King Conned

From The Telegraph:

German car-makers have “blood on their hands” due to rigging diesel exhaust tests which led to the deaths of thousands of Britons, the Government’s former chief scientist has said.

Professor Sir David King said it was “simply astonishing” that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler had performed rigged experiments on monkeys and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK.

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser until 2007, Sir David described being duped into believing diesel capture technology was safe during a trip to a British testing lab in 2004, prompting a policy shift in favour of diesel cars.

I can see why David King is so angry. He used to get paraded around in the Blair years as some sort of high priest of science, his words clung to by the political establishment even when he came up with such idiocy as suggesting ExxonMobil should move Fawley refinery inland to avoid being flooded by rising sea levels. I expect he also subscribed to the same view as much of Britain’s political establishment that Germans, when it comes to industry, can do nothing wrong and we should stand in awe of their brilliance (have a look at how the Remainer press fawns over Merkel and every pronouncement on Brexit from German “business leaders”).

And it turns out he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes. Leaving aside the irony that a government appointee who was instrumental in pushing the climate change agenda should now complain of being misled, there’s a bigger issue here than King’s ego. Sweeping legislation such as that which encouraged millions of British people to buy diesel cars ought to be based on something a little more robust than an individual’s opinion after visiting a lab with seemingly no interest in ensuring what he was seeing was a legitimate test. I suspect King didn’t enquire further because the lab told him what he, and his political masters, wanted to hear; the lab knew in advance what King and wanted to hear, and so rigged the test; and VW simply wanted to flog more cars while keeping politicians happy.

The lesson here is that governments, even ones containing extremely clever folk like Professor Sir David King, are susceptible to being hoodwinked by people who understand the details a lot better than they do, causing them to bring about disastrous policies. The answer is to get rid of positions such as Chief Scientific Adviser and sack politicians who put their beak into places where it doesn’t belong bringing harm to the rest of us.

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22 thoughts on “King Conned

  1. I wonder if professor King will.pause.to wonder whether he has been conned in other ways?
    On second.thoughts, no I don’t.

  2. …and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK

    Citation needed, Prof. King.

  3. “…and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK“
    Now about the excess deaths of elderly in fuel poverty, professor?

  4. Ummmm … I’m not so sure that VW actually DID fiddle the emissions tests.

    If the bureaucrats stated that the vehicles had to produce on or below a specified level of pollution at 30MPH, 50MPH and 70MPH, then adjusting the ECU to produce that amount of emissions at those speeds is easy.

    If the bureaucrats then retrospectively decided that the vehicles should produce those levels of emission (or a linear relationship between speed and emissions between those points of measurement) then that is shifting the goalposts.

    So which is it? Pass at the specified speeds or “we intended that it would be for all speeds but didn’t say that so now you are at fault”?

    Then there is the question of where the emissions are measured. Exiting the cylinder or exiting the tailpipe. Mix clean air into the exhaust to dilute the exhaust gases?

    Too many loopholes to give full condemnation to VW, IMHO.

  5. Mix clean air into the exhaust to dilute the exhaust gases?

    That’s generally verboten in environmental matters. Our rejection of produced water into the sea is measured in parts per million, and we are obliged to get it down to a certain level (set internally and also by the host government) before discharge. We are specifically told this *cannot* be achieved by adding a load of clean seawater to the oily water to dilute it before it goes into the sea.

  6. It is not unknown for experts and high-level operatives being, if not exactly conned, then led to a conclusion.

    I know very little of scientific enquiry procedures but I do know even critical humans can be ‘bought’ by something as everyday as a slap-up meal with free booze. Once you get someone ‘owing you something in return’ it’s easy for them to feel they ought to overlook certain misgivings they might have harboured. Case in point would be the intellectual giants given a free all-expenses paid holiday in North Korea and gushing about it being the perfect society with the happiest people ever.

    I suppose an awful lot of this sort of ‘knowledge’ is just another form of TANSTAAFL

  7. I know very little of scientific enquiry procedures but I do know even critical humans can be ‘bought’ by something as everyday as a slap-up meal with free booze.

    Not even that: a simple massaging of the egos will often suffice. Con-men and salesmen know the power of flattery and inflating someone’s ego.

  8. Most science nowadays comes under Policy-based evidence-making, especially in climate science, emissions, smoking etc. I am reminded of:

    “Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite”.
    — Dwight David Eisenhower. Farewell Address as U.S. President (1961)

  9. “there’s a bigger issue here than King’s ego”: NOTHING is bigger than King’s ego.

    The critical thing a scientific advisor is meant to bring is a critical intelligence that can be applied to matters scientific. He must be intrinsically sceptical: he must be able to distance himself from a topic and judge it in a disinterested way. I dunno what you make of his WKPD entry, but I see evidence that the fellow is a Zealot and an Enthusiast – quite the wrong sort for the job.

    King is a self-aggrandising chump: a chump who knows a helluva lot about Surface Chemistry, presumably, a highly intelligent chump I assume, but a chump nonetheless. You or I would have done better, Tim. Well, I certainly would have.

  10. I dunno what you make of his WKPD entry

    I’ve just looked at it and read:

    In the transport sector, King has warned Governments that conventional oil resources are more scarce than they believe and that peak oil might approach in 5 years

    Which says it all.

  11. PhilB – “…If the bureaucrats stated that the vehicles had to produce on or below a specified level of pollution at 30MPH, 50MPH and 70MPH, then adjusting the ECU to produce that amount of emissions at those speeds is easy….”

    They didn’t specify this, so you’re talking cobblers.

    “…If the bureaucrats then retrospectively decided that the vehicles should produce those levels of emission (or a linear relationship between speed and emissions between those points of measurement) then that is shifting the goalposts….”

    They didn’t – So cobblers again.

    “…So which is it? Pass at the specified speeds or “we intended that it would be for all speeds but didn’t say that so now you are at fault”?…”

    Neither, because emissions testing doesn’t get carried out that way.

    Volkswagen was caught evading the regulations because rolling road tests are mostly conducted where the driving wheels on a two wheel drive car are rotating, but the undriven wheels are not. This method of testing is partly to measure “transient” emissions under acceleration, where the engine has to do the most work rotating the whole wheelset and drivetrain and a lot of unburned fuel and crud is emitted. Look at the exhaust from a old bus as it moves off and note all of the unburnt carbon.

    The ECU systems on the offending cars were effectively programmed to detect that the undriven wheels were not moving and shift the fuel injection rate into a low-power, but low-emission mode. The engine then complied with regulations at a drop in overall torque and power. When all of the wheels were rotating, the car was assumed to be in normal use and would operate in a way that was expected – Plenty of horsepower and engine torque, but with the effect of more nitrous oxide and unburned carbon emissions.

    I would speculate that the flaw is that if you have an equivalent diesel engine powering a four wheel drive car, as some VW vehicles offer, then the all wheel drive mode is tested, the trick is not possible and the discrepancy in emissions from the same engine type can then be seen.

    Tim – It’s deception of a public official, it is not his fault for having been “hoodwinked,” and it’s not a case of “wool pulled over the eyes,” it’s an act of flat out, according-to-the-dictionary “fraud.” that has been potentially written into the control software of every diesel powered vehicle that they’ve sold for nearly ten years. How deep do you want him to dig to make a decision about anything?

  12. The whole air pollution discussion and scientific evidence for that matter has been overtaken by doctrine. With diesel, yes it produces less hazardous CO2 and lets ignore the other hazardous emission and respirable particulates or at least lets all jointly suggest that they are being captured.

    As someone that understands air pollution it is very concerning to see that the real hazards and the many great technological innovations of late that have been successfully introduced to minimise them just don’t make the headlines or the politicians speeches any more.

  13. Every time VW comes up I recall that the EPA had the VW emissions cheat report on their shelf for 2 years. What precipitated the release was another actual release by the EPA in Colorado – of several cubic km of gold mine tailings / sludge *predicted by locals* as a route to unlock EPA “superfunding”.

    I had hoped that King had disappeared up his own hubris.

  14. Surely Kings scientific credentials should be revoked. No true scientist or even someone with sense would take the word of someone selling something in a set up test as facts. they would perform their own tests and draw a conclusion.

    It isn’t like there are so many things to factor in that he just ignored for an easy life. He is more of a politician than a scientist imo.

  15. What Lord T says in spades. Scientific? He was anything but as he didn’t look critically but accepted the output as it matched his opinions. That is appalling and makes you wonder what else he ignored or didn’t question.

    And I bet his climate change advice was equally, err, scientific.

  16. In our age, accountability isn’t just seen as unneeded for The Right Kind of People; it’s a shameful form of lèse majesté and it shows Lack of Faith.

    Yet, somehow, we get shitshows like this, like running Hillary Clinton for president (and DOJ/FBI running unaccountably amok trying to spare her from accountability), and Harvey Weinstein’s reign.

    It’s a mystery how this could happen.

    But don’t worry. We know the solution: Pick somebody else and make *them* immune to accountability.

    Real unaccountability just hasn’t been tried yet.

  17. >How deep do you want him to dig to make a decision about anything?

    A lot deeper than he did. A huge decision was made by the government to push diesel cars and vehicles, and it doesn’t look like they did much digging at all. King turns up to a VW testing centre for a day. What else was done? Did the government run their own tests on a few vehicles themselves?

  18. Did the government run their own tests on a few vehicles themselves?

    I believe his point was that it would not have mattered if they did, as he’s alleging that VW rigged the ECU to “cheat” when it detected the car was being operated in test conditions. Not very different from the practice of PC video card manufacturers from 2000-2012 coding their drivers to optimize performance on specific well known graphics benchmark suites. It doesn’t matter who runs the test, the ECU will cheat the same way.

  19. I believe his point was that it would not have mattered if they did, as he’s alleging that VW rigged the ECU to “cheat” when it detected the car was being operated in test conditions.

    Yes, but my point was that continent-wide legislation should not depend on an ECU that is susceptible to being rigged. Tossers like David King in lofty positions in government make this sort of thing more likely, not less.

  20. Real unaccountability just hasn’t been tried yet.

    That’s true enough. As I’ve meandered my way through various companies over the years, the one thing I’ve found to be the most scarce of all is genuine accountability. I’ve seen entire organisations of tens of thousands of people structured precisely to avoid anyone being accountable.

  21. The government could have run some different, real-world tests. And not just on one company’s cars. It seems that all that happened is that King visited VW for an afternoon with a certain mindset, they assured him that diesel is great, and the whole of the UK government’s pollicy towards diesel and petrol was changed as a result of that. Supports the view that the government has too much power to make big decisions on the basis of flimsy whims.

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