When you have nothing left with which to argue, please avoid the smear…

In my last essay I showed Judith Curry, of Climate etc, at what I think is her best: advising government in a style that is assured, knowledgeable, moderate and questioning. I said also that she is now, along with some other notable sceptical scientists, the target of what looks like a highly organised attempt to denigrate her. It is something that can happen quite easily in the USA, where Congressional Committees have the power to subpoena witnesses, and where the individual has little redress.

This attack seems to have started with the publication of a paper, on ‘climate sensitivity’, by four well-known sceptical scientists, Monckton, Soon, Legates and  Briggs. It was published (in English) in the Chinese equivalent of Nature, and gained instant attention. It used a simple mathematical model, and IPCC data, to suggest that even if CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere doubled, which might take the rest of the century, average global temperature would not rise by much more than 1 degree Celsius.

Their paper is not an easy read, though it has been downloaded around 25,000 times, which is a record for the journal. What was notable after its publication was that the orthodox critics did not attempt to show that it, or any of it, was wrong, but attacked the authors, and Soon in particular, for not having disclosed the source of his funding.  To do so was doubly irrelevant, since the paper had not required funding at all, being done as a desk-based intellectual argument.

That might have been shrugged off, but then a Democratic Congressman called Raul Grijalva got into the act, firing off a long letter to the universities that employ Soon and six other well-known sceptical scientists, including Judith Curry. The letter asked for information about virtually every aspect (in Professor Curry’s case) of her income, financial reports, grants, projects, drafts and so on going back to 2007. Each of the seven had given testimony to one or more Congressional committees.

As a former university president, I would have found the letter (a copy of it can be found at Climate etc. here) both extraordinary in its tone and deeply troubling. Rep. Grijalva is simply a senior member of one House Committee (Natural Resources). He has no particular status, and cannot himself subpoena witnesses or demand documents. His letter was expressed almost as a demand, but it could only be a request.

My initial response, if I had to answer it, would be to say that responding to his request would cost a lot of time and money, and that it was unclear how all this would aid Grijalva in his work as a Congressman. Perhaps he could make that more clear. Much of the information would already be available in various public forms. And so on. Or perhaps a polite suggestion that he might find other things to do. But of course university presidents don’t have the luxury of telling Congressmen where to go. They could, nonetheless, come out in support of their staff when they encounter a fishing expedition like this one.

At much the same time, and apparently in conjunction, there commenced an attack on Dr Soon in the pages of The Guardian and the New York Times which soon extended to the others. One of the seven is Roger Pielke Jnr, whose research I have written about before, who was so upset by the attacks on him, which he described as ‘a politically motivated witch hunt’, that he has declared he will not write on ‘climate change’ any more.

While I have written to Roger supporting him, and written also to Judith Curry, being the two with whom I have corresponded most frequently, Roger’s intended retreat from the field worries me, and has worried many of those who have gone to his blog to support him. He is being silenced, and that is the antithesis of science and of research more generally. As it happens the Vice-Provost (Deputy Vice-Chancellor in our world) of his University has come out strongly in support of him.

That hasn’t been the case, at least yet, for Dr Soon, with his institution, the Harvard-Smithsonian, saying only that it does not support his views on climate science, but not otherwise causing him angst. I have every hope that Judith Curry’s President will speak out in her support, too.

Could all this happen in Australia? Yes, it could. Our institutions have had a huge dose of PC, especially, though not at all solely, in the field of climate science. The number of public sceptics who hold tenured chairs in our universities is very small indeed, and I can think of no junior staff member who has ventured a sceptical opinion. What saves us are the very limitations on the powers of MPs and Senators that keep our parliamentary bodies focussed on Parliament itself and the doings of the current administration.

But the importance of money in our universities, the very high status of research, and the fact that so much research funding comes either directly or indirectly from the Federal Government, means that vice-chancellors and deans are unlikely to look with favour on an academic who dares to suggest that the emperor seems increasingly  devoid of clothes.

I find the whole issue a distasteful one. If there is something wrong with the Monckton, Soon, Legates and Briggs paper, then surely the clever ones among the orthodox could point that out. As it happens, a noted blogging engineer, Rud Istvan, has done that on Climate etc., though his criticism does not disturb the real force of the paper*. Professor Bob Carter, who has experienced the force of PC disapproval himself, has written a clear and sensible statement on Dr Soon, while the Heartland Institute, the organised him of climate dissent in the USA, has a database on the whole issue that is updated daily.

There’s an awful lot to read, and one’s heart sinks as you peruse it. What comes out of it, to me, is that real loss that science and research are suffering as a consequence of forgetting that science is about scepticism, not consensus.
And to conclude, if you aren’t aware that Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, the head of the IPCC for the last 13 years, and a member of India’s Climate Council, has resigned from both positions, and is helping the Indian police with their enquiries, so to speak, about unwanted sexual behaviour towards his female staff — why would you expect the ABC or the major newspapers to deal with anything so trivial?
In his resignation statement Pachauri said, among other things, ‘For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.’
Isn’t that the major problem?
[‘dharma’ means many things, but Pachauri might have meant by it ‘the right way of living’.]
[* Istvan’s essay is followed by several hundred comments, including several that do criticise the Monckton et al paper, from various perspectives, which shows that Climate etc is serving as an immediate form of peer review. Monckton has written a response to much of the critique — and all within a couple of days.]

Join the discussion 37 Comments

  • David says:

    On what basis do you claim Mockton is a scientist? Is a scientist without a science degree, a “generalist”?


    • pjb253 says:

      If he follows the “scientific method” he is more of a scientist than any academic who clings to a theory that does not match the observations.

      A charlatan (also called swindler or
      mountebank) is a person practising quackery or some similar confidence
      trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form
      of pretense or deception.

      • David says:

        If you are arguing Mockton is a charlatan, I would say harsh but fair.

        • giordano bruno says:

          How many climate extremists have a PhD in physics or engineering ? Mockton is not worse of the most part of the leadership of our universities research centres climate commissions professional bodies government agencies etc etc etc … In democracy everybody is treated same way .. Here everything is ad-personam … Not good ….

          • David says:

            Don has referred to Monckton as a scientist. I simply make the point that Monckton’s wiki does not say he has a science degree. Just saying that is all.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I may be wrong but I think that Monckton has a BA from Cambridge in mathematics and in something else, philosophy, perhaps. He certainly writes confidently in the scientific field, but that doesn’t prove anything.

            As others have suggested, it all depends on what you mean by ‘scientist’.

          • dlb says:

            I had to smile when someone said (maybe Judy) that Monckton’s reply to Rud was longer than Rud’s critique.

        • pjb253 says:

          Mistakenly, I assumed you could comprehend the pronoun “he”. I will try to use smaller words.

          • David says:

            How about you focus on the conjunction “if” ? -as in

            “If he follows the scientific method …”

    • Michael 2 says:

      A scientist is simply a person doing science. That is all.

  • David says:

    “What was notable after its publication was that the orthodox critics did not attempt to show that it, or any of it, was wrong,…”

    The article was published on he 8th of January 2015!. Its still only early March. Who knows Don perhaps all the real scientists were getting organised to teach first semester.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Rud Istvan poses this question early in his comments referenced above by Don.

    ‘There was a saying among WWII Army Air Force bomber pilots: “If you are taking heavy flak, you are over the target”. What is it about this target?’

    The weight of evidence and argument against the orthodox AGW position espoused by the IPCC and supported by so many, is becoming very strong indeed. The target is being attacked heavily with analytical bombs that cannot be dodged or diverted. – what else can one do but fire at the pilots?
    This is not simply an argument about AGW; it is about how we conduct ourselves in science, and in policy arising from scientific understanding. It is an argument at the core of the Enlightenment.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    I have long ago concluded that while climate alarmism will not help the planet, it has seriously corrupted science and created a mountain of debt for which no-one can prove any benefit – except to the alternative energy people and such, of course.

    The deniers now are the corrupters of science and those telling us the debt problem is greatly exaggerated. Oddly, or perhaps not, they mostly share the same political alliances.

    So thanks Don. The situation is worst than I thought, but it’s best to know the truth.

    The best way to kill a snake is to cut off the head – but in this case the alarmist snake is almost all head, well entrenched in various government paid offices. I don’t claim to know what to do, but I do know there is little to celebrate here.

  • giordano bruno says:

    The climate scaring industry has unfortunately done a lot to destroy science and education. The sale of degrees in the many universities of bums on seats we do have has done the rest. the Australian good academics are facing the Tassie tiger path to extinction …

  • Alan Gould says:

    A post to dismay us, Don, but as Doug notes, better to monitor how steadily and astonishingly the witch-hunting impinges on the very discourse one would hope was immune from it. Yes, I too see the corruption of Scientific discourse as the gravest part of this controversy.

  • aert driessen says:

    As a geologist I guess that I can claim that I have had scientific training even though I haven’t been in paid work as a geologist for quite some while. That said, I have always thought that geology is as much about how you think as what you do. For some time now I have thought that the science-based arguments have been ‘too cute’ (radiative forcings and all that) and that the strongest case against the orthodoxy is rooted in common sense. Here are some threads:
    1. The planet is in a CO2-deprived state at this point in time in its evolutionary history. I have seen figures like 7000 to 8000 ppm CO2 in in the Cambrian (say 500 Ma before present, bp) when multi-cellular life exploded and flourished. We arrive at such crude estimates by asking where all the C (in the form of CO2) was before trees evolved to sequester their entitlement. In the atmosphere I suppose. Then there is the CO2 that is now tied up in carbonate reefs (now rocks) that formed post Cambrian. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that all this CO2 in the atmosphere was ever a problem; on the contrary it led to photosynthesis which gives us life-giving oxygen.
    2. Mars’ atmosphere comprises 95% CO2 (that’s right, % and not ppm), I see no global warming there (mean temp minus 50 deg C and much colder at night).
    3. Our position in the universe is called the solar system because it is dominated by the sun, the source of its energy. Why don’t we look there for explanations of the dynamic and often chaotic processes that govern us.
    4. How can the atmosphere control the climate via its CO2 content when the oceans contain 15 times more of it and CO2 is more soluble in cold water than warm water (the oceans release CO2 to atmosphere when they warm for whatever reason).
    If this sort of stuff is science, it’s really school level stuff. So why am I a sceptic and why do I take the trouble to leave an audit trail of my scepticism? Because I don’t want my descendants to think that I was an idiot. It’s as simple as that. Keep up the good work Don. They’ll catch on when hell freezes over and I think that that process is showing signs of having begun, at least in the northern hemisphere..

  • EmperorJulian says:

    I was once asked by a US Jack-in-office to write about a research student in my university who had applied for a visa to visit relatives in America. The official sought a comment on the likelihood of her returning from America . The address of the US bureaucrat’s office was in Thailand – that’s how much they think of individual countries. In consultation with the student I assured the guy she was an intelligent woman and enjoyed the privilege of being an Australian and therefore there was no way she would seek to remain in America.
    For the goods on Pachauri I would enthusiastically recommend a reading of Donna Laframboise’s fascinating book “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert” (about a tenner at Amazon Kindle) which is a merciless forensic examination of the IPCC and its “consensus” of climate scientists.
    (My name is Dion Giles but I am locked by Discus into a pseudonym)

  • David says:


    If you are going to get all self righteous about smear campaigns shouldn’t you refer to Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri’s behaviour as “[alleged] unwanted sexual behaviour towards his female staff”?

    Your hypocrisy is breath taking.

  • […] When You Have Nothing Left With Which to Argue… […]

  • […] I wrote in March this year about an attempt by an American politician, Raul Grijalva, to have several climate scientists ‘investigated’ for speaking out against the hysteria over global warming. Another, Senator Whitehouse, has joined him, and he seems to have been the first to mention the RICO Act. The scientists have apparently followed his lead. […]

  • […] Don When we have zero left with that to argue, greatfully equivocate a smear – Don Aitkin blog (Mar 9, […]

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