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13 May, 2005

I'm appalled

In my teens, I met Prof. David Bellamy, then a famous science populariser frequently seen on TV.  On that occasion, he was narrating Britten's 'Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra' and Prokofievís 'Peter And The Wolf' at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, and somehow a friend of a friend (I remember!  the clarinetist was my cousin's music teacher) invited my mother, sister and I to visit him backstage.  That, and the fact he represented a career path to which I aspired, meant I've always regarded him with a degree of warmth.

However, I've just read an article in the Guardian, written by George Monbiot, who has attempted to retrace the chain of evidence behind some rather startling statements from Prof. Bellamy that many of the world's glaciers:

are not shrinking but in fact are growing ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980.
As Monbiot says, such a statement from so eminent a scientist carries disproportionate weight, and has been pounced-upon by those denying the existence of climate change, such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The problem is that the evidence for the statement just doesn't exist in any credible form, if indeed at all. The research cited by Prof, Bellamy (or rather, not cited, but teased out of him by Monbiot) was from a book vanity-published by an ex-architect and a journal published by a convicted fraudster and conspiracy theorist. The latter is allegedly based on data from a 1989 paper in a 'real' scientific journal – but there's no such paper.

This junk science is bad enough, but a key part of Bellamy's argument is that figure of '555 of 625 glaciers'. Monbiot:

While Bellamy's source claimed that 55% of 625 glaciers are advancing, Bellamy claimed that 555 of them - or 89% - are advancing. This figure appears to exist nowhere else. But on the standard English keyboard, 5 and % occupy the same key. If you try to hit %, but fail to press shift, you get 555, instead of 55%. This is the only explanation I can produce for his figure. When I challenged him, he admitted that there had been "a glitch of the electronics".

So, in Bellamy's poor typing, we have the basis for a whole new front in the war against climate science. The 555 figure is now being cited as definitive evidence that global warming is a 'fraud', a 'scam', a 'lie'. I phoned New Scientist to ask if Bellamy had requested a correction. He had not.

It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in the palm of your hand. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world's most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy, embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former architect, which are based on what appears to be a non-existent data set. And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

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