Posted by: Barry Bickmore | February 9, 2012

The Monckton Files: Cornered?

It’s a beautiful day.

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.  Hadfield picks apart Monckton’s evasions handily, just like he did in the videos, and in the process lays down this challenge.

This is why he dislikes detailed examinations of his sources. While he takes every opportunity to debate on stage, where his speaking skills are essential and his assertions can’t be checked, an online debate is far tougher, because every paper and fact CAN be checked. So come on, Mr. Monckton, let’s debate this on WUWT to see which of us has correctly read your sources.

This is exactly what Monckton can’t handle, and I predict that he will either ignore the challenge or give another blustering reply in which he gratuitously insults Hadfield, drops a few Latin phrases to impress the rubes, and pretends that his words were taken out of context (all video evidence to the contrary).  If he follows his usual M.O., he might even back off some of his wilder claims, all the while pretending that’s what he was saying all along.

But every time Monckton dodges challenges to debate his errors, and the more meticulous climate realists are about documenting his fabrications and general wackiness (like pretending to be a member of Parliament and claiming to be able to cure HIV, MS, herpes, Graves’ Disease, influenza, and the common cold,) the more he loses credibility, and the more those who have supported him lose credibility, too.

The fact that Anthony Watts, of all people, would post Hadfield’s response might be a sign that some Moncktonites are quietly trying to back away from His Lordship.  Watts has a long history of posting Monckton’s nonsense along with some pretty sycophantic comments.  See this recent post, in which I criticized Watts for his utter lack of quality control–posting Monckton’s latest claims about why he really is a member of Parliament, even though Parliament says he isn’t, as well as Joe Bastardi’s complete nonsense about how the greenhouse effect violates the Law of Energy Conservation.  And those aren’t even the most nonsensical guest posts Watts has allowed.  (See this classic in crackpottery, for instance.)  Once, when I posted on my own blog a response to one of Monckton’s pieces that was published on WUWT, I submitted a comment on the WUWT page in which I simply announced that I had written a response and gave a link.  The moderator (presumably Watts) deleted my innocuous comment and inserted something about how I could take my “personal crusade” against Monckton elsewhere.  In other words, Watts has been an avid Monckton supporter in the past, to put it mildly.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Watts.  If he’s backing away from Monckton, I certainly won’t fault him for that, but let’s not forget how easy it was for someone like Monckton to take Watts in.  Why?  I think everyone has a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to those who tell us things that fit our biases, and I’m certainly no exception, but to my mind Monckton’s longevity as one of the key players in the climate change contrarian community is really telling.  Nobody but a complete ideologue would hang onto Monckton this long in the face of the detailed evidence that he plays it fast and loose with the facts.



  1. WUWT is the climate blog version of Fox News. They strive to maintain the facade of being “fair and balanced”, and so every so often they actually have to publish something from a non-nutter. You could tell Watts was really reluctant about it, putting Peter’s response below Monckton’s so that it’s not easy to find.

    Skeptical Science is also working on a series of posts responding to a Monckton response to one of our previous posts (also published on WUWT), regarding his debate with Denniss. As is his M.O., virtually every one of his arguments was a misrepresentation of one sort or another.

    It’s pretty amusing to read the WUWT comments any time Watts publishes something from Monckton. They absolutely fawn over him, even though virtually everything he says is wrong. And they all were of course convinced that Monckton had demolished us at SkS with his response. In reality he had so many errors in there it’s taking us a while to put together our response.

    The beauty of the gish gallop – it only takes a few minutes to create one, and hours upon hours to debunk one.

    • Don;t put so much effort into debunking them.

      Just gish gallop a herd back. With the facts on your side, this should make for a much larger herd and there would be NO POSSIBILITY of refuting them, since this would require more effort AND some actual facts.

      So just saddle up that herd and gallop over his ponies.

  2. I would like to see WUWT shift more towards being a skeptic in the honest sense of the word. All genuine skeptics with insightful feedback are welcomed in science.

    Part of the problem scientists in a politicized field have is that, as dana1981 stated, it’s too easy to lob Moncktonesk volleys that sound plausible on the surface. To convince yourself of some facts requires work (eg, understanding the math and comparing alternative theories carefully amid carefully laid out evidence).

    Let me take this opportunity to thank the people behind sks, this website, and all similar websites that strive to bring the obscure stuff into a domain that is more accessible to everyone.

    • I should have added, that I did have the opportunity to engage back and forth across many comments a part of the WUWT community in a topic I thought was interesting. After enough back and forth, I believe (at the 75%+ confidence level) that absolutely everyone involved gained something from the experience. I genuinely think most people would agree if we all understood the evidence and the accepted theories and were able to smack the crap out of it against our own understanding, fears, and doubts.

      • 75% confidence level comment was a joke, not sarcasm. I can’t know who gained or lost, but I would guess probably everyone (including myself) did come out with improved understanding.

        Barry, I think WUWT (less than sks) filters for relevancy to the topic, so they may not have liked you posting a link to a general discussion. I’m not saying the link was relevant or not (that it was/wasn’t a good judgement call on their part), but it may have been interpreted as marketing of this site and too off topic. In the long conversation I had on a WUWT posting, I am fairly sure I provided a few links to this website and/or to sks, and iirc all were accepted.

        • No, the link I gave was a direct response to the post on WUWT where I commented. The WUWT post was Monckton saying why he’s really a member of Parliament, and my post was a point-by-point refutation of Monckton’s arguments.

          Why would they let Monckton post about his status with Parliament, but not let anyone link to a detailed rebuttal in the comments?

          The only answer I can come up with is that Watts passionately believed that Monckton really was an MP and that people like me were unfairly persecuting him. Why nix a comment like mine if not because it was libelous, or something like that? This is why I concluded that Watts was a true Moncktonite.

          • Monckton probably didn’t want to aid in bringing any traffic to your site. He screens out any links to SkS in comments as well. He’s very protective about what information his audience is exposed to (for obvious reasons), and also very protective of his status as climate blog with the highest traffic.

            • Watts…not Monckton

    • Your assertion that all true skeptics are welcomed in science is quite correct. Unfortunately this does not yet seem to have been grasped yet by the people claiming the high ground in the AGW debate – so-called climatologists. If Barry is so clever, why did he decline to debate Lord Monckton? He reports as if he could have made mince meat of Monckton. But no. Just like all others advocating for belief in AGW he squibbed it. This is just so frustrating for any skeptic to find that no “climatologist” will accept the challenge for a public debate.

      Why is that so? Could it be that they do not have a very good case to demonstrate that global warming is not caused by the sun?

      • A Watts certainly claims to be a climatologist: someone knowledgeable about climate.

        I suspect, however, that this wasn’t who you were whining about.

        “If Barry is so clever, why did he decline to debate Lord Monckton?”

        For the same reason you don’t wrestle a pig in mud.

      • Clearly you have not see Monckton debating, Mr Nichol. Here’s how it works. Let’s assume Monckton acts like the ‘A’ character…

        Out of the blue ‘A’ says the moon is made of cheese and shows a slide with a load of complicated diagrams, graphs and cites a load of names with fancy titles in support .

        ‘B’ says that ‘A’ is wrong and — because he wasn’t aware in advance what ‘A’ was going to say — he struggles to find the precise page, graph in the scientific literature to counter the argument.

        ‘A’ makes a sneering put down ridiculing ‘B’ and then — at a complete tangent — states that, of course, it’s blindingly obvious that the Earth is flat.

        ‘B’ then has to go back to basics to try and explain the rotation of the Earth, the effects of gravity and the structure of the solar system in order to show that the Earth is in fact, round…

        I could go on but I’m sure most people will get the point. It ends up with the audience voting that ‘A’ has won the argument that the Moon is made of cheese and the Earth is flat. You see, it’s very easy to make ridiculous, but apparently plausible, assertions and very difficult to counter them in a few words following scientific protocols. It’s easy to say, “the sun travels round the Earth — you can see it going across the sky every day”, but not easy to explain why that’s wrong in just a few words.

        Climate change is about complex science, not about opinion; and so it’s not therefore a subject suitable for debate. Imagine it’s a bit like having a debate about… oh, I don’t know… how a car engine works. Debate is more suitable for subjects like, say, how best to solve the fiscal deficit; or what form of care is most suitable for the elderly.

        Monckton will invariably win verbal debates; not because he’s right about the science, but because he’s not limited to the facts. He’s good at shouting down his opponent and he knows how to score points. Barry is wise not to be drawn in.

      • “If Barry is so clever, why did he decline to debate Lord Monckton?”

        Excuse me, but didn’t I say that I offered to debate Monckton in a written, online format so we could check sources? I’ve had several people try the same line of attack on me, and my question is always the same–why don’t you like source-checking?

        As an academic, this kind of attitude astonishes me. It’s like saying, “Look at me! I don’t care about who’s telling the truth!”

        • >> “Look at me! I don’t care about who’s telling the truth!”

          Science doesn’t advance based on the most poetic prose or paper with biggest boldest claims, so why have a “science” debate that rewards those qualities over real science.

          …As for WUWT, I have limited experience there. My experiences have not been negative, but the material presented is intended to very frequently represent the alternative to mainstream climate science (right?), and I have to wonder how much alternative can you present while preserving your position that you are an honest skeptic as necessary.

      • “This is just so frustrating for any skeptic to find that no climatologist will accept the challenge for a public debate.”

        It’s also frustrating to see so many people who can’t see the obvious: that no lawyer or politician would go near debate if it was an effective way to reveal the truth. Since those are the two professions that actually use debate, what conclusions can we draw?

  3. […] […]

  4. We all need to be be very wary of the man with the rhinoceros hide: Monckton.

    The sheer juvenile incompetence of his arrogant spoutings is nothing compared to his influence on the rich and powerful, who are mesmerised by his rhetoric as it feeds their right wing laissez faire agenda.

    Listen and be scared as he plans with his buddies to control the climate change message:

    • He HAS no influence.

      The only influence he has are with those who wish to believe his story.

      You could get Sooty and Sweep with as much influence, as long as they say that AGW is a scam.

      • Please don’t misrepresent my comment, Wow.

        I wrote that Monckton has influence with the rich and powerful who deny climate change (especially those with mining interests).

        Watch that covert footage of those very people, lapping up every word he says (link provided in the comment to which you responded).

        • But it isn’t influence, John.

          If Lord Monkfish said tomorrow that there really WAS climate change and we should stop burning fossil fuels, the ones “influenced” by him would not change except to verbally castrate him.

          He’s no influence.

          Sooty and Sweep are two hand puppets from a UK kids program. They have as much influence as Chris does over the rich and influential.

          I.e. none.

          • Maybe we are arguing semantics, Wow.

            OK, so it’s not influence — so what is it when they all sit round him as he talks, looking spell-bound, with glazed-over eyes before he gets them all to put up their hands in agreement with him (like in that video)?

            • Their eyes are glazed over for the same reason your eyes glaze over when you’re not paying attention: your brain is not attached to the discussion in front of you.

              My problem (and you’re right: it IS semantics) is that it accords the problem on the wrong party. Monckton isn’t influential, therefore the problem of his power is the people who want to believe him, and those who give him air.

          • Possibly, but very important.

            If you claim influence when all you mean is they’re a puppet, then the power is in a completely different place. Therefore your efforts placed in the wrong direction.

            It’s far more than “potaytoe/potatoh”.

            • I do think he has influence.

              The especially pernicious influence of finding powerful people who think he’s impressive and pandering to their various prejudices. Remember Australians and Americans are easily influenced by what they think of as posh accents. (Remember Arthur from the ‘Minder’ series was perceived as a bit posh by Oz viewers. Go figure.)

              What he does is to strengthen their convictions that they are right in their misunderstandings and their biases. And he overtly encourages them to act on that basis.

              The mere fact that they are a bit pleased and proud that someone of his obvious ‘class’ will egg them on is enough bad influence. If someone like him in the all-important prestige stakes got their confidence and urged them to caution, restraint or second thoughts about their preferred stance on this matter, we’d see this as a good ‘influence’. He has their attention. He has their respect.

              But he plays on their greed and selfish interests rather than appealing to their better nature. A bad influence.

            • He doesn’t have any influence. He’s just an excuse.

  5. Ah yes. The old :- “Ah but, Monckton cann’t do on-line / off-line debates”, meme.
    That’s about a credible as the catastrophic AGW idea itself.
    A notion put about by the intellectual dullards who would smother us all in nit-picking irrellevancies for evermore.

    • So, Jose, what do you have against source-checking? I see you think accurate sourcing is “irrelevant”, but you don’t say why. Do tell.

      • Barry, this all reminds me of one “dr.” Zakir Naik. He has also been challenged to a written debate and, of course, refused. Watch one of his videos and you know why he ‘wins’ debates: the audience is filled with his supporters (or rather, those that like his message, because it fits their religion, in this particular case) and he is a showman. His ability to quote various religious texts is impressive, but when you then check his claims of what that text actually says…it frequently does not support his claims.

        Monckton is just like him. Note also the “dr.” that Zakir Naik likes to use (he trained as a physician, but that’s it); compares quite well to Monckton trumping his title and trying to make himself a member of the House of Lords…

  6. Considering that Monckton, a British national with no science degree, gave testimony in front of Congress at the invitation of denialist Congress members, it’s clear that he has significant influence.

    Don’t fall into the trap of dismissing people like him out of hand; they are plenty who would fall all over him, no matter what he says.

    Has nothing been learned from watching the Palin / Bachman / Cain freakshow?
    Is it lost on you all that all but a couple of the Republican leadership once firmly believed that global warming was a major threat but now think we’re headed for an Ice Age?

    • To whom is this addressed?

      • Wow and those who think like him (her?)

        • He has no influence.

          They have no choices, since the names of people who have connections and can support denialism in the face of facts are very few indeed.

          He has no influence. He was asked there by those who have. So that they can point to him and say “See! There’s still debate on this, we can’t rush into things”.

          He’s no influence, he’s an EXCUSE.

  7. The fact that Anthony Watts, of all people, would post Hadfield’s response might be a sign that some Moncktonites are quietly trying to back away from His Lordship.

    I think you’re being too generous to Watts here, I’m afraid. Watts only posted Hadfield’s response after Hadfield, in his usual persistent manner, repeatedly hammered Watts in the comments for not giving him right of reply.

  8. […] month I wrote a post about how Peter Hadfield, an experienced science journalist and YouTuber, seemed to be cornering […]

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