A hierarchy of fleas

By Gareth Renowden 10/05/2013

Big fleas have little fleas,

Upon their backs to bite ‘em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas,

And so, ad infinitum.

The Siphonaptera

We’ll start in the middle, shall we, with “high priest of climate scepticism” Chris Monckton still railing against the failure of the halls of NZ academe to bow down before his obvious intellect. You could say that Chris is doing his best to be a flea in the fur of climate science, what with all his attempts to irritate scientists with scattergun accusations of fraud and libel. But the potty peer is also collecting his own fleas, attracted by his conspiracist thinking and intent on feasting on his fanaticism.

A few weeks ago, John O’Sullivan — the serial liar behind vanity crank science startup Principia Scientific International — wrote an open letter to Monckton, taking him to task for dismissing people who don’t accept the existence of the greenhouse effect as cranks. It’s a question of credibility amongst cranks and their peers, and Monckton could not resist a snotty response.

One John O’Sullivan has written me a confused and scientifically illiterate “open letter” in which he describes me as a “greenhouse gas promoter”. I do not promote greenhouse gases.

It’s a minor classic of a minuscule genre1. Monckton goes for the straightforwardly rude dismissal:

The series of elementary errors he here perpetrates, delivered with an unbecoming, cranky arrogance, indicates the need for considerable elementary education on his part.

The PP’s use of the C word stirs the mighty behemoth that is the collective intellect behind PSI, and O’Sullivan’s rejoinder is also a minor classic of its kind: the goalpost shift. Monckton’s second reply is, if anything, even snottier than his first:

Here, O’Sullivan characteristically but unwisely assumes that, since he is himself bottomlessly ignorant, others are as ignorant as he. As will be seen, that is not so.

Hell hath no fury like a crank scorned, which is something Monckton discovered for himself during his NZ visit. Interviewed by the editor of Uncensored Magazine2, Chris was rather dismissive of the reality of the chemtrails conspiracy. According to NZ’s chemtrails community, that means he’s playing “an active role in the chemtrail/geoengineering cover up”. Here’s more incisive analysis of Monckton’s real role from the same source:

Could it be that he’s functioning as a gatekeeper to keep people from knowing about the weather modification technology being used globally to create extremes, and exposing the IPCC, Al Gore, Michael Mann, Phil Jones and others as con artists, in order to win the public’s trust? He may be engaging in predictive programming regarding United Nations’ Agenda 21 – telling people that it is going to happen, so they will more readily accept it?

You could almost feel sorry for Monckton, were he not himself a conspiracy theorist, happy to tell his audiences that the UN is plotting to force humanity to live in concentration camps and that climate science is all a trumped up fraud. The potty peer wants to be accepted as a real scientist on a par with the people he defines as his peers3 — Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer chief amongst them4, even going to the extent of leaping to the defence of Spencer at µWatts when he was criticised by Skeptical Science recently5.

For Monckton, this could be a simple matter of self-esteem or self-importance, but it is also evidence of a need to retain what passes for credibility in the world of climate denial. He has to put clear blue water between himself and what he defines as the lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, his own descent into rabble-rousing and conspiracist thinking has drawn the rest of the fringe towards him like moths towards a flame — a perfect example of crank magnetism.

Further evidence of this need to reject the fringe can be seen in Anthony Watts refusal to espouse or promote the arguments6 adopted by O’Sullivan’s group of greenhouse deniers, and Roy Spencer’s various articles in defence of basic physics7.

These are all symptoms of a wider problem for the campaign to do nothing to reduce emissions — how do you maintain a credible case for inaction in the face of mounting evidence of a serious, perhaps even civilisation-threatening problem? As the evidence becomes quite literally undeniable, how do you keep the campaign going? How do you keep your sceptical foot soldiers happy?

These problems aren’t new. The answer was decided long ago: you feed the base. To keep the campaign going you tell your supporters what they want to hear, whatever the facts: that there’s been no warming for 17 years, that the Arctic ice melt isn’t a problem, that those heatwaves and floods and droughts are nothing to do with our emissions.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the science says, or most of the media report, so to make the lies credible you have to postulate a global conspiracy by climate scientists and environmentalists to distort the facts, commit fraud and create a chimera. And that’s Pandora’s Box you just opened.

As the years have gone by, and the accusations of conspiracy and fraud have become more strident, so the climate inactivists have drifted further and further from reality and into the orbits occupied by the chemtrail and crank physics conspiracists. They’ve sat down with the devil, and they’ve picked up his fleas. The result is quite a circus…

  1. Crank replies to criticisms by other cranks of their own crankery.
  2. Well, was Jack the Ripper Winston Churchill’s father? I think we should be told.
  3. Yes, I know it’s the second time I’ve used that pun, but you find a better word…
  4. Not setting the bar very high, it could be argued.
  5. SkS deals with Spencer’s misrepresentation of the science, but the best bit in the Catholic Online interview is where he says “we will need to burn even more fossil fuels in order to find replacements for fossil fuels.” I mean, words fail, etc etc.
  6. Many, various and mutually inconsistent.
  7. He’s been at it since 2009, at least.