Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


St. Thomas Prof. John Abraham in royal smackdown with global-warming denier Christopher Monckton

It’s always interesting to discover what doesn’t end up in a press release from a university.

In this case, the University of St. Thomas apparently isn’t tooting its own horn about standing up for academic freedom and a mild-mannered thermal-engineering professor named John Abraham. But St. Thomas and Abraham are getting lots of lauds in academic, environmental and scientific circles in cyberspace. 

Abraham’s 126-slide audio presentation, titled “A Scientist Replies to Christopher Monckton,” methodically takes apart Monckton’s claims that scientists are lying about global warming. Abraham’s talk was in response to a speech Monckton gave at a Minnesota Free Market Institute gathering last fall at Bethel University. This YouTube video of Monckton’s presentation has received more than 200,000 views.

Among Monckton’s claims, according to Abraham’s presentation: “the world isn’t warming; sea levels aren’t rising; ice is not melting; polar bears are not threatened; the ocean is not heating; there’s no ocean acidification … scientists are lying; there is a conspiracy.”

In the intro, Abraham details Monckton’s history, including that he has testified before Congress, has degrees in classics and journalism, and that he’s a “pretty compelling speaker” who has a “wonderful way with words.”

In response, Monckton has called on his supporters to email the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, to open an academic and misconduct investigation. The law firm Moore, Costello & Hart, which represents St. Thomas, has said back off — or else. Here is a section from the firm’s letter addressed to “The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley Carie, Rannoch, Scotland,” posted by Rabett Run.  

“It is the University’s position that Professor Abraham has done nothing improper or illegal in expressing his ideas and opinions on this matter and that Professor Abraham has not engaged in any academic or professional misconduct. Accordingly, the University will not investigate Professor Abraham’s conduct in this matter as you requested, nor will the University issue a retraction or apology for Professor Abraham’s talk, comply with any of your other demands, or respond to any further communications from you on this matter.

“Further, the University is appalled by your disparaging, outrageous and defamatory comments, regarding the University of St. Thomas, President Father Dease and Professor John Abraham, especially the comments you made during a television interview on June 24, 2010. On behalf of the University of St. Thomas, we demand that you immediately cease and desist making any further disparaging or defamatory comments about the University of St. Thomas, President Father Dease, Professor Abraham, the Archdioceses of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, or anyone else associated with the University. If your inappropriate conduct does not cease immediately, the University of St. Thomas will have no choice but to take appropriate legal action.”

Google “John Abraham and Christopher Monckton” and you’ll pull up 21,000-plus entries. The scientific smackdown is getting more attention in the United Kingdom’s media and in cyberspace than locally, according to St. Thomas spokesman Jim Winterer, who said the contents of the letter are accurate. Gotta love this headline in the Guardian: “Monckton’s response to John Abraham is magnificently bonkers.”

John Abraham
John Abraham

The university has been inundated with emails and letters from Monckton as well as with “scores” of emails and calls from Abraham’s supporters, but so far hasn’t issued a press release on the matter, Winterer said. 

“You’re the first local reporter to call,” he told me this morning. “One reason we didn’t do a release is our goal was never to get in some kind of media battle with this guy. … To start some kind of news release war, that was never the intent.”

Meanwhile, scientists around the world are rallying in support of Abraham, including a New Zealander’s recently setting up a “Support John Abraham” site.  More than 900 comments have been posted. Here’s one: “Thank you to John Abraham and St. Thomas University for revealing the misstatements made by Christopher Monckton. Please don’t let him intimidate you. The world needs the truth you are giving us.”

Update: Abraham told me today that calls and emails from supporters have outweighed the hate mail 5 to 1. Still, he said in a phone interview, it’s “uncomfortable to be the target of a letter campaign” and he’d prefer to get back to his research. I plan to write a follow-up post based on the interview, so please check back. 

Brian Angliss of Scholars & Rogues posted a summary of some of the attempts to counter Monckton’s claims, but said that Abraham “set the curve when it comes to debunking Monckton.”

“In response to a presentation Monckton made in Minnesota, Abraham checked nearly every one of Monckton’s claims and references in order to see where Monckton got the science right vs. where he got it wrong,” Angliss writes. “The result of all this research was a nearly 90 minute-long rebuttal where Abraham dissects dozens of Monckton’s claims from a speech a year ago and finds that nearly everything Monckton said in his Minnesota presentation was wrong.”

Winterer and colleagues have been watching some of the videos of Monckton’s attacks on Abraham. “They’re just unchecked. … It’s a smackdown. It’s like the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] in science.”

Here’s the presentation from Abraham, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Thanks to reader John Sherman, a professor emeritus at Moorhead State (now Minnesota State University Moorhead), who emailed me about the debate. 

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/19/2010 - 06:34 pm.

    If you have the time (70 minutes), Abraham’s presentation is well worth it.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/19/2010 - 09:14 pm.

    The problem of the dialogue occurring in the media and on political podiums between the vast majority of climate scientists and their deriders is an asymmetric one. Climate scientists are trained to be, well scientists, they speak in the language of statistics, mathematics and hypothesis testing, which is hard to translate to the masses. Climate scientists are not trained nor have particular talents in rhetoric, advertising, communication, and public opinion, such as the lobbyists, think-tanks and politicians who have pointed their guns directly at them.

  3. Submitted by david granneman on 07/19/2010 - 10:44 pm.

    burt rutan – the designer of the many experimental aircraft, the Voyager – first plane to fly non stop around the world, and the first civilian spacee plane to fly in to space.
    he gave a lecture at the eaa airshow regarding global warming.

  4. Submitted by david granneman on 07/19/2010 - 10:56 pm.

    it is odd that you refer to Christopher Monckton as a global-warming denier would it be fair then to refer to John Abraham as a global warming hoaxer. real scientists do not ridicule differing viewpoints but rather consider the eveidence. real scientists would enmgrace spposing ideas as a way to test their own ideas. a real scientist would never say – GAME IS OVER THE CONCLUSION HAS BEEN MADE.

  5. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 07/20/2010 - 05:17 am.

    Polar Bear Population
    1950 – 5,000
    1980 – 10,000
    Current – 22,000

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/20/2010 - 06:28 am.

    Moncton is a journalism graduate who wouldn’t know an isobar from a sports bar.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/20/2010 - 06:53 am.

    Hi Dave..
    Burt Rutan is an “Aerospace engineer”. Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft.

    Yes, there are scientists who dispute the science of global warming.Of course you are going to have an entire range of opinions in the scientific community. As such you have to rely on the overall assessment of scientists.

    A small fraction of the total minority are very visible because media likes to be fair and balanced. So it will always give both sides of the story. Even if the science has become unbalanced and become clear. We will continue to hear both sides and the result is a confused public.

    Thus, it seems for the moment we are stuck with an asymmetric battle between professional, media and internet savvy fighters, who are well trained on text books analyzing the battle between the tobacco industry and science, vs people who have no media fighting skills whatsoever.

    It would be great, no question, if a fighter rose up in their ranks. Michael Mann is getting better at it, I think, compared to what he was when the anti-science lobby first started attacking him. I heard a good sound-byte from him the other day, to paraphrase: “If anyone says to you the greenhouse effect does not exist, answer that without the greenhouse effect the world would be a cold rock circulating the sun”. But is coming up with sound-bytes, blog-bombing strategies and designing talking points really the job of the scientist?

    My question is where are the pro-science think tanks and NGOs to act as a liaison between scientists and the media and politics. And I don’t mean the environmental NGOs, I mean foundations and think tanks that solely focus on how to promote and put the language of the scientists into the mainstream. They do exist. The Center of Inquiry is a good example of a growing body, so is the James Randi Educational Foundation, and articles like this one try to. It should be said, however, that most attempts to promote science in society just end up preaching to the converted. There has to be more, tougher characters defending and promoting science on a political level, and in communities were it seldom reaches (such as the Republican caucus).

    I argue it is to much of a burden to ask our best scientists to enter this fight; and, obliging them to do so with their highly trained time is not the most effective way to advance our society. What we need instead are people and organizations who can translate their language of statistics and hypothesis into something for the world of angry-blogging, mouth foaming, game changing, soundbites in a way that is honest to the scientists. Taking the high road, unfortunately, has not been working on this issue yet.

  8. Submitted by Cecil North on 07/20/2010 - 09:20 am.

    David, the problem is that Monckton is not a scientist (as is Abraham) and does not present his “evidence” in a manner that would even remotely survive peer review by scientists. Simply presenting an opposing view does not, automatically, entitle one to the same deference given to those with other, better supported views. If you wade through Abraham’s presentation (I did), you will find a wealth of information that not only refutes Monckton’s arguments, but lays bare his sophistry and statistical shenanigans.

    No, a man who starts his talk on global warming with a joke about our President’s birth certificate is a man with an agenda, plain and simple. If you want to believe his rhetoric, fine. But rhetoric is all that it is.

  9. Submitted by Nathan Smith on 07/20/2010 - 11:35 am.

    Here here to #10. To david, in no part of Dr. Abraham’s presentation is he ridiculing of Mr. Mockton. But rather he carefully responds to Mockton’s disinformation. Mockton’s presentation is replete with incorrect interpretations of research and confusing charts which don’t provide the full context of the data used to create them. Mockton’s response to this fact based review has been nothing short of apalling, rather than respond with some dignity he takes the low road by name calling and making ridiculous threats.

  10. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/20/2010 - 01:34 pm.

    I followed the link in comment number 7, and it took me to a page in Rutan’s presentation with the same numbers. There is no citatation or link or any supporting evidence. Just the numbers themselves.

    While I can’t verify Rutan’s numbers, it is true that some polar bear populations have increased during that time frame. The reason for that, however, is that Polar Bears – like so many other animals – were nearly hunted to extinction. Once limits on hunting were put into place, the populations rebounded. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the current problem, which is that melting polar ice is threatening polar bear habitat.

    I would assume that given Rutan’s accomplishments that he isn’t a stupid guy. The reality is worse – he is a fundamentally dishonest guy who uses psuedoscience to convince those people who lack the intelligence to understand the science, or more specifically, to even recognize science as opposed to the kind of garbage he is putting out.

    I give all the credit in the world to Abraham for his attempts to respond to the lies of people like Mockton and Rutan with actual science. The problem is that for the people who can’t differentiate between the science and the nonsense, it won’t do any good.

  11. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/20/2010 - 02:14 pm.

    Gregory, one side has the data, and you have a link to a site collecting discredited science denier claims. There isn’t much a debate any more.

  12. Submitted by Peter Miesler on 08/26/2010 - 04:46 pm.

    This story continues.
    If you want to learn more about Lord Monckton’s assault on science please visit:

  13. Submitted by Peter Miesler on 08/26/2010 - 04:53 pm.

    (#6) dg
    It incredibly disingenuous to slam Professor Abraham for his few jabs, while giving Lord Monckton a free pass on the most outlandish, slanderous rhetoric one can imagine. Do you recognize the double standard you use?
    Why not check for another closer examination of Lord Monckton’s performance in Minnesota.

    How can you watch the news and claim: “GAME IS OVER THE CONCLUSION HAS BEEN MADE.” ?

Leave a Reply