Saturday, March 15, 2014

Are Anthony Watts and James Delingpole claiming to be part of an "organised campaign funding misinformation"?

Sou | 2:47 AM Go to the first of 6 comments. Add a comment

See Update and Update 2 below - WUWT is organising a barrage of mail for RIT.

Anthony Watts is beginning to make a habit of reposting nonsense written by James Delingpole. Maybe he's feeling sorry for him after he got the boot from his blog on the UK Telegraph.  He's living up to his reputation as a fake sceptic.  Anthony reposted some Delingpole nonsense, apparently without reading the article James was ranting about.

First the article.  It's a piece in The Conversation by Lawrence Torcello who is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.  His research interests include ethics and denial of climate science. In his article he writes (my bold italics and underline):
The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.

Which organised misinformation campaign is Anthony Watts a party to?

There are numerous organised (some more some less organised) climate misinformation campaigns as discussed in Naomi Oreskes' book Merchants of Doubt. Which one is Anthony a party to?  The reason I ask is that in response to the article in The Conversation, Anthony Watts wrote an article under a headline (archived here):
Despicable climate ugliness courtesy of Lawrence Torcello – assistant professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology

He obviously doesn't like the suggestion that an organised campaign funding misinformation should be regarded as criminally negligent.  I also fail to see what is "despicable" about the suggestion that it should be so regarded.  Especially as the article makes it quite clear that Lawrence Torcello is talking about an organised campaign that is knowingly funding misinformation.

Is James admitting that he's funded by part of "an organised campaign".  Is Anthony Watts admitting the same.  If not, why would they protest such a suggestion?

Anthony writes:
Via Delingpole at Breitbart:
Scientists who don’t believe in catastrophic man-made global warming should be put in prison, a US philosophy professor argues on a website funded by the UK government.

Now that there is "misinformation" if ever there was misinformation.  It doesn't resemble what Lawrence Torcello wrote even if you were to stretch your imagination as far as it could go.  Let's see how many things are wrong with it:

  1. Lawrence Torcello isn't just talking about scientists spreading misinformation (ie scientists acting alone), he's talking about "organised campaigns" - whoever is running them, whether it involve scientists like Fred Singer or political lobby groups like CFACT or denier blogs like Climate Depot.
  2. Lawrence Torcello isn't talking about what people "believe", he's talking about organised misinformation campaigns.  Organised campaigns to fund misinformation - the desired result of which is to shape people's "belief" to something false.
  3. It is misleading to describe The Conversation as being "funded by the UK government".  The Conversation was started in Australia.  (Lawrence Torcello's article appears on the Australian edition, too so I don't know which office produced it.) The UK edition is funded by all these organisations.  If you track back you'll find UK taxpayer dollars and UK government funding, but it was mainly set up by universities, which are independent of the government of the day.  Not only that, but for people who bemoan at every chance they get, the idea that free speech might be curtailed, it should be irrelevant who is "funding" a website.

Anyway, the article raises some points that have been raised by others before.  At one point he refers to the L'Aquila earthquake and the sentences handed out to six scientists and the defence Minister.  He writes:
The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. As one citizen stated:
We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.
Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him. I don’t believe poor scientific communication should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.
But the tragedy in L’Aquila reminds us how important clear scientific communication is and how much is at stake regarding the public’s understanding of science. I have argued elsewhere that scientists have an ethical obligation to communicate their findings as clearly as possible to the public when such findings are relevant to public policy. Likewise, I believe that scientists have the corollary obligation to correct public misinformation as visibly and unequivocally as possible.

I won't bother with the WUWT comments.  Like Anthony Watts, most of the people making comments don't seem to have read the article in question and are just using Anthony's blog post as an excuse to bash their keyboard.


Now Christopher Monckton of Brenchley has put up his hand to be added to those who misinform (archived here, latest update here).  Is he part of an "organised campaign to fund misinformation" too, one wonders?  If so, he's not the most credible poster boy.  More of a potty peer.  Poor old Christopher confuses freedom of speech with freedom to tell lies.  And he confuses academic freedom with freedom to make up stuff.  He's just an utter nutter.

PS Christopher seems to be organising a hate mail campaign to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.  One thing though - Christopher got a bit confused and placed RIT in New York, New York instead of Rochester New York.  It looks to me that Christopher's letter, indeed the entire thread (archived here), would make a fairly easy lesson in Professor Torcello's Critical Thinking classes (see Update 2 below).

And I wonder if Christopher would finally meet his match if he ever tried to debate Lawrence Torcello?

Update 2

By all accounts, Lawrence Torcello isn't just any philosopher, he's highly regarded by his students as a terrific teacher, respectful, prepared to deal with difficult topics, easy on the eye, awesome - and "hot".  Perhaps James Delingpole, Anthony Watts and Christopher Monckton could learn some critical thinking if they took his classes.


  1. How very odd of Watts, Delingpole and Co. Weren't they all enthusiastic participants in the attempt at an online lynching that was Climategate? Weren't they supposed then to be seeking to punish people responsible for misinforming the public about climate change?

    I cannot help but suspect that in the current case it is only the probable identities of the misinformers that they object to. But if its any consolation to them, I think it will be a decade or more before they hear the knock on the door.

    1. Didn't Delingpole make the (metaphorical apparently) suggestion of a Nuremburg style trial for the "warmists"? As ever, hypocrisy is missing from the denier dictionary.

    2. ' James Delingpole published an article in The Telegraph titled "An English class for trolls, professional offence-takers and climate activists." The article opens with a photo of one of the Nuremberg trials with the caption "Not pictured: Monbiot, Flannery, Mann..." (as in George Monbiot, Tim Flannery, and Michael Mann) and a series of questions ... '

  2. I would argue that the nature of the climate "debate" suggests that they know the truth and just go to WUWT and Co. to get some "fresh" talking points with which to annoy the greenies.

  3. Let me see if I have I have this straight, Monkton is defending the principle of free speech by erm, trying to get a professor sacked for expressing an opinion Monkton doesn't like?

    The gift that goes on giving ....

  4. Its amazing that the most vocal skeptics seem to have NO scientific background , You can spot armchair scientists by their triumphal use of a few cherry picked facts to destroy ' Alarmists ' , in total disregard of the scientific method, climate scientists need to get out there .


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