Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Climate-Science Smackdown, Part 2: Prof. John Abraham wishes more scientists would take a stand

The scientific community’s apparent inability to convey the risks of climate change to the public propelled John Abraham of University of St. to dissect the claims of one of the world’s most-vocal and visible skeptics.

What on earth possessed Prof. John Abraham to publicly challenge the claims of one of the planet’s most-vocal global-warming skeptics and then see his academic reputation attacked on the air and in cyberspace?

Quite simply, the scientific community’s inability to explain the risks of climate change on Earth to the public propelled Abraham into action.

“What has really bothered me is that the scientific community has not been effectively conveying science to the public,” said Abraham, a tenured associate professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I think it’s our obligation to make sure that the public has the right information so that we can make the right decisions that are going to have to be made and [to explain] that the science still has some questions within it.

“It’s our obligation to make sure the questions are well-understood, and that the risks of acting, or not acting, are well-understood,” he said.

Article continues after advertisement

A presentation last fall by Christopher Monckton, a frequently sought-after speaker by hard-core skeptics of climate change, inspired Abraham to look into Monckton and his claims. Monckton is a viscount from Scotland and reportedly an adviser to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He has testified by invitation from Congress and picked apart Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Abraham produced, in his own time and on his own dime, a 126-slide audio presentation that dissected via the scientific method every claim Monckton made in a speech last fall to the Minnesota Free Market Institute. He contacted authors of the research Monckton cited to see if their work had been accurately represented. His slides include snapshots of Monckton’s slides as well as excerpts from the research and from the researchers saying their work has been misquoted and misinterpreted.

Based on what I’ve read, seen and heard in the last 24 hours, I think it’s safe to say that Monckton went ballistic, even going so far as to say Abraham looks like “an overcooked prawn” in one piece, telling Alex Jones on his show that St. Thomas is a “half-assed Catholic Bible college” and claiming he has contacted university funders and the bishop, who he says hasn’t replied because he’s “so busy sorting out problems with little boys.”

“Just about every one of the 115 slides presented by Abraham in his shoddy little piece of lavishly funded venom contains serious, serial, material errors, exaggerations, or downright lies,” Monckton wrote in a piece titled “Monckton: At last, the climate extremists try to debate us!” on Pajamas Media.

Observers and scientists around the world have hailed Abraham’s “A Scientist Replies to Christopher Monckton” as one of the best attempts yet to take on Monckton and they’ve started two petitions in support of Abraham and St. Thomas, one of which has 960 signatures and comments at last check.

I wrote about the royal smackdown on Monday. My post included excerpts from a letter that the law firm representing St. Thomas sent to Monckton, which told him the university will not investigate Abraham as he demanded and that it will pursue legal action if the viscount persists with what Moore, Costello & Hart describe as “disparaging and defamatory” remarks similar to the ones made on that June 24 Alex Jones broadcast.

I can’t claim to have watched the entire speech by Monckton or the audio slideshow by Abraham. But I can see why Monckton, who cuts an impressive figure and whose rapid-fire eloquence reminds me of the late William F. Buckley, has gotten under the skin of environmentalists and climate scientists. I also can see why Abraham’s methodical point-by-point approach has needled Monckton to sic his followers on Abraham and St. Thomas and to rant at every opportunity.

Abraham tells me that while the vitriol has been hard to take at times for a mild-mannered academic, the outpouring from the scientific community as well as St. Thomas’ defense have heartened him. He wishes there could be more of a civil debate.

“I think in academia we encourage free discussion of topics, especially topics that are contentious, and it’s through free discussion that we can help ourselves arrive at actions that can make the world a better place,” he said.

He also has replied to Monckton’s various charges on the Skeptical Science website.

“My intention as a professional scientist is to help provide a public disclosure of your scientific methods,” Abraham writes. “I continue to believe that your work seriously misrepresents the science upon which you rely.”

While Abraham risked the backlash by taking on a prominent public figure, he’d like to see more scientists follow suit.

“I would like to see a greater activism in conveying some of the risks related to climate change to the public,” he said. “Now there’s a motivation in being not active because it’s unfunded; we don’t get promotions based on our activism. It takes a lot of time and, I think, what is evident from my situation, there are some severe risks. So, when you’re a scientist sitting on the sidelines it’s an obvious question: ‘Why would I want to engage in this activity.’ I’d like to see more scientists see that the ethical obligation to engage outweighs the potential downsides.”

Would he have produced his web presentation before he wasn’t tenured?

“Certainly, being tenured had an impact on my decision, but I still may have done it prior to tenure,” said Abraham, who’s quick to add that he thinks St. Thomas would have stood by him pre-tenure. “Fortunately, Mr. Monckton made his speech after tenure.”

More of the comments on the men’s opposing pieces are found here, here and here.