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Monckton, the Anti-Nurse

Posted on 27 September 2011 by dana1981

Climate Myths from PoliticiansRoyal Society President and Nobel Laureate Paul Nurse recently wrote an article published in New Scientist lamenting the current general anti-science sentiment in the USA, particularly from politicians in the Republican Party.  We certainly agree with Dr. Nurse's sentiments, and have said much the same in previous articles of our own (see here and here), and have even created a database of climate myths from politicians, which unfortunately, is full of quotes from Republican policymakers.

Monckton Myths (200 x 70 pixels)As we've come to expect from Christopher Monckton, he drafted a response to Dr. Nurse's article, using his standard Gish Gallop of climate myths.  And as we've come to expect from Anthony Watts, he published Monckton's mishmash of myths and misinformation (try saying that five times fast) on his blog.  The following day, Monckton and Watts responded to a commenter on the previous blog post, repeatedly referring to him as a "troll," including in the blog post title.  So much for Watts' short-lived crusade against ad hominem attacks.

Gish Giddyup

As we do on Skeptical Science, we'll examine some of the claims made by Monckton in his response to Dr. Nurse, and see how they stack up against the body of scientific literature.  Monckton attempted to be clever, using the text of Dr. Nurse's article, but replacing key statements with "skeptical" spin, or as he put it:

"Nearly all of this article was written by Sir Paul Nurse and published in New Scientist on September 14. With remarkably few changes, the present article comes to a legitimate conclusion opposite to that of Sir Paul. The New Scientist will not print it, of course."

Of course New Scientist would not print it, because as we will soon see, Monckton replaced Dr. Nurse's factual statements with a myriad of myths and misinformation of his own.

Economics Bizarro World

In the article, Monckton repeats his often-made but never-supported claim that

"experts...in the peer-reviewed economic literature, are near-unanimous that it is cheaper to pay for the damage arising from any global warming that may occur than to spend anything now on attempted mitigation"

Since he never supports this claim it's difficult to know what economic experts Monckton refers to.  However, we must conclude they reside in some Bizarro World, since in our reality, economists with expertise in climate issues are in consensus that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because doing so would benefit the economy relative to Monckton's preferred course of doing nothing and attempting to adapt to the potentially catastrophic consequences (Figure 1).

should US reduce emissions

 

Figure 1: New York University School of Law Institute for Policy Integrity survey of economists with expertise in climate, results when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions.

As with the consensus of experts on climate science (more on this below), the consensus of climate economics experts exists for a reason.  Economic studies consistently show that the benefits of climate change mitigation through carbon pricing exceed the costs several times over (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Approximate costs of climate action (green) and inaction (red) in 2100 and 2200. Sources: German Institute for Economic Research and Watkiss et al. 2005

The Royal Society Climate Guide

Monckton also mangles reality in describing the Royal Society's changed Climate Guide last year:

"scientific leaders have a responsibility to expose the bunkum, not to perpetuate it...They need to be vigilant about what scientific societies are publicising about science in their name, as four Fellows of the Royal Society did recently in forcing a complete and now largely sensible rewrite of the Society’s previously extremist statement about climate science."

The prior version of the Royal Society climate guide was in no way "extremist."  At the time, then-President Martin Rees wrote (emphasis added):

"We aim to provide the public with a clear indication of what is known about the climate system, what we think we know about it and, just as importantly, the aspects we still do not understand very well...It is three years since the Society published a document specifically designed to help the general public get a full understanding of climate change.  Nothing in recent developments has changed or weakened the underpinning science of climate change."

The revised version of the Royal Society climate guide mainly placed more emphasis on clarifying what is well-known, and where uncertainties remain with respect to climate science issues.  A few of the statements in the guide:

"There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity"

"the risks associated with some of these changes are substantial."

"the overall climate sensitivity (for a hypothetical doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) is likely to lie in the range 2°C to 4.5°C"

If Monckton would like to endorse these statements as "largely sensible," we would certainly agree.  However, the Royal Society climate guide effectively contradicts all of Monckton's frequent myths and misinformation, so citing this document appears to be an unwise move on his part.  Apparently Monckton is willing to admit that his climate claims are "largely senseless."  We agree.

Misrepresenting China

Monckton appears to be ill-informed on international matters as well:

"The best scientists will head for the established leaders of science, such as the emerging powerhouses of China and India, whose leaders have realized that the climate scare has been more than somewhat oversold."

China in particular has expressed significant concern about the consequences of climate change, and plans to implement a carbon cap and trade system by 2015.  Perhaps Monckton is right about the intelligent scientific leadership of China after all.

Inconvenient Consensus

Monckton also objects to Dr. Nurse's statement that politicians should not ignore the consensus of scientific experts regarding man-made global warming, though he does not explain why (presumably because the scientific experts are in consensus that Monckton is wrong).

Monckton Bunkum

In short, this article is more of the usual Monckton Bunkum.  However, we have finally found some common ground with Monckton, as we concur that the Royal Society climate guide is "largely sensible."  Which means we also agree that Christopher Monckton is largely not.

We also remain in agreement with Dr. Nurse's dismay at the general anti-science direction in the USA, particularly of one of the two dominant political parties.  We will end by giving Dr. Nurse the final word (in his own words), and his edorsement of the Skeptical Science approach:

"scientific leaders have a responsibility to expose the bunkum. We scientists have not always been proactive about this. We need to be vigilant about what is being said in the public arena. We need to be vigilant about what politicians are publicising about science and take them on when necessary. At elections, scientists should ensure that science is on the agenda and nonsense is exposed. If that nonsense is extreme enough then the response should be very public."

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Comments

Comments 1 to 27:

  1. Thank you for your vigilance in seeking out the bunkum and promptly exposing it. You deserve a medal from the President of the Royal Society :D

    I can't think of a more apt demonstration of what WUWT is all about than their giving the space to 'Monckton's mishmash of myths and misinformation' - as well as their labelling anyone who writes factually a 'troll'.

    Since Monckton seems to rehash the same disinformation over and over, it's now easy to debunk - and kudos to you and Professor John Abraham for exposing the skulduggery.
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  2. The thing with climate change is that it will be slow to start but will last a very very long time. Most people in the online debtate seem to struggle to assess impacts beyond a decade or so. The cost of lost productivity in low lying areas could run past hundreds and even thousands of years as sea levels rise. Even if climate change only had a moderate impact, the length of time of that impact would see the costs escalate way beyond the short term economic loss in the current decade or two.
    People in a decade or so who will have to make much faster cuts in emissions than if we had begun 20 years ago will not look kindly on those who sought to delay for a couple more years in the big cars.
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  3. It is really quite telling and troubling that some "skeptics" like Anthony Watts (who runs a blog called WUWT) continue to uncritically back Monckton and repeatedly provide him a podium from which to spout his diatribes, misinformation and threats. In stark contrast, the more reasonable and informed "skeptics" have long ago distanced themselves from Monckton.

    The only people now who openly support Monckton either are in deep denial about AGW, are in denial about the deadly and costly impacts as we continue with business as usual, or are ideologues and conspiracy theorists.

    This is not the first time that extreme 'skeptics' and those in denial about AGW have gone after Dr. Nurse, even bizarrely accusing him of being "anti-science", a nonsensical claim if there ever was one. They have also belittled Dr. Nurse here and here. And they are probably more instances of this kind of juvenile and disrespectful treatment of Dr. Nurse by WUWT and their apologists that I am not aware of.

    Monckton and Watts are intimidated by Dr. Nurse (and they probably should be) and and he seems to have struck a nerve. That they have to resort to defaming Dr. Nurse just underscores the vacuity of their understanding of climate science and arguments made against climate science. That they elect to play these sorts of games on such a serious issue is not only unscientific, but also quite pathetic. Further, doing so is also the very antithesis of civil, respectful and constructive dialogue.
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  4. Something that could be added to the Monckton Myth's link-list:
    The Clerk of the Parliaments finally wrote a letter to him, daclaring that he is not and has never been a member of the House of Lords:
    A letter to Viscount Monckton of Brenchley from the Clerk of the Parliaments
    Best part: "... I am publishing this letter on the parliamentary website so that anybody who wishes to check whether you are a Member of the House of Lords can view this official confirmation that you are not. ..."
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  5. Albatross:

    " They have also belittled Dr. Nurse here and here. "

    Your second "here" actually points to a post by Tamino at his Open Mind blog, and is hardly belittling of Dr. Nurse. Just the opposite, it's a takedown of Watts' favorite house cartoonist's attempt to belittle Dr. Nurse ...
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  6. I think Albatross meant that his second link (to tamino) discussed a second belittling (via cartooning) of Nurse, not that tamino was belittling Nurse.

    As a side note, what's with all the "skeptic" cartoons belittling prominent climate figures these days? First Nurse, then Dessler, then John Cook. None of them accurate or particularly funny, either.
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  7. Dhogaza and Dana,

    Thanks for clarifying Dana. Yes, of course Tamino was not part of the belittling and ridiculing of Dr. Nurse-- quite the opposite, and that would quickly become evident upon reading the Tamino post that I linked to. I directed people there for two reasons: 1) To see the offending cartoon, and 2) So they could at the same time see how misleading it is.

    But yes, that that cartoon was originally published at WUWT.

    Dana, re your side note. Watts et al. are probably doing that to make up for the fact that they cannot make a coherent, substantive and internally consistent scientific argument against the theory of AGW and against the overwhelming science. As I said before it is a game for them, a PR game, that and they have to keep feeding fodder to those in denial about AGW and its consequences...sadly doing so is frighteningly easy.
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  8. I have heard it said that ridicule is a last resort when you have run out of arguments to put, but I think its use is broader than that, and employed by both sides of the war. 'Christy Crocks' and 'Lindzen Illusions' are whimsical headings, but arguably ridicule. And fair enough, I say. Albatross notes this is a 'PR game' for the deniers. But it is really a PR game for all of us - concerned laypeople, scientists; skeptics and industry drones alike. Hearts and minds have to be won to one side or the other, and we are all doing PR, like it or not.

    It's a shame we can't have a bipartisan approach to this issue, but so be it. War it is.

    As to ridicule, (neat segue coming up), Australian readers of SkS might like to check out 'Crownies' on ABC1 this Thursday 29/9, 8.30pm. Climate Change makes it into pop culture, with B-story status at least, with a denialist in court against a climate scientist. Regulars can play Climate Blog Bingo and tick off the skeptic memes. You may recognise some of the one line rebuttals :). And a few less than subtle references to key players.

    The issue is skated over, as only TV can. But if you like a bit of ridicule in your war, this episode is fun. Thursday. 8.30.
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  9. As Belloc put it,
    "And always keep ahold of Nurse,
    For fear of finding something worse"
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  10. Economics is not an exact science to begin with, and the farther into the future that an economic forecast goes, the less reliable it is. (I have a bachelor's degree in the subject, and know just enough to be dangerous.)
    The problem with the Stern Report and similar studies is that the costs of taking action are relatively near term, but the benefits of taking action and costs of not taking action are very long term. The 50% non-response rate for the NYU law school study also raises issues. The skeptics are the ones most likely to toss the questionnaire into the waste basket.
    This is not an endorsement of Monckton. I just think the economic studies are a weak link in climate theory.
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  11. That's funny, when I read the 50% response rate I was thinking how high that was. A 50% sample is generally an excellent one for sampling a population.

    Also, I don't think there is the hard and fast divide in the academic community that you see in public debates - a few individuals aside. The position that climate is changing is not considered controversial and is taken quite seriously, so one is unlikely to chuck a questionaire on the topic as if it were quackery. The few that would consider it quackery, while they are quite vocal in the debate in lay circles, would not have much of an effect on the quantitative results.

    Your comment about uncertainty of short and long-term costs is a good one, but you have to work with what you got. I also think the short term costs also can be wildly overstated - especially when it comes to cap and trade policies. The classic example is the Acid Rain Program where near terms costs were overestimated by 4 fold. If I rememebr rightly, industry estimates of near term costs were quite a bit wider off the mark.
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  12. @Steve Funk #10:

    You state, "I just think the economic studies are a weak link in climate theory."

    What exactly did you mean by "climate theory"?

    On the one hand, we have the body of science about climate change. On the other hand, we have economic analyses of proposals to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A combination of the two does not constitute a "climate theory."
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  13. SteveFunk: Since when did economics have anything to do with the physics of greenhouse gases? Don't confuse the science of Earth's climate with the economics/politics of solutions to the identified problems.
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  14. I wonder if Dr Pielke Sr still thinks Watts is devoted to the highest levels of scientific rigour, or whatever he said. Watts uncritically promotes Monckton's garbage (as well as that of D'Aleo and a load of others).

    You've got to love the hubris of the statement "With remarkably few changes, the present article comes to a legitimate conclusion opposite to that of Sir Paul." Gosh, I didn't realise you could totally alter a sentence with only a few changes. Gosh, I didn't realise you could totally alter an aardvark with only a few changes...
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  15. It’s nice to post to a website where the concentration is on genuine climate science – with the obviously needed rebuttal of climate skeptics.

    But this is a personal attack defence comment.

    (Lord) Monckton is the last person to be levelling the accusation of “troll” at anyone because trolling is his modus operandi (Monckton Latin speak for technique).

    Monckton finds an ideal home at WUWT because it invariably uses the word when anyone dares to challenge climate skeptic “orthodoxy”. They immediately get the troll label pinned on them, either by Watts or his willing outriders.

    A troll accusation was made against “The other Brian” by Monckton and Watts, so I suggest they both watch - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRCyctTvuCo - and skip to 8 minute 25 seconds. The following proves that “The other Brian” had just transcribed, almost verbatim, (more Monckton Latin speak) the words used by Peter Hadfield (Potholer 54) in his forensic analysis of Monckton’s “Bunkum” science.

    Hardly trolling; but Monckton let fly with his well-worn brand of trolling - “The science is in, the truth is out, the game is up, and the scare is over. Get used to it, get real, get a job, and get a life”.

    What more needs to be said!

    PS I suppose an apology from WUWT would be out of the question?
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  16. An apology from WUWT is out of the question since Monckton just doubles down.
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  17. Monckton should not be referred to as "Lord" Monckton. He is not a member of the House of Lords. He has claimed to be a non-voting member but the House has issued a statement denying the existence of such a thing, and asking Monckton to cease claiming membership of any kind. His use of a symbol resembling that of the House is typical of his way of operating.
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  18. Official letter at the UK parliament web site is here:
    http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2011/july/letter-to-viscount-monckton/
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  19. Philippe - That's why I put "Lord" in brackets - but try telling Monckton that. His rely was "get used to it".
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  20. I know. The one thing I can't get used to is him lying to Congress. I seriously hope he will be held accountable some day. In the meantime, there should be no rest in debunking the nonsense he continuously spews.
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  21. Actually, as I understand it, Christopher Monckton is 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. And while he's not entitled to sit in the House of Lords, a quick search on Wikipedia reveals this article, which states:
    "The ranks of marquess, earl and viscounts commonly use lord as well"

    Not knowing much at all about peerages & titles, I can only assume that it's correct, and that he is entitled to use the title "Lord", although the frequent implication (and occasional outright statement) that he is a member of the House of Lords (sitting or not) is false.
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  22. 20, Philippe,

    Actually, what I can't get used to is the fact that one political party, who is in a position of extreme responsibility and power within the U.S. government, invited him and the likes of him, and allowed him to testify, uncontested, before Congress, and they weren't woefully and publicly embarrassed by what he'd said and what they'd done by inviting him.

    I hope Monckton will be held accountable one day, but more importantly, I hope that the politicians who are selling out the future of this country by recruiting the likes of Monckton will be held accountable one day.
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  23. Stephen Baines, #11-- 50% is a high sample percentage if the participants are selected at random, but if the participants are self-selected, there is an inevitable bias.

    Hartz #12, Skywalker #13-- If the IPCC report, in total, can be considered climate theory, Part three, Mitigation of Climate Change, includes economics. It would be equally valid to define climate theory just as the physics and chemistry of climate change, but then you are just presenting a problem without a solution.
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  24. "If the IPCC report, in total, can be considered climate theory"
    Quite a loose definition of climate theory. Climate theory describes how the climate system works, regardless of any human impact. There would be, and indeed there was, a climate theory even before significant anthropogenic emissions. If the theory highlights a problem, the possible solutions of the problem are not part of the theory. The law of gravitation does not include the best way to avoid an asteroid impact on the earth.
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  25. Actually Monckton didn't just say he was a Lord (he is entitled to do that- no pun intended!), he implied to the US Congress, and has said on a number of occasions that he is a member of the House of Lords. That is, he has falsely claimed to be a member of the British government. Hence the letter from the British Parliament politely telling him to STOP DOING IT.
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  26. My point was indeed that Monckton has implied to be something he's not.

    As for nobility titles, or any other kind for that matter, they do not impress me. Anybody who feels a need to be referred to with something special before their name, other than Mr or Ms, has an ego problem in my view, just like those who put their alphabet soup after their name. And, yes, that applies to PhDs too. Not that I deny the value of expertise, I know very well what it means.

    In my line of work I get to meet people with all sorts of degrees, some of them could be called Dr twice. At my previous job site, I met someone who was descibed to me as "one of the best cardiac surgeons in the World." One would never have guessed that much from his unassuming attitude. Yet every day he was saving people's lives or restoring their quality of life, part of that pro-bono as well.
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  27. The 'Crownies' episode 13 I mentioned at comment 8 is now available through iView online at the ABC. The ep has been picked up by Clive Hamilton at The Drum, and of course the usual bunfight has broken out in comments. Sensible people are linking back to SkS. :)
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