Government Chief Scientist Accused Of ‘Name-Calling For Lack Of Evidence’

  • Date: 12/03/14
  • Bishop Hill

Has Mark Walport any actual evidence to support his position that Matt Ridley is wrong? The words read like our chief scientist substituting name-calling for a lack of evidence.

Andrew Montford writes: Another entertaining episode in the hearings [of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee yesterday]  morning was when Mark Walport was asked about Matt Ridley’s suggestion that global warming would bring net benefits over 40-50 years. This conclusion is based on Richard Tol’s metaanalysis of mainstream economic studies into such questions (see key figure below).

In response to this, Walport had this to say:

I understand the point [Ridley] is trying to make but I think he’s completely wrong unfortunately. While there might be trivial benefits in some parts of the world for some of the time the long term direction for all of us is a negative direction. And frankly I think he is…he described himself as a “rational optimist”. I’m not sure about the rational bit.

I wonder if Walport has any actual evidence to support his position that Ridley is wrong. The words read like our chief scientist substituting name-calling for a lack of evidence.


Matt Ridley Calls On Mark Walport To Withdraw Unsubstantiated Accusation

Matt Ridley sent this email to Sir Mark Walport:

Dear Mark,

I see that this morning in testifying to the Energy and Climate Change Committee in answer to a question from Graham Stringer MP you described my reporting on studies of the benefits of climate change as “completely wrong” and me as not rational. You will understand that I find these charges damaging to my standing as a journalist and author who takes great care with his research. I also find them surprising coming from somebody who I consider a friend.

It is possible that you had not read my article on the benefits of climate change directly, but had relied on second-hand accounts of it, in which case I can understand how you came to be misled. If so, you can read it here (, with links to sources, together with some detailed responses that I made to ill-informed criticisms of the article. My article states:

“There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.”

Are you saying that the academic, peer-reviewed work by these 14 teams, and the meta-analysis of them by Richard Tol, as well as all the other studies I cited in my article, are all “completely wrong”? Or are you arguing that my reporting of this work was “completely wrong”? Professor Tol thinks my reporting of his paper was accurate, and none of the other authors have objected, so the second charge is certainly unfair.

I know you are busy, but please may we meet to discuss this matter? I am available in the House of Lords on a regular basis. I emailed you on a previous occasion on 13 January, after your letter to the Times, but did not receive a response. I would be grateful if you would acknowledge this email at the very least so that I know it has reached you.

Yours sincerely


I received a reply in which he did not address the question of why he thought I was “completely wrong” but agreed to set up a meeting. However, his criticism remains on the record, so I have asked him to withdraw it.

Bishop Hill, 11 March 2014