Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Monckton’

Monckton climate myths resource and the Overton Window

February 1, 2011

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).

When will we stop taking Christopher Monckton seriously?

September 22, 2010

It is mind boggling that some people without any expertise in climate are given megaphones to spout their strong but wrong beliefs about climate change.

Internationally, Christopher Monckton is a prime example (even giving congressional testimony in the US), while in Holland Hans Labohm immediately comes to mind (frequently seen in news media and invited by the Dutch ministry of environment).

Scientists are starting to turn the tide on this kind of sophistry.

From the press release, via Barry Bickmore:

A group of five scientists solicited responses from more than twenty world-class climate scientists to the May 6th testimony by Christopher Monckton to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  These climate scientists “…have thoroughly refuted all of Mr. Monckton’s major assertions, clearly demonstrating a number of obvious and elementary errors,” the report says. “We encourage the U.S. Congress to give careful consideration to the implications this document has for the care that should be exercised in choosing expert witnesses to inform the legislative process.”

The rest of the press release is available at the same link.

John Abraham, who thoroughly debunked Monckton’s claims, and was treated with venomous language and threat of legal action by the ‘potty peer’ as a result, put a lot of work in this as well.

The complete report: “Climate scientists respond”.

Coverage by the Guardian.

Apparently, Monckton responded in his typical fashion, calling the scientist’s response “prolix, turgid, repetitive, erroneous and inadequate”.

Well, being repetitive is hard to avoid when responding to Monckton’s long debunked talking points. This guy is a real piece of work. I hope the day is near that the public, politicians and the media (as the providers of the megaphone) stop paying attention to the likes of him. Then scientists can turn their energy to more productive things again rather than slamming down zombie arguments.

On a somewhat related note, George Monbiot has a nice column (h/t Stoat) in which he cites how some of these characters (Christopher Booker in this case) view science:

“I spent a fascinating few days in a villa opposite Cap Ferrat, taking part in a seminar with a dozen very bright scientists, some world authorities in their field. Although most had never met before, they had two things in common. Each had come to question one of the most universally accepted scientific orthodoxies of our age: the Darwinian belief that life on earth evolved simply through the changes brought about by an infinite series of minute variations. The other was that, on arriving at these conclusions, they had come up against a wall of hostility from the scientific establishment.” (…)

“We have seen a remarkably similar response from the scientific establishment to anyone dissenting from that other dominating theory of our time, that rising CO2 levels caused by human activity are leading to runaway global warming.”

Monbiot concludes:

To dismiss an entire canon of science on the basis of either no evidence or evidence that has already been debunked is to evince an astonishing level of self-belief. It suggests that, by instinct or by birth, you know more about this subject (even if you show no sign of ever having studied it) than the thousands of intelligent people who have spent their lives working on it. Once you have taken that leap of self-belief, once you have arrogated to yourself the authority otherwise vested in science, any faith is then possible. Your own views (and those of the small coterie who share them) become your sole reference points, and are therefore unchallengeable and immutable. You must believe yourself capable of anything. And, in a sense, you probably are.

Robert Grumbine explains how people’s (mis-)perception of science can feed these kinds of strange beliefs:

I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works.  While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don’t.  The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture.  If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work.  And so on through a very, very long list.  Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2’s radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that’d be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.

Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling.  Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there’s any particular evidence in favor of it.  The “It’s a liberal conspiracy”, or “They only say this because they want to impose one world government” responses are part of this.  The he said — she said journlistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between.  They think the scientists are doing the same thing.  (How would they know differently?)


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