As a change from my Briffa reconsideration, I was intrigued by the recent correspondence between Nigel Lawson and Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, discussed from time to time at Bishop Hill, most recently here.
I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions
Earlier this year, in a mostly interesting lecture about science policy in Australia early this year, Nurse took a cheap shot at Nigel Lawson, accusing him of cherrypicking two points in the temperature record of the past 20 years to show a standstill, “knowing” that the other data in the period did not support his point. Nurse began as follows:
But what in fact appears to happen is that the concerns at least of some of those worried about these types of actions, have led them to try and convince society by attacking the science of the majority of climate scientists and to use scientific arguments that on the whole are rather weak and unconvincing, and nearly always involve the cherry-picking of data. In other words, what’s happened is those who are very concerned about the outcomes and what one would have to do, in trying to make their argument have over-spilled into the science.
I entirely share Nurse’s disdain for the use of “scientific arguments that on the whole are rather weak and unconvincing, and nearly always involve the cherry-picking of data”: indeed, at Climate Audit, criticism of, for example, repetitive use of Graybill’s strip bark bristlecone chronologies, ex post screening and use of contaminated upside-down Tiljander sediments, have been longstanding themes. It very much seems to me that, in these cases, scientists who are “very concerned about the outcomes” have “over-spilled into the science”. That even something as simple as the misuse of Tiljander sediments in Mann et al 2008 remains without a corrigendum surely supports Nurse’s concern.
Nurse continued with a direct and untrue attack on Nigel Lawson:
We saw that, for example, in Britain with a politician, Nigel Lawson, who would go on the television and talk about the scientific case, and he was trained as a politician; you made whatever case you can to convince the audience. So he would choose two points and say, look, no warming is taking place, knowing that all the other points you chose in the 20 years around it would not support his case, but he was just wanting to win that debate on television.
On February 25, Lawson wrote back to Nurse, stating that Nurse’s allegation that Lawson had picked two points was a “lie”. Lawson stated that his difference with Nurse did not arise from “ideological” reasons, but on the issue of the effectiveness of policy responses. Lawson closed with the biting comment:
I hope that, on reflection, you will recognise that there should be a difference between the behaviour appropriate to a President of the Royal Society and acting as a shop steward for some kind of scientists’ closed shop.
On March 19, Nurse replied, expressing concern that Lawson was not receiving the “best advice”. Nurse offered to put Lawson “in contact with distinguished active climate research scientists” if Lawson though that useful. Nurse added a shot at Andrew Montford’s 2012 critical but even-tempered article on the Royal Society (Nullius in Verbis), published by the GWPF, telling Lawson:
It[GWPF] should also focus more on science and policy rather than on personal attacks on individuals with whom the GWPF disagrees. For example, you will recall that last year the GWPF published named personal attacks on four successive Presidents of the Royal Society.
Lawson immediately (March 19) wrote back, accepting Nurse’s “kind offer to arrange a meeting” with Nurse’s climate scientists. However, Lawson rejected Nurse’s other editorial comments, including Nurses’s characterization of Montford’s article, stating:
So far from personal attacks, this was a reasoned and well-documented critique of the conduct of the Royal Society on this issue under recent Presidents – a critique which, as you will be aware, is shared by a number of your own members.
In April, the absurd Stephen Lewandowsky received a fellowship award from the Royal Society.
In May, the Royal Society announced that the prominent oceanographer, Prince Andrew, had been appointed as a member.
In early May, Nurse responded to Lawson, apparently notifying Hannah Devlin of the Times of his response prior to its receipt by GWPF. Devlin tweeted:
I do hope @TheGWPF takes @royalsociety up on this offer to engage with mainstream scientific community
Nurse’s letter listed “five internationally distinguished climate scientists who are all UK-based and Fellows of the Royal Society” [Brian Hoskins, John Mitchell, Tim Palmer, John Shepherd, Eric Wolff], all of whom were copied on Nurse’s letter “so that they are aware that you may be contacting them”. Nurse explained his criticism of Nullius in Verba as follows:
Second, I think that you are rather overstating the credibility of the Montford document. For example, Montford disparages me for criticising politicians who talk nonsense about science. I list below some of those statements that I criticized:
“intelligent design is a legitimate theory that should be taught in science class’
“Don’t believe in a theory that human beings originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea or from monkeys who eventually swing down from the sea”
“That climate problems in Texas are best solved through days of prayer for rain”
What is the GWPF doing publishing something that gives support for such absurd anti-science views? Surely you do not think scientists or anyone else should sit idly by when politicians talk nonsense about scientific issues?
As an editorial comment, it seems to me that even Nurse himself cannot possible be held accountable if he sometimes “sits idly” by when a politician talks nonsense, as, if Nurse adhered to this impossible standard, he would surely end up doing nothing but parsing statements by politicians around the world. Nor, to my knowledge, has Nurse spoken out against politicians talking nonsense about solar and wind, a topic on which James Hansen, to his credit, has spoken out, condemning as sentencing his grandchildren to drinking green koolaid.
On May 20, Lawson replied to Nurse, notifying him that Peiser, the director of the GWPF, would contact the five scientists with a “view to setting up a meeting with a team from the GWPF” and suggesting the following “twofold agenda”:
1. The science of global warming, with special reference to (a0 the climate sensitivity of carbob: (b) the extent of natural variability
2. The conduct and professional standards of those involved in the relevant scientific inquiry and official advisory process
Lawson also rejected Nurse’s fabricated allegation that the GWPF had supported intelligent design or prayer a a climate policy as follows:
First, at no time has the GWPF published anything advocating either the theory of intelligent design or prayer as a climate policy, nor would we dream of doing so. If anything can be classified as “anti-science”, it is your blatant disregard for these facts.
Peiser sent out the promised invitations to the five Royal Society fellows, listing Vincent Courtillot, Michael Kelly, Nic Lewis, Richard Lindzen, Matt Ridley, Richard Tol as GWPF representatives, noting that four of them were on the Academic Advisory Council of the GWPF. Peiser’s proposed agenda matched the one set out in Lawson’s letter.
Peiser also attached a GWPF briefing paper setting out GWPF’s points of agreement and disagreement. Peiser’s statement of issues is an interesting summary. I, for one, would have been keenly interested in the results of a discussion between the groups about the issues as set out by Peiser.
Despite the even-temperedness of Lawson’s letter, Nurse responded angrily, stating:
I tire of your rude and aggressive letters and begin to wonder whether it is worth the effort of trying to help you.
Montford criticized me for criticizing anti-science remarks made in the US, the ones which I quoted in my letter. Either you are unaware of this nonsense published by the GWPF or you are now distancing yourself from the Montford report. For your information, the Montford comment is on page 36 of the GWPF report [SM: here] and the New Scientist article he criticized is attached. [see here]
On June 5, the five Royal Society scientists wrote to Lawson, refusing the GWPF invitation to meet with his advisers. They stated:
We do not consider the meeting [that Peiser] proposes is the best way to improve the quality and breadth of the scientific advice available to you. We should however like to confirm that we would be happy to provide you personally with advice on specific climate science issues, as was originally offered by Sir Paul Nurse. The 2010 Royal Society document “Climate change: a summary of the science”, to which we all contributed would be a suitable starting point. Please let us know if there are specific scientific issues arising from this statement on which you would like to have further information and advice.
Lawson replied to Nurse on July 9 as follows:
I have only recently received your ill-tempered letter of June 4…
I am surprised by its content which focus on a complaint about Andrew Montford’s report The Royal Society and Climate Change, published by the GWPF. The report appeared over a year ago, long before our correspondence began. It is in no sense ‘anti-science”.
I am disappointed by the letter from the five scientists nominated by you in your previous letter, in which they decline to meet my scientific colleagues for a discussion of the issues involved in climate change policy. They give no good reason for their unwillingness to engage though they do state that they would be happy to “advise” me personally. That can be readily achieved. I would like to invite your Fellows to meet me and my team in the House of Lords and to fix a firm date for such meeting as soon as practicable.
If this is not acceptable, I can only conclude that regrettably you and your colleagues are unwilling to engage in genuine discussion and debate about this important issue.
There matters stand. But what of Nurse’s attempt to associate GWPF with fish sprouting legs and days of prayer?
Nullius in Verba
Nullius in Verba commences with the 1753 “advertisement” to their journal, Philosophical Transactions:
…it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion as a Body upon any subject either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.”
According to Montford, the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions formerly carried the following notice:
‘It is neither necessary nor desirable for the Society to give an official ruling on scientific issues, for these are settled far more conclusively in the laboratory than in the committee room’.
Montford then provides a lucid exposition of the efforts by recent presidents of the Royal Society to achieve a wider political role.
Nurse identified page 36 as being especially contentious. The page commences with a brief discussion of Nurse’s incorrect understanding of FOI issues, quoting from Maurice Frankel, the director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.
In a section entitled “A wider political role”, Montford first gave (paragraph 121) a lengthy quotation from Nurse’s interview with Nature on Sep 13, 2011:
For Paul Nurse, few things are off-limits. Since taking over as president of Britain’s Royal Society in December last year, he has been overseeing a strategic review that is likely to lead to the first change to the society’s charter since it was signed by King Charles II in 1662…
Nurse wants the society to have a stronger voice on the big policy questions of the day. “The Royal Society has a responsibility to provide advice on difficult issues, even if they are contentious,” he says.
Montford then (para 122) noted that Nurse’s plan was not supported by all scientists, again providing a lengthy quotation, this time from a comment in the Nature thread on the Nurse article by Chris Exley, a former RS University Research Fellow:
Great science will truly inform government policy while informed opinions on science can only fuel debate. Personally I enjoy both of these aspects of being a scientist though I know which one of these actually counts. Please do not turn The Royal Society into another policy-driven quango..
Montford concluded the short section with the following:
123. However, the following day Nurse reentered the political fray, launching an attack on what he saw as ‘anti-science’ attitudes in the US Republican party. [83- an editorial by Nurse in the New Scientists ]. It appears, then, that a policy-driven quango is exactly what Nurse intends the Society to become.
If one re-examines Nurse’s New Scientist editorial, it seems to be exactly what Montford described: “an attack on what [Nurse] saw as ‘anti-science’ attitudes in the US Republican party”. I happen to share Nurse’s disdain on many points, though I thought that his concern that U.S. scientists were about to decamp for the UK, China and India was somewhat overheated. However, given that there were many able Americans speaking out on the matter, one might wonder whether this was an issue that actually required the attention of the President of the UK Royal Society or whether Nurse’s priorities might be better directed towards scientific misunderstandings by UK politicians, such as, arguably, their belief in wind and solar policies.
Nor did Montford’s sentence (which seems to be accurate on its face) imply in any way that either Montford or the GWPF endorsed the views that Nurse criticized in his New Scientist editorial.
Nurse had originally alleged that the GWPF had published “named personal attacks on four successive Presidents of the Royal Society”. When challenged, Nurse failed to produce any evidence, instead claiming that Nullius in Verba gave “support for absurd anti-science views”, an unfounded allegation that GWPF denied and which turns out to be founded on nothing more than the above Montford sentence.
Nurse’s thin-skinned and consistently incorrect characterization of Nullius in Verba reminds me of Lucia’s warning about Gavin Schmidt (to which I referred recently in connection with mischaracterization by CRU and Schmidt himself):
I might suggest that you are assuming that people asked the questions Gavin says they asked, and that Gavin’s answer to their questions is adequate because Gavin tells us his answer is adequate.
It also seems to me that there is also a tinge of Gleick and Lewandowsky in Nurse’s remarks and ill-informed attitude towards skeptics. The term “anti-science” occurred in Gleick’s forgery and was one of the words that tipped Mosher that it was a forgery. And rather than Nurse’s New Scientist editorial suggesting output from a “policy quango”, as Montford had suggested, it seems far more similar to an editorial that might have come from the US National Center for Science Education, to which Gleick had been nominated as a director in January 2012 (though the nomination was withdrawn after Gleick’s fraud and forgery were revealed.)
In respect to the vituperativeness of Nurse’s response both to the sentence in paragraph 121 (page 36) of Nullius in Verba and to Lawson’s letter, one is also reminded of another Lucia suggestion:
put on your big boy pants.
Indeed, according to an incident recounted in Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile (discussed at Bishop Hill here), it seems that Nurse believes that he wears extra-special big boy pants. Taleb writes:
As I was writing this book, I overheard on a British Air flight a gentleman explain to the flight attendant less than two seconds into the conversation (meant to be about whether he liked cream and sugar in his coffee) that he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine “and Physiology” in addition to being the president of a famous monarchal academy. The flight attendant did not know what the Nobel was, but was polite, so he kept repeating “the Nobel Prize” hoping that she would wake up from her ignorance. I turned around and recognized him, and the character suddenly deflated. As the saying goes, it is hardest to be a great man to one’s chambermaid.