Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

On the trail of Christopher Monckton – part 1

with 18 comments

The third Viscount of Brenchley, Christopher Monckton, is a bit of a slippery customer: A member of the British aristocracy with no scientific training or qualifications, but nevertheless idolised as an expert by climate change “sceptics”, he is prone to rambling statements (even more pompous-sounding than much of what I write!) that are full of potentially misleading information and/or misrepresented research that is invariably poorly (if ever) referenced. You could be forgiven for concluding that he is “intoxicated with the exuberance of his own verbosity” (i.e. Disraeli on Gladstone)…!

In recent years, you could also be forgiven for assuming that he was going to slowly fade from view as a result of the forensic examination of one of his presentations expertly carried out by Professor John Abraham; and Monckton’s spectacular failure to respond appropriately and/or effectively to such a devastating critique. Much more recently, he has been taken to task by Potholer54 (a.k.a Peter Hatfield) and – having been quite content at first to debate online – has gone remarkably quiet since being challenged to debate the science face-to-face (see Footnote).

My personal dealings with Monckton began when I attempted to redress the misleading presentation of one Richard S Lindzen at a meeting in London on 22 February this year that Monckton chaired. Having departed from my own script, I was prevented from asking even the simplest of questions (because I was clearly off-message too). You can even see me attempting this feat here.

Monckton then harassed me over my supposed defamation of his character within my subsequent complaint to MIT regarding Lindzen. I clarified the intent of my remarks to MIT and issued an apology; something I am pretty sure Monckton has never done. As Hatfield has demonstrated, Monckton just changes what he says (i.e. so-called “Monckton Manoeuvres”)

In April this year, I invited Monckton to review my own assessment of him as a non-expert in climate science (September 2011) and tell me where I have gone wrong. However, in his long-winded and disparaging response – full of reality inversions and obfuscations – he did not address any of my factual criticism of either him; his absence of any relevant qualifications; his repeatedly having been shown to be peddling misinformation; and to have misinterpreted – if not misrepresented – genuine climate science. He also declined my request for permission to publish his response.

Most recently, in response to a piece by Scott Denning PhD (a rare non-sceptical speaker at Heartland Institute conferences), Monckton submitted a 5000-word dissertation to the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, which was also subject to forensic examination and found to be pre-debunked “sceptical” propaganda. Unfortunately, the post summarising this nonsense was bombarded by silly comments that prompted the site editor, Bud Ward, to close-off the post to new comments just after Monckton had attempted to rebut my own criticisms… Unable to get Mr Ward to allow my response to appear, I decided to email Monckton myself. Therefore, what follows is a transcript of the exchanges that has since followed; or at least it would be if Monckton had not again claimed his right(?) to confidentiality in responding to me. However, I think you can guess what he said – and how he said it – from my responses:

——————————

Viscount Monckton,

You have made great play of the fact that you followed chairing the Lindzen sideshow on 22 February by briefing an anonymous and sceptical Cabinet Minister. Because I was concerned that this might constitute an attempt to subvert sensible government policy, I asked my MP to find out who you met. However, short of trawling through every department’s records (when published), this is not going to be possible and, in any case, I suspect your meeting (if there was one) will not have been “on the record”.

With regard to your recent (surely pre-existing?) essay submitted to the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, I think it was entirely ludicrous of Scott Denning to respond by repeating the unfair suggestion that you might be a creation of the comic Sacha Baren Cohen. However, the reason this annoyed me is that it appears to have (understandably) prompted a deluge of comments from those who consider your unscientific views on climate change worthy of attention. This, in turn, prompted Bud Ward to stop accepting comments on that particular post. Despite my protestation, Mr Ward has refused to publish my response to your last comment so, for the record, here it is:

“With respect, Viscount Monckton, it is the so-called climate ‘sceptics’ that are failing to learn the lessons of history (or palaeoclimatology for that matter). I was brought up not to live beyond my means; and humanity would have done well to do the same. Instead, our environmental bank account is now seriously overdrawn; and the interest payments will just get bigger and bigger if we make no attempt to pay off our debts.”

Also for the record: I think history may have done King Canute a dis-service as he probably sought to demonstrate that man cannot hold back the tide. However, this is more in your field of expertise than mine. Perhaps you can enlighten me? Furthermore, if you already know this, are you not also guilty of mis-representing King Canute as well (by telling readers they should “Remember Canute”); and perpetuating yet another myth (such as that which seeks to suggest human activity is not the primary driver of ongoing climate disruption)?

Finally, I should like to re-iterate the frustration of many people who have pointed out that, although you are always very quick to ridicule people and/or demand retractions for supposed defamatory comments or misleading or incorrect statements, you do not seem to practice what you preach: That is to say, when things you say or write are shown to have been likely to mislead, inaccurate, or demonstrable false (e.g. in your dealings with John Abraham, Peter Hatfield, and here and elsewhere in the ‘Monckton Myths’ section of the SkepticalScience website) you do not seem to ever admit it. I would however be delighted to be proven wrong but, please do not waste your time writing me a long response, links to published statements on the Internet will suffice.

Yours very sincerely,

Martin Lack.

——————————

Dear Mr. Lack,

[Sorry – Confidentiality has been invoked by the author]

Monckton of Brenchley.

——————————

Footnote: Monckton claims to have rebutted Peter Hatfield’s criticism on the website of SPPI – an organisation for which he is Chief Policy Advisor, which gives him a platform from which to spout non-peer-reviewed misinformation; and gain the attention of ignorant and/or credulous politicians on Capitol Hill in the USA. Unfortunately, the SPPI website does not have a search function – and this response (if it exists) is not in any obvious place such as the ‘Monckton Collection’.

==============================
The exchanges continued, from which you can infer what Monckton said, but I will conclude this sorry tale tomorrow.

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Written by Martin Lack

25 May 2012 at 00:02

18 Responses

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  1. […] reviewed the backstory to this yesterday; and concluded with the first of Monckton’s responses to me this week (which I cannot share with […]

  2. […] numerous references to this poor maligned king; the most recent being brought to mind by Martin Lack’s recent attempts to get the prevaricating peer to admit that he’s been talking bullshit for years. In one of […]

  3. I’ve begun listening to the “forensic examination” of Monckton’s presentation (I’m about 35 minutes in) – very educational. Same with “Potholer”‘s videos. Thank you for the links.

    jpgreenword

    27 May 2012 at 23:27

    • As with many other things, I think I have Pendantry to thank for first alerting me to the existence of Abraham’s presentation. Potholer54 came to my attention via Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

      Martin Lack

      28 May 2012 at 09:26

  4. Hi Martin. Whatever impression Lord Monckton likes to give, he did not get to meet a cabinet minister (let alone brief one). The organisers Fay, and Philip Foster went with Lindzen for a private meeting (as no doubt happens hundreds of times a week, on hundreds of issues).

    Lord Monckton as I understand was a last minute stand in to chair the meeting because Prof Stott was unwell. Another example perhaps of Lord Monckton bigging himself up I think to an American audience at WUWT. (i.e. making out he organised LIndzens’s presentation as well). If you give it some thought, I think you will imagine the thought of any minister wanting to be seen meeting sceptics, with Monckton along is also very unlikey, and not just because he is a ‘senior’ UKIP-er.

    Bud Ward kindly allowed me to comment on the Abrahams thread, after a civil exchange of emails (ref. ‘deniers’). And I understand why he closed the others.

    Barry Woods

    2 June 2012 at 13:03

    • Welcome back Barry. You and I clearly agree about one thing then – the nature of Monckton.

      However, can you explain your final paragraph a bit more; and/or provide a link to your comment? Presumably, you mean you were (WUWT-style) complaining about use of the word “denier” to describe those who dispute what is happening to the planet; despite being completely unable – using any number of alternative causes (either in isolation or aggregate) – to account for the warming of the last 150 years?

      Martin Lack

      2 June 2012 at 13:51

      • On a smartphone. Link tricky. And I haven’t been away, just silent.

        Just go to Yale Forum site: After Monckton and Denning articles, John Abraham has an article.

        Barry Woods

        3 June 2012 at 11:27

        • I quote a climate scientist, on why she does NOT use ‘denier’ any more in order to aid civil discourse.

          If I ranted at you; and called you an Eco-fascist or Alarmist, etc. You would, quite correctly, ignore me or delete me. For the record, I think you neither if those things: they are just another example of generalisations thrown around. Is Prof J Jones a denier, or P Stott, or Paul Matthews or Don Keiller?

          I think that if people are unwilling to give up these labels, as a gesture of goodwill, to facilitate a civil debate then, either side does not really want that debate. They just want to silence the other. Note that I apply that equally to both.

          Barry Woods

          3 June 2012 at 11:34

        • You show remarkable restraint (since much of what I write must annoy you)?

          Ah yes. I did read that post (on civil discourse) but will take another look.

          As I have said to you many times, I am not a climate scientist, but I see no reason (other than conspiracy theory) to dispute the reality or validity of the consensus. I was surprised you were able to ignore my response to you: http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2012/05/on-blogging-comments-and-online-civil-discourse/#comment-83801

          Martin Lack

          3 June 2012 at 11:58

  5. Martin, presumably what I write and where I write annoys you… As for ignoring your comment, I didn’t see it… May take a look this evening.

    I have no problems having a civil debate with many on the other side. Perhaps if you toned things down a little, and a bit less accusatory of people motives, you might get a better response. Funny thing is, I have said pretty much the same to Delingpole and Monckton in the past.

    Did you read my ‘discussion’ with Delingpole about ‘watermelon’ insult in the comments section of the Bishop hill article, which I link to in my comment in the Abraham article?

    Must get on, I am at B & Q buying a staple gun, with DIY to do: Re-covering my dining room chairs… 7 years worth of children spilling drinks/food on them…

    Barry Woods

    3 June 2012 at 12:10

    • Thanks for that, Barry.

      You have alluded to your disagreements with Delingpole before but I will now look at the ‘Watermelon’ debate. You have also told me to tone down the rhetoric before but, all I am doing is pointing out that there is no valid reason to debate the science because disputing it requires belief in some form of conspiracy, stupidity, or insanity on the part of the vast majority of relevantly qualified scientists and now governments too). This was exactly the accusation made by Lindzen on 22 February.

      Good luck with the DIY.

      Martin Lack

      3 June 2012 at 12:22

    • Barry, I hope you will come back to continue this discussion? Despite my misgivings regarding people like Chartered Accountants that wish to second-guess climate scientists (or accuse them of stupidity, insanity, mendacity etc), I popped over to Bishop Hill to view the comment thread you cited on the Yale Forum.

      This was enlightening because Tamsin Edward’s comments appear to be the origin of your “most people don’t know you exist” mantra, which (I am happy to repeat) I previously mistook as your attempting to demoralise me. However, I agree with Tamsin that most scientists usually end up using the term ‘denier’…
      “…because they only really hear about those denying CO2 is a GHG and that the earth is warming, and they don’t like skeptic (because they are themselves skeptical) and other terms haven’t stuck. Some soften it with ‘denialist’. They really don’t intend it to echo Holocaust denier I don’t think. They think of it more as equivalent to creationism.”

      In short, I do not use the term ‘denier’ to imply mendacity on the part of those who, even after 150 years of experimenting, researching, modelling and observing climate science, continue to insist that the debate about cause and effect of ongoing warming is not over. On the contrary, I use it to draw attention extreme implausibility of adopting a ‘Galileo versus the Establishment’ position (and/or invoking conspiracy theory); rather than accepting the extremely high probability that the vast majority of independent active scientists with a track record of peer-reviewed and published research are actually right.

      Martin Lack

      4 June 2012 at 14:50

      • the ‘chartered accountant’ also has a chemistry degree.. as do I .

        Barry Woods

        4 June 2012 at 16:25

  6. additionaally. Tamsin says she has STOPPED using denier.. and if you read my comment on the John Abraham thread I explain my concern about it (why it is used by some, not necessarily the linkage (creationins, 911, truther, holocaust, etc)

    http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2012/05/on-blogging-comments-and-online-civil-discourse/#comment-85412

    the above comment would have been the fith or sixth at Yale. but in stayed in pre-mod for a day or so. then vanished.. A little twitter persuasion and polite emails prompted it’s re-apearance..

    Barry Woods

    4 June 2012 at 16:31

    • Yes, Barry. I read that comment (in which you quote Tamsin and link to Bishop Hill). Although I am not accusing anyone of being mad, bad, or stupid… I really do think the debate should be over.

      We are way past the time for debate: Climate change is a reality; and it is simply not possible to explain all that is happening unless you concede that excess atmospheric CO2 is the main driver of change. However, it is also not possible to explain this change without including all the other drivers (i.e. such as volcanic eruptions, the Sun, oceanic circulations, and atmospheric pollution). This is what climate models seek to do; and have been shown to do very well when you go back 20 or 30 years and look at what they predicted would happen if CO2 emissions progressed in the way that they actually have. For example:
      ClimatecrocksA retrospective look at IPCC’s AR1 in 1990; and
      Skeptical ScienceWhat we already knew in 1982.

      However, as I keep saying, the main reason we should be concerned about ongoing change is primarily due to what palaeoclimatology tells us will happen next: At 400 ppm, we have now reached a level not seen for 15 million years; and are heading almost irrevocably towards a level not seen for 35 million years. The last time CO2 was that high, Antarctica was ice-free and, if it becomes so again (in say 200 years time), sea levels will be more than 70 metres higher than they are now. The fact that sea level rise is, as yet, barely noticeable (although it is happening) is not relevant. What is relevant is Archemedes’ Principle: If terrestrial ice melts, sea levels will rise; and, unless we act soon, we will not be able to stop it happening. This is not doom-mongering; this is just physics.

      Therefore, with regret (as I know you are not going to like me saying this), I think it entirely reasonable to compare people who continue to dispute what climate science is telling us… with people in the Middle Ages that continued to insist that the Earth was flat. Have you ever read David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories book? If you have not, I would recommend it. He does not mention climate change and when I emailed him to ask his opinion, he said – displaying impeccable intellectual honesty – that he was not qualified to have a valid opinion. However, his book goes a long way to explaining why people prefer conspiracy theories to facts. This is why – rather than arguing about who has a better grasp on the relevant science – I focus on the psychology and prejudice that lead people to dispute the facts of history:
      For example, see my Is having an open mind the problem? (7 February 2012).

      Martin Lack

      5 June 2012 at 11:00

  7. Hi Martin.

    Ultimately, until consensus scentists tell the likes of Desmogblog to drop their denial information database.

    http://www.desmogblog.com/global-warming-denier-database

    ‘disinformation’ being a very loaded word.

    The fact that this exists, and scientists are silent about it, in my mind shames all scientists, for all means call them wrong, mistaken, etc and explain why.

    But creatinglists of people (some of whom, I know, have met or correspond with) and labeling them deniers, or purveyors of lies (disinformation) is shameful

    I think there is very little hope for civil discourse, there will just be a acrimonous, vicious political battle, mainly in the USA. poiltics NOT science, of the nastiest sort.

    Barry Woods

    6 June 2012 at 21:59

    • Are you on your Blackberry again, Barry? This time entire phrases appear to have gone AWoL but I think I get the message. :-)

      I am familiar with the desmog blog disinformation database and find it very useful for assessing the level of ignorance (e.g. Monckton) and/or prejudice (e.g. Roy Spencer) with which any apparently “sceptical” individual has approached the relevant science (incl. palaeocliamtology). Disinformation and lies are not necessarily the same thing in my view. In my criticism of Lindzen, I was generally very careful not to accuse him of malicious intent. What I was and am concerned about is his selective use of data; and a form of presentation that can very easily be misunderstood. This is dysfunctional communication of information (a.k.a. disinformation). However, there is a great deal of evidence to indicate that this failure to communicate all the relevant facts clearly is often deliberate. Therefore, given the way the fossil fuel industry has copied the tactics of the tobacco industry, James Hoggan is entirely justified to say:
      Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy… There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.

      You will not like my saying this but, your failure to address the questions I have posed to you speaks volumes: If you dispute the settled view of the scientific community, you must put forward a workable alternative hypothesis, which you cannot do because there isn’t one (apart from conspiracy theory).

      You will also not like what Bill McKibbin has to say on the subject of climate change denial:

      http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175549/tomgram%3A_bill_mckibben%2C_climate-change_deniers_have_done_their_job_well/

      Martin Lack

      7 June 2012 at 10:55

  8. […] my last exchange of emails with Christopher Monckton (back in May this year), I did promise myself I would not waste any more time on him.  However, following the […]


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