Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monboit vs Plimer: We've had the debate, finally

Watching Lateline on ABC tonight was a treat. Host Tony Jones has immersed himself in both the science and politics of climate change, and it is great to see a mainstream journo so well across the on-again, off-again, much threatened debate between Guardian science journalist, George Monboit and retired geologist turned avid AGW denial megaphone, Ian Plimer, that he managed to get them both on his show to bash it out in public.

I am always wary of reducing a complex area like climate-science to a televised debate format, so I settled into the debate with some apprehension.

So how did it go? More to the point, who won?

Jones opened asking Monboit to explain why he recently pessimistically claimed that AGW deniers are 'winning' ("There is no point in denying it: we're losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease..."), which he did by elucidating the profound irony that poll after poll shows that, as the scientific evidence hardens (e.g., the IPCC says that they are 90% confident that man is causing dangerous global warming), the public is more and more gripped by climate change doubt. He believes this is because people simply don't want to face "the writing that's now on the wall".

Jones made the interesting point that the very conference Monboit was joining the debate from, COP15 Copenhagen, shows that world leaders are out touch with their faltering public. Monboit agreed, and made the equally interesting point that this is because governments are taking their lead from their scientific advisors, so they know they have to do something.

Plimer parried this, claiming that it is because governments can't resist the idea of a tax, and went on to accuse their scientific advisors of being "dodgy", citing the recent University of East Anglia so called 'climategate' hack. Monboit agrees that he as been let down by what he says the emails show in terms of keeping certain papers out of the IPCC process. But he pointed out that this did not make the science a "hoax or a con". Not taking Plimer's bait, he made the fair point that Phil Jones' indiscretions (in private emails I might add) do not debunk the consistent message coming from tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientists.

Plimer argued that the two or three CRU scientists involved in using "mafia-style tactics"were the main people the IPCC relied upon. Further cracks in Plimer's credibility appeared, when he claimed this is the "biggest scientific fraud in history". What about the work of your intellectual antecedents Ian, the pro-smoking, 'no link to cancer' lobby?

The rest of the debate was devoted to Monboit successfully taking Plimer to task over inaccuracies in his Plimer's book, Heaven + Earth, and his subsequent evasiveness over his real "scientific fraud". He mentioned two specifically — Plimer's claim that the world has cooled since 1998 (page 383 of Plimer's book referring to the Charles F.Keller paper), and that volcanoes emit more co2 than mankind.

Once presented with the the facts, that the WMO claims the last decade to be the hottest on record yet, and the US Geological Survey claim Pilmer to be wrong by an order of magnitude of 130 times, Plimer ducked and weaved. When asked to detract or stand by his claims, Plimer squirmed and distracted, obfuscated and attacked. But he just would not answer the question. Oh, look, a unicorn!

After it was clear that Monboit was not going to let him off his left-hook, Plimer jumped out of the ring to run away, and Tony Jones pulled him right back into it by his scruff. It was like watching an exorcism; his charm gave way to smarm, and viewers witnessed a denier being expertly dissected.

When Plimer accused Monboit of being rude for interjecting (when trying to get a straight answer out of Plimer), Monboit returned by pointing out it was rude to wittingly lie on television, and bad manners to not answer the question.

Monboit kicked Plimer's arse between Heaven + Earth, hell and high water. Deniers will pick on Monboit's aggression, but that's because they cannot fall back on Plimer's arguments. I was left with the impression that Plimer is aware and unconcerned about the irony of the full title of his book, "Heaven + Earth: The Missing Science of Global Warming" — it's clear that it's his book that is missing the science.

In short, Plimer got pwned.


Jonathan Doig said...

Fantastic stuff! The best bits for my money:

1. Re the WMO's 8 December statement that 2000-2009 is likely to be the warmest on record: "That is a projection, we have yet to finish this year."

2. Tony Jones: You repeat ...16 times in one chapter, that the world has cooled in the last ten years

Ian Plimer: ...We're looking at time, historical time, archeological time and geological time. You are trying to focus on one year, or five years, and tell us this is the future of the planet.

...Jones: is it reasonable for journalists to ask questions about something which you repeatedly claim in your book and to actually get answers to those questions?

Plimer: I will have to check the references in this on the last ten years. That I will do.

Monbiot provides the Keller paper link here:


jules said...

what a difference a well informed interviewer makes.

And of course Monbiot knows how to debate a skeptic.

Thanks for the link, good to see that it IS possible to win a debate in climate change.

What a difference with the debate last week on Belgian television where Hans Labohm's opponent was a politician from the Green party. A sweet lady, but her best 'argument' was smiling and being cute. Guess who won the debate.

Wadard said...

JD, there were so many good moments - my favourite was - learn some manners young man.

Jules - Monboit was like a that proverbial dog with a bone. I now see that the right format for a climate science debate is when the good-guy is media-savvy and knows their stuff. Eg, a science-writer such as Monboit or Flannery.

Scientists are too steeped in caution to play well in a debate format, where rhetorical skill usually wins the day.

lextalion@bigpond.com said...

Plimer was rather naive to be so ill prepared considering that he had had notice of the questions for some time.
He had little chance against two media savvy journalists, and would have been better advised to arm himself with solid peer-reviewed references as most other scientists do as a matter of course when faced with this situation.
Not a good look.

Wadard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PeteMoss2 said...

Monbiot makes a justifiable claim that Prof Ian Plimer commits "scientific fraud" with his fabrications in Heaven+Earth. This book is not a peer-reviewed paper by any means, but still is a public document addressing a major interenational issue, where Plimer uses his academic standing to influence people (indeed dupe them it seems!).

There's a point here: the University of Adelaide - where Plimer holds his professorship - should undertake an independent review to see whether Plimer has indeed committed academic fraud.

Recently, climate researcher Prof Phil Jones was rightly stood down from his post at the CRU at the University of East Anglia while a review is being undertaken of material in leaked emails. The Uni of Adelaide should do a similar independent review of Plimer's material.

It's not just about whether Plimer is a denier. Plimer, should have the right to freely express an opinion on any issue - but not commit scientific fraud. That's a cardinal sin in academia.

Anonymous said...

My goodness Monbiot made an idiot of himself. He would not answer any science questions. And he put about this idiocy that emissions from underwater volcanoes is about the same as emissions from those above the ground.

This is self-evidently a lie. It amounts to claiming that the magma wants to flow through a tall mountain, above sea level, where the crust is thicker, in preference to magma wanting to go through rift-zones, in the deep ocean, where the crust is more thin.

When I heard this fraudulent claim I immediately tried to find out where it came from. The liars involved in this new scandal had to go back to 1991 to find anyone stupid enough to make such a claim. And the claim itself is not based on any direct evidence. Its not as if there was any survey involved with the Gerlach 1991 study.

Nevertheless this has not stopped the usual fraudsters locking this claim in as the revealed truth. Though it is self-evidently wrong and they can find no evidence for it.

Anonymous said...

The fact that climate change is complex allows people like Plimer to take the public on a ride.

When Plimer is confronted, we see his true colours. He has no clue on climate change, and what he is doing is advancing his personal financial interests (poorly).

Snozzle said...

The Monbiot Plimer debate on ABC was notable for more than Monbiot's ad hominem attacks and Plimer's poor memory. Tony Jones the Australian ABC TV host gets an honorable mention for another character assasination of non-compliant scientists. He previously smeared Prof. Frederick Singer and gave him no right of reply, in the prelude to the "Swindle Debate" featuring four skeptics and eight warmists, which was stage-managed by panelist Robyn Williams, the ABC's climate science gatekeeper.

In the Monbiot Plimer debate, both were given roughly equal time of reply. HOWEVER: Monbiot interrupted Plimer an astonishing eighteen (18) times. To which Jones intervened only twice after the event. Jones himself interrupted Plimer three (3) times. Plimer interrupted Monbiot once. Only the video footage, not the transcripts, reveals this. Both called the other side fraudulent, and Monbiot called Plimer a liar. Both Jones and Monbiot had the look of cats who had drunken their fill of milk after the mauling. Plimer did not stand a chance.

So to sum it up, it was Tony Jones of the ABC whose abyssmal performance stands out, followed by Monbiot for lack of any social grace. Plimer would have won by default, but for the star performer whom only the alert audience would have observed: the live footage of icy weather on the white snow-covered streets of Copenhagen behind Monbiot's satellite screen.

the sexual said...

It won't work in actual fact, that is exactly what I suppose.

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