Monckton misfires on Radio New Zealand: a baker’s dozen of errors and deception

by Gareth on April 19, 2013

Last night Radio New Zealand’s Nights programme — a show with a long-standing commitment to excellent coverage of science and scientists — for some strange reason decided to broadcast an interview with Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. Quite why they bothered to give him a platform remains to be seen, but as you might expect, the discount Viscount gave a peerless performance — a veritable Gish gallop of untruths, misdirections, and straightforward misrepresentations of climate science and economics. At various points you could hear presenter Bryan Crump struggling with his disbelief at what Monckton was asserting — but Monckton is such a polished performer that he was able to brazen his way through even the most arrant nonsense.

Here’s the RNZ podcast of the interview (which can also be downloaded here):

I’ve gone through the interview with a fine tooth comb (so you don’t have to), and some of the more egregious errors, misdirections and deceptions are outlined below.

  • Monckton claims that the 1995 IPCC report was rewritten by one man. It wasn’t.
  • Monckton describes Mann’s 1998 hockey stick paper as “the most discredited result in the history of science”. In fact it was a seminal paper — the foundation for an explosion of paleoclimate studies, most of which directly confirm Mann’s original findings.
  • Monckton states:
    “Now that I am an expert reviewer I have a bit more clout than I did before – you can only become an expert reviewer if you have a reasonable publication record in the reviewed literature which I now do”.

    Monckton has published no peer-reviewed papers in any credible journal.

  • Monckton states:

    “The only change to the atmospheric constituents which is at all long-lasting, and even then not as long lasting as the UN climate panel pretends, is that if you’re putting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere then they will hang around – [indistinct] – the literature says typically around 7 years on average”.

    Monckton is confusing — either deliberately or because he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about — the residence time for a single molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is actually about 5 years) with the persistence of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which is much longer — measured in hundreds of years. There’s a good explanation here.

  • Monckton states: “I’m saying there a dozen climate scientists who have arguably committed criminal fraud.” This is utter nonsense. Presenter Bryan Crump expresses disbelief, but doesn’t challenge Monckton to justify his extreme claims.
  • Monckton claims that action to mitigate carbon emissions would close down the global economy and drive us all back to mud huts. No credible economist has ever suggested that.
  • Monckton states:
    “The most dangerous form of electricity per terawatt hour generated turns out to be hydro electric power…”

    No, it isn’t. In fact hydro is amongst the safest of generation systems. Coal and oil kill many more people per Terawatt hour. For a good discussion of the relative safety of power generation systems, see here.

  • Monckton claims that 70,000 people “more than would have died in a normal winter” died in Britain’s recent cold spell. This is a gross exaggeration. The Daily Telegraph reported on March 24th that “official figures showed that there were more than 4,000 extra deaths in just five weeks as the wintry conditions persisted”.
  • Monckton asserts that carbon mitigation costs account for “between 30% and 50%” of UK power prices, and that fossil fuel price increases have had little impact on recent increases. He appears to be making this up: a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report last year estimated that “electricity bills for UK consumers have risen more than 70% since 2005, largely due to increases in the cost of gas and coal feedstock for fossil-fuel generation”. Carbon mitigation policies will however increase UK power prices in the future.
  • Monckton on climate feedbacks:
    “The feedbacks exist, but neither their magnitude nor even their sign — which way they’re going to work on global temperature — is known by any method of measurement or discernible by any theoretical method either. Two thirds of the global warming posited by the computer models is guesswork, and uneducated guesswork at that.”

    More utter nonsense. Monckton is either ignorant of the literature, or deliberately misrepresenting it. The single biggest feedback, that a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapour is well-understood physics.

  • Discussing global temperatures over the last 420,000 years Monckton states:
    “If you take the global temperature as inferred from the Vostok ice cores — they take the ratios of two distinct isotopes of oxygen in air that’s been trapped layer by layer”.

    Wrong. Temperatures are inferred from the oxygen isotopes in the water, not the air bubbles.

  • Monckton presents the “fact” that global “temperatures have not varied by more than three Celsius or 1% in absolute terms either side of the long run median in all that time [420,00 years]” as evidence that “it’s extremely difficult to change global temperature at all”. Setting aside his idiosyncratic and misleading presentation of the temperature changes over the last few ice age cycles, in order to downplay the role of CO2 in the ice age cycles he has to play up the influence of the Milankovitch cycles, describing them as huge.

    “What I’m saying is that if you have very large astronomical changes in the amount of warming we would expect to get here, you’ve got huge changes in the angle at which the sun comes in, huge changes in the distance of the earth from the sun over long periods, huge changes in the precession of the equinoxes, those are the three Milankovitch cycles […] and these cycles ought to have had, if the feedbacks are anything like as large as the UN’s climate panel imagines, ought to have been much greater than they were.”

    Unfortunately for Monckton’s thesis, the Milankovitch cycles do not cause “huge” changes in the amount of warming reaching the earth from the sun — in fact climate system feedbacks have to be strong enough to induce the big changes from ice age to interglacial triggered by relatively small changes in solar radiation over parts of the earth’s surface. CO2 plays an important role in that process.

  • Monckton continues to badly misrepresent the views of Myles Allen of Oxford University: “he said therefore we’re not going to see more than 2 [degrees] Celsius of warming this century, if that.” Allen, of course, said no such thing.

There’s much more that I could write about Monckton’s interview — his pomposity, verbosity, and frankly racist use of a cod Indian accent at one point [16:58] — but life really is too short. It’s taken me a couple of hours to listen to the interview and prepare this response, which illustrates the problem that Bryan Crump faced in dealing with the potty peer. He was having to interview a skilled orator, one apparently unafraid to make stuff up as he goes along, without being fully prepared either on the details of climate science being discussed or the tactics likely to be used by Monckton. The end result was the programme provided a platform for a propagandist to mislead the listening public.

As a public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand1 has a responsibility to ensure that it reflects a diversity of views, but it has an equal responsibility to ensure that it doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently promote misinformation and lies. By interviewing Monckton, RNZ Nights did the latter, and now faces the unenviable task of cleaning up the potty peer’s mess. A programme with a real commitment to science coverage — one of my personal favourites on the channel — has let itself down in a big way. At a minimum, it should provide equal time for a real scientist to counter Monckton’s misinformation. Bryan Crump should also apologise to his listeners for allowing Monckton to get away with spouting nonsense on his show.

  1. The local equivalent of BBC Radio Four in the UK, or perhaps NPR in the US. []

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark H April 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I understand that the safety of hydro power relative to other forms of power generation depends on whether you count the 171,000 deaths caused directly and indirectly by the Banqiao Dam collapse in 1975:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

Gareth April 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Taking Banqiao into account, my reference suggests that deaths from hydro per TWh are 1.4, compared with coal at 161 (which is similarly inflated by high death rates from dirty Chinese coal plants).

Rob Taylor April 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Gareth, does your coal mortality figure include deaths in the mines (e.g. Pike River)?

Gareth April 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I would expect that it does, but haven’t delved into the methodology in any depth. By far the largest part for coal seems to be from particulates and pollution when the stuff is combusted.

Kiwiiano April 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I txted Brian late afternoon, warning of the imminent Gish Gallop, sounds like he wasn’t fully armed. He should be sent a copy of your point by point rebuttal for future reference. You might get an interview yourself, Gareth.

Gareth April 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I have emailed Bryan and his producer, so they should be aware of the points I raise above. It remains to be seen if they do anything about it.

SimonP April 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I really wouldn’t worry about it. The only people who would have been sucked in by the interview would be those who equate a plummy BBC English accent with factual news. Bryan Crump’s chokes and gasps of incredulity and exasperation when Monckton trotted out yet another BS factoid was hilarious.

greg April 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I’d like to see Bryan Crump to give the honourable Viscount a phone call, and ask some specific follow up questions about the made up facts. They could then make an interesting report with excerpts from the phone call, and call out his techniques for gaining publicity. Now that would be interesting!

John Russell April 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Past experience tells us that Monckton gets the hump and walks away from anyone who can challenge him on the facts. He’s only comfortable when talking down people using his undoubted skills as an orator. A master of the Gish gallop who leaves his opponents speechless due to the breathtaking mix of errors and untruths which roll forth from his tongue.

If Crump is as embarrassed by this interview as one hopes he should be, the best response is to hand over an equal amount of time to someone who can right the wrong.

viv k April 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm

It’s hard to know whether to ignore Monckton or not, but yesterday the ODT gave him an opinion piece to respond to the letters written about him. Thanks to that there have been lots more pro-Monckton column inches than anti in the paper. The ODT have a 1 letter per fortnight policy, so I’m unable to comment for 10 more days and the potty peer is here next week. If anyone else is interested perhaps they might write? Gareth, as a published author on the topic, you would probably get an opinion piece published. The Monckton supporters keep labouring the points 1. That anything anti Monckton is shooting the messenger (Gay Clark, april 16 ‘shoot the messenger. That’s what you do when you have lost the debate, when the facts no longer support your theory and you have no answer for the critics’) and 2. Everyone is too scared to debate him. (Peter Foster, april 11 re J Renwick ‘ He should have the integrity to engage him in public debate. Then we could all see who has the better command of climate science’)

John Russell April 20, 2013 at 6:07 am

That’s the the point though — climate science is not something for debate. Debate is about point-scoring through clever use of language; and Monckton is a master at it. During a debate if someone comes out with fabrications that have no basis in science, as Monckton does, and someone rebuts them using the actually facts, the audience needs to be fully conversant with the science to know who’s telling the truth. The problem is, of course, that Monckton fabricates his lies with great aplomb, and to a lay-person he’s very convincing, so 9 times out of 10 he’ll probably ‘win’* a debate.

*Remember; debates are won on a vote by the audience based on which speakers have sounded most convincing. Winning has nothing to do with the truth.

Thomas April 20, 2013 at 8:10 am

That is indeed the case: Patholgical liars can say anything they want in a debate to score a point while those defending reason and scientific truth must stick to the facts and grandious lies have always some appeal for audiences.
Monckton is a polemicist and fabricator, not a scientist. He will and can say aything he believes will score him points. He has no regard for the truth and very little real understanding of the science behind it all, so much is clear from the rambling nonsense he makes up and repeats at nauseam. Perhaps somebody or some organisation will sue him for libel for what hes worth. The UK legal system makes him actually rather vulnerabe in that regard, especially if he defames and derides the scientific community.

RW April 20, 2013 at 9:41 am

I have twice emailed RNZ about giving Monckton time – both on Crump, and on a Mora panel session. I haven’t seen any replies to the tripe a letter-writer supporting Monckton had highlighted in the DomPost yet, either.

Copie April 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm

You global warming religion fanatics have already lost the debate. The IPCC and the UK Met service have declared that there has been no warming for the past 17 years!

Gareth April 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Copie: you’re new here. Please read the comment policy, and pay particular attention to the last bullet point. Comments must “not deliberately misrepresent matters of fact”. Your claims about the IPCC and UK Met Office are false. If you wish to join the conversation here, please engage on the substance of the post.

Mike Palin April 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Go to http://thiniceclimate.org/screenings and find the location closest to you where you can go to see a free screening of “Thin Ice” tomorrow (Monday). It should clarify matters up for you.

bill April 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I’d like to watch the film – as far as I can tell I’m nowhere near any of the screenings(though the one at the Mawson Base looks interesting!) – and had thought it was going to be viewable online.

However, all attempts to do so are currently being foiled by Vimeo’s gatekeeping systems.

Does anyone know if this situation is due to change shortly?

Thomas April 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm

one more sleep and its xmas day: Tomorrow you can download it aparently from their site.

bill April 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Thanks Thomas!

Thomas April 22, 2013 at 8:49 am

Its up and available now, even for download as an mp4 file for later viewing. http://thiniceclimate.org/watch-the-film
The download link appears after clicking on the movie image.
:-)

Carol Cowan April 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Copie, you do not seem to realize that criticism of Monckton here is based on his continual distortion of facts. Dr John Abraham, University of St Thomas, Minnesota, took the time to go through all of Monckton’s claims in one round of his speeches, and checked every single one of them. What he found was a consistant misrepresentation of science. http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/jpabraham/
Monckton would say such and such a study found X, but actually it found Y. He turned graphs around, or cut them short, to reach his own view of the world. Dr Abraham contacted every single scientist quoted by Monckton, to verify what their studies had found.

The man is either totally inept or downright dishonest (or mad). Our disdain for him is based on his disdain for facts and his unwillingness to repent – indeed, he threatens those who expose his nonsense with lawsuits.
I challenge you to watch the video I linked.

I notice that Monckton is now claiming that his university studies included mathematics. It is a very unusual classics degree that includes maths. I’m not saying he is lying, it’s just very unusual.

Rob Taylor April 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Is this Andy Scrase, back in drag?

Gareth April 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm

No. He appears to have passed the baton on to someone else.

jh April 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I don’t think Bryan Crump does an in depth interview on his show (as kim Hill or Katherine Ryan would do). It is more chatty in nature. I heard him enthusiastically interviewing someone on the benefits of immigration and open borders who claimed that an influx of labour didn’t drive wages down according to “all the evidence”; the affect was “negligible or positive” and the woman who looses her job in a restaurant is then free to be a baby- sitter (if someone is prepared to pay). Not everyone may agree with me on that but it demonstrates the effect of a chatty friendly style on controversial topics.

The only way to deal with Monckton is pin him down and limit the discussion to a limited number of narrow points.

jh April 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Monckton just on CTV

bill April 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm
Rob Taylor April 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Big deniers have smaller deniers, upon their backs to bite ‘em
And smaller deniers have lesser deniers, and so ad infinitum…

;-)

bill April 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

If you run with the Birthers and the Agenda 21 fruitcakes it’s hardly a surprise – and deliciously, poetically just – that the lunar conspiracists assume you’re one of their own…

Thomas April 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm

The Internet and the ability for any old nutcase to publish his/her rubbish to the masses creates a never ending wellspring of distractions…. ;-)

greg April 23, 2013 at 7:15 pm

“I prefer not to speak on matters on which I have no knowledge of” – Monckton at 31:40

In light of this video perhaps we need to coin Monckton’s law. Which is: as conspiricists continue blathering, the likelyhood of satisfying both godwin’s and gore’s law simultaneously reaches one.

Thomas April 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm

In the light of: “I prefer not to speak on matters on which I have no knowledge of” (Monckton) we can further conclude that:
As (a) Monckton rarely knows much about the matters he is speaking about (as aptly demonstrated); but (b) prefers not to speak under such circumstances (as stated himself); it then follows that (c): Monckton’s speeches must be an involuntary act, perhaps a medical condition….. or he is made to speak under the influence of higher powers…. or economic necessity….. ;-)

Nick April 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm

…more likely it’s D-K…Monckton has no knowledge that he has no knowledge,thus is free to crap on. And economic necessity!

Rob Taylor April 23, 2013 at 10:57 pm

One has to wonder which combination of sad / bad / mad poor Monckton suffers from:

The signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease virtually all result from the direct and indirect effects of hyperthyroidism… People with hyperthyroidism may experience behavioral and personality changes including: psychosis, mania, anxiety, agitation, and depression.

George April 24, 2013 at 7:14 am

I don’t think it’s a good idea to make a link between a person’s health and their point of view, consistently expressed over a period of years. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_abuse_of_psychiatry_in_the_Soviet_Union

Rob Taylor April 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

George, whilst I don’t condone the use of psychiatry to marginalise dissent, it is a fact that Grave’s disease can affect the mind.

In the BBC documentary “Meet the Climate Sceptics”, Monckton himself reveals that he came to his opinions re AGW whilst suffering from Grave’s disease – a disease that he claims to have subsequently “cured”, along with AIDS, MS and a host of other maladies.

Monckton went to the High Court to gain an injunction against the “Meet the Sceptics” broadcast, complaining of breach of contract and requesting a ruling that his three-minute or 500-word rebuttal should be added to the programme. He did not obtain the injunction, the judge ruled that Monckton’s interpretation of clarity in the contract was incorrect, and the “balance of justice” favoured refusal of the injunction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Monckton,_3rd_Viscount_Monckton_of_Brenchley

George April 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I’ve put my view on the record. There is very little scope for informed comment on this topic in the setting of a public forum.

George April 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

PS to be even-handed about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_abuse_of_psychiatry. It’s an interesting topic and worth thinking about in general terms. I just don’t think it’s a good topic to cover in this particular thread.

Wainui Graham April 24, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Monkton also claimed to have been brought here by New Zealand Federated Farmers. According to Federated Farmers this is not true. They have apparently advertised his itinerary and Marlborough Federated Farmers have sponsored and/or supported his visit.

This seems to typify of Monkton’s modus operandi. He uses some distorted semi-truths to create a perception of credibility and upon that basis has much success claiming whatever he likes using mangled science and statistics to further bolster his kudos.

I find it disturbing that human psychology’s strong social basis makes its default state so robustly resistant to sound reasoning and self-defeatingly biased to other cues for belief. It seems to take a concerted effort, experience and vigilance to stay safe from misinformation.

RW April 25, 2013 at 9:29 am

Speaking of cranks, Ken Ring’s “winter forecast” appeared as an item at Yahoo Xtra news a couple of hours ago – now it’s disappeared. I was meaning to copy it and do a later post-audit – would have been good for laughs.

SimonP April 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm
Kiwiiano April 25, 2013 at 9:26 pm
Rob Taylor April 26, 2013 at 8:30 am

The comments below the article are interesting, e.g

By the way, “standing ovation” in this case meant 4 out of 50 of the audience members, according to numerous people in attendance. Perhaps these were the event organizers.

Nick April 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Maybe the poor blighters were standing anyway: not enough chairs!

Kiwiiano April 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Which is a reflection on the news media inept/uncritical reporting. So much for the Timaru Herald’s credibility!

Rob Taylor April 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The score so far: Waikato, Gisborne and Timaru reporters: mere stenographers.

Northland, Auckland and Southland: at the top of their profession!

Otago: somewhere in between – check this out:

http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/opinion/253442/climate-change-sceptic-hits-back-critics

Rob Taylor April 26, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Here’s another interesting article, reporting “in the presence of greatness”;

http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/8579999/Lord-entertains-but-not-everyone-convinced

Rob Taylor April 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm

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