So many lies — and the liar who tells them

By Gareth Renowden 04/07/2011


A headline caught my attention yesterday:
Shock News: Disgraced Climategate Scientist Made Top UN Weatherman. It popped up all over the crank web. Climate Realists seemed to get it first, then Morano’s Climate Depot, and soon it was at the gloriously titled “CO2 Insanity“, ICECAP.us and many, many more. Here’s the intro and first sentence:

In a shock move a discredited global warming scientist implicated in climate fraud is appointed to a top job at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Jim Salinger, one of the scientists suspected of criminal misconduct in the Climategate scandal has been elected to the prestigious role of President of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Climate skeptics are aghast at the news.

The author? One John O’Sullivan. HT readers with long memories will remember him being wrong about everything before. In this case, amongst the untruths and libels in those few words is one simple mistake that makes the entire crank echo chamber look stupid for providing O’Sullivan with a platform. Jim Salinger’s election to the presidency of the WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM) took place in 2006 — as O’Sullivan’s own reference demonstrates! Salinger remains a member of the CAgM, but the president is now
Dr Byong-Lyol Lee of Korea (full WMO membership list here). O’Sullivan’s “scoop” is a mere five years out of date! But wait, there’s more…

O’Sullivan’s “news” item continues:

Salinger remains a suspected accomplice in the tight knit international clique of climatologists involved in the data corruption scandal at the University of East Anglia (UEA), England. Commenting on that ongoing criminal probe, Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory said: ’This has been a complex investigation […]“

Apart from the obvious libel of Salinger, O’Sullivan is clearly suggesting that the police are investigating some mythical “data corruption scandal”, when in fact they are attempting to find the people who hacked the Climatic Research Unit’s servers to steal emails. The rest of O’Sullivan’s tirade is a lightly rehashed version of his misrepresentation of the state of the NIWA versus NZ CSET case, with a few added libels of Salinger thrown in for good measure.

The whole piece is a distasteful and distorted piece of make-believe — but that seems good enough for the merry-go-round of “sceptic” web sites. Anyone who has carried O’Sullivan’s nonsense should now withdraw and apologise to Jim Salinger, a respected scientist who is about as far from O’Sullivan’s perverse caricature as it’s possible to be. But I won’t be holding my breath…

But what of O’Sullivan? Who is this man, who describes himself in his profile at Suite 101 as “the world’s most popular Internet writer on the greenhouse gas theory of climate change (Google)”? Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken the time to do a little digging…

Back in May, someone calling themselves John O’Sullivan joined the Science & Technology Media Professionals group at Linked-In (a workplace networking site) and started posting provocative discussion threads about climate-related subjects. One thread he started, Has Global Warming Propaganda Killed Science Journalism? ran to to several hundred comments1, and prompted me and one or two others (notably science writer Andrew Skolnick) to do a little research on O’Sullivan.

I started with his Suite 101 profile (which is very similar to his Linked-In resumé). Here are his claims, and what we found:

  • He coordinated and published the science book, Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory, a two-volume best seller he co-wrote with 22 leading climate researchers.

This is at least partly true2, and why he is of more than passing interest in climate matters.

  • O’Sullivan has published over 150 major articles worldwide.

This may be true for definitions of “major” that include blog posts at sceptic websites, but I haven’t bothered to count them all for reasons that will become obvious.

  • His ‘Satellite-gate’ revelations caused a $12 million dollar orbiting U.S. satellite to be hastily removed from service.

Doesn’t appear to be true. “Satellite-gate” is an O’Sullivan beat up of a known sensor malfunction on the NOAA-16 weather satellite. The satellite is still very much functional.

Now it starts to get really interesting…

  • In America his work features in the National Review, the nation’s most popular and influential magazine for Republican/conservative news and also Forbes Magazine.

“Sky Dragon” John O’Sullivan has never had any article, major or otherwise, published in National Review or Forbes. National Review does have a writer called John O’Sullivan — a prominent and respectable British conservative columnist who acts as their Editor-at-Large. Pressed to confirm his status as a writer for National Review, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan posted links to two articles3 written by the other John. Tasked with this apparent theft of another’s reputation, he resorted to bluster and attempts to change the subject4.

  • Other leading world publications that feature his work include China Daily, the Number One English portal in China and The India Times, the prime source of business news in India.

Tracking these references down was rather more tricky, but eventually O’Sullivan’s own LiveJournal blog provided the links I was looking for5. For O’Sullivan, “featuring” in China Daily means having someone post one of your articles in a discussion forum. The same is true for The India Times.

So much for O’Sullivan’s journalistic CV padding. Now we turn to his legal background, and that’s — if anything — even more “interesting”. The Suite 101 profile contains these paragraphs:

  • Science writer and legal advocate specializing in anti-corruption, John O’Sullivan LLB, BA (Hon), PGCE, was born in Berkshire, England, of immigrant Irish parents in 1961. As an accredited academic, John taught and lectured for over twenty years at schools and colleges in the east of England as well as litigating for over a decade in the New York State courts and U.S. Federal 2nd Circuit.
  • John, a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) is currently litigating in two major climate science lawsuits, one of which involves prominent climatologists, Dr Michael Mann versus Dr Tim Ball. O’Sullivan also acts as a legal consultant for prominent Canadian law firm, Pearlman Lindholm, Vancouver, Canada6.

He claims to have a law degree (LLB) and to have litigated in New York State courts and the US Federal 2nd Circuit. How do those claims stack up? Does O’Sullivan really have any kind of legal training or background? In posts at Linked-In, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan suggested that he had obtained his LLB at the University of Cork in Ireland. Research by Andrew Skolnick discovered that a John O’Sullivan does appear to have obtained a law degree from that august institution, but it’s not Sky Dragon O’Sullivan7.

What about his experience in the US courts? Following leads left by O’Sullivan at his LiveJournal blog and a couple of his earlier writing projects8, we were able to establish that O’Sullivan had been involved in bringing a sexual harassment case against a former employer of his wife. This suit appears to have been a failure. However one part of O’Sullivan’s legal background appears to have some substance — but not in the way he might wish us to assume. He has recently joined the American Bar Association as an associate — but is not, and should not be claiming to be, a full member. One has to be a lawyer licensed to practice in the US to become an ABA member, but anyone can join as an associate.

One thing is certainly true. Tim Ball — famous for having padded his own resumé — is being sued for libel by Michael Mann and Andrew Weaver, as Richard Littlemore explains here. Pearlman Lindholm are indeed acting for Ball, and they confirmed to Skolnick that Sky Dragon O’Sullivan is acting as some kind of consultant on the case9. They may not be aware, however, that O’Sullivan’s legal background is not as he presents it. It seems likely that Ball, having worked with O’Sullivan on the Sky Dragon project, takes him at face value, and is not aware of O’Sullivan’s apparent penchant for gilding the reputational lily.

Meanwhile, whatever the truth may be about O’Sullivan’s legal skills and training10, and however the Mann/Ball case turns out11, his reckless disregard for the facts in the stories he writes and distributes, his willingness to scatter libellous statements about the internet, and risible attempts to pass himself off as a respected and successful writer should make him a pariah — even on the wilder fringes of the climate “sceptic” web. Every site that has carried or promoted this travesty of “journalism” by this pretend journalist should issue retractions and apologies. Sadly, I don’t expect they’ll be forthcoming. Jim Salinger, an honourable and decent New Zealander deserves far better.

  1. It has since been removed by the Linked-In moderators, but I have an archive of most of the key posts.
  2. there isn’t much evidence that it’s been any kind of “best seller”, and any relationship between real science and its contents is entirely coincidental.
  3. Here’s one, here’s the other.
  4. Tactics familiar to anyone who has attempted to “debate” climate with the more obstinate “sceptics”
  5. This blog post is very revealing. In it, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan records the text of a job application he made for a post at WalesOnLine. The post is dated March 15th 2010, and O’Sullivan notes that he “arrived late to journalism, after 20 years of pursuing the mundane life of a classroom teacher and college lecturer”. Yet he claimed to have written a piece in National Review dated March 2007!
  6. O’Sullivan’s Linked-In profile gives his job as “legal consultant at Pearlman Lindholm”
  7. O’Sullivan’s Friends Reunited page suggests he has a BA from what used to be the West Surrey College of Art and Design. His Linked-In profile also claims that he has a post graduate certificate in education from the University of Sussex — required for starting a teaching career in the UK. Friends Reunited lists a number of schools at which he appears to have taught, but gives no details of legal training or employment.
  8. See here for an example.
  9. O’Sullivan suggested in comments at Linked-In that he had some kind of “conditional fee” arrangement — in other words that he would only receive a fee if Ball won his case.
  10. There’s more, much more, but this post is already long enough.
  11. Tim Ball is toast.