Andrew Montford on the Transformation of the Royal Society

Andrew Montford’s lucid account of the transformation of the UK Royal Society (here) starts 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.”

It ends with the rueful worry of one of its fellows that an institution with such an eminent tradition has now become merely “another policy-driven quango”.

The role of recent presidents Robert May, Martin Rees and Paul Nurse comes in for special scrutiny. The latter two have been mentioned at CA on a couple of occasions. Rees acquiesced acquiesced in the University of East Anglia’s false claims that the papers examined by the Oxburgh panel had been selected by the Royal Society as representative of the issues in dispute – when in fact they were highly unrepresentative of CRU papers actually criticized at Climate Audit and had been selected by Trevor Davies of the University of East Anglia in a submission putting CRU in the best possible face.) Paul Nurse (as discussed in Montford’s paper) massively misrepresented the character and impact of FOI requests to East Anglia and has failed to respond to any requests for evidence supporting his untrue claims.

The report is written in Andrew Montford’s usual lucid style.


  1. Peter Dunford
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 2:10 PM | Permalink

    Steve, two acquiesseds and an er needed for another.

  2. Craig Loehle
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 2:57 PM | Permalink

    As a graduate student and young post-doc I knew Robert May personally. He was quite famous within Ecology for his book Diversity and Stability in Model Ecosystems and has published in Nature & Science multiple times. He was brilliant and spoke even when extemporaneously in structured paragraphs (ie,not sloppy, no “um” or “er”). However, if you read his body of work, he draws conclusions directly from simplified models (all individuals identical, spatial heterogeneity ignored, assumption that all processes are known) to the real world, with very little reference to experiments or data that would confirm or perticularly refute his models. Sound familiar? He was involved with a colleague in the policy to cull cattle for BSE in UK rather than vaccinate them–a decision that cost farmers there dearly. So there is a clear bias to believe that idealized and quite simple models are real.

  3. DaveS
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

    Are Robert May and the Lord May who made wild claims about FOI requests during the recent House of Lords debate one and the same person?

    • oldtimer
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 12:08 PM | Permalink


  4. Matt Skaggs
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 3:38 PM | Permalink

    It seems almost unbelievable that all these organizations – NAS, AGU, Royal Society, Nature Editorial Staff, even CSICOP, to name a few – would abandon objectivity in favor of activism over something so nebulous and unsubstantiated as CAGW. Continental drift and the Bretz floods come to mind as examples where scientists closed ranks to block radical new ideas, but in those cases objectivity was lost in favor of sustaining the orthodoxy. Such high-level activism may truly be unprecedented in support of an extraordinary claim that challenges decades of orthodoxy, in this case about the coming and going of ice ages, the Holocene “optimum,” the MWP/LIA, etc.

  5. Exagnostic
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 4:13 PM | Permalink

    Lord May and Robert May are the same person. It is interesting to read his whole contribution to the House of Lords debate on the 12th January 2012 about the FOIA. He seems to have supported two incompatible propositions:

    1. That the protocol on science advice on policy making should be “”No more closed rooms. Everything open. We want to see it published” and then
    2. That “the Freedom of Information Act has, as many of your Lordships will know, been used as a weapon of harassment in some circumstances” then referring to the CRU at UEA.

    Whether the FOIA requests to the UEA constituted harassment or not, they would not have been necessary or happened if the CRU had published its data and code in accordance with the admirable principle he enunciates.

    The full speech copied from Hansard is as follows:

    “Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, I support the set of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, and Amendment 148B, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has put down. I begin slightly narcissistically by saying that I think I have form in relation to openness. As Chief Scientific Adviser, I put in place the protocols for science advice on policy-making, which have gone through rounds of revision, saying “No more closed rooms. Everything open. We want to see it published”. I have been associated, and still am, with two of the three major journals in science-the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US and Science-in both cases promoting more open access within the framework of profit-making journals. More generally at the Royal Society, when I was its president I made our journals much more available, particularly to people in countries that could not afford to pay for them.

    “I am all for making things available but, at the same time, I shall mention something which is perhaps tactless-if not even politically incorrect-which is that the Freedom of Information Act has, as many of your Lordships will know, been used as a weapon of harassment in some circumstances. The climate change community in general, and the community at the University of East Anglia in particular, have not only been subject to criminal invasion of their databases, carefully timed for particular events, but are continually bombarded with very elaborate requests for information that go well beyond the sharing of basic data, so we have to be careful in how we draft this.

    “That brings me to two specific elements of the amendments suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. On the suggestion that data should be provided in a format which the user requires, while I am sympathetic to the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave that it can be very inconvenient, on the other hand it invites the abuse of saying, “I want the data in some manner which is extraordinarily inconvenient”. This can be only partly protected by the other thing that I draw particular attention to: recognising that there is a cost associated with providing this data in any form and that it is only reasonable that people should be allowed to charge for it. I can see an offsetting, in some sense. If you allowed that people could request the form in which it be given, the offset would have to be really realistic. In some cases, that could reflect the degree of harassment and so on, so there are complexities nested within this.

    “I also like Amendment 148B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, simply because, like him, I could not understand what the provision meant.”

  6. matthu
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 4:31 PM | Permalink

    Some (of what I hope are) inspirational quotes from a Hansard debate from January 2010 (and one or two crackpot ideas thrown in) which help to explain what has really ben going on.

    Lord Stone of Blackheath:

    … I asked for this debate then, not because I feel expert in this field as there are giants in climate change in this House and I am looking forward to hearing what they say.
    Lord Ryder of Wensum:
    Two and a half years ago the Royal Society published a pamphlet entitled Climate Change Controversies: A Simple Guide. It stated:
    “This is not intended to provide exhaustive answers to every contentious argument that has been put forward by those who seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change”.
    In other words, only doubters of science dispute or query the conventional wisdom. The authors overlook the proud motto of the Royal Society: “Take nobody’s word for it”.
    I take nobody’s word for it. Scientists divide on the principle or pace of climate change. Unanimity does not exist. Professor Morner, former chairman of the International Commission on Sea Level Change, regarded Al Gore’s claims of 20-foot rises in sea levels by 2100 as a scare story. So too did Professor Lindzen of MIT, a leading climatologist. Nearer home, Sir David King, a former chief government scientific adviser, affirmed that if China and India continued to support the USA, the planet, apart from Antarctica, would be uninhabitable by 2100.
    In the spirit of the Royal Society’s motto, I offer some observations. The G77 demanded hundreds of billions of dollars in addition to development aid. The notion that richer countries would be willing to surrender so much of their wealth in perpetuity was always for the elves. Nations are unlikely to be disposed towards policies with such high economic costs, least of all during an international recession, in spite of the rhapsodising by western political leaders, each purporting to be more virtuous and generous than the other. But then candour has never been at the heart of this debate.

    Lord Oxburgh:
    It is very difficult to question the influence of our greenhouse gases in controlling the earth’s temperature and question the fact that during the past 150 years we have significantly increased those by roughly 30 per cent. People who deny that really have to recognise that they have to come up with a whole new theory for temperature distribution in the terrestrial planets, which has stood the test of time for about 100 years, if they want to throw out the concept of greenhouse gas perturbation. When you come to the precise consequences of this-how much ice melts where; whether we are talking about 2 or 3 degrees-there is much more scope for disagreement over modelling and between the different approaches taken. However, there is nearly uniform agreement on the general direction of change.
    The Lord Bishop of London:
    Ed Miliband has pointed out that, if Martin Luther King had said “I’ve got a nightmare”, rather than a dream, nobody would have taken much notice or followed him. The task now is to build a global movement that goes beyond G20 territory and embraces Africa and the poorest communities in the world, on which the burden of adapting to climate change is already being felt most acutely.
    Lord Giddens:
    Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the quotation about Martin Luther King came from two American academics, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, not from Ed Miliband.
    Lord Giddens:
    We have to give a lot of thought to the political consequences of how we cope with the necessarily sceptical nature of the scientific enterprise. Science depends on scepticism; it feeds on disagreement, not consensus. We know that the impact of the climate change sceptics has been massive among the general public; a previous speaker referred to that. The proportion of the general public that is sceptical about the claims that climate change is dangerous and is caused by human activity is much larger than the proportion in the scientific community.
    There are real issues to be confronted. Having written extensively about this, I am worried about the increasing political polarisation around climate change. Climate change is not intrinsically a left/right issue, but it is beginning to polarise around the left and the right. The situation in the United States, which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned, expresses this political polarisation. We have at least to consider looking again at the IPCC. We have to consider whether producing a single set of documents, even with different scenarios in them, is the best way of addressing the relationship between science as a sceptical enterprise and the need to convince the public of the crucial importance of action.

    Lord James of Blackheath:
    Recently, I was hugely impressed when, along with a few other Members of your Lordships’ House, I listened to a talk by Professor Niall Ferguson, the author of The Ascent of Money, who was asked what is the one thing we could do that would give us a more optimistic future. He said it is the achievement of a single, cheap, sustainable source of fuel. It would wipe out the cause of international strife, free up an enormous amount of GDP that would be sufficient to cure world poverty and bring peace and economic stability to the world. I buy that argument.
    My point is that there is a lack of inspiration in getting on with it. This country should recognise that and do more.

    I wholly agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. His words reminded me of the last sermon I got from the school padre on my last day at school. He said: “You’re all going out into this wonderful world. You will go in the company of a great and powerful God, but He has got very bored and tired of performing miracles to get you out of the messes you get yourselves into. Instead, He has given you all the materials you need to do it for yourselves. Now get out there and do it”.

    Lord Rees of Ludlow:

    Our understanding of climate science must be progressed. No one seriously disputes the rapid anthropogenic rise in CO2 concentrations: nor that, if this continues unchecked, it will lead to secular warming that is superimposed on all the other long-term trends. None the less, there is still uncertainty in the actual rate of warming and in the probability of positive feedbacks. It is therefore crucial to improve the database and the models.
    Baroness Jay of Paddington:
    After Copenhagen, it is important to re-emphasise the disaster for development if we do not go on working together to find more successful and comprehensive ways to manage climate change. It is now clear that the challenge of overcoming world poverty is inextricably linked to the challenges of global warming; if we fail on one, we fail on the other.
    Lord Whitty:
    We need a dream, but the vision of a nightmare is important in motivating people as well. If we do not take action, the nightmare scenario may well eventuate.
    Lord Lea of Crondall:
    “There are three complementary elements … price/tax rises for [greenhouse gases] to choke off demand for carbon intensive forms of production and consumption … promoting new low carbon technologies – and demand for their output – in the same timescale … [and] an agreed financial formula or key”- as the European Council put it- “for equitable global implementation” … But the idea that in 2009 we can finalise in detail the financial mechanisms which can ensure that we meet hugely ambitious carbon tonnage reductions stretching to 2050 – and to which all future generations of politicians are bound by treaty – is a bridge too far. Indeed, there is a danger that we will denigrate what will in the longer term probably be seen as substantial progress. The multi-layered complexities of the exercise can only be compared with Rubik’s cube. It is self-evidently an incremental one – a huge negotiation with 192 countries with 192 different economic attributes, whose energy emissions and outputs range from reliance on ruminant animals to nuclear power … A rough guesstimate is that half the financing will come from the international carbon market and half from international public finance/tax, which of course means the taxpayers of Burton-on-Trent … It is of decisive importance that the tax regime is not regressive; the average working person must not pay more percentage-of-income than the wealthy. This is a political necessity if the whole strategy is to succeed – but it is one to which so far insufficient attention has been paid. The EU Council is proposing that all the countries of the world- except the least developed-contribute to international public finance though a global distribution key, based on emissions totals and GDP. In practice this can be described as a carbon equalisation tax”.
    Lord Clinton-Davis:
    So is there no hope? I believe that there is, provided that the major polluters come to their senses soon, which is a big if. Surely we have to pose the argument that, even if at the end the sceptics are proved to be right, which I believe is an extremely remote possibility, what do we have to lose? Time, a great deal of money, the probable improvement of man’s well-being? But if the sceptics are wrong and their myopia is unjustified, devastating consequences might be avoided. I believe that the sceptics are likely to be proved wrong and that urgent action needs to be taken. In my view, the noble Lord, Lord Stern, who we will hear from later, is absolutely right. The Mexicans, who are the hosts of the next conference, should take urgent action before it is too late and call together some 20 representative countries to work on a potential treaty. Nothing should be sacrosanct; all the outstanding issues should be confronted. Consensus needs to be built; time is not on our side; the future of the planet is at stake, and we have to think anew.
    Lord Donoughue:
    My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stone, for the opportunity to discuss the Copenhagen conference. Personally, I am not sure whether its failure was a disaster for the future of the planet or a fortunate rescue from dangerous commitments. Time will tell. I want to focus today on global warming, which is allegedly occurring on an unprecedented scale and is allegedly caused by man-made carbon emissions-the majority view is certainly that way.
    First, I should declare that I have no training in physical science, although I have in social science from I was when an academic at the LSE, and I am aware of the use and misuse of statistics. I should also emphasise that I believe it is of prime importance to protect our planet from pollution of its earth, skies and oceans. I am also convinced that climate change is, indeed, taking place; it always has. There is nothing new there, although the volatility may now be much greater. However, climate change may not be the same as unprecedented global warming, although there is of course a link.
    I am not yet convinced that such warming is, in fact, occurring on an unprecedented and catastrophic scale-although I am aware of the weight of scientific opinion being that way-nor has it, to me, been convincingly forecast to continue in a devastatingly upward curve as the global warming alarmists claim. I am neither a “flat earther” nor a so-called denier-a nasty word, being linked with Nazis denying the Holocaust. The facts of the Holocaust are tragically well established. However, the facts of onward global warming seem less secure. I am not a neo-Nazi but a questioner. It is about those facts of global warming that I wish to ask a few brief questions.
    First, on the state of global warming science, would the Government and the preachers of global warming orthodoxy please stop asserting that the scientific evidence is decisively settled and that virtually all scientists support the warming orthodoxy? The science is not yet settled, and some questions are unsettled; nor are all scientists unanimous in support of the orthodoxy or its theology. Five hundred scientists, for instance, gathered recently at a conference in Washington to express their dissent. Their views can be found massively on the internet, although no British media and especially not the BBC reported the conference. Their dissenting views should be addressed, not suppressed.
    Secondly, concerning the conclusions of the scientific evidence, specifically, is the global warming of the late 20th century demonstrably different and more threatening than the natural cycles of earlier times? The 300-year long medieval warming period was as hot, or hotter, than our recent experience. Grapes grew on Hadrian’s Wall and the Vikings cultivated the green fields of the then green Greenland. Is the recent warming significantly different and sure to rise continuously and catastrophically? Related to this question, what has actually happened in the first decade of the 21st century, when the Met Office constantly forecast mild winters and barbecue summers, which did not materialise, and we currently have the worst winter in at least 30 years? That may be a blip-and I suspect that it is-but it raises questions.
    Even more worrying questions have been raised about the integrity of some statistical sources for future global warming forecasts. The University of East Anglia’s climatic unit, a major source of the world’s global warming forecasts, has been exposed in practices which may not display the best values of objective science. Why did it perform a trick-its description-to “hide the decline in recent temperature”?
    It admits using “adjustments” to data, but one man’s adjustments can be another’s manipulation. It is particularly worrying that it strove to resist freedom of information requests and so has prevented scrutiny of its data.
    In relation to the media coverage of this important issue, the BBC should follow its charter and cover global warming impartially, not as a cheerleader for the alarmist side. It is counterproductive and provokes, like manipulation of statistics, the kind of public scepticism which the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, fears. As for the Met Office, it should go back to objective science and try to get its forecasts right and cease blatant campaigning for one side. I note that it has just inevitably forecast that 2010 will be a very hot year-noble Lords should stock up on their long-johns and fur boots.
    Why should we be wary of forecasts? One reason is that meteorology is clearly a very difficult science and the data are inevitably imperfect, but there are two other reasons. First, for too many this issue has become more a question of faith than of science. I am wary of zealots. Secondly, the forecasting black boxes are unreliable. We should remember the banks forecasting that their toxic debt had no risk. As a former Minister of Agriculture I recall that the black boxes forecasted thousands of human dead from CJD.
    In conclusion, this debate should not be between those who allegedly nobly wish to save the planet by radical decarbonisation and the selfish deniers who do not care for the future of the world. We must continue seeking practical ways to cleanse our environment. Above all, we must seek for objective science to establish what is happening to our ever-changing climate. I hope that we will not rush into panic measures that fatally damage our western economy. We must make sure that we get the scientific facts right and that our policy responses are ones of proportionate adaptation.

    Lord Judd:
    This is a human rights challenge of the first order. At stake is not only the survival of our children, grandchildren and future generations, but also the plight of the vulnerable right now, as we debate. We must make Copenhagen a spur for decisive action. It is estimated that, by the time of the Mexico talks next December, 150,000 people will have died and 1 million more will have been displaced as a result of climate change. There will have been still more destruction of Bangladeshi coastal communities, still more inundation of island communities and still more Cockermouths, and this process is accelerating.
    The consequences of insufficient action will be devastating economically, will lead to massive flows of migration by climate refugees and will inevitably produce political tension, extremism and yet more terrorism. That is the harsh reality.

    Lord Birt:
    My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of the renewable energy companies listed in the Register.
    Perhaps all Governments should agree a target that all the world’s travel by, say, 2040 should be powered by electricity or hydrogen. That would mean electric cars, for instance, and a suitable infrastructure to support them. Perhaps China would find it easier to agree that. Though normally I am a profound believer in the virtues of market mechanisms, in this instance I think that the world will need to supplement a market framework on carbon pricing with some such agreed measures and a coherent approach to investment in research and development.

    Lord Puttnam:
    My Lords, it falls to me as the last Back-Bench speaker to thank my noble friend Lord Stone on having stimulated an extremely informed and informative debate.
    The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was probably unfairly billed as the last chance for world leaders to agree an international climate agreement that would prevent global temperatures increasing by 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels-the figure that the International Panel on Climate Change recommended as being the safe limit. It is worth noting that it is a figure that is already viewed by many of the more obviously vulnerable states as being too high.
    It is divisions such as that between developed and developing nations that illustrate the difficulty in driving forward any effective global response, with the result that, in the short term at least, the future of our planet remains very much in the hands of individual Governments, businesses and communities.
    To borrow a phrase from Shakespearean tragedy, the “corrupted currents of the world” have worked in such a way as to ensure that the response of a minority of nations to this unparalleled threat has been little more than an exercise in the worst form of geopolitical cynicism.
    So, as ever, it will all come down to people: people in the form of bold political leadership and consistent upward pressure from across the whole of civil society. It is my hope that the democratising power of technology will enable citizens-most particularly young people-to make their voices heard in such a way as to make it impossible for the world’s political leaders to ignore them.
    At national level, the UK is already legally bound by the Climate Change Act to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels. A series of five-year carbon budgets established by this House will hopefully ensure that these long-term goals are met. This means that, regardless of what replaces the Kyoto Protocol, we as a nation are already committed to the type of tough emission reduction targets that are likely to involve substantial and difficult changes to society as we know it.
    Until now, that has been a very hard sell politically. People are understandably reluctant to change aspects of their lifestyle that they have come to enjoy and take for granted. They also, equally understandably, cling to any thread of hope that encourages them to believe that perceptible sacrifice might prove unnecessary. I was reminded of this at the weekend when reading Max Hastings’s excellent recounting of Churchill’s war years. On page 112 of his book he quotes the MP Harold Nicolson as remarking that:
    “As long as Britain appeared to face imminent catastrophe, its people displayed notable fortitude … it was a striking feature of British wartime behaviour that the moment peril fractionally receded, many ordinary people allowed themselves to nurse fantasies that their ordeal might soon be over and the spectre of war had been banished”.
    By exploiting this all too human trait, those who for many years cynically promoted the belief that there was no proven connection between smoking and lung cancer were able to spin a web of confusion, leading in many cases to fatal delay. It is my personal belief that their direct successors, those who promote the interests of nations and companies to whom global action to avert climate catastrophe represents a similar commercial threat, will be exposed over time in the same way as have the tobacco kings and their lobbyists who, by spending millions actively peddling ignorance, now stand guilty for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
    In the United States, there is even disturbing evidence that some of the cancer deniers and the more recent climate deniers are in fact one and the same. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Donoughue does not like the word “denier”, but I would be happy to share the evidence with him.
    It is to be hoped that science and common sense will see off this pernicious fifth column. However, if we are successfully to tackle climate change, we must assiduously promote the opportunities that a low-carbon economy will create and enable people to see the tangible benefits of changing their behaviour, not just for themselves but for successive generations. Only by supporting a bottom-up approach to climate change mitigation as well as a top-down one will we in this country unleash the type of powerful entrepreneurial community spirit that is capable of delivering financial and environmental returns to the benefit of our own people and of the planet in general.

  7. vigilantfish
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 8:51 PM | Permalink

    Andrew Montford very clearly sets out the evidence for the perversion of the Royal Society into a quango. It’s beautifully documented, as well – I love the footnotes’ proximity to the actual text.

    The Royal Society has had a role in advocating for certain scientific programs of practical significance to the government in its long past, but to my knowledge these were not accompanied by the ugly ideological divisiveness seen recently under Paul Nurse, and clearly presented by Montford here. I am thinking of its involvement in the search for a method of measuring longitude, or Sir Joseph Banks’s long presidency in the late 18th and early 19th century (he preferred practical science).

    Andrew Montford’s analysis deserves a response from the membership of the Royal Society but I predict most scientists will just prefer to keep their heads down until the general political climate around this debate changes.

    • Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 1:53 AM | Permalink

      Andrew Montford’s analysis deserves a response from the membership of the Royal Society

      Indeed it does. But herein lies the problem … perhaps if the membership, i.e. the Fellows, were given more of a voice, the RS would not be in the sorry position it is today.

      My guess is that we are far more likely to see a “response” from the likes of Bob Ward (or one crafted by his replacement at the RS) than from the membership. FWIW, my thoughts on Andrew’s excellent analysis can be found at:

      Of principles, presidents and pretense … the descent of the Royal Society

  8. AntonyIndia
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Permalink

    There goes another “independent” UK icon: the Royal Society. It follows in the foot steps of the BBC, having to toe the government line. Same problem: taking too much government money (40% of the “unrestricted” funds), so now at the mercy of the London bureaucracy and various ministers.

    • AntonyIndia
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 8:15 PM | Permalink

      Just to confirm my point above about the BBC and RS being in it together under the blanket of the upper bureaucracy here is a quote from the Telegraph’s climate blogger James Delingpole:
      Here’s a copy of the mendacious letter the BBC Horizon producer Emma Jay sent to me when trying to arrange my stitch up by Paul Nurse:

      Dear James
      I hope you don’t mind me contacting you on this email address but I was given it by Louise Gray at the Telegraph.
      I am making a film for BBC’s Horizon on public trust in science and I was hoping you may be able to help.
      The film will explore our current relationship with science, whether we as a society do and should trust it. It is being presented by the nominated President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse. If he is voted in later this summer he will be taking over the at RS at the end of the year at around the same time the film will be transmitted so it would very much launch his presidency.”

  9. johanna
    Posted Feb 9, 2012 at 11:44 PM | Permalink

    They have certainly gone backwards from 1753. And, perhaps because I am an uncultured Australian, the appellation ‘noble’ in front of a mention of any member of the House of Lords in debate is faintly nauseating. Then again, in our own Parliament people are called ‘honourable’ – but that it at least an aspirational quality.

    What Montford has done is to track the corruption of one of the great scientific bodies – brilliantly – but as Matt Skaggs has pointed out, the RS is not Robinson Crusoe. The co-option of these bodies worldwide perhaps suggests that they are reaching their use-by date, being wholly owned subsidiaries of prevailing political whims and the accompanying dollars and kudos.

    So – will the RS and its equivalents around the world re-invent themselves? Will Steve and Ross be offered membership? Or will they be supplanted by loose alliances via the internet, such as already exist, that might form new bodies? As in 1753, the founding principle would have to be that no binding pronouncements may be made. In a sense, the blogrolls of ca, wuwt, tallbloke, judith curry etc already form the nucleus of a new Royal Society based on the original principles.

  10. Lewis Deane
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 2:50 AM | Permalink

    Steve, I’m reading Montford’s, as usual, perspicacious prose. He is probably one of the best writers on science around (you excepted – though why not a book of your own?). And what it provokes one to think is a more general ‘corruption’ in the west – the ‘corruption’ of thinking itself, of being able to think, to distinguish between a logical, discursive argument and mere ‘feeling’, between the passion to understand, enquire and listen and ‘mere’ passion itself. How superficial we have become! How absurd!

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM | Permalink

      I agree with you that Andrew’s prose style really is lucid. I feel lucky that he took an interest in what I was doing. In turn, I’ve tried to learn from his style of presenting backstories.

      I’m less pessimistic than you (or Andrew) about “corruption”. Yes, some of these things are frustrating, but lots of things in the world are frustrating. I try to focus on the intrinsic interest of each situation, whether it be proxies or FOI refusals.

      • Salamano
        Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 4:00 AM | Permalink

        Speaking about Proxies… Did you see the recent RC post regarding the 1258 earthquake as examined through proxies? There was a little chatter in there about verification statistics and such (in the comments too) .. it may picque your interest.

      • Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 5:09 AM | Permalink

        I’m less pessimistic than you (or Andrew) about “corruption”. Yes, some of these things are frustrating, but lots of things in the world are frustrating.

        I’m not sure where Andrew stands but when I read something as broad brush as this from Lewis my agnosticism kicks in – some that didn’t know me might even call it my humility. For one thing we don’t know the impact of the internet on logical argument and discourse generally, as the next generation which has known nothing else reinvents these things. There are positives and negatives there and I have no idea which will win out. I also fall back on something that I read from Thomas Sowell, who tends to be of a pessimistic frame of mind. He suddenly said that his one hope is the vast number of past intellectuals he’s studied and how often their predictions were way off beam. So he too realises he may be quite wrong.

    • Ted Swart
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 12:28 PM | Permalink

      YES indeed Lewis Deane. It would be wonderful and probably very timely for SM to produce a book of his own. No reflection on Montford’s contribution concerning the RS which is truly superb.

  11. KNR
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 5:13 AM | Permalink

    It’s fairly clear that the current head of the RS has issues with its motto of ‘take no bodies word for it’ and would be much happier with a new one saying ‘trust me I am a scientists’

  12. Bernie
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 6:24 AM | Permalink

    Speaking of book reviews, are you going to review Michael Mann’s new book?

    • j ferguson
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 8:26 AM | Permalink

      Bernie, are you?

      I’m uncomfortable with my reluctance to read it, having thought unkind thoughts about people who wouldn’t read HSI.

      • j ferguson
        Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 9:39 AM | Permalink

        Sorry, Bernie. I was thinking “read” not necessarily review. Many years ago, I overcame my reluctance to read the 1920’s product of a Munich slammer – yah, the whole thing. Subsequently, It has made me less willing to take on works that I suspect i would hate, but would I hate HS Mike’s?? Hard to say.

        • bernie1815
          Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 5:50 PM | Permalink

          I will read the book, but I am reluctant to review it if Andrew and Steve (or others more directly involved with Mann) are going to give their take. I write a fair number of reviews on a fairly broad range of books on Amazon as Observer most are well received. But I suspect that our host will provide much more insight.
          Andrew Montford has just received his copy. When I posed the same question to Andrew, he replied saying that Mann’s book apparently does not mention or reference the Hockey Stick Illusion!!!! (This alone makes me feel that a detailed and critical review will add to the email evidence we already have as to the way Mann thinks.)

        • j ferguson
          Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Permalink

          I’ve thought some more on it and will read the book. My career is behind me but in its 40 years, I never worked with anyone quite like the Mann we see in the emails and as portrayed at our favorite blogs. It could be that this was because i worked in an industry where you cannot successfully fool mother nature. Or it could be that our perception of him is inaccurate – make that my perception, based on my own reactions to what I’ve read here and there, and maybe different from the opinions of our gracious hosts, Steven, and Andrew.

        • Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 3:16 AM | Permalink

          Mann’s book apparently does not mention or reference the Hockey Stick Illusion!!!!

          To my mind, this (amongst other characteristics of his prose, as highlighted by Tom Nelson) makes Mann nothing less than an eminent “revisionist scholar”. David Irving can be proud of the leaves Mann has taken from his books / mode of “doing history”.

          Amazing. Simply amazing.

        • Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 4:32 AM | Permalink

          The fact Mann doesn’t mention HSI greatly reduces my desire to read the book. Proper debate requires taking the most cogent statements of those with whom you disagree. I would be genuinely interested in seeing how Mann might counter Andrew’s book. But it’s the same old same old: ignore everything that’s inconvenient. I’ll leave it to others to wade through.

  13. johanna
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 8:23 AM | Permalink

    To understand what the RS is about, it is worth mentioning C P Snow’s 1951 novel, ‘The Masters’. It is about a struggle for power (and the Mastership) in a fictional Cambridge college. A key player is a chemist who wants, more than anything, to become a member of the RS, but is simply not good enough. Another theme is the fight between the sciences and the humanities for numbers and power in the college. For example, here is the narrator trying to cajole an ancient, vain, much rewarded and very distinguished Fellow who had built his career on studies of early Icelandic civilisation:

    “Do you want a scientist as Master? Crawford’s field is a long way from yours” I said.

    “I should never give a second’s thought to such a question” Gay rebuked me. “I have never attached any importance to boundary-lines between branches of learning. A man can do distinguished work in any, and we ought to have outgrown these arts and science controversies before we leave the school debating society. Indeed we ought.”

    Snow wrote extensively about the conflict between the arts and the sciences in academia and politics, and had a brief flush of fame for it (The Two Cultures).

    It is arguable which has won, but there is no doubt that the sciences have gained firepower by borrowing from acquiescent bits of the arts, such as politics and economics. It does seem that Professor Gay, and the distinguished physicist who eventually became the Master (who was as incorruptible as Robespierre) would not recognise the academic landscape of today. If they were as described in the book, both would have resigned from the Royal Society.

    • bernie1815
      Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 6:03 PM | Permalink

      I read CP Snow’s Strangers and Brothers many years ago and agree it is a pretty good anthropological/sociological analysis. More telling though is a book that I may have referenced here before by David and Steven Clark – Newton’s Tyranny: The Suppressed Scientific Discoveries of Stephen Gray and John Flamsteed
      I spent my professional life studying organizations and while it is certainly the case that organizational structures influence behavior and the visible leaders can set a tone, most behavior reflects the behavior and attitudes of certain key individuals. While recent presidents may deserve criticism – I would look for the Sir Humphrey type characters who are ensuring that an open debate on the way climate science is being conducted is suppressed.
      P.S. I have just downloaded Andrew’s new essay and look forward to sifting through it.

    • theduke
      Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Permalink

      A fellow named John Brockman has taken Snow’s ideas one step further in a 1995 book titled “The Third Culture.” is a very dynamic website. Many of you who comment here on climateaudit might be interested in what he and all his contributors have to say.

  14. David L. Hagen
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 9:57 AM | Permalink

    New link to Nullius in verba, On the Word of No One, The Royal Society

    Click to access montford-royal_society.pdf

    • frost
      Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

      Thank you. The one at the top of the post no longer works and should be updated.

  15. Don McIlvin
    Posted Feb 10, 2012 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

    I’m getting a 404 not found when I click “Here” to Montford’s review at the top of your post.

  16. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 1:46 AM | Permalink

    One of the most relevant books is “The Apocalyptics” by Edith Efron, Simon & Schuster NY (1984) ISBN 0-671-41743-6.

    The author used only direct quotes from the large number of players invloved in the now-disproved hypothesis that a massive outbreak of cancers would result from the use of synthetic chemicals by mankind. There are no references from industry, for fear they might be tainted. The 589 paperback pages are meticulously researched.

    The parallel with Golbal Warming is immediate and relevant. Even some of the players are the same; only the cause has changed.

    The book is motivational, since it shows that skill and persistence by a small number of gifted individuals can change the establishment view, to peoduce a better result for those who follow us.

    There was a turning point when Bruce Ames, who could loosely be equated with James Hansen in the plot, realised he had been wrong. Later, he wrote extensivelt on how wrong he had been. Here is a part of a popular summary:

    “Don’t smoke and eat your fruits and veggies.” If you ask Bruce Ames, that simple, folksy remedy is the best way to avoid cancer.

    So why is this 63-year-old professor of biology at the University of California, Berkeley, so controversial?

    Ames burst on the national scientific scene in the early 1970s with the development of a method, generally dubbed the Ames Test or the Ames Mutagenicity Test, to determine what chemicals caused a certain bacteria to mutate.

    This, in turn, could be used to help determine what chemicals cause cancer.

    Bruce Ames

    Ames is the recipient of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Prize and of the Tyler Prize for environmental achievement. He has served on the National Cancer Institute board of Bruce Ames directors, and he’s a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

    At one time, he was the darling of the environmental movement. But now, the members of that movement have turned on him with a vengeance, accusing him of aiding and abetting “Corporate America,” although he accepts no money other than his university salary.

    Ames’ problem is that after he discovered that there were a vast number of synthetic chemicals that are carcinogenic – that is, they cause cancer when fed to laboratory animals at extremely high doses – he then discovered that natural chemicals found in everyday food are just as likely to be carcinogenic as those manufactured by Dow, Uniroyal or American Cyanamid.

    This, he found, was a very politically incorrect conclusion.

    The environmentalist activists, Ames said recently, “have a religion” that says that corporations are behind an exploding epidemic of cancer.

    Prodded by a tiny handful of doctors, such as Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois at Chicago, by a media looking for headlines, and by celebrity spokespeople such as Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep, Americans, Ames says, are engaged in a veritable witch hunt against synthetically produced chemicals and the companies that make them.

    “The idea that chemical companies are giving consumers cancer just isn’t true,” he said.

    • Mike Jackson
      Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Permalink

      Interesting one, Geoff
      I posted at Bishop Hill earlier today:- I have just been re-reading Anthony Browne’s “The Retreat of Reason” which charts the development of Political Correctness. Interestingly his introduction deals with the ‘myth of heterosexual AIDS’.
      The parallel with global warming (which as I recall he doesn’t actually mention in the book) is as plain as it could be just about from page 1!

  17. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Permalink

    Andrew Montford has articulated well here a message that goes well beyond The Royal Society. I have surmised that he intended for the warnings he presents to be applied to all quasi-private organizations interested in science. Nothing evil just that we reap what we sow.

  18. Solomon Green
    Posted Feb 11, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Permalink

    Those interested in following matthu’s excerpts from the January 2010 debate in the House of Lords may notice that, according to Hansard, Oxburgh failed to declare his financial interests when intervening in that debate although, when he came to advocating carbon capture, he did mention his involvement as the honorary president of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association.

    For the record the following extract from The Record shows what he could, and most of believe that he should, have declared.

    “…Oxburgh is also a director of GLOBE, the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment.

    GLOBE may be too obscure to merit its own Wikipedia entry, but that belies its wealth and influence. It funds meetings for parliamentarians worldwide with an interest in climate change, and prior to the Copenhagen Summit GLOBE issued guidelines (pdf) for legislators. Little expense is spared: in one year alone, one peer – Lord Michael Jay of Ewelme – enjoyed seven club class flights and hotel accommodation, at GLOBE’s expense. There’s no greater love a Parliamentarian can give to the global warming cause. And in return, Globe lists Oxburgh as one of 23 key legislators.

    In the House of Lords Register of Lords’ Interests, Oxburgh lists under remunerated directorships his chairmanship of Falck Renewables, and chairmanship of Blue NG, a renewable power company. (Oxburgh holds no shares in Falck Renewables, and serves as a non-exec chairman.) He also declares that he is an advisor to Climate Change Capital, to the Low Carbon Initiative, Evo-Electric, Fujitsu, and an environmental advisor to Deutsche Bank.”

    Was this not the reason that the man chosen to chair the investigating panel? He was what Sir Humphrey would call a safe pair of hands.

    • Geoff Sherrington
      Posted Feb 12, 2012 at 12:44 AM | Permalink

      Deutsche Bank 2008 Annual report (and also 2009, though 2008 was definitely before Climategate emails Part 1).
      Members of the Climate Change Advisory Board
      Lord Browne, Managing Director and Managing Partner (Europe), Riverstone
      Holdings LLC and former CEO of BP
      John Coomber, Member of the Board of Directors, Swiss Re and Chairman, The
      Climate Group
      Fabio Feldmann, CEO, Fabio Feldmann Consultores and former Executive
      Secretary, Brazilian Forum on Climate Change
      Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Sientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
      Lord Oxburgh, Member of the Advisory Board, Climate Change Capital and Former
      Chairman of Shell
      Dr. R. K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
      Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, CBE, Founding Director of Potsdam
      Institut for Climate Impact Research
      Professor Robert Socolow, Co-Director, The Carbon Mitigation Initiative and
      Professor, Princeton University
      Professor Klaus Töpfer, Former Minister for Environment, Germany
      Professor Hongren Zhang, Former President, International Union of Geological
      Science and former Vice Minister of Geology and Mineral Resources.
      I found it interesting to search H-J S, now Potsdam Institute, in the full Climategate set. You might too, especially re Tyndall Centre. Indeed, all of them are interesting in their various ways, some by contributing vast big oil $$$ to skeptics.(/sarc)

  19. Posted Feb 13, 2012 at 11:51 AM | Permalink

    Link to Andrew’s report is broken. It should read

    Click to access montford-royal_society.pdf

  20. Posted Oct 16, 2012 at 6:07 PM | Permalink

    I find it fascinating that NAS, AGU, Royal Society, Nature Editorial Staff, etc could somehow in almost group think style all begin to become more activist in nature rather than more objective in nature. Not sure how that transition occurs in large organizations…

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