Monbiot: The Gentleman Thug

Have you ever known someone too proud or pigheaded to admit he was wrong? Let’s say it was a particular claim this person made, that turned out to be false, but which the person couldn’t admit to getting wrong.  Would this then lead you to think that the person’s stubbornness in this one instance masks a nefarious, hidden agenda?

George Monbiot thinks this is the case with Stewart Brand, the legendary (and, in recent years, controversial) techno-environmentalist. Last week, Monbiot wrote the second of two back-to-back columns on Brand, of which this was the subtitle:

The environmentalist is refusing to retract false claims that there was a worldwide ban on pesticide DDT. Does his obstinacy mask a hidden, pro-corporate agenda elsewhere?

I’ve already explained why I think this is a ridiculous leap of logic for Monbiot to make. Now let’s look at the headline of that same column:

Dear Stuart Brand: If we can’t trust your claims on DDT, why should we trust you on anything else?

Let’s go back to some recent history concerning Monbiot and “climategate,” of which a good number of people feel pretty strongly about. Funny thing, I wasn’t seeing any posts from Tim Lambert with headlines like this:

Dear George Monbiot: If we can’t trust your claims on “Climategate,” why should we trust you on anything else.”

Nor has the partial walk-back in July from Monbiot seem to have appeased his critics, judging by this recent comment at Deltoid:

he [Monbiot] still hasn’t apologised for condemning the CRU without reading the evidence…he still hasn’t acknowledged his part in the witch hunt that was called climategate.

I’m going to leave it up to Tim Lambert to tell me if this is true or not, since I didn’t see any response by him to that reader. (Come to think of it, were there any posts by Tim on Monbiot in the aftermath of “climategate” assessing Monbiot’s role?)

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s true (and anyone should feel free to weigh in on this)–that Monbiot has yet to admit or acknowledge “his part in the witch hunt that was called climategate.” Might the subtitle of that hypothetical Lambert post, taking Monbiot to task, read:

The environmentalist is refusing to retract false claims that were made about about the behavior of CRU scientists. Does his obstinacy mask a hidden, anti-scientist agenda elsewhere?

It’s coming up on a year since the email hack. Maybe Monbiot will devote his next column to a retrospective look back at his series of responses. Or maybe he’ll continue to make a mountain out of a semantic molehill and dazzle us with an email chain that is notable for his passive-aggressive tone and pretentiously polite salutations.

19 Responses to “Monbiot: The Gentleman Thug”

  1. Huge Difference says:

    To demonstrate’s Monbiot’s hubristic headline, you choose Lambert’s hubristic and agenda drivien “witch hunt?”

  2. tonylurker says:

    Um, what point are you trying to make here?  Are  saying that Tim Lambert should use the same standards and rhetoric as Monbiot? Or are you saying that Monbiot should emulate Tim? What exactly is the connection here?  What new point are you trying to make in this oddly incoherent post? Why do you think there is or should be any liking between this and the climategate affair?  Why not fish back to the ourtrageous and unsubstantiated claims made, and still being made, about Patchauri? Or all of the false claims made about the IPCC?

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    That was a commenter that called it a “witch hunt,” not Lambert–at least not in that post. I was merely hypothesizing on the headline of a potential Lambert post, should he, in agreement with his commenter, then write a post that contained the same logic as the Monbiot/Brand post.

    Tonylurker: I’m not making either of those points. I thought I was being ironic, but perhaps I wasn’t being clear enough, since you consider the post incoherent.

  4. A peculiar line of thought which presumes that criticism of CRU from Moonbat was unfounded. The head post then attracts criticism citing “outrageous and unsubstantiated” claims about Pachauri and “false claims” made about the IPCC.
    I think what we have developing here is an echo chamber.

  5. Eli Rabett says:

    Keith, this is a typical let’s you and him fight post which is what makes journalists so well loved.

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    Moonbat was a founder member of the UK’s bizzarro “Respect Party”.
    He resigned when they decided to stand for election.

  7. Keith Kloor says:


    I didn’t presume that, which is why I wrote in parens, “and anyone should feel free to weigh in on this…”

    Look, let me clear a few things up. 1) I generally like Monbiot’s columns. 2) I thought he was a little overwrought in his initial reaction to the CRU hack but for the most part, I agreed with his take. 3) Obviously, I think he’s overreaching with his depiction of Brand as some corporate pawn, and consider it polite thuggery the way he’s gone about it.

  8. Keith Kloor says:


    That’s why there are blogs, which are different from articles you read in newspapers. What I’m doing in this post bears little resemblance to what you see in your newspaper, so how about better defining what “what makes journalists so loved,” which you obviously are saying in a disparaging sense.

    Now if I spent two columns in a major newspaper escalating a nitpick over words into a personal battle with someone, then yeah, I can see what you’re saying.

  9. laursaurus says:

    I gained a lot of respect for Monbiot when he criticized the CRU’s organized effort to defy the FOI laws.
    But this whole fiasco is completely ridiculous. Environmentalist groups were instrumental in halting the use of DDT. It’s puzzling how Monbiot is drawing so much public scrutiny. Why doesn’t he realize how much PR damage he is creating?

  10. Hank Roberts says:

    > … I spent two columns in a major newspaper escalating a
    > nitpick over words into a personal battle with someone …
    Wait, did Monbiot’s escalating nitpick over words appear in the newspaper, or only online?
    At least SB’s got a page up for notes, which ought to show up eventually.  More writers should do that.
    Are there any bloggers who post their own errata pages?  I don’t mean things other people accuse them of writing in error, those are legion — I mean actual “I said this and I was wrong, and here’s a correction” errata pages.
    I’m trying to recall if I’ve come across one.  They should be everywhere, it’s as close as we can get with HTML to what hypertext promised to do for us.

  11. Chris S. says:

    “I’m going to leave it up to Tim Lambert to tell me if this is true or not, since I didn’t see any response by him to that reader.”
    If we’re going to judge things on whether or not Tim responds to a comment I suggest people visit Deltoid and look up recent comments by “mike” and “ben” which also go uncommented.
    To coin a phrase – “ooh ra!”

  12. Huge Difference says:

    “That’s why there are blogs, which are different from articles you read in newspapers”
    Keith, this may demonstrate ignorance on my part, but I would love to read from you, a post detailing the various differences and gradations in the roles of opinion, issue advocacy, facts, etc. between journalism as supposedly practiced at say, the New York Times/Christian Science Monitor/Guardian/… and the journalism as practiced at Mother Jones, The Nation, National Review, Rolling Stone.
    Or even the journalism that occurs in the first six minutes of All Things Considered (news) compared to the journalism that occurs in the remaining 24 minutes (the “articles”.)
    I sometimes see all sorts of issue advocacy, bias, opinion, speculation, assumptions coming from a reporter in an arena in which I suspect that “proper journalists” would frown on it.
    Or I wonder how the issue advocacy journalism at Mother Jones (which I often read, like, and agree with) fits in with “Journalism”.
    Salon / Slate take its female reporters and has them reporting REPORTING on their main sites, and doing issue advocacy and/or very slanted reporting in their pink ghettos.
    And then of course, there are exercises like Journolist or MotherJones/Grist/… and whatever has replaced it, in which reporters, instead of competing with each other, collaborate to frame a message and form an agenda.
    And that’s long before we get to either blogging.
    How does any of this fit into the picture of Capital “J” Journalism?

  13. Keith, I don’t really follow Monbiot so closely but if I remember correctly, he did intimate that he had modified his view of the CRU a little, publicly at the Guardian debate. I suspect that the net result of that debate may have re-hardened him a little, but that’s an aside and with the presumption that Monbiot is cognisant of the ground covered at that debate.
    At that debate, I think Monbiot betrayed an inner fear when he said that he believed environmentalism “stands or falls” with the climate science it’s hung its coat on. For what it’s worth, I disagree that this needs necessarily to be the case; I think environmentalism, ideologically speaking, is at its heart a collection of noble causes. But I think that where it has gone wrong it needs to acknowledge its errors; that the proverbial road is frequently paved with proverbially good intentions. There are certainly problems with corporate environmentalist organisations of which I suspect many campaigners on the ground are blissfully unaware. The common theme through the ideologies of environmentalism, climatology and Roman Catholicism is the threat to their own credibility directly resulting from failures in recognition of their own failings – though in fairness it does look like at least the Catholics are beginning to get a grip on this at last.
    Monbiot is, I suspect, entering into a phase of self-destructive denial. His ad hominem circumstantial attack on Brand does suggest an inner conflict which I’m convinced is cognitive dissonance. Monbiot needs to get on top of the situation, float a lifeboat and start rowing or he may well get sucked under by the sinking fleet. He has had all of his own credibility invested in some bad deals.

  14. Shub says:

    Why did we not see any headlines like this from Deltoid?
    “If we can’t trust your claims on “Climategate,” why should we trust you on anything else.”
    Maybe it was because Monbiot was just expressing his opinion when the emails were leaked, and not making any claims of his own.
    And post-Muir Russel, Monbiot has backed off from his own position, limping back into the fold, so to speak.

  15. Tim Lambert says:

    Brand claimed that environmentalists killed 20 million people by banning DDT.  That’s wrong and easily seen to be wrong.  And it is not, as you pretend, a semantic quibble.  You can state the claim using any other words you like – it’s still wrong.  And Brand’s failure to make a correction does call into question the other things he writes.  How many of his other claims have been refuted in other discussions that we are unaware of?
    I also think you have set some of record for the biggest double standard ever.  If Monbiot asks questions about Brand’s funding he is a “thug” who has lost the “moral high ground”, while if Brand accuses environmentalists of KILLING 20 MILLION PEOPLE, those damn hippies should just suck it up and anyone protesting this blood libel is nitpicking.

  16. Chris S says:

    Too subtle for some.

  17. Shub says:

    If Brand is  making such patently false claims, why did Monbiot raise the issue of his funding at all to have a go at him?
    – that is KK’s question.
    I think KK’s position gets more support from this
    “He blamed the press for exaggerating the significance of the emails. “A lot of people in the media made up their minds and decided to go with the story because everybody else was.”

    He was particularly critical of George Monbiot, the environmentalist and newspaper columnist who called for his resignation soon after the e-mails were published. “He didn’t retract it for months until after the Muir Russell review [the independent inquiry which exonerated him] came out and even then it was somewhat begrudging. To me it showed he didn’t understand how science was done.”

  18. Hank Roberts says:

    Tim, SB [Stewart Brand] repeated a quote from the National Geographic article.  SB, when challenged, said he’d check his source.  You posted that you have verified the guy was correctly quotedt.  I trust you forwarded that email to SB so he can cite it on his notes page.

    I know you don’t like the claim, nor do I. But it’s a cite.  It belongs on SB’s note page.

    You know the guy is a longtime researcher with a very strong opinion — although the N.G. quote goes way beyond anything he has published.  It’s an egregious overreach.

    Why not go after the source?  Is there _anyone_else_ in the professional malaria research/medical establishment who agrees with this claim or cites it or even comments on it?

    Give people countervailing cites to other researchers.  Maybe someone can get a pithy quote from another researcher.

    Sure, it needs to be corrected.  Deal with the source, then people looking up the source will find the comment on it.

    Someone could probably do an interesting study on how long it takes people to hear, process, and respond to correction.  There’s a lag time — that’s human nature.  We could all do better.

    I guess it’s time I put up my own personal errata page and filled it.  Some day I might even make it public.  Don’t hold your breath. Nobody likes that little exercise.  But, alas, it’s now possible to do. So we might as well get good at it.

    Oh, wait ….

  19. Steven Sullivan says:

    I’m not seeing any papers by Gwadz himself in PubMed that focus on, discuss, or even hint at his suggestion that DDT ‘banning’ may have resulted in 20 million child deaths.  So it apparently didn’t come from his own research.  He hasn’t really published much at all since the late 1990s — 1 article is shown. He mentions chemical control in passing in one concluding sentence in this 1994 paper on genetic control of mosquitoes, as one of several needed weapons in the antimalaria arsenal.
    Gwadz RW. Genetic approaches to malaria control: how long the road? Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1994;50(6 Suppl):116-25.

    As I mentioned on another thread here, PubMed has
    >200 scientific journal review articles on ‘malaria + DDT’ available for free download .    If the claim has a research basis, it should be trackable.

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