Brian Hoskins and the Times Atlas

Brian Hoskins was one of the first people that Fiona Fox went to for a testimonial to the supposed rigor of the execrable Oxburgh inquiry. Hoskins, presently Bob Ward’s supervisor at the Grantham Institute, shamelessly called the Oxburgh inquiry “thorough and fair”. Although no one has yet pointed this out (partly because of efforts to erase all copies), Hoskins turned up in a similar role in the promotional trailer for the Times Atlas, where he is described as endorsing it as a “useful tool against climate change skeptics.”

The public release of the Oxburgh report was accompanied by the following statement from Hoskins:

I welcome this thorough and fair review. The picture painted by it of a dedicated small group trying to do the best science and with no hidden agenda to their work is consistent with my knowledge of the people involved at CRU and of their research. The review should help shape aspects of the continuing progress of climate science, in particular the need to make use of the latest statistical techniques.

Afterwards, Hoskins asked Fiona Fox whether Oxburgh had “elaborated” at the press conference about his statement that the “blame for mis-representation of CRU’s work is spread very widely”. Fox replied that “he [Oxburgh] was specifically asked if governments have mis-used it and he ducked the question”.

Shortly afterwards, as a result of FOI requests, we learned that Hoskins performed the Royal Society “due diligence” on whether the 11 articles selected by Trevor Davies for review were representative. (They weren’t. CA readers are also aware that the Oxburgh Report untruthfully said that they were selected by the Royal Society, when, in fact, they were selected by Trevor Davies.) The FOI requests showed just how cursory Royal Society “due diligence” was. See here. After the list had been sent out to Oxburgh panelists (Oxburgh was very sly about this at Parliament), Davies asked the Royal Society to endorse the list. Thirteen minutes later, Rees said that he didn’t know anything about the subject matter and would defer to Hoskins. Twenty minutes after Davies’ inquiry, Hoskins said that he was not “aware” of all the papers that might be included, but he did “think” that they covered the “issues of concern”. No other due diligence. Hoskins was subsequently asked by Roger Harrabin whether he regarded himself as an “expert” in the literature and said that he didn’t. The eleven papers excluded most of the papers that had actually been criticized at Climate Audit.

Previously, Hoskins had been Review Editor for the Phil Jones and Kevin Trenberth chapter of IPCC AR4 (Chapter 3), where he was apparently unoffended by Jones and Trenberth’s efforts to “re-define” peer review. In an under-discussed FOI case last year – see Bishop Hill here here here – the ICO ruled against Hoskins and this led to Hoskins’ correspondence as Review Author being obtained by David Holland last year – see here or here – you’ll need Outlook for the *.pst file. There are some interesting points in it that remain undiscussed.

More recently, we’ve seen another example of due diligence Hoskins-style in connection with the Times Atlas’ erroneous conclusion of 15% loss in Greenland in only a decade.

Hoskins appeared in the promotional trailer for the Times Atlas. Concerted efforts seem to have been made to erase the inconvenient trailer – e.g. here here. However, one copy seems to have escaped – see here.

Hoskins is said by the narrator to “think that it [the Times Atlas] is a useful tool against climate change skeptics.” Not the first time that a Team scientist’s desire to show up “skeptics” has made them too quick to endorse something that shouldn’t be endorsed. Hoskins, recorded in a very pleasant courtyard in England:

Scientists like me will talk about a gradual melting of the ice sheet. But if you take a snapshot now and then, you suddenly see a bit of Greenland has gone green. That makes you realize something is happening in the frozen north. It’s not quite as frozen as it used to be.

At Cryolist, glaciologists, either unaware of Hoskins’ endorsement, complained that the Guardian had failed to talk to “scientists” before they publish:

However, I do have a much less severe admonition to the Guardian (and just about all other news media outlets). At a time when climate change issues are so politicised, including all the myriad impacts on the cryosphere and other components of the Earth System (that would include people), and science is so misunderstood by the public, news reporting outlets really need to be talking to scientists about science stories before they publish.

Glaciologist Liz Morris blamed journalists for not doing a commonsense back-of-the envelope calculation to see whether the story made sense.

What grieves me is that none of the journalists thought “Hang on… 15% is
about 1/7 and I’m sure someone said Greenland ice was about 7m of sea level
rise …. that’s about 1m of sea level rise over 12 years…some mistake
surely? ” Must have the attention span of a gnat!

But surely this criticism is far more telling against Hoskins than the journalists.

In passing, I note that Graham Cogley, who spotted the Himalaya error last year, was one of the glaciologists who tried to ensure that the record was corrected. Cogley is at Trent University in southern Ontario near Toronto. (Two of my nephews went there.)


  1. Don B
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Permalink

    Brian Hoskins, rather than being Bob Ward’s supervisor, is at Imperial College, Grantham Institute.

    Bob Ward is at the London School of Economics, Grantham Institute.

    Aren’t those institutes at Imperial and LSE separate, or am I mistaken?

  2. Coalsoffire
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Permalink

    Would it be a good idea to buy one of those atlases in the expectation that it would appreciate in value like one of those badly minted pennies?

    • kim
      Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:06 PM | Permalink

      Well, it depends upon whether or not they keep minting the bad pennies. The book is open.

  3. Coalsoffire
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Permalink

    It is amazing that out of 5.5 kilos of maps the very thing that they choose to highlight to promote their new atlas turns out to be absolute rubbish. And a cheerful “scientist” is easily found to verify the lie. You can’t make this stuff up. I’m going to quit reading the Onion. It can’t compete.

  4. RDCII`
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:00 PM | Permalink

    The first link described as “Concerted efforts seem to have been made to erase the inconvenient trailer ” seems to show the trailer with no problems, while the second says “This video is private”…are they busy “unhiding” it now? What error did you get before at the first link?

  5. Scott Brim
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:08 PM | Permalink

    Glaciologist Liz Morris: “What grieves me is that none of the journalists thought “Hang on… 15% is about 1/7 and I’m sure someone said Greenland ice was about 7m of sea level rise …. that’s about 1m of sea level rise over 12 years…some mistake surely?

    It has been my experience that most journalists have little of the innate sense of mathematical proportion and visualization needed to do this kind of basic check. They earn their income by writing that particular stream of letters and numbers which makes their newspaper or their magazine a decent profit in what is a very competitive communications marketplace.

    Steve: you missed my point – what justification is there for complaining about journalists when Hoskins didn’t do this sort of basic check? And regardless of Hoskins’ not doing it, journalists don’t have time to cross-examine data at this level of detail.

  6. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Permalink

    I, for one, resent Liz Morris’ uncalled for attack on gnats. Many gnats are highly accomplished and contribute substantially to their ecosystem (in stark contrast to Brian Hoskins).

    • kim
      Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

      I, for one, welcome our new gnat overlords.

      • bender
        Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:24 PM | Permalink

        I could prove useful to them – helping to round up others to work in their underground sugar mines.

        • SeanNY
          Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:37 PM | Permalink

          If gnats ever do take over the world I think the first thing they will do is abolish the unnecessary “g” in their name. They might even chage it to a “k” depending on whether or not world domination puts them in a playful mood.

          Steve: Or perhaps a “p”.

        • Timothy Sorenson
          Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 3:43 PM | Permalink

          We have been studying Gnats, in an abstract sense, and trying to make them swarm.
          So I guess I am studying S-warming Gnats.

        • Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 8:13 PM | Permalink

          The vividly detailed GCM ‘future scenarios’ undoubtedly underestimate the effect of the coming gnat takeover. Incorporate this concept into your next grant application, and climatological glory can be yours.

  7. SeanNY
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 1:31 PM | Permalink

    Is it just my imagination or is there an eerie similarity between the current top two stories on Climate Audit?

    In one case, The Times Atlas compared an old _glacier_ map of Greenland with a new _ice-sheet_ map of Greenland and found a 15% difference. Some of the difference may have resulted from warming, but the bulk of the difference came from using mis-matched data sets.

    In the other case, Dressler (2010) obtained a cloud feedback coefficient by comparing all-sky data from one data set to clear-sky data from a different data set. According to Troy_CA “by combining the CERES all-sky with ERA clear-sky, you get a difference in what is effectively surface albedo bundled in with the CRF term, despite having nothing to do with clouds.”

  8. tetris
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Permalink

    Another message-driven GIGO event.

  9. mikemUK
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    It obviously is, as Pachauri might say, just a ‘tiny error’ in pages and pages of lovely colourful maps!

    That it just happens to have fallen on the side of alarmists as usual, is nothing more than coincidence.

    snip – overeditorializing

  10. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 4:38 PM | Permalink

    As I am trying to argue in Twitter, the point is not so much if Hoskins knew the details what he was supporting. The point is that the Director of the Grantham Institute, the guy with Bob Ward working for him as Policy and Communications Director, cannot simply pop up in videos to bumble a few things of a warmist (or any other kind) variety.

    What’s next, are we going to see Sir Brian advertise for UK-based banana producers? Or perhaps a stint as judge in the X Factor. Can’t wait to see “Climatologists’ Got Talent”…

    It’s like the recent JohnCookGate at Bishop Hill, either somebody’s been incompetent, or a tad economical with honesty. Red-faces all around.

  11. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 4:39 PM | Permalink

    oops…two links in a comment. It’s now held in moderation.

  12. pesadia
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 4:41 PM | Permalink

    Brian Hoskins has just confirmed his obvious bias and has proved the old adage that if you give someone enough rope, they will hang themselves. The publishers must have approached him to endorse their product and he accepted without giving any thought (as you point out Steve) as to exactly what he was mouthing.The puts BH in the same category as rajenda and Al Gore. Good company Methinks.

  13. mikemUK
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 4:53 PM | Permalink


    Beware using initials!

    BH is also commonly used ‘shorthand’ for Bishop Hill, one of us. 8-(

    • pesadia
      Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 11:10 AM | Permalink

      Bad mistake, very sorry Bish.

    • Jane Coles
      Posted Sep 25, 2011 at 3:42 PM | Permalink

      ‘Ho’ is the approved abbreviation for Brian Hoskins.

  14. golf charley
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 5:39 PM | Permalink

    May be ” a useful tool against climate sceptics” is how Brian Hoskins will be remembered

    • JEM
      Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 5:52 PM | Permalink

      Well, a tool, at least.

  15. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 7:19 PM | Permalink

    Paraphrasing another great ‘climate thinker’ who at least knew what was missing:

    “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of [risning sea levels] at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”

  16. RoyFOMR
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 8:08 PM | Permalink

    “Atlas Bugged”
    Is this another reference to pnats?

  17. Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Permalink

    Surely such comical statements must have been made by Bob Hoskins, and not an eminent scientist like Brian Hoskins.

  18. TAC
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 8:46 PM | Permalink

    Give the warmers credit for mastering Monty-Python’s approach to reality and logic. Sure, their execrable behavior demands condemnation, but watching insufferably arrogant buffoons tripping over themselves at every opportunity is hilarious. As noted above, the Onion finally has some competition.

  19. Rick Bradford
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 9:58 PM | Permalink

    It’s one of those irregular verbs: I make honest mistakes, you cherry-pick the data, he peddles misinformation on behalf of Big Oil.

  20. Manfred
    Posted Sep 22, 2011 at 11:58 PM | Permalink

    I really do not understand why the British Murdoch press actively supported the failure of the climategate inquiries, making the Daily Mail, Daily Express and particularly the left Guardian the only honourable big news outlets on this island.

  21. Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 12:26 AM | Permalink

    There was an interview on BBC Radio 4 yesterday with Sheena Barclay, managing director of Collins Geo, the imprint of HarperCollins, who publish the Atlas: I have a transcript of it here.

    On the question of whether the Atlas is depicting Greenland and its ice sheet accurately, it proves somewhat difficult to get a straight answer.

    • Hu McCulloch
      Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 10:11 AM | Permalink

      Good catch! Tom Fielden summarizes Barclay’s response perfectly:

      James Naughtie: Right. Sheena Barclay of Collins Geo, thanks very much for joining us. And Tom Feilden, our science reporter, is here. Tom, what do you make of it?

      Tom Feilden: Well – wow! is the first thing to say. I think most contortionists would probably be defeated by the convoluted knot HarperCollins seem to have got themselves into, here. Now if I understand Sheena Barclay correctly, they’ve still don’t accept there’s a problem with the Atlas. There was a problem with the press release, and: hey, if people don’t like it, let’s get together and draw a new map – that seems to be the message. That having been said, the offer to produce a new, revised map, based on all the available data – a consensus map, if you like – on a separate sheet, that can be slotted into the Atlas with an accompanying explanation, is really an unprecedented concession, and should go a long way to addressing the concerns expressed by the scientific community. The question remains whether that technical fix is going to be enough to mollify more sceptical critics, who’ve seized on the map as yet another example of these exaggerated claims being made about the extent of global warming. And of course it is still pretty damaging for HarperCollins’s reputation.

    • Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 10:44 AM | Permalink

      Yes, I heard that interview, and thought she was remarkably stubborn in refusing to admit the error. Tom Fielden’s remark about sceptics saying it was yet another example of GW exaggeration also caught my ear. Perhaps Tom didn’t get the memo from Steve Jones.

      • Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

        I got his name wrong — it’s Feilden, not Fielden.

    • Scott Brim
      Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 4:14 PM | Permalink

      Suppose that in comparison with the disputed map, the next edition of the atlas shows more white on Greenland than the previous one shows. Can we guess that some sort of explanation will already have been prepared before the new atlas is published — just in case someone asks?

  22. KnR
    Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 3:44 AM | Permalink

    You need to consider that a large part of this , is not about the science at all , it it about politics, personal ambitions and the fact that some are so deep in there is no safe way out for them. Fox and Ward are PR shrills doing a dirty job becasue that is what there paid to do , but what is Hoskins motivation ?

  23. David Chapman
    Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 4:39 AM | Permalink

    Dr. Johnson would have described global warming hysteria, I am sure , as “the clamour of the times”.

  24. Hoi Polloi
    Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 6:05 AM | Permalink

    At Cryolist, glaciologists, either unaware of Hoskins’ endorsement, complained that the Guardian had failed to talk to “scientists” before they publish

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good melt…

  25. Hu McCulloch
    Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 9:55 AM | Permalink

    I happen to own a copy of the 5th (1975, rev 1977) comprehensive edition of the Times Atlas. It came with a legend card with symbols for various landscape features. “Ice-field and Glaciers” and “Ice-cap, Ice-sheet” are separate entries and both represented by white. They are often hard to tell apart, though ice sheets tend to have broken scalloped lines at their edges, while glaciers tend to have pseudo-topo lines suggesting their altitude gradient and direction of flow.

    Alaska (on its own plate 113) clearly has lots of large, named glaciers, while Iceland has some small icecaps, sometimes blending into glaciers (on its own plate 50). It would be useful to compare the treatment of Greenland in the new edition to that of Alaska and Iceland. Jo:kull appears to be Icelandic for both glacier and icecap. (Pardon my umlaut!)

    In the 5th ed, Greenland is represented twice with about the same scale, once on plate 97 with Canada and Alaska, and again on plate 48 with the Arctic Ocean. Plate 48 also has details of the E and W coasts of Greenland, showing numerous glaciers connected to the ice cap per se. The maps of Greenland Steve showed in the earlier post appear to be drawn from the Canada and Arctic America plate rather than the Artic Ocean plate (which presumably still exist, though perhaps with different numbers).

    There doesn’t appear to be any attempt to distinguish “ice cap” from “glacier” by thickness, but rather by lack of a pronounced direction of flow.

    Steve: ö ALT- 0246

    • Charlie Hart
      Posted Sep 23, 2011 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

      “There doesn’t appear to be any attempt to distinguish “ice cap” from “glacier” by thickness, but rather by lack of a pronounced direction of flow.”

      You first need to accurately define the terms before you start and then classify according to those terms.

      Same problem with Astronomy and Pluto. Had to accurately define what a planet is before you can accurately classify.

  26. Posted Sep 24, 2011 at 3:05 AM | Permalink

    One of the things about exaggerating the decline is that in four years time when they do the next update; what will they find? Oh my goodness – all that ice – it’s come back.

  27. Jean Demesure
    Posted Sep 25, 2011 at 4:39 PM | Permalink

    “Suppose that in comparison with the disputed map, the next edition of the atlas shows more white on Greenland than the previous one shows. Can we guess that some sort of explanation will already have been prepared before the new atlas is published — just in case someone asks?”

    @Scott Brim
    With Greenland no more… green, can we have a video of eggs-on-the-face Hoskins crying global cooling please ?

  28. Ash Crill
    Posted Sep 25, 2011 at 7:51 PM | Permalink

    “no hidden agenda”

    Thats right, it isn’t hidden at all and never has been.

  29. Stacey
    Posted Sep 26, 2011 at 6:03 AM | Permalink

    Sir Brian Hoskins demonstrates everything that is wrong with the uk honours system.

    He’s got his gong,is he looking for his seat in the Lords? Where he will feel at home with the great and not so good?

  30. Simon
    Posted Sep 29, 2011 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

    Presumably you know that ‘promotional video’ is actually an ITN news report?

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