2011-01-30 08:06:41Monckton Myths - a one-stop-shop of Monckton misinformation - UPDATED FROM FEEDBACK
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
123.211.149.21

This is the blog post which I'm hoping to get into the Guardian. It's a bit rushed, I asked the Guardian editor if he wants to see a preview ahead of time (hoping he'll publish it on Monday night). So this is written specifically for the Guardian - I would've written it differently for Skeptical Science.

Should I provide more analysis of the various rhetorical techniques of Monckton? Welcome feedback, this is just an early draft.


Monckton Myths - a one-stop-shop of Monckton misinformation

To loosely paraphrase an old saying, a piece of misinformation can travel halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. This is the conundrum facing climate scientists as they attempt to communicate the realities of climate change, amidst the noise and fury of the internet. The problem is global warming skepticism is a renewable resource. When you take the time to closely follow online discussions, blog posts and op-eds, you find the same skeptic arguments appear repeatedly, well after they've been thoroughly debunked in peer-reviewed research.

Christopher Monckton is a prolific climate skeptic. Perusing all the articles published by Monckton and the arguments he uses, Monckton appears to be zealous about recycling skeptic arguments. The same ideas appear over and over again. Recycling is usually good for the environment but sadly not in this case.

Of particular interest are the arguments Monckton uses most often. There are several sitting atop the pile which  presumably are Monckton's killer blows. A close examination of these favourite arguments reveals much about how Monckton presents the science to the public.

Monckton's most popular argument is that climate sensitivity, a measure of how much the earth warms from rising CO2, is low. As our planet warms from increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere, Monckton suggests negative feedbacks suppress the warming. This is supposedly our Get Out Of Jail Free Card - we can pollute as much as we like and nature will take care of things. To back up this claim, Monckton cites the work of Richard Lindzen who uses satellite measurements of outgoing radiation as evidence for negative feedback.

However, Monckton only presents half of the story. A number of subsequent papers have examined Lindzen's work and found fatal flaws in his analysis. As well as a questionable choice of end-point dates in his data, Lindzen looks only at the tropics. A number of other analyses using similar satellite observations spanning the entire globe find positive feedback that enhances global warming.

On top of this, many studies using a range of different observations find that the overall climate feedback amplifies global warming. Climate sensitivity has to be high to explain the dramatic climate changes we see in the past. To argue low climate sensitivity based on one study presents only half the story. In fact, not even that. It gives you barely a fraction of the full body of evidence.

Monckton's other favourite argument is that sea levels are not going to rise much in the future, citing the words of Nils Mörner who claims it's physically impossible for sea level to rise much above its present rate. Again, this gives you only a fraction of the full picture. The expectation of future sea level rise is based on many different observations. Recent research into glacier dynamics in Greenland and Antarctica yield a prediction of 80 cm to 2 metres sea level rise by 2100. Another recent study takes a different approach, matching past sea level rise to past temperature change to yield a prediction of 75 to 190 cm sea level rise by the end of this century.

Meanwhile, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing ice at a faster rate every year. Two decades ago, the Greenland ice sheet was in approximate mass balance - as much ice was growing in the middle as was being shed at the edges. One decade ago, the ice sheet was losing ice at a rate of 100 billion tonnes per year. Currently, it's losing ice at a rate of over 200 billion tonnes per year. Greenland's glaciers are sliding faster down into the ocean.

A clearer picture of our future can be found in the past. Around 120,000 years ago, global temperatures were about 1 to 2 degrees warmer than now. At that time, sea levels were over 6 metres higher than current levels. Many lines of evidence indicate we're facing significant sea level rise this century.

In Unsound Advice, Monckton describes "one of the shabbiest tricks of the climate-extremist movement" is to give only one half of the story. Misleading the public by giving only half the story is indeed shabby behaviour. Giving them barely a fraction of the story is even worse.

For this reason, at Skeptical Science we've developed a resource Monckton Myths. We've compiled a database of Monckton's articles and the skeptic arguments he uses. As Monckton publishes new articles with the same recycled arguments, let us know and we'll add it to the database. While misinformation may burst out of the blocks quickly, by the time it's circled the world to start all over again, perhaps this time it will find the full facts dressed up and ready for action.

2011-01-30 09:54:17
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.52.112

a) "über-arguments": I question the appropriateness of this word. Does it give the impression you're accusing Monckton of being a Nazi?

 

b) "As well as a questionable choice of end points in his data"

=> "As well as a questionable choice of end-point dates in his data"

 

c) Is the issue the maximum height of sea level, or the rate at which it can rise? These two passages seem to discussing two different issues, but you pose them as contradictory:

- "Moving down the list, Monckton's second favourite argument is that sea levels are not going to rise in the future, citing the words of Nils Mörner who claims it's physically impossible for sea level to rise much above its present rate. Again, this gives you only a fraction of the full picture. The expectation of future sea level rise is based on many different observations. Research into glacier dynamics in Greenland and Antarctica yield a prediction of 80 cm to 2 metres sea level rise by 2100. Another paper takes an entirely different approach, matching past sea level rise to past temperature change to yield a prediction of 75 to 190 cm sea level rise by the end of this century."

- "A clearer picture of our future can be found in the past. Around 120,000 years ago, global temperatures were about 1 to 2 degrees warmer than now. At that time, sea levels were over 6 metres higher than current levels. This shows it's not only possible for sea levels to rise above current levels, many lines of evidence indicate we're facing significant sea level rise this century."

 

In general, for reasons we've discussed before, the tone worries me a bit. I hope you've talked to someone about it.

2011-01-30 12:28:24nice job
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
71.140.0.210

Very nice job John.  Just being a few nitpicks:

"A prolific climate skeptic is Christopher Monckton."  I'd change this to either "Christopher Monckton is a prolific climate skeptic" or "One prolific climate skeptic is Christopher Monckton" (or perhaps one of the most prolific).

"A number of other analyses using similar observations but spanning the entire globe find positive feedback that enhances global warming." (just because "global warming" is a term readily recognized by the general public).

I think when you mention the 'climate sensitivity is low' argument, you should add a sentence or two explaining exactly what climate sensitivity is (how much the planet will warm in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, including feedbacks like melting ice and increasing atmospheric water vapor - something like that).

"On top of this, a number of studies using a whole range of different observations find positive feedback" => "...find that the overall net feedback to increasing CO2 is positive, amplifying global warming"

"Monckton's second favourite argument is that sea levels are not going to rise very much in the future"

"Research into glacier dynamics..." => "Recent research into glacier dynamics..."

"Another paper takes an entirely different approach..." => "Another recent study takes..."

It would be nice to discuss Monckton's techniques further (cherrypicking, etc.), but if you do, it adds to the risk that Monckton will attempt some legal attack, as neal is concerned about.  As currently written, it seems like you should be safe, mainly talking about the types of scientific errors Monckton makes, only presenting the convenient evidence, etc.

2011-01-30 13:30:56
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.112.237

My approach would be to describe the error/dishonesty, in the context of explaining Monckton's argument, without explicitly saying, "Monckton did this." Something like:

Monckton argues that the rate of warming X/10 instead of X, based on data set A. However, data set A represents only 10% of the data samples, and blah blah blah.

This way you are not stating anywhere that he is lying, you are sticking to the facts that cannot be argued: He said X, but there are some problems with X; He often reuses arguments, but many people have pointed out problems with these arguments. (actually, see below)

This may take a little circumlocution; but may provide some additional insulation.

 In general, I would not accuse him of anything: Don't say, "He does Z", except in the presence of a specific example of Z; and then don't blame him, blame Z. Logically, it's the same; but legally, it may not be.

2011-01-31 06:18:35
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.226.149

-As Dana has commented climate sensitivity needs a simple explanation when first mentioned. Climate sensitivity=how much Earth will warm by adding more CO2?.(thinking of the Guardian audience here, so keeping it simple).

-"A clearer picture of our future can be found in the past. Around 120,000 years ago, global temperatures were about 1 to 2 degrees warmer than now. At that time, sea levels were over 6 metres higher than current levels. This shows it's not only possible for sea levels to rise above current levels, many lines of evidence indicate we're facing significant sea level rise this century."

Agree with Neal here, the main point is that Monckton is claiming that SLR cannot happen faster than now. Blanchon 2009 show that SLR during the Eemian highstand reached as high as 36mm per year (12 times the current rate of SLR). Which points to ice sheet disintegration at a time roughly equivalent to now. Given the target audience, perhaps just mention that the rate of SLR was as high as 12 times that of today?.

- Maybe the tone sails close to the wind, but not over the top. Uber-argument a nazi slur?. I don't take it that way. Uber seems to have found it's way into common English language use is all. 

- I like it!.  

 

2011-01-31 06:33:47
Riccardo

riccardoreitano@tiscali...
93.147.82.162

Is the use of latin (ad nauseam, modus operandi) clear enough for the average reader?

"These are supposedly our Get Out Of Jail Free Card - we can pollute as much as we like and nature will take care of things" You may add something about "the other carbon problem", as if this alone was not bad enough.

 "sea levels are not going to rise in the future" => "sea levels are not going to rise much in the future"

Second last paragraph. Aren't you giving the impression of agreeing with the accusation of shabby behaviour?

Last paragraph. "all of Monckton's articles": are they really all?

2011-01-31 12:21:33
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.184.89

Some personal preferences: replace "uber" with "favourite" and "meme" with "idea".

These sentences are confusing, especially the words "overselling" and "surrenders". 

To characterise Monckton as presenting only half the story is overselling things. He surrenders barely a fraction of the full body of evidence - only giving us that one tiny piece that seems to tell us there's nothing to worry about.

A similar thought is included later:

In Unsound Advice, Monckton criticises President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren, accusing him of committing "one of the shabbiest tricks of the climate-extremist movement: he only gives one half of the story". Misleading the public by giving only half the story is indeed shabby behaviour. Giving them barely a fraction of the story is even worse.

The last two sentences could be read as conceding that Monckton is correct about Holdren but is worse himself and I'm sure that's not what was intended. (Added: I just noticed that Riccardo noted the same thing).

Added: two of the arguments in the linked list are very similar: "Sea level rise predictions are exaggerated" and "Sea level rise is exaggerated".

2011-01-31 15:13:52Updated post
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
123.211.149.21
Thanks to all. I've made a number of text changes to the first post above, based on everyone's feedback.

Neal, I haven't talked to anyone legal about this - I don't have any legal contacts. You guys are it, I'm afraid :-) I've tried to make it as unslanderous as possible which is mighty difficult when talking about Monckton. Welcome suggestions on how to further reduce the potential litigatious text (hmm, we need to get some lawyers into our network!)

Neal, the point I'm making re sea level is that it's going to rise significantly - I don't really discuss the rate (other than to pin the 2100 date on several estimations). The purpose is to contradict Morner's "physically impossible to rise much above its present rate".

I've also added links to all the various SkS arguments. You know how it goes, "if I've blogged further, it's because I blog on the shoulders of past blogs". Hmm, that sounded better in my head.
2011-01-31 17:10:42
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.54.211

"While misinformation may burst out of the blocks quickly, by the time it's circled the world to start all over again, it will find the truth all dressed and ready for action."

=> "While misinformation may burst out of the blocks quickly, maybe this time it will find the full facts dressed up and ready for action."