Saturday, 26 July 2008

Lurgee's paradigm IV: "Sir David King said ..."

This is a new example of Lurgee's Paradigm, brought to light by the fallout surrounding the Ofcom report on The Great Global Warming Swindle.

I had been aware of the remarks attributed to David King, formerly the British government's Cheif Scientific Adviser, and even knew - vaguely - that they had been referred to in TGGWS and one of the complaints around the programme centred on what was said about him. It wasn't until after the Ofcom ruling that I noticed it was a further example of Lurgee's Paradigm, however.

Basically, in TGGWS, Fred Singer, a cliamte scientist and a vocal denier, attributes the following view to King:
There will still be people who believe that this is the end of the world – particularly when you have, for example, the chief scientist of the UK telling people that by the end of the century, the only inhabitable place on the earth will be the Antarctic; and it may, humanity may survive, thanks to some breeding couples who moved to the Antarctic –I mean this is hilarious. It would be hilarious, actually, if it weren’t so sad. (1)

King complained on three grounds. First, Singer had claimed he said "only inhabitable" when in fact he had previosuly referred to "most inhabitable." Second, he had never mentioned breeding couple perpetuating the human race - this appears to have been a confusion with the well known scientist-fantasist, James Lovelock. Finally, he complained that he did not suggest that such a catastrophic climate change could occur by the end of the century:

By way of background Sir David said that during his original testimony to the House of Commons Select Committee in 2004 he had stated:

“Fifty-five million years ago was a time when there was no ice on the earth;
the Antarctic was the most habitable place for mammals, because it was the coolest place, and the rest of the earth was rather inhabitable because it was so hot. It isestimated that it [the carbon dioxide level] was roughly 1,000 parts per million then, and the important thing is that if we carry on business as usual we will hit 1,000 parts per million around the end of the century.”

Sir David noted that his original statement: made no reference to the survival of humanity depending on “breeding couples who moved to the Antarctic”; and the programme had exaggerated his speech by replacing “most habitable” with “the only habitable”. (2)

There was some fairly typical argument about who was meant by "the chief scientist of the UK" - Ofcom ruled that it was reasonable that it would indicate King, given his job title.

Channel 4 then did a very odd thing, claiming it was justified in attributing false views to King as he'd previously not complained about, in the Independent and the New Statesman (3). This is very odd logic, akin to a mugger pleading not guilty to an assault charge because the victim had not complained about previous assaults. It also says something about the professional standards - or integrity - of Singer and the programme makers. It is very odd to learn that a prominent scientist like Singer gets his information from the Independent and the New Statesman - one would have expected more rigorous interest in the opinions of his - equally illustruous - peers, especially since he makes a career of attacking them. And the programme makers seem to have neglected to do basic fact checking.

Ofcom ruled that the programme was distorting King's views - because of the 'breeding couples' comment. The other points were not addressed, perhaps acknowledging, tacitly, that the previously published erroneous accounts gave Channel Four valid grounds for botching it.

The squabble about "Only habitable" and "Most habitable" is unimportant, though it should be noted that Singer was wrong. The other important, however, is far more serious. Recall that Singer accused King of saying that "by the end of the century the only habitable place on the earth will be the Antarctic". King claimed out that he said nothing of the kind. Channel Four claimed the misquotation came from an interview he gave to THe Climate Group in April 2004, where as King refered to testimony given to the Commons Select Committee in March of that year. King stated that what he said on both occasions was very similar. I have not been able to locate the text of what he said to the Climate Group, but his testimony was quoted in the Ofcom report (above).

It is obvious he is saying that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will hit the same level as previosuly seen 55 million years ago, by the end of the century. He is not suggesting that the conditions prevailing then will reappear in that time. If he were, he would be every bit as laughable as Singer makes him out to be, but as he clearly isn't, it is Singer who looks like the fool, or the liar. Which is it, Fred?

This is all very obvious and straight forward and clear from the information available. So anyone claiming that David King said anything about the Antarctic being the only or most habitable place on the planet by the end of the century is either a fool or trying to mislead you, and can safely be ignored. The Independent and New Statesman stories have been reproduced across denier sites, very quickly, without any analysis of whether it is really credible for a scientist like Singer to repeat the blunders of incompetent journalists. But it is all there in black and white for anyone willing to look and think - and anyone failing to do that can be dismissed, likewise, as a propgandist or a fool.

First cab off that particular rank - Steve MacIntyre (4), who scrupulously avoided that issue in his attempt to undermine the Ofcom complaint against TGGWS. Even though he quoted from part of the Ofcom rpeort that mentioned it, specifically:
Sir David said that he did not say or imply that the Antarctic was ever the ONLY habitable place for mammals, still less was he making a prediction that it would be
the only or even the most, habitable place for mammals if CO2 concentrations reached similar concentrations in the future. (5)
Though he spends a lot of time dwelling on the "Most" vs "Only" debate, MacIntyre ignores the second part entirely, preferring to make silly and disingenuous comments about Monty Python, and post pictures of scantily clad women. Which tells you all you need to know about the objectivity of his website.

1 - Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, number 114, published by Ofcom, 21st of July, 2008.( The material relating to King's complaint is on pages 36-42 and the quotation cited is on page 36.
2 - ibid, page 37.
3 - ibid, page 38. Neither paper gets it right - the Independent claims King "Antarctica is likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked, the government’s chief scientist, Professor Sir David King said last week" and The New Statesman also blunders: "he told reporters ... that ‘Antarctica was the best place for mammals to live and the rest of the globe would not sustain human life’. He warned that these conditions, with CO2 levels as high as 1,000 pm [parts per million] and no ice left on earth, could again be reached by 2100.”" [my emphasis] Of course he said nothing about these conditions being possible - merely that we might hit the same CO2 concentration.
4 - 'David King: Hot Girls and Cold Continents,' posted by Steve MacIntyre on Climate Audit, 22nd of July, 2008. (
5 - Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, op. cit., page 39. The quotation is also reproduced on Climate Audit, op. cit.

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