They deny nothing about global warming except the idea that we know the cause for certain and that we need to Do Something Now or the world will end tomorrow.

    Four hundred or so years ago there was a global temp dip, pretty well documented. I can easily predict that April will be warmer than January. The problem is that Mann & co. tried to ignore the Medieval Warm period a thousand years ago, fior which we simply do not have good data. And they got called on it.

    Gruff, I challenge you to stop pushing the policymaker summary, which was not written by scientists, and read the actual IPCC report.

    Crichton was right- we are losing science to politics.

  16. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Glad to see you have drawn attention to this one, Ben.

    My 2p on this, though I’m sure none of it will be news to most badscience readers – this is mainly for the benefit of askakeyboardninja:

    lurkinggherkin.livejournal.com/30254.html#cutid1

    lurkinggherkin.livejournal.com/31570.html#cutid1

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    i’m not making any comment on the science in this program, and for a very good reason indeed: the man who made it has a lengthy track record of making bollocks programs, and is not credible.

    for example, we’ve just been told as fact that piers corbyn has consistently produced more accurate results than other weather forecasters. that is bollocks. this is not my field, and even i know that to be total bollocks. and that was a fact, and there aren’t many of those, most of it is boring political stuff about how people have vested interests.

    can i assume that the rest of the facts are as bollocks as that one? are the people who he claims them to be? apparently at least one of them isn’t so far, and this is as the program is transmitted, not with massive research. again,
    if the program was made by somebody reputable, then i would be watching with genuine interest, but this is a program made by someone with a proven history of talking bollocks, and is therefore a waste of my time.

    www.monbiot.com/archives/2000/03/16/modified-truth/

    fun commentary here btw

    www.ukweatherworld.co.uk/forum/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=10167&posts=71&start=1

  18. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    holy crap, is martin durkin’s documentary seriously talking about poor standards in journalism? this is beyond a joke.

  19. doogyrev said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    From the channel that brings you big brother… to stir up a hornet in Ofcom’s nest:
    www.ofcom.org.uk/complain/progs/specific/

  20. Azimov said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Watched part of the program, science ‘facts’ are used only to prove political points. They criticise the computer modelling software for being wrong/inaccurate in its predictions. This is true but for the opposite reason they site. There argument is that variables being put in are incorrect and there are too few of them. The actual reason is that computational power just isn’t enough to calculate the variability as there is:

    a) insufficient data as we have no way of telling if records of hundreds of years ago are accurate and within a given area and

    B) The number of possible outcomes based on the data, with error ranges.

    For this reason Oxford university/BBC have a mass model calculation using a program that was used for the human genome project. I think, with some research, their claims about the computer modelling could be called bad computer science as they made a lot of leaps to say the least.

    The programme, however good or bad the science is, is clearly politically motivated.I don’t think the science needs to be argued as the scientist said, getting a cup of coffee “Look modern technology powered by carbon emissions” after arguing that the Scientists conducting experiments that show global warming have preconceptions about the results.

    I think this is another example of the American “Liberal media” argument.

  21. doogyrev said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I’ve just complained – remember it doesn’t take many to make an impact:

    Address Channel 4 Enquiries, PO Box 1058, Belfast, BT1 9DU
    Website www.channel4.com/contact_us.html#viewerenqs
    Email viewerenquiries@channel4.co.uk
    Phone 0845 076 0191

  22. cheradenine said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    So, watching it as a “neutral”, I see important looking people come on and say stuff like

    * The world is heating up, BUT
    * In pretty strong terms, there is no correlation between CO2 and world temperature. In fact, the data shows CO2 actually trails the temperature rise, not the other way around.

    Now, either that’s true or it isn’t, surely?

    I have to say, seeing people rushing off to complain rather makes me feel more inclined that he has a point. It maddens me the amount of ‘playing the man, not the ball’ that goes on in this subject.

  23. dolfinack said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Quite surprised to see this here, Ben.

    Sorry lads. I disagree with you all (well most of you). OK the prog might have been made by some tit. It might have had some spin against political influence. But hey, it all seemed pretty commonsensical to me. I actually thought it was a good piece of work. Me thinks your scepticism for, well, everything under the sun (larf) has gone a step to far.

    I mean, its pretty hard to argue against “Human CO2 emissions form a teeny percentage of greenhouse gases” and “cyclical changes going back for donkeys”. Also the correlation to solar activity is kinda in-your-face-hard-to-ignore. When was the last time any of you peeps had a wee ice-skate on the Thames?

    Come on boys give it a wee chance now. These are good scientists doing good work. Their list of credentials was enough to blow your pants off, and none of them seemed too hyped up, they were all pretty solid in their arguments.

    As for complaining to Channel 4 and OFCOM…. put your toys back in the pram, its nearly the weekend.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    hey, i’m on no side, i’m not complaining. to me this is literally just a trust issue.

    i’d really love to see a good, complex, detailed documentary on this subject, but not from someone who has a proven track record of misleading. i watch this effectively as a lay person too, knowing only about durkin’s dismal track record, and the only expert and fact i had prior knowledge on – corbyn – the claims made for him were false.

    www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.02/howgood.html

    i say transgressive things in the media myself, lots of people do. readers and viewers might expect a slant (i’d hope not but there it is) but they certainly expect true facts. without those the whole business of discussion and debate descends into farce.

  25. banshee said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Shame on all of you1

    After all the ad hominem comments targetted at Ben and others to find the Bad Science blog is awash with them is, frankly, despicable and shocking.

    Bottom line: show me the TV programme that actually presents the data without trying to score points.

    BTW unless you have read Lomborg’s book you are really going to find it difficult going arguing this – the best environmental book written with the issues and evidence concisely presented and fully referenced.

    So stop arsing around with the propaganda and read the facts.

    And, boy, did Lomborg undergo some ad hominem attacks from the environmental activists!

    ATB

  26. JammyB said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Hello, I’ve read this site on and off but never felt like posting before. I’m really surprised about this post. It’s fair enough to criticise the programme for inaccurately reporting people’s credentials, but almost everything written here is leaning dangerously close to a giant ad hom in my opinion. I don’t care how much they got paid by the oil barrens, or what terrible lies they have told in the past – I want to see the science being discussed without this distortion.

    I would genuinely like to know what the pro-human-centric global warming people have to say to the programme’s claim that the models do not take the sun into account. This has been my understanding of the models too, and I cannot see anyone disputing this pretty fundamental point at the moment. I have been informed by a PhD friend that it is because the sun is “too complicated” to model and so disregarded. Bad science?

  27. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    “almost everything written here is leaning dangerously close to a giant ad hom in my opinion. I don’t care how much they got paid by the oil barrens, or what terrible lies they have told in the past”

    i would never say anything much about who is funded by who, that is irrelevant ad hominem. i dont think anyones mentioned who’s paid by the oil barrons, i don’t care about that.

    “terrible lies in the past”, as you say, are a very different matter.

    as i said, i would love to see a program on this subject, explaining the same ideas.

    my point is, and i cannot state it any more clearly than this:

    a program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject is interesting and valuable; a program presenting a challenging view on a complex and controversial subject by someone with a proven track record of misrepresentation is not.

  28. motmot said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    dolfinack, volcanoes (for example) contribute ~150 million tonnes CO2 per year. Humans contribute ~22 billion. Changes in solar irradiation account for a bit of observed warming, sure – but not the majority! And weather is not climate – which is why ill-defined local cooling of Western Europe is not evidence that the global warming of the last fifty years is not human-induced. For informed discussion on this, see www.realclimate.org, which is run by publishing climatologists (some involved as IPCC editors).

  29. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    A little ad hom seasoning is fine when you’ve got some meat in your argument to sprinkle it on……don’t ignore the meat!

    JammyB, whilst it is true that earlier climate models did not account for solar variability, I’m led to believe that more recent models have taken this into account.

    May I suggest you read this:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variability#Solar_variation_in_climate_models

    and

    stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/DamonLaut2004.pdf

  30. cheradenine said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Isn’t the central theme that all current hypotheses assume, without question, that CO2 is driving climate change, and that there simply isn’t any evidence for this – viz the historical CO2 record *following* the temperature change rather than leading it?

    That said, the CO2 volcanos/man looks clearly wrong, so who can say!

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    i reject the suggestion that this is ad hominem. with regard to someone’s reliability on the facts, their previous unreliability is entirely relevant. irrelevant ad hominem would be “he’s an oil company shill” or “his bum smells of poo”.

    i’m approaching this entirely as a punter. call it an experiment: i’m specifically not going to go and double check all the facts in it. it’s a really unnerving feeling, the fear of being misled and in the dark, and i’m going to embrace and enjoy it, so i can empathise more with “the publics”, as they call it in thinktank world.

    i would dearly love to see a documentary on similar material by someone i felt i could trust, it’s a really interesting field.

  32. lugless said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:07 am

    I’m lucky enough to have think about some of the issues raised in this programme all day. While I won’t comment directly on the science (as said before, the real science stands or falls on its merits), I do have a comment about the quality of journalism in the doucumentary.

    For example, Prof. Carl Wunsch, one of the contributors to the film, is a respected oceanographer of many years standing. He is just the kind of climate change skeptic that we need. He argues, rationally, and often rather sucessfully, that the Earth system is highly uncertain and difficult to predict. He does happen to dislike a certain theory about possible catastrophic changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation – *and talks about this almost exclusively in the film*.

    He barely mentions human-induced global warming – he’s interested in ocean currents, uncertainty and complexity in systems.

    But, lumped in with some of the more ‘exotic’ opinions, he comes across as a supporter of the ‘swindle’ theory. I’d dearly love to know what it was they asked him.

  33. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:53 am

    Anyone who thinks this programme was just a harmless piece of irrelevant misrepresentative bollocks is almost right. But maybe not so harmless:

    uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AixclXDDr2OBBs0saQW54s4GBgx.?qid=20070308141332AAvUPS2

    Out of 49 responses at time of posting this link I counted 3 that actually questioned the programme. The other 46 were all chanting the mantra of ‘global warming is a government swindle to raise more taxes’.

    Maybe it is worth complaining to Ofcom. 30,000 complaints about Big Brother and the government sits up and takes notice.

  34. ianwoolley said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:35 am

    reading through the thread the main thrust seems to be one of trust (ought we to trust this documentary maker with such a hideous record?). Another word for trust is faith. Well, for such an exemplary locus of anti-faith, this recourse to ‘trust’ as a measure of scientific worth is massively disappointing.

  35. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:55 am

    I’m idly considering writing in to say I decided not to watch the programme, partly because the guy who made it is a confessed cheat.

    Television is his career and it would be unfair to deny him partial rehabilitation forever, but can’t he make Pingu or something…

  36. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:57 am

    ianwoolley,

    Presumably, then, you will only accept as true a scientific theory that you have personally experimentally verified, since you make no such recourse to trust?

  37. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:01 am

    Ben seems to have formed his view of Durkin from Monbiot’s article. But the actual ITC report is far less damning.

    www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/itc_publications/complaints_reports/programme_complaints/show_complaint.asp-prog_complaint_id=40.html

    Durkin duped some greens into saying things, and perhaps put his own slant on them. That’s no biggie, and it happens all the time. George has made many gaffes without the help of Durkin, the RCP, or ExxonMobil, and he, like Durkin, is a polemicist… Scratching at the eyes of detractors is all part of the job, as is making exaggerated claims about the significance and evidence of one’s own perspective. Monbiot argues that flying across the Atlantic is the moral equivalent of child abuse, for example. We don’t need independent complaints commissions to see through that.

    Durkin clearly does have an agenda, but the film made no secret that this was very much a polemic made by a very controversial producer – it billed it as such. I think Ben is also wrong to complain about not being able to trust Durkin. Let’s not pretend we trust polemicists for our view of the world in the way we imagine TV nutritionists are trusted for their run-of-the-mill advice about how to manage basic human function. It’s fair enough to attack both the man – probably – and the message, and certainly the science, but let’s not overstate the role of trust in polemic film making…

    I didn’t watch Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine” because I trust Moore, I watched it because it was a perspective on an event, and made some very good arguments as to what might be going on… (Sadly F911 didn’t). Similarly, I did not watch “The Corporation” because I trusted the producers, but because I *knew* I wouldn’t agree with it, and I wanted to have an understanding of the arguments being made. Trust has little to do with it… I like to think that I’m an intelligent enough person to work out when a film is a polemic, rather than a “peer-reviewed scientific article” and I trust that most other adults actually are too. I certainly do not turn on my TV set, and expect it to excrete truth. Very few people are going to swallow this film whole – certainly not those who weren’t already convinced, and those who might be swayed probably aren’t going to be so by virtue of overstatements made by Durkin.

    Whatever our perspective on AGW, we have to be grateful that there are polemicists challenging received wisdom. If we can’t trust Durkin for “the truth”, we can at least trust him to make a film which will create the opportunity to explore the shortcomings of both sides of an intensely political debate – the science of which is far from settled.

  38. jackpt said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:30 am

    I don’t see what it being a polemic or documentary has to do with it. Both can be abused. If it is dubious, or as some may say, Bad Science, then we’re just exploring the shortcomings and using the opportunity to say so. Adding to the intensely political debate as it were. So we’re helping the debate by complaining about the programme, and if people want to make a fuss ditto.

  39. Gimpy said,

    March 9, 2007 at 8:05 am

    “I like to think that I’m an intelligent enough person to work out when a film is a polemic, rather than a “peer-reviewed scientific article” and I trust that most other adults actually are too.”
    I hate to tell you this but most adults are not. You are assuming that adults are by definition intelligent and educated enough to understand the phillosophy of science and how politics distorts views. If intelligence has a gaussian distribution then half of all adults are of average or lower intelligence. How many of the half who are of average or higher intelligence do you think have an understanding of the phillosophy of science?
    I hate to sound like a snob and a elitist but a large majority of people in this country simply do not understand scientific method.

  40. KP said,

    March 9, 2007 at 8:10 am

    Interesting EssTee, since the report you link to says:

    “Comparison of the unedited and edited interview transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with these four contributors had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them, when it originally sought their involvement, as to the format, subject matter and purpose of the programmes. No mention had been made of the critical position the programmes intended to adopt, for example in correspondence.”

    and Ben says:
    “The Independent Television Commission ruled: “Comparison of the unedited and edited transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with [the environmentalists who contributed] had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them… as to the format, subject matter and purpose of these programs.””

    In what sense has he over-damned Durkin?

  41. JunkkMale said,

    March 9, 2007 at 8:36 am

    I’m going to break a firmly held principle and comment on something I have not… yet… seen. Again.

    In a certain irony, last night as I expounded to a group at Aston Science Park on how we can harness consumer power to effect positive environmental behavior changes through incentive and reward, my twins had decided that some Japanese cartoon was a better bet on Sky than what I had programmed to record. Let’s hope I am as successful in helping save the planet as the spiky doe-eyed dude and his posse of mutant mates.

    What struck me at the event was the enthusiasm of all those present for tangible DOING, as opposed to endless debate on esoteric issues, jockeying to be smarter and righter. And while these were folk from the SME’s prepared to stay from early to late evening, I hope it would not be unfair to say many present were representative of the average, working, Previa and not Prius person general public.

    So I wonder what they would have made of this? Doubtless there will be great debate in the eco-media, including such as the Indy and Guardian (no chance to scope the onlines yet, and BBC Breakfast doesn’t seem concerned), but I’m pretty sure it will all pass last night’s group by. Unless an editor scents some headlines from contention, and blows it up for a quick ratings fix. Unlikely with X Factor looking like it was rigged.

    A lot of my audience confessed to be dubious about what I was pitching as all they knew beforehand was that I was what Jeremy Clarkson has dubbed a ‘mentalist. I am glad to say I left with some converts inspired.

    And here is my main point. We still very much seem to be in a ‘media rules of engagement-controlled’ era of green being only viewed in black and white.

    In the dark green corner are ‘activists’, empowered eco Nazi book-authors, Al Gore, IPCC scientists, certain government ministers (even a newly converted, if confusingly mixed message PM)… and a largely compliant ‘left’ media ready to publish or broadcast relatively unchallenged global warming propaganda.

    In the black gold corner are ‘deniers’, empowered ex eco fascist traitor book-authors, a few government ministers (at least out loud, including a confusingly mixed word vs. deed PM)… and a largely compliant ‘right’ media ready to publish or broadcast relatively unchallenged big-oil lobby-funded propaganda.

    And all this lot have very lucrative careers already, and ahead, exchanging artillery exchanges of claim and counter claim, accusation and counter accusation at each other. Facts go out the window, as for every one pro, there are a score cons. And one Prof’s howler is another think-tank PhD’s thesis.

    Meanwhile, sod all seems to get done.

    And stuck in no person’s land, I believe, are the vast majority of folk like those I was with last night, keen to understand the issues and act rationally on them based on halfway decent information and reasoned debate with some objective outcomes.

    To me the issue is simple. In ten years time, if one set are right, we can all breathe easier and a few folk are a bit red faced. The down side is that some economically driven development may not take place and… if you subscribe to the views of such as Mr. Durkin or Bjorn Lomborg, there will be serious consequences to the state of health and lives in the Third World.

    If the other set are right, breathing at all may be a tad tricky in some parts, and faces will possibly be redder still, now for exterior reasons as well. Those in the Third World, if they are around, may find the rest of us have our own issues to worry about.

    So which side should we err on? I’m voting caution. Especially when there are quite a few credible science guys around who seem to be getting us to quite high percent levels of probability. I’m prepared to move before we are 100% sure global warming WAS catastrophic.

    I’ll need to dig it from my blog verbatim, but a long time ago I read a good analogy. If you are in a plane full of journalists and aero engineers flying across the Atlantic, and a problem with its structure is raised, do you side with the majority of them who think it best to turn back to check, or do you go with the journalists sitting with the guys in Club class who are just getting comfy, and would prefer to stay on course in case it’s nothing?

    It would be wrong to say I don’t care about these esoteric debates, but I find them essentially irrelevant. Natural or man made, serious or not, I simply believe that, for the sake of my kids’ kids, every effort needs to be made to reduce pollution and waste and improve efficiencies. Plus match this all with a reasoned downturn in our aspirations and demands for expansion of consumption as they may be leading us on a downward spiral.

    And one thing is key. What I call the EnviROI – the return on investment has to help the planet recover, and not just be to sell books, get ratings, secure salaries, careers or pensions, meet targets or make those who think they are more worthy feel warm and fuzzy. So I have all sorts of doubts that get me offside with a lot of folk. I’m not sure about wind turbines. I think the Government has totally screwed up road pricing, which is necessary but I petitioned against on their terms, And anything with the words ‘carbon’ and ‘trading’ bring me out in cold sweat as all I see is vast hordes of even richer City folk going with Guardian journalists and Mr. Miliband to meet other green elites in Bali to discuss it all.

    Sadly, like you Ben, in trying to arrive at conclusions, information I can trust is in short supply, and looks like remaining so for a while.

    And from the evidence of this blog (with a few notable, and noble opinions and links, for which I am grateful – though oddly the follow up posts by those who saw the show almost all left me none the wiser to those preceding it), I guess I, and most of the population will need to hunker down in our bunkers a while longer as those who claim know better than us argue over who is right.

    Me, I’ll just get back to my shed and keep on doing anything I can to improve matters.

  42. Martin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 8:38 am

    #13

    Be careful with your terminology – the earth being warmer than surrounding space is the “greenhouse effect”. “Global warming” is the earth getting progressively warmer, year on year. The greenhouse effect is self-evident, global warming is what’s being debated.

    My understanding is that the earth is currently in an ice age (permanent polar ice caps), and is not the warmest it’s ever been. What is happening is that the poles are getting warmer more quickly than at any time during the last ice age. The global atmosphere also has a higher percentage of CO2 than at any time during the last ice age. These may be linked.

    The computer models of climate change simply cannot cope with the complexity – the multitude of positive and negative feedback loops (eg, melting polar ice caps causes a rise in sea levels which turns swamps into seas, thereby removing a lot of grass (CO2 absorbers) but also generating an increased sea surface area (increased algae – very efficient CO2 absorbers). Therefore, the models introduce simplifications, which allow opposition groups to rubbish them.

    And that’s not even getting into the whole Fundamentalist “God made the world, nothing we can do can destroy it” vibe.

  43. quark said,

    March 9, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I found the programme quite infuriating. A lot of the scientific content was pretty poor (e.g. confusing climate with weather, claiming that as we’re basically made out CO2 it can’t be bad, saying CO2 can’t have an impact because its concentration is low). I was also pretty annoyed by the way they showed the temperature curves, always zooming in from the top right corner and showing the graph at an angle, thereby giving the impression that temperatures have not really risen much. Not sure where they got their temperature curves from, but they didn’t seem to be one for average global temperatures.

    What I found most infuriating however, was the use of so-called experts with non-existing university affiliations. For example, Philip Stott is not a professor at the “Department of Biogeography ” at the “University of London”. No such department exists. He used to be a professor at the Geography Department at SOAS (an institution better know for its cultural studies than climate change research).

    Equally, Tim Bell can’t be affiliated with the “Department of Climatology” at the University of Winnipeg, because this department does not exist, nor does he work at the University of Winnipeg. Apparently, he left in 1996 to become a consultant.

  44. Dr Madvibe said,

    March 9, 2007 at 9:55 am

    “I like to think that I’m an intelligent enough person to work out when a film is a polemic, rather than a “peer-reviewed scientific article” and I trust that most other adults actually are too.” – EssTee

    I hate to tell you this but most adults are not. – Gimpy

    I’m afraid Gimpy is right here. I like to think I’m fairly intelligent in a basic common sense kind of level, but I’m not a scientist and neither are the vast majority of the population.

    If an “ordinary” person sat down to watch this, they would see a decently constructed programme which pulled in lots of “academics” and “experts” from around the globe casting aspersions about global warming. Why wouldn’t they believe what they are told, ot at least question the generally accepted view?

    If it were not for the fact that the Guardian TV Guide highlighted the programme makers previous misdemeanors, perhaps I would be also be confused. Luckily/unfortunately, I am blessed with a healthy scepticism and sites like this help my uninformed thinking.

    Keep it up.

    BTW cheradenine pointed out that the basic premise of the programme was that CO2 is following global warming not causing it. The graphs indicated an 800 year time lag. No one has answered the question “Now, either that’s true or it isn’t, surely?” Us ordinary layabouts … er … I mean laypersons would liek to know.

  45. Tony Jackson said,

    March 9, 2007 at 10:25 am

    I saw about half of it. Wasn’t impressed. As I recall on his web site, Philip Stott claims to use postmodernism to defeat global warming (LOL). It’s funny how you always see the same limited number of faces in these denier programmes. That alone tells you something about the relative level of support they must have.

    On the other hand, I must admit that the image of the earnest speaker on the stage of an anti-GW demo screaming into her microphone with God knows what powerful speakers and lights blaring away and telling everybody to “switch something off!” was beyond satire.

  46. Suw said,

    March 9, 2007 at 10:30 am

    You know, I think it’s a sad day when, as at least one commenter has said, if you disagree with the human-centric view of climate change you must be an ExxonMobile supporter. Isn’t that the kind of bollocks we criticised Bush for? “If you’re not with me, you’re with the terrorists.” If people want to paint me as some sort of evil ‘denialist’ because I view all climate change arguments with skepticism, then fine. So be it. It’s just a shame to see it happening here.

    The problem in my view is that neither side are innocent here, neither side tells the whole truth, neither side is apolitical. But there was as far as I could see enough truth in last night’s documentary for it to be worth critical examination rather than outright dismissal. The sunspot data was compelling when it was first published, and still is. The temperature record, which shows that we have been both significantly warmer and colder over the last few thousand years I also have problems questioning. There’s no doubt grapes used to be grown here, and quite far north too. There’s also no doubt that the Thames used to freeze thick enough to have ‘frost fairs’ held on it.

    Does this mean that the rest of the graphs they put up were true? Well, it does lend credence to it, but I’d have to go away and look at the papers to be sure.

    What isn’t proved is that the whole think is bunkum. Sorry, that’s a step too far – “I don’t like you so I don’t like your views” is sloppy thinking. It’s the sort of thinking that the people we usually don’t like use. Sure, it’d be nice if someone beyond reproach made a documentary on climate change, but they didn’t. Doesn’t mean we can simply tar all the evidence presented with the same brush as the presenter.

    I watched last night’s documentary expecting it to be crap, but to be honest, it just reminded me of a lot of stuff we covered in my geology degree at uni and stuff I’ve read in the science press since. But really, the problem I see here is not so much with the science, it’s with the nasty PR tactics being used all the time, particularly by the pro-human-centric lobby who’ve in my view have done irreparable damage to scientific debate by demonising anyone who doesn’t agree with them, painting them as equivalent to holocaust or AIDS denialists. It’s the intimidation, the dirty tricks, political wrangling that makes me sick.

    Should we look after the planet and stop polluting it? Yes, but you don’t need to believe in climate change to believe that. Should we help the developing country embrace technology without repeating our environmentally appalling mistakes? Yes, absolutely. Should we prevent the developing world from generating power using coal, gas or oil? Frankly, I think that would be irresponsible and equivalent to genocide. Is the developing world being prevented from developing because of the human-centric climate change lobby? No idea.

    I don’t think anyone should complain about this programme unless you have actual proof that they have lied or acted in an otherwise inappropriate way. Simply not liking the guy who made it, or disagreeing with his conclusions is hardly worthy of an OFCOM complaint.

  47. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Dr Madvibe –

    “BTW cheradenine pointed out that the basic premise of the programme was that CO2 is following global warming not causing it. The graphs indicated an 800 year time lag. No one has answered the question “Now, either that’s true or it isn’t, surely?””

    Yes, it is true – an 800 year lag is evident in the ice core data. However, it is over-simplifying to immediately conclude that this means CO2 rise is purely an effect and not a cause, because feedback mechanisms are involved.

    May I suggest you read the following:

    lurkinggherkin.livejournal.com/31570.html#cutid1

    www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=13

  48. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 11:10 am

    It’s been commented here that people opposed to the ‘global warming denial industry’ (and I’m sorry, but ‘industry’ is the best way to describe it) tend to get too heated in their arguments, they resort to ad hominem and they want to silence their critics and deny them a voice. They are also accused of politicising the issue and being too ‘on message’.

    To an extent, these are fair comments and there are those who are as dogmatic in their adherence to the AGW hypothesis (without necessarily understanding the actual science) as their counterparts on the other side of the argument.

    However, firstly, it should be noted that those who reject AGW are, in general, no less dogmatic, emotive and ‘on message’ as those who accept AGW. In my time on various message boards on the ‘net, I have encountered individuals who would post various supposed ‘debunkings’ of global warming that contained information that was outdated or simply factually incorrect – in a quite indisputable way. I would point them in the direction of more up-to-date sources or set them straight about scientific misconceptions where it was within my capacity to do so (I have a degree in Physics and a Masters in Computer Science).

    Later on, I would encounter the same individuals elsewhere, on other message boards, and they would be posting the same incorrect stuff that I had corrected them on.

    Another strategy they would frequently employ in a debate is ‘arguing the point from both sides’. First of all – Global Warming Isn’t Happening – look here’s my proof it isn’t happening! When their ‘proof’ failed to stand up to scrutiny, they changed their position – Global Warming Is Happening – isn’t it great!? They would then argue that GW was a Good Thing. Then you’d find them on another board arguing from the first position again, having disregarded the failure of their argument the first time around. I believe that one could describe this behaviour as ‘Dogmatic’ and ‘On Message’.

    Secondly, when you strip away all the politicised, dogmatic hot air, you’re left with the actual science, performed by actual climatologists, that overwhelmingly lends support to the AGW hypothesis. Climatologists may disagree about the degree of warming that will be finally achieved, or whether the thermohaline circulation is going to shut down or not, or how catastrophically the Greenland ice sheet is going to melt, but you will have to search long and hard to find an actual climatologist (as opposed to, say, someone working as a consultant to the coal industry) who does not agree with AGW.

    From New Scientist #2486, p43:

    ‘As science historian Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego wrote in Science late last year (vol 306, p1686):

    “Politicians, economists, journalists and others may have an impression of confusion, disagrement or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.”

    Her review of all 928 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 showed the consensus to be real and near universal.’

  49. quark said,

    March 9, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I agree with Lurkinggherkin on this.

    Suw – don’t forget that this was not a simply a programme trying to find evidence against the view that humans cause global warming – it was a programme trying to make viewers believe that global warming is a great “swindel”. To me, this accuses climatologists of deliberately trying to deceive the public. Indeed, “nasty PR tactics”, but employed by the programme makers and not the main-stream scientists!

    Doesn’t it make sense to investigate if the “experts” presenting their views on the programme really are university-affiliated, independent scientists? If they e.g. received funding from Exxon, this would constitute a conflict of interest and should be declared in the programme.

  50. Gimpy said,

    March 9, 2007 at 11:52 am

    “Doesn’t it make sense to investigate if the “experts” presenting their views on the programme really are university-affiliated, independent scientists?”
    Personally I feel this kind of badscience is worse than that peddled by the likes of McKeith. At worse Mckeith et al., will only result in the death of a few people from blue-green algae poisoning whereas at worst the climate change deniers will result in a massive disruption to civilisation and the death of millions, if not billions, through starvation. I should make it absolutely clear these are worst case scenarios and I’m not suggesting that non-independent scientists will result in the end of humanity.

  51. standing_here said,

    March 9, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Re: the thames freezing.

    Whilst lower temperatures were no doubt involved in causing the thames to freeze, it’s not quite as simple as it might first appear. During the era of the frost fairs, the olod london bridge was still in place over the thames, and the embanking of the thames had not begun. The bridge had a large number of supports and arches, which slowed down the currents of the water passing underneath, thereby allowing the thames to freeze more easily. Likewise, the embanking made it harder for the thames to freeze.

  52. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Gimpy says: “I hate to tell you this but most adults are not. [intelligent enough to have watched the film and made their own mind up about it]”

    But if people really are as stupid as Gimpy takes them for, then he ought to relax; there are far more pro AGW documentaries being made… But I don’t think I’ve seen Gimpy worry about the lack of scientific rigour applied in those programs, perhaps he thinks it’s okay to lie, just so long as it’s a ‘good’ lie? He’s appointed himself the position of some kind of judge of what people are capable of, and censor, yet he talks of shadowy trotskyite cults which -get this – are in league with trans-national mega business(?!!). All this gives a lot of weight to Durkin’s argument, unfortunately. It’s clearly Gimpy who has the low estimation of what people are worth, and an interest in perpetuating the idea that people are too supid to engage with the debate about their own future… So much for “trust” then. Who needs misanthropic conspiracy theories when the popular view seems to hold that people are stupid? And what value is “truth” when only a self-appointed elite are capable of determining it?

  53. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 9, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    i just think it’s a shame docu’s should have to be “pro” or “anti” from unreliable narrators. pro or anti from reliable narrators would be a cracking good start.

  54. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    “pro or anti from reliable narrators would be a cracking good start.”

    Anyone who is “anti” is goign to be smeared by the “pro” camp. And probably vice versa.

    Look at the comments made by various people here about any of the contributors. Before the film was aired, there were already arguments being made about the objectivity and moral character of these people. That was rather Durkin’s point – anyone expressing an opinion which is critical of the AGW hypothesis is immediately the oil industry’s bitch. There is no such thing as a “reliable” polemic – it makes too many people angry, and people begin the rumour machine. Try it yourself, if you havn’t already.

  55. Gimpy said,

    March 9, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Wow EssTee I don’t know whether to be flattered or appalled at your rant. It’s also rather personal which I find strange because all you know about me is that I’m a few hundred letters on a screen. I’ve not even stated whether I’m a she or a he so its rather presumptive of you to assume either.
    I have not criticised the science involved in this or other global warming documentaries because it is not my field of expertise.
    The involvement of ex-RCPers and LM writers in Durkin’s previous programme is a matter of public record.
    I did not make any accusation of”trotskyite cults ……………in league with trans-national mega business”.
    My comments on half the population of being of average or below average intelligence is simply a factual statement.
    I stand by my comment that the majority of the population who are of average or above average intelligence do not understand scientific method.
    I have never argued that “people are too stupid to engage with the debate about their own future”. I would argue that the level of scientific education in the general population is worringly low and to properly debate science we need to ensure that the general public understand a lot more about the phillosophy of science and scientific method than they do right now.
    I have not proposed any “misanthropic conspiracy theories”.
    I don’t understand your statement on truth. Are you saying that truth is a democratic concept?

  56. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    “I would argue that the level of scientific education in the general population is worringly low and to properly debate science we need to ensure that the general public understand a lot more about the phillosophy of science and scientific method than they do right now.”

    Then why don’t you start by getting familiar with the science before all this talk of conspiracies to pervert science on TV? What seems to be concerning you is “who do I trust”. So far we’ve learned that you don’t trust the general public, and you don’t trust the film-makers, and you have gone on at length about the political associations of both, both here and on the forum site, as though it were important. Perhaps if you were more interested in the science, you wouldn’t be so anxious about not trusting anyone, and would be less concerned about conspiracies. Obviously, this has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with politics and agendas – as though environmentalism wasn’t a political agenda.

  57. Big Al said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    I’m an AGW agnostic. Yes, I believe the climate is currently warming up. However, I have trouble being convinced that human activities are behind it, and that it will potentially continue to warm up if we don’t do something. There are those who would brand me as some sort of fascist for this, but I didn’t think science was some religion where faith was required. What’s wrong with saying what I truly believe? If I’m wrong, and the evidence is so clear-cut, don’t just berate me – convince me!

    I’m open-minded enough to give clearly-reasoned arguments fair consideration – my (lack of) belief here stems from ignorance, not from knowledge, and I don’t have a religious position to defend to my last breath.

    I’ve seen a couple of “warmest winter / given month since…” entries recently in the papers. However, if I remember rightly, the “sinces” were 1873 and 1906. What made the winters or relevant months so mild then?

    I watched the first half-hour of the documentary last night, and I knew at least some of it was true, and undeniably so. It’s been both hotter and colder than this before, and there have been higher CO2 concentrations in the geological past. I’ll suspend judgment on the programme until I’ve watched the rest of it, Like others here, I’d rather hear rebuttals applied to the director’s scientific claims, not to his character. If the evidence is so good and he’s just being a wrong-headed fool or liar, I would have thought that would be easy to do.

    So what are you better-educated guys waiting for? Educate me!

  58. Gimpy said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    My general point throughout has been that anybody promoting science in public should be open and honest about their affiliations, political associations or conflicts of interest to avoid discreditation by association.

    Why should I trust anybody who is dishonest?

    The only time I have talked of conspiracies is to make clear that I do not think there are any.

  59. CaptainHaddock said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    I dearly wish I had watched the programme last night, but I generally avoid programmes like this as they tend to irritate me (Why can’t they go for more than five minutes without recapping what they just said!).

    My Mum and Dad did watch it though, and we quite convinced.

    I am in no way an expert in the area, but a geography degree a few years ago gave me a passing acquaintence with the science (I am sure things have moved on since then) and the uncertainites involved etc. I have been trying to convince them for ages that it is not nonsence and that it should be taken seriously by everyone.

    The problem is that for most people, this is a scary concept, and one that in the lack of any actual government action or advice that can be trusted, leaves people unsure what to do, and certain it won’t be easy if they try.

    So when they hear that the UK only makes 2% of CO2 emissions, or that it is all a conspiracy started by Margaret Thatcher (is that what it said last night?) it is much easier to listen to, and fits with their experience of scientific warnings. The main problem is that governments, the media and campaign groups all misuse scientific information, leaving people unable to trust anything.

    When your own parents would rather believe the television than their daughter where do you go? If I try to explain it I am usually regarded as either going off on an annoying rant, or rather cutely getting myself all worked up about things that shouldn’t concern me.

    I agree with Ben, I would really like to see a programme examine issues like this properly, by someone we can trust (Has Sir Attenborough got time?) as there are certainly funding and PR issues that might be obscuring good arguments.

  60. Geckko said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    This is my first visit here and I must admit my initial impressions have left my high expectations sadly dashed.

    What is “bad science” Ben? Could it encompass an attitude where information is filtered before even cursor investigation by applying the “well, I have reasons not to trust/believe/rate person XYZ”?

    I feel my own persoal reaction more closely resembled “good science”. I knew before viewing that the tile was clearly inflammatory (media attention grabber) and that the material and POV would be clearly “left field” but watched openly nonetheless.

    Has it overturned current thinking on the issue? Hardly.

    Did I learn some things that I have not found comunicated in any other mass media (including your own columns)? Yes.

    Has it inspired me to learn more and understand what, if anything, presented in this program is supportable by evidence or fact and what is not? Yes.

    Your response seems to have been the opposite to mine in almost every respect Ben. I am comfortable with my concepts of “good” versus “bad” science. Could you (in the true scientific method) probe and test your own?

  61. JunkkMale said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    QED.

    Just back from my shed. Cripes.

    At least a very few have tried to see a middle ground, work within it and understand it enough to work out a positive solution.

    But as to the rest…. ‘ding’… Round [pick a number]!

    Shame.

    junkk.blogspot.com/2007/02/this-is-very-likely-one-of-more.html

    junkk.blogspot.com/2007/02/can-we-now-move-on-clearly.html

    junkk.blogspot.com/2007/02/10-years-and-human-race-is-screwed-but.html

  62. KJ said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    I’m not going to take sides on this argument, partly because I don’t know enough but mainly because the arguments are (seem to me to be) less about science than personalities.

    I am uncertain, partly because I do a lot of mathematical modelling and am aware of their uncertainties and the GIGO effect, but mainly because the arguments are (seem to me to be) less about science than personalities; a lack of clear, cool statements of facts and reasoning.

    It is not feasible for me to go back to the raw science in a field other than my own; I can (and occasionally, accidentally, do) convince others of fallacious arguments in my own field – I am sure others can do the same to me. Of necessity, when assessing arguments in fields other than my own, I do take into account peoples history, reputation etc., consistency with relevant science that I do know, and their argument style. It’s not rigorous, but I take ad-hominem or otherwise clearly fallacious argument as an indication of weakness in the substance of the argument.

    Enough of the appeal for coolness. Now an appeal for clarification. This relates to two issues where oft-repeated statements conflict , in my simple mind, with basic science. I was prompted to make this post by Martin in #42, but these ideas are promulgated widely, I’m not picking on him (honest!).

    Martin said “(eg, melting polar ice caps causes a rise in sea levels which turns swamps into seas, thereby removing a lot of grass (CO2 absorbers) but also generating an increased sea surface area (increased algae – very efficient CO2 absorbers)”

    1) I thought the arctic cap was floating, so that its melting would cause no (zero, absolutely none) change in sea levels (Archimedes principle).

    2) I thought plants (grass and algae) liberated exactly as much CO2 on death and decay as they absorbed during growth; over their lifecycle they had no (zero, absolutely none) net effect on CO2 levels.

    Who’s wrong, me or people who say arctic melting will cause flooding, and planting trees will slow CO2 increase (over longish time scales)?

    Explanations as well as opinions would be appreciated!

    Thanks in advance

  63. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 9, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    gecko: if you can’t cope with an informal blog post saying “there’s something on tonight by someone with a track record of inaccuracy, and even before i start researching it properly, i can see holes” then you should perhaps only read the paper, where you get the finished product.

  64. Squander Two said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    As I understand it, William Hill have banned Piers Corbyn from betting on the weather. They don’t ban punters who lose.

    Here’s a piece about some of the new research mentioned in the program. The important thing to note about it is that, because the mechanism discovered is completely new — it’s not just a tweak to existing theories — every single climate model prior to October 06 ignored what is now known to be a significant influence on climate. Given that, I think it would be rash to put much faith in any of them. It would also be one hell of a gamble to assume that no more such discoveries are going to be made in the next few years or decades, rendering current models obsolete.

    Of course, models can be accurate when they’re based on dodgy science — the ancient Greeks made superbly accurate astronomical models based on the rigid faith that all planets had to move in perfect circles. But planetary movements are, in human timescales, pretty much unchanging. I think climate’s too complex to be predicted long-term using incomplete knowledge.

    Dr Madvibe,

    > If an “ordinary” person sat down to watch this, they would see a decently constructed programme which pulled in lots of “academics” and “experts” from around the globe casting aspersions about global warming. Why wouldn’t they believe what they are told, ot at least question the generally accepted view?

    If that’s true, then wouldn’t an ordinary layperson tend to believe the thousands of claims that they’re exposed to every day that global warming is anthropogenic and not the handful of competing claims presented in just one program?

    Lurkinggherkin,

    > an 800 year lag is evident in the ice core data. However, it is over-simplifying to immediately conclude that this means CO2 rise is purely an effect and not a cause, because feedback mechanisms are involved.

    With so many incompletely understood feedback mechanisms involved, it is also over-simplifying to conclude that the CO2 rise is purely a cause and not an effect, or pretty much anything else, from the data. That was probably my main criticism of the program’s science, actually: they’re right to suggest that the time-lag throws doubt onto the CO2-causes-warming theory — and very right to criticise Gore for telling people that the curves correlate without telling people which is following which — but then I thought they made much the same sort of mistake by being so keen to leap to the conclusion that the opposite must be true.

    > Another strategy they would frequently employ in a debate is ‘arguing the point from both sides’. First of all – Global Warming Isn’t Happening – look here’s my proof it isn’t happening! When their ‘proof’ failed to stand up to scrutiny, they changed their position – Global Warming Is Happening – isn’t it great!?

    Personally, I think it’s happening and is probably not caused by humans, but I also regard the debate as essentially academic. Let’s say that man is to blame and that it needs to be stopped. My argument with the environmentalists is their bedrock belief that Socialism is the answer. I thought this argument was settled in 1990. I went to Eastern Europe a few months after the Iron Curtain came down and saw what had happened to the environment there. The best way to achieve environmentalist targets is to make people wealthy enough that they give a damn.

    CaptainHaddock,

    > someone we can trust (Has Sir Attenborough got time?)

    Much as I love Attenborough, he’s quite candid about the fact that his job is that of a television presenter, not a scientist, and that what he presents in his programs is mainly other people’s knowledge. In other words, he’s as trustworthy as the scientists he talks to. Nowt wrong with that.

  65. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Gimpy said:

    “My general point throughout has been that anybody promoting science in public should be open and honest about their affiliations, political associations or conflicts of interest to avoid discreditation by association.”

    Go on then. Tell us everyone you’ve ever had dinner with, everyone you’ve ever been paid by, and every debate you’ve ever been to.

    “The only time I have talked of conspiracies is to make clear that I do not think there are any.”

    Academics and controversial film makers associate with thousands of people a year, and are invited to talk, write, comment upon, and contribute to hundreds of publications, think tanks, organisations, debates, books, etc etc etc. It shouldn’t suprise you that people with similar views on a subject have shared platforms with each other, and occasionally get together. It’s called politics and democracy. If any commentator was forced to declare all these “interests”, there would never be any time for discussion. You are outlining a conspiracy in your arguments here, and on the BS forum, you’re just claiming that you’re not calling it such. A conspiracy in all but name, then.

  66. malcolm said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Re:64 “The best way to achieve environmentalist targets is to make people wealthy enough that they give a damn.”

    Can’t see this myself – wouldn’t the wealthy use their wealth to protect themselves from the effects of climate change while leaving the poor to suffer – Bangladesh going underwater etc. – the rich never got rich by looking after the poor, or the planet!

    On a broader front, I’d argue that market solutions to warming, such as CO2 trading are a good example of “problems will not be solved by the thinking that created them”

  67. simongates said,

    March 9, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    #65. Hang on a minute, the research referred to is a lab experiment. It just isn’t justified to say this mechanism is “now known to be a significant influence on climate.” That’s the same error as Patrick Holford is making when he claims that vitamin C is better than AZT for treating HIV on the basis of experiments done in dishes in a lab.

  68. CaptainHaddock said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    RE: #66 Is that a little negative – not all people are arseholes.
    I think the point he was making was more about the fact that people with limited money have limited ability to react to, or influence issues like that. Therefore to give people power, you must also give them money.

  69. manigen said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    @ 63 – good questions KJ. I’m sure Martin won’t hold it against you.

    I’m a physicist, and not one with much background in climate study, but these are my answers:

    1)Quite right. Any free-floating ice that melts won’t change the sea levels. I would expect it to affect salinity, since the ice in the arctic has fewer salts in it than the ice in the liquid bits of the ocean, but not sea levels. However, that isn’t all the ice. The Antarctic, for example, contains huge amounts of ice that is currently sitting on the land. If that melts, it will affect sea levels. The same goes for Greenland.

    2)That’s true too. Provided the amount and type of biomass stays constant, so does the carbon it imprisons (assuming that there isn’t a mechanism for keeping the carbon locked up after death; such as it all getting turned into oil deposits). But chaning the enviroment so that new species predominate and the overall levels of biomass change – that could change CO2 levels.

  70. malcolm said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    re: 68 “I think the point he was making was more about the fact that people with limited money have limited ability to react to, or influence issues like that. Therefore to give people power, you must also give them money.”

    OK – but there are only two ways of doing that – giving them some of ours (Socialism!) or through economic growth (part of the problem). The masses of China could become wealthy enough to care about global warming, but only by contributing a hell of a lot to the problem (accepting the AGW hypothesis) in the meantime.

  71. manigen said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Just because I am a physicist, that doesn’t mean I can spell physicist

  72. Geckko said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Ben,

    Informal comments reveal a great deal about attitude and approach. My disappointment was that supported your stand against “Dr” McKeith” and felt you were a strong defendent of the ethos of scientific method. Sorry if I offended you in expressing my disappointment.

    And thanks for your quotes. However, this is the one I thought was more illustrative:

    “So after watching it, I’m just left wishing I could have seen a documentary on a similar subject made by someone I could actually trust”

    Since when in any field of science (and no, I’m not equating an OpEd polemic as science) does it matter who communicates the information?

    Even if this program proves to be a misrepresentation of baseless claims produced by an ethically compromised propagandist, isn’t it our responsibility to retain the scientific high ground and address the content no matter how distasteful we find the messenger?

    Anyway, sorry if I caused offense, I didn’t mean to.

  73. Squander Two said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    malcolm,

    > Can’t see this myself – wouldn’t the wealthy use their wealth to protect themselves from the effects of climate change while leaving the poor to suffer

    Who do you think it is campaigning against carbon emmissions right now? Bangladeshi subsistence farmers? It’s the well-off middle classes of the developed world.

  74. jackpt said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Even if this program proves to be a misrepresentation of baseless claims produced by an ethically compromised propagandist, isn’t it our responsibility to retain the scientific high ground and address the content no matter how distasteful we find the messenger?

    In the absence of subject specific knowledge it is not unreasonable to rely upon someone’s reputation as an indicator of trust.

    A site that does a good job on the issue, and appears to be balanced is Real Climate. They address much that was brought up in the show, although prior to its transmission. Maybe they’re psychic.

  75. malcolm said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Squander

    “Who do you think it is campaigning against carbon emmissions right now? Bangladeshi subsistence farmers? It’s the well-off middle classes of the developed world.”

    Maybe a small eco-friendly subset of the middle classes, but not the seriously wealthy, and not to the point where many of us reduce our carbon footprint significantly. The main problem for me is on the solutions proposed such as carbon trading – a market based non-solution to a market-created problem.

    You can campaign all you like, but until we reduce our energy consumption and stop campaigning against road-pricing, nothing will happen. There is a conflict between AGW and the growth based economic model we are pursuing, and you can’t square the circle.

  76. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Squander Two @ 64,

    The ‘completeness of understanding’ argument that you cite is a valid concern and probably the only counter to AGW that carries any weight as a general principle.

    However, we don’t completely understand anything. The issue is, do we understand a phenomenon well enough to say ‘If you do A, then B will almost certainly happen’. Consider the Theory of Relativity. There have been recent proposals that it should be modified – the neutrino, which should be a massless particle in theory, has a small mass which can be explained by introducing a small directional assymetry in space. This is at odds with the principle of equivalence of reference frames because the laws of physics will appear to be slightly different depending on your direction of motion. But this does not mean that we throw Relativity out as a theory and declare it worthless! The unmodified ToR still gives excellent results for most practical purposes.

    I could cite other examples but you get the picture.

    So, the question is, do we understand global warming well enough to say ‘If you do A then B will almost certainly happen’? Climatologists do not claim to understand every single mechanism in climate, but clearly they believe that they have pinned down most of the major influences. Climate models have been produced that already give good agreement with observed temperature variation, particularly when the mean of several models is taken.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_climate_model#Accuracy_of_models_that_predict_global_warming

    So along comes this new kid on the block, Cosmoclimatology. It’s tentative, unproven and subject to a certain amount of skepticism within the scientific community as most new ideas usually are.

    www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/cosmoclimatology-tired-old-arguments-in-new-clothes/#more-412

    Maybe when more work has been done its effects will be more quantifiable and accepted as part of future climate models. But will it blow the old models out of the water? The ones that already seem to give good results? Or will, like the small spatial assymetry modification proposed for the ToR, it simply add a little more accuracy to the picture without radically changing the results?

    Those who are pinning their hopes on cosmoclimatology to wreck the existing AGW models might get their wish, but not in the way they hoped for. Inclusion of the cosmic ray effect in future climate models may lead to even worse predictions of warming.

    I would also like to take issue with the commonly received wisdom of how its adoption of Socialism as a political and economic system led to the collapse of the USSR (Though I am politically neutral, I hasten to add – political ideas should be tools to solve problems, not belief systems). From the end of the second world war, the USSR engaged in an arms race with the west which crippled its social and economic growth far more than its chosen political system. The population and resources of Russia and its satellite states could not match those of the west and so by trying to keep up they stunted the growth of their own infrastructure. Yes, they did make some barmy economic decisions as well, but then the westernised capitalist world economy hasn’t always had a smooth ride either.

  77. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    @74 : If we can say that oil capitalists have an interest in the anti-AGW hypothhesis, then we can say that Realclimate are not “balanced” – they all have an interest in the AGW hypothesis. Their careers depend on it creating the need for climate models.

  78. Squander Two said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    malcolm,

    > OK – but there are only two ways of doing that – giving them some of ours (Socialism!) …

    No, that’s charity. Charity and Socialism are not the same thing.

    > … or through economic growth (part of the problem). The masses of China could become wealthy enough to care about global warming, but only by contributing a hell of a lot to the problem (accepting the AGW hypothesis) in the meantime.

    So you’d rather keep them poor for the sake of the environment?

    CaptainHaddock,

    > I think the point he was making was more about the fact that people with limited money have limited ability to react to, or influence issues like that. Therefore to give people power, you must also give them money.

    Thank you, but no, that’s not my point. The fact is that poor people don’t care about the environment. Environmental concerns, like many political concerns, are a luxury that people indulge in when they’ve got spare time and disposable income. People who have to work their arses off in paddy fields to avoid dying do not care about which types of gases are in aerosols.

  79. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    PS – sorry for wandering off-topic there…..got a bit carried away!

  80. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    “There is a conflict between AGW and the growth based economic model we are pursuing, and you can’t square the circle.”

    Doesn’t this lend Durkin’s argument a great deal of credibility? You’re advancing an anticapitalist agenda here, not a scientific theory. By all means make anticapitalist arguments, but don’t pretend that anticapitalism has a sound scientific basis.

  81. malcolm said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    “Doesn’t this lend Durkin’s argument a great deal of credibility? You’re advancing an anticapitalist agenda here, not a scientific theory. By all means make anticapitalist arguments, but don’t pretend that anticapitalism has a sound scientific basis.”

    EssTee

    It has a sound systems dynamics basis – it’s called Limits to Growth. Depends if you think systems dynamics is a science.

  82. wewillfixit said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    esSTee – SWITCH OFF THE COMPUTER. You know you don’t want to be here…..

  83. Gimpy said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    EssTee in response to your previous rant at me regarding scientists needing to be open and honest about their affiliations, etc and your comment 76. The folk at realclimate.org do just that. It lends them credibility and makes one inclined to trust them.

  84. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    And, Gimpy, if you go and have a look, you’ll find various of the contributors to the program nailing their political colours to the mast… you yourself say this is a matter of public record. All it shows, though, is that you’re making your decisions about which science to trust based on your own political agenda, not the science.

  85. malcolm said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    “So you’d rather keep them poor for the sake of the environment?”

    No, but I’d rather people were honest about the implications of our economic model. Personally, I’d rather the earth’s resources were shared equitably and the environment protected, but it’s not going to happen in my lifetime (I’m over halfway through it at least).

  86. CaptainHaddock said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    RE #78

    Squander 2

    Do you really think that poor people have no thoughts about politics or the environment?

    If I worked in a paddy field in Bangladesh I might not have a great deal of time or interest in understand or campaigning about environmental issues, but I would be bloody worried about the suggestion that sea levels are going to rise!

  87. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    “If I worked in a paddy field in Bangladesh I might not have a great deal of time or interest in understand or campaigning about environmental issues, but I would be bloody worried about the suggestion that sea levels are going to rise! ”

    I’d be thinking “if only I could make more money, I wouldn’t be stuck in this field, or I could buy a machine to do it for me”.

  88. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    agreed. i did think it was a shame that they spent so long banging on about thatcher and conspiracies of funding that they didn;t have time to sit down and address the extremely urgent question of what to do about the developing world and climate change. whatever causes it, you definitely want to be rich when the climate changes.

  89. Wonko said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Robert Pirsig famously destroyed scientists’ claims that science is “value neutral” by asking whether it is moral for a scientist to fake his/her data? Fortunately, in practice, very few scientists do this (although there are some famous exceptions). For the rest it is a question of trying to make the best sense of often incomplete and conflicting data. Kept within the rarified world of scientific journals we can have a civilised debate about the science. The problems come when the public (who ultimately pay scientists wages) demand to know what the science tells us – will the Earth be incinerated if I keep driving my 4×4? Will my child get autism if it is vaccinated with MMR? Will granny die from taking aspirin?

    At that point we get the media’s desire to mix fact with entertainment. And the fact is that one Andrew Wakefield or David Healy is hugely more entertaining (white knight takes on medical establishment, etc) than all the considered and balanced scientists taken together. So we end up unable to trust documentaries. And for those who lack the time (and the subscription fees) to read scientific journals, this does, indeed, make the world an unnerving place to live in.

    So maybe there is a role for Media Studies after all, because – boil down the three years of study, and what you learn might be summarised as: don’t believe everything that people tell you!

  90. Martin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    My (very) rough calculations on sea level rise – based on the Wikipedia data for the quantity of ice in the Antarctic polar ice cap and the surface area of the earth – show a rise in sea level of between 54m and 76m.

    I’m not sure about rich, but I definately want a place in the Pennines.

  91. EssTee said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I think you wanted a different program, Ben. “What am I going to do” is not a scientific question. And you’ve got a few thousand years before you need to buy up mountain property, even if things get really bad.

    If there are going to be problems for people living near sea, and migration is going to be “a problem” for us, perhaps we ought to sort out the far more pressing problem that the nasty immigration policies this country has causes for people. “Let the flood gates open”, etc.

  92. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    i would have wanted a number of different programs and you’re right, my strongest feeling about this prog was that it was a missed opportunity in the name of sensationalism. “what’s the role of solar activity and CO2 on climate?” would be one interesting program. “what are we going to do about the developing world given that climate change is happening?” would be another.

  93. Squander Two said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    CaptainHaddock,

    > Do you really think that poor people have no thoughts about politics or the environment?

    No, I think they have different priorities. Local councillors in Aberdeen don’t tend to campaign much for the abolition of slavery. That doesn’t mean that they have no opinion about slavery.

    Poor people living subsistence existences think about the environment a lot, but not in terms familiar to us. They think “How can I get enough food out of this environment to survive?”

    Ben,

    > i did think it was a shame that they spent so long banging on about thatcher and conspiracies of funding that they didn;t have time to sit down and address the extremely urgent question of what to do about the developing world and climate change.

    To be fair, I thought they did both.

  94. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    @90

    Antartica is unlikely to melt entirely. It’s bloody cold down there. Average temp around -37 celsius.

    Greenland is another story.

    Sea levels will also rise due to thermal expansion of the oceans.

    science.howstuffworks.com/question473.htm

  95. jackpt said,

    March 9, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Missed opportunity in the name of sensationalism – how can you say that about Channel 4? ;).

  96. apothecary said,

    March 9, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    This has been a fascinating read. Although I think I’m reasonably scientifically literate, climate change is a topic about which I have no specialist knowledge whatsoever. So the issue of trust (or faith, as ianwoolley at 34 put it) is key.

    I need to trust that the presenter of a programme, or the writer of a book or whatever will present a fair representation of the argument and the state of scientific knowledge. If it were about something I do know something about, say the MMR debate, I would expect the maker to say something along the lines of “Andrew Wakefield raised concerns in a case series, but there were flaws with this and case studies are hypothesis generating, subsequent studies have shown no link and the vast majority of informed opinion is that the link does not exist”. I would not trust the Daily Mail to provide me with an accurate and fair representation of the evidence.

    Someone with a track record like Mr Durkin may be doing just that, but it is also possible – perhaps more likely – that his programme was partial. The problem is, I’m not able to judge.

    Similarly with climate scientists. It’s true that a scientist sponsored by someone with a vested interest in denying a link between human activity and climate change may do good science. To make an analogy, I know that Pharma-sponsored research can be extremely high quality and an all round Good Thing. But I also know (refs available) that pharma-sponsored trials are more likely to be positive about their products, and unfavourable trials are less likely to be published – though some are. And every so often we get a Vioxx event, where important but unfavourable info was (allegedly) actively suppressed. I still value pharma-sponsored research, but I try to look for the (inevitable) biases (inevitable because we’re all biased to some extent). I can do that if I know about the subject, but it’s much harder if I don’t – so back to the issue of trust.

    So – if human activity is causing global warming and we do nowt about it, we’re all in deep poo-poo, to the extent that would make even TAPL cry “enough!”. If it is not, are we really going to miss out on that much by limiting CO2 etc emissions unnecessarily? As far as I can see (and again this is a matter of trust in what people are telling me) economists seem to say no, overall.

    Weighing up the risks and benefits, it seems to me that we’re better off being cautious.

  97. Ambrielle said,

    March 9, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Wow, contentious issue today, huh?

    My two cents worth: I don’t think it’s an issue that global warming was occurring, but I thought the real issues are, 1) whether it is accelerating compared to the past, 2) whether human activities where contributing to the acceleration, and 3) whether this is a real issue in terms of human survival.
    I have no very strong feelings either way… but I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and think that we should do something about energy consumption, efficiency of usage, CO2 emmission and waste etc.

    Saying that, Ben is absolutely right to point out the track record of the director of this programme. He has shown himself to be ‘creative’ with editing and disclosure of intent. How do we know he is not doing the same this time, especially with such an obvious political message? I would dearly love to compare the unedited versions of the interviews, with the finished programme.
    If what some other people have commented on is true (ie. non-existent affiliations – in order to convince the audience of trustworthiness and expert opinion?), then surely we have the right to question the rest of the content of the programme?

    I am going to watch this programme with er… a handful of salt.

  98. Squander Two said,

    March 9, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Lurkinggherkin,

    Sorry; I missed your comment earlier.

    > Climatologists do not claim to understand every single mechanism in climate, but clearly they believe that they have pinned down most of the major influences.

    This is immaterial, really. Even if they understand every physical mechanism perfectly, there’s still a huge problem with collecting data to plug the initial conditions into the models in the first place. We know that the models tend to exhibit rapid divergence from similar states, which has serious implications for any gaps in the data. And there are massive gaps in the data, because you can’t take accurate temperature readings at fifty-mile intervals at five different altitudes through the Brazilian rainforest every week.

    > Climate models have been produced that already give good agreement with observed temperature variation, particularly when the mean of several models is taken.

    Over short periods, yes. When dealing with a model of a system that is probably chaotic — when dealing with a system, in fact, where we don’t even know whether it’s chaotic — one cannot safely assume that accurate predictions over ten years necessarily imply predictive accuracy over twenty years.

    > Those who are pinning their hopes on cosmoclimatology to wreck the existing AGW models might get their wish, but not in the way they hoped for. Inclusion of the cosmic ray effect in future climate models may lead to even worse predictions of warming.

    Absolutely, yes; I said as much when the research first gained attention. I have a problem with the reliance on and faith in computer models based on, in my opinion, far too ilttle data — whatever those models predict.

    > From the end of the second world war, the USSR engaged in an arms race with the west which crippled its social and economic growth far more than its chosen political system.

    Yes, and the West were engaged in the same arms race. The difference was that the West could afford it.

    In case you’re interested, the Stealth Bomber was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Its existence was unveiled with perfect timing: just as the USSR finished building, at vast expense, the world’s largest ever full-coverage radar network, the US unveiled a bomber the detection of which would require about three times as many radars.

    Off for the weekend. Bye.

  99. jessina said,

    March 9, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    I am doing Geography A-level, and as part of the course I study glaciation. In my glaciation text book, there is an entire chapter on climate change – and not one mention of any anthroprogenic factor. Milankovitch’s Orbital Forcing theory (the changes in the Earth’s Orbit correlate with episodes of cooling and heating for the earth) provides one explanation for non-human warming, and by studying the ratios of oxygen istopes present in ice-core samples – some of which stretch back to 200,000 years, you can see how the Earth has warmed over time. At one point, well before any humans were present, the earth warmed by 7 degrees celsius in a century…I

    have to say that since starting studying Glaciation I am far more sceptical about antropogenic global warming than I was before. That being said, there is nothing to lose by cutting emissions and reducing pollution. Another point is that the medieval warm period had warmer temperatures than today – check the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report for confirmation.

  100. jackpt said,

    March 9, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    This is immaterial, really. Even if they understand every physical mechanism perfectly, there’s still a huge problem with collecting data to plug the initial conditions into the models in the first place. We know that the models tend to exhibit rapid divergence from similar states, which has serious implications for any gaps in the data. And there are massive gaps in the data, because you can’t take accurate temperature readings at fifty-mile intervals at five different altitudes through the Brazilian rainforest every week.

    I don’t understand. If climate change models exhibit rapid divergence from similar states, then they must be sensitive to the initial conditions, which should mean that any two data sets that have different chronological bounds would have no congruence.

    In which case I’d expect only models based on the same data to agree. Is that true?

  101. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 9, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    shallow comment long overdue….

    Durkins dodgy documentary on Channel 4? Crikes

    Just think what ‘Tonite with Trevor McDonut’ would have done with it.

    Shudder…

  102. gruff said,

    March 9, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    #99

    It is true that temperatures were higher in the last interglacial, thought to be in large part due to the change in the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit around the sun (a more circular orbit means warmer winters and less ice, leading to a change to the earth’s albedo, etc). But, as far as we can tell from ice core records, at most atmospheric CO2 levels reached 280 parts per million (ppm) during the last few interglacials, and the variation was slow and cyclical. At present, CO2 is over 380 ppm, and apparently rising, and that change was initiated in the 18th century. It’s that rapid perturbation to the climate system that has people worried. And we are in a glacial period right now, not an interglacial.

    And as for the Medieval Warm Period, a huge part of the controversy surrounding Mann et al.’s results was that his error bars for 1000-1600 AD were unrealistically small. Now that the data have been re-evaluated more rigorously by the National Academy in the US, we know the uncertainties are very large, so we can’t say with any great confidence what the temperature was like then. But they do say it it is likely that the temperature in the MWP was not higher than today.

    This is a good intro to ice core records:
    www.geo.oregonstate.edu/people/faculty/publications/brooke/Brook_TinyBubbles.pdf

    Here are the National Academy findings:
    dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/Surface_Temps_final.pdf

  103. Tom Whipple said,

    March 9, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    With respect to Piers Corbyn, here is my own humble hatchet job on the man – his predictions didn’t seem terribly effective to me, and it strikes me that – irrespective of the other arguments – if you have to rely on someone like him then something is going wrong.

    media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/story/0,,1990182,00.html

  104. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 9, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I gather the problem with sea ice melting and/or floating away and sea level is its position in the cycle – snow falls on Greenland/Antarctica -> piles up on land -> slips off into the sea -> floats, melts, icebergs etc. the floating ice itself displaces its own mass of water, so sea level doesn’t rise when it melts, but does rise when more ice plops in off the land.

    In summary – the ice caps melt, sea level rises.

  105. imagineyoung said,

    March 9, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/earticle/2948/

  106. Gimpy said,

    March 10, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Well the spiked article is a bit of a puff piece and doesn’t address the issues of Against Natureor for the matter the Thursdays programme. Their defence of the LM “contributors” presented in Against Nature is slightly disingenuous as John Gillott and Frank Furedi more than just contributors to LM. Also, they were presented as independent experts when Furedi is a sociologist specialising in the “nanny state” and Gillott is a mathematician with a laymans interest in genetics, hardly the kind of people to present opinions on climate change. Many of the comments above have identified contributors to Thursdays programme also lacking expertise in climate change.
    Having said all that the spiked article does make a good point about the difficulty in debating environmental issues and the luddite attitudes of a lot of greens. But counteracting these attitudes shouldn’t be by selective editing and presenting non-experts as experts.

  107. banshee said,

    March 10, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Just finished reading all the contributions since i posted a while ago – thanks to everyone for contributing.

    i still think Ben (and others) are wrong to use the ad hominem arguments and the fact that someone has been scensured before is hardly a sound basis for censuring (or should that be censoring) them again. View their comment with skeptiscism certainly, question their contribution.

    Couple of thoughts – I recommended Lomborgs book a few posts ago and although he is vilified by what Junkkmale called the dark green corner (#41) – his book covers a great many environmental issues but one of his fundamental points is that generally things are getting better. Another is that dealing with C02 emissions is not a zero sum game and will cost significant resources which could be spent usefully elsewhere – such as helping the poor to adapt to climate change in the way richer communities have been able to do for many problems (eradicating malaria in Britain for example) or teh provision of health care, anitation and clean drinking water for the world’s poorest communities.
    Lomborg’s book is one of (I admit it) few I’ve read but is outstanding in lacking the polemic seen in other’s books and being utterly comprehensive, fully referenced and gives a lot of background to the political processes that have led to the current scenarios from the IPCC – all of which are subject to the difficulties of data sets that are incomplete, incompatible in some regards and models which will be unable to demonstrate their accuracy until a few centuries have passed – which will be way too late. (#98, 99 102).

    My understanding is that emissions control may make a difference – but even the much trumpeted Kyoto treaty (accoridng to the models) if fully implemented by everyone only would have delayed warming by a few years (similar global temprature rise by 2100 rather than 2096). If we believe that global warming is anthropogenic and we must control it as soon as possible then we need some massive leaps in either the technology and resources around energy use and generation or we drastically change our modern industrial societies and freeze frame the rest of the world in poverty.

    My personal take as an interested scientist but essentially a lay person in climatography:

    is global warming happening? Highly probably.

    Is it anthropogenic? Probably an important but not sole factor.

    What can we do about it? Requires extensive and sensible debate. The precautionary principle fails utterly here…..

    Final thought – if nothing else read Lomborgs book – whatever your views it is good science all the way through.

    Cheers

    b

  108. jessina said,

    March 10, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    102 – Thanks for the info, I will show it to my sceptical Geography teacher who still asserts that the majority of scientific opinion only believes that Global warming is partly caused by CO2 emissions.

  109. JQH said,

    March 10, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    They made the claim that limiting human industrial CO2 emissions would prevent economic growth in Africa and illustrated the point by showing a woman cooking over an open fire that filled her one room house with smoke. Of course, if villages like this were on an electrcity distribution grid, there’s no reason why the electricity couldn’t be generated by nuclear power rather than fossil fuels; so you can limit CO2 emissions at the same time as having economic growth.

    They also made the point that sun and wind power are unreliable. This may be true in Central Africa for all I know but I do know that there is plenty of continuous sunshine during the South African summer and you can power considerably more than a transistor radio from it.

  110. EssTee said,

    March 10, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    “Of course, if villages like this were on an electrcity distribution grid, there’s no reason why the electricity couldn’t be generated by nuclear power rather than fossil fuels;”

    Standing in the way of that idea – which I think is a good one – is the environmentalist preoccupations with “sustainability”, the “precautionary principle” (outlined by various of the previous contributors) and “risk”, and of course, fears about nuclear proliferation.

    Instead of campaigning for the industrialisation, NGOs and environmental pressure groups foist the idea that the developing world ought to limit its expectations. So we get “hand pumps and goats for Africa”, not “atomic power for all”. These groups are large, and powerful, and have hundereds of millions of dollars with which to advance their agenda in the third world, are a powerful lobbying force at the UN, and have the ear of development politicians in the EU – who use this kind of foreign policy to demonstrate their “ethical” credentials. The kind of policy that we get then, is less about creating momentum in the third world, but assauging first world guilt.

  111. jackpt said,

    March 10, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Instead of campaigning for the industrialisation, NGOs and environmental pressure groups foist the idea that the developing world ought to limit its expectations. So we get “hand pumps and goats for Africa”, not “atomic power for all”. These groups are large, and powerful, and have hundereds of millions of dollars with which to advance their agenda in the third world, are a powerful lobbying force at the UN, and have the ear of development politicians in the EU – who use this kind of foreign policy to demonstrate their “ethical” credentials. The kind of policy that we get then, is less about creating momentum in the third world, but assauging first world guilt.

    I don’t buy this. Every stable African country has eco-unfriendly power stations churning out gases and smog. There’s a great deal of industrialisation in the stable countries also, in fact growth. It seems to me that the only countries that don’t have power infrastructures/industry are the countries that are unstable. I don’t think people campaigning for or against industrialisation have much to do with the causes of instability in those countries (in fact many countries have declined since the 1950s, way before the green movement you’re focussed on). There’s often geopolitics at play but they don’t seem to have much to do with the pro or anti green movement or assuaging ‘first world guilt’, my understanding of the geopolitical situation in parts of Africa suggests it’s far more amoral than that. I’d be willing to bet that given enough stability the continent would be covered with power stations. Focusing on ‘development’ seems as monomaniacal as people that focus on any single issue with regards of Africa.

  112. bazvic said,

    March 10, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    IMHO global warming is an example of a Tragedy of the Commons.

    In a sense the science is unimportant as the politics are the dominant part of the debate. Nobody will give anything away unless it buys an advantage and all will cheat to some extent. The powerful will remain powerful at the expense of the weak.

    My original view in the 1990’s was it did not matter if global warming was real or man made. The measures to counter it would generally improve the environment. At worst it was an “honourable lie”.

    However some proposals such as biofuels will simply make the 3rd World starve so we can drive our cars on a little less oil. Global warming is being used as another means for the developed world to dominate the rest.

    Long term problems will need long term solutions. Logically, global population reduction to a level the planet can sustain is required. But that is a very big can of worms, which more or less makes my point.

  113. EssTee said,

    March 10, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Jackpt hasn’t read 110 properly. I didn’t argue that environmentalism can account for the instability of the developing world, but that it impedes development. his argument is also typical of the movement which seeks “limits to growth” to pretend that development is a “single issue”. Perhaps he would be content with the current rate of development, just so long as people living in the third world passed his measurement of “happiness”.

    Unless the third world is able to develop economically, and industrialise, then political progress is virtually impossible. It’s hard to engage with the political process when you’re eeking out a subsistence living. The environmental movement’s demands for “sustainable development” forces people to remain in this exhausting relationship with the land. But then, a politically alienated third world is exactly what the movement wants; if developing nations were in a better position to be able to argue for their own interests, the environmental movement wouldn’t have any victims to be claiming to speak on behalf of.

  114. BlurredVeg said,

    March 10, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    For interest, the realclimate guys have put in a page discussing the scientific issues raised in the programme, with some good resources in the comments section::

    www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/swindled/

  115. jackpt said,

    March 10, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Jackpt hasn’t read 110 properly. I didn’t argue that environmentalism can account for the instability of the developing world, but that it impedes development. his argument is also typical of the movement which seeks “limits to growth” to pretend that development is a “single issue”. Perhaps he would be content with the current rate of development, just so long as people living in the third world passed his measurement of “happiness”.

    Wow. That’s bold.

  116. Gimpy said,

    March 10, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Despite EssTee’s opinions being straight out of the “International Development for Furedi Acolyte’s” handbook s/he still makes a reasonable point. You can’t abolish poverty without increasing wealth and you can’t increase wealth without industrialisation.
    Anyway, the poorest parts of the world are generally the most ideal for sustainable energies such as solar or wind. Unfortunately the start up costs for these technologies are extortionate, they need political stability to be effective and you think the rich world wants the solution to future energy crises to be in the third world. I mean the middle east is bad enough.

  117. jackpt said,

    March 10, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Hi Gimpy

    I wasn’t really disagreeing that to increase wealth countries need to industrialise, I was arguing that issues of stability are more important than getting hot under the collar about environmental/sustainable development policy.I think industrialisation will not be possible in countries that are unstable. Where Africa has industrialised it is relatively stable. So I think arguments regarding environmentalism are unnecessarily diverting the broader argument of Africa’s stability. Most of the famines are not simply about droughts, the droughts are major factors, but they’re also about how instability affects things, through bad governance, neglected or non existent infrastructure and geopolitics. So I think the emphasis that EssTee and others have placed on environmental and sustainable policy and their influence ignores the geopolitics and Africa’s internal politics that have led to the instability.

  118. EssTee said,

    March 11, 2007 at 1:51 am

    Why has this thread dropped off the main blog?

  119. dyspraxia said,

    March 12, 2007 at 12:05 am

    I must first say I cam across this site becouse of thi program and the reactions to it my own blog.

    I posted the information on it to let people know it was on and they made a few comments about it being rather refreshing and I agreed with some of its points, especially relating to Al Gore and his crass movie.
    Then I got hate mail from people who seemed to be telling me that the world its definatly going to end and its all my fault becouse im promoting ideas that might change the debate a bit.

    Im glad I read this page, It made me feel a whole lot better.

  120. CaptainKirkham said,

    March 12, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Having not watched the programme, but reading all of this thread, I think it is incredibly important to know the affiliations and past of someone making a programme like this.

    There are many people out there without scientific training or knowledge who will generally trust what is told to them by people who say “I’m a scientist, trust me”. That is pretty much the majority of the population right there. From medicine, to flying in a plane, to using a mobile, to, well, everything – none of us understands it all and relies on others who do.

    So yes, it matters if someone has distorted or misrepresented in the past. That is not an ad hominem insult – that is relevant criticism. And yes, it matters if someone is funded by a body on one side or another or an argument – or rather, it matters if they are AND HAVEN’T SAID SO. If someone tells me their affiliations I can account for what may or may not be bias. If they haven’t, that is dishonest and leads me to doubt their bona fides.

  121. guthrie said,

    March 12, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    EssTee doesnt happen to be our old pal ST, perhaps?

    As for environmentalism impeding development, surely that only occurs if you take a short term view and do not count the long term cost of the ecological damage that almost invariably accompanies development.

    If it is ST, the quote:
    ” All it shows, though, is that you’re making your decisions about which science to trust based on your own political agenda, not the science.”
    Is most entertaining, given ST’s continued deliberate ignorance of global warming, the science behind it and the probable dangers.

  122. EssTee said,

    March 12, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    “As for environmentalism impeding development, surely that only occurs if you take a short term view and do not count the long term cost of the ecological damage that almost invariably accompanies development.”

    On the contrary, it is poverty which causes much more environmental damage, and health-damaging pollution. Once an economy develops, people start to pay more consideration to their environment. That’s why we in the West enjoy far cleaner cities and towns, and rivers and beaches than people in the developing world. For us, nature is a pleasure. For people eeking out an existance, nature is a pain in the neck.

    “Is most entertaining, given ST’s continued deliberate ignorance of global warming, the science behind it and the probable dangers.”

    I’m not sure what this has to do with the discussion either. My argument has been that whatever risks are posed by climate change, what mediates damage from the environment – in terms of human cost – is development. I’ve never argued that climate change wont cause human problems – I’ve always argued that climate has always caused human problems… But if you compare problems that climate causes for people living in the third world, with people subject to the same forces in the first world, you can see directly how development saves thousands and thousands and thousands of lives. People are actually pretty good at coping with a wide range of conditions and adapting to circumstances – when they have the means. Without the means, an event which kills a handful of people has the potential to kill thousands.

  123. Dr Madvibe said,

    March 13, 2007 at 11:03 am

    > > Dr Madvibe,

    > > If an “ordinary” person sat down to watch this, they would see a decently constructed programme which pulled in lots of “academics” and “experts” from around the globe casting aspersions about global warming. Why wouldn’t they believe what they are told, or at least question the generally accepted view?

    > Squander Two

    > If that’s true, then wouldn’t an ordinary layperson tend to believe the thousands of claims that they’re exposed to every day that global warming is anthropogenic and not the handful of competing claims presented in just one program?

    Hopefully they will choose the “right path”, but I sure some will (possibly a lot) will use it as an excuse not to do anything claiming the “controversy” as the reason not to – head in the sand thinking.

    And cheers for the links Lurkinggherkin, most informative

    One more thing though, I do feel rather sad that the stupid programme has generated such a long discussion. I see Prof Wunsch is complaining about being misrepresented and duped by durkin (capital letter withheld). Why couldn’t Channel 4 have acted with more responsibilty. Did you know they have there own microsite dedicated to it, including a poll and game!

  124. Big Al said,

    March 21, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks for the response, mcnash – it does seem sensible. However, we then get onto “the longest period of sustaned warming for at least a thousand years”, which I’ve seen repeated a lot. That sounds as if records (or rather exemplars such as dendrochronology, ice core oxygen isotope ratios etc) do exist for much longer periods.

    My least favourite comment these days is the “four-legs-good-two-legs-bad” bleat about “scientific unanimity over AGW”. As far as I can see, that’s pretty damn’ peripheral. I want to hear the science, not the message. I want to see the error bars. I want to see how the sulphate emissions track the 40s – 70s cooling and how CO2 then takes over. I’m willing and ready to be convinced. I’m a big boy now: I can take it, Doc.

    But all I get is “But the scientists all agree!”

    Still, I live in hope.

  125. stop-global-warming said,

    March 22, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    I agree that Durkin lacks credibility after issues that were raised in his “Against Nature” documentary.

    In “The Great Global Warming Swindle” Durkin shows a scientist rolling his eyes at how a scientist could make it on to the “top 2,500″ list through the IPCC. But, then a few minutes later (at the 1 hour mark) Durking is rattling off the positions held, awards, and books authored by Patrick Michaels as though _that_ was all of a sudden some soft of credibility.

    This doco wreaks of “conspiracy theories”. There are legimate claims opposing man made global warming, but they aren’t as interesting as what Durkin has decided to highlight. Isn’t it then funny, that one of the scientists in Durkin’s doco suggests that you are more likely to get funded by producing dramatic results, than boring results.

  126. Big Al said,

    March 23, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Can we please have some detailed refutation of the science? I gather all to clearly that Durkin is not highly regarded, but this seems to be extended as reason to refute the claims of the scientists in the documentary. Are they right? Are they wrong? If so, why?

    I’m prepared to accept that the claim that volcanoes emit far more CO2 than human activities is false. However, another claim was based on the undeniable fact that CO2 is heavier than air, and that volcanoes have the energy to drive it high into the atmosphere, whereas human activities don’t, so human-generated CO2 sinks into the ground and the oceans. To a layman like me, this seems a persuasive argument: can someone please debunk it?

    The tropospheric (non-) warming does seem a valid bone of contention. I’ve read a lot about the need to take into account orbital decay and problems with weather balloons, but I’ve also heard that the method of measuring ocean temperatures has changed and may give erroneously high results (this was not mentioned in the documentary). What’s the current state ofplay on delta T in the troposphere? Are the corrections applied to the old satellite and balloon data valid scientific adjustments or post hoc fiddle-factors designed to give the “right” answers?

    Any chance of some scientific data rather than biographic background of Mr Durkin?

  127. Deano said,

    March 23, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Can we please have some detailed refutation of the science-

    tricky Big Al

    – there’s bugger all ‘science’ to refute…

    As for the C02 is ‘heavier than air’ thing – salt is ‘heavier than water’ –

    – some basic understanding of the physical properties of the gases shows that CO2 mixes very well in the atmosphere right up into the Troposphere – there is absolutely no controversy about this.

    Indeed C0 2 levels have been measured at the top of a mountain in Hawaai since 1953 – which is how we know it’s increasing globally .

    The tropospheric warming ‘problem’ has now been conclusively been shown to have an artefact of satellite measurement -and that has even been accepted in a scientific paper by one of the contributors to the prog -although he seems to have forgotten it for TV.

    It’s a bit quiet here – I’d suggest you join Ben’s forum if you want to catch up with the ‘debate':

    badscience.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=3

  128. 9bare15d said,

    November 14, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I think that it is absolutely great that people can see the otherside of an often one sided arguement, the problem is people take it too seriously and they think that people will belive every word in every documentary, you have to keep an open mind whilst watching these channel 4 things. I loved the great global swindle although i still believe that global warming is a massive problem.

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  130. proba said,

    October 14, 2010 at 12:16 am

    great documentary , it has very good proves .

    You can watch other relates documentaries here Documentaries

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