Thanks to several readers for their comments on my last post. They point out that others have already solidly debunked Lord Monckton’s challenges to the IPCC, and that he’s somewhat of a has-been as deniers go. Most responses come from people that seem to have a scientific or political position on anthropogenic global warming.
It’s a little embarrassing: reading all of the excellent criticisms of Monckton, perhaps my previous post erred on the charitable side. But I emphasize: I’m specifically here to provide an outsider’s take on the global warming debate. I’m certainly not on “team IPCC.” I haven’t even seen An Inconvenient Truth. I don’t mind crediting Monckton if he makes a good point. I do mind reading garbage, and my last post illustrates how even a non-expert (myself) can identify the fallaciousness of Monckton’s arguments.
I want to commend Professor John Abraham who takes a most charming (and certainly labor intensive) means towards resolving a messy debate. (Thanks to reader “Durango” Bill Butler, who’s own blog led me Abraham’s work.) Over and over again, Monckton makes a claim about the implications of a (peer-reviewed, published) scientific study, and Abraham actually contacts the authors of that study, and asks them whether their work is being correctly cited! It appears Monckton is flat-out misrepresenting the substantive claims in much of his cited work, if Abraham is to be believed.
And I think we should believe Abraham. He reproduces all of his correspondences. He speaks plainly, and avoids silly appeals to authority, or other bad arguments. He even starts with pointing out that Monckton’s got no substantial track record, and how this is not necessarily a reason to disbelieve Monckton’s points.
Now let’s say I’m comfortable asserting that Monckton is incorrect. Am I bringing up Professor Abraham’s efforts because they substantiate that assertion? No, that’s not it, not at all. Due to his notoriety, I suspect that every one of his claims have been thoroughly scrutinized by bloggers and the like.
I want to highlight Abraham’s beautiful debunking, as a strategy itself. Just show us what the authors themselves think! Monckton’s allowed to misinterpret data (and to spread misunderstanding) if he plausibly thinkshe’s correct. But personal correspondence is difficult to equivocate about. I suppose one could deceptively select excerpts from a personal correspondence…but even this seems risky, for legalistic reasons. Once Abraham says, “This expert says they agree with me not you,” he’s changed the rules of engagement. If the expert is, in fact, being misquoted, such an assertion is plausibly damaging to his professional reputation.
Another reason why Abraham’s approach is beautiful is it avoids many of the pitfalls surrounding the concept of authority. Monckton, when speaking to a room full of people, is presenting himself as an expert in climate science. Why should people respect what he has to say? Well, he’s acting like a scientist, inasmuch as he’s showing data, and he’s promoting a particular interpretation of the data. Surely, Monckton’s combination of smooth talking, graphical data, and cavalier interpretations of the data, amounts to a convincing emulation of a scientific authority. How is a lay-person supposed to identify Monckton’s science puppetry?
We need scientists to defend their own work, especially in the public sphere. Just as medical and legal professionals defend their turf from impostors (admittedly, to varying degrees of success), scientists need to advocate for the correct interpretation of their work. If Monckton was attempting to malpractice applied science (aka engineering) then there are professional boards that could make a concerted, legally-backed effort to stop him. But research science is technically an amateur’s game. Nobody can certify or decertify a research scientist. The closest thing to a license a research scientist has is a formal education, a peer-reviewed publication record, and a professional reputation. As Monckton lacks even that level of qualifications, we are forced to beat him at his own game, as many others have handily done.
Ryan MB Hoffman has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. He is mostly interested in how protein molecules fluctuate throughout their functional processes. During his doctoral work he studied troponin, which is a switch that regulates striated muscle contraction. He works as a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego, at the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. He is active with the Intrinsically Disordered Proteins subgroup of the Biophysical Society. Ryan likes to remind people that his contributions to TRN are performed entirely using his personal resources.