Ian Josephs and a can of worms

Every so often, readers of this blog contact me to suggest that I should look at certain speeches. They do so for a range of reasons. Usually they are interested in what I think of the speaker, but sometimes it’s something else. This is something else.

Ian Josephs has a blog of a very different kind to this. He works to help parents who he claims to have had their children forcibly snatched from them by the UK authorities. When I first looked at this speech, I also looked at other speeches he had made and other people speaking on the same subject. I found that I could choose to cover speeches by a TV Agony Aunt, a Member of Parliament, a columnist on a national broadsheet newspaper and many others besides. Nevertheless I returned to Josephs and the speech to which I had originally been referred.

An interesting feature of Party Political Conferences is the way you sometimes see, sandwiched between the smooth, polished, urbane parliamentarians, a firebrand from out in the real world making a speech that is far more engaging than that of those parliamentarians. There’s a lesson there. Passion can trump huge amounts of technique.

In my training, if I find I am working with one who has natural passion I tamper as little as possible. I would rather produce a flawed diamond than a polished rock.

Ian Josephs has flaws. His microphone technique could use a little work. The structure of  his material is a little clunky. I could bore you with more such criticisms, but he won’t bore you. I was intrigued but not completely surprised when he announced that he used to sound off on Speakers’ Corner.

[Speakers’ Corner, for overseas readers, is an area in Hyde Park, London, where people simply stand – sometimes on a box – and sound off on a subject of their choice. They are heckled and laughed at and have to develop courage, loud voices and thick skins. When I lived in London I regarded it as possibly the best free entertainment in town.]

Josephs knows how to build the metaphorical bridge from the platform to the audience, and welcomes any audience members who cross it by asking questions while he is in full flow. He works his audience very effectively, but if you get fed up with the endless questions there are those links in the second paragraph above that will take you to others being passionate on the same subject.

I invite you to watch, listen and then act according to your instinct. If you are interested there is a European Parliament Petition on the subject here.

Dr Scott Denning – an excellent speaker.

We have recently looked at speeches from International Conferences on Climate Change as staged by the Heartland Institute. I had read that Heartland, although being essentially sceptical on the subject, nevertheless issued speaking invitations to scientists espoused to the warming orthodoxy. This in contrast to warmist organisations that routinely exclude sceptics on the grounds that ‘the debate is over’. Speaking personally it was precisely the ‘Science is Settled’ approach, and the debate suppression thus implied, that alerted my suspicions several years ago. If it’s science it’s not settled: if it’s settled it’s not science. (That, by the way, is a chiasmus.)

I was delighted to find that on 7 July, 2011, Heartland had staged a Debate at their Sixth International Conference. Scott Denning had debated with Roy Spencer. We shall look at Spencer in a future posting. Today let’s watch Denning.

On the YouTube posting we are not told who creates the civilised decorum for this debate with his well measured introduction, but after some ferreting I believe it to be James Taylor. If I am wrong I hope both he and whoever it was will forgive my error. By the way, he announces that he will be a stickler for time limits. I wonder whether this means that since the 2009 Conference the Institute has installed a clock. If you read my critique on the speech by Christopher Booker you will know what I mean.

Denning speaks from 3:40 till 14:40, and immediately declares himself a skeptic (I have to spell it the transatlantic way because that is how the word appears on his slide). He explains that everyone, scientist or lay, should question all scientific assertions. This is music to my ears, and is clearly intended to resonate well with his audience.

He speaks in simple, clear, uncomplicated sentences without overtly speaking down to his audience. He shoots it from the hip. Already I am enjoying this.

I enjoy it even more when he shows he is prepared to make a fool of himself. He wants to show how molecules vibrate, so he moves his body and makes silly noises to demonstrate. He first does it at 9:07, just as the camera frustratingly cuts away; but be patient. The camera cuts back to him at 9:32 just in time for us to witness the best bit of foolery. How much does he add to the wisdom of ages by such behaviour? Not a lot, but rest assured that everyone in that audience will remember the speaker who did that. If you are due to be one of several speakers at a conference I invite you to bear the thought in mind.

Anyone who has looked beyond sensational tabloidesque headlines on this subject knows that the greenhouse properties of CO2 are commonplace in the climate issue. Where the argument actually rages is in the amount and direction of feedback from consequent water vapour. Therefore Denning’s histrionic clowning to illustrate the way carbon dioxide captures warmth, and indeed most of his talk, is pushing against an open door and ignoring the big question. No matter: be assured that question is raised during the next section of this debate – during the majority of this video that is beyond the brief of this posting.

Meanwhile, within my brief is the conclusion that Dr Scott Denning is an excellent speaker.

Christopher Booker – a writer not a speaker.

Every week Britain’s Sunday Telegraph includes a column by Christopher Booker. He is regularly described as a contrarian, and his often ferocious campaigns include attacking the EU, the secrecy surrounding the British Family Court system, and imbecilic officialdom in general. He spurns the shallow fashions of the intelligentsia and gives the impression of using very thorough research, which is why his opponents tend to restrict themselves to argumentum ad hominem attacks. They seldom prevail if the argument comes down to hard evidence.

Perhaps his chief target in recent years has been global warming alarmism, so I was not surprised to see his name crop up amongst speakers at the same Heartland Institute International Conference on Climate Change in March 2009 that provided this blog recently with a speech by Professor Richard Lindzen.

His introduction is charmingly and self-deprecatingly provided by Dr John Dunn.

Booker begins at 1:45 with a mildly humorous opening. This is good: never try to be too funny too soon unless you are a professional comedian. He then briefly speaks spontaneously and very personally about the conference being peopled with those whose work he admires. And then…

He picks up a sheaf of papers and proceeds to read. My heart sinks. Booker writes well; and most good writers are too restricted to thinking – as it were – through their pen. A speaker needs to think through his tongue, because written English is different from spoken English. Booker, in short, is a talking head for the same reason as we discussed in the case of Brendan O’Neill. This is stuff that would be interesting to read but which is stilted and tedious to listen to.

There are a few blessed occasions that his eyes lift to the audience and he permits himself an aside; but still his script retains overall control. And that is not the only reason for my heart sinking.

The main body of his speech seems to consist principally of his recounting the history of the global warming scare from the time that the global cooling scare lost political traction. I suspect that this audience was not only sympathetic to his argument but populated almost entirely by people who knew this story every bit as well as he. It’s never easy to find a new slant on an argument when you are pushing against an open door, but that is what you really have to do.

At the outset it looks as if he has solved this problem.  He begins talking about the book he co-wrote with Richard North, Scared to Death, in which they analysed the extraordinarily consistent pattern in which successive political/pseudo-scientific scares lived their brief lives, rising up and falling away before being buried and forgotten – scares like bird-flu, Y2K, BSE, etc. He does continue by showing how in its beginnings the global warming scare followed the same overall pattern, causing me to look forward to his restricting himself to that theme, exploring and explaining the extraordinary longevity of this particular scare. How, for instance, are its adherents managing to fight an increasingly bizarre rearguard action even though we have seen more than one and a half decades of the planet refusing to follow any of the projections of the computer models? Why are schools and museums still allowed to poison our children’s minds with this garbage? Is it merely that too much political capital has been invested in it? Admittedly this speech dates from 2009 when many more people than today were still paying lip-service to it, but the game was up even then – which is why Copenhagen collapsed.

Instead, as I mentioned earlier, he gets bogged down too much in a history that in this company is commonplace.

And he’s reading it.

And what is worse he’s accelerating.

At the 16-minute mark he is beginning to gabble and tumble over his words; and at 16:53 we learn why. Someone tells him from the floor that he has five more minutes, and he exclaims with surprise that he had thought he was already over-running. What does this tell us? There is no clock. What does it cost conference organisers to place a clock, working and correct, within sight of the platform? This was the same year that Richard Lindzen had microphone problems, and after this blog’s critique of that speech Jim Lakely, Director of Communications for the Heartland Institute, posted a comment saying that their technology was better at subsequent conferences. I trust this includes their installing a clock.

If Booker had stuck to a study of the mechanics of the scare, exploring the similarities and differences with previous scares, and if he had learnt how to structure the speech so that he could shoot the whole thing from the hip, this speech would have been infinitely better. It deserved to be, because it was important.