Thursday, January 27, 2011

Climate Denier Smashed by Simple Analogy

A simple analogy has stumped the vitriolic but scientifically illiterate Telegraph blogger, James Delingpole - heehee.

The Telegraph blogger is not on the receiving end of an acerbic Jeremy Paxman or belligerent John Humphrys. He is questioned by the new president of the Royal Society, the distinguished geneticist and Nobel prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse. I have not seen the programme, but Delingpole apparently complained to the BBC afterwards that he had been "intellectually raped" by Nurse. More about that later.

Such a confrontation is perhaps inevitable in a programme about why public debate and science sometimes seem so far apart. Scientists have always had to argue their case, and rightly so, but Nurse believes they are now fighting a more fundamental battle – one for public trust. As the programme blurb puts it:

Key scientific ideas – such as climate change, MMR vaccinations and genetically modified foods – now polarise public opinion; it's clear that scientific opinion and consensus isn't always supported by the public. Sir Paul sets out to investigate how this gap between scientists and the public has developed, meeting leading investigators and well-known critics of some of the world's most contentious scientific theories.

Among others, Nurse talks to Tony, an American with Aids who is not convinced that his disease is caused by the HIV virus. So, instead of receiving clinically supported anti-retroviral treatments, he treats himself with yoghurts and his own nutritional programme.

And then there's Delingpole.

Nurse told me that he simply presented Delingpole with a hypothetical question: if a dear relative was suffering from a fatal disease, would he opt for the "consensus" treatment recommended by doctors, or advice to drink more orange juice offered by a fringe maverick quack? In terms of the science of climate change, that fringe maverick is analogous, of course, to Delingpole's own position.

Delingpole apparently found the line of questioning too much to handle and was purportedly lost for words. He at one point, according to Nurse, asked for the film crew to stop filming.