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A review of “Madlands: a journey to change the mind of a climate sceptic”

Posted By Joanne Nova On September 5, 2012 @ 3:05 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Anna Rose is the head of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. She visited us with Nick Minchin to film the doco “I can change your mind” and has produced a book called Madlands about the filming of the doco. Another author, David Mason Jones, has written a review and comes at this from a fairly neutral background. Anna’s approach, which is essentially an ad hom from beginning to end, punctuated with other fallacies, was evident when we met her, and sadly been amplified in her book. When they have no evidence, they attack the messenger. — Jo

[See our one-page version of this whole issue.]

Guest Post by David Mason-Jones

A review of ‘Madlands: a journey to change the mind of a climate sceptic’ by Anna Rose. Melbourne University Press. ISBN9780522861693

His site: www.journalist.com.au


Dare not peer into the forbidden room …

…. and dare not speak to the unspeakable people. Dare not test the nasty taboos and dare not open the Pandora’s box labelled ‘the nature of the scientific process’. Above all, do not admit the integrity of the people on the other side of the debate in which you are involved. Instead, smear and ridicule your opponents remorselessly before looking at their arguments.

These seem to be the guiding principles of Anna Rose’s somewhat less-than-intellectual approach in her book, ‘Madlands: a journey to change the mind of a climate sceptic.’ The approach Anna takes is to turn the sceptics we are about to meet into non-persons – or persons who are easy to hate, villains. The effect of doing this is to make it easy for the reader to dismiss their arguments with hardly a thought.

Anna carefully character assassinates all the sceptical people she is about to introduce. She then gives them a fairly cursory hearing,  ignores their arguments, and responds with personal attack and ridicule, appealing to the twin arguments of authority and consensus all the way.

The adjectives Anna assigns to adherents of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis are; eminent, highly respected, thorough, forward thinking, moderate and polite, intellectual, diplomatic, world-renowned, progressives and mainstream. Sceptics are described with derogatory words and terms like; attack dogs, more than a touch arrogant, fringe, wackiest, plays dirty, bizarre, contrarian, nutty, abrasive, notorious, bullying, dishonourable tactics, gang, cyber bullying, sexist, curious (in a derogatory context), petulant, bitter, web of denial, ideological warriors, generating hate towards climate scientists, and warped world vision. This sets the scene for the tone of her work.

“In the inquisitions the inquisitors had to climb up into every last village, high in the mountains of France and Spain, to track down every last heretic…”

After you are only part way through the book, the set-piece use of these descriptors starts to wear thin. If you have an honest desire to read Anna’s point of view, it becomes harder and harder to do so objectively as you become aware that the writer is endlessly outlining her ‘good-versus-evil’ view of the debate.

Special vilification is reserved by Anna to demolish the character of Professor Richard Lindzen who she implies is just a nutty professor. In her terms, he is a ‘used to be’. Anna tries to malign him as an old man with the evil habit of smoking, and makes out that she even struggled to breathe. I do not know Professor Lindzen, and I have never been to his house, but I understand that while he is a smoker, he doesn’t smoke in the area where Anna was. [Editors note: Anna's attack is a measure of Lindzens influence. This is all so irrelevant to anything that matters except to note how far some people will go to vilify their opponents. It tells us all something about Anna, that when I asked Nick Minchin if Lindzen was a smoker, Minchin said he didn't know, and couldn’t recall any clues from visiting his house. Nick Minchin is a non-smoker too, he'd notice. In an email, Lindzen remarked to me that Anna seemed to be perfectly comfortable while enjoying his hospitality and that the ABC tapes would show that. Message to skeptics: video everything. It means the activists have to stay closer to the truth -- Jo].  This shameless attempt to  demonize Lindzen, based on his personal habits, has little to do with the question of whether or not he is raising valid scientific objections to the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis? Why can’t the scientific issue be discussed without maligning his personal habits? Should we all, like Anna, feel free to dismantle the credibility of other people, with whom we disagree, based on their personal habits? How far should this license go? Would Anna approve if people on either side of the debate extended her technique to other personal aspects such as; gender, age, race, sexual orientation, body shape, disability, religious affiliation or any other irrelevant characteristic? What are the intellectual processes Anna is trying to set up here?

 [Editors note: Richard Lindzen is one of the top meteorologists in the world, with over 200 publications to his name, as well as awards, medals, prizes and is a member of the NAS, AAAS, AGU, AMS. He is The Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his work  includes major contributions to our understanding of the Hadley Circulation, small scale gravity waves on the mesosphere, as well as atmospheric tides and oscillations in the tropical stratosphere. That he should face this kind of petty and personal attack is disgraceful. What kind of message does this send to younger, less secure scientists who doubt the IPCC dictat? There is more science, insight and good manners in one article of Richard Lindzen's than in Anna Rose's life's work.  - Jo]

Some pages after that she moves on to again to demolish another character. Before we even meet Marc in the book she is already maligning him. Maybe I’m not very widely read but I have not before heard of Marc Morano. I have never visited his blog and, at the time of writing this, still haven’t. So I had no preconceived ideas about him before I read what Anna had to say. After Anna’s onslaught, however, the attitude I had to Marc was that he must be a pretty bad person. This was irrational, I know, especially given the fact that I was already suspicious of her technique of character demolition. But it shows that character assassination works! It works even with the sceptical reader. It seems to be human nature to be swayed – at least in the first instance – by the rumors and insinuations made by others about someone you don’t even know.

[Editors note: I do know Marc Morano, who runs the excellent Climate Depot blog. He is ever the gentleman, polite, staunchly patriotic (without being over-the-top), has a wide grin and a warm optimistic nature. He’s a riot to be around, the life of the party, and genuinely considerate, always diplomatic, and not domineering in ways that smooth talking effusive people can sometimes be. In short,  — I’d work with him any day, he’s a delight to be around, and inspiring to watch in action. A hero in his relentless quest to get the true story told. -- Jo]

But this is only in the first instance. There is another aspect of human nature that comes into play when one starts to suspect that he or she is being relentlessly propagandized. I feel that Anna has actually tripped off this second characteristic – in me at least. This is the tendency of an independently minded reader to start wondering if this can all be true. It is the tendency to start wondering if Marc Morano is really such a bad person. It is the tendency to ask, ‘Well, let’s take a look into this forbidden room, let’s talk to this unspeakable person, let’s test this nasty taboo, let’s open the Pandora’s box’. Surely it is not the aim of Anna’s book to drive people to look more deeply into the sceptical questions?

And this opens the question of the unintended consequences of Anna’s book even further. At the start of the book she describes how some of her associates, who are adherents of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, advised her not to do the world trip with Nick Minchin and not to do the television program. They said it would only give publicity to the sceptics’ position.

Her whole tone of perpetually rubbishing the character of people on the other side must surely drive the impartial reader to ask why the character assassination is so essential.

Having now read the book, I believe she has fallen into the very trap of which she was warned. Her whole tone of perpetually rubbishing the character of people on the other side must surely drive the impartial reader to ask why the character assassination is so essential.  Why can’t the arguments in the book just be allowed to stand on their own merits – or lack thereof?

In terms of her truthfulness about reporting certain positions of Nick Minchin, Anna makes at least one straight forward misrepresentation. She asserts that Nick does not believe in feedbacks. This is simply not true. He understands that a significant part of the doubt in the hypothesis is about the strength of feedbacks and whether they are positive or negative. There is a world of difference between saying he is sceptical about the effect – positive or negative –and saying that he doesn’t believe in them at all. A misrepresentation such as this does not help Anna’s credibility.

And while on the subject of feedbacks, the topic provides an interesting dilemma for Anna. She concedes on several occasions that the degree to which feedbacks occur, the climate sensitivity, is not known with certainty. And yet, when sceptics point out the same fact, she labels them as deniers of science. It’s a contradiction I find hard to fathom. There is another contradictory element in which Anna shows that she does not have a consistent line. When discussing aerosols, she virtually admits that the current climate models upon which the IPCC relies, do not include all the potential variables, specifically the effect of aerosols. How then can she point the finger at sceptics who decry the failures of the models and call them deniers of science? It’s just a contradiction I find glaring and mystifying. Anna can apparently point out a deficiency in a model and still believe in ‘the science’ but woe betide any sceptic who does the same thing.

There are many other aspects of this book upon which I would like to comment. Let me confine myself to just one. Early on, Anna describes Nick Minchin as one of the ‘remaining few high profile climate-sceptics in Australia’. In other parts of the book she uses terms like ‘tiny’ to describe the group of people who are still sceptical. Based on this I ask myself a hypothetical question. If it is true that there are only a ‘remaining few’ and that the group is ‘tiny’, why is it then so necessary for her, and others, to go out with such zeal to convert every last disbeliever into a believer?  If these sceptics are in such a small minority, then surely their argument must be lost already. Why can’t they just be left to wither on the vine? Why can’t they just be by-passed and ignored?

Those who have studied the history of Europe could not have avoided becoming aware of the conflict of religious ideas. In these conflicts it was often the very existence of your ‘belief’ that mattered – not your actions. In the inquisitions the inquisitors had to climb up into every last village, high in the mountains of France and Spain, to track down every last heretic.

In the inquisitions the mere existence of doubt, disbelief and heresy was the threat. In Anna’s book it seems that the same may be the case. It is as if the existence of someone else’s doubt negates the truth of one’s own beliefs. Could it be that Anna’s zeal to track down and convert even the ‘few remaining’ doubters and heretics could actually be a marker of her own insecurity about the veracity and resilience of her own belief.


My other posts related to that documentary:

ABC Biased. Scientist Matthew England, outrageous error or dishonest? Nick Minchin owed an apology

The intellectual vacuum – alarmists are afraid of debate, they namecall and break laws of reason

and The IPCC 1990 FAR predictions were wrong

and there is another post coming very soon…

UPDATE: Commenter  Brook Acklom reviewed the book at The Castlemanian:

Unfortunately, much of the 357 pages is devoted to irrelevancies having nothing to do with climate and consequently wastes a substantial amount of the reader’s time. The book could have been edited down by at least a third without loss of the real story.

Perhaps some readers may find it interesting to read of Rose’s childhood, the meals she ate while traveling, the clothes she wore, her encounters with activist friends and her thoughts while flying in carbon dioxide producing jumbo jets; I found it boring and a waste of time.

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Rating: 9.4/10 (96 votes cast)

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