I’ve blogged about the ongoing discussions between British journalist George Monbiot and Australian geologist Ian Plimer before (see “Monbiot succeeds in moving heaven and earth“), but the dialogue keeps getting better and better:
Creationists and climate change deniers have this in common: they don’t answer their critics. They make what they say are definitive refutations of the science. When these refutations are shown to be nonsense, they do not seek to defend them. They simply switch to another line of attack. They never retract, never apologise, never explain, just raise the volume, keep moving and hope that people won’t notice the trail of broken claims in their wake.
This means that trying to debate with them is a frustrating and often futile exercise. It takes 30 seconds to make a misleading scientific statement and 30 minutes to refute it. By machine-gunning their opponents with falsehoods, the deniers put scientists in an impossible position: either you seek to answer their claims, which can’t be done in the time available, or you let them pass, in which case the points appear to stand. Many an eminent scientist has come unstuck in these situations. This is why science is conducted in writing, where claims can be tested and sources checked.
You either love or hate Monbiot’s relentless approach Plimer giving him the run around , but I admire his tenacity:
I told Plimer that I would accept his challenge if he accepted mine: to write precise and specific responses to the questions I would send him, for publication on the Guardian’s website. If he answered them, the debate would go ahead; if he didn’t, it wouldn’t happen. The two exchanges would complement each other: having checked his specifics, people at the public event could better assess his generalisations.
Plimer refused. After I wrote a blog post accusing him of cowardice, he accepted. I sent him 11 questions. They were simple and straightforward: I asked him only to provide sources and explanations for some of the claims in his book. Any reputable scientist would have offered them without hesitation.
An opportunity for Plimer to dig himself out of a hole? Apparently an missed opportunity:
… instead of answers, Plimer sent me a series of dog-ate-my-homework excuses and a list of questions of his own (you can read both sets on my Guardian blog).
Gavin Schmidt, a senior climate scientist at NASA, examined them and found that most are 24-carat bafflegab, while the rest have already been answered by other means.
Monbiot gets this part spot on:
There is nothing unusual about Ian Plimer. Most of the prominent climate change deniers who are not employed solely by the fossil fuel industry have a similar profile: men whose professional careers are about to end or have ended already. Attacking climate science looks like a guaranteed formula for achieving the public recognition they have either lost or never possessed. Such people will keep emerging for as long as the media is credulous enough to take them seriously.