Doomed Planet

The Monbiot Affair

Ian Plimer and George Monbiot were to meet in London to debate climate change on 12 November. Monbiot chickened out. Here are two emails they exchanged.  

From: Ian Plimer 
Sent: 07 September 2009 07:20
To: George Monbiot
Subject: Thursday 12th November 2009

Dear Mr Monbiot, 

I return from abroad, interstate and outback to a very large number of emails, including a number from you. 

As you are aware, I challenged you to debate me. Contrary to normal debate procedure, you imposed a condition (i.e. I answer your questions) hence my condition for a debate was that you also answer my questions. My questions derive from some 40 years of examining students to ascertain whether they have actually undertaken the minimum amount of reading, whether they understand the subject, whether they have critically analysed the validated available information, whether they have plagiarised and whether they have the basic skills to communicate knowledge. By contrast, your questions appear to derive from a person with an unhealthy incandescent anger hence the lack of structure, coherence, internal consistency and hints of irrationality. 

My thirteen questions were also to check whether you have really read Heaven and Earth because this is where the answers to my questions lie. This was a double blind test to see if I could validate your claim that you had actually read my book or whether you had plagiarised questions from the handful of Australian critics with undeclared interests in the matter of human-induced climate change. In any University examination, plagiarisation means instant failure and dismissal from a degree course. I impose this test on my students and I have also imposed it on you. There are now nine print versions of Heaven and Earth, your description of the cover of a UK edition (August 20 email) does not mean that you have actually read the book and, because all nine print runs are different, your questions show that they derived from a print version that you did not describe. At the debate, I will expand on this will leave it to the debate audience to make a decision on your claim that you have actually read the book at the time you made that claim. 

Most of my critics have not read Heaven and Earth which demonstrates that critics’ arguments have no intellectual basis. If you had actually read the book, you could not have escaped the central themes: (a) the past is the key to the present, (b) that integrated interdisciplinary science shows that Earth is a very complex non-linear open system and (c) that science does not operate by consensus, bullying, fads, fashions, authority, government decree, beliefs, intuition or vested interests. If you had read the book, these themes would have been reflected in your questions. You asked me no questions about these three themes, if your claims of reading my book are correct then one can only conclude that you have accepted my arguments. My questions to you were such that you could calculate and prove the validity of two of these themes thereby showing that human-induced global warming is a tenuous hypothesis. This may change your thought processes from unhealthy dogma to a healthy uncertainty and scepticism which underpin all science. 

I just can not accept that you are unqualified to answer my questions (September 1 email) and I ascribe this comment to post-surgery traumatic confusion or, perhaps, an eclectic sense of humour. Maybe you are astute enough to realise that my questions forced you to demonstrate to yourself from first principles that human-induced global warming is a discredited hypothesis. 

You have established yourself as a populist scribe on matters concerning the environment, especially in the area of human-induced global warming. To write incessantly on such matters, you must have scientific training to be able to understand the basic science and the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific arguments concerning human-induced climate change. If you do not have such knowledge, qualifications and training on matters scientific, then this should be declared in your writings on human-induced climate change. Such a declaration was made by James Delingpole in The Spectator, you have not made a similar declaration hence your readers can only conclude that you have the qualifications to write on a scientific matter. Without such a declaration, you would be engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct. 

You have the honour of being the UK journalistic expert on matters concerning human-induced climate change, a subject underpinned by science. It is just simply not possible to bathe in this reputation yet claim that you are now suddenly unqualified to answer elementary scientific questions on matters of human-induced climate change in the absence of a declaration similar to that of Delingpole. Furthermore, I was told that you have read for a degree in science and, unless this degree was obtained from a US degree mill for $20, you certainly have the training to answer simple questions concerning elementary science. 

If you can not understand elementary science, then as a journalist writing on matters underpinned by science you are certainly not qualified to write a balanced newspaper article or provide dispassionate comment. Blog and WWW sites are quite correctly the places for anonymous unbalanced unsubstantiated opinion which is why my one and only blog entry was to challenge you to a debate. Until blog and WWW sites are edited, peer reviewed and transparent, they remain an outlet for ignorance, anger and misinformation and do not constitute the process of science. Scientists who spend time on blogs and their own narcissitic WWW sites are not undertaking science. They are involved in political activism, which is not a process of science. 

If you have no scientific training or now, because of probing questions, suddenly claim that you are unqualified to answer my questions, then you are not qualified to write on matters concerning the science of climate change. In financial circles, there are very strict laws to stop financial advice and opinion unless that opinion is delivered by a person of standing. It is the same in my field of geology. The same should apply to you. If you can not answer my questions of science, you are not qualified to ask me questions of science because my scientific answers therefore become pearls to swine. I foolishly assumed you had a bachelor’s degree in science and had some scientific knowledge, I will now amend my answers to a language suitable for a scientifically illiterate person. It is very simple. Either you answer my questions or you declare in public that your writings on scientific matters such as the environment and human-induced climate change are unrelated to science hence totally ill-informed.  

The debate topic, Global Warming: Myth or Reality, is a matter of science and I look forward to hearing the science that supports your beliefs. I regularly engage in such debates, the last of which was yesterday Sunday 6th September in Sydney. I will, of course, interrogate you on matters of science or may demand you to undertake a number of simple mathematical calculations to substantiate your beliefs on matters of science. This will demonstrate in public that you actually understand elementary science. In my book Telling lies for God, there was a section on debate tactics of the creationists. The parallels are uncanny. Just for my own peace of mind, can you please assure me that you are not a young Earth creationist?  

I have booked and paid for travel and organised accommodation in London. I arrive in London on 9th November, depart on 13th November and will attend the debate at the Savoy Place on 12th November. If I pay a few thousand dollars to come to London to debate you, then I have put my money where my mouth is. This trip is not being paid for by my publishers, The Guardian or The Spectator. Time for you to also put your money where your mouth is and answer elementary questions of science and justify your beliefs on a scientific matter in a public debate. 

To avoid answering my questions or to claim that you are now suddenly unqualified to answer simple questions of science demonstrates that you are unwilling to be intellectually challenged and that you can only provide unqualified unbalanced opinion on blog sites. I have only ever looked at one site and your supporters demonstrate that they can not spell, do not write in English and hence demonstrate a lack of clarity of thought. If this is the level of the intellectual foundations and public support that underpin your beliefs, then I feel very sad for you. In former times, such troubled people were sent from the UK to Australia to connect with Nature, spirituality and the real world. I have an outback station (31 deg 51 min 30.29 S, 141 deg 11 min 31.19 sec E) some 30 km west of Broken Hill (NSW) and would be delighted to have you as a guest to allow what may well be a necessary reflective monastic period of time. I have recently used my station for this purpose to recover from the emotional trauma of international cricket and rugby losses. 

One presumes that you will continue to refuse to answer my simple questions of science. I will submit my answers to your questions when you simultaneously submit your answers to my questions. This is because the tone of your emails (e.g. Phoebe Vela, September 3) is ungentlemanly and you have already telegraphed that you may not be answering my questions. It now looks like an event of theatre on the stage immediately before the debate at the Savoy Place. I will hand over my written answers to your questions concurrent with you handing over your written answers to my questions. 

Kind regards, 

Ian Plimer 



From: George Monbiot
Date: 8 September 2009 5:49:32 PM
To: ‘Ian Plimer’
Subject: RE: Thursday 12th November 2009

Dear Ian, 

I can confirm that I have read your book from cover to cover. Now that I am back at my desk I can tell you that the edition I have read is published in the UK by Quartet books, ISBN 978 0 7043 7166 8. I gave the page and figure numbers as they appear in the text of the edition I possess, which, to judge by other people’s references, is the same text (with the same numbers) as in all other editions. 

You say that the answers to your questions lie in this book. But your book answers nothing. It is incoherent, contradictory and, most importantly, plain wrong on page after page. Moreover, your questions are pure pseudoscientific gobbledegook, and designed not to be answered. As you no longer appear to wish to debate me, I will wager you £10 that you are unable to provide cogent, coherent and complete answers to your own questions, which meet the standards you have laid out in this letter. You have two weeks in which to respond. 

But of course the true purpose of your questions is to provide yourself with an excuse for not answering mine. Mine are simple and direct questions based only on the statements you have made in your book. They require no more knowledge than you purport to possess. You are simply kicking up as much dust as possible because you are unable or unwilling to answer them. Gavin Schmidt remarked that yours were: 

"designed to lead to an argument along the lines of ‘Monbiot can’t answer these questions and so knows nothing about the science (and by the way, please don’t notice that I can’t cite any sources for my nonsense or even acknowledge that I can’t answer these questions either)’." 

Perhaps he has prophetic powers, as this is exactly what you have done here. 

I would remind you that it is not over yet. You still have three days in which to answer my questions, whereupon – once you have also agreed that we may cross-examine each other – I will be delighted to debate you on the date we have agreed. You are the one who requested this debate. If you want it to go ahead, you know what to do. 

But perhaps you feel braver addressing the audience by yourself. If so, I don’t blame you. As our correspondence has shown, you seem to be incapable of meeting a direct challenge. 

With my best wishes,

George [Monbiot]


See also John Izzard on "Why Monbiot ran" here

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