A Scientist's Perspective: On Blogging, Comments … and Online Civil Discourse

Sun, 2012-05-20 14:29Guest
Guest's picture

A Scientist's Perspective: On Blogging, Comments … and Online Civil Discourse

This is a guest post authored by John Abraham, cross-posted with permission from the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

A recent posting on The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media website linked to a very long piece regarding climate change by Christopher Monckton.

As a practicing scientist, I recognize and value the role that The Yale Forum plays in furthering civil discussion on this topic. As a society, we have too few venues of this type where ideas can be discussed, solutions proposed, and our preconceptions challenged.


It is not difficult to appreciate the dilemma faced by editors of sites like The Yale Forum when submissions such as that cited are offered, particularly when, as here, the respondent is addressing an earlier posting in which he or she was specifically named.

On the one hand, sites such as this want to encourage vigorous and candid debate. On the other, they must be mindful of the very extreme views taken by some participants in this discussion. Inclusion of the most extreme views may not advance the purpose of the site.

So, how does Monckton’s post fit into the category of extreme views? That, really, is the easy part.

For those readers who follow climate-contrarian cast members, Monckton is well known. He admits he has no scientific background, and he has never published a peer-reviewed scientific paper on any subject. That alone, of course, does not disqualify him from participating in public discussions.

But his post makes many outlandish claims about climate change that would cause great pause, even if they came from the mouth of an expert. Furthermore, when considering claims by those with a clear history of mistakes and factual errors, one should be very careful before granting the benefit of the doubt. In this case, many people have already addressed Monckton’s past mistakes here and here and in a series of videos here, here, here, and here. These are just a small sampling among many such examples.

Perhaps these past errors and misinterpretations stem from a nearly complete misunderstanding of climate science. It is this explanation I endorse.

But what of the latest Monckton submission to The Yale Forum? In the limited space here, let’s consider just a few clear errors. First, Monckton states that there are only 3,000 bathythermographs used for measuring ocean heating. Demonstrably false: There are many ocean temperature monitoring devices, and bathythermographs (commonly referred to as expendable bathythermographs) are just one type. In my own work in oceanography and with one research group, more than 3,500 devices have been deployed in just the first three months of this year. When all of the bathythermograph launches are added in a given year, the number greatly exceeds 3,000. Perhaps Mr. Monckton was confusing Argo Floats with bathythermographs? We may never know. (See two recent peer-reviewed papers here and here on this topic).

Make no mistake about it: the oceans are heating, despite claims to the contrary.

The next extraordinary claim Monckton makes is related to climate sensitivity, a much misunderstood issue. Readers are referred to this site for a recently published paper outlining mistakes in sensitivity estimation. So, how does Monckton err on this topic? First, it is important to recognize that some terms are used interchangeably. In some cases, the so-called “Planck Parameter” is the derivative of outgoing long-wavelength radiation with temperature. In other cases, the Planck Parameter is the inverse of this quantity. When discussing terms, we must all be on the same page, as they say.

Monckton claims that the Planck Parameter and Climate Sensitivity are unmeasured, immeasurable, unknown, and unknowable, but that simply is not the case. The Planck Parameter is the rate at which long wavelength radiation changes with the temperature of an object. It is a simple calculation that can be routinely performed, as undergraduates do each semester. It is this definition that Monckton first uses, and its corresponding value is approximately 3.75 W/m2C. If the alternative definition is the inverse of this, its value is approximately 0.3C/(W/m2).

Based on Monckton’s commentary, it appears that he switches his own definition of the Planck Parameter. He then suggests that the Planck Parameter may be off by 50 percent, an incredible and absurd assertion. If so, it means the equilibrium temperature of Earth would be either -73 C or 47C depending on whether the error revised the parameter upward or downward. Neither of these is realistic. Showing what is known as the Stefan-Boltzmann expression to be invalid would win one a Nobel Prize. Anyone thinking they can do so should submit their findings to a recognized science journal.

Monckton continues to make claims about net-negative feedbacks without supplying any references for readers to check. But the very few researchers who have argued for small climate sensitivity have been shown to have made significant errors in their work and corrections have already been made in the literature. There is no credible suggestion that temperature increases by 2100 will be as small as Monckton suggests.

What is interesting, however, is that later in his post, Monckton seems to concede a high Earth climate sensitivity when he suggests that by 2100, a temperature increase on the order of 1.5C will be observed.

There are many other elementary errors made in the document, some related to the climate equilibration time, others that there has been a long period without warming. And again, Monckton suggests that much of the recent warming from the past six decades is from the Earth’s “continuing recovery of global temperatures after the Little Ice Age”, as if Earth’s climate were a bouncing ball.

So, where does this leave us? Scientists and other frequent visitors to The Yale Forum site want to encourage candid debate. I congratulate the editors on their Herculean efforts to accomplish this. Part of candidness is giving voice to persons who disagree. On the other hand, there must be a standard of intellectual honesty, integrity, and expertise for those who submit to The Forum, a unique marketplace of ideas expressed through original reporting and by leaders in the field.

It would be a great disservice for the community if that marketplace were soiled with extremist, incorrect, and misleading commentary. I do not envy Forum editors, but encourage them to continue pursuing their mission and holding their contributors to a standard higher than that found around a bar stool.

One more thing: Make no mistake that climate scientists do, in fact, receive threatening mail and phone calls and e-mails, both at their work and at their homes. Some of it is humorous, but most of it is vile. My own experiences have taught me that letters having no return address are likely to be hate mail. Much of this hate mail results from climate change deniers having encouraged their followers to contact faculty members and their universities — to bully and intimidate them. There is no room for such behavior, and anyone encouraging or condoning threats to science researchers should not be afforded public venues to further this behavior.

Authored by John Abraham, cross-posted with permission from the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

John Abraham, PhD., is on the faculty of the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas, in Saint Paul, Mn.

Previous Comments

Poor buggers. I see their site is infested with deniers that make krill look smart. Its the same old tired debunked arguments trotted out again & again.

Dave says:

May 18, 2012 at 10:57 am

When will we get past the fallacy that Arctic sea ice is acting in some unnatural way? If the Arctic is the canary in the coal mine. The canary is fine.”

John Barksdale says:

May 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Martin, kindly explain how carbon dioxide “increases” the Earth’s temperature.

It’s groundhog day.

If Monckton has something to say about AGW and considers himself an expert, then let him say it via the peer reviewed process.


…in the Yale blog site.  With good reason I thought.

Basically, calling for “civil discourse” is a tactic of promoting delay and distraction. 

Scientists who further engage with Monckton are wasting their time.  Might as well be arguing with flat earth deniers. 

An important article. DeSmogBlog might want to import comments too. 



The U.S. Department of the Interior this week announced new fracking regulations that will serve as the only federal rules enforcing any kind of safety measures on the controversial drilling technique when they go into effect in a few months.

The rules only apply to oil and gas wells on public lands, however, and most fracking is done on private or state-...

read more