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Monckton at odds with the very scientists he cites

Posted on 14 July 2011 by John Abraham

Guest post by John Abraham, also posted on The Conversation.

It is a tireless job to track the frequent mistakes Christopher Monckton makes as he misinterprets science, as his statements are frequently at odds with the very scientists whose work he cites.

It is, however, necessary.

In a recent lecture given at the University of Notre Dame in Australia (June 2011) represented by his document “The Climate of Freedom”, Monckton claims, “Dr. Craig Idso has collected papers by almost 1000 scientists worldwide, nearly all of which demonstrate the influence of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and show it was at least as warm as, and in most instances warmer than, the present.”

This claim by Monckton has two parts that are important to the discussion of climate change:

  1. Was the MWP global in extent and warmer than today?
  2. Does the presence of the MWP call into question human-caused global warming?

To be clear, the prevailing view amongst scientists is that the MWP was neither global nor warmer than present times.

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences thoroughly investigated this issue and concluded, “the late 20th century warmth in the northern hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1000 years."

Other studies reinforce the view that when considered either by hemisphere or globally, the temperatures we are experiencing now are truly unprecedented.

In the past, I have found Monckton’s claims on this topic sorely lacking.

Specifically, he referenced authors whose work he used to either answer “yes” or infer “yes” to questions one or two.

Last year, I embarked on the task of actually reading the papers he referenced, and they all disagreed with Monckton’s interpretation.

To confirm, I wrote to the authors and they assured me that my understanding of their work was more correct.

Was this latest list of “1000” authors different from the list I had previously debunked? Had Monckton finally, after many missteps, put a nail in the coffin of human-caused climate change? Well, let’s find out …

What about this list? Well, if you go to the Science and Public Policy website (of which Monckton is the Chief Policy Advisor), you will find a link to a Craig Idso article which is, in turn, linked to a denialist website CO2Science. Once at CO2Science, you’ll learn that they have a MWP Project which lists many articles that reportedly dispute recent warming. So I think I have the correct list.

I’ll begin with the following trivial assumption: the authors know more about their own work than Monckton does.

With this as a starting point, I selected a number of papers in the list and I sent inquiries which asked the two questions I’ve posed here. Now, since this is a list that Monckton is using, you’d think the deck would be stacked in his favor. That is, you’d expect that most or all of these papers to support his view. The problem is … that is not what I found.

Dr. Raymond Bradley responded, “No, I do not think there is evidence that the world was warmer than today in Medieval times.”

Dr. Jessica Tierney also had her work cited in this “study” yet she wrote to me, “No. The MWP is seen in many proxy archives, but it is not yet certain how global in extent it was. Whether or not it was warmer than today’s temperatures depends on the proxy and the place. Most global temperature reconstructions suggest that on average, the MWP was not warmer than today. Regardless, a warm MWP doesn’t disprove the fact that humans are changing climate presently.”

Dr. Lowell Stott reported, “the studies that are currently available for MWP temperature estimates have little to say about global warming in the context of anthropogenic contribution to Earth’s radiative balance. Even if the MWP was as warm or even warmer than the late 20th century, the cause would be completely different because we have very good constraints on the quantities of greenhouse gases that were present in the atmosphere during the MWP.”

Dr. Andrew Lorrey told me that his paper “certainly does not disprove AGW, and it does nothing to approach that particular subject of climate science.”

Dr. Rosanne D’Arrigo stated, “We do not believe that our work disproves” human-induced global warming.

Dr. Robert Wilson added, “It really does not matter if the MWP was warmer or slightly cooler than present. Ultimately, it is the underlying causes of these warms periods that we need to worry about.”

Now, was I surprised by these results? Not really.

You see, I had performed a similar investigation of claims made by Monckton in 2009 with similar results.

I live in Minnesota where baseball is a popular sport. To borrow a baseball analogy, Monckton does not have a very good batting average. Perhaps it is time he was benched.

So where does all this leave us?

First, the existence of the MWP is not in serious doubt; but whether it was global in extent or warmer than today is. In addition, the presence of a MWP does not call into question whether humans are now causing the Earth to warm.

Second, it is very dangerous to rely upon the interpretation of a non-scientist to real science work.

Monckton has never published any peer-reviewed scientific article, let alone anything on climate or energy. Despite this, we are supposed to trust his interpretation of science? Not only that, but his interpretation disagrees with the very scientists who did the work.

When I go to my next family reunion, I’m not going to let my Uncle Jed fix my car because he knows nothing about cars.

I won’t allow my Aunt Betty to teach my daughters calculus (she isn’t a mathematician).

In the same way, I won’t listen to Monckton when it comes to climate science. He has been shown to be incapable of understanding even the most basic subjects of climate science – this would be humorous if it wasn’t so serious.

Monckton is a one-man wrecking crew for the credibility of climate-change deniers.

So now a challenge to Monckton … I have provided you with responses from people whose research you have used. I have shown they do not agree with your interpretation. To a person, they agree with me.

Why don’t you write to them yourselves and see what you find? This was your own list and yet, it doesn’t support your view.

What can I expect from this letter? Well first, the hate mail will start immediately; how can I have the audacity to criticize the “Lord”. Second, Christopher will probably claim that his interpretation of the science is more accurate than the scientists themselves … that they are mistaken. I’ll leave it to the public to judge.

My position is that we need accurate information if we are to make wise choices in confronting the problem of climate change. In addition, we need to shift focus from whether there is a problem to what can be done about it.

If we are wise, the solutions to the climate problem will create jobs, improve our energy diversity, and better our national security.

Who can be against that?

Finally, we need to be more civil and respectful in our discourse.

We still must be candid, particularly when someone has difficulty interpreting the science or when someone gives inferences that are not in accordance with the science.

But when we disagree, we must not be disagreeable.

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Comments 1 to 30:

  1. John: Thanks for the good work of debunking Christopher Monckton, a necessary job. I would also like to refer to a good debunking of the CO2Science medieval project by Hoskibui here on SkS, Medieval project gone wrong. Dr. Craig Idso's website doesn't seem to check the sources either and his website is filled with flaw work and misrepresentations.
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  2. Monckton has made false statements concerning published material before. In an article written by Monckton and published via the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper, 5th Nov. 2006, entitled "Apocalypse Cancelled", which paid particular attention to the MWP, Monckton claimed that: "According to ... Soon & Baliunas (2003), the mediaeval warm period was warmer than the current warm period by up to 3C." But if you actually bother to scrutinise the Soon & Baliunas (2003) paper you find that they make no such claim, nor anything like it.
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  3. Dr. Abraham you are quickly becoming one of my favorite people on this planet. Your expertise in both climate science and communications is invaluable. Thanks.
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  4. That's so bizarre that Monckton says there are 1000 papers in the CO2Sc's Medieval warming project. I recently cut and pasted every paper citation they list and the total was 312. And that included 20+ duplicated references, or references to different sections of the same paper. For instance, this paper is cited no less than 8 times: Thompson, L.G., Mosley-Thompson, E., Davis, M.E., Lin, P.-N., Henderson, K. and Mashiotta, T.A. 2003. Tropical glacier and ice core evidence of climate change on annual to millennial time scales. And ironically Peter Sinclair did a video on Ellen Mosley-Thompson discussing in an AGU lecture showing how on the Tibetan plateau there clearly was no MWP at all. I don't know how the MWP was supposed to be global if it was clearly non-existent in some places.
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  5. Went back and made an accurate count. Thompson et al 2003 actually shows up 6 times in the full list of citations.
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  6. I take issue with this statement :"Second, it is very dangerous to rely upon the interpretation of a non-scientist to real science work." If the interpretation is divergent to the scientists, sure, no problem. But I personally, as a non-scientist, interpret the work of scientists every day. And I am reasonably good at it. Science is not some rarefied, elite process that we mere mortals are incapable of understanding. Indeed, the best scientists find ways to make their research accessible to the masses. I can't follow all of Einstein's math, but I get the concept of relativity. Also, you list 6 responses. Rob Honeycutt tells us there are 312 in total. Did you omit any of the other responses? What happened to the other 306? How many did you contact? How many responded? Mind you I completely agree with you that Monckton is not credible on issues of climate science, and appears to give deniers a bad name, I just read this article skeptically and found plenty of places where missing information makes it much weaker than I suspect it is (ie answer my questions in the actual article and you will have a powerful commentary on Monckton).
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  7. I kind of agree with A. Thoughtful, but IMHO the issue isn't scientist .v. Non-scientsis; but that one should be cairfully depending on someone for whom there is either no cost to being wrong (mostly professionally, but there are of course other reputations) or, even more, someone whos value is in holding a firm [wrong]position. The tragedy for TVMOB - not to mention McInT, Watts etc. is that they get to be considerably less significant as soon as they stop pleasing the mob.
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  8. Non-scientists interpret the works of scientists every day. But deliberately misrepresenting those works (as Monckton does, demonstrably and repeatably) is the act of a denier. actually thoughtful - Abraham has spent quite some effort cross-checking Monckton's claims. No-one he has contacted has supported them. You yourself could check this - pick a few references at complete random (statistical sampling), read the papers, and see if they actually support Monckton. They do not.
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  9. I agree that we should be civil and respectful in our discourse. But the respect goes to those who are serious about facing the future. While we are polite and deferential - there are real and horrific global warming events has been unfolding - changes that are unmitigated by much of any adjustment to CO2 emissions. For more than the last decade the world has suffered delay and distraction from making changes that could have helped. In this way, deniers like Monkton have done real harm. He does not deserve our respect. While it is kind of you to carefully evaluate what he saying. And it is professional of you to dissect his presentations. But Monkton is a dangerous buffoon, lacking rational logic and devoid of ethics. In a civil and just world, he would be politely ignored. I fault various organizations for promoting his brand of tinfoil-hat psudo-infotainment. And following those who deliberately mislead is itself crazy.
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  10. Beware of those who claim they get relativity. Beware of those who haven't gone through the grinder that is the formal study and examination of a subject to high level, which is a necessary but not sufficient condition to begin to say 'I think I get it'. Thank you John Abraham for all your hard work.
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  11. AT @6... When filtering out all the duplicate references there are 297 papers listed as part of the CO2science MWP project. I've just started collecting and reading the papers. What's immediately and clearly evident is the 1) the MWP is heterogeneous both spacially and temporally, and 2) there are far fewer southern hemisphere proxies. When you start digging in you start realizing what a large and complex project it must be to put together a global proxy record for the past 2000 years.
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  12. "Other studies reinforce the view that when considered either by hemisphere or globally, the temperatures we are experiencing now are truly unprecedented". Mr. Abraham: I would suggest that you change the wording of this sentence. We all know that the Holocene Optimum had temperatures warmer than present temperatures. And indications from sea level proxy data, pollin data proxy etc strongly indicate that the Roman Warm Period was warmer than present temperatures. As far as the MWP, areas had substained temperatures as warm or warmer than present temperatures.
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    [DB] "We all know that the Holocene Optimum had temperatures warmer than present temperatures."

    Umm, nope.  Got a source for that?  Anyway, that's off-topic.

    "the Roman Warm Period was warmer than present temperatures"

    Again wrong.  And off-topic again.

    "As far as the MWP, areas had substained temperatures as warm or warmer than present temperatures."

    Still wrong.  And still no cites, so now you're just trolling.

    Look, if you're not going to even try to adhere to the standards expected of one adding comments on a climate science blog forum (Rule #1, always back up assertions with links to reputable sources), then don't expect your comments to survive moderation. 

    Be advised.

  13. Ok....I thought this was common knowledge: Warmer in China during the Holocene Optimum China warmer during Holocene Optimum Alley 2000 Greenland Ice core data confirms warmth. North Greenland beaches ice free during the Holocene Optimum. Greenland North Beach ice free during holocene optimum Data from Antarctica showing the early Holocene Optimum in the ice cores: Antarctic Ice cores showing Holocene historical temperatures
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    [DB]  It is common knowledge:

    1. The Alley core data dates to no more recently than 1905.  Recent temperatures at the drill site are unprecedented.
    2. The Vostok core data (and the other Antarctica core data) use 1950 as present.
    3. The China Holocene paper looks to verify the existence of the Holocene optimum via pollen data, nothing more.

    You are throwing "stuff" at walls in the hope that some may stick (you grasp at straws).  Regardless, this amorphous discussion serves no purpose on this thread.  If you wish to prosecute this narrative further, do it here:

    Most of the last 10,000 years were warmer

    Grasp away there.

  14. DB: I have to get to sleep. Time permitting, tomorrow I will post links for the RWP.
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    [DB] Then post them here: Ljungqvist broke the hockey stick

    The RWP is off-topic on this thread.

    Sleep well.

  15. Hmm, worth noting the AR4 comments on HCO. I'd say there was evidence it was warmer then. I don't know the global picture well, but certainly local evidence of higher sea level in NZ and Australia earlier and also evidence of glacial retreat further back in HCO than now. Timing of the HCO particularly hemispherically may be more problematic, but the sealevel proxy is worth noting.
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    [DB] Thanks for weighing in.  I was referring to Hansen & Sato 2011, which contend current temperatures have equalled those of the HCO.  From P. 19:

    "Augmentation of peak Holocene temperature by even 1°C would be sufficient to trigger powerful amplifying polar feedbacks, leading to a planet at least as warm as in the Eemian and Holsteinian periods, making ice sheet disintegration and large sea level rise inevitable.

    Empirical evidence supporting these assertions abounds. Global temperature increased 0.5°C in the past three decades (Hansen et al., 2010) to a level comparable to the prior Holocene maximum, or a few tenths of a degree higher."

    The biggest issue by far with Camburn's Tale is the implied because-it-was-warm-before-therefore-this-current-warming-is-nothing-to-be-worried-about.  Of course, that approach only makes sense if one knows little about climate science other than what one has been spoon-fed on denialist blogs.  The underlying physical processes responsible for the previous warmings brought up as a diversionary tactic (the MWP, the RWP and the HCO) are pretty well understood to be different than that faced by mankind today (anthropogenically-sourced CO2). 

    Hence my refering to Camburn "prosecuting a narrative".

  16. Camburn @ 12... No, I think Dr Abraham has stated this correctly. There are regions that show warming during the Medieval times, but that warming occurred in different regions and at different times. And some places, like the Tibetan Plateau saw no MWP period at all. You might double check the Vostok ice core for a MWP. I don't see it there. Byrd core? Nope. Not there either. Miller 2010 states that the planet has been on a slow cooling trend globally over the past 6000 years force by a changing tilt in the planet's axis. We have likely warmed the planet to about equal with the Holocene Optimum, which is a reversal of the natural trend. What is unprecedented is that we have reversed this natural global cooling trend over the course of about 1% of the time span of the Holocene.
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  17. I agree with rpauli to some extent. Certainly, there is no need to be rude or offensive when speaking of people actively trying to prevent policy action on climate change, people such as Monckton. However, there is no reason not to be forthright. The evidence suggests he is engaging in systematic, deliberate misrepresentation of climate science, and if he is not ignored then it is sensible to call him out on it.
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  18. I should add the the glacier and sealevel proxies have an issue with equilibrium. If I stand at the bottom of say our Tasman glacier, I can see the HCO mark well up the valley. However, unless the temperature actually drops sharply. most of it will melt anyway. Does the temperature need to rise for it to melt back to the HCO? I dont know. Similarly, if temperature stayed the same, would sealevel still rise by a metre? The temperature rise the HCO was much slower by comparison. Is there a better short-acting proxy for temperatures at the HCO?
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  19. #18 - a very good point. Changes in glacier snowlines are now occurring so rapidly that most glaciers are far out of equilibrium (of their mass balance). Consequently, glaciers around the world will continue retreating for years, and for most larger glaciers, many decades, before reaching equilibrium, even if temperature/precipitation regimes were held at today's levels. The Tasman Glacier has obviously retreated far in the past years (you pretty much need binoculars from the tourist viewpoint now), but it's going to continue retreating considerably further, just like comparable glaciers in Iceland, unless the climate cools a lot. Most past changes happened slowly enough that small glaciers (valley / corrie glaciers) could reach some sort of equilibrium with prevailing climate. Modern changes are much faster than the equilibrium response rates of nearly all glaciers, and so comparting their present terminus position to their past positions is not telling you much about how today's climate compares to previous warm episodes. It just tells you it's warming quickly!
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  20. hi, I am happy that Lord Cristopher does not speak German or French or Spanish, otherwise he would tour thru West Europe like he presently is doing to Australia ... Good job doing this debunking work. The problem is we "sceptics" are too weak against industrialized denialism at least my impression. Here in Germany there starts also an institution called EIKE (Europäisches Institut für Klima- und Energie - lot of denialists..
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  21. A little aside about Monckton, hot off the press...
    Climate sceptic Lord Monckton told he's not member of House of Lords Clerk of parliaments publishes letter on Lords' site saying peer is not and has 'never been a member of the House of Lords'
    I can't wait to hear of Monckton's response to being firmly told by the Lords to cease and desist.
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  22. Bernard J @21, Monckton has already been publicly confronted with that statement. His response is that the Houses of Parliament, even with Royal assent, are not capable of depriving him of his membership in the House of Lords. As the Houses of Parliament, with or without Royal Assent, can depose the sitting Monarch, I don't see what is so special about Viscounts.
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  23. Tom... It's actually quite humorous, the whole thing. The House of Lords is essentially saying there is no such thing as a "non-voting member" of the HoL, which is what Monckton claims he is. Basically he just wants to have his cake and eat it too. What's not humorous is the extremist rhetoric he's using in his lectures this time around. He may have been called out on the whole swastika thing but he continues to call for climate scientists to be jailed and saying that the media are fascist. He's an all 'round bad seed.
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  24. Rob Honeycutt @22, you obviously like your humor black. Not only is he (as you put it) an all round bad seed, he is also intimately connected with all the major deniers in Australia. These are the "independent advisers" of the ironically named "Galileo Movement": Professor Tim Ball Warwick Hughes Professor Fred Singer Professor Dick Lindzen Bill Kininmonth Professor Bob Carter Professor Ian Plimer David Archibald Professor Peter Ridd Professor Garth Paltridge Dr Vincent Gray Dr Jennifer Marohasy Jo Nova Des Moore John Nicol David Flint Andrew Bolt John McLean David Evans Pat Michaels Joe D'Aleo Viscount Monckton Jo Nova in particular, has been sharing the podium with Monckton on his speaking tour. While she has been saying,
    "We sceptics are not calling for anyone to be silenced."
    he has been getting up and saying:
    "So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you, we are going to prosecute you and we are going to lock you up!"
    Apparently they do not see the disconnect. What is transparently lacking is responsible media who put to those involved why they are willing to associate with a man like Monckton (no more accurate description can be given with in comment policy).
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  25. Yes, definitely a form of black humor, Tom. These people actually concern me a great deal. It's my hope that the general voting population sees them in the light of the extremes they profess. I think that most moderate right wing folks don't buy into this kind of rhetoric, and I hope that plays out in upcoming elections.
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  26. Tom... You know, actually the ABC is doing a pretty good job of pointing all this out. Wendy Carlisle did an excellent radio piece on Monckton.
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  27. Tom "What is transparently lacking is responsible media... This item isn't about climate change or any kind of science - but it's worth reading through your science-tinted glasses. It's a bit glum-making if you're hoping for higher journalistic standards.
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  28. Rob Honneycutt @26, I definitely exempt Wendy Carlisle, from whose program I drew my quotes, from my criticism. Although even she made one clear science error in her program. But Wendy Carlisle, or even the ABC in general, do not have that large a market share. Where is "A Current Affair"s expose of Monckton? Or any of the major commercial curren affair's programs? Or where is the expose in "The Australian" or any of the major Newspapers? At the moment the Australian media is mostly playing Dumb to Monckton's Dumber.
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  29. adelady @27, an interesting and relatively insightful article. I guess that is what makes it depressing.
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  30. I've just been reviewing the Monckon Myths page and noticed that this article does not seem to be linked to it yet (even though the later-arriving article on the debate with Denniss has).
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