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Tuesday 23 July 2013

Andrew Neil And Climate Change

[Update at end of post]

In an expertly constructed apologia, Daily and Sunday Politics frontman Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil has sought to justify his approach to climate change and rebut criticism, following his recent interview of Ed Davey. But a little examination of the piece shows not only that it can be easily picked apart, but also that Neil makes one fatally wrong assumption about the whole business.
There is, at the outset, a deliberate attempt to establish impartiality and propriety: “the Sunday Politics does not have a position on any of the subjects on which it interrogates people ... it is the job of the interviewer to assemble evidence from authoritative sources which best challenge the position of the interviewee”. If only Neil had left it there, but he does not.

Readers are then told that one critic who has forensically dismantled Neil’s approach, Dana Nuccitelli, “works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business”, and later that he is one of those taking “strongly partisan positions”. Thus he is, by inference, less trustworthy. Neil tries to link Nuccitelli to “deniers” (note use of quotation marks) but his critique does not contain one instance of the word.

Having marginalised his critics, and used his characterisations to justify dismissing the assertion that “97% of climate scientists are part of the global warming consensus”, Neil then makes a serious mistake. He talks of the science being “settled” (note the further use of quotation marks). But the science is never settled: this is a favourite attack line of climate sceptics.

Neil then moves to insert his own chosen sources in place of those he has dismissed as “strongly partisan” and allegedly in the pocket of business. And what a gallery he presents: Richard Tol, who has asserted that “The impact of climate change is relatively small”, and cited by US Senate Republicans wanting to debunk the scientific consensus, is prominent among them.

Neil also cites Hans von Storch, who believes that climate change has been “oversold”, and talks of “alarmists, and Roy Spencer, a signatory to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming. By now, it comes clear that Neil’s piece would gain great favour with the likes of Paul Dacre, in that it carefully selects the facts required to support the conclusion while rubbishing those opposed, but that isn’t the point.

There is a world of difference between journalism such as Neil’s apologia – expertly crafted though it is, with its lofty pretence of disinterest and detachment – and the quality of scientific research that makes it into the 97% that constitutes the consensus on climate change. Neil’s fatal mistake is continuing with the pretence that there is some kind of equivalence between the two.

The Sunday Politics has no views on such matters” he asserts. But he does.

[UPDATE 1840 hours: just ten minutes after I first posted this item, James "saviour of Western civilisation" Delingpole weighed in with implicit support for Andrew Neil, by attacking Dana Nuccitelli.

Del Boy first denounces the 97% consensus figure in characteristic style, not using his own reasoning but, as an "interpreter of interpretations", citing Anthony Watts, Bishop Hill and Ben Pile, all of whom are firmly in the sceptic camp, and all of whom, by the most fortunate of coincidences, back up his contention.

Then Delingpole, after the customary meander through a series of waffling attempts to persuade readers that the other lot are the bad guys, asserts that Nuccitelli is "in the pay of Big Oil" because of his day job. Wrong. His day job is to do science and risk assessment. If he were being paid by his employer to blog for the Guardian, Del might have a point. But he isn't, and so he doesn't.

In the meantime, perhaps Delingpole would care to see that the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming contains the signature of another of his heroes, Ross McKitrick. Someone whose chosen deity is somehow going to make it all right is a credible source when it comes to climate science. No surprise there]

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