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

Posted on 1 February 2011 by John Cook

Monckton Myths (200 x 70 pixels) 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.

Monckton Myths (468 x 60 pixels) 

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 57:

  1. An excellent idea. Not before time.
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  2. Very good critique of Monckton on BBC4 this evening, as part of a general look at the so-called skeptics. Available via iPlayer until 6 Feb 11 for those in the UK :

    Meet the Climate Sceptics, from the Storyville series.
    (Should be available elsewhere for those outside the UK who know where to look)

    Anyone who still thinks he is worth quoting as some sort of expert, is obviously uninterested in the truth.
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  3. JMurphy @2,

    I would add this to your summary of Monckton:

    "Anyone who still thinks he is worth quoting as some sort of expert, is obviously uninterested in the truth, science and integrity"
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  4. I like the Monckton Myths logo!
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  5. It almost deserves a url of its own!
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  6. Does Monckton have a reputation??
    He claims he does, but then it is self proclaimed.

    Actually one thing I got out of that BBC4 programme was the fact that when a nutter works on their own without any guidance (peer review), they crash and burn as far as science goes.

    But then as many have pointed out, including the scientists in the documentary, proving a scientific theory via live debate without referring to published papers etc. is bound to produce skewed and unscientific results.
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  7. Just correct my post no. 6:

    But then as many have pointed out, including the scientists in the documentary, proving a scientific theory via live debate with or without referring to published papers etc. is bound to produce skewed and unscientific results.
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  8. "Does Monckton have a reputation?? He claims he does, but then it is self proclaimed." Well, yes Ville, but also proclaimed on denier blogs and in shock jock columns an radio shows, and then taken seriously by politicians and the "main stream media" - it's an effortless way to become an expert.

    The frustrating, the really frustrating thing, about Monckton's approach (and that of several others of his ilk, is the contradictory nature, as John points out, of the arguments. Plimer and Carter's big deal was that climate had changed so wildly and so extremely in the past that the little itty bit of change seen in the last thirty years was nothing to worry about at all. But this of course totally contradicts the Monckton and Lindzen proposition that sensitivity is teeny weeny because negative feedbacks quickly kick in and keep us not too hot, not too cold, just right.

    Similarly "Mörner who claims it's physically impossible for sea level to rise much above its present rate" is obviously contradicted by the people who suggest that a few mm here, a few there, this century, not enough to be noticed by a middle aged surfer on Bondi Beach, is overshadowed by the huge changes in the past, especially over the Holocene.

    So which is it Lord M? Bit of a Catch-22 you've got yourself into I'm afraid.
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    Response: It is ironic when skeptics contradict each other like the time Monckton and Plimer stood on the stage together and argued contradictory arguments. Even more ironic is when a skeptic contradicts themself. Eg - Monckton arguing for low climate sensitivity and also stressing how climate has changed in the past. Sometimes in the same article. Of course we have a database of "contradiction pairs", of skeptic arguments that contradict each other. So there's always the option of digging into that data sometime in the future and listing all the times when Monckton contradicts himself.
  9. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I doubt it'll convince any die-hard sqeptics out there, but it should prove useful in convincing anybody still willing to think for themselves.
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  10. How long before the good lord threatens to sue you?
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  11. Does anyone know if LM has actually followed through on any of his theatric threats to sue?
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  12. One of my favorite Monckton Myths came from his Gish Gallop "rebuttal" of John Abraham's slideshow.

    "108. ...that a medieval stained-glass window at Amiens Cathedral in Northern France shows wine- grapes being grown in the region, a feat that is impossible today because it is too cold; the growing of grapes at Hadrian’s wall, also impossible today..."

    Apart from the fact that there is a winery at "Accomb, Yorkshire, within 5km of Hadrian's Wall." (according to http://www.winelandsofbritain.co.uk/book.htm), does this mean his lordship believes in dragons? After all, there are also stained glass windows with images of the foul beasts!

    More seriously, is there any proof that the images are of grapes from the region? My understanding is that the image of grapes (and of grape treading) is a rather generic one.
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  13. About 22 minutes into the BBC documentary, we see Ian Plimer giving Christopher Monckton a geology lesson in the Australian outback. Monckton squirts some acid on a lump of carbonate rock and marvels because it fizzes, gasp, CO2. The two men share a chuckle about the environmental damege they are doing with this experiment. Plimer hints that such an effect has been kept secret because it reveals some truth about paleoclimate that the elites would prefer to keep from the innocent public.

    The Skeptical Science policy forbidding ad hominem remarks prevents me from commenting any further.
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  14. And this is the person (Monckton) who the US Republicans elected to testify before Congress and speak to the science of climate change.

    This is also the same person who Anthony Watts from (WUWT) fawns over and who is offered a podium from which to spew his vitriol, distortion and misinformation; not to mention making threats against perceived archrivals. By doing so, Watts has also taken ownership of the Monckton's repeated and shameful gaffs, and worse yet, Watts is complicit with Monckton's despicable behavior and disinformation.

    Question now is, is Anthony Watts (or the media) now going to afford Monckton the podium again from which to launch an attack, this time perhaps on John Cook? Or for once, is Watts (and the media) going to do the right and honorable thing and show Monckton the door? The ball is now in their courts, and they cannot plead ignorance.
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  15. Note the lesson here. Monckton has been corrected before, website by website, without any press response.

    But now there have been a succession of large scale efforts by Barry Bickmore, John Abraham, and the 21 climate scientist who critizued Monckton's House committee testimony. And now SkSc's Monckton Myths series.
    The press can no longer ignore the specific rebuttals of each of his arguments, because there are so many of them.

    From our side it's pretty obvious why there haven't been any skeptic scientists defending Monckton's personal views on climate science. But how do deniers explain this lack of support?
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  16. Monnckton encounter with a feisty Irishwoman. "Withdraw, Madam, withdraw!" is now a popular catchphrase around here, though most people have lost track of the reason why.

    Withdraw, Madam!

    Nice to see the egregious lord being publicly challenged.
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  17. "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"

    If this is a untruth (i.e., myth), it then either implies that it's OK to pollute "just a little", or perhaps that nothing man does could possibly benefit the environment. Furthermore, this "truth" is held by the same folks that want you to believe the problem is not rooted in poplution.

    Put more simply. Is there any human activity that by some definition is "good" for the environment?


    Hint: "mitigation" only implies an adjustment in degree, not in kind, so that doesnt count.
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  18. judsy@12
    I think there is research that shows that Europe and Rome in particular went through a few very cold patches.

    Is there a scientific record of the quality of Roman wine, region by region?

    For all we know, wine across much of the Roman empire could have be poo, so any wine that might have been produced in Britain may have been of a similar quality.

    It's the same for beer, we are accustomed to manufactured beer of uniform quality today, but in the past it would have varied tremendously, but if you don't know any different, you drink whatever is available.
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  19. The Ville@18

    My memory is rather hazy, but as far as I recall, it's been shown that while amphora of wine were found near Hadrian's wall, there is little, if any evidence of any wineries there (I think most of the wine was imported from Gaul and the Rhineland). This is contrary to the standard skeptic argument...

    I do wonder, following your comment, if wine quality, or wine growth records, can be used as yet another temperature proxy (if they exist).
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  20. "I like the Monckton Myths logo!"

    And the alliteration.
    Pity his name is not Lonckton though.
    ...and that's all I can say without contravening the ad hominem policy at Sceptic Science.
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  21. RSVP, neither of your implications is true. Monckton's belief is that we can continue to pollute (a little or a lot - it doesn't matter) because Nature will take care of things. Simple as that.

    And examples of human activities that would benefit the environment, are the funding, building and use of renewable energy.

    By the way, I have read that Monckton (in court) tried to have the programme include a longer piece by himself. He failed.
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  22. jhudsy, there was a good discussion at RealClimate a few years ago, which included this link :
    Grape ripening as a past climate indicator
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  23. jhudsy and Hadrians wall. I agree.
    If you read the text you linked to, it refers to modern possibilities for grape growing due to climate change and is the context in which they mention Hadrians wall.
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  24. I'm not sure what Monckton's belief is.
    He seems like an evangelical preacher, going around claiming he can cure everything (Graves disease, HIV etc) and says climate change isn't bad or even happening.

    If I were a Christian, it has all the hallmarks of the antichrist!
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  25. I "debated" with His Lordship recently on a national radio station in Ireland. Usual gish-gallop style, as you'd expect. However, when I switched focus to his 1987 comments on locking up AIDS victims permanently, it got interesting. First, he flatly denied ever having made such a suggestion.

    Then, under pressure, he changed tack, saying we should have "isolated the carriers immediately, compulsorily, permanently but humanely". Or, concentration camps, as they're more commonly known. Monckton, having started out denying the above charge, ended up reminiscing about the fact that compulsory, life-long detention for all AIDS victims (gays only, as his article was entitled 'The Myth of Homosexual AIDS') was not in fact implemented. Relevant blog posting and audio clip from radio show can be accessed at link below:
    http://www.thinkorswim.ie/?p=1279

    What's extraordinary is not that characters like Monckton make one outrageous claim after another. It's that we live in a world where anti-science charlatans are actually taken seriously, have open access to the media and can count on generous industry funding to assist them in spreading disinformation and counterknowledge.
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  26. I've made the assertion several times on my own site and elsewhere online that we should not leap to conclusions about the beliefs of the high-profile deniers like Monckton, Plimer, various politicians (especially in the US), et al. While I can't prove it, I strongly suspect that for most or all of them CC is nothing more than a convenient means to an end: Achieving fame, getting (re-)elected, selling books or themselves for speaking engagements, or whatever.

    If it weren't for his involvement with CC, would any of us even know who Monckton is? For most of us he would be a colorful gentleman from the UK who claims to have cured a bunch of diseases and invented some game.

    My point is that it's not enough to say, "the deniers aren't restricted to the facts and don't feel obliged to be consistent", as that understates the situation. They actively look for ways to exploit the topic to serve other ends, which has non-trivial tactical and strategic implications for everyone involved.

    By the way -- great work on this, John.
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  27. Lou @26 -- the problem with deniers like Monckton is that they get an audience where it matters. Monckton can expect to be invited to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives (now that the deniers run the House) and be presented before the cameras as alegitimate scientist. A collection of Monckton Myths like these needs to be made available and publicly presented to the Members of Congress who are willing to give Monckton a megaphone. It won't change the deniers' opinion, but some in the media might pick up on it.
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  28. What I don't understand is this : when Monckton is asked by the Republicans to testify for them (the last time, I think he was their only so-called expert ?), why don't the Democrats challenge him on his credentials. Are they not able to ask (such) questions ?
    It does, though, show the bankruptcy of the Republicans when their best witness is not even a scientist, let alone a Climate Scientist. Why don't they go for Lindzen, Carter, Christy or Spencer more often ?
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  29. JMurphy@22

    Thanks for that link.
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  30. jhudsy at 15:27 PM on 1 February, 2011
    Apart from the fact that there is a winery at "Accomb, Yorkshire, within 5km of Hadrian's Wall." (according to http://www.winelandsofbritain.co.uk/book.htm)

    I think you will find that it is in Northumbria not Yorkshire, a mile or so north of Hexam.

    And us sweaties are going into the wine business now.

    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2010/02/08/scotland-s-first-homegrown-wine-set-to-be-launched-86908-22027207/

    Part of the issue with wine though is that bad wine can be grown in places where you would not be able to grow a comercial wine, but back in the middle ages with the sacrament so important they were not looking for quality. Sameul Pepys famously had some London grown wine and he was around in the 1660s, the depths of the little ice age.

    Wine growing the UK died off in the 1800s mostly through the arrival of cheap imports and what Riccardo would call the 'comparative advantage', better for the English to grow wool to sell and buy wine with.
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  31. One thing I find curious about Monckton and skeptics of his ilk is that they seem to be drifting in the direction of AGW. It used to be that CO2 was not increasing, temperatures are not increasing, sea level is not rising. Now it has changed to acceptance of C02 rising, with effects on temperature and sea level, but its not too bad.

    It seems that this can be turned back against the skeptics - "Even Lord Monckton has had to admit that AGW is real."
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  32. John, it might be worth having a wine grower write something about all this "grapes at Hadrian's Wall therefore the planet isn't warming in spite of anything indicated by any scientific measurement" rubbish. jhudsy asks "I do wonder, following your comment, if wine quality, or wine growth records, can be used as yet another temperature proxy (if they exist)." My understanding is that grapes would be very poor "past climate indicators" for a number of reasons. First there are an almost infinite number of varieties, all with genetic variations resulting in them having particular needs in terms of day and night temps, seasonal changes, soils, rainfall, drainage, topography and so on. In addition, as far as I know, it would be very difficult if not impossible to identify which variety might have been growing in a particular place in the past. But it might well be possible for an enterprising wine lover to find a variety that might just grow on a particular hill slope at a particular time where no other would grow before or since. The Romans in particular, being wine lovers extraordinaire, may well have given grape growing a go no matter where they were, with mixed success in particular years. But all very haphazard, of absolutely no use in describing past climates

    In addition, as others have remarked, just because grapes will grow doesn't make the wine drinkable (even by the rotgut standards of the wines that Roman soldiers might have drunk), so I don't know how you would quantify what might class as a particular success story in grape growing.

    Unless someone had conducted an experiment over the past, say, 2000 years, in which exactly the same variety was simultaneously planted all over Europe and the results in terms of yield and palatability recorded, year after year, systematically, I would forget grapes as an indicator. Far better to use a naturally occurring species (plant or animal) and look at its distribution changes over time using pollen records, and perhaps tree rings. Oh, that's right, they do do that don't they?

    Grapes, I think, are another red (or white) herring of Mr Monkton's. But I'm no expert, and it might be useful to find one.
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  33. David Horton #32
    There are all kinds of charts out there that tabulate which year was good for each wine region, etc. (at least going back 15 years or so). Normally these charts resemble a used Bingo card, such that results appear totally random, implying no general (or obvious) trends in climate change. If not the best proxy for climate, at least a good measure of how well plants and consumers are able to adapt, (and for most, as long as it's between 12.5 to 13%, the sky is a long way off from falling).
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  34. JMurphy #21
    This is the kind of answer I expected, showing that the question was not understood. The idea behind the question is whether it is possible by some definition for human activities to work symbiotically in favor of the environment. Not whether patches exist, or ways of detaining or minimizing environmental damage.

    If the answer to this question is negative, it then implies that human environmental damage can only be "mitigated", and therefore population numerics are an issue.
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  35. RSVP, I suppose, realistically, no-one could possibly adequately answer a rhetorical question for which you already have a preconceived belief.

    However, it is patently obvious that humans can work "symbiotically in favor of the environment" - you just have to think about a life which doesn't involve exploitation, waste and spoilation of land, energy and the environment. Don't be like Monckton and believe somehow that nature will take care of the problems we cause.
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  36. Hi citizenschallenge @ 11

    He had a go at the BBC just last week, alas for his Lordship he er well... Lost

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/tv-radio/bbc-wins-battle-over-climate-show-2199930.html
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  37. JMurphy #35
    "you just have to think about a life which doesn't involve exploitation, waste and spoilation of land, energy and the environment"

    It is "patently obvious" that you are asking me to think about the answer you did not provide. At least nothing concrete. Just more words.
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  38. RSVP,

    Please, this thread is about Monckton myths. I am reading a lot of words from you, but seeing very little content or substance. This is how threads get derailed.

    What is your position on Monckton's campaign of cherry-picking, misinformation and distortion? So far you have not stated your position regarding these actions. Please do so.
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  39. RSVP 33: "the sky is a long way off from falling"

    There are pieces that have already begun to fall as has been discussed in other threads, which include ocean acidification, changing agricultural areas, sea level rise, increased albedo, increased chaotic weather and more. How much has to fall before you are willing to recognize those facts?
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  40. Albatross #38
    "What is your position on Monckton's campaign ...So far you have not stated your position regarding these actions. Please do so. "

    I guess I do see the mote in Monckton's eye, but I also see a few beams here and there.
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  41. How come so-called skeptics can't even criticise someone as obviously false as Monckton ? Or, if they do, they try to make out that those doing the criticising are worse ? There can only be one explanation : denial.
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  42. RSVP,

    Please just answer the question, it is a simple one. A "yes" or "no" will suffice.
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  43. Astounding is it not JMurphy...and the hypocrisy and double standard they live by is equally astounding.
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  44. Climate sensitivity is something I have written about on other threads. What Monckton says: "Most of the few dozen scientists worldwide whom Prof. Richard Lindzen of MIT estimates have actually studied climate sensitivity to the point of publication in a learned journal have reached their results not by measurement and observation but by mere modeling." That is wrong, paleo estimates do not use models.

    I haven't written about sea levels, but Monckton says "Professor Niklas Mörner, who has been studying sea level for a third of a century, says it is physically impossible for sea level to rise at much above its present rate, and he expects 4-8 inches of sea level rise this century, if anything rather below the rate of increase in the last century." Also wrong, greater sea level rise is certainly physically possible.

    The former above is distortion, the latter is cherry picking of scientists or both can be considered misinformation. The reason I've never commented about Monckton is I simply do not care what he says. Y'all seem to take it much more personally than I would in your shoes.
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  45. When skeptics invite Monckton to adress Congress, we are forced to take him more seriously; and skeptics less so.

    Until skeptics rebut and repudiate the likes of Monckton themselves (and that includes the likes of Anthony Watts), any suggestion that scientists should take their views seriously are laughable.
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  46. Tom, that is true, politics follows the path of least resistance and Monckton puts on a good performance. I am on the other side politically on this (because I believe we have time on our side), but in the long run it hurts the skeptical cause to have so much misinformation out there. Anthony Watts is also in the entertainment business as are many weathermen. I don't think the popularity of his blog is due to a yearning for scientific truth. When I started my research in the late 90's I took things more seriously. But I can't anymore so that is why I don't care what Monckton says. I just do the little bit I can to correct the more outrageous falsehoods that I see (mostly on conservative forums).
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  47. Eric "Y'all seem to take it much more personally than I would in your shoes." You are in our shoes. Or do you have another planet lined up somewhere, and a deal with Virgin Space for a trip?
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  48. Actually I am not in your shoes (more details on an appropriate thread). But I was referring specifically to Monckton obsession. This is how far you have come in a little over 4 years: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/nov/14/science.comment You have turned Monckton from a typhoon of errors into a flood of much more clever misinformation. You would have been better off ignoring him.
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  49. That is the paradox of addressing purveyors of misinformation. Ignore them and they can spin that as proof of how they are correct and there is indeed a conspiracy to suppress The Truth.

    Cuckoo Science
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  50. JMurphy #41
    By admitting my denial, I become guilty of acting in bad faith, yet if I deny my denial, I am labeled a hypocrite. If we are returning to the middle ages, perhaps it is due to the oxygen depravation.
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