Biased survey

To mark the centenary of the publication of Einstein’s famous equation, Spiked has surveyed

over 250 renowned scientists, science communicators, and educators – including 11 Nobel laureates – asking what they would teach the world about science and why, if they could pick just one thing.

They certainly have surveyed some renowned scientists and their answers are worth reading. But if you look at the complete list, you’ll see these renowned scientists (links show where they’ve have mentioned on this blog): Sallie Baliunas, Timothy Ball, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, John Brignell, Hans Erren, Christopher Essex, Kenneth Green, Zbigniew Jaworowski, William Kininmonth, Nils-Axel Mörner, James O’Brien, S Fred Singer, Dick Taverne, and David Wojick. That’s rather a lot of global warming skeptics, isn’t it? In his answer, Timothy Ball even asserts that climate scientists have failed to follow the scientific method:

Scientists who try to test the anthropogenic climate change theory – a normal and expected course of action, in any real scientific endeavour – are marginalised, and derisively called ‘sceptics’, as if such a label were unscientific.

So how well are mainstream climate scientists represented in the survey? Hardly at all. I could only find three: Christopher Landsea, Hans von Storch and Tim Palmer. Landsea has been in the news for resigning from the IPCC, claiming it was being politicized, while von Storch has been in the news arguing that the hockey stick graph is rubbish. This might explain explain why they were selected along with all the global warming skeptics.

Update: Added two global warming skeptics that I missed: Mörner and O’Brien.


  1. #1 Thomas Palm
    May 1, 2005

    von Storch attack on the hockey stick is at least science. What troubled me is this article he wrote: (this version has all the quotable parts already highlighted)

    “Despite a good deal of factually untrue – and thus all the more striking – compression, Crichton has quite correctly observed the dynamic of the paths of communication among scientists, environmentalist organizations, the state and the civilian population.”

    This is what von Storch says just after having written “The idealists are so obsessed with their mission that ultimately, in order to rouse the public, they themselves bring about the foretold catastrophes.” Does he *really* think this is a good description of how scientists and environmentalists work????

    Many of the other names on the list are pure jokes.

  2. #2 Yelling
    May 1, 2005

    I would probably be inclined to include Nils-Axel Mrner with your list. I am not sure of his position on anthropogenic global warming, but he claims that there will be no associated rise in sea levels.

  3. #3 Thomas Palm
    May 1, 2005

    Mrner is a global warming sceptic, and he also believes in dowsing and some other excentric ideas. That list really is something with its mix of some famous people and others totally out of place in a list of reknown scientists.

  4. #4 Yelling
    May 1, 2005

    Thanks Thomas, I knew his stand on sea level rises but had never heard him say anything about AGW.

    Now, how about James J. O’Brien? From this interview he would seem to fall into the skeptic side of things. While his answers seem corrrect, he took great pains to never talk about greenhouse gases when it would have made sense to do so.

  5. #5 John Quiggin
    May 1, 2005

    James J. O’Brien appears on the list of sceptics at Envirotruth, and has criticised claims that climate change will increase the severity of hurricanes (his area of expertise), but I haven’t been able to find anything from him that’s overtly sceptical about anthropogenic global warming.

  6. #6 David Tiley
    May 1, 2005

    Some other spiked articles from the same page:

    No clear policies on nuclear energy
    From global warming to ‘war for oil’, the political debate about energy has become a morally loaded rather than a technical one.

    Blackballing sections of the science community
    The new US protocol that says scientists with corporate connections are unfit to judge drug safety smacks of modern-day McCarthyism.

    Cool heads required
    As long as the climate change debate is fuelled by politics, the science will remain up in the air.

    Falling down
    Jared Diamond’s new book, Collapse, offers fantasies about ‘ecocide’ instead of an understanding of history.

    Space cadets
    If environmentalists had their way, probes would never have touched down on Titan, Saturn’s moon.

    My favourite is written by the editor of Spike. The independent editor of Spike:

    Global warming: how ‘sceptic’ became a dirty word
    spiked editor Mick Hume’s Notebook in The Times (London)

    What shits me about this, from a personal point of view, is that they support some things that I support like stem cells and the possibilities of GM.

    Bet the scientists and sponsors are pleased.

  7. #7 1a
    May 1, 2005

    Are you aware of the provenance of Spiked? It’s made by the people who previously ran the Revolutionary Communist Party and published Living Marxism. The position of the RCP seemed to be that environmentalism was no more than capitalism making excuses for its failure to provide owing to its inevitable decline. They had some interesting ideas about chaos theory and Godel’s Theorem as well. Wikipedia traces the links between these organisations, though the description of the RCP’s politics is very much what their critics argued they believed rather than what they actually stood for.

  8. #8 David Tiley
    May 1, 2005

    Thud. My jaw hitting the floor. What was NESTA thinking?

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    May 1, 2005

    I imagine that the pitch to NESTA had the names of a large number of reknowned scientists and that he contra science crew were added later.

  10. #10 Louis Hissink
    May 1, 2005


    as a mere computer programmer, trained in the Jesuit tradition, you seem over confident in your posts here.

  11. #11 JK
    May 1, 2005

    I agree that there is an over-representation of “sceptics”. However, which of the survey responses other than Ball’s would you actually take exception to?

    In the survey summary “What we found” the only mention of climate is:

    Five respondents – Lynne Frostick, Jack Harris, Jeffrey Harvey, Tony Juniper and Charles Kohlhase – offer aspects of ecology and the environment as their answer to the survey, principally discussing the dangers of anthropogenic climate change.

    Anyway, it looks like reader responses are open for contributions.

  12. #12 Tim Lambert
    May 1, 2005

    JK, it’s about building up the credibility of the skeptics. I think the idea is that some of the prestige of the other people on the list will rub off onto the skeptics.

  13. #13 Thomas Palm
    May 1, 2005

    I suspect it is just somone who isn’t very familiar with science collecting a bunch of names he had come across before. It probably just shows his bias and isn’t part of any nefarious plan. Had there been a plan, more mainstream climate scientists should have been included.

  14. #14 Jeff Harvey
    May 2, 2005

    Some of you may have noticed that I am on the survey, even though I told Sandy Starr that I expected Spiked to stack the deck with contrarians. Hans Erren is a climate change sceptic over here in Holland who has hardly published anything in his scientific career, so it shows you exactly what kind of position Spiked has, which is libertarian.

  15. #15 Pro bono mathematician
    May 3, 2005

    BTW, it should be “renowned”.

  16. #16 Hans Erren
    May 17, 2005

    And Jeff Harvey thinks he is able to comment on climate change physics although he is a biologist.

    Have you actualy read my contribution Jeff? What’s so contrarian about it?

  17. #17 Eli Rabett
    May 18, 2005

    1a, you mean they are the US equivalent of neo-cons?

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.