Tag Archives: Matt Ridley

Royal Society Puts Matt Ridley And His Friends On Notice

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest extant scientific society. And, it is a place where scientific controversy has a home. Both Huxley and Wilberforce were members back in the 19th century, when young Darwin’s ideas were first being knocked around.

More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Royal Society accidentally agreed to host a talk by coal baron and formerly respected science writer Matt Ridley. Matt Ridley has been a great disappointment to us scientists and science teachers. Many of us used his book as a supplementary reading in our evolution courses, for example (Ridley was a respected science writer back in the day). But more recently he has become a global warming science denier, and the suggestion has been made that this is because his personal wealth is tied up in coal mining.

Here are some resources to get up to speed on the Ridley controversy:

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/11/30/matt-ridley-and-benny-peisers-misleading-guide-to-the-climate-debate/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/01/19/testing-matt-ridleys-hypotheses-about-global-warming/"><strong><em>Testing Matt Ridley’s Hypotheses About Global Warming</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/10/mat-ridley-anti-science-writer-climate-science-denialist/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist</em></strong></a></li>

Anyway, the Royal Society accidentally allowed the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is an anti-science organization pretending to be a, well, a policy foundation of some sort, to book a talk by Matt Ripley. This was clearly an attempt to legitimize climate change denial. The real science community got wind of this, and objected. From Graham Readfearn:

The Royal Society is coming under internal pressure to cancel a booking on its premises made by climate science “sceptic” group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, DeSmogUK can reveal.

Several fellows and associates of the society – the world’s oldest scientific academy, founded in 1660 – are angry over an agreement to hire its premises to the GWPF for its 17 October annual lecture, to be delivered by Lord Matt Ridley.

DeSmogUK also understands some scientists intend to raise the issue at a meeting of the Royal Society’s governing council on 6 October, with a request to cancel the GWPF booking.

Well, they did. And the Royal Society thought about it and decided to allow the talk to continue.

And, we can get mad about that if we want, but I’m not. The Royal Society clearly made a mistake in making the booking, but this sort of mistake is one of the costs of at least trying to live in a world where the conversation over science can generally be an honest one, and nefarious shenanigans such as this booking by a fake think tank to have a fake expert talk about fake science circumvents that honest conversation.

I’m reminded of the time when Harvard’s Kennedy School of government accidentally booked Famous African Dictator Mobutu Sese Seku Kuku Kibombe of Zaire to give a talk as part of a series of world leaders talking about government. Not long after word of that got out, there was a move towards uninviting, but that is actually very difficult for an institution to do. That talk went forward, with protests, and Americans became suddenly much more aware of Mobutu and what he had been up to in the country formerly and currently known as the Congo. This actually helped with ongoing efforts to get the US Congress to cut ties with Mobutu (he had been a loyal mercenary extraordinary and plenipotentiary on behalf of the US for years, fighting the Libyans and other African bad guys …) but I digress. The point is, Mobutu’s talk at the Kennedy school ended up being an important nail driven into his eventual coffin.

DesmogUK’s Kyla Mandel now reports that the Royal Society will allow the talk to go forward, but promises that if the speaker throws science under the bus, there will be people watching and reporting.

When the Royal Society met to discuss the matter, there was general agreement that climate change was real, that Ridley was not a friend to the science, that they regretted giving the talk, etc. But they also felt that cancelling the talk would give more cachet to the cancelled speakers and his fake think tank than they deserved. Rather, they thought, let the talk go ahead and “If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.”

Sounds very Minnesotan. Passive aggressive counter attack, that.

Mandel’s report has more details, go read it here.

I look forward to the debunking of the talk by Matt Ridley, the 5th Viscount of Coal. Or whatever he calls himself. His career as a respected science writer is pretty much over, but there’s always room for one more nail.

Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate

This post was written by Peter Sinclair and Greg Laden in response to a recent Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece by Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser.

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate,”
Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser ask what might make world leaders concerned about the security impacts of climate change. One answer might be the US Department of Defense.

In its 2010 Quadrennial Defense review, Pentagon experts wrote:

“…climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s today’s front page news. A 2014 Defense Department document underlined the message, calling climate warming “a threat multiplier.”

Ridley and Peiser ridicule President Obama over his “careless” statement that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism. Indeed, recent research indicates that the current Syrian refugee crisis is at least partly a result of climate change enhanced drought in the region.

Ridley and Peiser claim that global temperatures have risen only slowly. This is simply untrue. The upward march of global surface temperatures varies, as expected for any natural system such as this, but continues on an upward trend. Contrarian claims of an extended pause in global warming have been debunked over recent months by at least a half dozen studies. (See: this, this, this, this, and this.)

Ridley and Peiser also suggest that surface temperatures have risen less than earlier climate modeling had projected. This is simply untrue. Global surface temperatures have risen at a pace of about 0.15 degrees C per decade since 1990, which is within the range of earlier IPCC projections.

Ridley/Peiser suggest that current record smashing weather events are due to El Nino, not climate change.

Wrong for two reasons.

First, many of the record breaking events we have experienced over recent years happened when there was no El Nino.

Second, records that are set during an El Nino period are, obviously, compared to all other prior El Nino periods as well. This year’s El Nino is exceeding earlier El Nino years in heat and tropical storm activities precisely because of a continued rise in planetary heat.

Ridley and Peiser claim that it has been warmer at times during the last 10,000 years. This statement is not supportable. While scientists know that orbitally caused warming occurred some 8000 years ago, the most current research suggests that today’s surface temperature exceed those values, or will shortly under current trends.

It is incorrect to assert that there have been no changes in extreme storms, or flooding. In the past week we have seen a new annual northern hemisphere record in major hurricanes, with 30 storms category 3 and above this year, literally blowing away the old record of 23, with the season not yet over.

Every year for the last three years, careful and conservative researchers publishing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society have studied the contribution of global warming to major weather events around the world, the papers collected in an annual volume “Explaining Extreme Events … from a Climate Perspective.” Every year the number of events attributed to global warming goes up. (See these three reports.)

The US Global Change Research Program has documented the increase in extreme precipitation events across the country, and in recent weeks, the east and gulf coast of the US have been inundated by a “1000 year rain event”, as well as a new phenomenon, coastal flooding not associated with any storm, merely the regular pull of the tides, on an ocean that has risen several inches since 1950.

Miami taxpayers are currently spending 500 million dollars on pumps and other infrastructure to remedy the flooding Peiser and Ridley say does not exist.

Ridley and Peiser make the claim that tropical storms can’t be as much of a problem now as they were in the past because the number of deaths attributed to natural disasters is reduced. The irony of this statement is stunning. The reason there are fewer deaths due to weather related natural disasters is precisely because climate science and meteorology have developed methods and models to predict and warn. That very same science is telling us about the recent, ongoing, and future changes in climate due to the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Ridley and Peiser seek to confuse by conflating Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, without mentioning that the small increase in Antarctic sea ice, along with the large loss of Arctic ice, is predicted from our understanding of the global warming process, and that, globally, sea ice area is clearly in a multi-decadal decline, the very reason that our giant oil companies are lobbying so intensely for access to polar regions they know are thawing.

Similarly deceptive is the claim that “Antarctica is gaining land based ice”. Here they cite a one-off outlier study, not the other dozen studies completed since 2012 by groups from NASA, the European Space Agency and others, most using more recent data than the cited piece, and all of which show overall Antarctic land ice loss. Moreover, the author of the study cited has said that
if the sea level rise does not come from Antarctica, it obviously must be undercounted elsewhere, such as Alpine glaciers, Greenland, or thermal expansion of the oceans – since observed sea level rise is unequivocal.

That sea level rise is also the most unambiguous indicator of a warming planet. The relentless and accelerating observed rise of the seas supports the half dozen recent studies showing that global warming has not halted or paused, and continues apace.

Ridley and Peiser claim that research is increasingly showing climate sensitivity to be low. This is entirely the opposite of what has been happening. The most likely range of values of climate sensitivity (the amount of increase in surface temperature that eventually occurs as a result of the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) was established over a century ago. Recently revealed documents show that Exxon Mobil Corporation itself studied climate science as early as the late 70’s, and its findings were in clear agreement with the National Academy of Science 1979 report, which estimated a climate sensitivity of 3°C, plus or minus 1.5° C. Tables in Exxon’s 1982 Climate Change “Primer” for executives show predictions for 2015 markedly similar to contemporary estimates by NASA, and NOAA.

Meanwhile, the solutions for climate change are at hand.

Solar and wind energy have grown faster, and costs have plummeted further, than even most fervent supporters would have predicted a few years ago. Wind and solar are now out-competing coal and nuclear everywhere, and even gas in many markets. Recent volatility in oil and gas prices make the predictable zero cost of renewables all the more attractive, as more and more major corporations are signing power purchase agreements for renewable energy, based on markets, not political correctness.

In a recent article in Scientific American, Engineers Mark Jacobsen and Mark Deluchi have shown how 139 countries can generate their total energy needs by 2050 from wind, solar, and water technologies.

Today’s average cost of large-scale solar in the U.S. is 5 cents/kWh. The installed cost of solar is down by half since 2009. The cost of wind in the U.S. is 2.5 cents per kWh, and efficiency is about the same, and sometimes below 1 cent/kWh. (See this.)

Denmark, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal are now producing more than half their electricity from renewable sources, Germany is close to a third – and the German grid is 10 times more reliable than the US grid.(See this)

In 20 US states, contractors will put solar panels on your roof for free – and in San Antonio Texas, the utility will pay you for the privilege of putting those panels on, and lowering your utility bill. (See this and this)

It’s a business model that will spread, sooner than coal barons like Matt Ridley would like you to believe.

Polling shows again and again that large majorities of Americans across all demographics favor rapid development of renewable energy, and tough regulations for greenhouse gases.

In addition, most importantly, a large majority of Americans now believe that climate change is a moral issue that obligates government officials, and private citizens, to take action.

The tactics of confusion and distortion are losing their effectiveness, as more and more Americans experience the effects of a climate altered world first hand. It’s time to stop denying the science, and begin discussing the solutions.

#MattKingCoal Matt Ridley Should Install Wind And Solar

Matt Ridley
Matt Ridley
Lord Matthew White Ridley will be familiar to most of you as the person who wrote a really good book on evolutionary biology, but later became a “lukewarmist,” a variety of climate change denier who claims global warming is real but not important. To him, this may apply. He is armored in protective privilege as a wealthy member of the royal class of Britain, and he makes some of his money mining coal on his own land.

Ridley has made a remarkable claim that leaves some of us wondering what his next move should be, and what it will, in fact, be. Continue reading #MattKingCoal Matt Ridley Should Install Wind And Solar

Testing Matt Ridley’s Hypotheses About Global Warming

Matt Ridley has written an opinion piece for The Times (not the New York Times, the other one) which is a response to his critics, specifically, to those who openly disagree with him about climate change. Ridley’s commentary is jaw dropping, and for most of you, those who are not of Royal Blood and highly privileged, it is more than a little squirm-inducing. But, putting that aside, Ridley makes a number of assertions, two of which (*) I’d like to address. Other problems with Ridley’s approach have been addressed here, by Dana Nuccitelli.

Spoiler alert, he is wrong on both counts.

First, to summarize his arguments, I paraphrase of his commentary in The Times (which is behind a paywall), in bullet point form:

  • Since so many people disagree with me, I am probably right.
  • I think global warming is real, and mostly man-made.
  • I think global warming is not dangerous.
  • I think global warming is slow and erratic*, AND will continued to be*.
  • That global warming has been slow lately conforms with my lukewarm hypothesis.
  • I annoy people.
  • I have been called a lot of names.
  • My detractors are mainly public employees including scientists and politicians.
  • I have lost opportunities because people conspire against me.
  • I do other things than write about climate change.
  • People do not attack my arguments, they attack my motives. For example, I make money off of coal.
  • I really prefer natural gas to coal.
  • I have been offered, many times, opportunities to install clean energy technology on my vast land holdings. I have refused every time.
  • I used to think climate change is serious, but since it seems to have slowed down, I no longer think so.
  • Climate change models are wrong.
  • The hockey stick graph has been discredited. (I quickly add that the hockey stick graph has been confirmed again and again. See this. A version of the hockey stick graph is the image at the top of this post.)
  • Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick have it right. (They don’t; see the links.) The vast majority of the other climate scientists have it wrong.
  • Climate change is not settled science. (There is, of course, a scientific consensus on climate change.)
  • The IPCC agrees with me.
  • Policies to combat climate change are ineffective, expensive, harmful to the poor, and bad for the environment.
  • No one had ever effectively addressed my doubts.
  • Bob Ward is a poopyface.

Of these assertions, I want to address only two (starred); Ridley has said that global warming has slowed down, and he has said that this slowness will continue in the future. These are both reasonable hypotheses at first glance, and testable. So let us test them. But before we do, I want to point out that they are not really reasonable hypotheses, because the physics are pretty solid on climate change. A real long term slow down in warming would be unexpected, astounding even, given what we know about how the atmosphere works. That alone does not make the ideas impossible, necessarily, but it certainly gives Ridley’s hypotheses a rather steep incline.

First, has global warming slowed down? If it has, Ridley may be on to something (but maybe not). If it has not, then this hypothesis is falsified.

There are several lines of evidence to suggest that global warming has not slowed down. First, we need to acknowledge that “warming” as the term is often used means changes in estimated global surface temperatures based only on measurement of the air near ground level, combined with sea surface temperatures. An excellent primer on how this is done can be found here. Keep that in mind.

Some have suggested that there has been a recent slowdown in global warming, as per this particular measurement. The first thing you need to know is that there are frequent slowdowns in warming in this data, as well as frequent speedups. One way to characterize this is to have a look at the famous Escalator Graph produced some time ago by by Dana Nuccitelli and recently updated.

Click on the picture to see the moving GIF version!  Caption from the source: One of the most common misunderstandings amongst climate contrarians is the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal.  This animation shows how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to "cherrypick" short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps).  Isn't it strange how six periods of cooling can add up to a clear warming trend over the last 4 decades?  Several factors can have a large impact on short-term temperatures, such as oceanic cycles like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle.  These short-term cycles don't have long-term effects on the Earth's temperature, unlike the continuing upward trend caused by global warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.
Click on the picture to see the moving GIF version! Caption from the source: One of the most common misunderstandings amongst climate contrarians is the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal. This animation shows how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to “cherrypick” short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps). Isn’t it strange how six periods of cooling can add up to a clear warming trend over the last 4 decades? Several factors can have a large impact on short-term temperatures, such as oceanic cycles like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle. These short-term cycles don’t have long-term effects on the Earth’s temperature, unlike the continuing upward trend caused by global warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.

Now that we understand that the squiggle representing surface temperature … well, squiggles up and down … we can have a longer term look at warming and see if an estimate of the rate of warming for recent years shows a slowdown. Climate Scientist Gavin Schmidt recently tweeted this graphic addressing this very question:


Notice that the trend does in fact drop slightly in upward slope in recent years. Ever. So. Slightly. But, in the end, 2014, which turned out to be the hottest year of the instrumental record so far, is dead on the long term prediction of warming. In other words, rather than warming slowing below the predicted level, it has nearly maintained the predicted level, thus falsifying Ridley’s hypothesis. Don’t expect 2015 do be a big drop in temperature. It is way too early to say anything close to definitive about the year we just started. But, January has been warm and we are expecting El Nino conditions to add heat to the atmosphere this year, so we might expect 2015 to be like 2014, or may be even warmer.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 12.29.59 PM

But, yes, there may be a slowing of surface temperature increase, but that is only part of the story. The vast majority of the heat that is added to (or subtracted from) the Earth goes into and out of the deeper ocean, not the atmosphere or sea surface. (See above graphic.) This means that the surface temperatures are a bit like the tail of the dog, where the dog itself is the sea. I wrote about this here. Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that the top 2000 meters or so of the oceans is indeed taking in the extra heat that helps account for a minor slowdown in warming. Here is a link to a recent paper on this, by John Abraham, John Fasullo and Me. And here’s a graph from that paper:


So, Ridley’s first hypothesis, that warming is slow, is falsified.

To the extent that there is some slowing in recent years, it is generally thought that this is a combination of the ocean taking in extra heat, some slowing of warming due to dust put into the atmosphere by a higher than usual amount of volcanic activity (from smaller volcanoes, the ones you don’t really notice unless you live near them), and a current decline in the energy provided by the sun (not to worry, that goes up and down on a regular basis). In that order, probably.

Let me add that even if warming was slower than some preconceived rate, that does not mean that it is not a problem. First, even a slowed down rate of warming suggested by Ridley and others is very fast by long term geological standards, too high to be safe. Second, certain long term effects of warming, such as melting polar ice sheets and causing massive sea level rise, may simply arrive later. But they will still arrive.

Ridley’s second hypothesis, that global warming will be slow in the future, is not testable at this time. The fact that his second hypothesis is based on the first, that future slowness is assumed because of (non-existing) present day slowness, seems to be obviated. But, we can let the hypothesis stand as proposed and untested, if for no other reason than to mitigate Matt Ridley’s whinge. Then, in a few years, we can test it. Ridley is, essentially, predicting that over the next decade or so far more years will fall below a regression line based on recent decades, with fewer and fewer years falling above the line as time marches on. In a few years, let’s check back.

Meanwhile, let’s be sensible and smart and do something about global warming, because it is real. For his part, I hope Matt Ridley stops mining coal out of his own land and allows those other folks to put up a windmill or two. That would be royal.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/31/climate-change-sceptics-headless-chickens-prince-charles
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/31/climate-change-sceptics-headless-chickens-prince-charles

Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist

Matt Ridley is a British journalist whom some in the science community are now quietly referring to as an “anti-science writer.” He has taken up the cause of denying the widely held and deep scientific consensus on climate change. He has a recent blog post he seems to have been compelled to write in response to a new study on the use of tree rings as a proxyindicator for past temperatures. I’ll be writing about that research in a day or two. Ridley’s post is embarrassing, and especially annoying to me because for several years I used his book on evolutionary biology as a recommended (or sometimes required) reading in my courses on human evolution. Here, I’d like to present a simple Fisking of his post. He begins,

As somebody who has championed science all his career, carrying a lot of water for the profession against its critics on many issues, I am losing faith.

Any time I hear someone identify themselves as a champion of science, I check my wallet. Self proclaiming one’s position on an imagined high ground is often the prelude to anti science yammering. Let’s see if that is the case here. He goes on,

Recent examples of bias and corruption in science are bad enough. What’s worse is the reluctance of scientific leaders to criticise the bad apples. Science as a philosophy is in good health; science as an institution increasingly stinks.

This assumes facts not in evidence. Ridley’s assertion looking at science from the outside is that there are bad apples. But his examples of bad apples are bad examples.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report last week that found evidence of scientists increasingly “employing less rigorous research methods” in response to funding pressures. A 2009 survey found that almost 2 per cent of scientists admitting that they have fabricated results; 14 per cent say that their colleagues have done so.

Remember, Ridley is ultimately speaking here of climate science. But over 83% of the respondents in that survey done by an institution that looks at biomedical ethics were in biomedical or health related areas. A mere 2% were in geosciences. This study has little do do with climate science research or how it is conducted. A champion of science should really be more careful with the data.

Also, that report notes that

Fifty-eight per cent of survey respondents are aware of scientists feeling tempted or under
pressure to compromise on research integrity and standards, although evidence was not collected on any outcomes associated with this. “

We all would like to see the way research dollars are distributed be evaluated, critiqued, and where possible, improved, but there is a large difference between recognizing pressure and showing it has an effect. But, again, any effects shown in that report are utterly irrelevant to any consideration of climate science. Ridley continues,

This month has seen three egregious examples of poor scientific practice. The most recent was the revelation in The Times last week that scientists appeared to scheme to get neonicotinoid pesticides banned, rather than open-mindedly assessing all the evidence. These were supposedly “independent” scientists, yet they were hand in glove with environmental activists who were receiving huge grants from the European Union to lobby it via supposedly independent reports, and they apparently had their conclusions in mind before they gathered the evidence. Documents that have recently come to light show them blatantly setting out to make policy-based evidence, rather than evidence-based policy.

This is a manufactured controversy, and is not related to climate science. The problem with nicotinoid issue is a case of an industry opposing some researchers findings, and there is a good chance that the sources Ridley relies on did not get the story right. (See this for example.) Ridley’s comments are really just another example of him taking sides in a debate that pits industry interests against researchers.

Second example: last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a supposedly scientific body, issued a press release stating that this is likely to be the warmest year in a century or more, based on surface temperatures. Yet this predicted record would be only one hundredth of a degree above 2010 and two hundredths of a degree above 2005 — with an error range of one tenth of a degree. True scientists would have said: this year is unlikely to be significantly warmer than 2010 or 2005 and left it at that.

No one has suggested that if we have the warmest year it will be by much. The increase in global warming is steady and medium to long term. Also, it is a complicated issue, as pointed out by Ridley. I discuss this in detail here: 2014 will not be the warmest year on record, but global warming is still real.

In any case, the year is not over, so why the announcement now? Oh yes, there’s a political climate summit in Lima this week. The scientists of WMO allowed themselves to be used politically. Not that they were reluctant. To squeeze and cajole the data until they just crossed the line, the WMO “reanalysed” a merger of five data sets. Maybe that was legitimate but, given how the institutions that gather temperature data have twice this year been caught red-handed making poorly justified adjustments to “homogenise” and “in-fill” thermometer records in such a way as to cool down old records and warm up new ones, I have my doubts.

I tend to agree that one should not characterize the global average surface temperature of a year before the year is over, and then some, to allow for proper updates and adjustments to the data. The fact that there has been so much reporting and blogging on this was likely forced by MSM starting to report on “the warmest year”, because MSM tends to finish all their “year events” reporting before the holidays. (Though WMO has regularly come out with commentary this time of year on the meteorological year, which is not the same as the calendar year.) In any event, this is not a problem in science, it is a problem in MSM and other agents. All the climate science based reporting or blogging on the global average surface temp that I have seen post dates CNN and other media breaking the news, which forced everyone’s hand. (Again, see this.)

In one case, in Rutherglen, a town in Victoria, a recorded cooling trend of minus 0.35C became a reported warming trend of plus 1.73C after “homogenisation” by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. It claimed the adjustment was necessary because the thermometer had moved between two fields, but could provide no evidence for this, or for why it necessitated such a drastic adjustment.
Most of the people in charge of collating temperature data are vocal in their views on climate policy, which hardly reassures the rest of us that they leave those prejudices at the laboratory door. Imagine if bankers were in charge of measuring inflation.

Climate science denialists such as Ridley tend to howl about imperfections in data and methodology. They then howl some more when honest attempts are made at making sure the data are good, or efforts are made to improve methodology. This is a pretty run of the mill denialist tactic.

Ridley’s criticism of the ABM vis-a-vis the Rutherglen data has been addressed in Remember the weather at Rutherglen? BoM was right all along, of course!. See also this.

Third example: the Royal Society used to be the gold standard of scientific objectivity. Yet this month it issued a report on resilience to extreme weather that, in its 100-plus pages, could find room for not a single graph to show recent trends in extreme weather. That is because no such graph shows an upward trend in global frequency of droughts, storms or floods. The report did find room for a graph showing the rising cost of damage by extreme weather, which is a function of the increased value of insured property, not a measure of weather.

There have been numerous studies showing trends in extreme weather. Having said that, the nature of the link between climate change and extreme weather is both complex and the subject of mostly very recent research. It will take a while for the dust to settle on this. If anything, the larger scientific societies involved in this work are behind in addressing and incorporating new research. See for example, NOAA Report Misses Link Between California Drought and Human-Caused Climate Change and Explaining Extreme Events of 2013: Limitations of the BAMS Report.

The Royal Society report also carefully omitted what is perhaps the most telling of all statistics about extreme weather: the plummeting death toll. The global probability of being killed by a drought, flood or storm is down by 98 per cent since the 1920s and has never been lower — not because weather is less dangerous but because of improvements in transport, trade, infrastructure, aid and communication.

Asked and answered in the same statement. First, comparing a time before radar, satellites, advanced communication technology, warning systems, and computers to predict weather with recent times is bogus. Second, both property damage and mortality/morbidity resulting from extreme weather events is very likely to drop as pre-event upgrades, which may sometimes be very costly but that are not counted in the cost of a particular storm, are implemented. This of course applies more to industrialized nations than to other areas. This is expected. But, there is probably a limit to what can be done even in industrialize areas. Not much infrastructure improvement has helped with the California Drought, and all the work done since Katrina or currently planned is likely to provide additional mitigation of the effects of the next Katrina in the gulf.

The Royal Society’s decision to cherry-pick its way past such data would be less worrying if its president, Sir Paul Nurse, had not gone on the record as highly partisan on the subject of climate science. He called for those who disagree with him to be “crushed and buried”, hardly the language of Galileo.

I suppose Ridley could not resist a Galileo reference. Also, when one wants to disagree with scientific consensus, in the absence of a scientific argument, it is convenient to declare the issue partisan.

In any event, Nurse was talking about the very problems Ridley, as a Champion of Science, should be concerned with. I asked Dana Nuccitelli, who follows these things, what he thought about Ridley’s comments on Nurse. He pointed out this post, and noted that “Nurse was actually saying that about influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious, or ideological agendas. Nurse did cite those who distort climate science as one example, but he was speaking in general terms about ideologically-based science distortions (he cited GM crops as another example). Ironically, Ridley distorts Nurse’s comments about distorting evidence in order to attack him.”

Three months ago Sir Paul said: “We need to be aware of those who mix up science, based on evidence and rationality, with politics and ideology, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway. We need to be aware of political or ideological lobbyists who do not respect science, cherry-picking data or argument, to support their predetermined positions.”

If he wishes to be consistent, he will therefore condemn the behaviour of the scientists over neonicotinoids and the WMO over temperature records, and chastise his colleagues’ report, for these are prime examples of his point.

That assumes he agrees with Ridley, which he probably doesn’t.

Ridley uses his expertise and experience from the banking industry to criticize climate science and scientist. Is this expertise and experience valuable? Andy Skuce wrote about Ridley’s involvement in the collapse of the British bank, Northern Rock in The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock, in 2011:

Matt Ridley was the non-executive Chairman of Northern Rock, a British bank that, in 2007, was the first in over a century and a half to experience a run on its deposits. British banks had all survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the end of the British Empire, until Northern Rock failed. Ridley had served on the Northern Rock board of directors since 1994 and was appointed Chairman in 2004. …

Northern Rock’s business model was a very aggressive one, centered on rapid growth of its mortgage business. Before 1997, Northern Rock was a building society, a co-operative savings and mortgage institution. Like many other British building societies, it transformed itself into a bank and was listed on the stock exchange. This led to rapid growth for Northern Rock, which grew its assets at an annual rate of more than 23% from 1998 to 2007. Before its crisis, Northern Rock had assets of about $200 billion and was the fifth-largest bank in Britain. The bank’s retail deposits did not grow at the same rate as its mortgage assets; the difference was made up with funding from capital markets. When the credit crisis hit in 2007, Northern Rock saw its funding vanish. Northern Rock’s debts were more than fifty times its shareholder common equity, making the bank an outlier even among the many other highly-levered financial institutions at that time…. The bank was unable to pay its creditors and had to turn to the Bank of England for help in September 2007. These events led to panic among its depositors, who formed huge queues outside its branches to withdraw their savings.

According to Skuce, financial experts and institutions saw the problems that took Norther Rock down, but apparently Ridley did not.

…the events leading to the credit crunch, the bursting of the housing bubble and the collapse of financial markets, were not entirely unforeseen, especially by commentators outside the banking sector. … In 2006, Robert Shiller of Yale University wrote: “there is significant risk of a very bad period, with slow sales, slim commissions, falling prices, rising default and foreclosures, serious trouble in financial markets, and a possible recession sooner than most of us expected.”…

Matt Ridley has been highly critical of the IPCC reports and of the Chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, mainly for the overblown stories about the Himalayan glaciertypo and the poorly-referenced but correct accounts of the Amazon Basin’s vulnerability to drought. Yet for all the accusations that the IPCC has exaggerated impacts of climate change and “sexed-up” summaries for policy makers, its track record is solid compared to the rosy business outlook that Ridley portrayed in the Northern Rock Annual Report 2006, and published in early 2007, just a few months before the company failed.

Two senior officers of Northern Rock—the Deputy Chief Executive and the Managing Credit Director—were heavily fined in April 2010 by the UK Financial Services Authority for hiding the decline in the performance of the company’s mortgage assets in early 2007. There’s no suggestion that Ridley played any role, or, at the time, was even aware of this misrepresentation of important financial data. All the same, the transgressions happened under his watch as Chairman and, as far as I know, he has not since expressed any regret for the incident. Nevertheless, a few months after his former colleagues had been sanctioned, Ridley had the audacity to write an article for the Times in which he referred to the “discredited Dr Pachauri” in “shut-eyed denial”. Yet none of the contributors to Chairman Pachauri’s reports has ever been shown to have deliberately misrepresented any data.

For Ridley, in business as in climate, prudent precautionary measures are rejected as ruinous, whereas warnings that real disasters may be lurking are dismissed. As the Northern Rock experience showed, being dazzled by the power of virtuous circles can blind you to the fact that, if spun too hard, they can quickly turn vicious.

Now, back to Ridley:

I am not hopeful. When a similar scandal blew up in 2009 over the hiding of inconvenient data that appeared to discredit the validity of proxies for past global temperatures based on tree rings (part of “Climategate”), the scientific establishment closed ranks and tried to pretend it did not matter.

This is a key statement by Ridley. After multiple investigations and a thorough raking over of the evidence, it has been clearly established that “climategate” was unfounded. Ridley believing that climategate refers to real nefarious events is all you need to know to pretty much ignore everything else he says. He might as well be talking about chemtrails.

Last week a further instalment of that story came to light, showing that yet more inconvenient data (which discredit bristlecone pine tree rings as temperature proxies) had emerged.

This is an abysmal misreading of the peer reviewed research and an uncritical acceptance of criticism of that research that was very badly done. I’ll be posting something about the tree ring research soon, but for the time being read this post and the comments. I’ll be done with my new post in a day or so, which is probably about the same time you’ll be done reviewing all ~500 comments!

The overwhelming majority of scientists do excellent, objective work, following the evidence wherever it leads.

Yes. Yes, they do.

… It’s hard for champions of science like me to make our case against creationists, homeopaths and other merchants of mysticism if some of those within science also practise pseudo-science.

Ridley declares himself a champion of science (check your wallet!) and in the same breath attempts to link the scientific consensus on climate change with creationism. I’m shocked to see no reference here to Hitler.

In all the millions of scientific careers in Britain over the past few decades, outside medical science there has never been a case of a scientist convicted of malpractice. Not one. Maybe that is because — unlike the police, the church and politics — scientists are all pure as the driven snow. Or maybe it is because science as an institution, like so many other institutions, does not police itself properly.

Or, there could be another reason.