Saturday, April 22, 2006

Septic nonsense on the BBC again...sigh

I realise that I haven't done my fair share of antiseptic duties recently - leaving it to the likes of Stoat and RC instead. It's not because I agree with the nonsense the septics spout, but rather that there is rarely anything of scientific interest to discuss, and moreover I think fisking risks giving them a wholly undeserved level of attention.

But I was saddened to hear, only the day after the well-researched and intelligent look at the presentation of climate research, BBC Radio4 (in the form of the Toady programme) revert to the standard false "balance" talking-heads format of a card-carrying septic with no climate science credentials and nothing of scientific interest to say, set against an eminent respected scientist of international repute. Same old same old. This time it was such gems as "you can't prove it isn't natural" (yes we can, beyond any reasonable level of doubt) and "it hasn't warmed since 1998" (right...cherry-pick the most recent huge outlier as a starting point...I could just as validly claim that in the last couple of months, Japan has seen a WARMING TREND OF SEVERAL HUNDRED DEGREES PER DECADE!!! IT'S CALLED SPRING, FOLKS!).

To be honest I was a bit disappointed in how Phil Jones came across - and I suspect he will be too, on re-listening to the debate. But the septics are (by their nature) self-selected for their glib tongues and media-friendly manner (cos that's all they have to go on), whereas scientists generally get to the top of the slippery pole through the quality of their (primarily written) research. Sure, we give presentations too, and I'm sure people like PJ will have given their fair share of media interviews, but science doesn't progress through soundbites and talking points. BBC, please give it a rest.

OK, that final plea clearly went beyond wishful thinking and into the realms of the ridiculous. Ho hum.


EliRabett said...

It is not just that they are selected, but also, almost certainly, they are rehearsed by pros. As I have been trying to get through on RC, if scientists want to play this game they have to learn the rules.

James Annan said...


Yes I've seen your comments on RC and agree. Of course the scientists will generally say they don't want to play this game, but they end up playing anyway, and sometimes play badly (at least, not expertly).

I wonder if one alternative would be for the likes of Prof Jones to politely turn down such an interview request, instead suggesting some face from Greenpeace, or Friends of the Earth. Alternatively, maybe the likes of yourself might care to try their hand at it in their dotage :-) You're obviously no slouch in the communication stakes, and perhaps the "media tart" tag would not be something to worry you unduly. A few courses from Luntz and your phone would never stop ringing :-)

Anonymous said...

James, I actually think Phil did about as well as Carter for much of the interview, but then made a mistake in not jumping in to respond to Carter's comments just before the interviewer asked the question on ocean acidification. As a consequence, Carter ended up with a lot more air time and Phil ended up having to rush a rejoinder at the very end.

That said, of course Phil could have done much better than Carter. The weak defense of the instrumental record was especially ironic. Jim Hansen, e.g., would have had Carter for breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point you make about the glib, "media-friendly" septics v. scientists who rise to the top via written research.

We all know how well scientific papers work as sound-bites.

Solutions, anyone? A mandated class in sound-bitery for atmospheric scientists in grad school?

EliRabett said...

This is going to sound harsh, on the other hand it is IMHO, both harsh and necessary. Science is a social activity, most of us depend on the feedback we get from our colleagues, which is why it is much easier to do science in research active places than in isolation.

One of the things that keeps the "better" skeptics going is that the get the support and acclaim from the SSS (Sceptic Support Societies - marshall institute, etc.) while at the same time they are able to function as colleagues in meetings and seminars with those who are seriously doing science, even I suppose have beers together. My suggestion is that when they walk up to you, simply say that you don't approve of what they are doing and walk away.

Real Climate is starting to do this. Good for them.