“Science is organised scepticism and the consensus must shift in light of the evidence.
“In the current environment we believe this new guide will be very timely. Lots of people are asking questions, indeed even within the fellowship of the society there are differing views.”
In his first interview since the election, Beddington agreed that true scientific scepticism was healthy and must be encouraged but he criticised individuals and organisations that cherrypicked data for political ends.
“There is no doubt that there are organisations and individuals who will choose to characterise the science as being nonsensical on the basis of what are not reasonable criticisms,” he said.
He highlighted the spurious argument that because the UK winter had been so cold, climate change science must be wrong.
Beddington said there was a difference between weather and climate. “The fact that we have had a very cold winter in Britain does not mean that the climate is not getting warmer,” he said, adding that rejecting global warming on those grounds was wrong. “This is just not science. This is commentary,” he said.
Lawson’s thinktank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has deployed similar arguments to downplay the significance of climate change.
Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who is the foundation’s director, said in December last year: “We look out of the window and it’s very cold, it doesn’t seem to be warming.”
Lawson has said that “global warming … is not at the present time happening”. Peiser has previously said the GWPF does not challenge climate science but concentrates on examining policy implications.
Beddington, who gave a public lecture on climate change at the University of York yesterday, was also highly critical of the mistakes made by the UN’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which he called “fundamentally stupid statements”.
Referring to the incorrect claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, he said: “Nobody in their right mind would see that as even a scientific statement. There’s no uncertainty, there’s no caveats.” But he added that overall the IPCC report had a “remarkably small number of problems”.
“Just about anywhere I look around the portfolio of government problems in any department, there are big issues of science and engineering including social science,” he said.
He highlighted climate change, obesity, the volcanic ash cloud and vigilance to pandemic influenza as pressing problems for government to address.
He said he would advise Cameron to shield funding for scientific research from future spending cuts as far as possible.
“If you then think about how the UK as an economy is going to compete in the future, the underpinning of science and engineering having the best quality students, the best quality scientists and engineers is absolutely imperative.”
When asked about the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, Beddington said there would be lessons for the UK.
“I think we need to understand it,” he said. “I think deep offshore [drilling] presents formidable engineering problems as you can see from the attempt to actually deal with it.
“I think that one will have to be asking questions about the appropriate levels of regulation that are operating in licensing deep offshore drilling in the North Sea.”