One of these things is not like the other…

Yesterday, I blogged about the game of telephone skeptics have been playing with a fabricated quote from Sir John Houghton. Apparently someone dug up an old interview from 1995 in which Sir Houghton talks about religion and his beliefs in God as proof that while he may not have actually said the words attributed to him, he said similar things or things that could be twisted into meaning almost something similar — if one plugs one’s ears and squints one’s eyes…

Not that I’m questioning the motives of these fine gentlemen, or their reading comprehension but seriously, they need to go back to play school and watch some Sesame Street.

Let’s play “One of these things is not like the other”

“Unless we announce disasters no one will listen”.

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster. It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.” [edited to add the rest of the quote in so that denialists the hard of reading comprehension won't lie misunderstand]

The two are not the same.

The first one — a false one — has been used by deniers to charge that the IPCC knowingly exaggerates the risks of global warming in order to hype the issue and get attention.  The second states that its human nature to ignore problems until they reach critical mass. One need only look to how technology has changed in the wake of serious disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami is a case in point. The year prior to it, scientists were talking about the possibility of the megathrust fault failing, causing a tsunami. It wasn’t until a quarter million died that a warning system was finally put in place.

Here’s Lubos Motl:

Sir John Houghton is a Liar:

Unfortunately for Mr Houghton, John Adams was able to prove that what Houghton says – and what all the blogs above say – are just lies. (See also Bishop Hill and Philip Stott.) While the exact wording used by Benny Peiser can’t be easily found, and it may be genuinely inaccurate, one can find equivalent quotes. They’re more than just “statements of the same sort”: they really say the same thing.

On September 10th, 1995, The Sunday Telegraph ran an interview with John Houghton:

Me and my God (scanned)A quote that is exactly equivalent to Benny Peiser’s quote appears in this interview, too:

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we’ll have to have a disaster.”Well, it’s not quite identical: it says that they should “have” a disaster which means that they may be forced not only to “announce” it but maybe also to “create” it, as Michael Crichton’s State of Fear has discussed in some detail ;-), or to pray to God that God creates it for us to improve our future environmental policies. ;-)

He also says that God Himself may use the disasters – and many similar things – so his opinions about all these matters are very juicy.

Here’s John Adams, Is God trying to tell us something?:

“I demand from Dr Peiser an apology that he failed to check his sources and a public retraction of the use he made of the fabricated quotation.” The particular words complained of are “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen”.

I have no evidence that he has ever spoken, or written, this specific sentence. But on the subject of disasters he has in the past made similar, divinely inspired, comments about disasters and global warming:

·      “God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved; the effect will be the same.”

·      “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

These quotations are from an interview entitled “Me and my God”in the Sunday Telegraph on 10 September 1995.

Here’s Bishop Hill: “No he did say it”…or something very like it.

I’m referring to the recent kerfuffle over whether Sir John Houghton did actually say the controversial words that have been ascribed to him for many years. These words:

Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.

A few days ago, after years of this quotation doing the rounds of sceptic blogs, Sir John suddenly denied that these words had ever passed his lips, pointing out that they didn’t actually appear in his book, to which early citations had pointed as the original source. Cue much gnashing of teeth and wailing about “deniers”.

There has now been another development in this story, reported by Benny Peiser, who took a certain amount of stick for repeating the quotation over the years, including a demand from Sir John that he issue an apology. In aposting on the GWPF website today, Benny relates how Professor John Adams has unearthed from his archives an clipping from the Daily Telegraph, dating right back to 1995. In it, Sir John is quoted as follows:

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

It’s amazing how the deniers spin this in order to get some more traction out of it. And that I’m included in “left wing blogs”. Gee — do these people have any clue about politics or is anyone who is not a skeptic automatically left-wing? I suppose anyone left of Attila the Hun qualifies…

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14 Responses to “One of these things is not like the other…”

  1. You need the full quotation

    Houghton warns that God may induce man to mend his ways with a disaster. “God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved, the effect will be the same.

    “If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we’ll have to have a disaster. It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.

  2. Good pont about the 2004 tsunami. Everyone knows someone who was there, or knows someone who knows someone.

    Maybe a counter to the scan of Sir John Houghton’s interview could be this one:

    http://29marbles.blogspot.com/2007/02/religious-belief-and-perceptions-of.html

    Apparently, warnings were sent out but most local municipalities ignored them because it was tourist season. Reminds me of ‘Jaws': what happens when politicians and business shout down the scientific experts.

    “Dr Smith Dharmasaroja was not just ignored and ridiculed. Tour and hotel operators and other businesses heavily dependent on tourism warned him against ever setting foot on the famous beaches he had forecast would be hit by a tsunami.”

    http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/fellowshipsdetail.php?No=452

    Money quote: ““If they want to save lives, governments should listen to us. If I’m wrong their lives can still go on. If I’m right fewer people will get killed. No loss, it’s a win-win situation,””

  3. Here’s another quote that might touch a nerve or two:

    “You’d really have to go digging into very old historical records and the scientific literature and extrapolate from what’s there to find that yes, there could be effects (leading to tsunamis) in Thailand,” says Phil Cummins, a seismologist who studies the region at Australia’s national geological agency. “But he was correct.”

    http://riskman.typepad.com/perilocity/2005/01/tsunami_smith.html

    But, of course, I’m just being alarmist.

    • Thanks for posting those links. It’s a strange combination of capacities in we H. sapiens. Large brain, foresight, planning ability and greed, denial, laziness all wrapped into one.

  4. So now I know who has been using up all the internet bandwidth! Thousands of “skeptics” feverishly mining away in Gogle trying to find something, anything, that is even remotely similar the quote that they fabricated.

    How do we even know for a fact that these words “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster” were even uttered by Sir Houghton in 1995? Is there an audio recording?
    Until I hear a recording or the interview, then I do not believe a bloody thing this so-called journalists and dubious ‘skeptics’ blogs claim he said. If only we could harness all the energy from their spinning….

    Regardless, if what he allegedly said in 1995 is true, it is NOT the same as what the denialati claim he said. Yet they now distort and have the audacity to call Houghton a liar? Uh huh. Lawyers please, Motl and accountant Bishop Hill (his name eludes me) should be at the front of the line.

    It blows my mind how such (allegedly) intelligent humans repeatedly fail to exercise foresight and caution. Sir Houghton summed up that poor trait nicely….well, at least I think he did :)

  5. There are still some credible journalists out there who get what is going on here– This by Jeffrey Sachs.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2010/feb/19/climate-change-sceptics-science#start-of-comments

    After reading that I felt better about the world, then I made the mistake of reading some of the comments. OMG. He must have hit the nail on the head b/c those in denial are fuming.

    Jeffrey needs our support.

  6. @ #5 MapleLeaf:

    Yep, it’s a bloodbath :)

    Someone mentioned there that James Delingpole hasn’t been spitting venom at the Tellytubbygraph for a while, so the Uruk Hai have gone walkabout and latched onto the Guardian.

    Fact is the denialists are taking a pasting and resorting to the most egregious nonsense. My favourite so far was the one about CO2 doesn’t cause warming at all (my head told the belly not to laugh, but to no avail). By the way, I don’t think you need to be in the UK to sign up there and post.

  7. Susann, I’ve had an idea for your blog. So, I was about to pop off to bed and thought to myself, “It’s Sunday morning. I wonder what denial nonsense the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times will be printing right now to upset everyone’s climate mojo when daylight breaks?” Then I had an idea (only a suggestion). Why don’t you set up a weekly competition to see if anyone can guess what the Sunday press denial spin will be? I guess there’d be no prize, just kudos and a bit of fun. A bit like ‘Crock of the Week’ but your readers get to join in. Anyway, I’m off up the wooden hill, clearly I need some kip. I won’t be offended if you think it’s a dumb idea, it wouldn’t be the first I’ve had ;)

    • I love this idea! People could predict spoof news articles or topics, but alternatively, people could also collect examples of “climate crocks” and we could have a “Crock of the Week” post in which AGW supporters and skeptics could put forward recent news articles or blog posts from other places as examples of “crocks” for discussion.

  8. Peiser the fuckwit has this to say in Todays Obsever:

    “I regret the use of a derivative quotation that has been attributed to Sir John Houghton for many years (“Unless we announce disaster, no one will listen”, Debate). A reference to Sir John’s accurate statement would have been more appropriate: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.””

    I’ve not had a letter published in there before, any good suggestions for a put down considered, with attribution.

  9. guthrie :
    “I regret the use of a derivative quotation…”

    “Derivative”

    It’s not a derivative at all as each quotation has a completely different meaning. Benny gets it wrong again, and only by word number seven. Genius.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lies, damn lies, and fake quotes » Mind of Dan - February 24, 2010

    [...] of global warming in order to hype the issue and get attention.  The second states that its human nature to ignore problems until they reach critical mass. One need only look to how technology has changed [...]

  2. 2010 in review « The Policy Lass - January 9, 2011

    [...] One of these things is not like the other… February 2010 13 comments 4 [...]

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