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Attempting to Intimidate a Skeptic?

Leo Elshof from Acadia University in Nova Scotia* has written to me asking that I put a comedy disclaimer on the Skeptics Handbook, and otherwise threatens to ridicule me at international conferences and set the media onto me. The email is here and my reply is below. What have our universities sunk too?

Does having a PhD mean anything anymore?

Dear Ms Nova

I am writing to you for some clarification regarding your ‘Sceptics Handbook’ on climate change.

A student of mine stumbled upon your ‘Sceptics Handbook’ on climate change and passed it on to me. Upon my first reading I thought surely this is a spoof, you’re having a good a good joke on the scientific community! I won’t waste your time listing all the scientific and logical deficiencies that riddle this document because I believe that you created ‘The Sceptics Handbook’ as a spoof to test the readers level of scientific literacy.

I told my graduate student that anyone with a bachelor’s degree in science—specialising in microbiology and molecular biology nonetheless, would surely not pretend to challenge the world’s scientific community’s consensus understanding on climate change. I also explained to the student that the author wouldn’t really be so arrogant as to dismiss the work of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles by climatologists, glaciologists, paleobotanists, oceanographers, mathematicians etc. I was certain that was simply a misunderstanding, a little spoof gone too far. I told him that the notion that Joanne Nova, a self-proclaimed ‘performer’ and “specialist on anti-aging, genetics and the future of medicine” has identified a blind spot upon which years of hard-won scientific research can now be discounted, is too preposterous to imagine .
[snip discussion of himself speaking soon in Australia…]

But more to the point, I would please ask that you confirm asap that your ‘Handbook’ is indeed intended as a spoof and should be interpreted as such. At this point in time this is the only rational conclusion I can reach concerning your work. If this is the case I’ll have a good laugh and only ask that you put a comedy disclaimer somewhere on your website to attest to this fact .

If on the other hand, you tell me that your ‘Sceptics Handbook’ is genuinely intended as an educational ‘guide’ to understanding the so-called climate change ‘debate’, I will have the enormous pleasure of ridiculing the ‘Sceptics Handbook’ in front of an international audience (in your own country) as one of the most egregious pieces of junk science disinformation that I have ever had the misfortune to come across. If this is indeed the case, I will also endeavour to encourage the media to follow up by asking how an author who holds such a distorted misunderstanding of how basic science actually produces knowledge, can also pass themselves off as a science ‘educator’ and ‘communicator’ in any genuine sense of the word to children nonetheless?

I have no doubt that my Aussie education colleagues will appreciate having a good laugh at the banality of their own homespun sources of junk science disinformation and stupidity. This alone promises to be great fun.


Leo Elshof PhD.


Dear Dr Elshof,

Your attempt to intimidate me provided me with a good laugh. Thank you.

Upon first reading your email I thought surely this is a spoof! A man with a PhD in Education would not seriously ridicule a scientific commentary with such poor reasoning, outright threats, and so little evidence?

Referring to my work as variously being “preposterous, banal, stupid, distorted, arrogant, presumptuous, and an egregious piece of junk science information” is all ad hominem. Is that the best scientific argument you can come up with?

Likewise, vague references to ‘thousands of scientists and peer reviewed papers’ and allusions to a consensus are arguments from authority and equally poor.

Leo Elshof’s Logic and Reasoning Scorecard:

11 Ad hominem attacks
3……Argument from authority
2….. Threats
1….. Strawman
0….. Points of evidence

Total: -17

You appear to have spent more time reading my CV than looking at the science. I’m flattered, but respectfully point out that my qualifications have no influence on the radiosondes, satellites, CSSP graphs or IPCC documents I refer to.

Letters like yours expose the unscientific Pro-AGW tactic of silencing dissent. Good for me. Embarrassing for you. Have you a religious belief in AGW that helps you justify this unscientific behaviour? I sympathize.

I’m delighted you are coming to Australia and want to draw attention to the Skeptics Handbook. I invite you to publicly debate the AGW theory and the importance of teaching scientific reasoning at school.

I am gravely concerned about our children’s future. Without learning to reason I fear they will fall victim to hype, scam, exaggerated threats, and false assurances. Your letter has inspired me to find other ways to help children defend themselves from con-men, poor curricula, and well meaning academics. Does Acadia university have a policy about the role of logical inference in education? I’d be most grateful if you could forward it to me.

Wishing you lots of fun laughing at my expense. But I warn you against trying to impress anyone who understands rhetoric.

You are your own best example of why argument from authority is always fallacious.



BTW: If you had read the Handbook, you’d note I made no claims to having personally found the holes in the popular theory of AGW. Greater minds than mine deserve that credit. 🙂

PS! Please write and confirm immediately that you meant to send this from your home email. Arcadia University would surely prefer not to be associated with an attempt to stifle scientific debate and free speech, nor with a document that does not reflect well on the education of its educational staff.

UPDATE: As of Jan 9, 2009. Still no reply to me from Leo. Perhaps Acadia Uni has no policy on teaching logic and reasoning?

UPDATE: See comment #117 for Leo’s thoughts on this found on DeSmog.

*Correction: Leo is based at Acadia Uni, Nova Scotia, (not Arcadia Uni). Thanks, J.Knight.


This post generated so many comments I’ve taken out about 125 comments that focussed on the science of the KEIHL TRENBERTH model and later on latent heat and evaporation, into The Missing Hot spot page (for want of a better more direct post).

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