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?   


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”.

25 thoughts on “The continuing misadventures of Richard S. Courtney: (non) scientist

  1. […] Richard S. Courtney’s qualifications need to be closley looked at. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Q&A with science writer Marcus ChownWhat do […]

  2. J Bowers says:

    There’s also a Richard Courtney in a photograph on this webpage, who seems to work for NOAA as a Port Meteorological Officer:
    NOAA 200th Postcards from the Field October 2007

    I imagine there is many a Richard Courtney out there.

  3. Mike says:

    Thanks for stopping by J Bowers!

    I agree, there are many Courtneys out there. However, in the first link you provide there is no mention of academic qualifications. In the second, I agree we can see a “Richard Courtney”. However, the claims made for Richard S. Courtney on Jo Nova’s blog are very specific, and would seem to match the individual I’ve identified. In particular:

    – he is a scientist
    – he was an expert reviewer for the IPCC

    I’m open to being wrong, however in my estimation it is the same individual who has manifested a similar pattern of behaviour in other forums. However, I’ve conducted a very extensive search of not only the Internet but research databases I have access to. I cannot identify a “Richard S. Courtney” climatologist or scientists with relevant qualifications in climate science.

    My question still stands: who is Richard S. Courtney and what is his qualifications?

    An answer from Mr. Richard S. Courtney himself would clarify the situation.

  4. […] Fake experts – These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’. […]

  5. […] we have already discovered, the claims to being a scientist and a “expert reviewer” for the IPCC are are false. […]

  6. peterd says:

    The Richard S. Courtney in question is surely the same Richard S. Courtney who contributed a “Letter to the Editor” to the Elsevier journal Spectrochimica Acta, Part A, vol.53, pp1501-2 (1997). The title was “The role of carbon dioxide and water vapour in climate”. Your friendly local librarian can help you locate a copy. (It cannot, to my best knowledge, be downloaded for free. If you have troubles, put your email up here and I’ll do my best.) This Letter was a response to previous Letters written in response to a short paper in the same journal by Jack Barrett (“The roles of carbon dioxide and water vapour in warming and cooling the Earth’s troposphere”, Spectrochimica Acta, Part A, vol. 51, pp415-7 (1995). The Barrett paper was widely trumpeted by denialists (e.g., John Daly) as “proving” that CO2 cannot be a cause of “global warming”. Barrett’s main argument, in short version, was that for CO2 to be able to heat the atmosphere, radiative de-excitation of CO2 (Barrett called it “vibrational fluorescence” but this is inaccurate) had to occur more frequently than de-excitation of CO2 molecules through collisions. However, asserted Barrett, this requirement could only be met at very high levels in the atmosphere (>80 km altitude), so CO2 cannot be implicated in warming of the lower atmosphere through radiative processes. But Barrett got this part of the argument precisely the wrong way around, as Sir John Houghton pointed out in his Reply, published in the same journal. It is a requirement for local thermal equilibrium (LTE), which does obtain in the lower atmosphere (Goody gives a figure of up to about 50 km, for LTE to hold sway), that collisional processes be more important that radiative ones. [For an enunciation and explanation of this principle, see almost any good physics or spectroscopy text with treatment of radiation and matter; e.g., Spectrophysics, by Thorne, Litzen and Johansson.]
    Barrett’s paper was rubbish, and Houghton and Keith Shine demolished it rather effectively, but this did not stop the self-appointed climate expert “Richard S. Courtney, Swindon Village, Cheltenham, U.K.” leaping in to defend Barrett, while ignoring Houghton’s and Shine’s pointed arguments.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Peter, I think you are correct. It’s the same guy. I’ve also noted he lurks the WUWT forums, attempting to take down those you try and insert real science into the debate.

      One assumes his occupation is to work the forums related to climate change.

      Thanks for the references – I shall follow them up and create an addendum to this original post.

  7. Eli Rabett says:

    He also delights in threatening people with suits for libel. Another famous practitioner of that art, Robert Maxwell, took a long walk off a short pier once

  8. Robhon says:

    When, I’ve just had a run in with this guy on the JoNova site. I hope he’s got a full stock of high blood pressure medication because that guy is stretched tight as a drum these days. I guess you might expect the whole oil/gas/coal industry is these days with the BP oil spill.

  9. KR says:

    I’ve had repeated run-in’s with this character on WUWT and JoNova. He spent most of his posts over at JN screaming ‘liar’ at me with lots of exclamation points, until the moderators stepped in asking _him_ to chill – as he was making me look quite reasonable and convincing.

  10. JohnF says:

    As a ‘denier’ (lukewarmer actually) I’d just like to add my support to the comments about Richard Courtney.

    I’d seen his name bandied about for a number of years and assumed he had expertise in a discipline that was in some way related to climate, but I’m gradually beginning to realise he’s completely clueless. Worse than that; he comes across as a right nasty piece of work (as KR implies). Unfortunately I’ve responded to him in kind which doesn’t really help but sometimes the provocation is a bit too much.

    Anyway I’m with you guys on this one.

  11. BigPapa says:

    Richard S Courtney turns up in a Comment section defending the honor of Christopher Horner (who is attempting to savage the honor of Michael Mann)

  12. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who was doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your internet site.

  13. Moe says:

    Thank you for this. I have been corresponding with a Richardscourtney on WUWT who I think is the same person. When quizzing him about statistical significance, I thought he was a ‘pretend skeptic’ because he didn’t do what a real skeptic would do. He then claimed ‘So, Moe, I am a true sceptic because I am a scientist.’ (I was posting under the name Moe). So he obviously believes he is a scientist or he is lying to impress me. But I have real scientific qualifications and realised he lacked basic scientific/statistical skills and thus replied: RichardCourtney, you are a very curious scientist indeed that revert to name calling and be-littling of others to ‘prove’ a point.

    Which is standard operating procedure when you point put his errors and mirrors some of the experiences people have mentioned above.

    I didn’t think he would be posting under his real name, so didn’t bother to google his name. But someone chipped in saying Richardscourtney had work published. I asked to see some of his work, but didn’t get a reply, hence the search.

    I find when discussing climate change with the ‘experts’ on WUWT, is to pick one point they are in error on and keep hammering it. In this case Richard was repeating the meme that there had been no statistically significant warming in the last 16 years. This annoys me as it is misleading as it infers there is no warming in the last 16 years. When the correct conclusion is that there is not sufficient data to make a conclusion one way or another.

    So my challenge to Richard was: Now I am curious to know what sort of skeptic you are. A REAL skeptic would ask the question’ what time period would give me a statistical significant answer to what is happening to the Earth’s temperature?’ And then work it out.

    Abuse etc followed, so kept plugging away requesting he do the math (thinking he could). He has given up, which is rather amazing as they normally keep going until you do give up and then there is a gloat session by the other posters.

    Little does Richard and WUWT know I am retired and have plenty of time on my hands. I also keep plugging away so that at least some of the WUWT readers will see how wrong and dishonest they can be.

  14. Moe says:

    Just got another reply from Richard on WUWT. As you can expect nasty vitriol, with very confused science. I related what my googling his name brought up here. It will be interesting if that post gets published.

  15. Moe says:

    Well as suspected, he denied everything that was said about him and then launched into such a vitriolic attack that even the WUWT moderators had to snip him. The evened the ledger by sniping my post too (I was linking him with the tobacco deniers). Anyway after a lot of mathematical slight of hand, he said it was impossible to get a statistically significant trend of the Earth’s temperature by lengthening the time period you look at. So I called him out on it. I’ll see what he answers.

  16. Philip Shehan says:

    Richard S Courtney on Abuse.

    Not being a regular WUWT but with time on my hands over the summer, I posted a comment on January 4, 2013

    As a scientist I am used to robust debate but after four days I objected to the torrents of personal abuse from Richard Courtney with examples of his comments in the preceding discussion:

    Philip Shehan says:
    January 8, 2013 at 6:07 am


    I am shamefaced at my ingratitude for your attempts to be so helpful with comments like:

    “Your posts in this thread clearly demonstrate your skills at misrepresenting data.”

    “If there are people reading this thread who are sufficiently gullible as to be gulled by your misrepresentation then you have already misled them. And you are demeaning yourself in the eyes of everyone who is not that gullible.”

    “Your illogical assertions have been refuted – repeatedly and by several people – in this thread, but you continue with your blather.”

    “you persist in being deaf to the refutation of your nonsense.”

    “The only deafness is yours, and it seems to be deliberate.”

    “Everybody can see you are wrong. If you cannot see you are wrong then you are deluding yourself”

    “Continuing as you are can only make you look even more foolish.”

    “see if you can recognise the blatant logical flaw which it contains”

    “But you say (in your post at January 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm) that you lack friends to help you.”

    “Clearly, if I had known of your lack I would not have made such a cruel suggestion, and I hope you will accept my apology for having made such a hurtful mistake.”

    “may gain you the ability to interact with those around you because it seems likely that your behaviour (as exhibited on this thread) is probably a major contributing factor in your ability to obtain and/or keep friends.”

    “I am starting to suspect that you are not the sad, little, stupid man you pretend to be, and that your behaviour on this thread is egregious.”

    “Sorry, but I cannot help because I am too far away. You need to get somebody else to put your rattle back in your pram.”

    “Having pretended to be a sad, little, lonely and stupid man but being revealed as something else, at January 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm you demonstrate you are a mendacious troll while trying to cause a rift between me and Layman.”

    “You have tried to dispute that that your claim is ridiculous and say I am being abusive.”

    ”You are a deluded fool whose further comments I shall ignore. And,no, that is also NOT abusive.”

    Courtney is terribly hurt by any suggestion that a gentleman such as himself is being abusive:

    “Philip Shehan:

    I write to reject your false and untrue assertion in your post at January 8, 2013 at 8:14 am which says I made “personal attacks” on you. I do this because my ignoring your unfounded assertion when you first made it (at January 8, 2013 at 6:07 am) has induced you to repeat it.

    I made no “personal attacks” on you.

    Later I suspected you were only pretending to be a sad, little, stupid man and stated my suspicion. You replied by confirming my suspicion was correct.
    Now, you egregiously suggest I have made “personal attacks” on you. Sad, very sad.”

    Now this was on January 8 mind you. He piled all this and more in one thred in just four days.

    By January 30, twenty six days later he is still at it, and denying he is at it, in the same sentence:

    “Ooooh, now I am frightened. Do you think I should borrow your teddy bear?
    I have made no “personal attacks and misrepresentations” of you: I have merely objected to your lies.”

  17. […] agreement could be reached. This just seemed to be escalating. I have since found this post called The continuing misadventures of Richard S Courtney: (Non) Scientist. This seems to suggest, if richardscourtney is indeed Richard S Courtney, that this is his normal […]

  18. To the left of centre says:

    I’ve just had a similar encounter, on the Watts Up With That site, with someone who refers to themselves as richardscourtney. I assume it is the same Richard S Courtney who is being discussed here (although I guess one cannot be absolutely certain that it is). A really remarkable encounter in which I was accused of “trolling”, spreading “pseudo-scientific nonsense”, and aiming to “mislead”, “misinform” and “disrupt” (amongst other accusations). A really remarkable and extremely unpleasant encounter. What was more, when someone else commented that he had in fact mis-interpreted my comment and should really apologise, he thanked them for their comment but claimed that he knew how to deal with “trolls” like me. He also included a comment similar to that described by the commentator above, that I “claim I didn’t get enough hugs as a child”. Would maybe be amusing if this wasn’t someone who is actually taken seriously by some.

  19. […] is actually Richard S Courtney, who is discussed at a number of other sites such as DeSmogBlog and Watching The Densiers. Given that I post anonymously, I don’t really want to particularly attak an individual who […]

  20. Mario Lento says:

    The person describing richard s courtney, and whomever came up with the name “watching the deniers” does not understand either what “denier” means or the people he or she is accusing of being “deniers”.

  21. […] is actually Richard S Courtney, who is discussed at a number of other sites such as DeSmogBlog and Watching The Deniers – although I can’t claim for certain that it is. Given that I post anonymously, I […]

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