I have just picked up that Lord Christopher Monckton*, a high-profile global warming skeptic, will be coming to New Zealand from the Climate Conversation Group, and am encouraged that this might see some debate in New Zealand over the issue of anthropogenic global warming. In a recent trip to Australia, Christopher Monckton engaged in a debate at the Australian Press club, and I have embedded the Youtube video below.
Lord Monckton’s debating opponent was economist Richard Deniss, and this is how the Climate Conversation Group characterised the debate:
Economist Richard Deniss must be no intellectual weakling, but he gave the impression of not knowing where he was, so he said the things he normally said. Which usually works, because his normal audience has heard them before and agrees with him. But here, he floundered and had no idea what he was doing.
Whilst the entire debate was interesting, one point of particular interest for me is the moment when one of the journalists asks Lord Monckton about his title and membership of the House of Lords in the UK. Lord Monckton had seemingly engaged in the debate on the basis that there would be no ad hominem attacks on individuals. Nevertheless, the question came up in a debate on climate change. To me, this is representative of the hostile views to skeptical positions.
Another high point was when a journalist (I think from a student magazine), asked why he did not publish his views in the peer-reviewed literature. He answered that he had published, and then presented a rather sorry account of how it was denied that it had been peer-reviewed, and the loss of the editorship for the editors who had allowed the publication. I do not know the full story here, but it certainly chimes with the evidence of the ‘climategate’ emails. However, the question of his publication to one side, the key answer was to ask why it is that, for example, Al Gore was not asked if he had published in the peer-reviewed literature. In other words, express a skeptical position and it is invalidated by not having published in peer-reviewed literature, but the same does not apply to positions supportive of catastrophic global warming.
Perhaps the overall highlight was the lack of any strength in the Richard Deniss argument. One theme was that there was a consensus, and we should therefore act. This is all familiar territory, but the implication was made by Richard Deniss that all the skeptical positions were only to be found in blogs, and the skeptical position was often compared with non-scientific debates, such as the use of ‘new-age’ remedies for cancer. Lord Monckton just kept plugging away at the skeptical science in response. It made Richard Deniss appear a little silly, as he never addressed any substantive issues of the science.
One of the most odd approaches used by Richard Deniss was to continually hark on about the Australian policy options to deal with global warming. He is debating a person who thinks that there should be no policy to address global warming whatsoever, and used debate about policy options to present an argument. It was just very, very odd. Another classic position was trotted out on numerous occasions, and that was the precautionary principle i.e. that action is an insurance. Lord Monckton batted this back by saying that we might therefore take precaution against catastrophic asteroid impacts, which are of course possible. My own variant of this argument is that we should, on the precautionary principle, prepare against dragon attacks. If dragons do exist, which we can not say is impossible as we cannot conclusively disprove their existence, then their attacks might create mayhem. However, the existence of dragons is highly implausible and improbable….it is a question of probability and plausibility.
In the end, the best way to make a judgement on the outcome of the debate is to watch it. I hope that you will take the time to do so, and the debate is below:
I just remembered that I needed to add an update on the ‘saga’ with Professor Keith Hunter (perhaps saga is too strong an expression, but…). If you click on the link, you will get the gist of the story. Professor Hunter is pro-vice chancellor of sciences at University of Otago, and I suggested that his discussion of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s (NZCSC) court action against NIWA had been on the wrong side of science. I asked him to clarify his position in light of events showing that NZCSC had revealed the problems in the ‘science’ used by NIWA. His most recent response was to indulge in an ad hominem attack on me (sound familiar – see above). I suggested that he might respond to the substantive issue. I checked my email today, and still no response.
It seems a little sad that a person in such a position within the scientific community might not come out and clarify that they are firmly on the side of good science. Whether he likes or dislikes the position of NZCSC, it seems that a person in such a lofty position should want to be actively supportive of action that served the interests of science. Instead, what we have is an attack on my integrity, and a refusal to clarify his position.
In this case, Professor Hunter has allowed a newspaper to quote him, and is not willing to stand by his comments, or clarify his position. It is very easy to dish out quotes but it seems that individuals should be held responsible for such quotes, in particular when they hold positions of responsibility and influence. It seems that, in light of the events that followed the quotes, he should want to use any outlet to clarify his position, if indeed he regrets his comments. In light of the refusal to clarify the quotes, it might be that Professor Hunter does indeed stand by the quotes. If so, one can only express concern for the scientific endeavours of the University of Otago. After all, if Professor Hunter does stand by his comments, one can only wonder at what he believes is good science.
Bearing in mind Professor Hunter seems to take a dim view of this blog, he might want to clarify his position in another outlet. Perhaps a press release in which he explains his position? After all, if he stands by the quotes, he should explain why. We should know why such a high profile scientist stands by such a position. If he regrets his attack on NZCSC, then he should make this public, as the comments were, to be quite frank, rude. If he does not stand by his quotes, it seems a matter of courtesy and also personal integrity to express regret for such an intemperate and rude attack.