The career of George Monbiot has been meteoric – coming down to earth in a shower of sparks, and leaving a charred hole where the Guardian’s top investigative journalist used to be. From Paul Foot to William Boot in a few carbon-shedding steps.

(For non-Brits: Foot was a campaigning journalist at Private Eye and the Guardian. William Boot is the journalist hero of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”, who, after a disastrous episode in which he is sent to Africa to cover a revolution, ends up back in the office writing Nature Notes).

In February 2009 Monbiot initiated a new format blog at Guardian Environment with an attack on Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker. In the article, entitled « Booker’s work of clanger-dropping fiction » he accused his colleague of writing “complete trash, and provided a list of seven claims in an article by Booker which Monbiot attempted to refute.

A second article, two days later, entitled “Pure rubbish: Christopher Booker prize” featured  a photo captioned “Christopher Booker prize 2009 offered for producing clap-trap about climate change”. Readers were invited to nominate articles, and George explained:

“The award will go to whoever in my opinion and assisted by climate scientists and specialists manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change”.

(Note that Monbiot hadn’t managed to finish his sentence coherently. As many as what?)

There is a note at the bottom of the first article saying “this blog has been amended”. What has been altered is the word “Bullshit” which featured in the original article, and is still visible in the photo of the “award” in the second article.

Of the supposed errors by Booker:

The first concerned the utterly trivial question of whether Dr Theon, who criticised James Hansen of NASA, was Hansen’s “supervisor” when he was head of climate research there and Hansen was working under him.

The second concerned the Hockeystick, about which Monbiot says:

“Far from being discredited, the hockey stick graph of past temperature reconstructions has been supported by a large number of further studies … Those who claimed to discredit it have been comprehensively rebuffed”.

The third was about the BBC’s reporting that Arctic summer ice might soon disappear at a time when, according to Booker, “this winter’s refreezing was about to take ice cover back to a point it was at 30 years ago”. Monbiot attempts to refute this by quoting the ice extent for December, apparently unaware that maximum ice extent is in March/April.

The other four claims were about BBC reporting of a paper by Steig et al suggesting that the Antarctic has been cooling. Booker makes two minor errors, describing the paper as being “based on a computer model run by the creator of the hockey stick (Martin Mann)”, when it was based on some peculiar statistical infilling on very sparse and badly compiled data, and Mike Mann was just one of six authors.

Overall, Monbiot scores a couple of nitpicking points, muffs an attempt to refute Booker over Arctic ice, and, naturally, disagrees about the hockeystick and the Steig paper on Antarctic warming, citing Gavin Schmidt and RealClimate as his authority throughout.

There followed a lively discussion thread, with 332 comments, only three of which were deleted, including one of mine. I seem to remember that several of us reacting vigorously to the use of the word “bullshit”, which I found genuinely shocking, but I can find no comments to that effect. I suspect that they were wiped at the same time that the title and article were amended.

Most of the remaining comments rest within the bounds of decency, except for those by Bluecloud, (a warmist commenter who has been retrospectively allotted a capital “C” for Guardian Contributor of occasional articles). Among his comments one finds:

“.. pile of shite.. Maybe you both simply cannot read.. Your arguments are getting desperate now. Go back to your masters and seek advice. But you may find they’ve taken off to tax-free havens already, so you’d better hurry.. a great deal of farting on the ClimateAudit website.. These are a small, sad bunch who couldn’t string a coherent argument together to save their lives. Some even resort to personal attacks in their desperation, while others are paid blood money to spout corporate rubbish.” etc.

Comments start at  3 February 2009 2:13PM (the article is wrongly dated to 4 February) and a number of bloggers provided point-by-point demolitions of Monbiot’s criticisms of Booker, without Monbiot replying.

At 3 February 2009 9:09PM I commented:

“Monbiot has a long history of using ad hominem arguments (…) With Booker he has changed tack, no longer appealing to peer reviewed science as the only arbiter, but quoting RealClimate – the gospel according to Gavin – just like any common-or-garden blogger. His criticisms are so feeble that one understands why he has so long avoided entering the arena of debate on the actual facts of climate change. Monbiot’s arguments against Booker have been effectively demolished by HackneyHal at 2.34pm, Hamlet4 at 3.07 and 3.13pm, me at 4.33pm, Don Basilio at 5.06pm and 5.43pm, knife at 5.44pm, and wilddonkey at 8.23pm [+ RonCram at 5.29am 4 February – added in a later comment]

Monbiot must answer these, and CheshireRed’s challenge at 7.28pm to a genuine debate, or lose all credibility”.

Monbiot finally intervened 4 February 2009 12:19PM, nearly 24 hours after the first comment, to say:

“LostTransportation: I’m amazed you cite the Wahl and Ammann study as if it helps the argument against the Mann, Bradley and Hughes palaeoclimate reconstruction (“hockey stick”) work. Here’s what the Wahl and Ammann abstract says:..”

LostTransportation had, twelve hours previously, pointed out that the Wahl and Ammann paper agreed with the findings of McIntyre & McKitrick in terms of the statistical significance of the verification r2 statistic. The key role played by this paper in kicking McIntyre & McKitrick’s criticisms into touch in IPCC AR4 is described in Bishop Hill’s “Caspar and the Jesus Paper

And that’s the end of Monbiot’s contribution to his own blog. He quotes in full the abstract to a paper which has nothing to do with the subject, and then falls silent, leaving his argument in ribbons, demolished by at least seven separate commenters. The thread continued for several days with commenters, as usual, bickering among themselves while the article was largely ignored.

Note that this was the first of a series of articles under a new heading – “George Monbiot’s Blog” – the opening salvo in what was obviously intended to be a year-long campaign – beginning with two articles trashing Booker, and a photo of the “Booker Bullshit Award” taken by George himself – and culminating in a mock presentation to some unfortunate journalist who dared to disagree with George, and the “climate scientists and specialists” who were at his side to assist him in a task which was clearly beyond his capacities.

There were several follow-up articles, (including two, equally nit-picking and tendentious, about George Will of the Washington Post) and the award was finally presented, with a minimum of fuss, to an obscure journalist from Flint, Michigan who said some silly unchecked stuff in an opinion piece for a local newspaper. In the meantime, George had to retract a further false allegation of  clanger-dropping made about Booker in a later article at The Guardian.

Blogging is an ephemeral business, and there’s little point in commenters complaining how unfair it is that their comments get ignored. There isn’t space to reproduce the arguments developed in the thread, but  anyone can go to the articles and check them out for themselves. If the exchange had occurred in print, Monbiot’s reputation as an investigative journalist would have been shattered. As it was, the most visible result was probably that, to casual browsers at Guardian Environment, for nearly a year, the words “Booker” and “Bullshit” appeared regularly in close proximity.

No print newspaper in Britain would stoop to such a level.

The thread rather petered out after Monbiot’s contribution, except for an eminently sane suggestion from Alex Cull that Monbiot might like to conduct some investigative journalism into the Steig / Antarctic warming story. I‘m ashamed to say that I made use of Monbiot’s vulgar outburst to get in a rude and possibly libellous accusation of my own against Monbiot, which remains uncensored. (Alex, I’m glad to say, continued to post in his normal intelligent and good-tempered fashion).

70 Responses to “My Affair with George Monbiot: Part2”

  1. Barelysane,

    I’d say ‘barely-literate’ may be a more appropriate moniker!

    What temperatures have been, or will be next week, in Israel is quite incidental.

    The point, the main and really the only point, is that if it’s colder than average in one place, it’s quite likely to be warmer than average in another.

    What matters is the overall temperature averaged for an extended period over a wide area. Brute never seemed to tire of “its cold here today so what’s the problem?” type posts. They are really quite meaningless.

    2010 is almost certain to be one of the three warmest years on record. Maybe even the warmest.

  2. PeterM

    You state (51):

    2010 is almost certain to be one of the three warmest years on record. Maybe even the warmest.

    There are apparently others who disagree with you on that.

    But, more importantly, I believe what is emerging here (particularly after the Climategate, etc. revelations) is a general rational skepticism:

    a) that the “globally and annually averaged land and sea surface temperature anomaly” is a fairly meaningless “construct” per se

    b) that a great many local temperature records show trends that are quite different from those shown by the global “construct”

    c) that the well-known spurious upward distortions to the record from post-WWII urbanization have not been eliminated from this “construct”

    d) that the shutdown of 2/3 of all stations, many in Arctic or sub-Arctic locations in the former Soviet Union has resulted in a spurious warming signal to the record

    e) that the relocation of stations, in particular to airports, has caused an upward distortion to the record

    f) that the sea surface temperature measurements are extremely doubtful today and were even more unreliable previously

    g) that poor station siting (near AC exhausts, asphalt parking lots, etc.) has resulted in another spurious warming signal to the record

    h) that the adjustments, manipulations and ex post facto corrections to the record are suspect, since the “process owners” are also outspoken proponents of the “unprecedented greenhouse warming” postulation (and there is no effective independent audit of the numbers)

    So if the winter 2009/2010 showed extreme cold throughout North America and Eurasia, the southern hemisphere had some record cold temperatures with severe consequences during its 2010 winter (particularly in South America) and the most recent winter across North America and Eurasia is again showing unusual early cold, and the “global construct” still shows “above average warmth”, I think there are serious reasons to question the validity of the “global construct” (not the local evidence).

    I would suggest that a completely open independent audit of this record, by someone like Steve McIntyre (who is not an outspoken proponent of “unprecedented greenhouse warming”) is in order.

    Will this happen?

    Who knows?

    But, until it does, the global “construct” is questionable.

    But even this questionable “construct” will probably not show a “record warm 2010” – but let’s wait and see.


  3. PeterM

    Just to give you the “facts” on 2010 versus 1998 warmth (rather than trusting either the “rehash” you or I cited):

    Here are the raw HadCRUT data for the two years:

    0.492 Jan (31 days)
    0.756 Feb (28 days)
    0.548 Mar (31 days)
    0.647 Apr (30 days)
    0.596 May (31 days)
    0.606 Jun (30 days)
    0.671 Jul (31 days)
    0.647 Aug (31 days)
    0.393 Sep (30 days)
    0.420 Oct (31 days)
    0.351 Nov (30 days)
    0.444 Dec (31 days)
    0.546 Average (adjusted for days per month)

    0.498 Jan (31 days)
    0.491 Feb (28 days)
    0.587 Mar (31 days)
    0.579 Apr (30 days)
    0.511 May (31 days)
    0.533 Jun (30 days)
    0.534 Jul (31 days)
    0.475 Aug (31 days)
    0.389 Sep (30 days)
    0.392 Oct (31 days)
    0.499 Average (adjusted for days per month)

    Required for rest of year to “tie” 1998 = T

    62 * T + 303 * 0.499 = 365 * 0.546

    T = (365 * 0.546 – 303 * 0.499) / 61 = (199.44 – 151.19) / 61 = 0.791

    Average temperature anomaly required for November/December to tie 1998 = 0.791C

    Compares with annual average so far of 0.499C and average, last three months (92 days), of 0.419C.

    Looks fairly unlikely to me, Peter, so – just for the record – who is “barely literate” here?

    (But you can keep hoping for a “heat wave” or an “ex post facto correction”…)


  4. Max and Peter

    It is simply not possible to claim that 2010 is going to be the warmest on record by parsing temperatures to fractions of a degree.

    Our records are only accurate to around 1 to 1.5 degree f (due to the inherent inaccuracy of the type of thermometer used until recent years) This inaccuracy is hugely compounded by a number of other factors including siting, observer reading, change in location, station numbers, lack of consistency (eg Stephenson screen and max/min thermometer) and a whole host of other aspects.

    In particular taking SST’s is a completely worthless and pointless exercise as we simply don’t know what the temperatures were on 99.9% of the oceans back to 1860-let alone accurately.

    I wrote about all these in Part 1 of my article on the ‘History and reliability of historic readings’

    I have just finished the first draft of Part 2 in which I specifically look at Global land and sea temperatures. It is completely imaginary to believe we can construct an anomaly accurate to three places.

    Sorry to be so abrupt, but having looked at so much data over the last three months I have come to the conclusion that world Govts are completly mad to believe in the precision claimed in Hansens 1987 paper.

    He based this on Callendars 1936 effort in which Callendar parsed 200 stations (mostly in the NH) back to 0.0005C degrees increase per year during the previous half century i.e. to 1886 in order to demonstrate Global warming caused by mans Co2 emissions.

    Here is his original paper. He subsequently confessed great doubt about the accuracy of the readings, which showed a lot more humility than Hansen has done. Following the severe winter of 1962/3 he also expressed doubts about his own theory.


  5. Max,

    In spite of previously dismissing them as a “construct” you may have made a valid argument with your averages! You’ve even allowed for the differing number of days in the month. Very impressive! We’ll see if you are right in a few months.

    TonyB may have a point about 3 significant figures though. Yes, probably one would be enough and two would be plenty.

    1998 was a bit of a freak year due to a very strong El Nino that year. No strong El Nino in 2010.

    What result would you get if you compared the 5 year average around 1998. Say 96,97,98,99,2000 with the average of the last 5 years. 06,07,08,09,10 ?

    Your seem good at that sort of thing. Would you care to tell us the answer?

  6. PeterM reur:51

    I seem you haven’t lost any of your winning charm either. The point i was making (with perhaps more data than was necessary) was to point out the absurdity of using ABC news as a reference source when in the same breath you say.

    In science it is necessary to be objective, rather than subjective, and empirical rather than anecdotal when assessing this kind of evidence.

  7. Peter #55

    Please present the evidence you have that anomalies back to 1850/1880 are accurate to one or two significant figures. Or did you mean one or two WHOLE figures?


  8. PeterM

    Sorry, Peter.

    Run your own numbers.

    I just wanted to demonstrate that Hansen can’t even forecast two months in advance, let alone 100 years.

    And the point was made.


  9. PeterM

    OK, Peter.

    I’ll play your silly game (55).

    Here are the annual HadCRUT anomaly figures for the 21st century:

    0.399 2001
    0.456 2002
    0.459 2003
    0.431 2004
    0.474 2005
    0.427 2006
    0.402 2007
    0.312 2008
    0.439 2009
    0.499 2010 (10 month average)

    The most recent 5 years (2006-2010) averaged: 0,416C

    The first 5 years (2001-2005) averaged: 0.444C

    The difference is -0.028C.

    Wow! In just 5 short years we have cooled by 0.028C!

    If we keep this up over the next 90 years, we will have cooled by an alarming 0.50C by 2100!

    OMG! We’ll be back to the very cold temperature of 1976! Ouch!

    My advice to you, Peter.

    Forget about such silly comparisons, whether on a decadal, 5-year period or “warmest year” basis.

    As TonyB has told you (and I also pointed out) the “globally and annually averaged land and sea surface temperature anomaly” construct is fairly meaningless in any case.

    Right now this doubtful indicator tells us our planet is cooling, for what that’s worth.


  10. Max,

    You seem to have got the hang of averages but your comprehension is still lacking.

    I asked for a comparison of a 5 year average around 1998 ( the warmest year so far) , and I’ll let you choose exactly which years if you like, with the average of the last five years.

    Five year averages are much less likely to give a freak result than a single years figure. Wouldn’t you agree?

    But if that’s a piece of information you don’t want to give us….

  11. TonyB,

    It’s a valid point to say that we shouldn’t overstate the accuracy of temperature measurements but at the same time they shouldn’t be understated either.

    Its false reasoning to suggest that because an individual thermometer may only be accurate to 1 degree that therefore all records are possibly out by that amount.

    For instance, if you drew a line on a piece of paper which was exactly a certain length, say 30cm, any measurement of that line would be subject to inaccuracies of the ruler used to measure it.

    Say you made a ruler which was deliberately inaccurate so that the best anyone could do with an individual measurement was +/1cm. There would be a possible range for one individual measurement of anything between 29cm and 31cm.

    However if you had a 100 rulers, all equally inaccurate , but different like all thermometers would have been different in the 19th century, then you would still get measurements in the range 29cm to 31cm but overall they would average out to be pretty close to 30cm.

  12. PeterM

    It’s not my “comprehension that is lacking” (as you put it in 60).

    I simply pointed out to you with an example that comparisons of temperatures over “5-year periods” or “decades” do not show anything meaningful.

    If one accepts the rather doubtful premise that the global temperature record is meaningful at all, with all its known “warts and blemishes”, the only thing that counts are long term trends.

    The overall warming trend (1850 to 2009) was 0.042C per decade or 0.67C over the 160-year period. With the above caveat, this could be seen as a meaningful trend. IOW, it has apparently warmed as we have recovered from the LIA. (This is good news, but is certainly not “startling” news.)

    Then we see three distinct warming trends in the long-term record: one in the late 19th century, one in the early 20th century and the most recent one starting around 1975.

    The first two occurred before any major human CO2 emissions. The third is the IPCC “poster period”, which is being used to proclaim “alarming anthropogenic greenhouse warming”.

    The three are statistically indistinguishable (as Phil Jones has told Roger Harrabin on BBC). A look at the HadCRUT record confirms this, with the exception that the late 19th century period was a few years shorter than the other two, and thus showed a slightly lower total linear warming (around 0.4C rather than around 0.5C).

    In between these warming cycles we see cycles of slight cooling, also around 30-years in duration.

    So the whole record looks like a sine curve on a tilted axis.

    IPCC has not mentioned the cyclical nature of the long-term temperature record in AR4 (very likely because “cycles” point to natural, rather than anthropogenic, forcing).

    IPCC has also not mentioned the 19th century warming period.

    It did mention the early 20th century cycle briefly, but indicated that the models could not fully explain this warming cycle.

    In contrast, IPCC spent a LOT of time on the late 20th century warming cycle, and pointed out that the models could only explain this warming if anthropogenic forcing (i.e. AGW from human CO2) is also fed in.

    We’ve gone through the IPCC logic here once before (on the NS thread), but I’ll repeat it here for you:

    a) Our models cannot explain the early 20th century warming cycle

    b) We know that CO2 caused the late 20th century warming cycle

    c) How do we know this?

    d) Because our models cannot explain it any other way


    My “comprehension” is pretty clear here, Peter.

    How’s yours?


    PS But maybe we should move this whole discussion to the NS thread, since it has nothing more to do with geoffchambers’ “affair with George Monbiot”.

  13. PeterM

    You write to TonyB

    It’s a valid point to say that we shouldn’t overstate the accuracy of temperature measurements but at the same time they shouldn’t be understated either

    It is not only questionable “accuracy” we are talking about here, Peter, it is a “spurious warming bias” (see my 52).

    You mentioned your “ruler” analogy.

    If your “ruler” is shaped like an upward-curved template – or “hockeystick” (pardon the expression), you will get skewed results.

    There are good reasons for suggesting that this is what has happened here.


  14. Monbiot’s at it again at
    My colleague sisterdingo linked to this article, but the comment was removed very fast. Two other posts remain up, one mentioning the name of the article, and one mentioning Harmless Sky, but not giving the link. There seems to be some rule at CiF about mentioning links, but presumably it’s only applied in the case of a report for abuse.

  15. Geoff 64

    You earlier said to me that you didnt believe Monbiot knew about the censorship on his blog. Read the comments. Read yours about sister dingos comment being removed so quickly.

    Are you seriously still saying that an investigative journalist doesn’t know what is going on under his own nose?


  16. tonyb
    24 of sisterdingo’s comments are still up, and 8 have been deleted. The first, which linked to this article, went straight away. Two later ones, which mentioned Harmless Sky and this article by name stayed up a while, then disappeared. Sisterdingo is currently looking at the other deleted comments in order to try and ascertain the reasons for deletion.
    We still can’t know whether Monbiot is involved. All you’d need is a Monbiot fan in the moderator’s seat. I think we can be sure though that Monbiot is kept informed of how the thread is going down in his den in Wales, and that his decision whether or not to engage below the line is determined by how well the argument is going. Badly, in this case, and he didn’t turn up.
    Sisterdingo has now been banned like me, so the experiment won’t be repeated.

  17. […] The world witnessed first-hand a fine and telling example that showed the exact opposite. The resulting story, about RK Pachauri and his finances, is recounted very capably by commenters from the EUReferendum forum at  this very blog. People cannot have fierce disagreements at the Guardian, Mr. Monbiot, nor can they at your personal blog website – you know it and we know it. […]

  18. No warming since 1960, and that official.

    NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century. For all their talk about warming, for all their rushed invention of the “Eleven-Station Series” to prove warming, this new series shows that no warming has occurred here since about 1960. Almost all the warming took place from 1940-60, when the IPCC says that the effect of CO2 concentrations was trivial. Indeed, global temperatures were falling during that period.

    “The new temperature record shows no evidence of a connection with global warming. Since that’s the reason this tempest in a teacup has brewed in the first place, it should simmer down now.”

  19. An intervention by the Guardian Moderator on a recent Monbiot thread offers an interesting insight into moderation policy at CiF. It’s at:
    At 21 December 2010 2:36PM, CommunityMod intervened (a rare occurrence) complaining that “it can be very frustrating for everyone when the threads descend into fights and bickering between pro- and anti- climate change posters instead of discussing the actual topic”.
    Several commenters replied, including SteB1 (21 December 2010 3:02PM), whose long and tedious complaint amounted to the claim that “this is not an equal debate” because one side (his) was quoting science, and the other side (us sceptics) was lying. To which CommunityMod (21 December 2010 4:27PM) replied: “Great comment SteB1 – thanks for that”. A colleague of mine asked Community Mod if a similar complaint coming from the sceptic side would also be considered a “great comment”, but got no reply.
    This amounts to the clearest possible admission, it seems to me, that moderation is biassed on CommentisFree.

  20. geoffchambers

    Monbiot’s latest canard (your link):

    That snow outside is what global warming looks like
    Unusually cold winters may make you think scientists have got it all wrong. But the data reveal a chilling truth.

    is a masterpiece in imbecility.

    This is supposed to be “science”?

    Or, hey, is Monbiot really a “climate skeptic” in disguise, just trying to make the “dangerous AGW mantra” look ridiculous?

    [If so, he’s doing an excellent job of it.]


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