Monckton’s reply to Abraham and how science really works.

As I’m assure most readers will be aware, over the past day or so, Monckton’s reply to John Abraham has been getting a reasonable amount air-time (post-time?). Monckton’s reply can be found on Watts up with that; no doubt the last refuge… If you wish to see Monckton’s rebuttal, it’s here, and if you wish to add to the list of people lining up to support John, you can do so through Hot Topic, here. However, what I’m interested in is another post by Chris over at WUWT, titled, Abraham climbs down.

Reading this, you get the impression that Chris is a little hurt by John’s presentation. In his own words, “…Abraham’s lengthy, unprovoked, and widely-circulated personal attack on me.”

Firstly Monckton:

I think Chris the very last person to have the right to protest that other’s have said nasty things about him. He also hurls some mud at John, so I’d personally conclude that if it’s good for the goose it’s good for the gander. (Incidentally, this post at DesmogBlog was just published that also discusses name calling and Skeptical Science posted this which also highlights Monckton’s hypocritical name calling)

What’s funny is that, in the next paragraph Monckton discusses how John has reduced his presentation to avoid the previous speculations of Christopher’s character, while continuing to keep his presentation live; thus (in Monckton’s mind), proving his guilt while continuing to “attack” Chris. I think you’ll find that without the extra 10mins, it’s still over an hour of inaccuracies in Monckton’s presentation. He even finishes this paragraph by openly admitting that scientists were not cited – one of Abraham’s criticisms to begin with and certainly not a professional scientific habit. If he wants to present scientific data he should do so in correct scientific protocol and not in such a loose fashion that makes the evidence unclear and difficult for others to backtrack and test for themselves.

This continues through the next couple of paragraphs, also including when John asks the originating scientists for feedback on how Chris had portrayed their work. Chris write, “…Abraham rashly persists in misrepresenting me to third-party scientists, getting hostile quotations from them in response to what I had not said, and using them against me.”

But wasn’t John and the other scientists trying to illustrate that, in fact, it was the work of these researchers that had been misrepresented and that Chris had stated things that they had not concluded?

He then continues that he can prove spades of malice against John and will see him in court. In fact, I feel that John’s presentation was actually quite objective and went to great lengths to constructively find the sources and provide a logical, scientific response. If Monckton feels threatened by people replying to his baseless statements with, “you’re scientifically inaccurate in your conclusions,” well, why is he on this world wide campaign against climate science, with a presentation riddled with graphs missing citations and conclusions that don’t match up with the papers he does cite?

If I came into a room and said that a magical unicorn out on the street told me that it was an incarnation of God and commanded that I lead the people into a frenzied war against squirrels, I’d first be laughed at and secondly be questioned for evidence. Could I take those people to court for not believing me?

A while ago, I wrote this, “Trusting Monckton’s fears of a nazi world government plot instead of the voice of multi-generational farmers who have watched their lands change is like buying up home security equipment from a door-to-door salesman whose sale pitch relies on him once being abducted by aliens because his house wasn’t properly locked.”

Could he sue the family for not taking him up on his anti-alien equipment?

Of course not.

What should not be forgotten in this next wave of Moncktonian noise is that what he’s actually doing is what is all to often the response from deniers when you have them up against the wall; it’s the ad hominem tramp card. When all else fails, “they’re being mean to me!”

He has not demonstrated any real scientific evidence to back up his claims and has not demonstrated how his conclusions of the results he has reasonably differ to those original researchers. The only data that he supplies that matches his conclusions is from his own organisation. When he can demonstrate the errors in the science of John’s rebuttal, then he’ll not only have a case, he would undoubtedly be the hero that helped humanity avoid the trials of meeting a changing climate. Unfortunately this is very unlikely to happen and I’m afraid we should be doing more to adapt.

What if science worked in Monckton’s way?

It’s a terrifying idea and there is simply no way that our species would have become so tech-savvy over the past century. If just one of the advancements in medical science, chemistry or physics, for instance met with such noisy unscientific criticisms, that threatened legal action in the face of being proven wrong, where would we be? Imagine, for instance, the whole sorry affair with Dr. Semmelweiss, who demonstrated that sterilisation of hands and medical equipment could lower mortality, although he wasn’t sure of the reasons behind this. He faced a lot of criticism in Europe and his ideas took a while to be adopted – until the reason why was found. A lot of deaths no doubt occurred that otherwise wouldn’t have. However, throw in a “sceptic” who is also an excellent public speaker and is even able to pull out this graph:

This sceptic could argue that puerperal fever fluctuated wildly, there’s nothing here to prove that Semmelweiss is correct, that “we all know that it is an imbalance of the basic four humours that is responsible”, and that Semmelweiss is assisting in a plot to weaken countries to this or that attacking force (note, Europe was largely politically unstable throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

Now, Semmelweiss didn’t know why this was happening, but he had demonstrated that sterilisation worked. However, the sceptic would naturally only further exaggerate the establishment’s assertion that they were not wrong – this being the basis for the rebuttal. Word of this hit the US, where Oliver Wendell Holmes had previously published a similar argument to Semmelweiss, which also attracted the same level of denial. The medical community paid for this sceptic to come across and reassure them that they knew better than Holmes.

Both men faced enough criticism that was belief based and not on the evidence. Imagine just how much more the medical community could have dug its heels in if it had such an excellent speaker that opposed the new findings and could make rash conclusions that just didn’t add up. Would microscopes be smashed in a fit of denial? Where would medical science be today without such a radical change as sterilisation?

Conclusion

Luckily, papers go out to a wide audience and are challenged by a very cluey bunch. Even, as we see with climate science, people from other fields question and argue the science – which has lead to the handful of papers Nova and a few others wave wildly in the air. These counter arguments are looked at and also challenged. This tends to lead us to a clearer answer. This paper;

Anderegga, W. R. L., Prall, J. W., Harold, J., and, Schneidera, S. H. (2010) Expert credibility in climate change. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107

illustrates that very point regarding climate science and that the image is becoming very clearer of our impact on the observed climate change. The scientific community has come along way in the past 160yrs and although it can be difficult for an individual or a group to admit that they were wrong, it’s not so opaque when they are. As was demonstrated quite clearly by this “controversy” labelled, Climategate: when there is wind of malpractice, it’ll hit the news stands before sundown. You can make a solid bet that if a small group of people were leading us astray, it’d be sniffed out by someone, who would start publishing rebuttal work which would catch the eye of others who would get involved with the debate. If there was any signs of one group or another deliberately misleading, well that would ruin careers. However, the truth would eventually come out and if it was interesting enough to the general public, they’d also hear about it. A handful of independent inquiries regarding this Climategate have found nothing to suggest a scandal and actually strengthen the validity of the work done.

I'm given far too many opportunities to use this graphic lately

The same goes with this situation. John Abraham looked over the presentation presented by Monckton and found lapses of scientific foundation. Conclusions apparently drawn by Chris where not reflected in the papers that he had cited. Did Chris then demonstrate how he came to these conclusions so that the scientific community can test his hypothesis to weigh up the validity of his conclusions? No, he simply questions John’s credentials and screams that John had deliberately attacked him. This is obviously not the case in John’s work and I hope is not the reflection of this piece either. Simply, Monckton’s presentation did not pass muster in a scientific sense.

What we need is clarity and foresight. I recently commented on Laframboise’s work, where she quotes Bob Carter’s book, “we can take sensible steps to protect ourselves from hazards we’re dead certain to encounter’. This, Carter concludes, relates to droughts, landslides, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes etc. We are no more certain of them in advance than we are climate change. In both cases planning is based on predictive modelling and the results are somewhat grainy (ie. “once in a century storm”, “certain percentage likelihood that temperature trends will reach this mark by this time if this emission scenario occurs” etc). Dead certainty is only in retrospect and without sensible forward planning in “likelihood” risk management policies, dead certainty takes a much stronger meaning in the wake of many of these disasters. As I’ve tried to illustrate in the Innovation series, the results of the observed climate change has already been recorded in many bio-physical processes and without proper forward planning, it is likely to have an increasingly detrimental effect on food and water security, ecology and the services that we rely on and the frequency of many of the events Carter mentions. We don’t need sceptics reassuring us until we’re 100% certain, we need sensible adaptation and governance of populations and ecosystems.

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12 thoughts on “Monckton’s reply to Abraham and how science really works.

  1. I wonder. How many of these people insisting on 100%, perfect knowledge of current and future conditions are parents?

    How could they justify taking such a foolhardy step as getting pregnant? No-one ever has 100% knowledge of how healthy the mother will be during the pregnancy, let alone how healthy / strong / good-looking / intelligent the resultant offspring will be. The one thing we *do* know about having babies is that it will cost time, effort and money.

    But we do it.

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    1. I’m not sure… It seems to be an all too common call by this denial crowd, however – that action demands no doubt..
      As you beautifully put it, there is nothing in life that is truly certain. Scientific reasoning gives us confidence in our assumptions and with this we should make the best choices.

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  2. did you see Moncktons list of 500 question to John Abraham ? basically his reply to John Abraham to provide proof or explain himself is to ask so many questions so as to befuddle the brain of any rational person , just like his presentations there are so many things he says that are wrong you dont know where to start .

    thankfully there are people like John Abraham to take the time to do it .

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    1. I had a quick look of it, but it soon hurt my head. lol.
      I find it amazing that right off the bat Mockton tries to challenge John’s relevant credentials when he must realize that outside his little pack (who label him an expert) it’s quite clear he himself has nothing to fall back on as relevant training. Following that he just seems to attack John, assume John attacked him and feebly try to question his presentation without ever providing any reason why anyone should doubt John’s findings.
      As you say, it’s just like his presentation and would take a long time to deconstruct into something logical, but we all know Christopher’s only really claim to fame is making a puzzle, so I guess it’s the best to expect from him.
      John has done the world a massive favour – with the amount of work it took him to unravel the mess, imagine how much longer it would’ve taken someone with access to as many papers, or experts. All the while this man spreads horribly inaccurate propaganda on a whirlwind tour of the globe. There will be a few that will be unable to believe in the deconstruction and a whole heap more that have heard his presentation, but are not tech-savvy enough to have heard John’s rebuttal so the damage is done and will make the effort of addressing climate change within the public much harder.

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    2. David,

      Good point. You might like to look up the Gish Gallop, a strategy used by an evolution denialist a while ago, more recently used by Ian Plimer in a “debate” with George Monbiot. I’ll give links tomorrow if you need them.

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  3. Christopher Monckton and other deniers get far more press coverage than they deserve. Journalistic false balance has caused the public to be confused on climate change – the greatest threat to humanity this century. Worse, these deniers have used mainstream media to attack climate science and the scientists who pursue the truth. Let us now turn the tables.

    Monckton has been exposed by Dr. John Abraham and instead of hiding his tail and whimpering away, Monckton has gone on the offensive by attacking Dr. Abraham and asking his followers to essentially “email bomb” Dr. Abraham’s university president. We need to alert the media to this story.

    I have assembled a list of 57 media contacts in the hopes that my readers will follow my lead and send letters asking for an investigation of Monckton and his attack on Abraham. I have placed mailto links that will make it easy to send letters to several contacts at once with a single click.

    In the thread comments, please suggest other contacts in the US and from abroad. This blog thread can then be used in the future to alert the media to denialist activity.

    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/turn-the-tables-on-monckton/

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    1. Great idea Scott – I’ll write a relevant post this lunch break and highlight your idea.
      You couldn’t be more right; this idea of “balanced” coverage regarding climate science allows too much weight within the public eye for denial, giving the illusion that there is still a raging debate over the science, which there is not.
      Last week, I published 3 posts that looked at 3 different journalists who blatantly get science wrong. These people should be held responsible for their misinformation and so should the outlets that publish their propaganda.
      Journalism should be a respectable industry that wade through all the BS to help the public have increased awareness of the world around them and a strong platform on which to stand for meaningful beliefs. Instead, media is nothing but a laughable tool of propaganda.

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  4. Basically if journos are making factual errors they should be made to print a retraction .

    “Journalism should be a respectable industry” lol Moth , news media is a money spinner

    these days and they spin the news to sell the most papers or get ratings for TV advertising $$ ,

    and yes propaganda too but only if it sells .

    Scott’s has done a good job on his lists , but so Aust ones would be good too .

    Thank you Scott and Moth to for the time and effort put in .

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    1. yeah, deep down I know you’re right.. I’m not sure if it was in a recent post or comments elsewhere, but I did comment about how sensationalism has probably taken over to keep up with the internet. News can’t be what it used to be.
      Still, i once read John Pilger’s book – Heroes. I hold that as an example of good journalism. Then you read Bolt..
      Unfortunately i’d be no good at putting an Aussie list together – if it wasn’t for Mike at Watching the deniers I’d not have heard of Bolt. I avoid media as much as possible 🙂

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  5. Don’t get carried away with nostalgia for an era you’re too young to remember, tim. The “Truth” was ghastly, most Oz morning newspapers were conservative and stodgy. The afternoon papers were sensationalist and sporty (guess where The News was born).

    The Australian was a breath of fresh air when it was first published. When the expected decline came it was quick, steep and permanent.

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    1. As i said, I know David was right, my ‘nostalgia’ is more or less a mark of respect for journos who did go above and beyond – Pilger being one of them.
      I understand that print has had a colourful history and certainly produced as many lies as half truths and truths. The very industry that has attempted to label scientists as weakly submitting to carrot on a stick style grants does so with a pungent air of hypocrisy. At least science is held accountable. I just fell that journalists likewise should be made to stand by theit words.

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