Hot off the press: Skeptic game of telephone

H/t to Eli Rabett, such a quick little bunny:

“Fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientists” — in the Independent.

Here’s an excerpt:

For climate sceptics it was a key piece of evidence showing that the scientists behindglobal warming could not be trusted. A quotation by one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists was supposed to demonstrate the depths to which he and his ilk would stoop to create scare stories exaggerating the threat of global warming.

Sir John Houghton, who played a critical role in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change (IPPC), was roundly condemned after it emerged that he was an apparent advocate of scary propaganda to frighten the public into believing the dangers of global warming.

“Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen,” Sir John was supposed to have said in 1994.

The quotation has since become the iconic smoking gun of the climate sceptic community. The words are the very first to appear in the “manual” of climate denialism written by the journalist and arch-sceptic Christopher Booker. They get more than a 100,000 hits on Google, and are wheeled out almost every time a climate sceptic has a point to make, the last occasion being in a Sunday newspaper article last weekend written by the social anthropologist and climate sceptic Benny Peiser.

The trouble is, Sir John Houghton has never said what he is quoted as saying. The words do not appear in his own book on global warming, first published in 1994, despite statements to the contrary. In fact, he denies emphatically that he ever said it at any time, either verbally or in writing.

Very interesting but not very funny…

Here’s Media Watch’s coverage:

Everyone who is anyone in the sceptic firmament has used the quotation. It’s even been quoted in a submission to the British House of Lords.

Yet, amazingly, last week The Independent reported that Sir John Houghton…

…denies emphatically that he ever said it at any time, either verbally or in writing… “I would never say we should hype up the risk of climate disasters in order to get noticed,” he said.

— The Independent, 10th February, 2010

So where did the quote come from?

The Independent and Media Watch have both done computer searches to find the earliest use of the words. And we both came up with the same result: November 2006, in this column in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph…

If this turns out to be what it appears — the skeptic game of telephone — it will be amusing to see all the backtracking and “but but but”s of the skeptic crowd who parrot this quote as proof of AGW alarmism.

I’ll post their apologies for misquoting him all this time.

Yeah, right

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

2 Responses to “Hot off the press: Skeptic game of telephone”

  1. On a related note:

    “Update 2/16/10. Phil Jones has confirmed to us that our interpretations of his comments in the BBC interview are indeed the correct ones, and that he agrees with the statements in our piece above. He and his CRU colleagues have also put up an response to some of the false allegations in a previous piece in the UK Guardian. We’ll report further such developments as they happen.”

    New denialist spin might be: Jones U-Turns Again!

    BBC acknowledged that some of the questions were provided to them by “skeptics”. This is quite obvious, as some were designed to illicit responses that could be easily spun (i.e. “no warming since 1995”). It’s like asking “what fraction of the atmosphere is composed of CO2”. If a scientist simply responded concisely, DailyMail would say “U-Turn: Scientist admits atmospheric CO2 is insignificant!”

  2. So John gets 100,000 hits on Google since 1994? Wow. That’s huge. NOT! Normally ‘iconic smoking guns” get a bit more than 100 grand in results, no? Never heard of the guy myself and don’t much care what he might have said in 1994.

    Search “Hide the Decline,” for instance, it gets 2,500,000 results in .32 seconds on Google. Now that’s an “iconic smoking gun.”

    “Climategate” reaps 6,200,000! “Hockey Stick Fraud” gets 150,000 and “Global Warming Fraud” gets 2.8 million. “CRU corruption of science” gets 380,000 and “Climate Science Scandal” over half a million and all that is since November 2009.

    So you really cherry picked an iconically obscure outlier there in both scale of impact and timeliness.

    But MarkB has a big a story– “BBC acknowledges some of the question were provided by skeptics.” Why in the world would the BBC want to appear to deliver objective journalism? Shocking stuff that.

    Look, I’m a climate skeptic-of-everything. Not just of True Believers, I’m skeptical of the skeptics too. But when you slander people who aren’t tithing members of your cult as “Denialists” and then act like the big climate story of Feb 2010 is something some bloke said in 1994 which has accumulated 100,000 hits on Google you do a disservice to your cause.

    Oh, Look! There goes a squirrel!

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