Buffoonery over boffinry

A writer at the pro-AGW news outlet The Guardian, sulking over The Register’s article on some new findings, hits out

Last week, on October 6th, The Guardian published a story under the headline “Sun’s role in warming the planet may be overestimated, study finds.”. A day later, tech website The Register published a climate story of its own, “Much of recent global warming actually caused by Sun,” at a URL that ended “/solar_as_big_as_people/.”

The two headlines are completely contradictory, yet bizarrely both stories report on the same Nature letter, a piece of research led by Professor Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London. So what on Earth is going on?

What really, really bothers him-

At a time when action to deal with climate change is needed more than ever, this sort of misleading reporting does nothing to help the public debate.

The reporting is hardly misleading if one reads the damn thing

New data indicates that changes in the Sun’s output of energy were a major factor in the global temperature increases seen in recent years. The research will be unwelcome among hardcore green activists, as it downplays the influence of human-driven carbon emissions.


For now the long-term implications of the SORCE data are unknown. All that can be said with any certainty is that through 2004-2007, the Sun warmed the planet much more powerfully than had been thought.

“We cannot jump to any conclusions based on what we have found during this comparatively short period and we need to carry out further studies to explore the Sun’s activity,” says Haigh.

Obviously, every outlet will try to apply their own “spin” to it (for example, I wouldn’t rely on The Guardian or the NYT for any sensible view/opinions on economics. They “spin” too). And here’s how Nature reported it

Declining solar activity linked to recent warming
The Sun may have caused as much warming as carbon dioxide over three years.

After four paras on how the article offends his political sensibilities, he spends another four on how it “dehumanizes” scientists-

But it’s not just the misrepresentation of science that grates. Through-out the article, the author, uses rather unfortunate language to describe scientists. The team of researchers are described as “boffins working at Imperial College,” and the research is described as being published in “hefty boffinry mag Nature.”

The use of ‘boffin’, common at the random-USE-of-CAPITALS end of tabloid journalism, is problematic to many scientists, as the word is increasingly loaded with negative connotations.

I find it quite a dehumanizing term, and it’s fascinating to me that no names are mentioned until the second half of The Register’s article, as if all scientists are replaced by interchangeable ‘boffin’ avatars in the consciousness of the writer. Whenever I see it, it reeks of a self-conscious desire to separate the reporter from the labeled group of people, to present clear space between the human writer, and those faceless, nameless ‘boffins’.

Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it…

Unless the paper has banned google or something, it’s easy to see that there are over 20,000 results for the term “boffin” on The Register, such as Microsoft boffin, Yahoo! boffin and HP boffin (or you could just read the site on a regular basis), which suggests that their staff are equal-opportunity boffinphobics. The writer ought to find something else to sulk about.

The last word goes to a commentator on the Guardian piece on the above findings-

You can relay [sic] on my past experience because I lived in a communist country in the 80-ies, namely in Poland, so I can easily smell again the same stupid propaganda – the shelves in my local meat store were almost empty (only liver sausages) but they kept telling us on telly that the alimentary situation is improving steadily. Now the environmentalists in the UK use the same old trick – they keep saying the climate is warming and the useful idiots hugging the trees will accept it even during freezing winter nights.

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