The Royal Society: too little, too late

The other night I had the great pleasure of dinner with Professor Bob Carter. He told me that when he goes on speaking tours, there’s only one question he ever gets asked to which he is unable to provide a satisfactory answer. It goes something like this:

“Thank you Professor Carter, that was all very interesting. But please can you tell me why you expect us to take your opinion seriously when it is contradicted by most of the world’s leading scientific organisations, including the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society?”

Funnily enough, I replied, that’s exactly what I’m planning to write a book about. “How did a scientific theory so feeble and ill-supported by any hard evidence yet become the dominant political idea of our age with so much support from people who really ought to know better?”

One thing’s for certain. When the history of this outbreak of mass hysteria comes to be written, few organisations will emerge with more egg on their face than the standing joke that is the Royal Society.

For years it has acted as cheerleader for the AGW lobby but has now been forced to backtrack after complaints from 43 of its members that it has been exaggerating the scientific certainty about the existence of ManBearPig. Its current president Lord Rees is trying to salvage what dignity he can be making out that this rethink of its position was always part of the plan:

Lord Rees said the new guide has been planned for some time but was given “added impetus by concerns raised by a small group of fellows”.

“Nothing in recent developments has changed or weakened the underpinning science of climate change. In the current environment we believe this new guide will be very timely. Lots of people are asking questions, indeed even within the Fellowship of the Society there are differing views. Our guide will be based on expert views backed up by sound scientific evidence,” he said.

However he denied accusations that the national academy of sciences has ever stifled debate or that the case for man made global warming is in doubt.

To which the only possible answer is: Yeah, right.

It wasn’t always this way. For the three centuries after its foundation in 1660, the Royal Society was the world’s pre-eminent scientific institution. Its members and presidents included: Sir Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane, Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker, Joseph Lister, Ernest Rutherford.

Its alumni’s achievements included designing St Pauls Cathedral, laying groundwork for classical mechanics, discovering law of gravity and three laws of motion, coining word “cell” for basic unit of life, Hooke’s law of elasticity, Boyle’s law, inventing drinking chocolate, creating basis of Natural History Museum’s collection, introducing numerous plant species to the Western World, helping popularise evolutionary theory, devising antiseptic surgery, pioneering nuclear physics.

So what went wrong?

Nigel Calder blames its politicisation sometime in the 1960s. He quotes this “advertisement” which for two centuries was printed in its house journal Philosophical Transactions:

… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always
adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject,
either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.

Yet under the presidencies of Lord May and Lord Rees, it has lost all credibility by abandoning objectivity and nailing its colours to the mast of the (now rapidly sinking ship) RMS Climatitanic.

In 2005, as Gerald Warner reminds us, it produced its “A guide to facts and fictions about climate change”, “which denounced 12 “misleading arguments” which today, post Climategate and the subsequent emboldening of sceptical scientists to speak out, look far from misleading.”

Large chunks of this, Bishop Hill has suggested, seem to bear the grubby fingerprints of Sir John Houghton, the fanatical warmist who was formerly head of the Met Office and the Hadley Centre and who was the first chairman of the IPCC scientific working group responsible for giving the AGW scare its official kick-start.

The Royal Society is also the alma-mater (sort of: if ex-press officers count) of rabid pit bull Bob Ward, now spokesman for the warmist Grantham Institute, who can often be heard on the wireless getting very cross with people who don’t believe in ManBearPig. (An increasingly tough job, given that this now means almost everyone).

3 thoughts on “The Royal Society: too little, too late”

  1. The politicisation may be explained by the fact that Lord May’s previous job was as the government’s chief science advisor. Advisors are chosen not because of their competence but for their willingness to advise the media that the government are right.

    Or it may be because the Royal Society received about £53 million from government in 2008 (rising much faster than inflation). You do not have to believe in deliberate corruption to realise that people tend to honestly come to believe things their income depends on.

    A summary on my blog based on figures on the Wikipedia entry which has, perhaps surprisingly, subsequently had all such figures deleted.

  2. Perhaps the Royal Society rule,
    “… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always
    adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject,
    either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.”
    came into existence a few short years after the then president of the Royal Society Lord Kelvin stated “These heavier than air machines will never fly” and realised that a consensus of that opinion would have been disastrous for the Society, apart from being unscientific in proffering consensus as proof.

  3. Of course the real reason they all cling to the theory, in spite of reason itself, is that many people depend on our response to the theory ,either for their livelihood, or funding, or a mixture of both.Also ,like Al Gore,many people are, or are going to be enriched through the sale of carbon credits and the rest, the contemporary version of the mediaeval indulgences. Faced with lots of moolah, logic will always take a back seat, and their defence will become more and more hysterical.

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