Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Have Climate Change deniers infiltrated the Institute of Physics?

Twenty years ago I was a hard working physics undergraduate.

Okay, well, maybe not. As I type this at 9PM on a Friday evening it would probably be more accurate to say that 20 years ago I would now be on my fourth bottle of Newcastle Brown in some some seedy student bar, quenching a thirst generated by having been out of bed for almost eight hours. However I was doing this whilst enrolled on a course entitled Physics with Astrophysics. And I did eventually sober up enough to get my degree. Just.

It was never cool to admit to being a physicist. I did once met a woman who thought that at a pinch 'astrophysics' could be interpreted as 'rocket scientist' and that I would make an interesting addition to the notches on her bedpost, but that was pretty much the exception that proved the rule.

However now even I am starting to have doubts about admitting to which branch of the sciences I studied, and the reason is the House of Commons inquiry into Climategate.

Embattled University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit Professor Phil Jones was given a luke warm grilling by MPs on Tuesday, but the hot news on the denier blogosphere wasn't this but the submission to the inquiry from the Institute of Physics.

In what could charitably be referred to as a 'robust' submission, the IoP repeated most of the more lurid accusations against Jones and the CRU but also, for good measure, stuck in the assertion that
The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions

So why did an organisation whose official line on Climate Change is
"The institutes's position on climate change is clear: the basic science is well enough understood to be sure that our climate is changing, and that we need to take action now to mitigate that change."
push Prof Jones under the metaphorical bus?

The answer is proving rather illusive. Despite their submission criticising the UEA for lack of transparency, nobody has been able to find out who actually wrote the submission. The IoP website has changed several times over the last 36 hours, but it now appears that the statement was the work of the Energy Sub-group.

This is where it gets interesting.

On that subcommittee is, and former chair of it, is a chap by the name of Peter F Gill. Mr Gill is the head of a company called Crestport Services who do consultancy work for
"oil and gas production companies including Shell, British Gas, and Petroleum Development Oman"
In other words, he's in the pay of the oil companies.

Mr Gill pops up every now and again with his own views on Climate Change, and interesting they are too. Especially interesting is his little piece in the April 2008 newsletter of the IoP South Central branch. Under the disclaimer "The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the IOP Energy Group" he reels off in quick succession a number of what are known in the trade as 'zombie arguments' - discredited attacks on Climate Change science that continue to be repeated by deniers ad nausium irrespective of how many times they have been disproved.

In quick succession Mr Gill gives us
While the focus is on carbon dioxide, it is well known that water vapour is far more important
carbon dioxide content follows temperature changes rather than causing them
If mechanisms exist that can cause runaway greenhouse effects, then we are bound to ask why such mechanisms have not shown up in the geological record?
Those of us having to deal with these arguments on discussion boards are indebted to the Sceptical Science blog for their easy-to-use guide to zombie arguments. Mr Gill's article could be summarised as a 2, a 24 and a 41.

Comments like these pop up all over the internet, defying all attempts to slay them, but to find them on a publiction from the Institute of Physics is like finding a recipe for home brew in an Alcoholics Anonymous leaflet.

However Mr Gill is not done yet, for he ends the piece
Readers may like to know that the Energy Group of the Institute has invited glaciologist Prof. Zbigniew Jaworowski to speak to us in October. .... the speaker has decided to title his lecture "CO2: the greatest scientific scandal of our time".
Professor Jaworowski is a fellow who, for reasons known only to himself, believes the Antarctic ice cores that show how CO2 has risen steadily since the Industrial Revolution are wrong.

Save to say he is not widely respected. But then as Mr Gill ends his contribution
for many people the subject has become a religion, so facts and analysis have become largely irrelevant.

If (and it's still an if at the moment) Mr Gill was primarily responsible for putting together the submission to the committee, then the implications for science are scarcely less serious than if Prof Jones had confessed to all things the deniers accused him of.

The Institute of Physics, one of the most respected science bodies in the country, may have submitted evidence to parliament written by an oil industry funded Climate Change denier.

There are worse sins in the world of science than skipping morning lectures, and selling out your integrity is definately one of them. Watch this space - and mine's a Newcastle Brown.


dwight towers said...

Thanks, good post, but there's a typo. You write "what are none in the trade as 'zombie arguments' - discredited..."

You mean known, not none. Easy sort of mistake, I make 'em all the time.

Martin Porter said...

Deliberate error Dwight - if I didn't make 'em every now and again nobody would believe I really was a scientist (once).