James Delingpole blogs about Simon Singh

James Delingpole criticised me in this blog (“The curious double standards of Simon Singh”) after an exchange on Twitter. He then asked: “Can you answer reasonably, fairly, honestly?” Yes, I can.

To make it interesting, I tried to find 10 flaws in the article in 10 minutes. In fact, it took me only 5 minutes to find the flaws, but 20 minutes to write corrections. (There are other flaws, and you can find them pointed out in other comments on Delingpole’s blog.) Quotes from Delingpole’s blog are in blue.

1.      “Yet in the opinion of Singh, the worldwide Climate Change industry is the one area where the robust scepticism and empiricism he professes to believe in just doesn’t apply.”

No – where I have said this? Climate change is an area that requires extreme skepticism, i.e., questioning and challenging. However, despite all the challenges, the climate change consensus remains solid. (By the way, I thought Professor Nurse explained this to you quite clearly and slowly.)

2.      “Apparently, the job of a journalist is just to accept the word of “the scientists” and take it as read that being as they are “scientists” their word is God and it brooks no questioning or dissent.”

No – where have I said this? I have been a science journalist for almost two decades and where there are differing opinions it is important to consider the overall evidence. And, having been a scientist for a short time (PhD, particle physics), I realise that nobody should be treated as a god.

3.      “That’s it. Finished. There’s a “consensus” on global warming. It’s immutable and correct.”

No – where have I said this? In fact, you must have seen my tweet this afternoon: “I might be wrong, the climate consensus might be wrong, but the probability that the consensus is correct is +90% on the key points.”

4.      “And anyone who disputes it is a vexatious denier informed by nothing but ignorance.”

No – where have I said this? I accept that there is a very small minority of experts who do not accept the broad consensus, as is the case with every aspect of fairly solid science, from MMR to the Big Bang. As for non-experts, my views are clear from a piece I published previously on climate change: “However, those who continue to deny this conclusion (confirmed climate numpties) may wish to consider my revised version of an observation made by the technology journalist Kenneth Cukier in a different context. I would suggest that people who take part in the climate change debate are all intelligent, honourable and reject manmade climate change, but they never possess more than two of these qualities at once. For example, columnists who regularly reject climate change possess the third quality, which means they cannot be both intelligent and honourable. Next time you read a climate numpty columnist you might want to think about whether he or she is dishonourable or unintelligent. The divide is probably 50/50.”

5.      “What sickens me is the hypocrisy of people who claim to be in favour of speech, claim to believe in empiricism, claim to be sceptics yet refuse to accept room for an honest, open debate on one of the most important political issues of our time.”

No – where have I said this? All I have done is disagree with you, point out your lack of qualifications and mock you. I did not threaten to silence you or sue you. In fact, my approach was quite the opposite – you must have seen my tweet this afternoon encouraging further debate: “V happy for me & climate expert to meet you to discuss consensus, record it & put it in online unedited.”

6. “And just this afternoon, Simon Singh – purported defender of free speech; enemy of junk science – joined the ranks of those disgraceful hypocrites with a message on Twitter. Here’s what he Tweeted:
** Sorry, but @JamesDelingpole deserves mockery ‘cos he has the arrogance to think he knows more of science than a Nobel Laureate*
Is that the message Singh really took from the BBC’s Horizon documentary? When did I ever make that claim?”

First of all, it was not just “a message on twitter”, but rather several tweets, including six messages addressed to you. This included an acknowledgement that nobody is a 100% sure and an invitation to discuss this issue. I think my most insightful tweet alluded to the likelihood that you suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect (whereby unskilled people reach flawed conclusions, but are not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to realise their mistakes.)

To answer your question and explain my tweet; you denied Nurse’s explanation of the role of consensus in science and you dismissed Nurse’s perfectly valid analogy about consensus … so you do indeed seem to think you are in a better position than Nurse to understand how science operates.

7.      “What I am saying, and I say almost every day, is that the evidence is not as robust as the “consensus” scientists claim”

Okay, that’s what you say. James Delingpole, English graduate. You might be right.

Those who think that the consensus is very likely to be valid include, as far as I know, all of the following and more:
Paul Nurse, Ben Goldacre and myself, who you have come up against this week (but we are very small fry).
Editors of the world’s foremost science journals, Science and Nature.
The most senior science editors in UK national broadsheet newspapers.
The overwhelming majority of science Nobel Laureates.
All the world’s national academy’s of science.
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists.

Also, I must stress that all of the people/groups above will have questions about elements of the consensus and realisethat the models have uncertainties, but they also agree that the broad consensus is very likely (90%) to be correct. In short, the uncertainties are small enough to derive some fairly solid conclusions.

8.  “Yet despite apparently knowing nothing more about me and what I do than he has learned from a heavily politicised BBC documentary, and maybe heard from his mob of Twitter bully chums or read in the Guardian, Singh feels able to decide that Paul Nurse is right on this issue and I’m wrong.”

No – I have followed your rants for quite a while from afar.  I am not saying that Paul Nurse is right and you are wrong. Instead, both Paul Nurse and I are saying that we are not convinced by your views, but we are convinced by the sheer weight of evidence behind the consensus that has gathered over the course of three decades

9.      “But what I can’t abide any more is what has been happening all this week, irresponsibly orchestrated by Sir Paul Nurse, the BBC and their dishonest, ferociously lopsided “documentary”:

No – my tweets were not orchestrated. I doubt Ben’s were either. Do you mean “triggered”?

10.  “the frenzied witch-hunt of a journalist and blogger who has done no more than journalists and bloggers should be doing in a free and open society.”

The problem is not that you have “done no more than journalists and bloggers should be doing”, but that you appear to have done substantially less. When writing about a scientific issue, you should have at least worked hard to understand some of the basic science in particular and the scientific method more generally.

Perhaps I can end with a point alluded to by pabloreale on your blog comments. It seems that you respected me until I disagreed with you. It seems that you respected Ben Goldacre until he disagreed with you. And I suspect that you respected Sir Paul Nurse until he disagreed with you. Who is going to the next person to lose your respect? David Allen Green? The Chief Government Scientist? The previous Chief Government Scientist. The Chief Government Scientist before the previous one? The previous President of the Royal Society? Ed Milliband? Nick Clegg? David Cameron? David Attenborough?



Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous