Category Archives: Richard S. Courtney

The blog post where I dismiss climate science

I’ll admit I was very inspired by this very amusing post over at Genomicron and this brilliant piece over at the Guardian. In short, here is my guide to writing a blog post denying climate change.

In this paragraph I’ll attempt to appear a sincere seeker of truth

In this paragraph I’ll explain some of the basics of climate science, but with extensive use of “scare quotes”. It will be a highly distorted version of the science: the “big picture” may be correct, but wrong on more detailed aspects.

I’ll note that for years I’d accepted the mainstream consensus on climate change, however out of sheer intellectual curiosity I decided to look into the issue myself.

Fortunately, my background in engineering/economics/physics or some other non-climate science related profession that requires maths has given me an understanding of the scientific method.

This how I establish myself as an authority.

At this point I will make reference to my intellectual journey, which in most instances involves extensive Google searching. I’ll note that after several days of trawling the Internet I was amazed to find blogs and web sites offering alternative views on climate change.

My use of search terms such as “climate change and fraud” will prompt Google to produce only the most authoritative materials. I will then muse why such information is not more accessible to the general public.

Here I will take down the IPCC in a paragraph

At this point I’ll take cherry pick quotes from the IPCC report and/or actual scientific research:

[Cut and paste text here...]

In this paragraph I’ll feign mock surprise that the claims in the quote appear to be exaggerated, as my own careful reading of blogs offering alternative explanations cast doubt on the claims of “experts” (natch, more scare quotes of course).

This is probably the appropriate time to make reference to the work of Steve McIntyre, a retired physicist or professor of geology. I might choose to include an image showing the famous “Hockey stick” and question it’s reliability. I’ll describe it as “broken”, without understanding what that means. However, it is an effective meme, and it’s stuck in my brain.

I’ll then post a link to Watts up with That? post that tears down climatologist (boo hiss!) Michael Mann and his stick (Ha ha! Did you see my pun!), pointing readers to bloggers more qualified to dismiss the science.

This is how I help repeat the same discredited claims.

This title indicates my distrust of “science”

Here it is appropriate to mention the “liberated” Climategate emails as proof that the workings of science have been corrupted. I’ll quote some very selective parts of said emails:

[Oh look scientists said nasty thing...]

I’ll feign surprise that scientists could act so un-professionally.

I’ll then move on to discuss how the “peer review process” is now “totally corrupt”. I’ll talk about the government funding of science, and allude to the fact that research funded by governments must be tainted.

Sometimes I’ll resort to Latin phrases. Ipso Facto sounds good. As does Caveat Emptor. I heard a very prominent sceptic uses Latin, therefore my post will sound much more authoritative.

I’ll dismiss the notion of scientific consensus as a kind of popularity contest.

I will make exaggerated claims about the stifling of alternative views: that scientists questioning this new “orthodoxy” have been shunned, picked on and called nasty names. Over 1 BILLION [cough] scientists [cough] have signed the Oregon Petition, stating they do not believe the planet is warming! What further proof do you need!?!?

I’ll throw in the line “They laughed at Galileo!” – but never “They laughed at Darwin!”, because that would betray my genuine doubts about evolutionary theory.

Here I will talk about Nazis, because it always about Nazis!

It is now at this point I usually descend into complete and utter paranoia, claiming the IPCC is the tool of socialists, lizard people and shadowy cabals. I’ll resort to Godwin’s Law and compare scientists with Nazis.

Or communists.

Or Nazis.

Or maybe both.

Clearly both were bad, so scientists must be equally bad.

Or I could term scientists eco-fascists, eco-terrorists or warmists.

By now I’ve worked myself into a rage, demanding that scientists be charged with FRAUD!

I will resort to even more UPPER CASE!

People such as myself – angry, white males feeling threatened by a loss of status – ARE ANGRY AND NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS LYING DOWN!

Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun understands my rage, he writes articles carefully constructed to provoke my sense of grievance and entitlement.

DID I MENTION I WAS ANGRY!

Here I just MAKE STUFF UP because I’M SO ANGRY!

My conclusion will be an appeal to personal liberty, god and small government

I’ll note the age of the Earth – except of course if I’m a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) - and that the climate has always changed.

However if I am a YEC, I’ll note it is presumptuous to claim humanity has any control over the climate. After all it is THE LORD who RULES THE HEAVENS:

[Appropriate Bible quote here...]

But then I might tone down the crazy creationist talk, as drawing attention to my support for other forms of denial might undermine my credibility.

My post will then end with an impassioned defense of liberty and how global warming is really a scam designed to raise taxes and limit your/our freedom.

I’ll end my post with a question.

Shouldn’t we just hope for the best and do nothing?

An echo in the echo chamber: Nova spins for spin-doctor Marc Morano and lies about Richard Courtney.. again!

Jo Nova, Perth’s resident science mis-communicator, provides a text book example of how the denial echo chamber works in a recent post.  

Her blog breathlessly announces “another” scientist abandoning the “green scare”:

“Another Green soul declares enough is enough. It’s a question of conscience. Physicist Dr. Denis Rancourt is a former professor and environmental science researcher at the University of Ottawa (as green as they come), and has officially bailed out of the man-made global warming movement…”

Really Jo, another scientist declaring loudly their rejection of climate science?

Gosh that AGW theory must really be in trouble!

The reality is that Nova has simply recycled a story created by notorious spin-doctor, Marc Morano.

DeSmogBlog picked this story up already and informs us that Rancourt has not recently abandoned his belief in global warming, but has been loudly proclaiming his scepticism for years:

Took about 3 minutes on Google searching the name Denis Rancourt, who Morano is referring to in his post, to find that this is nothing even remotely new for Rancourt.

Rancourt  has been writing rants against the science of climate change for years.

Morano is trying to spindoctor this into a newsworthy story by making it seem like Rancourt is someone who was completely accepting of the scientific reality of climate change and then just woke up one morning last week and decided to jump ship.

What makes this all the more ridiculous is that Morano himself pushed the exact same story about Rancourt in 2009 when he worked for Senator James Inhofe.

As usual it is the denial machine trying to whip up a story when none exist.  

Indeed, I fully expert other denialists such as Andrew Bolt over at the Herald Sun to start repeating this one in the next day or so.  

Cut and paste denial  

If you go to Senator Inhofe’s US Senate Committe page you’ll note Rancourt is quoted as saying:

Rancourt wrote, “I argue that by far the most destructive force on the planet is power-driven financiers and profit-driven corporations and their cartels backed by military might; and that the global warming myth is a red herring that contributes to hiding this truth. In my opinion, activists who, using any justification, feed the global warming myth have effectively been co-opted, or at best neutralized.” “Global warming is strictly an imaginary problem of the First World middle class,” Rancourt added. 

I can see how a conspiracy theorist like Nova would love this kind of craziness. Nova then cut and pasts the same quote into her post:

“I argue that by far the most destructive force on the planet is power-driven financiers and profit-driven corporations and their cartels backed by military might; and that the global warming myth is a red herring that contributes to hiding this truth. In my opinion, activists who, using any justification, feed the global warming myth have effectively been co-opted, or at best neutralized,” Rancourt said.   “Global warming is strictly an imaginary problem of the First World middleclass,” he stated.

Cut, paste, post and voila!  

Its a perfect example of the denial echo chamber in action.   

Not Richard Courtney again! Nova lies about credentials of so called “expert”  

Later in the same post Nova lists other experts that have apparently “jumped ship”:

UK atmospheric scientist Richard Courtney, a left-of-political center socialist, is another dissenter of man-made climate fears. Courtney, a UN IPCC expert reviewer and a UK-based climate and atmospheric science consultant, is a self-described socialist who also happens to reject man-made climate fears. Courtney declared in 2008 that there is “no correlation between the anthropogenic emissions of GHG (greenhouse gases) and global temperature.”

I had to laugh when I read Courtney being cited as an “atmospheric scientist”.  

The truth is Courtney is not a scientist, though he likes people to think he is.

I caught Courtney passing himself off as a scientist on Jo Nova’s blog early this year. He has a long history of pretending to be a scientist (or letting others make the claim for him).  Eli over at Rabbit Run exposes simular behaviour and even tries to determine his actual qualifications. 

Hint, he lacks expertise in climate science.  

Richard Courtney is one of the founding members of the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), a think tank that not has not only published materials on climate denial, but studies attempting to discredit any link between second hand smoke and adverse health effects.

According to DeSmogBlog, Courtney’s career has almost been exclusively in communications and PR.  

Courtney is a PR and think tank hack, working for groups directly funded by companies like Exxon Mobil.  

Expert reviewer for IPCC?  

Its been well established that Courtney is not a scientist. However, what about the claim that he was an “expert reviewer” for the IPCC?  

Only in the sense that he read a draft version of the IPCC report. As DeSmogBlog notes:

A lot of climate change deniers like to tout the fact that they were an “Expert Reviewer” for the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a few DeSmog readers have been asking what exactly if takes to become an “Expert Reviewer.” Well, thanks to our friend Tim Lambert at Deltoid Blog it turns out that an “Expert Reviewer” really isn’t as exciting and not nearly as prestigious as it sounds. Tim writes:  

“Expert reviewer for the IPCC” doesn’t mean that they asked him to review material — all it means is that he asked to see the draft report. The only real requirement to be a reviewer is to sign an agreement not to publicly comment on the draft.”  

I have confirmed this with one of the authors of the updated IPCC report.

The irony of course is that the denial movement works furiously to trash the reputation of the IPCC: however when it suits them they’ll try to claim its authority.  

This is how the echo chamber works. 

Take some half-truths and outright fabrications and spin a story.

The continuing misadventures of Richard S. Courtney: (non) scientist

Or how the denial movement misleads the public and abuses the trust of it’s own constituents… 

How to spot a fake one...

This blog is about exposing the tactics of the denial movement: how they mislead the public and inject claims into the debate intended to confuse. Perhaps the worst thing they do is abuse the trust of their own “foot soldiers”, the ordinary individuals attempting to understand the science. 

As I’ve noted before, in the battle of the experts – between “pro-warming” and “no-warming” the denial movement frequently inflates the “expertise” of it experts.   

Which brings me to the fascinating case of Richard S. Courtney, the noted climate sceptic, British coal PR spokesperson and non-scientist.     

My encounters with Courtney: the denialist white knight?

While conducting my little foray into the discussion Jo Nova’s blog Mr. Courtney made a quick and sudden appearance into the debate following my posting of actual peer reviewed research. Courtney swoops in at post 35:    

…As you have quoted, Kuo et al. determined that atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature cohere such that changes to carbon dioxide concentration follow changes to global temperature by 5 months. Several subsequent studies have confirmed this finding but have shown that the lag varies from 5 to 8 months depending on latitude.   

You presented this Abstract (without a reference) as evidence that carbon dioxide concentration affects temperature. But the paper provides evidence of the opposite of what you claim: it proves that temperature affects carbon dioxide.   

I wonder where you get your information; RealClimate, perhaps?   

Richard   

He makes future posts, and many members are ecstatic feeling Courtney has dealt climate science a devastating blow. 

Huzzah! The evil alarmist science is dismissed! Huzzah! 

Typical of the responses is what I got on my own blog:  

Did you not bother to read Richard S Courtneys post #75 before you posted your tripe at your blog? He IS a scientist. He HAS contributed to the IPCC. He IS qualified to comment about climate science and he, along with many others just like him SAY THE SCIENCE IS NOT WELL ESTABLISHED.   

Now, what does Dunning-Kruger have to say about lemmings?  

Courtney has a great deal of authority here, and uses it well in his attempts to “quash” real science emerging into the debate. 

Note the claims: Richard is a scientist, Richard was a IPCC reviewer. Sounds impressive? Trouble is, none of those claims are true. So dear readers, I present to you Mr. Courtney’s actual qualifications as noted not just by “alarmist” blogs but coming from Mr. Courtney himself.    

Educational qualifications: there’s no science there

Courtney’s educational qualifications are not in climate science. Often he is referred to as a “scientist”, or as  “Dr. Courtney” and even “Richard S. Courtney PhD”. However, as far as anyone can tell Courtney does not have any scientific qualifications. As SourceWatch notes:  

Courtney is often referred to without any academic degree, even if others are on the same page, like the ESEF member list of 1998 where he is not listed as ‘Academic Member’ but as ‘Business Member’. Even in a recent publication of Richard Courtney (August 2004) no degree is mentioned. There are however a few exceptions on Internet where he is mentioned as ‘Dr. Richard S. Courtney’ or ‘Richard S. Courtney, Ph.D.     

The blog Rabett Run however manages to pin down his actual qualifications as part of a similar exchange I witnessed on the Jo Nova boards: failing to alert readers that he does not hold a doctorate:     

…Courtney, who somehow forgets to tell everyone that he does not hold a doctorate…     

As can be noted by replies to my own blog and the discussion on Jo Nova’s blog, Courtney is often referred to as a scientist. It is very clear he is not. The post has now grown to >130 entries, and Courtney is quite active in the continuing discussion. However, at no point does he say “You know guys, I appreciate your trust in me, but I’m not actually a scientist…”     

No, he lets those claims be repeated again, and again. Of course there are plenty of other examples on the Internet where Mr. Courtney has been caught out doing the same thing. Indeed, as Rabett Run shows Courtney is happy to allow people think he is qualified in the area.     

Lucky, Mr. Courtney is able to clarify the situation himself in one of his own  publications, Wind Farms Provide Negligible Useful Electricity :     

Richard avoids confusion about him in his scientific and religious activities by rarely citing his academic achievements, but his material science qualifications include a DipPhil (Cambridge), a BA (Open) and a Diploma (Bath).     

A DipPhil is a Diploma of Philosophy. As Rabett Run notes:     

A DipPhil is not a Doctor of Philosophy, but a Diploma in Philosophy. The University of Cambridge offers one year postgraduate courses leading to Diplomas, but not in Philosophy, at least not now however there are other, less distinguished universities in Cambridge such as Anglia Ruskin.(corrected 2/5, Angelia weeps). It would be nice knowing what field and what University those Diploma’s came from.     

Links to denialist “think tanks”

Courtney is a “founding member” of the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), a think tank that not has not only published materials on climate denial, but studies attempting to discredit any link between second hand smoke and adverse health effects.     

It would seem that any science is fair target if it conflicts with the powerful coal and tobacco industries. DeSmogBlog has a full profile on Courtney:      

Courtney was a technical editor for CoalTrans International, which describes itself as the “web’s most comprehensive resource” on the coal industry. He was also a spokesperson for the British Association of Colliery Management, a coal industry union in the United Kingdom, and has written opinion papers expressing his concern over the loss of jobs in the coal industry as a result of the UK’s movement towards renewable energy.     

As can be noted, Courtney is not a scientist. His professional experience is in the fields of media and public relations.     

Expert reviewer for the IPCC?    

Much as is made of Courtney being and “expert peer reviewer” for the IPCC 1997 report. It’s certainly sounds impressive, until you realise that anyone can be an “expert reviewer”. All you have to do is ask for a copy of the draft report prior to publication, the catch is you can’t comment publicly on the draft. As DeSmogBlog notes:  

A lot of climate change deniers like to tout the fact that they were an “Expert Reviewer” for the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a few DeSmog readers have been asking what exactly if takes to become an “Expert Reviewer.” Well, thanks to our friend Tim Lambert at Deltoid Blog it turns out that an “Expert Reviewer” really isn’t as exciting and not nearly as prestigous as it sounds. Tim writes:  

“Expert reviewer for the IPCC” doesn’t mean that they asked him to review material — all it means is that he asked to see the draft report. The only real requirement to be a reviewer is to sign an agreement not to publicly comment on the draft.”  

I have confirmed this with one of the authors of the updated IPPC report.  

Now, both myself and others suspect that many of these denialists who claim to be “expert reviewers” are misleading the public. It sounds impressive, but really all they’ve done is read the draft.  

In order to facilitate transparency, the IPCC distributes drafts for discussion of it’s reports.  The denial movement has exploited this in order to puff up the credentials of their experts (a tactic I’ve already discussed here).  

You can consult the list of expert reviewers for that report here, but as the reader will note the list of names and organisations not not only includes a R. Courtney, but Shell Australia, Exxon, 3M and the American Petroleum Institute.  

Now, if Courtney was involved in drafting the report, or was an editor then I’d be curious to know.  If he contributed peer reviewed research, I’d love to know. In fact, many people are curious (pace Rabbett Run on their blog).     

This is again another common tactic of the denialist movement: inflate the qualifications of it’s “experts” in order to impress the lay audience.     

The denial movement and “truthiness”

The  denial movement has a parasitic relationship with science. It recognises that many people place a great deal of trust in scientists, and that calling oneself a scientists lends a lot of credibility. People place their trust in experts, because they recognise the limitations of their capabilities. As one poster in the forum notes:  

I can understand Richard’s reasoning, but I don’t have the knowledge or means to test it. Yet I trust it, (subject to the dictates of true scepticism!) because I can see that it takes the form of falsifiable argument and observed data. Furthermore, his analyses have been published, and therefore available to falsification, for some time, and I have seen no attempt, successful or otherwise, to do so.  

This is a perfect example of how the denial movement abuses the trust of it’s own constituents. It allows them to believe their experts are genuine experts, when in reality they hide behind impressive sounding titles and puffed up qualifications. 

The denial movement produces literature that looks and sounds a lot like science, but is simply pseudo-scientific. Indeed their tactics mimic those of Intelligent Design, creationism and alternative medicine. 

Deniers want to tear down the science, but heavens they are desperate to ride on it’s coat tails in order to gain legitimacy. 

Self proclaimed climate change sceptics claim to be genuine sceptics, and hate the term “denier”. Nova herself felt sufficiently piqued to reply to my post on the Dunning-Kruger effect to say: 

Mike’s Dunning-Krugar effect blog was the most entertaining piece of self-satire I’ve read in a while. Thank you Mike. (I mean that genuinely, I really did enjoy it). It’s like we’re a species of beetles that keen junior budding philosopher and sociologist wants to study. I appreciate his politeness and curiosity. I only wish he didn’t keep calling us “denier”-beetles — incorrectly thinking it is a subspecies label when really it’s the wrong species, genera and kingdom. 

I believe many genuine sceptics, who are passionate advocates of science are being mislead by the peddlers of misinformation and spin. Courtney is no scientist. Courtney is a PR hack. 

Message to the “ordinary” climate sceptics

My belief is that the trust of ordinary people is being abused. As I’ve noted, these people are not stupid. These people are passionately interested in science, and are struggling with mountains of conflicting evidence. Like all of us, they need trusted experts to help guide them through the debate. 

My advice, be a true sceptic

Question the authority of people like Richard S. Courtney. Ask about his educational qualifications. Demand that he provide a list of his publications and that he explain his links to think tanks and the coal industry. Put your faith to the test: is he, or is he not a scientist? 

The term denier is not intended to apply to all those questioning climate science, especially the ordinary individuals being mislead.  The term denier applies to those individuals such as Courtney who are paid public relations professionals lacking scientific qualifications whose job it is to muddy the debate and mislead. 

The not only deny, but mislead. Perhaps the correct name for them is “The Misleaders”.

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