Christopher Booker’s scientific credentials


by Neil Robertson    
12:58 pm - December 31st 2008

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Rejoice, people! Whatever you may’ve read, however many chilling predictions you may have heard, however frequently Al Gore might haunt your dreams, telling you that the world will end in a torrent of fire because YOU don’t use energy-saving lightbulbs, I can promise that all those fears are unfounded. For as people across the world glance at 2009 with such foreboding and dread, Christopher Booker has made the jolly discovery that instead of getting much, much worse, climate change doesn’t actually exist all!

Now, I understand that there’s a great deal of misinformation out there in BlogLand, and since I’m not a scientist (well, neither is he, but he sure seems to know a lot more than ‘real scientists’), I have to make sure that all my sources are of the highest calibre. So I did whatever any forensic time-deprived blogger would do, and checked him out on Wikipedia. Without further ado, and just to show how seriously you should take his scientific acumen, here are some of Booker’s greatest hits:


Polar bear: “thank you Christopher Booker!”

Booker’s articles in The Daily Telegraph on asbestos and also on global warming have been challenged by George Monbiot in an article in The Guardian [1].

Booker’s scientific claims, which include the false assertion that white asbestos (chrysotile) is “chemically identical to talcum powder“ [2] were also analysed in detail by Richard Wilson in his book Don’t Get Fooled Again (2008). (The chemical formula for talc is H2Mg3(SiO3)4 or Mg3Si4O10(OH)2, while the formula for chrysotile, the primary ingredient of white asbestos, is Mg3(Si2O5)(OH)4).

Wilson highlighted Christopher Booker’s repeated endorsement of the alleged scientific expertise of John Bridle, who has claimed to be “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”, but who in 2005 was convicted under the UK’s Trade Descriptions Act [3] of making false claims about his qualifications, and who the BBC has accused of basing his reputation on “lies about his credentials, unaccredited tests, and self aggrandisement”.[4].

Christopher Booker’s scientific claims about asbestos have been criticized several times by the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive. In 2002, the HSE’s Director General, Timothy Walker, wrote that Booker’s articles on asbestos had been “misinformed and do little to increase public understanding of a very important occupational health issue.”[5].

In 2005, the Health and Safety Executive issued a rebuttal[6] after Christopher Booker wrote an article suggesting, incorrectly, that the HSE had agreed with him that white asbestos posed “no medical risk”[7].

In 2006, the HSE published a further rebuttal[8] after Christopher Booker had claimed, again incorrectly, that the Health and Safety Laboratory had concluded that the white asbestos contained within “artex” textured coatings posed “no health risk”. [9].

In May 2008, the Health and Safety Executive accused Booker of writing an article that was “substantially misleading”[10]. In the article[11], published by the Sunday Telegraph earlier that month, Booker had claimed, falsely, that a paper produced in 2000 by two HSE statisticians, Hodgson and Darnton[12], had ‘concluded that the risk of contracting mesothelioma from white asbestos cement was “insignificant”, while that of lung cancer was “zero”‘.

In December 2008, an article by Booker was published in The Daily Telegraph, ‘Facts melted by ‘global warming”[13] and subsequently in The Australian, ‘More inconvenient cold weather, snow and polar ice’.[14] The article claims that “Without explanation, a half million square kilometres of ice vanished overnight.” That claim is false as an explanation was provided on 13 December and Booker’s article was published on 21 December.[15]

If this doesn’t persuade you that everything the guy writes should be trusted, nothing will!

Anyway, if it’s really that easy to get a newspaper column to write about subjects you know nothing about, I think it’s time to get myself some of that. From now on, all of the posts on this blog will be detailed discussions about global economics.

Granted, I have no academic training or related work experience, and some of my more controversial pronouncements (like ‘Capitalism Makes You Impotent!’ or ‘Marxism Clears Blotchy Skin!’) are based on flawed or fabricated evidence. But just like Booker can claim that cold winters disproves global warming, so I can claim that my lack of money proves the inherent evil of capitalism. Now all I need is for someone to hire me because, regardless of my rare imperfections, I’ll tell them everything they want to hear.

Form a queue people, and I’ll start reviewing job offers in the new year.

(By the way, if you want, y’know, a scientific rebuttal of Booker’s piece rather than just endless snark, here’s a good place to start)

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Reader comments


Yes on the asbestos issue I am not entirely sure what you mean by white asbestos any more as it all now comes under licensing regulation and this means everyone appearing anywhere where any sort of it might have been has to jump through a few hoops pay a surveyor and a ridiculous money -go round has ensued
I can tell you that the Insurance industry , with all its experience of actually paying the claims , has decided that the whole thing is vastly less hazardous that might be imagined . EL rates for Asbestos are now down to about 1.25% or even less , they used to be up at 8% under the market scheme ?( Run by Miles Smith ). AT this distance from the original blizzard of disease claims I think that shows at the very least that Booker is onto something . I can hardly overstate the pointlessness of the H and S box ticking exercise .

One of the problems with environmentalist is that their own predictions obstinately refuse to appear. I am sure there is a suitable model incorporating 11 years of cooling into a global warming theory but that is not what they were saying 11 years ago is it ? Similarly the predicted death of the Polar bear finds as many nuzzling the dustbins of Edmonton as ever and the sea is not noticeably nearer my house despite assurances that by this time I would be doing the back stroke .

I `m not a denier but the environmental lobby and its backers are a not in the business of truth they are in the business of persuasion It has to be decoded like any other pressure groups material .

You know for a conservative you sound a lot like a child of the 1960s Newmania.

Gotta question everything, man…

In the 1950s people would just have taken the scientist’s word for it.

Oh the times they are a changin’

So, what have we here… ad hominem, argument from authority, straw man, argumentum ad wikipedium, the excluded middle, appeal to consensus… lawks, it’s like every n00b internet argument tactic all distilled down into one article. Huzzah, sir!

Really. Since the issues on which you fling your poo at Booker are ones in which he is directly opposing the institutional view, it’s hardly conducive to the debate to then claim he’s been refuted by the same institutional view. To put that in context, it’s equivalent to saying that an atheist must be wrong because the church has issued several rebuttals to his claims. The central thesis, take it or leave it (and you obviously will leave it, but bear with me), of skeptics on these issues is that institutional science has gone off the rails. That’s the thing to discuss. Your argument here boils down to “we know institutional science is correct because scientific institutions say they are”. A hundred years ago, anti-eugenics campaigners would have been told to shut up because top scientists support eugenics (it was quite the fad, back in the day, with striking parallels to modern science with its fascination for catastrophe and demands that something be done about the residuum and inferior races). Same thing.

You should discuss the issues. If you don’t feel you have sufficient grasp of them to discuss them rationally, then surely you don’t have sufficient grasp to form an opinion either in favour of or opposed to the AGW hypothesis. If you then say therefore you’ll trust whatever the experts say… well, don’t complain if somebody tells you to get into a lethal chamber for the good of the race some time.

It is not ‘ad hominem’ to attack a person’s arguments, or to point out clear errors of fact in their other work.

If there’s one thing worse than a logical fallacy, it’s the incorrect calling of one…

The last item on the wiki quote, where Booker alleges that in some way Arctic Ice has been removed from the record to reduce the bad news (so why do that now? why not do it in September when the ice was at it’s lowest?), is directly countering his arguments on AGW.

He claimed that the ice vanished without explanation. There was an explanation – the ice had been over-recorded. What’s more, the other major source of data on Arctic Ice coverage comes up with a similar trend – the ‘rapid recovery’ that the denialists jumped on in October stalled in November and December due to unusually warm weather, and coverage is now lower than it was 12 months ago.

Ian B,

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever received an online “huzzah”. It’s quite something. Anyway:

Your argument here boils down to “we know institutional science is correct because scientific institutions say they are”.

No, my argument (in so much as there is one) boils down to “if the Telegraph wants an article denying the existence of AGW to be taken seriously, it really should’ve been written by someone with actual scientific credentials, and not a guy whose track-record is patchy at best.” There are plenty of people better-qualified to challenge the AGW consensus than Booker, and had that piece been written by one of those people, then this post would never have existed. And then everyone would’ve been much happier, especially your good self.

You should discuss the issues

I have, right here. And besides, this post wasn’t really about the message, but the messenger. In general, I don’t really have much of a problem with skeptics. I merely disagree with them.

If you then say therefore you’ll trust whatever the experts say… well, don’t complain if somebody tells you to get into a lethal chamber for the good of the race some time.

Well, I’m not generally one to blithely ‘trust whatever the experts say’, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t experts you can trust. Booker is neither an expert, nor, on this subject, trustworthy. And if believing that means I’m headed to a lethal chamber for the good of mankind, well que sera. I can at least take comfort from knowing that my family will inherit a decent record collection.

Al Gore is a scientist?

Al Gore is a scientist?

Nope. And neither is George Monbiot. And I wouldn’t advise anyone to rely on either of them for specifics about climate science.

I wonder if Mr Booker is a scientist. Or maybe… he is *gasp* someone who sees the truth which us lesser blessed mortals can’t see… because we’re enveloped by the vast… liberal… conspiracy.

In general, I don’t really have much of a problem with skeptics

I do… I think they’re generally as nutty as 9/11 “Troofers” and should be locked up.

Booker ain’t no scientist – and neither is he much of a sceptic. Genuine sceptics form their beliefs based on a balanced evaluation of the available evidence. Pseudo-sceptics like Booker cherry-pick their evidence on the basis of a pre-existing belief, seizing on data, however tenuous, that supports (or appears to support) their position, while declaring themselves “sceptical” of any evidence, however compelling, that undermines it.

In some ways it’s maybe a testament to the success of “Enlightenment” thinking that even those seeking to perpetuate wholly bogus ideas often now seek to do so by appropriating the language of rational inquiry. But it does seem a shame that the term “skeptic” has now become commonly synonymous with bias, pseudo-scholarship, and general all-round battiness!

PS – I did a piece on this more general issue for the New Statesman a little while back. If you think that the Climate Change “sceptics” are nutty, check out the AIDS denialists…!

http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2008/09/evidence-sceptic-hiv-bogus

“I do… I think they’re generally as nutty as 9/11 “Troofers” and should be locked up.”

Well not a particularly “liberal” conspiracy you are engaged in then Sunny, in the Voltaire sense anyway. But you don’t actually need to posit a conspiracy anymore than you need a conspiracy to explain the eugenics craze of the 19th century or the “scientific marxism” craze of the early 20th century. It is a mere confluence of interests – some people with money to make (research grants, green subsidies etc..) with others with money to spend who want more influence at the level of national government/international body. If it is in these various actors self-interest to engage in global warming alarmism, then its not surprising to see a craze in it for a while. I

ts not too unlike the nexus of neo-con ideology, the RAND corporation and the US military, or the steady escalation of the war on drugs. Political action can develop independently of evidence or efficacy so long as enough interests are satisfied by taking the action anyway. Conspiracy theorist want to fit a ground narrative around these things but in reality its just lot of little people of some influence wanting to take a cut.

Science is in theory a dispassionate search for the truth irrespective of whether the results are beneficial or otherwise for anyone at all, but in practice it is bound to be harnessed by someone.
That is what is disturbing about the totemic nature of AGW theory, the categorical certainty of its proponents and the casting of its critics as deniers, nutjobs etc. Francis Sedgemore points out on his website (It’s an uncertain world, 31.12.2008) how important it is to bear in mind that models have hugely variable results. Look at even short term weather forecasts. The BBC and the met office gave different predictions for last night’s temperature in Birmingham, differing by 3 degrees C, which to me as a gardener, and that is a prediction of just one day ahead. Sunny may be joking, but perhaps he should take a look at Lysenkoism for a prime example of how pseudoscientific ideas become official doctrine if they can be of use to a particular regime or other grouping:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trofim_Lysenko

In the late 1930′s to the early 1950s, Trofim Lysenko’s crackpot neo-Lamarckian (anti-Darwinian) ideas became the official scientific truth in the USSR. Lysenko was lauded and promoted by the Stalin and the soviet establishement and his ideas became the official “truth” because they suggested that various crops could be grown in all sorts of places in the USSR, in a range far exceeding the then accepted limits, thus promising huge improvements in yields. The “deniers” and nutjobs of that time, who were courageous or foolhardy enough to criticise Lysenko’s ideas, were persecuted, and many were sent to labour camps, where some perished. Of course, the point came when Lysenko’s doctrines could no longer be maintained in the face of real evidence. (This period is well-illustrated in the novel Beliye Odezhdy – White Clothes – by Dudintsev). AGW, confirmed or unconfirmed, seems on the way to achieving a similar sacred cow status.
I have a copy of one of Lysenko’s books. In 1952 it was the bible for all agronomists in the USSR. Now it is a curiosity. I also have a copy of the literature kindly sent to me by the government in 1999, warning me of what might befall me at the new year as a consequence of the Year 2000 bug. I’m keeping that as a souvenir/investment for my descendants.
As far as I’m concerned, AGW is an open book. As for the term “sceptic” being synonymous with “nutjob”: scepticism is the starting point of scientific inquiry, and the search for knowledge generally. The most important question which children should be taught to ask is “why should I believe this?”. Yevgyeniy Zamyatin:: “Philosophers of genius, children, and the people are equally wise – because they ask equally foolish questions”.

Can anyone quote 10 refereed papers showing the likely occurrence of global warming caused by increased CO2 and methane in the atmosphere?

Nick,

So are you saying that the climate scientists who disagree with the likes of Booker secretly know that their theory is flawed, but are keeping quiet about it in order to protect their research grants, academic positions etc? Or that they are in the grip of some mass-delusion?

It seems easy to agree that the Lysenko case highlights the dangers of state-sponsored pseudo-science, and the importance of allowing scientists to say what they think without fear of being locked up, shot, or sent to the gulags, as happened to many of Lysenko’s critics. I agree that we’d probably be in trouble if the self-described Climate Change “sceptics” (or indeed the AIDS “sceptics” and 911 “sceptics”) were in danger of such treatment. But they aren’t, for all the bluster. The worst they have to endure is general public ridicule of the kind that I suspect John Stuart Mill would have been quite comfortable with, and (often but not always) a difficulty in meeting the quality control standards necessary to persuade a peer reviewed scientific journal to publish their claims. Fortunately for them, however, the Sunday Telegraph appears to apply a rather less rigorous quality control standard, so their ideas still get plenty of airing…

As far as I’m concerned, the real Lysenkoists are people like Shite (oh, sorry, “Spiked”), & other right-wing “libertarians”, who simply won’t consider the possibility of AGW because it is a threat to their worldview. They start from a premise that it can’t be happening & scramble around for any possible “evidence” that supports the conclusions they arrived at long ago.

Why else would discredited cunts like the Heartland Institute & Martin Durkin get such an enthusiastic hearing? Because the “sceptics” want their message to be true, so they take it.

& if you want to see some real political interference, look at the Bush administration doctoring scientific findings because it didn’t fit their politics. No, actually, you won’t do that because he was a “sceptic” & thereby on your side.

Can anyone quote 10 refereed papers showing the likely occurrence of global warming caused by increased CO2 and methane in the atmosphere?

Well, many of the papers themselves aren’t available online and those which are require subscription/prepayment, but this link would be a decent place to start.

the Trofim Lysenko example is amusing, but rather deluded in this context. Rather than this being a state sponsored initiative, its actually the opposite – that years of outside pressure and scientific data has finally filtered through to politicians, who are beginning to realise (but doing little about it) the impact of global warming.

Even now New Labour talk up the issue without doing very little to combat it.

and, as asquith has pointed out above, the American adminstration under George Bush actually spent much time and effort and money trying to suppress these findings and misinterpret the scientific evidence.

If anything, western governments have been a hindrance to the green movement and on this issue than promoting it.

Well not a particularly “liberal” conspiracy you are engaged in then Sunny,

Its a brand name, get over it. Besides, it was more in the sense that deniers have something mentally wrong with them and it would be best for society that they were in an institute. Not that I’d lock anyone up who disagreed with me.

19. douglas clark

Charlie @ 15,

Can you, in turn, provide this audience with a list, oh say ten, peer reviewed papers from the last ten years that refute AGW?

I agree wth Asquith, the intellectual investment that many folk have in their political beliefs is not going to be overturned by facts.

Back in 2004 Science Magazine did a survey of peer-reviewed papers on the subject of AGW.

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Look at even short term weather forecasts. The BBC and the met office gave different predictions for last night’s temperature in Birmingham, differing by 3 degrees C, which to me as a gardener, and that is a prediction of just one day ahead.

Weather and climate are different things.

” So are you saying that the climate scientists who disagree with the likes of Booker secretly know that their theory is flawed, but are keeping quiet about it in order to protect their research grants, academic positions etc? Or that they are in the grip of some mass-delusion? ”

No, that would be the conspiracy theory. I am saying that a few institutional and individual interests are amplifying one particular theory.

Very few of your scientists are in fact scientists in the classic sense. What we see so often in the scientific world is the tyranny of the a priori hypothesis (singular). The tendency, supported by the system, is to generate one hypothesis to explain an observed pehonomenon and then to devote resources to proving it. That, demonstrably, is the way the IPPC group has worked.

For any given phenomen, however – and especially one as complex as observed warming – there are invariably multiple hypotheses (plural). True science embraces the multiplicity and applies equal resource to challenging them … the classic process of hypothesis, antithesis, synthesis. That which survives challenge the best is regarded as the closest approximation to the truth … until something better turns up.

To give someone as lable of “scientist” therefore is no indication that he or she is a scientist in an intellectual sense. Some of the greatest early scientific discoveries where not made by scientists, but by people who applied scientific method to their endeavours.

On this basis, your complaint rather misses the point – as indeed does advocacy for the AGW argument. Unless you can admit doubt (i.e., scepticism) you are not a scientist. That includes most AGW advocates, who call themselves scientists.

Still prepared to offer even money bet up to say £1000 that in 10 years’ time we will not regard MMGW as any kind of serious threat.

25. douglas clark

cjcjc,

Let’s talk about the bet, then.

What are the rules?

Lay them out and I’ll consider it.

Weather and climate are different things.
There is a valid point in equating weather and climate, in that both are non-linear processes. Small changes in initial conditions can mean massive changes in the result. So, you can find websites that apply meteorological models to the current data, and predict the no. of mms of rainfall in two months time. Climate (and economic for that matter) models seem to suffer from a similar problem. This is somewhat alleviated by the ‘spectrum’ approach that is often used. Nevertheless, models are less proof of the overall theory than warning signs of what’s possible.

For any given phenomen, however – and especially one as complex as observed warming – there are invariably multiple hypotheses (plural). True science embraces the multiplicity and applies equal resource to challenging them … the classic process of hypothesis, antithesis, synthesis. That which survives challenge the best is regarded as the closest approximation to the truth … until something better turns up.

To give someone as lable of “scientist” therefore is no indication that he or she is a scientist in an intellectual sense. Some of the greatest early scientific discoveries where not made by scientists, but by people who applied scientific method to their endeavours.

On this basis, your complaint rather misses the point – as indeed does advocacy for the AGW argument. Unless you can admit doubt (i.e., scepticism) you are not a scientist. That includes most AGW advocates, who call themselves scientists.

It is my experience that practicing researchers regard strict logical frameworks for scientific endeavour with an air of detached bemusement. The truth is the approach differs- overall according to the nature of the subject, and individually according to the nature of the scientist.

Your statement about scientists admitting doubt is strange to me. Of course the final arbiter is observation, but that doesn’t mean that a scientist cannot feel certain of his position. Scientific debates are sometimes vicious and personal, and scientists absolutist. The ideas can hardly be thrown away because the scientists show human frailty.

I think this whole debate misses the point, which is that the burden of proof for public policy is not raised terribly high. No one expects Gordon Brown to lay out the theoretical basis for his VAT cut, and there is very little pretense of certainty. Because the system under study is really, really complicated. We accept to a greater or lesser degree something because it seems reasonable. That level of proof has been exceeded by the climate change theory.

Nick: I am saying that a few institutional and individual interests are amplifying one particular theory.

So the fact that the overwhelming majority of governments, academic institutions and climate scientists now believe that CO2 emissions are causing dangerous levels of global warming is the fault of this tiny group of institutional and individual interests and their nefarious theory-amplifying activities?

Nick: I am saying that a few institutional and individual interests are amplifying one particular theory.

So the fact that the overwhelming majority of governments, academic institutions and climate scientists now believe that CO2 emissions are causing dangerous levels of global warming is the fault of this tiny group of institutional and individual interests and their nefarious theory-amplifying activities?

I’d like to redraft ‘No one expects Gordon Brown to lay out the theoretical basis for his VAT cut’ to ‘No one expects Gordon Brown to prove the efficacy of his VAT cuts, and the models which he uses are far more specious and politically motivated than those used by Climatologists.’

30. douglas clark

Still cjcjc

What are the exact terms of your bet? I might be willing to go 1000 Euros. Tell me the terms. If I think you are being unfair, I’ll say so. If you think I’m bottling it, then you have the option…

Name the terms.

overwhelming majority of governments, academic institutions and climate scientists

Governments take their cue from those to whom they lend credence.
jb86uk: of course, their is an equivalence. Climate and weather forecasts are predictions, extrapolations.

And the BBC got it wrong for Brum last night according to my thermometer by 3C.
Anyway, I’ve heard on the news or in some newspaper, that we’re going to have a “blistering summer”, so why not resurrect this thread at the end of the year?

“So the fact that the overwhelming majority of governments, academic institutions and climate scientists now believe that CO2 emissions are causing dangerous levels of global warming is the fault of this tiny group of institutional and individual interests and their nefarious theory-amplifying activities?”

Not really. The interests are fairly widespread and many of those involved aren’t nefarious, but perfectly or mostly well-meaning.

I suppose you would have to understand my perspective. When you say the overwhelming majority of governments that means to me “the overwhelming majority of the most successful liars, crooks, and killers” (successful because they have generally persuaded people that their actions are legitimate). I don’t think governments are, generally speaking, legitimate entities and I would hardly consider them to be likely arbiters of truth. I think if you reflect on what governments and politicians, even in relatively benign societies such as the UK, manage to get up to, I don’t think there is any other reasonable conclusion to draw. In so far as academic institutions are state funded, they will on some level be exposed to the influences of those highly successful criminal conspiracies.


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