Instrumentum Vocale

By DeusExMacintosh

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 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…

Christopher Booker, a newspaper columnist, 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.

Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, also cited the 1994 edition of Sir John’s book as the source of the quote, which he used last Sunday in an article denouncing the alarmism of climate scientists. Dr Peiser admitted to The Independent that he had not read the book recently and had only used the quote “from memory” because it is so widely cited in other books on climate scepticism.

“I’ve seen it printed in many books. He is well known for making these statements. I’ve used that quote on many occasions from one of the books on climate alarmism. If he makes the claim that he never said this then he has to clarify that,” Dr Peiser said.

“If he 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 Sunday 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 said that he could not remember where the quote came from but he will check his records.

The Independent

Instrumentum Vocale, trans. The tool that speaks

H/T: Hoyden About Town


  1. Julia
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I think Rudd’s ego is the problem to having a balanced debate about this subject. Climate change has been happening for millions of years and I’m not really sure if we humans have contributed to it or not. What I am sure of is that Rudd has not been objective in his approach and has dismissed anything which doesn’t fit into his narrow perspective of the issue. Anyone who raises questions or disagrees with him is simply labelled. This is probably easier for him as he hasn’t the knowledge to debate the issue in an intelligent way.

  2. ken n
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Scary stuff. Once something is attributed to you it becomes true.
    Thatcher’s “Anyone over 30 who rides a bus has been a failure in life” is another example.
    She did not say it but now it’s regularly quoted.

  3. ken n
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    And the clip on Facebook, for careless readers, will give the impression that Houghton did say it.

  4. Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Tim Blair has had endless fun over Dubya and the alleged plastic turkey.

  5. Posted February 14, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Let me quote directly from Piers (Daily Tripegraph 2010-02-08 para 4)

    human-induced climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time

    It’s probably the same method used to quote Houghton- take a phrase intact, without the surrounding qualifiers and/or negation, which is why Houghton believes he would never say such a thing.

  6. Posted February 14, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    It’s a really good anecdote that illustrates well how the truth is getting lost beneath a mountain of partisan bullshit. Whatever Houghton’s position, I don’t know, there are people who’ve used hyperbole to alert the public to the danger. There are also people who’re hostile to any genuine skepticism or even those, like myself, who’ve pointed out that AGW is a theory not a fact.

    I think AGW and a whole buncha other environmental nasties are happening and we do need to modify our behaviour accordingly. I don’t think that means endorsing any crock of policy crap simply because it’s doing something.

    Above all we need disinterested facts. And there has been a concerted effort on both sides of the AGW Debate (not the science one but the one between people who have no idea) to push this to the side and bury it under a mountain range of elephant shit.

    If I was an alien anthropologist observing human culture I’d think it was really funny.

  7. Posted February 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Yep, definitely a Minties moment for Piers there; but it’s so very easy to do. And yes, I’ve had a similar experience to LE’s above, and also in a moot… which if nothing else taught me NEVER to repeat the same behaviour in practice.

  8. Nick Ferrett
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I loved the skeptics on Insiders this morning. Having proclaimed their commitment to evidence as a basis for accepting a proposition and their desire to reclaim the title “skeptic” from global-warming skeptics (whom they prefer to call “deniers”), they went on to spit out generalisations on everything from Tony Abbott to the beliefs of those who don’t believe in global-warming. Hilarious

  9. Simpson
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    “Christopher Booker, a newspaper columnist, considers the quotation so important that he lists it at the top of the first page of his most recent book,,,”

    Christopher Booker thought thought along the same lines when he misquoted astrophysicist, Nigel Weiss too:

    Bring on McClimategate.

  10. Posted February 15, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I think the cardinal rule is that anybody who goes to Piers Ackerman to understand the climate change debate is certifiable.

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