Walport’s ignorance and banal soundbytes

Writing in Spiked, the U.K.’s Ben Pile has an excellent essay on the latest shoot-from-the-lip pronouncements emanating from the keyboard of the government’s “Chief Scientific Advisor”, Sir Mark Walport (and/or perhaps that of his ghost-writer!) Some excerpts from Pile’s assessment:

Sir Mark Walport’s demand that climate-change sceptics ‘grow up’ only reveals his ignorance about the climate debate.

According to an article in The Times (London) earlier this week, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, is about to start a lecture tour, which ‘will put climate change back on the political agenda’. With the global effort to reduce CO2 emissions in tatters, with the EU doing a volte-face on its own green energy targets, with the UK examining its own commitment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to green legislation, and with scientists scratching their heads about the absence of warming over the past 17 years, Walport’s words seem incautious, possibly foolish.

Environmentalists have a tendency to do their own negative PR. Too much was invested by too many in the notion that, by now, we would be seeing the natural world fall apart, taking human civilisation with it. It didn’t happen. […] The IPCC – the embodiment of the consensus itself – recently reported that there is no climate change signal in extreme weather events, except a slight tendency toward warmer days and increased precipitation. Nature, it seems, abhors vacuous alarmists.

Worse, environmentalists have failed to reflect on their own failures, and to find some other way of accounting for them. Accordingly, Walport’s opening salvo in this new climate offensive were ‘There are some people who don’t like the policy implications of climate change and think that the best way to duck the discussion is to deny the science’. The government’s soothsayer points his expert finger.


Walport joins his predecessors, such as David King and John Beddington, and past and present presidents of the Royal Society in taking a simplistic view of the climate debate. But the problem with such naked attempts to use scientific authority to influence policy is that these men soon reveal their lack of expertise and understanding. They are forced by their own ignorance to reinvent the debate, and in the process miss its substance, arguing instead with the cartoonish image of sceptics that exists only in their heads. The result is that these advisers fail to shed any light on the debate they are appointed to inform.

[…] The job of the chief scientist is not as much to inform the debate as to supply it with banal soundbytes. [hyperlink and emphases added -hro]

For an example of Walport’s utterance of “banal soundbytes” in which he clearly demonstrates his failure to comprehend that “nature … abhors vacuous alarmists”, see Andrew Montford’s recent post at Bishop Hill. And, if for some reason your sound card isn’t working today, you might want to check Alex Cull’s transcript of Walport in action.

And while you’re at Bishop Hill you might want to see the evidence of Royal Society President, Sir Paul Nurse’s defense of Walport – and of the indefensible Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Considering that Nurse’s field of expertise is genetics while Walport’s credentials derive from his expertise in “immunology and genetics of rheumatic diseases” – neither of which has anything to do with “climate change” – one wonders how much (indeed, if any) due diligence either of these took the trouble to conduct prior to proffering their respective “expert” opinions! My guess would be zip, nada, zilch!

Seems to me that both were far more likely to derive their views from the “key messages” conveniently culled by the Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I (WGI), Thomas Stocker.

Stocker – who may well be in the running to replace the recently silent IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri – appears to have taken a leaf from Pachauri’s “non policy prescriptive” playbook with his “conclusion” that:

limiting climate change requires substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

Btw, Stocker’s cv is somewhat sketchy; so it’s difficult to know the basis of his “expertise”. His “research” interests are of the modelling kind; i.e. he seems quite fond of playing computer climate games.

So, given a choice between the collective relevant expertise of Walport, Nurse and Stocker vs that of MIT’s Dr. Richard Lindzen, when it comes to climate change, I’ll take Lindzen’s any day! As did, evidently, the U.K. House of Commons’ Select Committee on Energy and Climate during the course of their review of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

Some excerpts from his oral testimony, as recorded by Dr. Judith Curry (who is also far more qualified than this trio of activists with their respective recitations of “banal soundbytes”):

Lindzen: You are asking a policy question and most scientists would like to avoid it. The range of uncertainties include the possibility that warming of 2C is a net benefit.

Lindzen: Whatever the UK decides to do will have no impact on your climate, but will have a profound impact on your economy. Trying to solve a problem that may not be a problem by taking actions that you know will hurt your economy

Lindzen: I think the IPCC assessment of natural variability is not adequate and there is not much argument about that. No models at present do an acceptable job on ENSO and the multidecadal oscillations. And also not the longer timescale circulations of the oceans on timescales of thousands of years. The fact that the system can change on its own is an important development in public understanding of climate change. [emphasis added -hro]

Strange isn’t it that so many of the so-called science media mavens have so frequently failed to notice this rather blatant discrepancy (not to mention the dearth of due diligence as evidenced by their respective “banal soundbytes”) in the expertise of those on whose “authority” they depend.

The mileage of others may vary, of course; but that’s the view from here;-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s