Friday, July 16, 2010

Lord Christopher Monckton Issues a Revised Rant

"I wrote to these authors and I read their papers. It turned out that none of the authors or papers made the claims that Monckton attributed to them. This pattern of misinterpretation was becoming chronic."---Dr. John Abraham in The Guardian (6-3-10)

This is a picture of Dr. John P. Abraham, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul Minnesota. On his faculty website, Dr. Abraham has posted his original rebuttal and his revised rebuttal to an October 14, 2009 presentation at Bethel University by climate change skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton, who has a background in Classics and Journalism.

Christopher Monckton issed an initial response and later a revised response to Dr. Abraham's critique of his October presentation at Bethel University.

At the end of his second screed, Chris Monckton requested a payment from Dr. Abraham and the university totalling $110,000 to a charity of Monckton's choice! I doubt that Dr. Abraham will be writing a check any time soon.

The British journalist George Monbiot offers some hilarious commentary about this exchange in The Guardian (7-14-10):

...As far as I can see, [Monckton] fails to provide a straight or convincing refutation of any of Abraham's criticisms, and succeeds only in throwing a great deal of dust into the air.

All this is accompanied, like so many of Monckton's responses, with a demand for money (in this case $110,000 to be paid to a charity of Monckton's choice), an apology and retraction and an insistence that Abraham's critique be removed from all public places.

Reading these ravings, I'm struck by two thoughts. The first is how frequently climate change deniers resort to demands for censorship or threats of litigation to try to shut down criticism of their views. Martin Durkin has done it, Richard North has done it, Monckton has done it many times before. They claim to want a debate, but as soon as it turns against them they try to stifle it by intimidating their opponents. To me it suggests that these people can give it out, but they can't take it.

The second thought is as follows: is this the man who was invited to testify before Congress? Who has become deputy leader of the UK Independence party? Who has been cited all over the internet as having proved that manmade climate change isn't happening?

One of the characteristics of the foot-soldiers of climate change denial seems to be their startling inability to spot a wrong 'un. As well as publishing a long series of falsehoods about climate change, Monckton has falsely claimed to be a member of the House of Lords (although you can read his explanation here); falsely claimed to be a Nobel laureate; falsely claimed to have won the Falklands war (by suggesting to Margaret Thatcher that the SAS introduce a mild bacillus into the water supply in Port Stanley); maintained that he has invented a cure for HIV, multiple sclerosis, influenza and other diseases; and grossly exaggerated his role in shaping Margaret Thatcher's views. Yet none of this seems to have discouraged his disciples one jot.

There's a pattern here too. Those who insist that sea levels are not actually rising, for example, often cite the work of Nils-Axel Morner, who maintains that his work in the Maldives proves that it's all a false alarm. Our old friend Christopher Booker claimed that Morner "knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world", that he "has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe" and that his findings demonstrate that "all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story."

Morner's work in fact consists of indirect measurements in just a few locations, which reveal the sum total of zilch about recent changes in sea level and have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. But the interesting thing, which connects this to the Monckton issue, is that Morner has also made a series of wild claims about other matters. He maintains that he possesses paranormal abilities to find water and metal using a dowsing rod. He also insists that he has discovered "the Hong Kong of the [ancient] Greeks" in Sweden. Working with a homeopath called Bob Lind, Morner inflicted unauthorised damage on an Iron Age cemetery in order to try to prove his thesis.

Similarly, Peter Taylor's claims that the planet is in fact cooling down have been given prominence by the Daily Express and other outlets, though they are unfounded in science. His book Chill has been a hit in the denier community. Taylor has also claimed to have uncovered toxic dumping by venturing into the astral realms. He has speculated that a Masonic conspiracy was tuning into his thoughts, and had sent a "kook, a ninja freak, some throwback from past lives" to kill him. He has also maintained that plutonium may "possess healing powers, borne of Plutonic dimension, a preparation for rebirth, an awakener to higher consciousness".

As these examples suggest, those who lead the movement which claims that manmade climate change isn't happening often seem to entertain a number of other irrational beliefs. [See full text.]

Christopher Monckton has some very peculiar political notions. He appeared on Russia Today T.V. and told the interviewer that Russia is 20 times more democratic than the British democracy has become because Russia has a Duma (a legislature) and Britain is ruled by commissars from the European Union. He claimed that Russia has a "true democracy" unlike Britain.

Monckton's views about the Russian political system are ridiculous. Russia is controlled by a ruling political party called Edinstvo, or Unity. It is difficult for other parties to be legalized or to be given time on T.V. to articulate their views. Many Russian investigative journalists have been murdered. Fossil fuel monopolies such as Gazprom own media outlets. The former Chairman of the Board of Gazprom is President Medvedev. It is absurd to claim that Russia is 20 times more democratic than Britain. Perhaps Mr. Monckton should consider why Russia Today invited Monckton on their program before the Copenhagen summit on greenhouse gasses. In my opinion, Monckton is a stooge for Russian fossil fuel interests such as Gazprom.

Christopher Monckton has given "expert" testimony in the U.S. Congress on the subject of global warming, so his views, which are at odds with the views of recognized scientific organizations, penetrate into our law-making body. The scientist Michael Mann is being persecuted under the color of law by Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Senator Inhofe has a list of climate scientists whom he wants investigated. Senator Inhofe promotes the views of Christopher Monckton, who claims Russia is a "true democracy."

What strikes me about the debate in the West between the scientists and the denialists is how similar it is to the debate between scientists and pseudoscientific charlatans in Russia. An article in RIA Novosti (7-8-10) [see also here] characterized the problem this way:

Rasputin-style infiltration into the upper echelons of power remains a problem even in post-Soviet Russia. "In the Kremlin there were whole groups of—I’m scared of calling them charlatans—but mystics, astrologists. These were prominent people—generals. The 1990s were an analogue of Rasputin’s time," said [Eduard Kruglyakov, the head of the Pseudoscience Commission at the Russian Academy of Sciences]. Several appointments made by Boris Yeltsin suggested that he sought advice from odd sources. For instance, Yeltsin made General Georgi Rogozin, an ex-KGB officer and star-gazer, the deputy head of his Presidential Security Service. Rogozin led a team of 12 astrologers who would draw on their expertise to counsel the president.

Perhaps this article and the recent spate of articles in RIA Novosti suggest Russian scientists are now speaking up more on the subject of global warming. It does happen that there are sudden policy shifts on scientific issues in Russia, and the pseudoscience gets debunked.

For example, The New York Times (11-7-87) reported:

Soviet scientists have disavowed charges in the Soviet-sponsored press that the AIDS virus was artificially cultivated at a secret American military base.

The scientists, Roald Sagdeyev [more here] and Vitali Goldansky, publicly distanced the Soviet Academy of Sciences from the accusations about American responsibility for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. They said they had protested the appearance of Soviet articles that repeated those contentions.

The disavowal was contained in Izvestia, the Soviet government newspaper...

A few years later, Izvestiya (3-19-92) famously reported:

[KGB chief Yevgeni Primakov] mentioned the well known articles printed a few years ago in our central newspapers about AIDS supposedly originating from secret Pentagon laboratories. According to Yevgeni Primakov, the articles exposing US scientists' 'crafty' plots were fabricated in KGB offices.

People who carry water for Russian propagandists should know that the Russians, led by their bravest and most brilliant scientists, eventually denounce pseudoscience.


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