Christopher Booker has spotted a boo boo
in Sir Paul Nurse’s BBC Horizon documentary. Well, several, actually, but this one’s the worst.
The most telling moment, however, came in an interview between Nurse and a computer-modelling scientist from Nasa, presented as a general climate expert although he is only a specialist in ice studies. Asked to quantify the relative contributions of CO2 to the atmosphere by human and natural causes, his seemingly devastating reply was that 7 gigatons (billion tons) are emitted each year by human activity while only 1 gigaton comes from natural sources such as the oceans. This was so much the message they wanted that Nurse invited him to confirm that human emissions are seven times greater than those from all natural sources.
This was mind-boggling. It is generally agreed that the 7 billion tonnes of CO2 due to human activity represent just over 3 per cent of the total emitted. That given off by natural sources, such as the oceans, is vastly greater than this, more than 96 per cent of the total. One may argue about the “carbon cycle” and how much CO2 the oceans and plants reabsorb. But, as baldly stated, the point was simply a grotesque misrepresentation, serving, like many of the programme’s other assertions, only to give viewers a wholly misleading impression.
Presumably, though, being as Sir Paul Nurse got a Nobel prize in genetics that makes it OK? I mean, he’s a “scientist”, right. And President of the Royal Society. And – did I mention this before? – a Nobel prizewinner. So this must by definition mean that even when he’s wrong, he’s right?
Er, no. Actually not. Sir Paul Nurse, despite his Nobel prize, his presidency of the Royal Society and his PhD in whatever from the famous, world-renowned and much-loved University of East Anglia, is quite capable of making really basic, idiot’s-level mistakes about “climate science.” As he has just demonstrated, very publicly, on a BBC science documentary.
Why does this matter so much? Well, had Nurse done the decent thing, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit. If he had admitted from the start of the project: “Look, I’m a geneticist, me. Climate science isn’t my field at all. So asking me as a “scientist” to deliver an ex cathedra verdict on the “truth” about global warming, is a bit like asking a Beowulf specialist to come and pronounce on who “really” wrote the works of William Shakespeare,” – if he’d said that, well then we’d be able to accept his errors as forgiveable mistakes by a wise, modest man who had fully accepted the limits of his authority and expertise.
But this isn’t what Sir Paul Nurse did. The essential purpose of that Horizon documentary was not to present a fair and balanced analysis of the state of Climate Science. It was a propaganda exercise straight out of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” It wasn’t remotely interested in presenting a fair, balanced or indeed accurate portrait of the state of “climate science.” Its job, quite simply, was to rubbish sceptics – either (in poor Fred Singer’s case) by misrepresenting their arguments or (in my case) through selective editing, dishonest analogies, misleading questions and an initial approach which involved a great deal of lying. (All will be explained in next week’s Spectator You Know It Makes Sense column).
Initially, as we saw, it did this very effectively
. Nurse started the ball rolling nicely by leaking a story to that notoriously unbiased and sensible media outlet, the Guardian’s Environment pages, crowing about how he had left me “tongue-tied” with his brilliant questioning, and for good measure embellishing his story with cheap, dishonest digs. (Apparently, for example, I’d been so overwhelmed by the force of his argument that several times I’d asked the crew to stop filming. Er, no. As I told Nurse at least a couple of times as we stopped for cake and biscuits during my three-hour grilling, I suffer from hypoglycemia which means that unless I stop for regular snacks I find it difficult to maintain my concentration and sharpness).
The witch hunt frenzy of the Guardian’s Environment pages quickly spread to the Independent and the Twittersphere, where among those who found themselves caught up in the “Suck on this, Denier scum!” excitement were professional “sceptic” (except where AGW is concerned) Ben Goldacre
, media mathematician Simon Singh
and top radio intellectual Chris Evans
So far, so very effective. What I don’t think that either the BBC or Sir Paul Nurse had properly considered, however, was the long term consequences of their action. Maybe five years ago, when the AGW industry was powering through global consciousness and policy making like a galleon in full sail, they might just about have got away with it. Problem is, these days, there’s a whole sceptical community out there which is wise to the Warmists’ tricks and isn’t going to let itself be silenced by the familiar old tactics of bullying, abuse of power, appeal to authority, crude ad homs and manipulation of the left-liberal MSM.
Booker’s column on Nurse’s egregious error is a good example. It’s no use making a documentary whose theme is “Why science should be left to experts like Sir Paul Nurse” – if in the course of that documentary Sir Paul Nurse is shown to know less about climate science than the idiot bloggers and journalists he is trying to attack.
There have been further excellent commentaries from the delicious caustic Lubos Motl
; in this superb demolition job by Ben Pile
, by Richard North
, by Biased BBC
, by Nige Cook on YouTube
and, passim, by Bishop Hill
(who puts in a fine, as ever scrupulously polite performance in the comments below Singh’s not very impressive riposte
to my blog).
This has been a bruising week for me. But in the long term, I have a strong suspicion, it is going to do far, far more damage to the BBC, to Sir Paul Nurse (and, by extension, to the integrity of the Royal Society) than ever it has done to me.