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Monckton Myth #17: Debate vs. Denniss, Part 1

Posted on 29 July 2011 by dana1981

On 19 July 2011, Monckton debated Richard Denniss, a prominent Australian economist, author and public policy commentator.  You can view the debate here:

Not being a climate scientist (and knowing Monckton isn't either), Denniss wisely focused on deferring to the consensus of climate science experts, and the risk management perspective regarding climate change:

"In Australia we have just voted to spend $50 billion (billion with a "B") to build 12 new submarines to replace the 6 older ones that we haven't used yet. And no one is quite certain who we need these to protect us from, and no one is sure what day we will need them, and no one is quite certain where we should park them on that day, and if you listen to the Navy we aren't certain if we'll have enough crew to staff them. But whenever it comes to making decisions about national defense, whenever the decision comes up about our health, whenever the consequences are catastrophic, what sensible people do is take the conservative path."

"We have to decide whether we bet the house on the hope that Chris Monckton is correct, or we choose to insure the house on the chance that the scientists are right."

Nevertheless, Monckton delivered his usual Gish Gallop, repeating a number of long-debunked myths, which we will examine in this post.

Chaotic Climate

Monckton launched his Gish Gallop by arguing that climate cannot be predicted in the long-term because it's too chaotic:

"because the climate is is not predictable in the long-term...they [the IPCC] say that the climate is a coupled, non-linear, chaotic object, and that therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible."

Considering that each IPCC report has developed projections as to how the climate will change in response to various human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, it's really quite self-evident that Monckton's statement here is incorrect.  Climate scientists can predict how future climate will change based on the main climate drivers - primarily CO2.  We're even running a series of posts examining some of those past climate change predictions, and the IPCC reports will be the next projections evaluated in the series.

"The Royal Society - in a complete re-write of its original disastrously unscientific statement about the climate - now says we do not know how much the planet will warm as a result of our activities."

In September 2010, the Royal Society issued a Climate Change Guide.  The Guide discusses the various levels of certainty of important climate issues.  Regarding future warming projections, the Guide states (emphasis added):

"Current understanding of the physics (and increasingly the chemistry and biology) of the climate system is represented in a mathematical form in climate models, which are used to simulate past climate and provide projections of possible future climate change....The underlying uncertainties in climate science and the inability to predict precisely the size of future natural climate forcing mechanisms mean that projections must be made which take into account the range of uncertainties across these different areas."

Thus we find that what the IPCC report and Royal Society Guide actually say is very different than what Monckton claims they say.  But it's really nothing new for Monckton to misrepresent scientific sources.  In fact, as John Abraham discovered, it's the norm.

Consensus Confusion

Monckton proceeds to demonstrate his confusion about the causal relationship between science and consensus:

"the idea that you decide any scientific question by mere consensus..."

Let's just stop Monckton right there.  He suggests that somehow climate science is done by first creating a consensus, when in reality, the consensus exists because the scientific evidence supporting the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory is so strong.  The scientific evidence was gathered and evaluated first, and the consensus formed as a result of that evidence overwhelmingly supporting the AGW theory.  Monckton has cause and effect completely backwards.

Now, many people will suggest deferring to that consensus of scientific experts, because individuals can't be experts on every subject.  We defer to experts all the time - doctors, mechanics, engineers, etc.  Climate science is a highly technical field, and most people have neither the time nor the scientific background to evaluate the accuracy of the AGW theory by themselves.  For those people, the wise course of action is to defer to the experts, as Denniss suggests.  But the science itself is decided by the evidence, and the consensus follows.

Medieval Warm Period

Monckton proceeds to weave together a couple of myths regarding the Medieval Warm Period (MWP):

"Why does official climate science still pretend the Middle Ages were  not warmer than the present, when the fabricators of the 2001 UN report - preported abolition of the Medieval Warm Period - are now under criminal investigation for defrauding taxpayers by tampering with data and results?"

Monckton has managed to jam 3 myths into one sentence - an impressive Gish Gallop rate.

Mangling History

Monckton then decides to drag us 16 years back in time to a disagreement during the drafting of the IPCC Second Assessment Report.  How this debate is relevant to climate science today, I don't know, but Monckton manages to mangle the truth once again.

"I wonder why the published version of the 1995 report - written by just one man - stated the exact oppostie of the scientists' final draft, which had said five times that no human influence on global temperature was either discernible or immediately forseeable."

The scientists who actually participated in the development of the IPCC report chapter in question tell a very different story than Monckton does here.  Citizen's Challenge has documented the events, as did the late Stephen Schneider in his excellent book Science as a Contact Sport.

What actually happened is that the scientific literature at the time clearly demonstrated a number of 'fingerprints' of human-caused global warming, as Dr. Ben Santer (undoubtedly the "one man" Monckton refers to) showed during his work on the chapter in question.  The Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegations - for obvious reasons - claimed this was 'bad science', and were joined by a few delegates from other small countries like Kenya.  As a result of the disagreement, a Contact Group was held to negotiate the language that would eventually go into the report.

The Saudis and Kuwaitis did not even send representatives to the Contact Group - they were uninterested in discussing the science.  A Kenyan scientist joined the group, which discussed the scientific evidence, and eventually all parties agreed that a clear human signal could be found in the observational data.  When the Kenyan joined the group calling for this language to be included in the report, the Saudis and Kuwaitis finally dropped their opposition.

It was not a matter of one scientist re-writing the IPCC report.  That's not how the organization functions; the IPCC report is a consensus document.  As the link above discusses, there are now many clear fingerprints of global warming, so why this argument 16 years ago is relevant to the science today is a mystery.  Regardless, Monckton  has grossly misrepresented reality yet again.

Bizarre Claims

Monckton proceeds to make another bizarre claim about the IPCC reports which we've never heard before - that they use "a fraudulent statistical technique" to inflate global warming.  This is the problem with public debates, and why "skeptics" like Monckton enjoy them so much - in a public debate, the participants can say anything they want without needing to provide any supporting evidence.  As long as the claim sounds like it could be true, the audience likely cannot determine the difference between a fact and a lie.  Monckton takes advantage of this advantage yet again when discussing climate sensitivity.

Climate Sensitivity

"Why do we think that we're going to suddenly get 3.3 Celsius for a doubling of CO2 concentration this century - that's the IPCC's central estimate - or 5.1 - which is your [Australia's] government's central estimate - when all the science done by measurement and observation rather than by models, suggests just one Celsius degree?"

Where Monckton gets this claim that the Australian government's central climate sensitivity estimate to doubled CO2 is 5.1°C is a complete mystery.  The Australian government would undoubtedly defer to the IPCC, which determined that equilibrium climate sensitivity is unlikely to be above 4.5°C.  5.1°C is outside the likely range, let alone being anywhere near its central estimate.

Monckton also repeats a myth similar to one that we previously examined in Christy Crock #6 - that most climate sensitivity estimates are based on models, and those few which are based on observations arrive at lower estimates.  The only study which matches Monckton's description is the immensely-flawed Lindzen and Choi (2009).  [Note - Lindzen and Choi recently published an update to their 2009 study in an obscure journal after two prominent journals (of AGU and PNAS) rejected the paper in its submitted state because it failed to address the substantive criticisms of the 2009 version.]

It's true that most climate sensitivity research involves some level of modeling, but one exception was Forster et al. (2006), which examined the climate response to recent large volcanic eruptions, and found a central climate sensitivity estimate of 2.3°C to doubled atmospheric CO2.  This study alone completely refutes Monckton's claim that "all the science done by measurement and observation" suggests a climate sensitivity of 1°C.  Moreover, even the climate sensitivity studies which include modeling also include data obtained through measuement and observation.

Monckton - Specialist at Mangling Climate Sensitivity Calculations

It's also worth noting that, as a prior Peter Hadfield video found, Monckton at various times has claimed that climate sensitivity to doubled CO2 is anywhere between 0.2 and 1.6°C.  And as the Hadfield video shows, many of Monckton's low climate sensitivity calculations were based on obvious blatant errors (such as arbitrarily and erroneously dividing the CO2 radiative forcing by three).  Yet twice during the debate, Monckton claimed to be "a specialist in the field of the determination of climate sensitivity", on which he "lectures at faculty level".  Of course, as the British House of Lords would tell you, Monckton has a habit of inflating and falsifying his credentials.

Monckton's Gish Gallop in this debate was so massive that we've had to break up this response into two parts.  Part 2 can be viewed here.

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. I'm only 20 mins through the film but did I just hear a former (and points it out all the bloody time) member of the Thatcher government praise the 'heroic miners' of a country. Seriously? A proud member of the regime that totally destroyed the UK's mining industry has the gaul to make himself sound like the champion of mining and miners? Even by Monkton's standards that is mendacity of utterly breathtaking proportions. Good grief!
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  2. I assume you've seen that Monckton has replied to this article on WUWT:
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  3. Fitz1309, the original context should have been preserved but wasn't. For example, the first reply is Monckton literally pointing out how the IPCC says that (long-term) prediction is impossible. He is correct. The IPCC also says that while we cannot know with 100% certainty, we can manage how much confidence we have with various predictions. So Monckton pointed out an obvious point implied already in current climate papers and the majority of scientific work (managing levels of confidence and error). Monckton's failure was in suggesting that this lack of 100% certainty means we have almost no clue. Now, Monckton never said the we have no clue, but his speech was such to possibly create the impression in the minds of many. Unless you want to get into a silly war of semantics, it's best simply to ask Monckton to clarify his position. Does he believe, as his speech sounded to "me", that the IPCC does not make a projection/prediction of x or y with fairly high certainty. Getting angry doesn't help. The goal is for people to understand. If they feel they misunderstood Monckton, some will over time simply learn not to trust Monckton without first getting clarification and may get used to waiting for the summary version by others who do chase down the details. They may even start seeing Monckton as a clever speaker whose words suggest one thing different than what he will put on paper with his signature.
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  4. What also needs to be emphasized is that the quote regarding predictability is that the phrase is quoted out of context by Monckton from the IPCC TAR. The section this quote appears in section Balancing the need for finer scales and the need for ensembles
    In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. The most we can expect to achieve is the prediction of the probability distribution of the system's future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions.
    If the sentence after the quoted text is included, it completely changes the meaning of the text quoted by Monckton. Ever since Lorenz discovered chaos, it is recognized that we can't forecast climate the way we approach weather forecasting, and what we are after is the probability distribution of global surface temperature in Jun 2100, not the precise temperature.
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  5. And to continue that quote: "In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. The most we can expect to achieve is the prediction of the probability distribution of the systems future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions. This reduces climate change to the discernment of significant differences in the statistics of such ensembles." (emphasis added) And hence the use of model ensembles, each running a non-linear coupled system with slightly different initial conditions and modeling - marking out the probability distribution that we can expect from the climate. We can (in climate) make probabilistic predictions that it might (in average) be rainier or dryer in a particular region. But we'll never be able to predict exactly what the weather on a particular Tuesday a decade from now will be... Monckton's out of context quote is deceptive. And he's an experienced enough writer and speaker to understand that.
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  6. Yes, we have seen Monckton's response and are in the process of preparing a response of our own. Keep an eye out for it next week.
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  7. Lord Monckton: Please, allow me to call you Chris as a way for me to more readily provide you with the human touch I like to give all my audience. I found myself agreeing with you on much, but a few things should be pointed out because I fear some audience members might be getting confused. For example, you stated the IPCC (the ih-pee-kak) obviously does not believe it can predict the future. Well, of course, they can't. Did you believe there truly were that many people in the audience who believed the IPCC or anyone can predict the future? That you decided to mention that widely understood point without a passing mention of what was really important in that section of the report, that the IPCC's job is to help manage probabilities and certainties, really confused me, and I think perhaps I wasn't the only one. So, yes, I agree with you, as does I believe almost every scientist of any variety. Scientists don't prove things. They try to discover the most likely options and quantify their understanding so that we can remove as much subjectivity from the process as possible. Now, that you next mentioned consensus was interesting. That did give me the impression for a moment that the actual target of your prior discussion were the many non-scientists out there who might have been tempted to think that having a strong gut feeling and banding together to tell each other their beliefs, for example, that man cannot much at all affect the climate or that basic concepts like the greenhouse effect don't exist, would be a reasonable substitute to doing science. They can have as much consensus as they like, but, in full and entire agreement with what you said, achieving a consensus of beliefs is not science. It never has been and likely never will be. This brings us to the next point. I entirely agree with you, again, and with Einstein, that it just takes one paper to show a bad theory for what it is. The slow consensus that has been building in climate science over the years has paralleled the reduction in the number of plausible theories. Sometimes a scientist has a hard time accepting that his or her theory really has very little chance of being accurate, but, on the whole, what survives and is embraced by those who practice science is what is sturdiest among the candidates. Consensus, while not being a requisite or a substitute for good science, tends to be a consequence of good science. I am not sure if I understood the evidence you presented for why you believe that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today. I think the question of whether it absolutely is or isn't is overblown by many, but I do find it interesting how people who cannot agree on the very temperature of the planet over the past 100 years or even the past 5 years, as demonstrated as recently as the uproar that led to the BEST project (which ultimately confirmed what climate scientists on the whole already accepted) could somehow believe they really can accurately know how warm or cold the planet was in Medieval times. At the risk of appearing to disagree with you, I'll say that I have seen no convincing evidence that the Medieval times were warmer than today. You stated some individuals were under investigation by legal authorities. Can you give us an update on how that turned out or is turning out? Chris, in the next part, you accused a single person of rewriting an important IPCC chapter in the 1995 report. Let me ask you, Chris, if you were present at the debates that ensued at the time, as they tried to build consensus and come to agreement on the wording of that study? I was not there. If you were there yourself or have video you can show us, would you please help me understand why the speaker in the first few minutes of this video , provided courtesy of Standford University, is suggesting that the scientists who allegedly wrote the initial draft either agreed with the changes that were adopted by the IPCC or simply did not care about them? [In a world where politics sometimes trumps good science, I should point out that those initially objecting to the changes were all from a small group of major oil exporting countries.] Could you be more clear about the statistical fraud you had in mind. I would presume you meant McIntyre's criticism of Mann's statistics, but I don't think that counts as fraud. Of course, feel free to argue how fraud was proven. You go on to state that 1 degree Celsius is what is suggested by "all the science done by measurement and observation rather than by models." Allow me to be confused for a second. OK. I don't believe I have ever heard of real science ever done in any significant form that did not use models, that is, that did not use a physical or mathematical representation of objects and our world. Clever you are Chris. Surely, if science is always done using models to various degrees, then you were just stating, for our amusement no doubt, that while the majority of practicing climate scientists around the world (via the IPCC) agreed that 3 degrees Celsius is the mean value of warming expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide, that an alternative value of 1 degree Celsius is the conclusion arrived at by No One because no one performs science that does not use models. You clever logician. You almost had me thinking we would disagree. But to be serious, you were probably trying to make a distinction between theoreticians, such as Einstein, for example, on the one hand and those who work the laboratories but don't much manipulate the math and other elements of the models created by the theoreticians on the other. If this was your intention, would you please direct me to this long list of documents where I may witness how observation and measurement avoiding the use of physical and mathematical models suggest quality science and suggest 1 degree C. I want to research if perhaps a single paper for each such theory hasn't already been written up to put the theory to rest. Of course, I am sure I was not the only one confused. To many you probably appeared to suggest by your choice of words that scientists all pick either (a) to take the path of modeling with no observation or measurement or else (b) to take the path of observation and measurement without modeling. In reality, Chris, there really is a diverse middle ground where most scientists participate by making measurements and observations as they interact with the relevant models. At this point, I will take a rest, as I feel this reply has already become very long and the next section of the debate simply got me all twisted up out of the blue in a naught naught naught naught.
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  8. Monckton spend the first part of the speech (which is all I saw) speaking as if virtually every single accepted theory is to be doubted. This is a reasonable approach to take initially as an honest skeptic or if you are in a debate and really are skeptical about every such point, but then he treated as a matter of fact virtually every point he put forward. This is an approach taken in debates not in science. If he treats the majority of research as doubtful, it does not follow an honest skeptic would then treat as a matter of fact a bunch of side research, for, if the research paper itself is good enough to allow one to take it on faith as he did, then he should have accepted everything. To me this looks like dishonest scientific skepticism. It looks like professional debate.. like what you might see in US trial courts by opposing trial lawyers (whose goal isn't usually to get to the truth but to convince a jury to side with their client).
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  9. ..quickly, let me apologize for the grammatical and spelling mistakes in the earlier comments. I think one can make out what I intended to say, but they are a bit annoying to read. Also, the part contrasting measurement+observations against just modeling was way drawn out and a little inconsistent as worded. ..Whatever.
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