Saturday, December 09, 2006


From Prof. John Brignell -- replying to a claim that the current scientific orthodoxy is not biased

Dear Richard Black

I will take your piece at face value and assume that you are not being disingenuous. What on earth makes you believe that we sceptics think that science is against us? We know that science is for us. Science and its methods are essentially sceptical. From the Bacons, through the likes of Locke, Hume and Russell, to the magnificent climax of Popper's statement of the principle of falsifiability, the scientific method was painfully established, only to be abandoned in a few short decades. The method was essentially sceptical, as Thomas Huxley put it:

"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

Scientists of the old school are not just sceptical about global warming, they are sceptical about everything. That is the way we were trained. Fortunately, even in this new era of blind faith, there are an admirable few among the new generation who also adhere to the principles of pure science.

It is not science that is against us, it is the Green establishment -- politics, media and, alas, the major scientific institutions and journals. Consensus had never had a legitimate place in science. As Einstein is reputed to have remarked, when the Nazis published a book in which one hundred German scientists pronounced him wrong, "It only needed one of them to be right." There was indeed a consensus in physics at the start of the twentieth century that "the science is settled", but that was blown apart by Einstein and his contemporaries.

As for the implication that there is no evidence of bias in publication and the award of research grants, that arises from one of the fallacies of the historical method. No one is going to write down the fact that they made a decision through pure bias. People do not leave behind an audit trial of their misdeeds for posterity. To see an example of how it works, you only have to look at the history of the editor of Nature jumping through hoops to prevent publication of valid criticism of the so-called hockey stick; or the authoritative Wegman Report. That theory was a ludicrous contradiction of the findings of history, art, archaeology, entomology and many other disciplines, yet it was strenuously maintained by voluntary censorship.

Take it from one who found it more honourable to take early retirement (and write independently about these and other matters) than conform to the diktats of the Green establishment; for the last decade there has been only one game in town as far as research is concerned. When your university is locked in a struggle for financial survival and is dependent on large chunks of taxpayers' money for politically approved programmes, you do not earn friends by rocking the boat. Thus, with a few notable exceptions, the sceptics (the true scientists) have been weeded out. Would-be researchers are told the fields in which funding is available. They are no longer physics, chemistry, engineering etc. They are new subjects, such as sustainability and pollution.

You create a Catch 22 situation by specifically excluding web sites as sources; for that is where the sceptics are now mainly obliged to operate, some of them very distinguished professors emeriti.

Your final paragraphs: "But if research is being skewed and distorted, we ought to know, because good climate science is the key to good climate policy. If it is not, then the most damaging accusation raised by the sceptical community will have been laid to rest" contain two misunderstandings. The first is one of hubris, that there can be a "climate policy". Human effects are orders of magnitude below natural ones and lost in the noise.

The second is in the way that science works (or, more accurately, used to work). If in any field there were a disagreement, a conference or colloquium would be called. The opponents would carry on a vigorous altercation to resolve the issue. Then they would retire amicably to the bar.

Now there have to be two conferences, one for the traditional scientists, which is largely ignored, the other a lavish media and political jamboree, which receives wide coverage. Furthermore, any sceptic who raises his head above the barricade can be assured of a campaign of calumny and ad hominem attacks from self-appointed guardians of political correctness.

British Labour Party government fails the lower classes it claims to help

The naturally bright and those from professional homes are doing well as always. It is the average kids who are being failed by politically correct educational policies that do not work

The gap between the most and least able primary school children is widening, official figures suggest. The Department for Education figures show that there was little improvement in England's state primaries this year, although more girls achieved the standard level 4 than boys. At the top end, however, the proportion reaching level 5 - that expected of 14-year-olds - rose faster in mathematics and in English.

Nine years after Labour came to power, analysis of the results also shows that four in ten children have still not mastered the expected levels of reading, writing and arithmetic when they leave primary school. Education secretaries have consistently maintained that level 4 is the minimum standard necessary for children to be able to cope with the rigours of the national curriculum at secondary school. Overall, national curriculum tests taken last summer showed that the improvement rate among England's primaries has slowed. While the numbers achieving level 4 in English rose 12 percentage points to 75 per cent between 1997 and 2000. Six years on it has risen to only 79 per cent, with more than a quarter of boys failing to meet that standard.

Figures also show that the proportion of boys able to read properly fell by three percentage points this year to 79 per cent. In maths, 76 per cent of pupils were able to count properly compared with 75 per cent in 2005. Of those, 76 per cent of boys achieved level 4 or above, ahead of girls by one percentage point.

Both levels are far below the Government's target of 85 per cent in English and maths. There was a rise of one percentage point in science pupils reaching level 4 - 87 per cent of 11-year-olds. At level 5, girls continue to outshine boys. In English, results rose by five percentage points to 32 per cent and in maths by two percentage points, to 33 per cent, although in science they fell by one percentage point to 46 per cent.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said the results showed that Labour had come a "long way since 1997" when a third of 11-year-olds failed to reach the expected standard. But he admitted that more needed to be done for the bottom fifth of pupils, who were being left behind in English and maths. "We are determined to redouble our efforts to help the one in five 11-year-olds who are still not reaching the standard required of their age in literacy and mathematics," he said. "That is why we are renewing our literacy strategy with phonics at the heart of the teaching of reading and more demanding standards of mental arithmetic."

The Government said that from September all five-year-olds must be taught to read using a traditional "phonics" method.

With 118,000 pupils failing to meet the expected standards in English and 138,600 unable to add up properly, Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said league table figures showed that the National Literacy Strategy had been a "wasted opportunity". "More than a quarter of boys are leaving primary school not having mastered basic proficiency in reading and writing, despite six years of education," he said.


No comments: