Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fabricated Quote Used to Discredit Sir John Houghton

"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 [by anthropomorphic global warming skeptics] to the contrary."---U.K. Independent (2-10-10)

In today's U.K. Independent (2-10-10), scientist Sir John Houghton describes how global warming sceptics have misrepresented his views:

Sir John Houghton, who played a critical role in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate 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 words are the very first to appear in the "manual" of climate denialism written by the [Telegraph] journalist and arch-sceptic Christopher Booker [See here]...

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.

In fact, his view on the matter of generating scare stories to publicise climate change is quite the opposite. "There are those who will say 'unless we announce disasters, no one will listen', but I'm not one of them," Sir John told The Independent.

"It's not the sort of thing I would ever say. It's quite the opposite of what I think and it pains me to see this quote being used repeatedly in this way. I would never say we should hype up the risk of climate disasters in order to get noticed," he said.

Even though the quotation appears on about 1.77 million web links, no one seems to know where it originated. On the few occasions a reference is cited, it is listed as coming from the first edition of Sir John's book, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, published by Lion Books in 1994. But Sir John does not say it in this edition, nor in subsequent editions published by Cambridge University Press.

Christopher Booker, a newspaper columnist [see here], considers the quotation so important that he lists it at the top of the first page of his most recent book on climate scepticism, The Real Global Warming Disaster, published last year. Mr Booker also cites the 1994 edition of Houghton's own book on global warming as the source of the quotation, even though there is no mention of it there. Mr Booker did not respond yesterday to enquiries by The Independent.

...[Dr. Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University observed,] "If [Sir John Houghton] publicly says that he never made that statement then, of course, I wouldn't use it, but this is the first time I've heard [his denial] and this has been going on for 15 years. This quote has been used for the past 15 years," he said.

In fact, the earliest record of the quote comes not from 15 years ago but from November 2006 when it appeared in a newspaper column written by the journalist Piers Akerman in the Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Akerman, a controversial right-wing columnist and global warming sceptic, appears to be the first person to use the quote verbatim in an opinion piece criticising the Stern Review, which looked at the economic effects of global warming.

"This alarmist approach reeked of stupidity, snake oil, and misguided gospel preaching but was in line with a formula adopted by the first chairman of the IPCC, Sir John Houghton, who produced the IPCC's first three reports in 1990, 1995 and 2001 and wrote in his book Global Warming, The Complete Briefing, in 1994: 'Unless we announce disasters no one will listen'," Mr Akerman said.

Within three years of Akerman's piece being published, climate sceptics had jumped on the supposed quotation, citing the source as Houghton's 1994 book. Mr Akerman did not respond to enquiries by The Independent. [Read the full text.]

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