The Conspiracy Widens

This is a response to Alexander Cockburn’s latest article for CounterPunch. The full debate between Cockburn and Monbiot can be found here.

So at last, and after only seven requests, we have some references. And, to no gasps of surprise, they reveal that the “papers” on which Alexander Cockburn bases his claim that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming have not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In fact they have not been published at all.

Cockburn appears not to understand the implications of this. Aware that I might as well argue with a tree stump, let me explain — again and for the last time — what it means. If these papers have not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, they are not science. They carry no more scientific weight than an article in the National Enquirer.

The man who wrote them, Martin Hertzberg, has kindly sent me copies. The howling scientific errors Cockburn makes do indeed stem from this work. (They are demolished here) This is why the peer-review process exists: to weed out nonsense. Hertzberg informs me that he has tried to get his “papers” published in scientific journals, but he has failed: his nonsense has been weeded out. It is our misfortune that Alexander Cockburn does not understand this.

But Cockburn will heed no warnings, listen to no one with whom he disagrees. In my last posting, I gave an example of straightforward scientific fraud perpetrated by Patrick Michaels. Cockburn now tells us that “I haven’t seen any significant dents or quantitative ripostes to his meticulous scientific critiques.” Well, it’s time he started looking.

But there is no elephant trap he is incapable of falling into. He now cites a “paper” by Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, published in 21st Century Science and Technology. It sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But the briefest check would have established that this is not only not a scientific journal, it is in fact an anti-scientific journal. It is owned and published by Lyndon Larouche. Larouche is the ultra-rightwing US demagogue who in 1989 received a 15-year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud and tax code violations. He has claimed that the British royal family is running an international drugs syndicate, that Henry Kissinger is a communist agent and that the British government is controlled by Jewish bankers. He sees science and empiricism as yet another conspiracy, and uses 21st Century Science and Technology to wage war against them.

Cockburn is not the only one to have fallen for this impressive title: it was also the undoing of the former British environmentalist David Bellamy (as you can see here). But Bellamy is notorious for failing to conduct research before opening his mouth. Should the same now be said of Cockburn? Did he bother to check this source before citing it? Has he checked any of his sources?

The answer is plainly no. He has waded unprepared into this debate and as his errors are exposed, he lashes out with ever wilder accusations and conspiracy theories. In his attack on the 9/11 truth movement, he rightly complains that “the “conspiracy” is always open-ended as to the number of conspirators, widening steadily to include all the people involved in the
execution and cover-up …. “. Now he invokes a conspiracy that widens steadily to include thousands of climate scientists: “the beneficiaries of the $2 billion-a-year global warming grant industry”. Even the most cursory research would have shown that climate scientists have been consistently punished by the grant-givers in the Bush government for speaking out on
global warming and rewarded for hushing it up — you can read more here. Should anyone be surprised by this? Or is Bush now part of the conspiracy too?

I have now learnt that it is pointless to seek to argue with Cockburn. Because he cannot admit that he got the science wrong, he merely raises the volume and widens the scope of his attack. Resorting to grapeshot, he now invokes just about every crazy theory ever raised by those who say that manmade global warming is not happening. It would require an entire
website to answer them all. Happily, it already exists — — and,
over the years, it has dealt with every new issue he raises, drawing on peer-reviewed papers. But Cockburn will not read these refutations. He has answered none of his critics; he has not even listened to them. For this reason, this will be my last posting in this debate.

I sign off with sadness. I have followed Alexander Cockburn’s writing for many years and I have admired it. His has been an important and persuasive voice on many progressive issues. But I can no longer trust it. I realize that he is blinded by a conviction that he remains right whatever the facts might say. In his determination to admit nothing, he will cling to any
straw, including the craziest fulminations of the ultra-right, and he will abandon the rigor and skepticism that once informed his journalism. I feel this as a loss. I am sure I am not the only one.

George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain; as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper (UK). Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. atheo said on June 30th, 2007 at 6:55am #

    George Monbiot’s peer reviewed scientific establishment is to be trusted implicitly, it is infallable. After all, how could we possibly question those who have told us that GMO’s and food irradiation are harmless along with DU and atmospheric nuclear testing. Gosh, golly.

  2. Darryl said on June 30th, 2007 at 11:01am #

    I’m glad Monbiot has cleared this up for me. I also have been (am) a fan of Cockburn’s writings as much as Monbiot himself. So when Cockburn started laying into Global Warming I realised either he was spectacularly dead wrong or I’d been hoaxed. I’m willing to put the page aside on this topic re: Cockburn just so long as he can gracefully move on to the next subject… and get away from whichever charismatic person he’s fallen under the spell of to swallow this idiocy.

  3. Max Shields said on June 30th, 2007 at 2:32pm #

    Well, here we have a classical conundrum. Lay people disputing scientific findings.

    First, most science emerges out of a community which is in constant dialog. Little is put to “rest”. I’m reminded of something the eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Lewontin has said. When he picks up the New York Times and reads the scientific section, he is left totally dumbfounded. As he put it, while eminently qualified to understand and discuss his chosen sphere of knowledge, he is unable to make sense out of public science where the science lacks the detailed forum essential to determine any level of validity. Public discussion of deep science is most certainly made palpable but looses its rigor in making it so. Lewontin goes on to say that he is really not qualified to discuss, in depth science which is out of his sphere of research, except in the most superficial way.

    That’s the conundrum. The scientific community relentlessly pushes to “disprove” that which is presented. This vetting is a method that we “ultimately” have faith in (or not); but it is not infallable. It is only through the pragmatic application of science that the lay person can begin to appreciate anything remotely called scientific findings.

    My point, it would appear that we can argue the whole enterprise of peer reviews and scientific methods; but it becomes a meaningless academic exercise which provides no insight. And put in the hands of a lay person who’s interest seems to be in winning an argument more than achieving scientific credibility, it’s a rather dumb exercise.

    That said, the environmental issue is trivialized when it gets into the “human” vs “nature” cause of global warming. It is clear enough that the human race, for those who do not buy hyper-individualism and the resulting consequence of a fairly meaningless life, suffers in its pathological growth trajectory; in its mis-use of non-renewable “capital”. That that contributes, however large or small to global warming, seems indisputable. That the lose of community, of control over our lives and the lose of quality liveable neighborhoods provides further support for changing course.

    Cockburn is only a detractor because he has been a rather dissenting voice against the status quo, but has shown himself, here, to be more contrarian than deep thinker.

  4. Rowan Berkeley said on July 1st, 2007 at 12:07am #

    atheo said on June 30th, 2007 at 7:01 am # : The following dossier gives summary references of the major players behind the carbon market swindle. EIR: Chicago Climate Exchange

    The subsequent lengthy quotation from the Larouchist EIR demonstrates the conspirological method, which is to sound logic what the undistributed middle is to the syllogism.

  5. Lawrence B. Ebert said on July 1st, 2007 at 7:18am #

    Merely fyi:

  6. atheo said on July 1st, 2007 at 8:39am #

    @ Rowan

    Iv’e seen your commentary at other sites and frankly can’t imagine that you would still be on board with Bush’s ethanol mandate, the new generation of nuclear power plants that will result from whichever carbon credit/tax scheme goes forward, or any of the other “progressive” edicts that the republicrats and their think tanks impose as a result of global warming. As for “conspirological method”, let’s recall the title of this article. As long as association is the subject, let’s examine assciations.

  7. Max Shields said on July 1st, 2007 at 1:10pm #

    I for one think there should be some limit on how long a response post should be. When they get longer than the article posted, they red herring the whole topic at hand.

  8. Joseph Conrad said on July 1st, 2007 at 7:49pm #

    Those who beleive CO2 is not a pollutant need to be consigned to an adult ‘Romper Room’ in which each day they relearn basic building plocks of 8th. grade Earth Science!

    As for the CCX to which such a coterie of august persons and corporations belong, I say ‘What a Scam’. Invest more money in developing cost-effective vehicles, production processes and power plants instead of trying to find ways to keep the corrupt, foul and inadequate vehicles, processes and power generating facilities we use.

    ‘Carbon Trading’ is just gaming and brinksmanship. It reflects none of the commitment this nation and the world’s nations require to keep our atmosphere and oceans alive. The corporations and the people in CCX seem committed to their same old destructive behaviors – only this time they’ve added a ‘twist’. The ‘twist’ is ‘trading’ units of imperfection, disregard and underinvestment so as to keep their corrupt, filthy processes going un abated.

    Oh well…

  9. Rowan Berkeley said on July 2nd, 2007 at 1:04am #

    atheo. The recourse to conspirological argument was pioneered among erstwhile leftists by the Laroucheans, and it worries me that Webster Tarpley plays such a central role in the ‘911 Truth Movement’, since he still holds to the fundamental Larouchean idea that the distinction between leftists and rightists is delusory, since both are controlled by ‘synarchism’.

    The appeal of these ideas is that they maintain continuity with the classical reactionary writings of the Catholic intelligentsia of the counter-reformation. It was this Catholic intelligentsia which invented the ‘satanic conspiracy’ meme, which was then adapted by anti-Catholic evangelical propagandists, and even Jewish anti-liberal propagandists, and the US public has not to any great extent outgrown it.

    This also explains the fact that most 911-ists turn out to be monetarists, contaminated by the Mises, Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard patter into believing more or less what Henry Ford believed (about the inevitable conflict between productive entrepreneurs and their bankers) but politely agreeing not to discuss the bankers in personal terms, instead treating them vaguely as misled keynesians. They never get around to asking who would really benefit if the hard money interest came to power (the fact that Lew is owned by a gold dealer may have something to do with this).

  10. Sunil Sharma said on July 2nd, 2007 at 1:51am #

    Max Shields wrote:
    “I for one think there should be some limit on how long a response post should be. When they get longer than the article posted, they red herring the whole topic at hand.”

    Agreed. The long comment post has been deleted. Folks need to keep comment posts on topic and relatively succinct. Reposting whole articles from other websites — especially articles that are longer than a given DV article — is downright annoying, a potential page hijacking, and a no-no here. So, if you want to make a (RELEVANT to the topic at hand) point and use some other article(s) for support, please use a little common sense and courtesy and just post a one paragraph (not a long paragraph) teaser and a link.

    I think the editors are fairly loose about what can be posted in the comment section — and we really want to encourage feedback, positive or negative — but posts need to be on topic, make sense gramatically (I see a lot of cryptic shit in these comment sections), and cut to the chase.

  11. Rowan Berkeley said on July 2nd, 2007 at 2:26am #

    Here on DV you have recently featured an article by Richard C Cook:
    whose other work proposes a monetary reform based on the ideas of Major Douglas:

    I think this is an interesting example of what happens when the older type of economic theory, which regards ‘bankers’ as having shanghai’ed the ‘productive economy’, gains traction. Compare the 1920s and 1930s where you will see exactly the same thing happen.

  12. atheo said on July 2nd, 2007 at 7:14am #

    Rowan, you make interesting points that conform to my recent studies on the reformation, 19th century evangelism, and the rise of zionism. However, these points in no way diminish the value of EIR’s compilation of data on carbon credits, which I notice has been deleted from this thread. The facts do remain to be dealt with, ad hominem attacks don’t change them.
    By the way, Sunil, the posted data on the coming carbon credit scheme was a small portion of a much larger piece (some studies are more than shallow, brief, simplifications), which would be inaccessable in the method you suggest. It appears to me that your intent is to obscure these facts so as not to have to face them.

    Rowan, I’m afraid this discussion has been closed.

  13. Sunil Sharma said on July 2nd, 2007 at 9:01am #

    Atheo wrote: “By the way, Sunil, the posted data on the coming carbon credit scheme was a small portion of a much larger piece (some studies are more than shallow, brief, simplifications), which would be inaccessable in the method you suggest. It appears to me that your intent is to obscure these facts so as not to have to face them.”

    Hardly! I think I was pretty clear: Post a teaser (or a brief abstract) and a link to whatever you want, not an essay that’s 2-10 times longer than the original DV article. No attempt to “obscure” anything. Readers can easily follow the link and read a different perspective to their heart’s content.

  14. Sunil Sharma said on July 2nd, 2007 at 3:48pm #

    Here’s an e-mail I received from Atheo:
    “Who is Sunil, and how does she have the authority to delete my comment posted under The Conspiracy Widens? I recall challenging a previous article and the next day my comments wouldn’t post. Small minds can’t deal with debate. I’m really disappointed, it seems that challenging the articles is impermissable. No point in participating.”

    First off, I’m a he not she. Second, I’m the founding editor and publisher of DV. Third, there are plenty of comments from readers that take a contrarian view to the material published on DV that get posted. All one has to do is take a gander through any number of DV articles to confirm this. We welcome all points of view in the comment section.

    Your crying censorship here is absolutely silly. First there was no comment from you per se, just the posting of another article that’s far longer than the DV article here. EIR has a website. It’s a simple thing to merely post the first paragraph of the EIR article and a link to that article so that readers can read the rest of it there. EIR will then get some traffic out of it, and readers might hang around to see what other articles EIR has to offer, which, I would think, should make them and you happy.

    And to be honest, I didn’t even read the article you posted. Since it was extremely long and not your own comments, I jettisoned it. I would have done the same if the article was from CounterPunch or any of my favorite publications. I would have kept your post up if the comment/article was your own, but not when it’s a whole — and particularly long — article from another website. It’s an unnecessary waste of space when a simple link will do. It’s simple etiquette, one that plenty of other websites demand also, and you’re perfectly welcome to follow this simple guideline in a followup comment.

    So there’s no shutting down of the discussion here, get serious please!


    — Sunil