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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lou Grinzo: John Abraham, Monckton, and the rest of us: Time to rumble

Abraham, Monckton, and the rest of us: Time to rumble 

by , The Cost of Energy, June 7, 2010.

There is an absolute must-read comment thread over on John Cook’s Skeptical Science, attached to the post Abraham reply to Monckton. I linked to this post last night, but that was before the comment thread exploded. including one comment (#10) which appears to be from Monckton himself.[1]

I cannot stress this enough: Go read the whole comment thread.

I just read it, and a few things stood out:
  • This has to be one of the most on-point and focused comment threads I’ve ever seen in an energy and enviro discussion. Considering that I read RealClimate (as we all should), a site known for the exceptionally high content of its posts and reader contributions, that’s saying a hell of a lot.
  • Monckton clearly did not read my post last night, in which I said he had “committed the grave tactical error of not ignoring Abraham”. He’s now compounding the error by responding to Abraham and bizarrely accuses Abraham of “attacking me personally in the most venomous terms”. All anyone has to do is look at what Abraham has said to Monckton to see how laughably incorrect this is, as well as what a transparent attempt it is to distract from the issue that started this exchange, Monckton’s claims about climate science. Even worse, Monckton says, “A video by me refuting all of Mr. Abraham’s numerous false claims and outright mendacities will be available shortly.” I can barely find the words to express my shock that Monckton would raise the stakes this way. Does anyone here doubt what the content of that video will be like, or what the outcome of releasing it will be?[2]
  • Note the numerous people who turned the table on Monckton when he complained that Abraham hadn’t contacted him before releasing his original criticism. This is the one thing the deniers can’t abide: Being forced to play on a level playing field, under the bright lights of widespread scrutiny.
  • Notice also the number of people who picked up on Monckton’s reference to the University where Abraham teaches as a “Bible College”. This cheap tactic was obviously meant to belittle the University, and therefore Abraham. I invite anyone to compare Abraham’s qualifications to Monckton’s, with the caveat that the same level of skepticism and checking be applied in both cases.
  • As for Monckton’s statement, “Mr. Abraham, and the president of his university, will shortly be receiving a long letter from me asking him a number of questions about his presentation, which appears to have fallen well below the standards of academic probity and honesty that would normally be thought acceptable in civilized society”, I have a one-word reply: Coward.
  • Scott Mandia, someone I consider an e-friend, and whose work I greatly respect (e.g. Ocean acidification), summed up the growing clash between the Reality Enhanced Community and the Deniers (my terms in both cases) in comment #44 by saying, “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”. I could not agree more with the sentiment and Scott’s way of expressing it. Even such an obviously metaphorical reference to knives and guns will no doubt offend the tender sensibilities of some members of the REC; to those people I would simply say: Grow up. You’re not in a polite debating society or a strictly controlled scientific environment. We’ve all been thrust into a public relations battle with almost unimaginable consequences. The deniers wanted it this way, of course. They didn’t have the science on their side, so they were reduced to trying to convince the public, via whatever combination of lies, misrepresentations, and obfuscations they could devise not to take action to combat climate change. For a while, this was a brilliant strategy; the scientific community was taken completely out of its element and the deniers were able to exploit the stunning cluelessness (or outright complicity) of the media. There’s one little problem with overplaying this gambit: Eventually despicable tactics like serial, blatant lies and death threats leveled at scientists have the cumulative effect of galvanizing a response.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this quickly unfolding event, but it really does feel like we’re living through the beginning of a paradigm shift. I’ve long complained that climate scientists and their supporters have acted like Frasier Crane caught in a street fight with a professional wrestler, in front of a cheering crowd. As the wrestler pummels Frasier and bounces his head off the nearest light pole, he tries to concoct ever more devastating verbal comebacks, always convinced that he’s finally cooked up the perfect argument to put the wrestler in his place and win over the crowd to his side. But play out that scenario through enough street fights and eventually even the Frasier Cranes of the world get tired of being crushed into the pavement and they take self-defense courses or otherwise arm themselves.

In case some of the people who choose to misinterpret things leap to an absurd conclusion, let me spell it out: I don’t want there to be a fight, not verbal and certainly not physical. There’s no reason to fight; the science is clear, and there’s more than sufficient evidence to instill a sense of extreme urgency in anyone who cares to look at the facts with an open mind. I want to see us debate not whether to respond to the accumulating effects of climate change but how best to do so. If the deniers insist on starting a pointless, time-consuming debate before we can get to the public policy discussion we desperately need to have, then I hope the scientists and all of us in the Reality Enhanced Community are up for it. It’s clear to me that Abraham is.
Stay tuned. This situation will surely get a lot more interesting in the coming days.

[1] I say “appears to be” simply because this is the Internet where, as the saying goes, nobody knows you’re a dog. A post from “Monckton” that claims to be from the Christopher Monckton could be nothing more than someone screwing around and demonstrating his/her ability to mimic Monckton’s style for a few sentences.

[2] I’ve long wondered what Monckton was really after in all his attacks on climate science. Perhaps this turn of events is giving all of us a gigantic clue. He’s not in it out of ideology (which is what I long assumed); he’s in it for the personal fame. If he’s at the center of a gigantic battle between the REC and the Deniers, he’ll become vastly more famous, and likely command ever larger speaking fees, if he cares about such mundane things. In other words, he could be doing precisely what I’ve accused many media outlets of resorting to: Taking on the role of arms merchant and then provoking a fight, a fight he doesn’t particularly care about, as long as he personally gains from it. In the case of media companies the prize is advertising revenue generated by increased reader/viewership. For Monckton it might well be purely a matter of attention, with any monetary gain of little concern to him.