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Global warming games - playing the man not the ball

Posted on 15 July 2013 by John Abraham

I hate to talk about myself, so this first part will be short. A little biography is necessary to set the stage for this post. A few years ago, I heard well-known climate contrarian Christopher Monckton speak on human-caused climate change. Monckton has been a favorite hero of the anti-science movement and, for the rest of us, a source of amusement as he travels the world reciting basic scientific errors and misrepresenting his own credentials.

After hearing Monckton's lecture, I posted a detailed rebuttal online showcasing his mischaracterization of the science and his obvious and elementary errors. In response, my university and I received a 99-page complaint letter, which ended with a request to pay $110,000 to the United States Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This was followed by attacks against me by Marc Morano, who was kind enough to publicly post my contact information on his website. Monckton went on to encourage listeners of the radical Alex Jones show to write to my university administration to "investigate" me.

What ever happened to that whole episode? Not much. A few hate messages that appear in my mailbox from time to time. They are easy to spot because they never have a return address and their speeling and punctuation,,, is just terrble! And has Monckton ever followed through with his promised? Nope… I am still waiting. This whole event, as a colleague told me, was the bite of a toothless Chihuahua. It helped that my University stood beside me and was not bullied by this sideshow.

My colleagues, however, have endured far worse attacks by the anti-science crowd. Take, for instance, Dr. Ben Santer and the attacks leveled against him in The Wall Street Journal. Or how about the numerous attacks against Dr. Michael Mann? He has been viciously attacked on blogs and in far right-wing media as his work on paleoclimate has been held up as the face of climate change.

But Dr. Mann has not only been attacked on blogs, television, and in print; he has been attacked in court. For instance, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli tried to force Dr. Mann to release private emails and other documents from his research work at the University of Virginia. He demanded correspondence between Dr. Mann and a number of other scientists in a style that echoed back to McCarthyism. Mr. Cuccinelli failed in his misguided attack. The total cost to the University of Virginia for this fishing expedition? Just $350,000. Now Mr. Cuccinelli is running to be the next governor of Virginia.

For Dr. Mann, the outcome is that he has wasted time and money fighting against these attacks. On the other hand, his science, which is perhaps the most scrutinized in the world's history, has emerged victorious. The "hockey-stick graph" is now one of the most trusted and widely recognized graphs in all of science. To his colleagues, Dr. Mann is a hero.

Dr. Mann aptly uses the phrase "Serengeti strategy" to describe this attack strategy. Isolate and run down individual scientists. By attacking and trying to discredit one scientist at a time, they are able to discredit all scientists by profession. And, if they cannot discredit the scientist – then just make up facts about them and put those facts online and in print.

What is concerning is how young, upcoming scientists will view this environment. People go into science because of a curiosity about the world, not because they want to fight endless FOIA requests or have lies told about them in the media.

Will the hostility that this environment presents dissuade our best and brightest from even entering science? I hope not, for their sake and the sake of all of us.

Another concern is the cost (financial and time) that defending against the attacks requires. To this end, my friend and colleague, Professor Scott Mandia, along with Joshua Wolfe, have founded the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF). CSLDF was established to let scientists conduct research without the threat of politically motivated attacks. Not only does this group raise money to help cover legal fees, they provide training materials to both young and seasoned scientists. CSLDF is a project of the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) so donations are tax-deductible. Perhaps the best description is from Professor Mandia himself, "The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was established to make sure that legal actions are not viewed as an attack against one scientist or institution but as attacks against the scientific endeavor as a whole. Our goal is simple: let scientists conduct research without the threat of politically motivated attacks."

We really don't think this is the best environment for science, but when the issue is as polarizing as climate change, perhaps the present situation is inevitable. On the other hand, over the past few years scientists have learned that the Serengeti Strategy only works when the predators are able to isolate their prey from the larger herd. Scientists have learned that protection of one is protection of all. We have also learned that good science will always win in the end. When the history books are written, I'll sit down with my daughters and tell them the story. It has clowns, hockey sticks, and witches – a real thriller. Let's hope it ends with truth and an emerging plan to believe the real scientists and disregard their attackers. The history books are being written right now.

Dr. John Abraham
University of St. Thomas
Climate Science Rapid Response Team
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. There are many scientists on this site, and in particular menioned in this article that I'd like to nominate for the John Maddox Prize.  I'm hoping that readers here may also make nominations.

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  2. The fact is, climate science undermines the established economics and politics of the 'left vs right' meme for the last 100 years or so.

    So it was always going to be a rough ride.

    Galileo experienced the same problem trying to get the political (religious) establishment to listen.

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  3. And you can add this to the lovely correspondence the cro-mags have defecated toward climate scientists.

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  4. I don't know that the story contains "witches",but it most definately has witch hunts as an element.

    My contribution will be sent to PEER today.Thanks John Abraham.

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  5. Twenty years ago I thought the science was complete enough to begin a plan of action to slow the advance of climate change. Sadly, I was naive enough to think our politicians would do the right thing and start to implement the changes required. Silly me, while I went off and lived my life a drama of truly epic proportions was being played out. Heroes and villains, dark forces pulling the strings of puppets ensnared in a web of greed, subtext and innuendo abounding. Shakespeare be dammed, scientists rock!
    My thanks go out to all of you who have advanced our fight for survival. More than once, I have descended into the twisted rabbit hole of a denier site. Such a pretty argument, so simple, so easy to be sucked in, only to find myself lost in a maze of half truths and sound bites. Yes, more than once, a lifeline thrown by the posters on this site have saved me. Your selfless dedication to the truth, and boundless patience in educating even the slow ones such as myself, should be recognized by all, as truly heroic.
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  6. "It has clowns, hockey sticks, and witches"

    And don't forget: T*R*O*L*L*S !

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  7. Thanks for fighting.  Incidentally, when I first saw this post I was thinking, "man" = global energy imbalance, and "ball" = surface temperature, and I thought that's a great analogy I haven't seen before!

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  8. Ok, it only makes sense if you have an inaccurate view of that analogy...Whoops

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  9. To Brett N, #5.  Your comment is one of the best I have seen in a long time.  Indeed, this site is one of the best, if not the best, to try to educate the deniers.  The problem is that most of them don't read or understand the material discussed here.  The impetus for John Cook and I in writing our textbook (Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis) was to make the climate science/global warming truth available to college students perhaps taking their first class in science at the introductory college level.  All we can do is throw the facts and truth ih the direction of the deniers and hope that some of it sticks.  John's work in climate change science communication is extremely importand as is that of Dana and others, Mann, Mandia, Abraham, Santor, McKibbon, and many other climate scientists (the 97%).

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  10. I tried to go to SLDF to make a small contribution, but my virus scan tells me it is a dangerous site. Does anyone know what that is about?

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  11. Re #10, Norton Safe Web says the SLDF website has links to two "specific domains which characteristically [have] been known to host malicious exploits and executable files". The site is also rated "Unsatisfactory" by Web of Trust. Does Sceptical Science need to be careful about endorsing the SLDF website?

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  12. Frank, are you certain you are looking at the right stuff? You have mis-typed what is supposed to be CSLDF...not just SLDF. As I have perused their site, I see no reason for this web site to be deemed scary for SS users. Please check out what you are searching for, and maybe visit the CSLDF site. It's a shame that excellent scientists are being treated in the manner they are and lied to and about in the lamesteam media.

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  13. PluviAL-the same applies to  you. I typred CSLDF on Google and got a nice list of links to the legal defense fund. I saw no viral crazies offered up as eating your computer.

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  14. CSLDF is a significant source of help to beleaguered scientists who in my experience have a strong belief if data-based truth and expect legal or justice systems to work on this basis. The Anglo-American adversarial legal system works by arguing polarised views with the winner being the best arguer. That is not necessarily or even usually the truth. Indeed a Harvard law prof stated that in his experience the verdict in legal cases rarely reflected the evidence. He said it was fortunate that accused were usually guilty of something so a guilty verdict could be justified.
    It is a total shock to hardworking scientists to be exposed to such an unjust system. Clever wordsmiths can twist a narrative into a very persuasive argument that can easily sway non-scientist judge and jury. So CSLDF is welcome, though it will only make the lawyers even richer.
    I note CSLDF is US-based. Science is international. One only has to think of Climategate and Phil Jones of UEA to realised that an international branch of CSLDF is sorely needed. Indeed Monckton is UK based for his international fund-raising attacks against climate science. He is thoroughly imbued with Catholic belief system so the parallels to Galileo were appropriately drawn in your article. Thus the deniers have an international fund raising association (hence the request for the Knights of Malta). Is there an international arm to CSLDF?

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  15. [moderation complaint snipped]

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    Moderator Response:

    [Dikran Marsupial] Discussion of moderation is off-topic.  Discussion of moderation on other blogs is doubly off-topic.  Please, no more discussion of this here.

  16. Hi John,

    I have added most of the relevant posts to rbutr now, but can you submit your original presentation as a rebuttal to any instances of Monktons original talk which you can find online? Or at least let me know where they are, and I will submit them.


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