There has been a development of sorts in the “debate” between George Monbiot and Ian Plimer (climate change / global warming Denier de jour), which is to say Plimer has sent Monbiot a series of questions for Monbiot to answer.
In response to Monbiot’s Queen pawn opening Plimer has answered “I like turtles.” Or more accurately, his actual response is not even remotely that coherent, rational, or relevant.
Of Plimer’s questions Monbiot said:
“Fascinating as these questions doubtless are, … My answer to questions 1-13 is: “you’re asking the wrong person”.”
I disagree. In and of themselves the questions are not fascinating; they are pure juvenile bafflegab. I won’t dignify the full set with repetition, but just so you can get a sense of how absurd Plimer is being, here is the text of the first question:
1. From the distribution of the vines, olives, citrus and grain crops in Europe, UK and Greenland, calculate the temperature in the Roman and Medieval Warmings and the required atmospheric CO2 content at sea level to drive such warmings. What are the errors in your calculation? Reconcile your calculations with at least five atmospheric CO2 proxies. Show all calculations and justify all assumptions. (see update)
They are all like that, pure irrelevant nonsense. Monbiot quite reasonably asked specific questions relevant to claims Plimer made in his book. Plimer responds by pulling out of thin air a bunch meaningless demands for impossible and irrelevant answers.
As commenter pessce noted:
At least one question (#13) is just stupid – I think he’s just trying to sound impressive.
There are numbers of little peaks between 1 and 10 microns for water vapor – which peaks near 2.5 and 7 microns does he want? Liquid water has peaks at 3 and 6 microns, so “use the 25µm, 7µm and 2.5µm wavelengths to calculate the effect that gaseous, liquid and solid H2O have on atmospheric temperature” just doesn’t make sense. Ice has a broad band around 2 microns.
There’s a CO2 absorption band at 4 microns which doesn’t exist for water vapor, so if you try to examine “How does the effect of H2O compare with the effect of CO2 derived from the same sources?” you’ll get something completely meaningless.
In any event the answer is pretty simple – all this water vapor will get precipitated out pretty quickly so it won’t have much of an effect. Pessce
“Trying to sound impressive” is exactly right. Plimer obviously wants to create the impression of erudition with the sophomoric tactic of throwing out a lot of nonsense cribbed from a text book he never read and doesn’t understand. It is the pre-pubescent swagger of an inferior intelligence attempting academic bullying with juvenile sophistry. It’s pathetic and insulting.
It’s not an attack at all, but rather an admission of defeat. Clearly Plimer can think of nothing intelligent to ask Monbiot, so he opts for Red Herring fallacies. He is clearly not mature enough to engage honestly and in good faith, nor to submit gracefully.
The questions are fascinating only in the sense of the insight they give us about an immature personality suffering from delusions of adequacy. I cannot think of a more dramatic display of the Dunning-Kruger effect (and here) playing itself out.
If Plimer had any clue at all, the last thing he would want would be this evidence of both his ignorance and immaturity to be made public. Instead he uses it in a context that ensures the widest possible audience for his self-inflicted humiliation. It’s just breath taking for its profound lack of self-awareness.
Of Monbiot’s “you’re asking the wrong person”; actually Monbiot is exactly the right person for Plimer to send his inadvertent confession of intellectual bankruptcy and emotional immaturity. Now at least Monbiot has a clearer sense of the Plimer’s character and the kind of stupidity he can expect in this encounter.
That being said, I did suggest that there was a good chance that Plimer would try to not allow himself to be held accountable for his book and simply spout nonsense instead. Naturally this will play well in the Denialosphere since his response has many words with more than one syllable and the Deniers will take that as proof that he knows what he is talking about.
Unfortunately it may also be somewhat effective with the general public in that the lay audience has no way of knowing that these questions are idiotic nonsense. They sound “scientific” and seem to use the right terminology, so many people will take them at face value. On that basis they will conclude that Monbiot’s failure to answer questions fully is evidence of Plimer’s superior authority on climate issues. However one hopeful sign is that many of the commenters at Monbiot’s blog clearly recognize Plimer’s nonsense for what it is.
Three no trump?
Which begs the question of how Monbiot should respond. Plimer chooses to play the fool and Monbiot is more or less obliged to answer or forfeit. One or more possible responses are to
- Deconstruct the questions exposing the juvenile sophistry for what it is, and/or
- Since there is no requirement that Monbiot’s answers be correct, it is possible to answer them in the spirit in which they were asked, ie juvenile contempt, by
- ask for clarifications, ie the answers depend on specific context and conditionalites, so it is fair to respond with quite complicated and convoluted requests for clarification of a broad variety of variables that would be equally impossible (and pointless) to answer, and/or
- Give answers equally convoluted and nonsensical; use impossible formulae that go on for dozens of pages, divide by zero and multiply by the root of -1, give calculations and explanations that hinge on events that occurred in the first 10-43 seconds of the universe, and then just tack on any old answer at the end (sensu McLean, de Frietas and Carter) … and put the burden on Plimer to prove the answers are wrong.
Plimer had an opportunity to engage in good faith and defend his claims, and instead he opts to piss it away by parading his immaturity and lack of intellectual substance. In one bold stroke his reputation as intellectually dishonest and incompetent has dropped to that of being beneath contempt.
Others have been following this (eg Monbiot vs Plimer « Open Mind, Richard Littlemore | Ian Plimer Watch: Update – Debate set with George Monbiot) and I look forward to seeing what they make of this, and what they and others suggest may be an appropriate response.
Andrew Dodds analysed the questions and really they’re just the same old Denier memes. This means Monbiot can “cut to the chase” and ignore the ridiculous demands for impossible detail by just giving Plimer the standard refutations of these stupidities. Done and done.
The comment thread at Tamino’s is already worth reading and will undoubtedly get even better … it usually does.
Chris Colose has done a deconstruction of some of Plimer’s questions in Ian Plimer’s questions to George Monbiot « Climate Change which walks you through what vacuous nonsense it is (and the rest are no different). As Chris concludes:
“It’s unfortunate that skeptics wanted to “debate” for so long and now have this clown representing them, who is just throwing up sciency-sounding but intellectually vacuous smokescreens.”
My bad 😦 , Deltoid has been following this (Plimer chickens out : Deltoid) and is keeping up with it Plimer fails to answer Monbiot’s questions : Deltoid. Here too the comments are often worth your while.
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