Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, is an expert in genetics, not climatology
The timing was immaculate. Last Tuesday, across a two-page extract from the memoirs of Peter Sissons, the senior BBC newsreader, was the headline: “The BBC became a propaganda machine for climate change zealots – I was treated as a lunatic for daring to dissent.” The previous evening the BBC had put out a perfect example of the zealotry which had made Mr Sissons, as a grown-up journalist, so angry. Horizon’s “Science Under Attack” turned out to be yet another laborious bid by the BBC to defend the global warming orthodoxy it has long been so relentless in promoting.
Their desperation is understandable. The past few years have seen their cherished cause crumbling on all sides. The Copenhagen climate conference, planned to land mankind with the biggest bill in history, collapsed in disarray. The Climategate emails scandal confirmed that scientists at the heart of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had distorted key data. The IPCC’s own authority was further rocked by revelations that its more alarmist claims were based not on science but on the inventions of environmental activists. Even the weather has turned against them, showing that all the computer models based on the assumption that rising CO2 means rising temperatures have got it wrong.
The formula the BBC uses in its forlorn attempts to counterattack has been familiar ever since its 2008 series Climate Wars. First, a presenter with some scientific credentials comes on, apparently to look impartially at the evidence. Supporters of the cause are allowed to put their case without challenge. Hours of film of climate-change “deniers” are cherrypicked for soundbites that can be shown, out of context, to make them look ridiculous. The presenter can then conclude that the “deniers” are a tiny handful of eccentrics standing out against an overwhelming scientific “consensus”.
Monday’s Horizon exemplified this formula to a T. The scientist picked to front the progamme was Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, now President of the Royal Society (which has been promoting warmist orthodoxy even longer than the BBC). The cue to justify the programme’s title was all the criticism which greeted those Climategate emails leaked from Sir Paul’s old university, East Anglia, showing how scientists had been manipulating their data to support the claim that temperatures have recently risen to unprecedented levels.
One of the two “deniers” chosen to be stitched up, in classic BBC fashion, was the Telegraph’s James Delingpole. He has spoken for his own experience on our website. Still worse, however, was the treatment of Professor Fred Singer, the distinguished 86-year-old atmospheric physicist who set up the satellite system for the US National Weather Bureau. We saw Nurse cosying up to Singer in a coffee house, then a brief clip of the professor explaining how a particular stalagmite study had shown temperature fluctuations correlating much more neatly with solar activity than with levels of CO2. This snippet enabled Nurse to imply that Singer’s scepticism is based on one tiny local example, whereas real scientists look at the overall big picture. No mention of the 800-page report edited by Singer in which dozens of expert scientists challenge the CO2 orthodoxy from every angle.
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.
Another came after Nurse had defended his old university’s part in the Climategate emails. Inevitably he claimed that various reports had cleared the scientists involved of any wrongdoing, without mentioning that every one of the inquiries had carefully avoided the scientific questions at the heart of the row. (Yet another superficial parliamentary report last week, despite the heroic efforts of Labour MP Graham Stringer, was rendered meaningless by the same central evasion.)
Nurse then held up a copy of The Sunday Telegraph, showing the headline over one of my columns: “The worst scientific scandal of our generation”. He implied that this referred only to Climategate, which would have been absurd. My article in fact explained how the emails merely shed further light on all the other ways in which the scientists involved have for years been finagling data crucial to the warmist case, by exaggerating the recent rise in temperatures and eliminating all the evidence that past temperatures have often, through natural causes, been higher than they are today.
Although Sir Paul presented himself as the champion of objective science, he frequently showed that, for all his expertise in cell biology, he knows little about climate. The fact that someone is an expert in one particular field – even if he is President of the Royal Society – gives him little more authority to pronounce on issues with which he is unfamiliar than a man holding forth in a pub.
Far from it being “science” which is under attack from all those experts who dispute the orthodoxy on global warming, the truth is the very reverse. It is the dissenters who are trying to speak for genuine science, against those who misuse its prestige to promote a cause which has too often betrayed the very essence of proper scientific method.
The fact that the BBC has been turned, in Peter Sissons’ words, into a mere “propaganda machine” is scandal enough. But a far greater scandal is the way the authority of science has been hijacked to serve a fatally flawed belief system which threatens to inflict irreparable damage on the future of us all.