Scientists face assymetries in public debates on climate change

Chris Rapley has lamented the "political ineptitude of scientists". But he says they face asymmetries in public debates on climate change.

The Director of the Science Museum, Chris Rapley, says that scientists engaging in public debate on climate change face a series of asymmetries including seeing the rules of scientific discourse rubbing up against political “mud wrestling”. Speaking in a detailed discussion on ‘climate change science and its sceptics’ in central London, Professor Rapley went on to describe the “political ineptitude of scientists”.

The debate, hosted by Policy Network, examined growing public scepticism over whether climate change is manmade and what should be done by the scientific community in response. Mr Rapley questioned the title of the debate and outlined his disquiet with “the appropriation of scepticism by those who oppose the science.”

Professor Chris Rapley, a former Director of the British Antarctic Survey, said he was concerned by the dwindling number of experts who can talk “authoritatively about the big picture” suggesting that the number of ‘T-shaped people‘ with both broad and deep knowledge on climate change was overwhelmed by “people willing to prognosticate”. He quipped that he would not mention Melanie Phillips, who has been criticised for her outbursts on climate change.

In response, Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist who heads up the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said:

“You painted a picture that is slightly one side of the honest scientist on the one side and the polemic campaigner on the other. The other part of the debate is that there are honest and eminent scientists on the other side who have been silenced for 10 to 15 years. That is part of the perception that part of the scientific community has been excommunicated. Unless there is a new dialogue, there will be this problem.”

Rapley replied:

“It’s always healthy to have that open debate but it can be bedevilled by passions outrunning logic … I have not been convinced by your eminent scientists … some of whom are very flaky.

“There is a tyranny at work here. My impression is that where scientists know there are big uncertainties, they are afraid to emphasise them because people will misunderstand them. The evidence is that when they confess to them, they are exploited.”

Anthony Giddens, Professor Emeritus at the LSE and author of ‘The Politics of Climate Change‘ said:

“Scientists don’t know anything about politics and are bruised and amazed by the discussion in the wider world. Most people who write about politics don’t know anything about the scientific community – a new dialogue is needed.”

Peter Luff, CEO of Action for a Global Climate Community, asked:

“How do we regain that word scepticism? There is an overlap between climate sceptics and Eurosceptics who tend to see a conspiracy.”

Joss Garman, a regular contributor to Left Foot Forward, told me afterwards:

“The thing that struck me most was that there was a real consensus in the room (amongst those who accepted the scientific consensus view that fossil fuel polluting is driving global warming) that it would be helpful to reframe the argument to one about risk and probability and away from the view that the science is all settled.

“Since we know that the vast majority of scientists – literally thousands of humanity’s greatest minds – are of the view that there is a staggering chance, of 90 per cent, that climate change is caused by fossil fuel burning, and since we know that would increase the sum total of human suffering and drive millions of plant and animal species to extinction, its not an unreasonable expectation that, put like that, most reasonable people will want to take out an insurance plan – in other words for there to be a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide we emit.”

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61 Responses to “Scientists face assymetries in public debates on climate change”

  1. Oxford Kevin

    You said “But if for example there was a pronounced medieval warm period that the models don’t show”. Where are the models that don’t show it?

  2. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    In a study sure to ruffle the feathers of the Global Warming cabal, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT has published a paper which proves that IPCC models are overstating by 6 times, the relevance of CO2 in Earth’s Atmosphere. Dr. Lindzen has found that heat is radiated out in to space at a far higher rate than any modeling system to date can account for.
    Editorial: The science is in. the scare is out. Recent papers and data give a complete picture of why the UN is wrong.
    The pdf file located at the link above from the Science and Public Policy Institute has absolutely, convincingly, and irrefutably proven the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming to be completely false.
    Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT’s peer reviewed work states “we now know that the effect of CO2 on temperature is small, we know why it is small, and we know that it is having very little effect on the climate.”
    The global surface temperature record, which we update and publish
    every month, has shown no statistically-significant “global warming”
    for almost 15 years. Statistically-significant global cooling has now
    persisted for very nearly eight years. Even a strong el Nino – expected
    in the coming months – will be unlikely to reverse the cooling trend.
    More significantly, the ARGO bathythermographs deployed
    throughout the world’s oceans since 2003 show that the top 400
    fathoms of the oceans, where it is agreed between all parties that at
    least 80% of all heat caused by manmade “global warming” must
    accumulate, have been cooling over the past six years. That now prolonged
    ocean cooling is fatal to the “official” theory that “global
    warming” will happen on anything other than a minute scale.
    See details:

  3. harry

    natural cycles must play a large part in global mean temperatures. The CO2 level is going up relentlessly, yet we’ve been on a cooling trend for the last 15 years

  4. Oxford Kevin

    Fay, please see

    Lindzen and Choi left out black body radiation as a negative feedback. There results were also very dependent on the selection of starting points. This demonstrated that the ERBE data wasn’t of high enough quality for the information they were trying to get out of it. As a result there results aren’t robust.


  5. Oxford Kevin

    As to the skeptics favourite temperature record why didn’t you go to the source of the information rather than a dated picture, try checking out Roy Spencers website and you will see very different results.


  6. Oxford Kevin

    How can you say cooling trend. For the last 15 years there has been warming of 0.12 degrees per decade, this only by the slimest of margins fails to meet the statistically significant 95 threshold which means the confidence in any trend could be considered to be robust. To call this cooling is a quite astounding claim.

  7. Policy Network Team

    RT @leftfootfwd: Scientists face assymetries in public debates on climate change

  8. New Media Corp

    RT @policynetwork: RT @leftfootfwd: Scientists face assymetries in public debates on climate change

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