John Abraham and the Climate Scientist’s Counterattack
November 29, 2010
There’s a building storm of indignation out there among those literate in science – who have gone from depression and despair at the tsunami of fossil fueled ignorance that’s passed for reporting and discussion of climate issues, – to real resolve, and a willingness to fight back, not just for the planet, but for the very idea that objective truth exists, and that science is a tool to find it.
One of the opening salvos of that movement was probably fired by a quiet, unassuming professor at a Catholic University in St. Paul, who did not set out to place himself in the center of a storm.
John Abraham responded to some email queries over the weekend.
“I have long had an interest in climate change; my technical expertise has positioned me as a generalist in the area. I am not an expert in any single area or in climate science in particular, rather, my knowledge of radiative and convective heat transfer, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and numerical simulation has given me the background to interpret the present science.
I began giving public lectures on climate change in 2007 to local community organizations, churches, and schools.
In the past, skeptical scientists have argued that solar variations have caused warming, the warming is not occurring, that tropospheric temperatures are decreasing, that water vapor will end up keeping temperatures down, or that warming was related to urbanization.
These ideas have all failed. The only internally consistent story is that greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to warm.
What has gotten lost is that even the skeptical scientists believe in human-caused global warming. The only disagreement in the science community is how much warming we will get, and how fast it will occur. However, if you ask someone on the street, you are likely to hear a disbelief in the greenhouse gas concept itself. I am focusing my efforts on closing this chasm in a civil and respectful way.”
Civil and respectful is descriptive of the tone Abraham applied in his masterful dismemberment of Climate Denial’s Dark Lord, Christopher Monckton, “His Lordship the third Viscount of Brenchley”, the extravagantly daffy darling of tea party activists, Fox News airheads, and Denialist politicians.
“I knew about Monckton from his many statements about climate change. When I saw his speech at a university in Minnesota, my shock reached a new level. How had this single person so thoroughly disproved all the science that I knew? It turns out he did it by misinterpreting and misunderstanding the very research he was promoting.”
“In essence, my rebuttal consisted of me writing to the authors Monckton had cited and showing that to a person, they disagreed with Monckton’s interpretation.”
The process took months. Painstakingly working through the Minnesota winter, Abraham parsed Monckton’s St. Paul lecture, which was racking up mega-views on YouTube, point by point. Monckton is a master of deception, and he works by giving a flamboyantly eloquent impression of a science lecture, while skillfully bending, distorting, and violating the actual truth of the science he claims to explain.
The takedown was uploaded in May, and after a short time building, drew howls from it’s target.
In short order, Monckton reponded with a string of threats and invective, and told all those who would listen that Abraham was not only “venomously ad hominem”, but delivered “artful puerilities…in a nasal and irritatingly matey tone”, and in addition, looked “like an overcooked prawn.”
Here he is in an amazing, spittle flecked rant on conspiracy theorist’ Alex Jones radio show.
For the record:
“Shortly after I posted my rebuttal, there was a firestorm of attention. Chris Monckton wrote to me and demanded removal of the work and payment from me and my university of $110,000 to a charity of his choice. He also made many public appeals for people to write to my university and have my work withdrawn. More critically, he spoke disparagingly of my university, my president, and myself.
Throughout this affair, my university stood fast and refused to be influenced by Monckton. Much of this has already been documented and it isn’t useful to continue to revisit the personal attacks except to say that while I was critical of Chris, I tried to be civil; I refrained (and continue to refrain) from name calling and abusive statements.”
In early summer, 2010, I began working with Dr. Ray Weymann on rebutting Monckton’s testimony to the U.S. Congress. Chris had been invited as an “expert” on climate change by Representative Sensenbrenner. His testimony contained nearly as many errors as his earlier speeches. Ray and I, along with a number of other scientists thoroughly rebutted his testimony and submitted our findings to Congress on September 21st. We hoped to make it clear that Congress should exercise greater wisdom when selecting who is allowed to testify. Monckton’s appearance was an embarrassment to our country and our Congress. I have a feeling he will not be invited back anytime soon.
I have learned a lot these past six months. I did not realize the vitriol which would accompany my efforts. I also didn’t realize how many other scientists are able and willing to speak out on the dangers of climate change.
I hope that this past year marks a recognition amongst scientists that we have an obligation to be more proactive in conveying the science to the public. I hope that I can play a small role in facilitating this effort. There are many real heroes who have worked tirelessly over the past many years to further this effort, it is an honor to be counted amongst them.”
The Climate Rapid Response Team is the most recent fruit of Abraham’s collaboration, an online mechanism to quickly link journalists and policy makers with working scientists when climate questions arise.