Another good BBC program on iPlayer is Horizon: Science Under Attack. Sir Paul Nurse,  president of The Royal Society looks at why scientists appear to be losing the trust of the general public. The skewering of blogger James Delingpole is particularly illuminating (Delingpole’s blog, Guardian article on programme). What it clarifies is: would you rather trust a Nobel winning scientist steeped in scientific method or a non-specialist journalist with an axe to grind? Not much contest I think!

It does raise some profound issues about how the media presents science and the influence that bloggers can have on important issues (and I don’t mean whether Paramo works). It’s right to be sceptical, it’s part of the scientific methodology, but we should also be sceptical of the sceptics. There’s a fair bit of soul-searching by Sir Paul on how scientists can communicate better. Although the internet has been a wonderful tool for the dissemination of information, it can also be a terrible deceiver. The print press also bears a heavy responsibility for turning reporting into polemics. Watch it before it disappears.


2 thoughts on “Horizon”

  1. An axe to grind? Funny you should say that. Sir Paul Nurse is a graduate of the University of East Anglia that receives HUGE amounts of money for its Climate Research Unit (the one of ‘Climategate’)… Coincidental that he of all people should be making that programme??

    Scientists who hold themselves accountable have all my respect. The clowns at CRU deserve only to be despised. (not that I have much time for the likes of Dellingpole either)

    I respect scientists who make predictions and get things right. Or if they get them wrong come clean about them.

    Can you cite ONE prediction made by the buffoons that pass themselves as ‘climate scientists’?

    The question is: there is a difference between science, bad science and outright quackery. The mistake is assuming that the quacks are all on the sceptical side.

    1. An important question raised is when does a reasonable sceptic become a hardened sceptic? As Sir Paul said in the documentary, this is a difficult line to draw. Does the fact that he has a PhD from East Anglia rule him out as objective? I thought he seemed genuine in his desire to understand why there was a serious disconnect between scientists and non-specialists.

      It seems to me that the majority of scientists accept that global warming is occurring. There is a huge amount of data pointing to this. That should be objective and relatively uncontroversial: http://climate.nasa.gov/news/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=468

      The next issue is what has caused this? An increase in CO2 appears to be the cause: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ . In the documentary the NASA rep seemed to indicate that sunspot activity had been ruled out.

      Where does this CO2 come from? Again in the documentary, the NASA guy said that there was 1giga ton from natural causes and 7 giga tons from human sources. It seems likely that man is the source of this rise in CO2.

      The next thing to consider is does it matter? The true answer is that no-one really knows. However, rising sea levels will threaten significant areas of populated land. This ought to be relatively uncontroversial as well. It seems sensible to consider mitigation of CO2 emissions to reduce the rate of polar ice cap melting.

      Lastly what should we do? This is the most contentious and where a lot of people part company with the scientists and politicians. It seems to me that the debate on what to do has been poorly conducted and captured by special interest groups like the wind farm lobby. The ridiculous prejudice against any form of nuclear power is another stumbling block.

      Regardless of whether people agree with the evidence and theories put forward, the debate has become ruinously rancorous, drowning out dispassionate scientific debate. Both sides are at fault. The press should also shoulder some blame. The weighing of arguments should be done in a sober, dispassionate and polite way. The problem is that the debate has shifted from the scientific sphere into a political one, where reasoned debate has become the exception rather than the rule.

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