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Sunday, July 25, 2010

St. Thomas Prof. John Abraham in royal smackdown with global-warming denier Christopher Monckton

Climate-Science Smackdown, Part 2: Prof. John Abraham wishes more scientists would take a stand

by Casey Selix,, July 20, 2010

What on earth possessed Prof. John Abraham to publicly challenge the claims of one of the planet's most vocal global-warming skeptics and then see his academic reputation attacked on the air and in cyberspace?

Quite simply, the scientific community’s inability to explain the risks of climate change on Earth to the public propelled Abraham into action.

"What has really bothered me is that the scientific community has not been effectively conveying science to the public," said Abraham, a tenured associate professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. "I think it’s our obligation to make sure that the public has the right information so that we can make the right decisions that are going to have to be made and [to explain] that the science still has some questions within it.

"It’s our obligation to make sure the questions are well-understood, and that the risks of acting, or not acting, are well-understood," he said.

A presentation last fall by Christopher Monckton, a frequently sought-after speaker by hard-core skeptics of climate change, inspired Abraham to look into Monckton and his claims. Monckton is a viscount from Scotland and reportedly an adviser to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He has testified by invitation from Congress [invited by Sen. Inhofe -- noted for accepting enormous sums from the fossil-fuel industry] and picked apart [Monckton was not correct in his criticisms, so there was no actual "picking apart"] Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth."

Abraham produced, in his own time and on his own dime, a 126-slide audio presentation that dissected via the scientific method every claim Monckton made in a speech last fall to the Minnesota Free Market Institute.
He contacted authors of the research Monckton cited to see if their work had been accurately represented. His slides include snapshots of Monckton’s slides as well as excerpts from the research and from the researchers saying their work has been misquoted and misinterpreted.

Based on what I’ve read, seen and heard in the last 24 hours, I think it’s safe to say that Monckton went ballistic, even going so far as to say Abraham looks like "an overcooked prawn" in one piece, telling Alex Jones on his show that St. Thomas is a "half-assed Catholic Bible college" and claiming he has contacted university funders and the bishop, who Monckton says hasn’t replied because he’s "so busy sorting out problems with little boys."

"Just about every one of the 115 slides presented by Abraham in his shoddy little piece of lavishly funded venom contains serious, serial, material errors, exaggerations, or downright lies," Monckton wrote in a piece titled "Monckton: At last, the climate extremists try to debate us!" on Pajamas Media.

Observers and scientists around the world have hailed Abraham’s "A Scientist Replies to Christopher Monckton" as one of the best attempts yet to take on Monckton, and they’ve started two petitions in support of Abraham and St. Thomas, one of which has 960 signatures and comments at last check.

I wrote about the royal smackdown on Monday. My post included excerpts from a letter that the law firm representing St. Thomas sent to Monckton, which told him the university will not investigate Abraham as he demanded and that it will pursue legal action if the viscount persists with what Moore, Costello & Hart describe as "disparaging and defamatory" remarks similar to the ones made on that June 24 Alex Jones broadcast.

I can’t claim to have watched the entire speech by Monckton or the audio slideshow by Abraham. But I can see why Monckton, who cuts an impressive figure and whose rapid-fire eloquence reminds me of the late William F. Buckley, has gotten under the skin of environmentalists and climate scientists. I also can see why Abraham’s methodical point-by-point approach has needled Monckton to sic his followers on Abraham and St. Thomas and to rant at every opportunity.

Abraham tells me that while the vitriol has been hard to take at times for a mild-mannered academic, the outpouring from the scientific community as well as St. Thomas’ defense have heartened him. He wishes there could be more of a civil debate.

"I think in academia we encourage free discussion of topics, especially topics that are contentious, and it’s through free discussion that we can help ourselves arrive at actions that can make the world a better place," he said.

He also has replied to Monckton’s various charges on the Skeptical Science website.

"My intention as a professional scientist is to help provide a public disclosure of your scientific methods," Abraham writes. "I continue to believe that your work seriously misrepresents the science upon which you rely."

While Abraham risked the backlash by taking on a prominent public figure, he’d like to see more scientists follow suit. 

"I would like to see a greater activism in conveying some of the risks related to climate change to the public," he said. "Now there’s a motivation in being not active because it’s unfunded; we don’t get promotions based on our activism. It takes a lot of time and, I think, what is evident from my situation, there are some severe risks. So, when you’re a scientist sitting on the sidelines it’s an obvious question: 'Why would I want to engage in this activity.' I’d like to see more scientists see that the ethical obligation to engage outweighs the potential downsides."

Would he have produced his web presentation before he wasn’t tenured?

"Certainly, being tenured had an impact on my decision, but I still may have done it prior to tenure," said Abraham, who's quick to add that he thinks St. Thomas would have stood by him pre-tenure. "Fortunately, Mr. Monckton made his speech after tenure."

More of the comments on the men's opposing pieces are found here, here and here.
Posted by Casey Selix

St. Thomas Prof. John Abraham in royal smackdown with global-warming denier Christopher Monckton

It’s always interesting to discover what doesn’t end up in a press release from a university.

In this case, the University of St. Thomas apparently isn’t tooting its own horn about standing up for academic freedom and a mild-mannered thermal-engineering professor named John Abraham. But St. Thomas and Abraham are getting lots of lauds in academic, environmental and scientific circles in cyberspace.

Abraham’s 126-slide audio presentation, titled “A Scientist Replies to Christopher Monckton,” methodically takes apart Monckton’s claims that scientists are lying about global warming. Abraham’s talk was in response to a speech Monckton gave at a Minnesota Free Market Institute gathering last fall at Bethel University. This YouTube video of Monckton's presentation has received more than 200,000 views.

Among Monckton’s claims, according to Abraham’s presentation: "the world isn’t warming; sea levels aren’t rising; ice is not melting; polar bears are not threatened; the ocean is not heating; there’s no ocean acidification ... scientists are lying; there is a conspiracy."

In the intro, Abraham details Monckton’s history, including that he has testified before Congress, has degrees in classics and journalism, and that he’s a "pretty compelling speaker" who has a "wonderful way with words.”

In response, Monckton has called on his supporters to email the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, to open an academic and misconduct investigation. The law firm Moore, Costello & Hart, which represents St. Thomas, has said back off — or else. Here is a section from the firm’s letter addressed to "The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley Carie, Rannoch, Scotland," posted by Rabett Run.  

"It is the University's position that Professor Abraham has done nothing improper or illegal in expressing his ideas and opinions on this matter and that Professor Abraham has not engaged in any academic or professional misconduct. Accordingly, the University will not investigate Professor Abraham's conduct in this matter as you requested, nor will the University issue a retraction or apology for Professor Abraham's talk, comply with any of your other demands, or respond to any further communications from you on this matter.

"Further, the University is appalled by your disparaging, outrageous and defamatory comments, regarding the University of St. Thomas, President Father Dease and Professor John Abraham, especially the comments you made during a television interview on June 24, 2010. On behalf of the University of St. Thomas, we demand that you immediately cease and desist making any further disparaging or defamatory comments about the University of St. Thomas, President Father Dease, Professor Abraham, the Archdioceses of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, or anyone else associated with the University. If your inappropriate conduct does not cease immediately, the University of St. Thomas will have no choice but to take appropriate legal action.”

Google "John Abraham and Christopher Monckton" and you’ll pull up 21,000-plus entries. The scientific smackdown is getting more attention in the United Kingdom’s media and in cyberspace than locally, according to St. Thomas spokesman Jim Winterer, who said the contents of the letter are accurate. Gotta love this headline in The Guardian"Monckton's response to John Abraham is magnificently bonkers."
John Abraham
John Abraham

The university has been inundated with emails and letters from Monckton as well as with "scores" of emails and calls from Abraham's supporters, but so far hasn’t issued a press release on the matter, Winterer said. 

"You’re the first local reporter to call," he told me this morning. "One reason we didn’t do a release is our goal was never to get in some kind of media battle with this guy. ... To start some kind of news release war, that was never the intent."

Meanwhile, scientists around the world are rallying in support of Abraham, including a New Zealander recently setting up a "Support John Abraham" site.  More than 900 comments have been posted. Here’s one: "Thank you to John Abraham and St. Thomas University for revealing the misstatements made by Christopher Monckton. Please don’t let him intimidate you. The world needs the truth you are giving us."

Update: Abraham told me today that calls and emails from supporters have outweighed the hate mail 5 to 1. Still, he said in a phone interview, it's "uncomfortable to be the target of a letter campaign" and he'd prefer to get back to his research. I plan to write a follow-up post based on the interview, so please check back.

Brian Angliss of Scholars & Rogues posted a summary of some of the attempts to counter Monckton’s claims, but said that Abraham "set the curve when it comes to debunking Monckton."

"In response to a presentation Monckton made in Minnesota, Abraham checked nearly every one of Monckton’s claims and references in order to see where Monckton got the science right vs. where he got it wrong," Angliss writes. "The result of all this research was a nearly 90-minute-long rebuttal where Abraham dissects dozens of Monckton’s claims from a speech a year ago and finds that nearly everything Monckton said in his Minnesota presentation was wrong."

Winterer and colleagues have been watching some of the videos of Monckton’s attacks on Abraham. "They’re just unchecked. ... It’s a smackdown. It’s like the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] in science."

Here’s the presentation from Abraham, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Thanks to reader John Sherman, a professor emeritus at Moorhead State (now Minnesota State University Moorhead), who emailed me about the debate.
Posted by Casey Selix
Education | Mon, Jul 19 2010 10:39 am | 13 Comments

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