Monckton climate myths resource and the Overton Window


Christopher Monckton is a skeptic who loves to recycle. He keeps re-using the same old and tired arguments. To help placing his arguments in a scientific context, you could check out this one-stop shop for Monckton misinformation:

Monckton Myths (468 x 60 pixels)

with links to the many arguments Monckton peruses.

Even though an increasing number of people who are very critical of the scientific consensus are not taken in by Monckton’s empty rhetoric, he’s still getting a lot of traction with journalists and politicians.

Another way of looking at it though is offered by Keith:

He’s so gonzo out there that he makes his side look ridiculous. So if you belonged to the climate concerned community, and you wanted to be strategic about this, then I would say the more Monckton appears in the public eye, the better he makes your side look.

There’s something to that, though it carries the danger of shifting the Overton Window (h/t Eli). This is the

“window” in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on an issue. Overton described a method for moving that window, thereby including previously excluded ideas, while excluding previously acceptable ideas. The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous “outer fringe” ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable…..

I.e. the extreme position of Monckton makes less extreme, but still incorrect/misleading statements about climate appear acceptable. Or worse, presentable as “middle ground” between the Moncktons and Delingpoles of this world on the one side and climate science as embodied by e.g. the IPCC on the other. Whereas science -as the process of gaining understanding of physical processes- ought to be the middle ground of course, at least for physical questions such as “why is the climate changing?” We should reclaim that rightful place for science.

Richard Alley is quoted in EOS (Nov 2010) as saying, in response to the US House Hearing on Climate Change:

You have now had a discussion or a debate here between people who are giving you the blue one and people giving you the green one. This is certainly not both sides. If you want both sides, we would have to have somebody in here screaming a conniption fit on the red end, because you are hearing a very optimistic side

He is right.

On another note, the BBC recently aired some insightful documentaries providing a glimpse into the skeptical mindset. See e.g. this interview with James “interpreter-of-interpretations” Delingpole by Royal Society president Paul Nurse. Complete footage of “Science under Attack” at ClimateCrocks; a nice rundown at Hot Topic. What struck me was that Paul Nurse is so incredibly nice! And that definitely helps getting a connection with the viewers, and I think it contributed to Delingpole being caught totally off guard when confronted with Nurse’s medical analogy (“what would you do if …”). Turn off the sound and look at his body language.

Another one coming: “The Skeptics”, featuring Monckton (so far only the trailer is available outside of the UK).

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8 Responses to “Monckton climate myths resource and the Overton Window”

  1. MarkB Says:

    While one could argue that the Food Gap blunder gave a chance for mainstream climate scientists to refute them and position themselves in the center, there are very few genuine examples like this where truly unsupported and implausible “alarmist” scenarios are put forth. If there were, it would surely end up reflecting on the mainstream climate science community.

    Most of the existing criticism of climate scientists in the media is bogus. Scientists are even scolded when speaking about plausible but uncertain future scenarios. Whenever a true mistake is made, no matter how much of a good faith error it is (such as the 2035 Himalyan error), it’s spun as undermining all of climate science.

    Are less extreme contrarians being undermined by Monckton? Not at all, since Monckton is taken seriously among a large sector of the public. As U.S. Energy Secretary Chu said, what standard are any contrarians being held to? They get to say whatever they want, with little scrutiny. Monckton gets mostly rewarded for telling falsehoods. The public sphere rewards deniers/contrarians/skeptics of all flavors, but as soon as a climate scientist blows his nose, they’re all over it.

  2. Dana Says:

    Good point about Monckton shifting the Overton Window. Monckton is so “out there” that he makes the relatively sane dishonesty of guys like Lindzen seem reasonable.

    I hope Monckton Myths turns out to be an effective resource. We put a lot of work into it.

  3. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    You forgot to mention Christopher Booker. The piece which WUWT cites here is so full of wrongness it is not even funny (but maybe it is for the reality based amongst us).

  4. MarkB Says:

    The Booker piece is evidence that extremists are not really hurting less extreme skeptics, because they aren’t being held accountable for the most part. Of all this type of nonsense that’s been printed over the last few years, almost none of it has been retracted. Those making the claims and media outlets who parrot them aren’t being held accountable for it, and have little incentive to get anything right. Dana’s example here supports that.

  5. Eli Rabett Says:

    Judy is now reaping what she sowed. It is . . . delicious. The question is whether she is hard of learning.

  6. Stephen Says:

    Bart, a very nice overview. I might add to Richard Alley’s point that we don’t hear about the other extreme because so few scientists have wanted to go there publicly. Speaking as a science journalist, that seems to be changing in the last year or so.

  7. Bart Says:


    Thanks. It’s true that the spectrum of mostly heard public opinions is skewed towards the no problem/exaggerating uncertainty end, whereas the huge problem/exaggerating certainty end is almost absent (and neither extreme is much represented amongst scientists, whose opinions are by and large in between these extremes). I.e. there seems to be an overload of quacks on the former side, and a shortage of quacks on the latter side, which makes the positioning of science as the middle ground difficult. Am I still making sense…?

  8. Potty Training Christopher Monckton « Greenfyre’s Says:

    […] Monckton climate myths resource and the Overton Window […]

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