I wrote another op-ed for my local paper, the Daily Herald. The headline is misleading, but it is essentially a plug for the movie and book, Merchants of Doubt.
One reason I love the Internet is because it makes room for more snark. Clever satire and lampooning can sometimes be more effective than anything for getting people to stop digging in their heels and do the right thing. Snarky commentary becomes a loathsome freak show, however, when the intransigently ignorant try it, and unfortunately, that’s the way I see Conservative political commentary moving, whether it’s amateur or professional. (I’m a Republican myself, so I take no joy in saying this.)
Take, for instance, some of the amateur commentary on a post a friend of mine shared on Facebook the other day. He linked a conservative political commentary lauding Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress, in which he criticized the Obama Administration. Whatever. But then the ultra-conservative lackwits had to start chiming in with “snarky” comments about how we should elect Netanyahu as President, because apparently we don’t pay any attention to where candidates were born, anymore. Such comments would be super witty if, for instance, there hadn’t been birth announcements for Obama in a couple Honolulu papers, and if the standard legal interpretation of the constitutional requirement that the President be a “natural-born citizen” were not that one just has to be a citizen by birth–like Barack Obama, wherever he was born.
The amateurs are usually just parroting things they’ve heard from the professionals–people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Steyn, and–because he has one of those posh-sounding British accents–James Delingpole. The other day, Delingpole wrote a “snarky” piece attacking a new BBC documentary about climate change. The title of the piece, “‘Climate Change is Real Because Shut Up!’ Explains the BBC. Again,” signals the snarky intent, but the content is nothing but adolescent drivel.
Here’s an excerpt.
Its arguments went something like this: climate change is real because nice, smiley girl with red hair; climate change is real because maths; climate change is real because potted history of US sea captain who standardised methods for measuring water temperature; climate change is real because Tottenham Hotspur; etc. With these ingenious distractions, it effortlessly swerved contentious issues such as the fact that the entire 20th-century temperature record has been subjected to unexplained — and probably unjustifiable — adjustments. I wonder what percentage of its presumably tiny audience it convinced.
Well, I could object that Delingpole’s point about adjustments to the temperature record are idiotic, and that people who actually do spatial and temporal statistical analyses think such adjustments are necessary, which is why all the different groups of scientists who work on this problem come up with about the same answers. But that would miss Delingpole’s main point! Namely, the BBC program is stupid because it uses the dreaded “Appeal to Authority.” And as any snot-nosed 10th grader can tell you, that’s a “Logical Fallacy“!!!
Do I realise that the woman I have so peremptorily dismissed as “nice, smiley girl with red hair” is in fact none other than Dr Hannah Fry, a mathematician from University College, London?
Well yes. I thought I’d covered that particular Appeal To Authority, more or less, in the sentence which said “climate change is real because maths.” Had there been space, I suppose, I could have added “climate change is real because doctorate” and “climate change is real because University College, London.” But I’m not sure it would have added a great deal to the point I was trying to make.
“What’s wrong with pointing out a fallacious argument?” you might ask… if you are particularly dense. The thing is, as I have pointed out before, a logical fallacy is simply an argument that doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises, but it may still be a reasonable argument. Here’s a quick example of a fallacious Appeal to Authority.
Premise 1: My doctor says I should lose weight.
Premise 2: Doctors are healthcare experts.
Conclusion: Therefore, I should lose weight.
Now, are doctors infallible when it comes to healthcare recommendations? Of course not, and therefore this is a fallacious appeal to authority. But is it a stupid argument? “Of course it is,” answers Aunt Matilda, as she tries to smear urine on your face to cure your acne. You know perfectly well it isn’t a stupid argument, though, right?
Here’s why. When we are talking about ANY complex scientific (or other) topic, there is simply no practical way around using some appeals to authority. Suppose I were to write a paper about some scientific topic. Certainly I would try to make a solid argument, but I would typically cite any number of other peer-reviewed sources for most of my claims. Wouldn’t I just be appealing to the authority of the authors of those sources, in such cases? Obviously, but what other choice do I have? Am I supposed to redo all those experiments and observations, program my own models, etc., etc.? Who has time for that? And what about my audience? Are they supposed to just take my word for it? Are they supposed to take the word of the sources I cite? Checking things for yourself is GREAT, and I advocate it strongly! However, NOBODY has the time to check every single detail of the arguments surrounding a complex topic like climate change, so all we can do is spot check.
That’s what I’ve tried to do. I’m and Earth scientist to begin with, so I have a good deal of background knowledge to help me, but I’ve also gone ahead and read quite a bit of peer-reviewed literature about the subject, and I’ve even read a lot of contrarian literature. What’s more, I’ve even bothered to pick apart and reproduce some of the work of prominent contrarians like Roy Spencer, and I’ve even published a couple peer-reviewed papers about climate-related topics. That was an awful lot of work, and yet I still have to rely on others for much of my information.
The bottom line is that the only way around appeals to authority is an enormous amount of work, and no matter how much work you do, you will never be able to completely get rid of them. And that’s why appeals to authority aren’t ridiculous, even though they aren’t necessarily right. We appeal to experts precisely BECAUSE they have put in an enormous amount of work, and have to appeal to authority less than the rest of us.
Hmmmm, that brings up a good question. How much work has James Delingpole done, so that he feels comfortable mocking the consensus of almost all the climate change experts? Let’s answer that question via an interview the BBC aired, in which Sir Paul Nurse, a scientist and the head of the Royal Society, asked this very thing of Delingpole. Here’s a partial transcript, and you can see the video below.
Paul Nurse: Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time, and if it’s working well, and it doesn’t always work well, but if it’s working well they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that. So there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move, you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough?
James Delingpole: Science has never been about consensus, and this is I think one of the most despicable things about Al Gore’s so-called consensus. Consensus is not science.
Paul Nurse: I want to give an analogy in a different situation. Say you had cancer and you went to be treated. There would be a consensual position on your treatment, and it is very likely that you would follow that consensual treatment because you would trust the clinical scientists there. The analogy is that you could say, well, I’ve done my research into it and I disagree with that consensual position, but that would be a very unusual position for you to take. And I think sometimes the consensual position can be criticised when in fact it is most likely to be the correct position.
James Delingpole: Yes. Shall we talk about climategate because I don’t accept your analogy really, I think it’s very easy to caricature the position of climate change sceptics as the sort of people who don’t look left and right when crossing the road or who think that the quack cure that they’ve invented for cancer is just as valid as the one chosen by the medical establishment. I think it is something altogether different and I do slightly resent the way that you are bringing in that analogy.
Later, Nurse asked Delingpole about where he was getting his information. Turns out it isn’t from the scientific literature.
James Delingpole: It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because I simply haven’t got the time, I haven’t the scientific expertise. What I rely on is people who have got the time and the expertise to do it and write about it and interpret it. I am an interpreter of interpretations.
So there you have it. James Delingpole can mock the BBC for referencing the consensus of almost all the climate change experts because it’s an “Appeal to Authority,” but when push comes to shove, he admits that he doesn’t have the background knowledge to assess the evidence for himself. All he can do is substitute the authority of people who are… not… almost all the experts.
In my opinion, this is another sad demonstration that people like Delingpole should get out of the snark business. Snarkiness ends up being a complete train wreck when used by someone who refuses to do the necessary work to understand anything at all about what he’s yammering. Sorry, James, but being an obnoxious windbag does’t make you H. L. Mencken.
At last, a candidate I can really get behind! There is an interesting site called Quora, on which people ask all sorts of questions, other people answer, and readers vote on the best answer. Sometimes these are pretty fun to read. One question that was posted was, “What are some examples of experts who in the end were not real experts?” I noted that one of the responders had nominated Lord Monckton, but I didn’t really feel that his answer was as comprehensive and well documented as it could have been, so I decided to post my own.
Dear Readers, if not now, when? If not us, who?
Click here, and UPVOTE my answer at the bottom! As you can imagine, Monckton has a lot of competition, but honestly, who can compare to His Veracity? Have the others been invited to testify to Congress as a climate science expert on multiple occasions, while pretending to be members of Parliament? I think not. Okay, okay, if you really want to see all the other answers, click here.
That Beacon of Freedom, His Supreme Sagacity, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, is now telling the “Patriots” who read World Net Daily that portions of the Koran (the ones that talk about killing infidels) should be outlawed in the USA.
Craven public authorities have failed to act against the circulation of the Quran in its present form because they fear a violent backlash.
How, then, is this manifestly illegal text to be dealt with? It is not our custom to ban books, for freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.
However, it is our custom to prosecute for incitement to murder. And the fact that incitement is on every page of what is said to be a holy book does not diminish, still less extinguish, the offense.
A bill should be brought before Congress identifying all passages in the Quran which, whether in isolation or taken together, constitute incitement to murder.
The bill should specify that anyone who reads any of these passages out loud is to be charged with that crime and, if convicted, subjected to the usual penalty for it – a long prison term.
The bill should state that, after a grace period of a year, every copy of the Quran must clearly identify by emboldened and different-colored text the passages that constitute criminal incitement to murder, together with a clearly printed warning on the first page that reading any of these passages out loud anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States may result in prosecution.
But as David Ferguson points out at RawStory, what’s sauce for the Koran is sauce for the Bible.
Monckton cited several passages of the Koran that he says call for the murder of nonbelievers, but failed to include the portions of the Christian Bible that call for the execution of homosexual men (Leviticus 20:13), the stoning death of adulterous women (Luke 16:18) and the killing of “sorceresses” (Exodus 22:17), blasphemers (Leviticus 24:10), and whole cities if they follow other religions (Deuteronomy 13:13-19).
If you are at all surprised by this stunning display of hypocrisy, hark back to the following excerpt from Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.
When a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Torcello, wrote an article saying it ought to be against the law to knowingly spread disinformation about climate change for profit, Monckton led the charge to send letters to the university administration asking for Torcello to be disciplined/fired because Torcello was allegedly attacking free speech and academic freedom. The funny part about this one is Monckton’s flagrant hypocrisy. Not too long ago, he threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud (see #9 below) and whipped up an Australian crowd, chanting about having all the corrupt climate scientists jailed.
As always, I’m waiting to see how long it takes for Moncktonites like Anthony Watts and Dick Lindzen to start trying to distance themselves from His Supreme Sagacity. In the meantime, I offer you the (soon to be updated) “Being An All-Purpose Extremist” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.
1. It’s a good thing Monckton has developed a cure for AIDS! In 1987 he suggested rounding up all AIDS-sufferers and isolating them for life. Since nobody took his sage advice, he later acknowledged that the problem had gotten too big for his suggestion to be feasible.
2. Monckton suggested it might be a good idea to require scientists to have some kind of religious certification before being allowed to practice in a field like climatology. You know, because scientists are a pack of atheists who think lying is ok.
3. Monckton claimed that, as a member of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, he suggested spiking the Argentines’ water supplies with a “mild bacillus” so the British troops could more easily win the Falklands War. He said he believed Thatcher had followed his advice, even though this would clearly have been a violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
My local newspaper is the Daily Herald, in Provo, Utah, and it has always been about as right-wing as a paper with a circulation above 1,000 can get. After all, Utah County (Provo is the county seat) holds the title as the Reddest County in the Reddest State. (I recently found out that I live in the Reddest Legislative District of the Reddest County of the Reddest State.) I had a long-standing e-mail feud going with the previous editors, who would print all sorts of anti-science nonsense about climate change, and even claimed to read the mind of a scientist so they could tell that he really meant the opposite of what he said. Yes, mind reading. (See here, here, here, and here for follow-up posts.)
Well, happy day, the editors got fired, and now some non-wack-jobs are in charge. Oh, it’s still a right-wing paper, as one might surmise by perusing the weekly “Get it Right” column by Pamela Openshaw, who is an elderly lady that really, Really, REALLY loves the Constitution, as it was originally intended to be interpreted by the John Birch Society. But at least the present editors genuinely try to allow some alternative points of view. For example, they recently published an op-ed by an alfalfa farmer called “If You Eat, You Care About Climate Change”. They also published one by my friend Don Jarvis about how Utah needs to adopt the new Tier 3 gasoline standards to make a big, but inexpensive, dent in our air quality problems. When Pam Openshaw started talking about the Green-Commie Conspiracy, they published an op-ed I wrote in rebuttal called, “Real Conservatives are Conservationists”. When Pam Openshaw wrote another column of rambling nonsense that I think was supposed to be a response to mine, I asked the new editor (David Kennard) if he would let me do another rebuttal. He said that he doesn’t usually publish opinion pieces by the same person that often, but he offered me an open slot in their “Opinion Shaper” series, which means I get to do a series of op-eds once per quarter. It turns out that Don Jarvis is an “Opinion Shaper” writer, as well.
For my first “Opinion Shaper” column, I wrote an article called “Clean Air Should Be Everyone’s Priority” (I don’t pick the headlines, but this one was ok), in which I explained the concept of “external costs”. The point is that fuels like lower-tier gasoline and coal are only “cheaper” than the alternatives because some of the costs are not paid at the gas pump or in your power bill. Health costs caused by pollution are paid by everyone, so isn’t it reasonable, fair, and Conservative to demand that people pay the cost if they decide to pollute?
Please share this with your Conservative friends and families. I want to bring a lot of clicks to the Herald so they will continue letting reasonable people have a voice there.
One of the truly amusing facets of being a Monckton-o-phile like myself is watching His Lordship veritably explode in a barrage of bombastic threats when he is cornered… or even when he’s passing random people on the street. For your amusement, and to keep the “Threatening Those Who Disagree With Him” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet current, I give you the following recent examples.
A few weeks ago, I noted that Lord Monckton had even started threatening fellow climate contrarians, including solar physicist Leif Svaalgard and Willis Eschenbach. He claimed he was writing to Svaalgard’s university administration to get him in trouble for saying a certain part of Dr. David Evans’s wacky curve-fitted climate model was “almost fraudulent”.
For my part, I am referring Mr Svalgaard’s long list of malicious comments about Dr Evans (but not about me: I give as good as I get) to his university, which will know best how to handle the matter, for there is a rather delicate aspect that I am not at liberty to discuss here. The university will most certainly realize that the do-nothing option is not an option. The libel is too grave and too persistent. My lawyers are looking at it tomorrow to see whether malice is present, in which case the damages would triple, to say nothing of the costs. Their corresponding lawyers in the U.S. will be giving advice on whether Dr Evans would count in U.S. law as a “public figure”, Probably not, from what I know of the “public-figure” test, in which event, in order to enforce the judgement of the Australian courts in the U.S., it would not be necessary to prove malice (for, though malice seems evident, the test in Australian law is high).
Well, guess what? I asked Leif Svalgaard about it the other day, and he hasn’t heard a thing about it from his administration. Could it be that Monckton didn’t actually carry out his threat?
Ah, the memories. When I first encountered Monckton, he said he was instigating an academic misconduct investigation against me at my university, but a Salt Lake Tribune reporter followed up and found out that there was no such investigation. Much later, he did actually send a couple e-mails to my university threatening a libel suit and saying I was mentally imbalanced, but the administration essentially ignored them.
I note that another commenter here has accused me of fraud, and has cited a particular website much of whose contents I had not previously seen. My lawyers will be visiting me early next week to deal with some of the allegations on that website.
I thought maybe I would be getting another call from my department chair to inform me that Monckton had threatened me again, but what do you know? Weeks have passed, and I haven’t heard a thing! Perhaps his crack team of lawyers told him that I can’t be sued for simply chronicling his public exploits and expressing my amusement.
Meanwhile, trouble was brewing in the U.K., where Stoat blogger William Connolley was guessing that the source of a very misleading graph was an article in the Daily Telegraph written by His Lordship. One problem with the graph was that it compared two temperature history graphs from different IPCC reports, but the one from 2001 was for the
entire globe Northern Hemisphere, while the one supposedly from 1995 was for Central England, only. The first graph was actually based on one from the 1990 report, whereas in the text of the article Monckton said it was from 1995. The graphs were attributed to the IPCC, but did not have important features like error bars included in the Telegraph version.
Then Monckton showed up and started posturing.
Mr Connolley falsely accuses me of having fabricated a graph in whose selection, drafting and publication I played no part whatsoever. I should be grateful if he would remove all references to my having “faked” or fabricated this graph, and if he would kindly notify me when he has done so.
When Connolley pointed out that the graph had showed up in an article under his name, and asked who WAS responsible for it, Monckton resolutely refused to answer and dropped the “L” word (libel).
Mr Connolley now concedes he does not know whether I faked the figure. He made a serious, libellous allegation of dishonesty on my part without knowing whether the allegation was true.
I now invite him to retract his grave allegation of dishonesty on my part and to apologize for it.
After a bit of back-and-forth, Monckton made the implied threat more explicit.
If Mr Connolley will kindly give me his address for service, my lawyers will write to him. If he will not give me his name and address, they will serve an order on the ISP requiring it to provide the necessary details.
William told me a while ago that he hadn’t heard from Monckton’s lawyers, and I’m betting that’s still the case. William? [UPDATE: William says he’s heard nothing. See comments below.]
The funny thing about all this is that Monckton admitted his date of the 1990 figure was wrong, and that these were essentially the graphs he was referring to in the article. And as Kevin O’Neill pointed out, Monckton had given permission for another publication to reprint the article–graph and all–so he can hardly claim he didn’t approve of the graph. So why would he get bent out of shape at all if someone assumed he made the graphic for his own article?
The story of the Graph of Mystery doesn’t end there, however. On the same comment thread, Kevin O’Neill had pointed out that the Visionlearning website (which provides high quality science education resources) had used the same graph as an example in an article section entitled “Misuse of Scientific Images”, and pegged Monckton’s article as the source. Shortly thereafter, the commenters noticed that all reference to Monckton as the graph’s creator disappeared from the Visionlearning article, although they kept the graph as their example. (See the original on the Wayback Machine, and the present version here.) Some wondered whether Monckton had threatened the Visionlearning folks, too. I confirmed through some backchannels that this was the case.
Last, but not least, a Scottish TV reporter interviewed His Veracity about some aspects of Scottish politics (he
is was the leader of the UKIP fringe party in Scotland), and found his grasp of Scottish political history to be a bit wanting. (That is, he made something up out of thin air regarding a rival politician.) But that’s not even the funny part. This is.
Viscount Monckton, who is president of UKIP in Scotland, said: “We have all had people from the SNP on the streets, saying ‘You sound English’ — in fact, I’m more Scottish than most Scots — but ‘You sound English, so go back to England’. Now, that is racism, it’s actually against the law. We’ve told one or two of the people who have said that to us, ‘Don’t do it again, or we’ll have you for it’.”
So some random Scots yell “Go back to England,” and Monckton threatens to have them jailed for racism! It’s just too fantastic for words.
UPDATE: Within minutes of initially posting this, I found out that Monckton has threatened me once again on another comment board! A commenter named Warren told Monckton:
You continue to make these misleading arguments in spite of your close following of Climate Science; it seems a piece with your repeated claims, publicly refuted by the House of Lords, that you are a member; or your earlier claims to have found a cure for AIDS and the common cold.
Finally “Warren” resorts to ad-hominem irrelevancies that are also inaccurate. He inaccurately accuses me of claiming I can cure AIDS and other diseases. I make no such claim, though I am engaged in research in this field. Likewise, “Warren” is no more expert on peerage law, for instance, than the ignorant and politicized Clerk of the Parliaments, one Beamish, who says I am not a member of the House. In the narrow sense imagined by the 1999 Act that took away most hereditary peers’ right to sit and vote, I am self-evidently not a member of the House, and I had made the fact of my ineligibility to sit or vote explicit in the answer to a radio interviewer that Beamish whined about without having bothered to take the elementary precaution, required in the interest of natural justice, of hearing my side of the case first. However, a legal Opinion that I obtained after that cringing, custard-faced Clerkling’s unlawful remarks makes it plain that “The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is a member of the House of Lords, and he is fully entitled to say so.”
To which Warren replied:
You accused me of ‘ad hominem attack’. I posted your false claim about being a member of the House of Lords to let the readers know they shouldn’t trust your claims about AGW either — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg – readers should go here to see your full, incredible, rap sheet: Monckton: https://bbickmore.wordpress.com… How do you sleep at night?
Can you guess what came next? Of course you can. Monckton threatened me. And then he COMMANDED Warren to “raise his game or be silent”.
Likewise, “Warren” refers readers to a more than averagely libelous instance of ad-hominem hate-speech that seems to have been posted up on the Web by a disgruntled person. Now that Warren has drawn my attention to that web page, I shall pass the matter on to my lawyers so that they can issue proceedings against the perpetrator.
Finally, “Warren” himself is guilty of libel by suggesting that I had made a “false” claim to be a member of the House of Lords. My legal advice was that what I had said in answer to a question from a journalist was at all points accurate, reasonable, and proportionate. “Warren” has no more knowledge of peerage law than he does of climate science, economics, or the methods of conducting a scientific discourse. In short, he is out of his depth and out of his league. He must raise his game or be silent.
Hang around the Watt’s Up With That? blog for any length of time, and it will become apparent that His Lordship, Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, is all but worshipped by many of the regulars there. No matter how absurd Monckton’s intellectual flagellations, Anthony Watts will post them, and hordes of credulous commenters will heap adulation upon His Lordship. One of Monckton’s long-time fans is Willis Eschenbach–construction manager, climate hobbyist, and frequent contributor to both the blog and the Heartland disinformation conference. Willis, unfortunately, learned what happens if you express strong disagreement with anything Monckton says, i.e., Monckton threatens to sue you. Yes, Monckton has turned yet another corner, and has begun threatening his fellow climate change contrarians, in addition to the typical academics and reporters. Witness poor Willis begging his fallen hero to reconsider!
Christopher, please, I implore you as a friend, cease with the legal threats. Every time you make such a threat of legal action against some scientist that you disagree with, your credibility sinks another notch.
Yes, you have the means and the position and the title and the power and the friends and the money to cause trouble for people … do you truly not understand that your threats to use your power and money and advantages and hereditary title against some poor skeptical shlub like myself because you don’t like his claims just makes you look like an insecure bully? Is there truly no other way to defend yourself? Dang, dude, you can strip the hide off a buffalo with your unmatchable eloquence, or have half the world laughing at someone’s foolishness with your irascible wit … you don’t need legal means to set things straight, your intellect and your words are more than enough to do that.
Alas, Willis’s struggle isn’t merely against a momentary lapse in judgement by his hero. He is fighting INVIOLATE LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE–Bickmore’s First and Second Laws of Monckton.
Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton
For every person who publicly endorses Lord Monckton’s climate pronouncements for merely irrational reasons, there exists a threshold in Monckton’s behavior which, if crossed, will cause said person to regret their association.
Bickmore’s Second Law of Monckton
Any behavioral threshold posited by Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton will eventually be crossed by Lord Monckton.
Let’s back up and examine the series of events that led to this curious juncture, so that we might recognize the inexorable march of fate, driven by the Invisible Hand of Bickmore’s Laws of Monckton. Read More…
Four former EPA administrators from Republican administrations testified at a congressional hearing about the new EPA rule on coal plant CO2 emissions, urging action and supporting the rule. Articles from the AP, Reuters, National Journal, and Huffington Post.
Some coal companies bused in a bunch of coal miners to oppose the EPA rule, but one of them brought up an important point in the Reuters article.
Baker, a manager at one of Murray Energy’s mines in Marshall County, Ohio, wanted to attend because he worries EPA rules may not “take into account some of the towns that will be gone” if the pollution crackdown closes coal mines: “We need both sides to act together.”
This is why I have always preferred that Congress initiate climate action, rather than leaving it to the EPA. What is the EPA supposed to do about side effects like this one? Republicans have only themselves to blame if they force the administration to act unilaterally. (BTW, let us not forget that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled that the EPA has to take action on greenhouse gas emissions.)
Today’s lesson is on How to Float Legally Non-Actionable Accusations. Mark Steyn should sharpen his pencil and take notes, because he and his co-defendants in Michael Mann’s defamation suit could easily have avoided legal action by following some very simple procedures, which I will illustrate here.
The other day I posted another commentary on the case, in which I brought up the fact that Steyn had explained Mann’s Hockey Stick graph to his readers as a “climate model” whose “predictions” had failed to pan out. In fact, I think I mention that gaffe in every post I do about this case, because it’s MADE OF AWESOME! When the standard of proof Mann has to meet is to show that the defendants acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of their accusations against Mann, it’s like manna from heaven when one of the defendants demonstrates that he didn’t have a clue what the Hockey Stick even was before deciding to accuse Mann of producing it via fraudulent data manipulation for political ends. When I looked up one of my previous posts to get the link to Steyn’s article (called “SLAPPstick Farce”), however, the link kept redirecting my browser to Steyn’s homepage. This was the broken URL:
Next, I tried the search engine on Steyn’s site and on Google to search for the quoted phrases, but nothing turned up on Steyn’s site. Therefore, I next went to The Wayback Machine web archive to see if they had archived that page. When I entered the URL into The Wayback Machine, I found that this webpage had indeed been archived twice–once on Feb. 9, and once on May 4, of this year. When I clicked on the first archived version, I got the original article. When I clicked on the second, I got another redirect to Steyn’s homepage. (Click on the links, and you will see what I mean.) So for whatever reason, the page had been unavailable, redirecting traffic to Steyn’s homepage, for at least a month. It wasn’t just a fluke, evidently.
I thought it would be fun to play this up, because it seemed like this might constitute tenuous evidence that all my teasing about the “climate model” bit had actually convinced Steyn that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to keep the page up for people like me to wave in front of his coffee-mug-buying fans, who are financing his legal bills. I said:
Perhaps the mockery struck a nerve with Steyn. You will note, for instance, that my link to Steyn’s nonsensical explanation does not go to Steyn’s website, but to a web archive. He apparently took the article down from his site, perhaps belatedly realizing that it made him look like a buffoon… and didn’t exactly help his legal prospects.
TECHNIQUE #1. The fact is that I didn’t really have any really hard evidence that Steyn had taken the page down on purpose. I still don’t know whether there is some way this could happen via some software glitch, or whatever. Therefore, I threw in a couple “perhaps” qualifiers, and an “apparently”. I could float the idea that Steyn might have been acting like a total weasel, and even call him a “buffoon,” and he can’t do squat! This is why Steyn’s constant attempts to paint the lawsuit as an attempt to silence dissent are so stupid. He can dissent all he wants.
Well, yesterday Steyn came back with this rejoinder:
Actually, you can find the column in question here. And here. And in every public library that carries the print edition of National Review (the January 27th 2014 issue). And in a forthcoming anthology of mine due out this fall. If Barry Bickmore sends me his mailing address, I’ll make sure he gets a signed copy.
Horrors! Could I have been… shudder… WRONG? Well, maybe so, but let’s see how this plays out. You will note that the first of Steyn’s links is to:
Yep, the exact same address that redirected to Steyn’s homepage the day before… and a month before, according to The Wayback Machine. The second link was to the National Review website, where the article has a different title. I don’t know if I legitimately missed that one, because it actually has a different title on the NR site (so I might have missed it if I searched for the original title), and it was never archived by The Wayback Machine.
All of this seems rather suspicious to me. Could it be that Steyn is being a total weasel, and put the page back up again after I mentioned it was down?
TECHNIQUE #2. Note how I phrased that last sentence as a question, rather than a statement of fact. If I’m not confident that I have really hard proof, it would be stupid to come right out and accuse Steyn of weaselry. I’m no Internet guru, after all, so something might be going on that I wouldn’t think of on my own. But by phrasing it as a question after laying out the evidence, I made it so Steyn has no possible basis for a libel suit, and many readers might consider the evidence strong enough to believe the implied accusation.
Before I dismiss the class, let me make one last point. That is, in my opinion Mark Steyn is part of a conspiracy to promote a global, totalitarian government by encouraging Republicans to allow their party to be taken over by extremist ultra-Libertarians who are so obviously intellectually and mentally challenged that moderates and young people will flee to the Democrats. The subsequent collapse of the party will usher in the New World Order. Who knows what crimes he has committed to further the goals of the nefarious cabal? Theft? Extortion? Blackmail? MURDER?!!
POP QUIZ. In a short essay, explain how I was able to spout utter nonsense that I totally pulled out of you-know-where, accusing Mark Steyn of all kinds of awful things, and yet avoid any legal culpability.
In my current case, global warm-monger Michael E Mann is suing me for defamation for calling his famous climate-change “hockey stick” fraudulent.
Yes! Yes! Mann is suing Steyn and co. for saying his “hockey stick” paleoclimate reconstruction was fraudulently manipulated for political ends, even after multiple official inquiries (including one by the National Academy of Science) exonerated Mann of any wrongdoing. Compare that with what Steyn was saying the case was about a few months ago.
In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued. [Click here for full article.]
No, Lambkin, you aren’t being sued for “mocking” anyone. You are being sued for falsely accusing someone of a specific criminal act. If it were possible to file a defamation suit for mere mockery without having it summarily dismissed, I would be shaking in my boots, wondering if Steyn would sue me because I mocked his explanation of the Hockey Stick, quoted above. You see, the Hockey Stick isn’t a “climate model,” and it doesn’t predict anything. I further explained,
As I have pointed out a number of times, Mann doesn’t even need discovery to show reckless disregard for truth/falsity in Steyn’s case. Steyn went on record recently calling the Hockey Stick a “climate model” whose “predictions” had failed. What possible defense can he have against the claim that he showed reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of claims that Mann’s work was “fraudulent”, when he didn’t even know what the %$@! that work was?
His only real defense is what the Catholics call “invincible ignorance”. That is, he will have to claim that he is too stupid to understand the issue at hand, so no amount of study would have led him to a different conclusion, no matter how obvious.
Perhaps the mockery struck a nerve with Steyn. You will note, for instance, that my link to Steyn’s nonsensical explanation does not go to Steyn’s website, but to a web archive. He apparently took the article down from his site, perhaps belatedly realizing that it made him look like a buffoon… and didn’t exactly help his legal prospects. [UPDATE: Mark Steyn objects to this bit of speculation. See my next post for a reply.]
It may also be that Steyn realized the Invincible Ignorance defense was something of a longshot, because now he has fully committed himself to The Defense of Truth. That is, Mann can’t sue Steyn just for accusing him of fraudulently manipulating data–he actually has to show that the accusation is false. Maybe by… I don’t know… referring the jury to the several official inquiries that had already vindicated Mann and the more than a dozen subsequent studies that have vindicated the Hockey Stick? Steyn indicates that he stands firmly behind his accusations, however.
I maintain it is fraudulent, that it was fraudulently promoted by the IPCC and by Al Gore (as the great iconic all-you-need-to-know image of global warming), that Mann himself is fraudulent (falsely claiming on an industrial scale to be a Nobel Laureate) and that, indeed, even his court filings are fraudulent (falsely claiming to have been “exonerated” by the British Government and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and all kinds of other “Climategate” inquiries that have never ever investigated him).
Whew! Maybe Steyn didn’t have a clue what the Hockey Stick even was when he made his original accusation, but now that he has that all worked out, he’s SURE his accusation was REALLY TRUE… REALLY. How can he be so sure? Well, it’s like this… [crickets chirping]…. Uhhh… I guess it’s not so much that he has any evidence, per se, as that he has a CRACK TEAM OF INVESTIGATORS on the case. Not only does Steyn have a special e-mail address where his black-helicopter-watching groupies can e-mail him tips about the Mann case, but now he has even hired a mysterious, unnamed private investigator to finally reveal all those skeletons in Mann’s closet. Oh, the fact that nobody has ever seen these skeletons doesn’t fool Steyn, because his crack investigator can find stuff like that when it isn’t even there. Be afraid, Michael Mann. And watch what you put in your garbage cans.
Aside from the best free-speech legal team in the land, we’ve now taken on someone to direct this side of the investigation against Mann. He’s already working full-time on the case – he was in Washington yesterday for the Congressional hearings on the IPCC, and meeting with climate scientists and others. He’ll also be heading to Penn State and other places hither and yon. I’ve been very grateful for your suggestions since I struck out on my own five months ago, and if you’ve any more I hope you’ll continue to send them our team via email@example.com.
Yes, Inspector Steyn is on the case, and if he doesn’t succeed in finding a clue, he will at least very likely succeed at continuing to persuade the rubes to finance his legal battle via coffee mug sales and such.
It would not have been possible to take on someone to direct the investigative efforts in this case without your continued support…. If you’d like to be part of the resistance to Big Climate, we’ve brought back the SteynOnline gift certificate, [etc., etc., etc.].
This really gets to the heart of the matter. People like Mark Steyn are paid to sound very sure of themselves while they tell other Dunning-Kruger sufferers what they want to hear. If Steyn ever breaks character, and say, admits that maybe he could have possibly worded an article in a slightly less legally actionable manner… or settles the defamation suit out of court… or lets on that he just doesn’t have any hard evidence to contradict all those official inquiries that exonerated Mann… his funds will dry up. The only option is to never let up. He has to keep pretending he knows something damning about Mann, and that this is some giant battle for Freedom Of Speech, rather than an utterly mundane defamation suit. All those conspiracy nuts want COMMITMENT, because that’s the only way the insidious, massive cabal bent on world domination can ever be unmasked.
If it amuses you to watch Shaggy and Scooby posturing about the ongoing investigation into how Michael Mann managed to fabricate data that was later essentially replicated by dozens of other scientists using different temperature proxies and statistical methods, you may want to take a nostalgic trip back to some of my previous posts about a fan favorite at Climate Asylum–Lord Christopher Monckton! Remember when His Benificence threatened to sue Prof. John Abraham for revealing his many distortions and.. ahem… truth-deficient statements? And when the suit never materialized, he creepily indicated that he had investigators snooping into John’s finances? (Oh, and here, too.) Remember when I told a reporter that Monckton has a reputation for making stuff up, and he started claiming he was instigating an investigation of my conduct by my university? And then the reporter called up the University and they said there was no investigation, and never had been? Oh, and don’t forget the time he claimed to have “a senior Australian Police officer” investigating alleged “fraud” by a climate scientist. Ah, the memories.
My point, of course, is that the vague hand-waving about ongoing investigations has been done to death, so nobody is impressed by it except the same rubes who fall for it every time. Both Lord Monckton and Mark Steyn will die rich men, because that well will never dry up.
H/T to BigCityLib.
I wrote an op-ed for the Deseret News with the headline, “Who are the ‘alarmists’ here? Real conservatives value evidence,” in which I roasted a couple so-called Conservative commentators for their anti-Conservative determination to do nothing about climate change. Here’s the money quote:
So who is being “hysterical” and “alarmist?” On one hand, we have people using all the best scientific, political and economic analyses — complete with estimates of uncertainty and risk — to come up with recommendations on how to solve a pressing problem in the most cost-effective manner. On the other hand, we have self-proclaimed “conservatives,” supposed champions of personal responsibility, neglecting to obtain even a cursory familiarity with the best scholarship on the topic, blaming our inaction on what they assume (without evidence) China will do, extolling the unlimited capacity of humans to solve problems while excusing the present generation from even trying, and shrieking overwrought, nonsensical warnings about what serious climate action will cost.
It’s an old story. A stripper longs to be a ballerina, but the stuffy board at the local ballet company rejects her. She’s just a working class girl, who never had the money to pay for fancy ballet classes, and so EXCUSE HER for not living up to their standards of hoity-toitiness. Finally, the stripper gives up trying to play their game, and does another audition in which she dances really slutty, writhing around on the table where the board members are trying to write notes about the applicants, and knocking askew the board members’ conservative-looking glasses. The board members are shocked, but intrigued. They realize that maybe what ballet has been missing all this time is a massive injection of sluttiness to put some butts in the seats. Our heroine is admitted to the ballet company, and HOORAY FOR BEING YOURSELF!!!!
If real life is just like Flashdance, or innumerable other movies with essentially the same plot, then Mark Steyn is poised to win a stunning legal victory against Prof. Michael Mann. Yes, after two judges failed to dismiss Mann vs. National Review et al. based on Anti-SLAPP laws, because they found the suit is likely to succeed on its merits, defendant Mark Steyn fired his lawyers, and now he’s DOING IT HIS WAY!!! What is HIS WAY, you ask? Well, Steyn has filed a 33-page motion to dismiss the suit based on… wait for it… Anti-SLAPP laws, and cuz America is a free country, right? And FURTHERMORE, his motion files a countersuit against Mann, demanding at least $10,000,000 for infringing on his free speech rights (i.e., his right to falsely accuse people of crimes in print media), and cuz Mann is a big meanie who has sued others for the same thing.
If real life refuses to conform to Flashdance, however, the result might not be so favorable for Steyn. As one lawyer who happens to support Steyn about the free speech issue predicted, Mann’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the countersuit based on… Anti-SLAPP laws… and to award Mann attorney’s fees for having to deal with the frivolous countersuit. You see, Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect people against frivolous lawsuits… like Steyn’s. Mann’s lawyers note that “The specific legal theories upon which Steyn bases his counterclaims are unclear,” and that the only “evidence” Steyn presented didn’t have anything directly to do with this case.
Never fear, though! Steyn is busy getting his minions to finance his legal battles by buying more Mark Steyn coffee mugs and such from the steynonline.com store. And as he has constantly assured his backers, there’s no way he’s going to settle the lawsuit. So as long as Mark Steyn continues to just BE HIMSELF, playing the free speech martyr while twirling about the pole of shameless money grubbing, he might just make enough bank to cover the legal bills and any eventual judgement against him. The only losers will be the slack-jawed yokels who threw all their seed money onto the stage over a court case that Steyn could have avoided simply by inserting an “in my opinion” or two into his original, execrable piece. YOU GO, GIRL!!!
The Mann v. National Review et al. case (which I have previously written about here, here, and here) has the Free Speech Brigade out in force. These people have, or at least pretend to have, such extreme views about “free speech” that they will spout reams of dissembling nonsense to convince unsuspecting readers that they should be up in arms about the most pedestrian defamation case imaginable. The irony is that if they succeed at convincing their target audiences, but not at convincing judges and others who aren’t too lazy to read a couple legal documents, they might actually persuade some people to suppress their own Constitutionally protected speech.
EXHIBIT A is Professor Stephen L. Carter, of the Yale Law School, who recently wrote an opinion piece on Bloomberg entitled, “Climate-Change Skeptics Have a Right To Free Speech, Too“. Read More…
Whenever there is a big, public legal battle, it seems like the principals spend a lot of time talking about “setting precedents”. Sometimes this is legitimate, because if you can help it, you don’t want the bad guys to get away with any heinous miscarriages of justice. But in other cases, all the talk about “setting precedents” is just so much public posturing. Of course, both sides will accuse the other of posturing, but if you pay attention, sometimes it becomes apparent which is which. I believe this is now true for the Mann v. National Review et al. case, for instance. (The defendants are the National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg.) Read More…
Yea, Michael Mann hath prevailed upon the court to allow his defamation suit to go forward. And there was weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. (The Apocalypse of Barry 62:3)
Ever since climate scientist Mike Mann filed a defamation suit against defendants Mark Steyn, the National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Simberg, the reaction among the defendants and their climate contrarian audience has been predictable. Although the case is REALLY about the fact that the defendants published an accusation that Mike Mann had fraudulently manipulated the data that went into his famous “Hockey Stick” paleotemperature reconstructions, this fact never seems to make it into their public whine-sessions about their “free speech” rights. Steyn says he is being sued simply because he “mocked” Mann’s Hockey Stick work, or alternatively that he is accused of “the hitherto unknown crime of defaming a Nobel Laureate“. No, he’s just accused of defamation, which has been on the books for a while, now. All of this is to be expected, because you see, Steyn and co. want to lead the charge for “First Amendment Rights”, but they don’t want to foot the legal bills, so they are begging the rubes in their target audiences for money to mount their legal defense. After all, they can’t be seen to back down and apologize, add a caveat or two, or label their accusations as opinion, because then they would lose street-cred with the mouth-breathing conspiracy theorists who read their publications. Therefore, they publicly pretend that Big Brother is out to quash their right to disagree with New-World-Order-mandated science, so they can get the black-helicopter-watchers to hand over their stashes of gold bullion from their bunker safes.
Others are playing along. Conservative pundit and Constitutional Law professor (!!?) Hugh Hewitt asked Steyn, “How can people help you protect the 1st Amendment, because while the intricacies of this buffoonish trial are too impossible to explain, from my perspective as a Con Law professor, it’s outrageous what is going on.” (It’s not that complicated, Hugh. Keep reading.) Judith Curry sees “frightening implications of this case for free speech,” and whines that if accusing Mann of fraudulently manipulating his data qualifies as defamation, then so should Mann’s comments that she is “anti-science”, and a “serial climate misinformer”. (No, Judy, those comments merely indicate that Mann thinks you are pigheadedly wrong on a regular basis. He did not flatly accuse you of criminal conduct, or conduct that could get you fired from your job.)
All of this reminded me of an experience I had when I was a stupid teenager. About this time, my parents were cracking down on my curfew, and things like that. What right did they have? Ok, I sometimes got up to no good, but they couldn’t prove anything. I wanted FREEDOM, and to me that meant a lot fewer restrictions. Well, one day I was watching MTV, which is what stupid teenagers did in the 80’s, when they did a segment in which they asked some teenagers what the greatest problems were in the world. One skateboarder/stoner replied, “Censorship.” Within a parade of “Uhhhhs” and “likes” and such, he explained that any sort of limitations of any kind of “free expression” are evil. Brain-addled as I was, I still snorted and said, “That’s stupid.” Because, even at that stage, I was capable of recognizing that some forms of “free expression” trample on other people’s rights. Nowadays, these things are even easier; e.g., if I look up “freedom of speech” on TheFreeDictionary.com, I find that it is “the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.” Lots of caveats on their Free Legal Dictionary, too.
Now, that isn’t to say that I had any clue about the intricacies of free speech laws when I was a teenager, but I’ll tell you how I got a bit of an education about that when I was almost three decades older. I had recently provided detailed evidence that His Worship, Christopher Monckton, the 3rd Viscount of Fantasyland, had been telling Congress and anyone else who would listen that the IPCC had made certain temperature projections, which in fact they had not. Monckton’s predictable response was to explode in a mushroom cloud of bluster to impress his constituency (conspiracy theorists who wouldn’t know how to check his claims even if they wanted to). Among (a LOT of) other things, he said,
Some have said that the IPCC projection zone on our graphs should show exactly the values that the IPCC actually projects for the A2 scenario. However, as will soon become apparent, the IPCC’s “global-warming” projections for the early part of the present century appear to have been, in effect, artificially detuned to conform more closely to observation. In compiling our graphs, we decided not merely to accept the IPCC’s projections as being a true representation of the warming that using the IPCC’s own methods for determining climate sensitivity would lead us to expect, but to establish just how much warming the use of the IPCC’s methods would predict, and to take that warming as the basis for the definition of the IPCC projection zone.
So in essence, I had accused him of falsely claiming that the temperature projections he cited were from the IPCC, and he came right out and admitted that I was right (underneath a truckload of gratuitous self-justification). They weren’t the IPCC’s projections, as he had claimed, but rather the projections Monckton thought the IPCC should have given.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered that one of my U.S. Senators, Orrin Hatch, was promoting Monckton’s fake IPCC temperature projections to excuse his climate change inaction. I fired off a couple of op-eds in local newspapers, and in one of them I complained about “Hatch’s use of fraudulent data.”
Monckton then wrote a letter to my university’s administration, threatening to sue for libel, and I got called down to my dean’s office. The dean told me that the university legal team didn’t think Monckton had any case, so they were going to ignore him, but they asked that in the future I should avoid using words like “fraud”, which can have some legal implications. In other words, I was using the word “fraud” with the common definition, “a piece of trickery; a trick,” but the word also has some specific legal definitions, like this one.
A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.
Now, my pride was telling me not to back down. Heck, I could represent myself, and my defense would simply be that Monckton had admitted to fudging the facts (TO CONGRESS!!!). Given the non-legal definition of “fraud,” that is a perfectly reasonable thing to call what he did, I would say.
But the fact is that I’m not some sulky, stupid teenager, anymore. I didn’t want to drag my university into any row with Monckton, and after all, I didn’t really think I could prove “fraud” by the legal definition above, because for all I know, Monckton really believes in the climate nonsense he peddles… just like he might really believe that he is a member of Parliament and has invented a cure-all for quite a number of serious diseases, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Graves’ Disease, influenza, herpes, and the common cold. How should I know? Being an adult, since my visit with the dean I have avoided using the words “fraud” and “liar” in connection with Monckton. I figure that I can still call his fudged data “fabricated,” or call him “truth-challenged,” or a “crackpot,” etc. I don’t have to know his motives to say any of that, and legally, there is no way to trump up those words into anything actionable, as long as I provide substantial evidence for any factual claims I make. And I don’t feel like my “free speech” is being trampled upon just because I have to consider how my words might be misinterpreted to be a charge of criminal behavior. If Monckton had carried it any further (don’t worry–he threatens to sue his critics all the time, but never follows through,) I would have even offered to make this apology: “I apologize for calling what Lord Monckton claimed to be IPCC temperature predictions ‘fraudulent’. By that, I meant only that the data was false, and fabricated by him. Some definitions of the word ‘fraudulent’ imply malicious intent, but I really have no idea why His Lordship fabricated said data.”
libel 1) n. to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. Libel is the written or broadcast form of defamation, distinguished from slander which is oral defamation. It is a tort (civil wrong) making the person or entity (like a newspaper, magazine or political organization) open to a lawsuit for damages by the person who can prove the statement about him/her was a lie. Publication need only be to one person, but it must be a statement which claims to be fact, and is not clearly identified as an opinion. While it is sometimes said that the person making the libelous statement must have been intentional and malicious, actually it need only be obvious that the statement would do harm and is untrue. Proof of malice, however, does allow a party defamed to sue for “general damages” for damage to reputation, while an inadvertent libel limits the damages to actual harm (such as loss of business) called “special damages.” “Libel per se” involves statements so vicious that malice is assumed and does not require a proof of intent to get an award of general damages. Libel against the reputation of a person who has died will allow surviving members of the family to bring an action for damages. Most states provide for a party defamed by a periodical to demand a published retraction. If the correction is made, then there is no right to file a lawsuit. Governmental bodies are supposedly immune for actions for libel on the basis that there could be no intent by a non-personal entity, and further, public records are exempt from claims of libel. However, there is at least one known case in which there was a financial settlement as well as a published correction when a state government newsletter incorrectly stated that a dentist had been disciplined for illegal conduct. The rules covering libel against a “public figure” (particularly a political or governmental person) are special, based on U. S. Supreme Court decisions. The key is that to uphold the right to express opinions or fair comment on public figures, the libel must be malicious to constitute grounds for a lawsuit for damages. Minor errors in reporting are not libel, such as saying Mrs. Jones was 55 when she was only 48, or getting an address or title incorrect. 2) v. to broadcast or publish a written defamatory statement.
libel per se n. broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease (like syphilis), or dishonesty in business. Such claims are considered so obviously harmful that malice need not be proved to obtain a judgment for “general damages,” and not just specific losses.
Here are a few points I took away from these helpful definitions.
- If DC is like “most states,” all the defendants had to do was print a retraction (like the apology to Monckton I wrote above), and Mann couldn’t have sued. But no, they must FIGHT FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE!
- That’s ok, though, because all the defendants have to do is show that Mann really did manipulate his data! Oh, but since a number of scientific, governmental, and academic panels (including one from the National Research Council) have already examined the charges and found that any mistakes Mann made didn’t affect his results much, maybe that’s sort of unlikely that they can come up with the goods. And given the fact that Mark Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “global-warming climate model,” I would put that probability at exactly zero.
- Given that charges of academic fraud could lead to the firing of even tenured professors, Mann can claim “libel per se” and not even have to prove malice. In fact, the judge in the case has already ruled that he will not dismiss the case because a jury is likely to find that the false accusation “was published with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of whether it was false or not….” If all Mann has to prove is that the accusation was published with “reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”… did I mention that Steyn thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a climate model?
- If the defendants had thrown in a few weasel words in the first place, clearly indicating they were providing opinions, rather than factual accusations, they couldn’t have been sued.
So while it’s really entertaining to watch the defendants squirm and posture, I wish they would put on their big-boy pants and admit fault, because even black-helicopter-watchers don’t deserve to be bilked of their money under a false pretenses (i.e., the pretense that the case is really about something other than run-of-the-mill defamation, or the pretense that the defendants even know enough about the “Hockey Stick” controversy to say anything coherent about it). And if people like Judith Curry and Hugh Hewitt really do want to protect human rights, they should find a better persecuted-poster-boy-for-free-speech than Mark Steyn, for heaven’s sake.
If you haven’t been following the Michael Mann v. National Review, Inc. et al. case, here’s a quick summary. Rand Simberg, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thought he had a clever way to capitalize on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Compare Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to Jerry Sandusky, and accuse him of producing fraudulent scientific data! This charge was repeated by Mark Steyn, blogging for the National Review magazine, and of course, neither Steyn nor Simberg had the presence of mind to clearly label their accusations as opinion, or provide any caveats whatsoever, or… you know… provide any “evidence” for the accusations. Having put up with such accusations by wingnuts for a number of years, Mann sued. Of course, the defendants have been complaining about their “free speech” rights, and trying to get the case thrown out based on certain laws meant to stop people from using defamation/libel suits to stifle legitimate public discourse. But there are limits on “free speech,” and now two different judges have ruled that they would allow the case to proceed, because it is likely to succeed if presented to a jury. Meanwhile, Mark Steyn and others at the National Review… well, especially Steyn… can’t seem to keep their pie-holes shut long enough to keep from making their prospects even worse. For instance, Steyn let loose with some searing remarks about how stupid and incompetent the first judge (who recently retired) was, which appears to have resulted in a parting of the ways between Steyn (and probably the NR) and their lawyers, so that now Steyn is representing himself (badly). Anyway, if you want to protect your “right” to publicly throw out baseless accusations of fraud, it’s going to cost you some cabbage, and so lately Steyn has been out begging the rubes to finance his Crusade for Freedom and Justice. Recently, he did so on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. Hewitt was quite supportive of Steyn, but given that he claims to be a Constitutional Law professor (and given Steyn’s comments on the show,) I thought it likely that Steyn might not have been completely forthcoming about the nature of the case. Here’s the note I sent Hewitt through his Facebook page. We’ll see if he was really misinformed, or just another rube Steyn is trying to manipulate into paying his bills.
Dear Hugh,I am an active Republican and a geochemistry professor at Brigham Young University. I noticed that you had Mark Steyn on your show the other day, complaining about how Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him had not been dismissed, and trying to drum up some donations to help him with his legal defense. I thought you should know, however, that Steyn wasn’t being completely honest with you about the case.On your show, Steyn seemed to imply that the case was about his right to disagree with Mann’s “Hockey Stick” reconstructions of paleotemperatures over the last 1000 years or so. This is not the case. Steyn is being sued because he made the accusation that Mann “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science,” and that Mann’s scientific work was “fraudulent”. Both judges in the case have noted that this accusation was a statement of fact rather than mere opinion, and can hypothetically be proved true or false. It is therefore grounds for a defamation suit, if it can be shown that 1) the accusation is false, and 2) Steyn made the accusation either knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.I don’t know whether Mann will win the case, or not, but it is clearly not just some frivolous suit meant to stifle legitimate public discourse. For one thing, the accusation is clearly false. The main charge against the “Hockey Stick” work was that Mann and his colleagues had misused principal components analysis (a statistical technique) to obtain a certain outcome. But when scientific bodies such as the National Research Council reviewed the case, they found that the statistics could have been done better, but the mistakes didn’t change the results much. They also found no evidence of “fraud”. Now, if you were going to commit scientific “fraud,” wouldn’t you fudge your data so as to actually obtain substantially different results? The “fraud” charge is just ridiculous, whether or not you believe the “Hockey Stick” accurately describes the temperature evolution over the last 1000 years. For another thing, it seems very likely that Mann’s legal team can show that, at the very least, Steyn made the accusation with “reckless disregard for the truth.”Why am I so confident about that? Because several scientific, academic, and governmental panels had already ruled there was no evidence of fraud, and Steyn knew that. Second, because Steyn can’t seem to keep his ignorant mouth shut. On your show, for instance, he claimed that the National Research Council agrees with him. About what? Certainly not about the fraud charge, which is what he actually being sued over. Also consider this passage from one of Steyn’s recent columns.“In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued.”Ummm… Aside from the fact that Steyn is once again implying that he is being sued for something other than calling Mann’s work “fraudulent”, I note that Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “climate model” that made predictions about the 21st century. It isn’t. It didn’t. So in other words, Steyn is insisting on his right to publicly call a scientist’s work “fraudulent”, when he clearly has made no effort to understand what said scientific work is even about. So let’s just please ignore all his posturing about his right to his opinion about the matter. He doesn’t even care what the facts are.So, Hugh, I believe you said you are a Constitutional Law professor. Are you still quite so hot to defend Steyn’s foolishness?Sincerely,Barry Bickmore
Do you know what the polar vortex is? Have you ever heard of it? Well, they just created it for this week. Actually, there is a piece. I’ve got a piece in the Stack that actually makes the case that all of this frigid, chilling cold is due to global warming, strange as it may sound, it says. Other wackos are saying it’s a great example of climate change, but regardless, the agenda is that we’re responsible, we’re causing it, we have to pay the price. And so any weather extreme now is said to be man-made, and therefore it fulfills the leftist agenda on this.
Meteorologists have actually been using the term “polar vortex” for some time–far beyond the past week, as Rush might gather by looking up “Polar Vortex” on Wikipedia and checking some of the references… such as this NASA press release from 2001, which is entitled, “Stratospheric Polar Vortex Influences Winter Cold, Researchers Say”. A little Googling might uncover this 1971 article in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences that mentions the “polar vortex”.
Now, I don’t know how strong the link between global warming and a weakening polar vortex (which has been shown allow more extreme weather outbreaks) is, but at least the basic idea makes physical sense. And the articles I’ve seen (like this one from Time Magazine) make sure to point out that the research that posits this link is fairly preliminary.
What I do know is that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t know anything about science, as he proves essentially every time he opens his mouth about a scientific topic. Given how much the guy is talking every day, I don’t understand how he could possibly know enough about anything to ever open his mouth with any conviction.
Judy Fahys has another article in the Salt Lake Tribune, in which she asked Utah Scientists (especially those who are Republicans or used to be) why only 6% of scientists now identify with the GOP. I hope my fellow Republicans keep asking themselves that question.
As the new Chairman of the House Environment Subcommittee, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) isn’t about resting on his laurels, refusing to spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars. No, he is busy spending your money to protect corporations from having to shoulder the cost of adverse health effects of air pollution. If corporations benevolently distribute jobs to the poor, boosting the economy, is it their fault everyone else has to put up with the asthma and various other diseases that go with it?
Ok, wait… air pollution isn’t very popular, nowadays, so how can House Republicans let the polluters off the hook, while acting like they’re being completely reasonable? I KNOW. They can attack scientists for being part of the liberal conspiracy to take away our GOD-GIVEN FREEDOMS!
Judy Fahys reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that Rep. Stewart has teamed up with fellow genius Rep. LaMar Smith (R-Texas) to demand that the EPA release the data used in a couple large studies of the health effects of air pollution. Now, sure–lots of other studies (using different data) have confirmed the results of those two studies, and an independent industry- and government-funded institute already spent 3 years confirming the results of the studies–but the fact is that the studies in question have slavishly followed ultra-liberal “laws” that forbid them from releasing health data of patients in any form that would allow someone to connect the data to the person (e.g., by looking up obituaries). THEY MUST BE HIDING SOMETHING!!! I mean, what other purpose could ultra-liberal privacy laws have, than to provide cover for a giant conspiracy?
One of the researchers being attacked is BYU economist C. Arden Pope. Judy interviewed me, too–presumably because I’m a Republican scientist, and quoted me strongly implying that Stewart is a nut.
For Barry Bickmore, a BYU geochemist, the attacks on air-pollution science are the latest examples of “nutty beliefs” about scientific issues from the GOP.
Bickmore, who takes on “climate deniers” in his Climate Asylum blog, said this controversy is the latest example of the manufacturing of uncertainty to accomplish political aims, just as politicians have done in the past to discredit the science surrounding secondhand smoke and the addictiveness of nicotine.
“This is just par for the course,” he said. “This is the same thing going on — some of the same people, too.”
I just watched a TED video of Margaret Heffernan talking about “The Dangers of Willful Blindness”. (She’s also written a book called Willful Blindness, apparently. See her official website.) Heffernan talks about why some people turn a blind eye to glaring problems, while others choose to become “whistleblowers”.
Her introductory example was the case of Libby, Montana, where one woman, Gayla Benefield, started asking questions when both her parents died young, and she noticed an abnormal number of older men on oxygen tanks in the town. She wondered whether the problem could have anything to do with the vermiculite mine that was the main economic engine of the town, and came to find out that the vermiculite mined there actually contains some asbestos. [Note: Heffernan says that vermiculite is a highly toxic form of asbestos, but that’s not true. Vermiculite is pretty harmless–it’s just that this particular deposit also contained the minerals tremolite and actinolite, which are asbestos minerals. Sorry, I’m a mineralogy teacher.] At first, Benefield mostly just annoyed her neighbors, who didn’t want to look at the issue seriously, but that ticked her off and she kept at it. Some of the neighbors even printed bumper stickers that said, “Yes, I’m from Libby, Montana. No, I don’t have asbestosis.” When the government finally stepped in and started screening the residents of the town, they found out that there was an asbestosis problem, and as a result the mortality rate in the town was 80 TIMES HIGHER THAN ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY. Not 80% higher. 80 TIMES higher. Not 80 times higher than average. 80 times higher than ANYWHERE ELSE in the country.
Now, I don’t have to tell my readers how I think this story relates to being a Republican Earth scientist who takes climate change seriously. But watch the video and pay attention to how Heffernan describes the excuses people make for remaining willfully blind. See if you don’t find eerie similarities with the excuses you hear coming from the “Do-Nothing-About-Climate” crowd.
Climate change wasn’t the first issue about which I had encountered willful blindness, though. Back in 2000-2001, I worked on a project having to do with leaked nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Eastern Washington. This is where most of the plutonium for US nuclear weapons was produced since the 40’s, and production stopped in the late 80’s after a safety inspector blew the whistle on some of the UNBELIEVABLY unsafe things that were being done. Since it was part of the weapons complex, all this stuff never came out before then because it was all hush-hush, national defense kind of stuff. Maybe a couple million gallons of high-level nuclear waste have been released into the subsurface, a few miles by groundwater flow away from the Columbia River. When I started the project, I decided to read up on the history of the site, and let me tell you, it cured quite a bit of my aversion to environmental regulation. If you want to read a good historical account, see Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America’s Nuclear Arsenal, by Michael D’Antonio.
This isn’t a uniquely Republican, or American problem. It’s just the way people are. But while I can use this fact of life to make myself feel a little more kindly toward people who brush off serious concerns about things like climate change, it also makes me want to give them a good shake and a couple backhanded slaps. If facing the truth is going to make people fly into a panic, well maybe they just need to buck up.
Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science…. Science works in evidence through best explanations, most credible theories, and so in a sense we’re at a disadvantage because we have to play by the rules, the other side doesn’t… They’re not offering up credible alternatives or explanations. In most cases they’re trying to pick holes. Not real holes, just things that the public will think are holes, in the science. We are at a disadvantage.
Trzupek was so incensed because it was obvious to him that,
Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”
That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.
My response (which was similar to those of Tamino and Phil Plait) was to point out that Professor Mann was correct, and Trzupek appeared to be hopelessly confused. “Credible theories” (which are just plausible explanations for some set of data) are the best science has to offer, and even if those theories happen to coincide with “absolute truths,” human beings would have no way of absolutely “proving” that. This is all standard philosophy of science fare, which Trzupek could have found discussed in any introductory textbook on the subject. It’s also an important distinction in a practical sense, because the refusal to accept any of our explanations as the final truth is one thing that makes modern science a much more powerful system of thought than the various natural philosophies that preceded it. Moreover, it’s important to understand that, since scientific theories are all tentative to one degree or another, they are all susceptible to nitpicking. All of them have a few grey areas where the predictions don’t exactly match the data, and many times we don’t know whether the problem is with the theory, the data, or both. And even if we know the theory isn’t quite right, it still may be very good for predicting some things, so we hang onto it until someone comes up with a “better” theory–one that explains more data, or at least explains the same data in a more simple and elegant manner.
All of this is quite inconvenient for the intellectually lazy, because it requires continual sifting and re-sifting of evidence. There usually aren’t any “silver bullets”–single tests that can make or break a theory–and so there is always at least a little subjectivity involved in theory choice. This makes it very difficult or impossible to achieve 100% consensus among scientists about anything.
It’s interesting to read the discussion in the comments section of Trzupek’s post, as well as the repost on Watt’s Up With That? Some of the commenters were hard-core climate change contrarians–real Mann-haters–but even some of them had to point out that, in this case, Mann was right.
Now Trzupek has written a follow-up post to reassure his readers that he’s not as uninformed as his initial post makes him appear.
Ah, me. It seems that I wrote a post herebouts that was intended to hold AGW-panickers like Michael Mann to something of a standard, that standard being that they should have an obligation to show that their theories are pretty darn reliable and consistent with real world evidence.
In my day job, dealing with air quality science and regulations, that’s the kind of standard I am held to by the EPA, and it seems reasonable to expect that people who expect us to change our entire way of life in deference to a theory should be held to the same kind of standard. In attempting to make that point, I used the word that Mann had used – “proof” – and that it is of course that is the word that Mann’s supporters seized upon to demonstrate what an utter pratt I am….
Anyway, the point of my particular screed was not to reaffirm the difference between Chesterson’s (rather obvious) point that two plus two equals four because there can be no other result, and the scientific need for proof in our discipline’s eternal search for truth. It was to re-emphasize the fact that offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality is even more important in the scientific sphere. Such evidence is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced.
Did you get that? When Trzupek accused Professor Mann of “redefin[ing] science” by saying that science doesn’t deal in “proof,” but instead only has recourse to “credible theories”… when Trzupek said that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are but steppingstones to those absolute truths… he was really just saying that scientific theories should be supported by evidence. Well, so much for “absolute truths and proofs.” But then, how was Mike Mann “redefining” anything? How can a theory be “credible” if it isn’t backed by evidence, and how can it be a “best explanation” if it doesn’t explain real data?
Could it be that, just as his critics charged, Trzupek’s criticism of Mike Mann was completely unfounded… just another in a string of bizarre attempts by unhinged wackos to target a scientist whose work, although not without faults, has repeatedly withstood the most intense scrutiny?
Trzupek doesn’t want to be seen that way, and it was especially distressing to him that his article was criticized on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. You see, Trzupek is a fan of Phil’s, and much of his follow-up post is a friendly invitation for Phil to reconsider his views about climate change “skeptics” [sic].
If you’re buying into Mann’s argument that everyone on the “other side” is a tool of the energy lobby, there’s no point in having a conversation — for that’s not really an argument, but is rather an excuse to not have an argument. I’ve interacted with a lot of people on the skeptical side of the aisle and they are – without exception – good, decent, sincere and well-meaning folks. That goes in particular for the folks at Heartland. People like Joe and Diane Bast, James Taylor, Jay Lehr, and Jim Lakely are the sorts of people you’d like to have as your neighbors. That’s the reason I choose to help them out whenever I can and why I have never – and would never – accept a dime from them.
Well, I can’t speak for Phil Plait, but since Rich Trzupek’s plea seems sincere, I figure I’ll try to explain to him why he has such a hard time getting those on the other side of the fence to take him seriously.
I noted that in your latest Heartland blog post you seem bothered that Phil Plait, a scientist whose work you greatly admire, was so dismissive of your article about how Michael Mann was trying to “redefine” science. You seem very sincere in your efforts to convince Phil and others that you and your friends associated with, or employed by, the Heartland Institute are nice, sincere people with genuine questions about the validity of mainstream climate science. And while you joke about what a thick skin you have because you “routinely get called everything from a liar to a baby-killer,” I can tell that it bothers you that you are criticized so vigorously “when [you] go after the Sierra Club or NRDC or other environmental organizations for blowing the tiniest risk out of all reasonable proportions.”
I think I understand your point of view, to some extent. I’m a geochemistry professor, but I’m also a lifelong pro-business Republican who has never picketed or marched to support or protest any cause of any kind, environmental or otherwise. I’m just not the type. I’ve witnessed excesses by some environmentalists, too, and while I agree that these people are usually well intentioned, I just don’t think they have always thought through the consequences of the policies they advocate.
I’m also a former climate change “skeptic”–meaning that I didn’t buy that humans were going to cause much damage by burning fossil fuels. Now that I have taken a harder look at the issue, I have changed my mind. Yes, there are extremists on this side of the fence–there always are–but the people running the show over here are, in my opinion, reasonable people and conscientious scientists who have no interest in trashing the world economy or taking extreme measures to reduce the human population. The parts I am able to check of the science they use to back up their claims seem generally good and reasonable, and most of these people seem willing to bend when it comes to the kinds of solutions they will support.
“Good and reasonable” science isn’t necessarily right, however, so I probably would still be more of a fence sitter if I hadn’t also been checking into the claims of some of the most prominent contrarian voices. I really wanted to believe them, but what I have found so far is that the most prominent contrarians–the ones hailed as climate Galileos and the like–are either complete crackpots or are so blinded by ideology that they don’t recognize that their science on the subject is just awful. Oh, it’s not that I never see anything coming from that side of the fence that’s worth hearing, but those points are really few and far between. For the most part, what I’ve seen over there has seemed kind of creepy.
If you really want people like Phil Plait–scientists who are on the other side of the fence on the climate change issue and have done some checking for themselves–to take you seriously, I have to say that you have an uphill climb ahead of you. Allow me to point out a few aspects of your last two Heartland posts, for instance, where I think you were shooting yourself in the foot.
1. Your first argument was flatly wrong, and your second made no sense. Reasonable people try to be more self-critical than that.
All your talk about how Michael Mann was “redefine[ing] science” because he said that science deals in credible theories and best explanations, not “proof,” was just wrong. Pick up any introductory philosophy of science textbook, and you’ll be treated to historical case studies and logical analyses to demonstrate that Mann had his description of the nature of science exactly right. You’ll also find that your statement that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are “how you [get] to those truths,” is wrong. Scientific theories don’t graduate into “absolute truths.” They remain theories, no matter how well supported they are.
But then in your follow-up post you seemed to switch gears, claiming that all you meant was that science requires “offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality.” And what, exactly, did Professor Mann ever say that would make you think he believes otherwise? Considering how pointed your language was about “absolute truth” and “redefining science,” it seems clear that you are backing off your original claim, but refusing to apologize to Professor Mann for an obviously misguided criticism.
2. Your initial criticism and subsequent failure to apologize make it seem like you are part of the rabid lynch mob who have been trying to ruin Mike Mann’s reputation over the past several years. These people creep us out.
The fact that you failed to apologize to Mike Mann for your obvious blunder, but instead decided to bluster about how thick-skinned you are, daring your audience to compare you to Jerry Sandusky, makes me wonder whether you are one of those obsessed weirdos who are constantly trying to ruin Prof. Mann.
Climate change contrarians generally seem to have problems with Mike Mann’s “hockey stick” reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures over the past few hundred to couple thousand years. I understand that it’s a visually stunning illustration of the fact that the Earth’s surface temperature has lately been doing something different than it was in the relatively recent past, but it’s not as if it’s the lynchpin of all modern climate science. I would think it was, considering the rabidness of the response from the contrarians.
The anti-hockey-stick mob includes two camps. Those in the first camp are the sort who can read some innocuous reference to “Mike’s Nature trick” in an e-mail and become irreversibly convinced that there is some giant conspiracy going on. The others are the ones who, even though they don’t have a clue what a “principal component” is, are convinced that nitpicking, poorly done statistical analyses (such as those by McIntyre and McKitrick) prove that Mann purposefully did something funny with his data… even though over a dozen subsequent paleo-proxy reconstructions, using different proxy mixes and different statistical techniques, by different groups, have given very close to the same answer Mann et al. got.
How many panels need to clear Mann of wrongdoing, and how many studies need to show that, whatever the flaws in his analysis, his answer was pretty close, before these people stop trying to get various rabidly anti-government attorneys general and congressmen to launch investigations to harass Mann? To those of us over on the other side of the fence, this behavior is really creepy–something you’d see in a horror movie about some murderous cult.
3. You demonstrate almost a complete lack of understanding about how scientists use models, and what surface temperatures have to do with climate physics.
After we strip away the ridiculous charge that Professor Mann was “redefin[ing] science,” what we’re left with is your contention that the standard climate models are obviously wrong because the warming trend over the last 15 years isn’t statistically significant.
For me (as someone with some experience doing numerical modeling of Earth processes,) it’s a bit odd to see people huddled around the global temperature reports every month to see for how many years they can claim the warming trend isn’t statistically significant. While the models don’t predict that such a long period with statistically insignificant warming will happen very often, they do predict that they will happen, once in a while. But suppose the flatter (not totally flat) trend goes on for a few more years? What will that prove? It seems to me that it will prove that the models aren’t that great at predicting ENSO fluctuations (which we already knew), because the most obvious physical reason for the recent trend is that lately the ENSO cycle has leaned more toward the La Niña end. In other words, more heat than average has been shoved down into the deeper ocean due to fluctuations in ocean currents. Measurements of ocean heat content at different depths bear this out, and show that the Earth as a whole (not just the narrow band right at the surface) has been heating up just like it has been for decades. When the cycle flips and we start getting more El Niños, the surface temperature will go up faster.
Students in pretty much every numerical modeling course are introduced to this quotation by the statistician, George Box. “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” Even if the physics represented by the models were absolutely perfect, plugging those into a 3D grid where the boxes are kilometers across would lead inevitably to errors, especially in the short term. This is especially true for a chaotic system like the weather. So the idea that we should conclude they are useless just because they don’t USUALLY predict warming slowdowns quite so long seems patently absurd to me.
If you want scientists to take you seriously, make some kind of effort to learn how they use models, and what deviations from model projections might mean. Take the time to learn the difference between short-term chaos and long-term predictability. And take the time to learn a little climate physics–which will teach you that the short-term surface temperature isn’t necessarily a good indication of how much total heat the Earth is absorbing.
4. You are writing for the Heartland Institute. Like it or not, their reputation adheres to you, especially when you specifically put forward certain Heartland operatives and associated scientists as wonderful folks just out to find the truth. We have experience with these people.
Take your Heartland pal James Taylor, for instance. I don’t know the guy personally, but it’s obvious from his writing that he’s a libertarian ideologue who is WAY too easily convinced that any study tending to confirm his bias against the utility of government regulation is the last nail in the coffin of mainstream science. For instance, he proclaimed, regarding a recent study by Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell, that “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism.” Well, the thing is that Taylor is a lawyer, and wouldn’t have a clue about the significance of any satellite data if it smacked him upside the head. It turned out that the situation wasn’t quite as dire as Spencer and Braswell claimed. They were making a statistical argument without calculating any uncertainties, for one thing, and they just happened to leave out most of the data they said they had analyzed, some of which completely undercut their main argument. In the end, all that could be said of their analysis was that it showed that the timing of certain short-term fluctuations in weather is better predicted by some GCMs than others. Which was already well known.
Now take another of your Heartland pals, Jay Lehr, Ph.D. Jay isn’t a mere lawyer like James Taylor–he’s a groundwater hydrologist with a Ph.D. [UPDATE: Yeah, Jay Lehr is a really great guy. He was successfully prosecuted for defrauding the EPA.] A few years ago, he gave a glowing review to Roy Spencer’s book, The Great Global Warming Blunder. For Lehr, Roy Spencer is “one of the nation’s leading climate scientists”.
Spencer documents that the science clearly shows man does not in fact control the climate in any significant way and the natural forces that continually alter the earth’s climate are relatively easy to discern and understand….
I can assure you that anyone with honesty and an IQ exceeding plant life will, after reading Spencer’s book, at last understand the workings and proper role of mathematical climate models.
Being a “skeptic” who rejects the majority view of climate specialists because he’s a tough-minded iconoclast–a true scientist–he came to these conclusions after he checked into Spencer’s models for himself, right?
Wrong. I know this because I did an extensive review of Spencer’s book myself. One of Spencer’s main claims was that a natural mode of climate oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), has lately been the main driver of global climate change, and that climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low. He supported this conclusion by creating a simple climate model that, when forced by the PDO index, still explained most of the 20th century warming. I reproduced Spencer’s model, showing that there were so many free parameters that an infinite number of solutions existed. The statistical technique he used to obtain “best-fit” parameters could have given him any climate sensitivity he wanted. In addition, to get his model to resemble the data at all, he had to start his model wildly out of equilibrium in the year 1900. Physicist Arthur Smith followed up my review by doing a mathematical proof, showing that Spencer’s model HAS TO have an infinite number of solutions. He also showed that if the model had been started 1000 years ago, Spencer would have had to have the starting temperature be a few trillion degrees out of equilibrium to properly reproduce the 20th century trend. In other words, Spencer’s modeling effort was pure junk. It didn’t even deserve the epithet “junk science.”
You might object that you’d believe Roy Spencer and Jim Lehr over me any day, but not so fast. If you got a degree in chemistry, you should have the tools to learn how to evaluate Spencer’s model. I can teach you how to code it in MATLAB (and maybe even Excel), explain all the relevant statistics, and so on. We could make a “Roy Spencer’s PDO Model Study Group,” and include others you trust. Roy Spencer refuses to answer my criticisms, so maybe a smart guy like you could do him a favor and put them to rest.
Finally, Heartland always invites Christopher Monckton to speak at their climate conference. Oh, please.
In any case, this is what other scientists see when they look at Heartland–a few ideologues of varying intelligence who aren’t nearly as “skeptical” as they want people to believe.
5. No really, we’re talking about the Heartland Institute, which has shilled for the tobacco industry, for Pete’s sake.
For me, it’s not the climate change disinformation campaign that’s the worst thing about Heartland–it’s the tobacco. Back in the 1990’s, Heartland was paid by Philip Morris to distribute materials questioning the health risks of second-hand smoke. [UPDATE: Heartland is actually still partly funded by tobacco companies like Philip Morris and Reynolds. H/T John Mashey.] Here we have a case where, after decades of obfuscation, the tobacco industry now generally admits that smoking is harmful to health, but now they are trying to maintain that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful. Smokers can’t sue the tobacco companies because cigarette packages have health warnings stamped on them, and the tobacco companies want to protect themselves from people who are involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke by maintaining that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful. A committee of the UK House of Commons, after conducting an inquiry in 2000 about the tobacco industry’s behavior in such matters, concluded,
In analysing the past and present record of the tobacco industry’s response to the health risks of smoking we have observed a pattern. It seems to us that the companies have sought to undermine the scientific consensus until such time as that position appears ridiculous. So the companies now generally accept that smoking is dangerous (but put forward distracting arguments to suggest that epidemiology is not an exact science, so that the figures for those killed by tobacco may be exaggerated); are equivocal about nicotine’s addictiveness; and are still attempting to undermine the argument that passive smoking is dangerous. The current exceptions to this – based on the evidence they gave us – are firstly Philip Morris who claim no longer to comment on these issues except to protect themselves in law and secondly Imperial who claim not to know whether smoking is dangerous or nicotine addictive.
The Philip Morris company (Heartland’s former sugar-daddy) is wise to keep their pie-holes shut about what they know about the health effects of second-hand smoke. A 2005 article in The Lancet summarizes their quandary as follows.
The tobacco industry maintained, for many years, that it was unaware of research about the toxic effects of smoking. By the 1970s, however, the industry decided that it needed this information but they were unwilling to seek it in a way that was open to public scrutiny. By means of material from internal industry documents it can be revealed that one company, Philip Morris, acquired a research facility, INBIFO, in Germany and created a complex mechanism seeking to ensure that the work done in the facility could not be linked to Philip Morris. In particular it involved the appointment of a Swedish professor as a ‘co-ordinator’, who would synthesise reports for onward transmission to the USA. Various arrangements were made to conceal this process, not only from the wider public, but also from many within Philip Morris, although it was known to some senior executives. INBIFO appears to have published only a small amount of its research and what was published appears to differ considerably from what was not. In particular, the unpublished reports provided evidence of the greater toxicity of sidestream than mainstream smoke, a finding of particular relevance given the industry’s continuing denial of the harmful effects of passive smoking. By contrast, much of its published work comprises papers that convey a message that could be considered useful to the industry, in particular casting doubt on methods used to assess the effects of passive smoking.
Fast-forward to 2003, and we find one of your Heartland pals, James Taylor, promoting a study that “concluded that secondhand smoke has little if any negative impact on mortality.” Was this study credible? Taylor quoted two people, Jacob Sullum, a journalist writing for the Washington Times, and Kimberly Bowman of the American Council on Science and Health, saying that this new study was actually consistent with most previous studies.
Really? Because that’s not the vibe I get from the medical research community. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer said the following in a 2004 meta-analysis of all significant published research on second-hand smoke health effects.
These meta-analyses show that there is a statistically significant and consistent association between lung cancer risk in spouses of smokers and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke from the spouse who smokes. The excess risk is of the order of 20% for women and 30% for men and remains after controlling for some potential sources of bias and confounding.
Boy, that seems strange… until one realizes that Jacob Sullum is a journalist who regularly writes for various libertarian-leaning publications about how smokers and drug users are picked on, and the American Council on Science and Health is another industry-funded think-tank that regularly argues against environmental regulations, although at least it usually acknowledges adverse health effects from tobacco (now that nobody would take them seriously if they didn’t). And it turns out that the study in question was funded by the tobacco industry.
That’s why most scientists don’t merely see the Heartland Institute as a collection of deluded ideologues. Think-tanks-for-hire that would even cater to Big Tobacco truly creep us out. We see them as the sort of ghouls who, whether for profit or in service of their extreme libertarian ideologies, can all too easily convince themselves to promote activities that demonstrably hurt, or even kill, many innocent people. They accomplish this by acting as if the scientific community is in their corner, when really they are leaving out most of the evidence and citing mostly industry-funded studies and think-tanks, as well as a few genuine crackpots.
Once in a while, the “concerned citizen” facade falls, and we get to see how these ghouls really think. This happened to the Chairman of the RJR Nabisco corporation at the 1996 annual shareholders meeting. (Here’s the transcript. See pp. 61-63.) One Ms. Donley asked the Chairman, Charles M. Harper, whether he had children or grandchildren, and whether he wanted anyone smoking around those children. The Chairman initially replied that he would try to discourage the children from smoking, but he didn’t want to restrict their right to be smokers. Ms. Donley wasn’t having it.
MS. DONLEY: That’s not my question, sir. Excuse me for interrupting you. I’m not asking you whether you want them to smoke, I’m asking whether you want people to smoke around them.
THE CHAIRMAN: I will not restrict anybody’s right to smoke. If the children don’t like to be in a smoky room, and I wouldn’t like to be, they’ll leave. I don’t know if you’ve got any grandchildren; I do. And if there is smoke around that’s uncomfortable, they’ll leave.
MS. DONLEY: An infant cannot leave a room.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well–okay. At some point they begin to crawl, okay? And then they begin to walk, and so on. Anyway, I guess that’s enough said.
Apparently, the crowd of shareholders was applauding the Chairman, which shocked the next person to speak, one Father Michael Crosby.
MR. CROSBY: Mr. Harper, I was going to say something else, but when people clap at what you just said, that–that children will crawl out of a room and will have to wait until they crawl–
THE CHAIRMAN: That’s a bit of a misstatement, Father.
MR. CROSBY: I mean, that is insensitive. And I think that’s terribly insensitive that the shareholders would clap at a statement like that. I don’t want to do a guilt thing, but it really is a disappointing thing. You might disagree, but children should not have to take in other peoples’ smoke. We don’t need it and we can walk out; a child can’t.
And these are the kind of people that Heartland has shilled for–the sort who care more about share prices than dead babies. If the babies don’t like it, they can learn to crawl and take a hike.
You have a tough row to hoe if you want scientists to take you seriously, my friend. I know you say that having people call you a baby-killer has toughened you up, but if it really does bother you, your first move should be to dump Heartland like a hot brick.
I told you so. For years, I have been arguing that scientists and science educators should stop talking about science as if it were possible to completely “prove” a hypothesis or theory. Instead, we should be MILITANTLY trying to get our students and the public to understand that science is always tentative, involves creativity, and so on. For example, I argued this point in a recent talk at DePauw University, a 2010 blog post, and a couple 2009 papers published in the Journal of Geoscience Education. Here’s a passage from one of the papers.
Scientists and science educators are often frustrated when their students or the general public reject certain scientific theories (e.g., evolution or climate change) without a proper hearing. We then complain that if people only understood the nature of science (NOS,) they wouldn’t be so militant in their resistance. This is true, but much of the fault lies with us. Science educators often either neglect to teach the NOS, or hold to outdated views and pass them on to students. If we hold more sophisticated views of the NOS, we often soft-pedal the creative and tentative aspects of scientific thought, out of fear that students will take this as license to reject science outright. (Bickmore et al., 2009, On teaching the nature of science and the science-religion interface, Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 168-177.)
Now, a recent case in point. On the “Somewhat Reasonable [sic]” blog of the discredited Heartland Institute, James Trzupek reported his astonishment at a comment about the nature of science by climate scientist Michael Mann. Here’s how Trzupek begins.
In a post over at Peter Guest’s blog, Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann is quoted making one of the most remarkable statements that I’ve ever heard coming out of a supposed scientist’s mouth:
“Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”
He goes on to explain that science is all about “credible theories” and “best explanations” and his gosh-darn critics supposedly don’t offer up any of those.
Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”
That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.
Mr. Trzupek’s comments seem to show an astonishing ignorance about the nature of science that could be cured by taking a single course in the History and Philosophy of Science or reading a single textbook on the subject. My recommendation for the beginner would be Samir Okasha’s Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction, but if you don’t want to spend the time to read Okasha’s 160 pages, I wrote a 15 page piece on the subject for introductory science students called “Science As Storytelling“.
The idea that scientific theories (or any other kind of theories) are always “underdetermined” by the data has been around at least since David Hume in the 18th century, but since the last half of the 20th century it has been the standard position among historians and philosophers of science. E.g., even back in 1934 Karl Popper could write (in Logik der Forschung) that scientific theories are “forever tentative,” because they can never be conclusively proven true, but he clung to the idea that at least they can be “falsified,” i.e., conclusively proven false. Subsequent scholars like Imre Lakatos and Thomas Kuhn employed very strong historical and philosophical arguments to show that even Popper’s falsifiability criterion was too strong. Now, a standard textbook in Philosophy of Science can bluntly state,
As a matter of logic, scientific law can neither be completely established by available evidence, nor conclusively falsified by a finite body of evidence. This does not mean that scientists are not justified on the occasions at which they surrender hypotheses because of countervailing evidence, or accept them because of the outcome of an experiment. What it means is that confirmation and disconfirmation are more complex matters than the mere derivation of positive or negative instances of a hypothesis being tested. (Alex Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. London, Routledge, 2000, p. 114.)
But are the philosophers going off on a tangent, here? No, well informed science educators all accept this point, so that the National Academies of Science publication, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science can say that “the statements of science should never be accepted as ‘final truth.’”
I said Mr. Trzupek’s comments “seem” to show an “astonishing” ignorance, but unfortunately his ignorance isn’t so surprising. The fact is that it is well known to historians and philosophers of science that scientists themselves are often quite ignorant about these things, and even if they aren’t, they don’t spend a lot of time trying to help their students come to the same understanding. The result is that it is perfectly possible for someone like Mr. Trzupek to earn an entire BS in Chemistry, and still believe that “science [is]… all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day.” This problem was noted back in 1990 by Virginia Tech philosopher of science Joseph Pitt.
Rarely is a connection made between the different sciences and it certainly is the case that little, if any, effort is made to touch on the history, philosophy or sociology of science. In short, most of our students are exposed to a year of the current (and soon to be obsolete) thinking about biology, or physics or chemistry and we call that science education. That’s a laugh.
The situation is not much better in the colleges. While it is true that there are more courses taught there, it is generally the case that in no science or engineering curriculum are students required to take courses in the history, sociology or philosophy of science, nor are they required to consider the relationships among the various sciences. (Pitt, 1990, The myth of science education, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 10, 7-17.)
Given these considerations, here are my conclusions about the Heartland Institute’s recent pontifications on the nature of science.
1. BRAVO to Mike Mann. What he said about the nature of science is spot-on, and scientists need to keep pounding this point home to students and the public. “Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”
2. Mr. Trzupek provides us with an excellent example of what happens when we fail to pound the message in. Here we have a guy who managed to graduate with a degree in chemistry, and still has wildly naive ideas about the nature of science. Thinking that “real science” is a matter of proof, all he has to do to convince himself to reject any branch of science he doesn’t like (climate science, evolutionary science, or whatever) is to point out a few grey areas. I invite Mr. Trzupek to update his thinking about the nature of science so that he can join substantive conversations about climate science. (WARNING: It’s a lot more work.)
3. People like Al Gore, while I appreciate what he and others have done to publicize the problem of climate change, need to knock it off with their pronouncements that “the science is settled.” Warts and all, science has a pretty darn good track record, and everyone knows it. Thanks, but scientists don’t need that kind of help to make our case, because it’s too easy to point out some grey areas in ANY branch of science.
[NOTE: Tamino has also posted about Mr. Trzupek’s nonsense.]
Back in April I gave an invited talk entitled “Climate Change and the Open Mind” at DePauw University. This was part of a workshop called “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic: The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” put on by the Prindle Institute for Ethics. Click here to see the video of the talk. There are also links there to the other talks given at the symposium.
The question I asked was why things like political ideology are much better predictors of a person’s views about climate change than things like education. I think some of the answer has to do with flaws in how we educate people about 1) what it means to be a critical thinker, and 2) what it means to do science. My primary example to illustrate my points was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and of course I had to bring in Christopher Monckton. That’s just a given.
Make sure to check out my new videos page, which you can access by clicking here or clicking on the “Videos” tab above. This page collects together the recorded talks I’ve given about climate change and other informational videos I’ve made. Yes, I make fun of Christopher Monckton. ;-)
A couple weeks ago, former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) published an op-ed in the Deseret News, in which he went on about how climate science isn’t “settled,” and that we shouldn’t “panic,” but instead do things that “make sense” to combat climate change. They just published my reply.
A number of Republicans like me believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot by acting like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels and tinfoil-hat-wearing loons with respect to climate change. Here’s a very good National Journal article about moves within the Republican party to start addressing climate change.
In my last post, I linked to a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) in which he said,
There is also uncertainty regarding to what degree man is to blame for global warming. However, the claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.
In my op-ed response, I said,
Several lines of evidence, including multiple surveys of climate science experts and the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change, indicate that at most a few percent of the experts disagree with the consensus view that humans are mostly responsible for the climate change over the past half century. Stewart doesn’t challenge this view with any competing study, He just nitpicks a single study and ignores the rest.
Now Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post, has gone into much more detail about why Stewart’s cherrypicking is disingenuous. He ends up awarding Rep. Stewart “4 Pinocchios,” which translates as “Whoppers”.
The editorial board for The Salt Lake Tribune has been mercilessly criticizing Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) for ignoring the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change, even though he has been appointed chairman of the House subcommittee on the Environment. Stewart is unapologetic, and the Tribune published an op-ed by him last week, in which he tried to justify his uninformed opinion. I responded with my own op-ed, which the Tribune published today. Enjoy.
A few years ago, a biologist at my university became enamored with Lord Christopher Monckton’s special brand of climate pseudoscience, and tried to drum up support for some department on campus to host him as a speaker. The response was… ahem… less than enthusiastic. But during the exchange among interested parties, the biologist said this:
This man stands out, unique, because he knows the field, possibly more broadly and deeply than anyone.I wrote to Prof. Richard Lindzen, Atmospheric Sciences, MIT, asking if I was overestimating Lord Monckton’s expertise. He replied immediately “Not at all. Monckton is knowledgeable”.
I almost choked. It was one thing for the biologist to fall for Monckton’s nonsense–he’s very convincing, or at least, he sounds very sure of himself. Rather, I was shocked that Dick Lindzen thought so highly of him. After all, it didn’t take me long to figure out that His Lordship has a tendency to make up data, among other things. But Dick Lindzen? Lindzen is a contrarian, to be sure, but the fact is that he is a very accomplished climate scientist. He’s made significant contributions to the field, and even though the climatologists I know think he has an unhealthy obsession with proving low climate sensitivity, they generally consider his objections to mainstream science to be worth considering, at least. In other words, Lindzen’s serial attempts to prove low climate sensitivity have been wrong, but not mere crack-pottery.
Like I said, that was a few years ago, and I wonder whether Lindzen has been fazed at all by Monckton’s downward spiral–making up fake data, falsely claiming to be a member of Parliament, claiming to have invented a miracle cure for almost all diseases, going about promoting various ultra-right conspiracy theories, including the birther conspiracy, etc. What, exactly, will it take to persuade Monckton fans it’s time to start slowly backing away?
It’s started happening here and there. For instance, last year a spokesman from the UK Independence Party (for which Monckton had been a top official) publicly bad-mouthed His Lordship, calling him “a loose cannon” and a “17th century pamphleteer”. Now Andrew Bolt, an Australian blow-hard newspaper columnist who has, in the past, praised His Lordship’s great genius regarding climate-related matters, has publicly given a “Deep Sigh” about Monckton’s recent endorsement of the fringe “Rise Up Australia Party”, whose platform’s main planks are apparently cracking down on Muslims and gays. Oh, and “religious freedom.” (How could I forget?) Here’s what Bolt said:
Why on earth was Christopher Monckton endorsing the nationalist Rise Up Australia Party? Great chance for warmists to paint climate sceptics as fringe dwellers.
More details and analysis on the Watching the Deniers blog.
Based on this trend, I am going to go out on a limb and add a two new Laws to the Bickmore’s Laws page (see below). We shall see how well these laws hold up to empirical testing over the coming months and years.
Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton: For every person who publicly endorses Lord Monckton’s climate pronouncements for merely irrational reasons, there exists a threshold in Monckton’s behavior which, if crossed, will cause said person to regret their association.
Bickmore’s Second Law of Monckton: Any behavioral threshold posited by Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton will eventually be crossed by Lord Monckton.
[UPDATE: More analysis by Graham Readfearn at DeSmog Blog.]
I’m gobsmacked. A Republican legislator from Heber City, Kraig Powell, has submitted a bill to the Utah State Legislature that… (drumroll)… assumes the possibility of human-caused climate change. The point of the bill (HB77) is to allow state land managers to consider human-caused climate change when developing plans to deal with wildfire mitigation. Yes, they apparently need the Legislature to give them permission.
Read the text of HB77.
Now make sure to contact Rep. Powell and give him your support, especially if you live in his district (Summit or Wasatch counties.) And if you do live in his district, make sure to show up for your next Republican caucus meeting and vote in delegates who aren’t Tea Party and/or Eagle Forum nuts who will be gunning for him.
Physicist Mark Boslough proposes a sort of climate futures trading market that carbon dumpers are required to participate in. If climate doesn’t change much, they make money. If it does, they lose money. Seems like an interesting idea for a market-based alternative to a carbon tax.
In my last few posts, I reported on how The Gibraltar Chronicle had printed several articles about Lord Christopher Monckton’s trip to Gibraltar meant to counter Al Gore’s appearance there. Frankly, the articles sounded like they were simply press releases written by His Lordship himself, but when Monckton’s PR guy started bullying the Chronicle staff because they wouldn’t print an unredacted version of his letter that the editors said was probably libelous, they printed an article about how they wouldn’t be bullied. I wrote to the editor a few times, and they printed part of my challenge to debate Monckton in an online, written format that allows for source checking (“US Geologist Challenges Monckton,” 24 October 2012). (In fairness, I should point out that Gibraltar is home to less than 30,000 people, so the Chronicle isn’t a big operation. We can criticize their coverage as trying too hard to be “balanced,” but it would be very difficult for such a small operation to go big on fact checking.)
I also sent the challenge to Bob Ferguson, Monckton’s handler at the Science and Public Policy Institute. (You have to love their URL, sppinstitute.org. Bob, you’re a genius.) Of course, I haven’t gotten a reply. It’s not impossible, but it seems unlikely. I mean, I truly believe Monckton has fallen off his box, but even he isn’t so cray-cray that he enjoys that foggy, confused feeling one gets when shown video evidence that one really did say what one just claimed he didn’t. (This is what veteran science journalist Peter Hadfield did to His Lordship, after which Monckton was far, far too busy to debate further.)
His Lordship just can’t shut up, however. Apparently, in a speech he gave Monday in Gibraltar, he claimed that a government agency in Gibraltar had twice lost his application for a press pass that would allow him to attend a talk by Al Gore. The No. 6 Press Office countered to the Chronicle that this was flatly untrue.
“Despite being the only individual to apply for accreditation after the deadline, Lord Monckton was given full journalistic access to the THINKING GREEN seminar. The Press Office can categorically confirm that Lord Monckton made just one single application and that his application was cleared without any delay. There were no ‘lost applications’,” said No. 6.
What’s more, apparently Monckton tried to set the agenda for the Opposition party in Gibraltar, which was not appreciated.
Meanwhile GBC reported yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition has denied that the Opposition is considering going to court over the cost of the Thinking Green Conference. The assertion, it said, was made by Climate Change sceptic, Lord Monckton, at a packed public meeting Monday night.
The story gets better, though. Monckton also appears to have threatened to have Al Gore arrested for making false claims on British soil. He seems very sure of himself.
“If you come to any British territory and you talk the rubbish you’ve been talking elsewhere, then you will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Remember how he made the same threats against IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri? Hmmm. I wonder how the investigation is going. I should ring Scotland Yard, but why bother? I’m sure they’re working on it, and His Lordship will emerge triumphant, just like he eventually will in all the other lawsuits and investigations he has threatened to carry out, but hasn’t gotten around to.
Now, I’ve been saying all along that His Lordship is God’s gift to people concerned about climate change. Why? Because he seems to be on a downward mental spiral, in which he keeps saying crazier and crazier things. Eventually, those who have taken him Oh, So Seriously will be looking at their watches and pretending they were never very tight. At that point, I’m sure we’ll just politely look the other way. ;-) I think Gibraltar is a microcosm that we can learn from in this respect, because now the word “Monckton” has taken on added meaning, according to the Chronicle.
The Government has hit out at ‘nit-picking’ Opposition member Jaime Netto, call him the “Lord Monckton of this Government’s Health and Safety policy.”
In their statement they say that it is clear to them that Mr Netto has set himself up as the ‘Lord Monckton’ because during the Tuesday Health and Safety meeting he was seen busily scribbling down notes only during the addresses given by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Minister for Health and Safety, Paul Balban, but that Mr Netto stopped taking notes “as soon as the visiting experts began their talks.”
This according to the Government makes it clear to them that “Mr Netto was there purely to nit-pick the Government’s ministers rather than to offer any genuine contributions to the debate.”
October 22, 2012
Dear Viscount Monckton,
I noticed a number of articles in The Gibraltar Chronicle (links here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) about your most recent attempts to engage Al Gore in a debate about climate change, and I agree that you deserve an answer, although not necessarily from Gore. In response, I would like to renew my challenge to debate you about climate change in an online, written format, in which we have time to check our opponent’s sources. I was never given a satisfactory answer as to why you declined the first time, but I am always willing to give you another chance.
On Jan. 20, 2010, your handler, Science and Public Policy Institute President Bob Ferguson, contacted me and challenged me to debate you in an oral, staged format. I immediately responded by declining the oral format, but instead suggested that we debate in an online, written format that would allow for source checking. Ferguson initially responded, “Your suggestion for a written, online debate is worth consideration.” However, when I asked Ferguson about the possibility of such a debate shortly thereafter, he simply responded, “No.”
Should you accept the challenge, I would be happy to host the debate on my blog, Climate Asylum, or on another site that we could mutually agree upon. I would also try to be flexible about debate rules and length limitations, although I must insist that we be able to link to outside sources.
I will certainly understand if you consider me too unimportant a figure to debate. After all, I’m sure that’s what Al Gore thinks of you. But before you decide, consider how you stated your challenge to Al Gore back in 2009. “I want you to face me in a debate about global warming, and if you don’t dare, I want you to remain silent about that subject forever, from now on.”
Barry R. Bickmore, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Geological Sciences
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah USA
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect any policy or position of my employer.
Yesterday I mentioned an article in The Gibraltar Chronicle, about how Christopher Monckton’s PR man had tried to bully the editors into publishing a libelous letter (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012). The libelous letter was precipitated by two letters to the editor by prominent citizens of Gibraltar, who objected to the Chronicle publishing a number of articles casting Monckton in a favorable light. The letters to the editor are not in the online edition of the paper, but I was able to obtain a copy. Here they are.
The on-going campaign by the Chronicle against Al Gore and the parallel promotion of the views of Lord Monckton is hard to understand. Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, elected on four occasions to the US Senate and deprived of the Presidency by a biased US Supreme Court, can hardly be placed on an equal footing to an obscure climate sceptic who represents nobody, as the Chronicle seems to be attempting to do.
A cursory search on the internet reveals a few interesting facts about Lord Monckton. This gentleman, a hereditary peer, has attempted, unsuccessfully, on four occasions to be admitted to the House of Lords, receiving zero votes on each occasion. He is currently a member of UKIP and stood for parliamentary election in 2011, receiving 1.1% of the vote. Though Monckton has no scientific qualifications, he has proclaimed himself to be an authority on climate change and, while accepting that there is a greenhouse effect, he strongly refutes that this man-made phenomenon is responsible for accelerated climate change. He is a regular speaker at the Heartland Institute›s Conference on Climate Change. The Heartland Institute is a rabidly right-wing institution heavily subsidized by oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, among others with vested interests. Some of its views include questioning the link between second-hand smoke and health risks, blaming ‘slackers’ for unemployment, arguing against universal health care and so on. This gives a pretty good idea of the kind of audience that Monckton is in sync with.
Monckton has also made a lot of noise regarding errors or inconsistencies in Al Gore’s film/book “An Inconvenient Truth”, for example the emphasis on the melting of the Arctic and the danger posed to polar bears, the flooding of low-lying islands in the Pacific, the threat to Greenland’s ice cap. Recent data about these developments strongly support Gore’s views and expose the vindictiveness with which his adversaries have acted. What really matters is that Gore alerted the world to the dangers and put environmentalism on the map. The general thrust of his arguments have been found to be correct by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. There is near universal acceptance (apart from “flat-earthers” like Monckton and at least one Chronicle opinion writer) of the impact of human activity on the world›s climate. If one thinks about it, it’s logical, reasonable, inevitable but, hopefully, not irreversible.
The views of Al Gore and Juan Verde are worth listening to and the Government is to be congratulated for giving us the opportunity to hear them first hand.
Editor’s note: Representing a diversity of views does not in our view amount to a campaign. Our readers in our view are able to make these judgments for themselves only if alternate views are presented.
On the 16th October, your newspaper touted Christopher Monckton as a “climate change science expert”. In science, the term “expert” is customarily reserved for scientists who have made an important contribution to their study subject via PhD theses and publication in journals that operate the standard scientific practice of rigorous peer-revision. Monckton is not a trained scientist and the lists of his publications that we have seen do not include papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, his claims about being Margaret Thatcher’s science adviser, including specifically on climate, appear to be exaggerated. In addition, his arguments are not supported by scientific consensus on climate change. That means that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, i.e., trained scientists who publish extensively in peer reviewed journals – “experts” – in the conventional sense – disagree with his views.
Monckton appears to be a publicity hungry sensationalist and is therefore guilty of some of the same accusations that he levels against Gore, albeit as a member of the opposite camp in the climate debate. An independent newspaper such as yours should research the background of all individuals – Monckton, Gore or any other – before making assertions about them.
Dr. Alex Menez
Dr. Keith Bensusan
Al Gore has lately been in Gibraltar giving the usual climate change speeches, and so, naturally, Lord Christopher Monckton has been renewing his constant debate challenges, telling Gore to accept the challenge or get out of Gibraltar, and so on. The Gibraltar Chronicle has published a number of fawning articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) publicizing Monckton’s challenges over the past few weeks, but their latest editorial (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012) seems to indicate that the honeymoon is over. I just sent the editors the following letter.
Dear Chronicle Editors,
Lately, you have published a number of articles depicting Christopher Monckton as a “science expert,” who was “recently appointed an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC’s 2013 Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change.” In fact, Monckton has no degrees in any science, and has never published a single peer-reviewed scientific paper on any topic. To become an IPCC reviewer, furthermore, one need only send in a request to the IPCC and agree not to publicly discuss the report before publication. All of you could just as easily become “Expert Reviewers,” in other words.
Your latest article about Monckton (“Chronicle Refuses to be Bullied by Monckton PR Man,” Oct. 20, 2012) seems to indicate that you may finally be getting an inkling of the kind of man you are dealing with. Perhaps you are now in the right frame of mind to do me a small favor. You have repeatedly publicized Monckton’s challenges to Al Gore, but you may not know that a few years ago His Lordship’s handler, Bob Ferguson, offered to pay me $5,000 (U.S.) to debate Monckton. I declined, but offered to debate for free if we could do an online, written debate, in which both of us would have time to check the other’s sources. At first, Ferguson told me he thought it was a reasonable idea, but later flatly refused. I would like to renew this challenge to Lord Monckton. Would the Gibraltar Chronicle be willing to 1) publicly deliver this challenge to Monckton, 2) host such a debate on its website, and 3) publicize the event?
[Contact Info removed]
Friday I was on an Al Jazeera TV show called Inside Story Americas. The topic was “Why do many Republicans distrust scientists?” You can watch the whole show here.
This was my first time on a show like this, so don’t expect greatness. What I learned was:
1. When you do a remote TV interview, you are supposed to stare at a spot just under the camera lens, and the camera guy keeps pointing urgently at that spot if your eyes wander. It is VERY DIFFICULT to be animated when you are concentrating so hard on staring at a spot!
2. When there is a 2-second delay on the satellite uplink, you can actually hear an echo of yourself, which is very disconcerting. It made me temporarily lose my train of thought a few times.
Anyway, it wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone, but I think more Republicans need to speak up and shove Uncle Fester (i.e., the Tea Party) back into the closet.
This is the first and only blog I’ve ever done, so perhaps I can be forgiven for naming it something as appallingly bad as “Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah”. Well, I finally got sick of it, so I renamed my blog “Climate Asylum”. The inspiration for the name, in case you care, was Jon Huntsman’s “Call me crazy” tweet.
The Deseret News just reported on a new study that shows a more compelling link between hotter climate conditions and wildfires than had been demonstrated before. The scientists involved studied lake sediment cores, in which you can find horizons with bits of charcoal in them, indicating large fires. The charcoal can be carbon-14 dated to find the age, and the results can be compared to paleoclimate records to find links.
The study’s lead author is Mitch Power from the University of Utah. Over the past few years I’ve actually gone out on Utah Lake to collect sediment cores a couple times with Mitch, one of his graduate students, my pal Steve Nelson, and some of Steve’s and my geochemistry students. (We were looking at the cores for different reasons, so we would split the cores we took.) Congrats to Mitch!
Back in the attic, Uncle Fester. You were ok when the party was “not drowning in talent,” but we’re going to have to bench you now that the A-team of anti-windmill cranks has arrived.
My last post, a few weeks ago, was about Lord Christopher Monckton’s new role as hero to the Birther nuts here in the U.S.A. I asked,
Just how far does this guy have to go before his ardent admirers start looking at their watches and pretending to have an urgent appointment to keep?
Well, the climate contrarians haven’t gotten the memo, yet, but some of Monckton’s other associates are shuffling His Lordship back in the attic, and padlocking the door. (Charlotte Brontë would have been proud.) Read More…
His Lordship, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (glory be to his Beneficence) has long since careened over the Cliffs of Insanity, but we keep listening to no avail for the “splat.” It was proven that he had been falsely claiming to be a member of Parliament, but the climate change contrarians just kept lapping up his nonsense. He admitted that he had made false claims about the temperature evolution the IPCC had projected, but claimed he was right to do so, and Anthony Watts still kept publishing Monckton’s nonsense on his popular blog. John Abraham destroyed one of Monckton’s presentations, showing that His Lordship had misrepresented almost all his sources, but Monckton was still invited to testify before Congress as an expert witness on climate change. Monckton claims to have developed a Miracle Cure-All, but his admirers didn’t bat an eye. Just how far does this guy have to go before his ardent admirers start looking at their watches and pretending to have an urgent appointment to keep?
Well, we won’t have to wonder for long, because if there’s anything we can count on in this world, it’s the fact that Christopher Monckton will keep pushing the Crazy Envelope.
Not satisfied with his usual conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific nonsense, Monckton has graduated to become Hero of the Birthers. That’s right, he’s been touring the country with a fake Hawaiian birth certificate he had made, claiming that he has hired independent experts who have showed that Obama’s birth certificate is likely a forgery. He recently made the claim on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, after which Geraldo said he thought Monckton was “smoking crack.”
Here’s the thing about this Birther business. I can’t prove the birth certificate wasn’t forged, but I can look up Obama’s birth announcement in a couple 1961 Honolulu newspapers. Unless I want to believe that Obama’s granny faked the announcement in anticipation of her infant grandson’s future run for President of the United States, I have to conclude that he was, in fact, born in the United States, and therefore the question of the authenticity of his birth certificate makes no sense.
What I’m saying is that this is THE STUPIDEST conspiracy theory I have ever seen. And yet, the Heartland Institute recently invited Monckton to talk at their climate change disinformation conference, at which time he repeated his claims about Obama’s birth certificate, to the delight and applause of the attendees.
So hang on, Monckton admirers! When the “splat” finally comes, you can trust the rest of us to politely refrain from mentioning your complicity. ;-)
P.S. No, I didn’t vote for Obama.
Judy Fahys at The Salt Lake Tribune has a great story about how Utah is losing it’s snowpack due to climate change. The story is based on a new scientific paper by Rob Gillies, Utah’s state climatologist, and colleagues at Utah State University. This is very bad news in a state so well known for its ski industry, and even worse news in an arid region with a fast growing population.
John Christy, a climatologist who is Roy Spencer’s contrarian buddy at the University of Alabama Huntsville, just published a paper showing that there has been no statistically significant decrease in snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ok. But what happened next has become a familiar story. Christy went to the media with a press release claiming that his study proves that standard climate models are wrong. The story was picked up by James Taylor, a Heartland Institute operative who blogs for Forbes and by a few other media outlets. (Remember that James Taylor was the same guy who broke the story “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism“–you know the one about the study in which Roy Spencer had left out a bunch of data he said he analyzed, but that completely undercut his conclusions? That’s the kind of thing James Taylor writes about when he’s not trying to convince people that second-hand smoke is actually good for you because nicotine delays Alzheimer’s onset.) Well, a reporter at the Reno Gazette-Journal not only interviewed John Christy about his paper, but checked out what Christy said with other climatologists. It turns out that Christy might just have been exaggerating the significance of his results a teensy bit. And by “a teensy bit” I mean that almost all the standard climate models projected essentially the same thing that Christy reported in his paper.
The RGJ article is a great example of what reporters can do when they decide to go beyond “he said, she said” and actually check facts.
Back in January, I wrote this:
Here’s a rule of thumb for you. If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily Mail, the odds are excellent that it’s nonsense.
Turns out my rule of thumb is working quite well so far. Read Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week post about how a Syracuse University scientist is complaining that The Daily Mail printed a story saying that his research showed human-caused global warming is a hoax, when his research was really about a single site in Antarctica.
A few months ago, I gave a talk at Utah Valley University entitled, “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” (click here for video). In the talk, I introduced the concept of “truth-challenged individuals”–people who are better than the rest of us at ignoring evidence that contradicts what we want to believe–and gave a few examples. Well, it’s time to add another such individual to the list–Prof. Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton.
In 2010, Prof. Happer testified before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, “Over the past ten years there has been no statistically [significant] global warming. This is not at all what was predicted by the IPCC computer models.” The problem was that the IPCC models DO predict there will be whole decades of less rapid warming or even some cooling as the temperature gradually rises. But since the weather is “chaotic” in the short term, exactly WHEN these short-term dips in the temperature trend will occur is hard to predict, so different models (or even the same models run with slightly different starting conditions) will project the dips at different times. This FACT is clearly evident in the following graph, taken from Fig. 10.5 of the IPCC AR4 Working Group 1 Report. It shows climate model temperature projections for the A2 emissions scenario, with the individual lines representing individual models or averaged groups of models. Just look at some of the more squiggly lines, which represent individual models. They go up for several years, then they go down for several years, but in the long term the trend is up.
Oh, I’m certainly not the first one to point this out about Happer’s false testimony. Ben Santer and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research last year, in which they showed, “Claims that minimal warming over a single decade undermine findings of a slowly-evolving externally-forced warming signal [e.g., as in Investor’s Business Daily, 2008; Happer, 2010] are simply incorrect.” (Click here for a free pre-publication version of Santer’s paper.)
Well, now Happer has made the same claim again in the Wall Street Journal.
If anyone can point out where Prof. Happer has dealt with Santer’s refutation of his (obviously) false testimony, please do so in the comments. To me, it looks like he’s simply ignoring it.
[UPDATE: In 2011, Happer apparently wrote an article making similar claims in First Things. Climate scientist Mike McCracken did a point-by-point rebuttal here.]
Last month I wrote a post about how Peter Hadfield, an experienced science journalist and YouTuber, seemed to be cornering Lord Monckton into a debate. Here’s an excerpt from that earlier post.
Several months ago I wrote a post here about how Lord Christopher Monckton’s handler, Bob Ferguson, had tried to get me to do a live debate with Monckton. I declined, because I felt that live debates favor people who, well… make up whatever they want. Instead, I proposed a written online debate, in which we would have time to check each other’s sources. This proposal was flatly refused.
Well, it appears that Monckton may have been forced into a written debate by an experienced science journalist, Peter Hadfield. Or at least he’s been forced into looking very, very bad if he doesn’t accept Hadfield’s challenge.
Hadfield, who goes by the handle “Potholer54″ on YouTube, produces a high quality series of videos that debunk common climate myths. Some months ago he produced five videos debunking various claims made by Monckton. (Lord Monckton Bunkum Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). Much of it was simply a matter of checking Monckton’s sources and comparing what they actually say to the claims Monckton used them to support. In other words, Hadfield did a John Abraham, but with video clips to back up his assertions about what Monckton had said. Monckton posted a “response” to the video series on the Watt’s Up With That? blog, in which he dropped a bunch of insults on Hadfield and tried to squirm out of the charges by essentially denying everything. Hadfield responded back with a two-part video series (Part 1,Part 2), which was, to be frank, devastating, because Monckton was on video saying all those things he now denies having said.
But here’s where the story gets really good. Anthony Watts, a former weatherman and proprietor of the Watt’s Up With That? blog, has now posted a written response by Hadfield right under Monckton’s post.
Apparently, Monckton had promised to answer Hadfield’s criticism, but he has now responded to Hadfield’s requests by saying that he all of a sudden has far too much other stuff to do, and so he can’t possibly be expected to address such “inconsequentialities” as whether he misrepresented his sources to make all the major points in his public lectures. This is quite amusing to Monckton watchers like myself, because for years His Lordship has been touting the fact that Al Gore refuses to debate him. Al Gore would likely refuse to debate Jessica Simpson or the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell, too, but the fact is that Monckton has very publicly criticized certain points in Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and many, many people repeat those criticisms. In my opinion, most of the criticisms are absurd, but I don’t think Gore would be remiss in assigning a staffer to do some kind of written response. I’m all for ignoring fringe figures, but when fringe figures are testifying before the U.S. Congress as “expert” witnesses, maybe it’s time to take notice. Here is Monckton throwing down the gauntlet for Al Gore on Fox News (video here):
I want you to face me in a debate about global warming, and if you don’t dare, I want you to remain silent about that subject forever, from now on.
As I noted, however, the sort of debate Monckton wants is the kind where you can say anything you want and nobody can check your sources. So now that he has been cornered into a debate ABOUT his sources, with video clips and photographs of paragraphs in the papers he cites, I think it’s a bit uncomfortable for him. Hadfield has followed up with an open letter to Monckton, which he has posted on his YouTube channel, challenging Monckton to continue with the debate.
Will Monckton respond? I doubt it, but he has no excuse for it. Peter Hadfield had this to say with respect to Monckton’s “I don’t have time” excuse.
Let me address the first excuse first. I understand you are currently on a busy tour, but you promised Anthony Watts you would respond when you returned from your last tour, and you did not. Meanwhile I note that you have had plenty of time to respond to a university newsletter that criticized you, and you spent two hours talking on skype to a small classroom of students. I fail to see why these are “priorities”, while my 57,000 subscribers and the hundreds of thousands of subscribers to wattsupwiththat are not deserving of an answer from you concerning clear evidence that you seriously misled your audiences over a period of several years. The people watching this debate have watched you vacate your chair, and are still expecting to see you to re-appear from backstage at any moment with some incisive rebuttal after checking my evidence. I am sure they will be as shocked as I am to hear the squealing of car tyres as you make good your escape.
As the sound of Monckton’s squealing tires fades into the distance, the real question is this. If Monckton refuses to debate Hadfield, will he “remain silent about [climate change] forever, from now on”?
Conservative commentator and provocateur, Ann Coulter, recently gave a talk at the Lincoln Day dinner for the the Indian River County, FL Republican Party. (See the video below.) When an audience member asked about the prospect of a brokered convention, she first took a dig at Sarah Palin.
Yes, and one of the ones promoting that is Sarah Palin, who has suggested herself as the choice. I think as long as it’s between us girls — I’ve been observing something about her. I don’t think it’s likely to happen. I don’t know what these people are cheering for. I mean, as I wrote in a column a few weeks back, who is this dream candidate we’re hoping to get from the convention, because Rick Perry used to be the dream candidate. Could we see them in a debate first?
Then Coulter went on to say what she thought the larger problem in the GOP is.
And just a more corporate problem is I think our party and particularly our movement, the conservative movement, does have more of a problem with con men and charlatans than the Democratic Party…. The incentives seem to be set up to allow people…as long as you have a band of a few million fanatical followers, you can make money…. The Democrats have managed to figure out how not to do that. I mean, Dennis Kucinich is a nut, he has millions of fanatical followers–he doesn’t get a show on MSNBC…. No, no, no, no, no. You embarrass us, and drag this thing out–you are finished in the Democratic Party.
This is nowhere more evident than in the climate policy debate. The Republican Party is beset by “con men and charlatans” whose specialty is to convince people that there is no climate change problem. And why do we believe them? Because for people who think we should try to solve problems with as little government regulation as possible, it’s always easier to deny there is a problem at all. Figuring out non-invasive strategies for tackling society’s problems is difficult, after all, and it’s even more difficult to sell them to a public that wants the government to “do something” when a problem pops up. And so we desperately want to believe that big problems are overblown or nonexistent. Whenever a group of people “desperately wants to believe” something, there will always be someone willing to tell them what they want to hear, whether the opportunists are charlatans or simply nutjobs.
When conservatives fall for this, however, we are breaking one of our own cardinal rules–the Law of Unintended Consequences. That is, one of the standard conservative arguments against the growth of government regulation is that purposeful actions always have unintended consequences. For instance, if we intend to set up a universal health care system, there may well be unintended consequences for the national debt and the economic health of small business. But couldn’t we anticipate the same thing if we elect conspiracy theorist nutjobs?
Related Post: Republican Scientist: I. WILL. NEVER. VOTE. SANTORUM.
- Al Gore
- Bob Bennett
- Bob Inglis
- Chris Herrod
- Chris Stewart
- Christopher Monckton
- Climate Change
- Competitive Enterprise Institute
- Conspiracy Theories
- Daily Herald
- Heartland Institute
- HJR 12
- James Taylor
- John Christy
- Jon Huntsman
- Kerry Gibson
- Lord Monckton
- Mark Steyn
- Michael Mann
- Mike Noel
- Mitt Romney
- National Review
- Orrin Hatch
- Rand Simberg
- Roy Spencer
- Science and Public Policy Institute
- Utah Legislature
- Utah Republican Politics