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George Monbiot : Bunkum Masquerading As Insight ?

[ CORRECTION FROM JOABBESS.COM : David Adam has had his name struck from the list of journalists at The Guardian who have given the impression of blaming the quality and speed of UEA media relations for the Climategate pseudo-scandal. ]

I was in telephone conversation with somebody in the Climate Change policy arena in the last two weeks (names will remain unnamed for obvious reasons), and they complained to me about George Monbiot’s position on Climategate.

I could sense incandescent rage, even at the other end of the phone line, as the person expressed extreme displeasure with George Monbiot, and asserted that he was a “nasty little man”.

I don’t agree with that summary. For a start, George Monbiot is probably taller than the average Briton, so the epithet is literally inaccurate. I don’t even agree that George Monbiot is “little” in terms of influential, public figures, either. I think George Monbiot is very smart, usually highly accurate and incisive, assiduous in his research.

His pieces are factually rich, and he is often on the money. But on this particular train of events I believe he is most assuredly wrong, even after backtracking from his original position.

Early on in the manufactured Climategate pseudo-scandal, George Monbiot took the position that Phil Jones, formerly head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) should resign from his post, although it was never clear what Phil Jones could have possibly done wrong, as the world only had the opinion of the Climate Change denier-sceptics to rely on for allegations of Climate Change Science misdemeanours.

George Monbiot, along with Fred Pearce, David Adam and James Randerson, all at The Guardian newspaper, and others in the media, have pitched the Climategate story as being a failure of the UEA Communications Office to respond quickly to the accusations of the Climategate “Internet critics”, or issue a complete rebuttal as the “story” was breaking.

They have not accepted the alternative, rational viewpoint that the UEA did not want to comment on the Climategate accusations, as this would give undue prominence to the baseless, bogus claims of the sniping “critics”. This policy of suffocation of the Climate Change denier-sceptic attacks by refusing offering media attention “oxygen” to them, is perhaps a policy we should all return to.

In addition to upholding this false narrative of UEA public relations culpability, George Monbiot gives the impression of having taken the view that Phil Jones is professionally inadequate, as can be detected, amongst other places, even in his semi-apology to Phil Jones, part of his comments on the findings of the entirely unnecessary Muir Russell enquiry, called pretentiously the “Independent Climate Change E-mail Review” :-

“Filth And Fury : Posted July 7, 2010 : Was I right, when the hacked climate emails were released, to call for Phil Jones to resign? : By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th July 2010”

“The ‘climategate’ inquiry at last vindicates Phil Jones – and so must I : The UEA’s climate science chief has been cleared: he was provoked beyond endurance. It was unfair to call for his resignation : George Monbiot,, Wednesday 7 July 2010…”

“…The loss of Chinese weather station documents…It later emerged that most of them had in fact moved, that many of the records of their locations had been lost, and that Jones and his co-author appear to have been reluctant to admit it…”

“…The failure to release data and analytical tools. CRU scientists kept blocking requests from their critics for the data and computer codes that they used to create their temperature records…”

“…the case that might have provided the clearest evidence of unfair exclusion – Jones’s apparent flat rejection of a paper challenging his findings by the Swedish scientist Lars Kamel – was not investigated…”

“…At times he squelched the scientific principles of transparency and openness…”

I think it is unjust, unfair and unfounded to suggest that Phil Jones’ professional work was deficient in any way, or that his motivations, personal drive or frustrations with Climate Change denier-sceptics and poor science in any way affected the results of his work.

Although he receives a lot of hate e-mail, I don’t really know if George Monbiot really understands the kind of atmosphere that Climate Change Scientists have to live and work under. He is unforgiving in being critical of Phil Jones and his colleagues in their handling of Freedom of Information [FoI] requests, implying to me that he thinks that the scientists were to blame for the deliberate FoI “Denial of Service” style campaign launched by the Climate Change denier-sceptics :-

“…by reacting so defensively, the scientists at the unit kept this fake scandal alive…”

“…Again the scientists were their own worst enemies: their “unhelpful” and “overly defensive” response triggered the avalanche of FoI requests that eventually threatened to smother them…”

That analysis is incorrect. Let us repeat again here : the “avalanche of FoI requests” came about because of an organised campaign by those trying to unseat Climate Change Science by tripping up Climate Change Scientists. But George Monbiot just joins in the smear tactics by validating criticisms of Phil Jones.

It would be much more helpful if George Monbiot directed his research efforts into the actions and motivations of those who stole the Climategate e-mails and concocted a highly dubious and unfounded narrative on the basis of a slanted interpretation of the Climategate e-mails.

But we don’t know much about that poorly documented campaign, do we ? The Climate Change denier-sceptics have shown a remarkable lack of transparency in their methods and their motivations, and nobody has acquired a trail of their e-mails, which I think would be highly revealing.

For George Monbiot to join in the criticism of an over-stressed scientist, trying on his own to hold back the tide of unrelenting hate in a campaign of attrition, is just not on.

In my opinion, the UEA should have provided support staff to Phil Jones to cope with the Freedom of Information requests deluge, to allow him to get on with his proper job : Climate Change Science.

Phil Jones should not be held responsible for public relations failures of the University of East Anglia, nor forced to carry his own cross on the way to his execution by the media.

Phil Jones should be reinstated to his former role as head of the CRU, with full administrative support from the UEA. Not only has he done nothing wrong, he has stopped many bad things happening. He has done exceptionally good things in Science, taking part in a global network of scientists, advancing knowledge in an unprecedented colloboration.

The real culprits here are those who take delight in obstructing the progress of Climate Change Science; who smirked with malice or whooped with joy when George Monbiot joined in the calls for Phil Jones’ resignation.

But who cares, really, about what Climate Change denier-sceptics like Steve McIntyre think. What do people in the Science community think ?

“…The main issue is that they conclude that the rigour and honesty of the CRU scientists is not in doubt. For anyone who knows Phil Jones and his colleagues this comes as no surprise, and we are very pleased to have this proclaimed so vigorously. Secondly, they conclude that none of the emails cast doubt on the integrity and conclusions of the IPCC, again, something we have been saying since the beginning. They also conclude as we did that there was no ‘corruption’ of the peer-review process…”

You will not find personal and professional criticism of Phil Jones in the Climate Change Science community. Why does George Monbiot not recognise that Phil Jones has been hung out to dry ? And that George himself has been taken to the laundry and well spun ?

Why did George Monbiot join in the calls to crucify Phil Jones ? George Monbiot should be fighting the real public enemy : the funds and forces arraigned against Science.

4 replies on “George Monbiot : Bunkum Masquerading As Insight ?”

Will you listen to yourself Jo!

“the funds and forces arraigned against Science”

There is no conspiracy against science – but there is enormous concern about dodgy science and dodgy dossiers.

Your supposition that the CRU were faultless is quite ridiculous.

We have the Information commissioner stating that only the silly 6 month statute of limitations stopped the UoEA and the CRU from being prosecuted.

We had the first two enguiries stating that the work was slipshod, not well managed and not up to standard re statistical analysis

Now we have Muir Russell stating that the Hockey stick graph is “misleading”.

On top of which we have today the Information Commissioner ruling that David Holland’s EIR request – the one that was so central to the Climategate affair.

The Information Commissioner has set a wider rather than a narrower scope on EIR by ruling that information need not have a direct effect on the environment for it to be subject to the regulations.

UEA have been found to be in breach of the regulations.

Why are a small band of Alarmists so intent on propping up and idolising those whose behaviour has now clearly been seen to be substandard in even laymans terms, let alone the higher standards normaly expected of a true scientist.

interesting that the media present this as ‘climate scientists exonerated’ rather than as the attempt to undermine climate science through illegal means

I’m not sure that I have

“pitched the Climategate story as being a failure of the UEA Communications Office to respond quickly”

as you suggest.

it’s possible, I suppose, I have talked and written lots on this. But it’s certainly not my predominant view. Can you provide a link to my comments to that effect?

David Adam
The Guardian

[ NOTE FROM JOABBESS.COM : I shall not waste your time or my time in heated dispute over this. I distinctly recall your colleague James Randerson giving this opinion at the Frontline Club, and it’s on a podcast, but I have no clear recollection of you yourself uttering the accusation, so I have struck your name from the list of “those journalists blaming the UEA public relations department for creating the Climategate pseudo-scandal by giving a non-robust response”. ]

I have to agree with Doug here. I don’t think the Guardian’s coverage of this issue was too homogeneous and clearly there were problems with the UEA’s work.

If Monbiot wants to call for Jones’ resignation (granted he did retract it) I think hes entitled to.

I feel that the percieved need for climate scientists present a monolithic view (lest their disagreements give ‘deniers’ ammunition) is sifleing exactly the kind of rigerous debate needed at the moment.

Let the fools chatter, there is no way of stopping them at the moment. Pussy footing around difficult questions because people who disagree with you might sieze upon them isn’t going to help the science.

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