Page last updated at 21:24 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Climate change scientists losing 'PR war'

Glacier in Antarctica
Climate change scepticism is rising in Britain, according to a poll

A Nobel peace prize-winning Welsh physicist says climate change scientists are losing "a PR war" against sceptics with vested interests.

Sir John Houghton said there were millions of internet references to a comment he never made which appears to to show him "hyping up" global warming.

A poll for BBC news suggests the number of British people who are sceptical about climate change is rising.

Sir John believes recent news stories may have contributed to scepticism.

He told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme: "If you Google my name on the web and look for a quote, the quote you will find is one that goes like this.

"It says 'unless we announce disasters, no-one will listen'.

"I have never said that. The origin of the quote according to some of the people who write about it... [they] say it comes from the first edition of my global warming book, published in 1994.

Your average scientist is not a good PR person because he wants to get on with his science
Physicist Sir John Houghton

"It does not appear in that book in any shape or form."

Sir John, who co-chaired the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) scientific assessment group for 14 years, received the Nobel peace prize in 2007 as part of an IPCC delegation.

He said most scientists were not very good at public relations and just wanted to get on with their work.

Asked if he believed climate change scientists were now in a "PR war" with sceptics, he said: "We are in a way and we're losing that war because we're not good at PR.

"Your average scientist is not a good PR person because he wants to get on with his science.

Stolen e-mails

"So we need to look, I suppose, for some good PR people to help us get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them."

The number of British people who are sceptical about climate change is rising, according to a new poll.

The Populus poll of 1,001 adults found 25% did not think global warming was happening, an increase of 10% since a similar poll in November.

Stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia led to accusations, since denied, that climate change data was being manipulated.

Last month, the IPCC had to admit it had been mistaken in claiming Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

Sir John said some reporting of these stories had given mistakes undue significance and deliberately misrepresented other information.

'Vested interests'

He believes some sceptics are influenced by concerns other than scientific truth, comparing them to now discredited lobbyists who argued smoking did not cause cancer.

He said: "A lot of it comes from the United States, from vested interests, coal and oil interests in the United States which are very strong and which employ thousands of lobbyists in Washington to try and influence members of Congress that climate change is not happening.

"So it's a major problem in the United States and it does spill over to this country too."



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