Stewart Brand disappoints

In an earlier post

So George Monbiot challenged Brand to notice and announce that he’s wrong about DDT. So far it hasn’t happened. Unless it does, I think we should be skeptical about the rest of Brand’s thesis.

Well, as Monbiot relates, it still hasn’t happened. It seems increasingly likely that Brand will destroy his own credibility rather than admit to a significant error.

Comments

  1. #1 Tim Lambert
    November 17, 2010

    Keith, my response was in the [update on my post](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/08/arthur_smith_on_kloors_pattern.php)

  2. #2 Majorajam
    November 17, 2010

    Keith:

    I am not incensed. I don’t see how you can read that into my comments or posts. I’m pretty perplexed and amazed, but definitely not incensed.

    My reading might have something to do with the use of language like muggings and thugs.

    I live in a big city and sometimes muggings happen in the light of day.

    Colorful and beside the point. That you don’t recognize the distinction between shadowy character assassination and confrontational journalism is not flattering of your powers of perception. Fyi, I live in the same city, and I’ll take my chances in the open light of day over a dark street any time.

    Monbiot doesn’t even have “probable cause.” It’s a huge stretch on his part.

    That’s your story and you’re sticking to it. It might be nice if you were willing to substantiate it though. Monbiot has been forthright in itemizing the evidence that led to his tentative accusation*:

    For one, his brothers in arms in this blood slander against environmentalists, the ones who invented the charge and have articulated precisely why they believe it furthers their profits-driven agenda, are bought and paid for corporate hacks, (a point on which there *is* an orgy of supporting evidence). Birds of a feather. For another, Brand has through his foundation and otherwise a plausible means to benefit from being friendly to corporate interests. When asked on this point, Brand gave a pretty weak ‘I don’t know who our clients are’ response in the course of a non-denial denial. Not encouraging.

    But most importantly of all, on a point that I have made now twice, and you have yet to engage, Brand has pointedly failed to divulge his sources, even after promising to do so during his appearance on channel four, and without providing a single plausible explanation for his so doing. Is there a bigger brighter flashing red flag than that??? If you don’t think that that constitutes probable cause, than I guess you belong with that class of modern journalists who confuse their jobs with court juries. Fyi, you guys are responsible for discovery, however that discovery might be construed or misconstrued.

    * Note that, as I wrote previously, Monbiot’s accusation leaves the door open so wide that he actually speculates about a second possible and less damaging explanation for Brand’s reprehensible behavior: that he has become so close to corporate leaders and otherwise the representatives of moneyed interests that he no longer can judge them fairly.

    Note further that character assassinations don’t usually come replete with the perpetrators yielding access to victims to defend themselves on the very medium in which the assassination is taking place. I would think that would be obvious. For example, McCarthy had a habit of keeping the victims that he knew or suspected would speak up for themselves out of the public hearings.

    I haven’t read this book by Brand. Have you? Is he slandering environmentalists elsewhere, or is this the sole crime (which has led Monbiot to accuse Brand of other unsubstantiated crimes)?

    So wrongly accusing environmentalists of being complicit in the deaths of *millions* isn’t enough? I need to confirm that, what, he’s not nice to environmentalists elsewhere? As though if he started to pick up on the virtues of the Clean Air Act that would make his readers forgive environmentalists of such an egregious crime? Are you really so obtuse you don’t see how damaging this false accusation is in the eyes of the public? Or how useful that is to corporate interests who might be benefactors of the organization he founded? Surely you would like to have this one back.

    All I am asking for is this: where is the evidence that Brand is a phony green, doing the bidding of corporations? That’s the charge by Monbiot. It’s not an inquiry, which Lambert inexplicably contends. It’s an accusation that is obvious for all to see. Where is the evidence?

    What’s inexplicable is your tone when you’re so clearly wrong. Monbiot’s is an inquiry, and that’s as clear as black and white. GMU’s investigation of Wegman is also an inquiry. In both cases the inquiry revolves around an allegation. You can have one AND the other you know. It is possible.

    Keith, you’ve strayed pretty far from what I originally found to be a fair concern/complaint. Monbiot made an accusation for the purposes of seeking relevant information, and he did so on more of a hunch than on factual evidence. Now you contend, what, that this amounts to a public lynching? What ridiculous hyperbole is that?

    The accusation is not the end, it is the means and demonstrably so. What it amounts to is a tactic to get at an answer. We may disagree about tactics, and about whether or not Monbiot’s are counterproductive, (and to the extent that Brand is not in fact double-dealing, I would say that clearly are), but let’s try and keep our eyes on the ball. Accountability needs to be sought, and fear of impoliteness over what we do or do not know beyond a reasonable doubt should not keep us from seeking it.

  3. #3 Keith Kloor
    November 17, 2010

    Tim (93),

    Yeah, I guess you could call that a response.

    Wow: for a guy who talks a lot about brains being broke, you sure show an inability to understand what an ad hom is.

    Majorajam,

    You’re rationalizing Monbiot’s use of ad homs to throw mud at Brand. I don’t think you and I are going to have a meeting of the minds on this one.

  4. #4 Dan L.
    November 17, 2010

    Keith Kloor@95
    Majorajam,

    You’re rationalizing Monbiot’s use of ad homs to throw mud at Brand. I don’t think you and I are going to have a meeting of the minds on this one.

    Shorter KK: “I’ve got nothing; bye-bye!”

  5. #5 Keith Kloor
    November 17, 2010

    Dan L,

    I’m still here. Feel free to render your opinion on whether or not my claim about Monbiot is correct. I’d like to hear from as many Deltoids as possible.

  6. #6 Majorajam
    November 17, 2010

    You’re rationalizing Monbiot’s use of ad homs to throw mud at Brand.

    No, I’m characterizing Monibot’s approach to the journalistic enterprise. You’re mischaracterizing it, and worryingly so given your profession.

    I don’t think you and I are going to have a meeting of the minds on this one.

    Indeed. That would probably require a dialogue consisting of more than the expression of righteous indignation such as we’re not having. Notwithstanding, you might persuade more people to your way of thinking if you were willing to actually engage over the facts and arguments that people have made here. Your call.

  7. #7 Keith Kloor
    November 17, 2010

    Majoroajam (98),

    That’s just it: I don’t see anyone using facts to back up their argument, and there wouldn’t be any, because Monbiot didn’t use any.

    As far as I can tell, Marco is the only one willing to call a spade a spade. Everyone else’s argument boils down, in no particular order 1)I’m stupid, 2) I’m guilty of using an ad hom myself (which, even if it was true, is like a child coming home with an f on his math test and saying, “but everybody else got F’s too”),3) Monbiot was just inquiring (not!), 4) following his hunch.

    Yeah,well I have hunches too, but as a journalist I always follow them up with actual reporting. Lots of times my hunches don’t pan out. Monbiot served up a half baked argument to fit his hunch.

    It’s incredible to me that you characterize Monbiot’s approach as some sort of reasonable way of business for journalists. It totally is not. Well, okay, maybe it is is for pundits, but seems to me that Monbiot’s style is to back up his columns with footnoted references.

    All he’s going on with Brand is a nagging suspicion that is somehow confirmed by his email exchanges with Brand and a wiki page. It’s ridiculous. I would never let my students cite a wiki page (and one with a slant, no less) for an article they were were writing.

    I’m hanging around here as long as I am in this thread because I’m quite frankly fascinated to see what contortions some of you go through to excuse Monbiot’s slanderous column on Brand.

  8. #8 Majorajam
    November 17, 2010

    First of all, Monbiot is not arguing ad hominem. That’s nothing short of a blatantly false accusation, and obviously so to anyone who has read the exchange. In case you need a refresher, ad hominem in this case would be something like, ‘you only claim DDT was banned world wide at the urging of Rachel Carson and her enviro-nazis because you’re a corporate shill’. Point me to where that argument, or anything remotely akin was articulated. It was not. You are wrong.

    Rather, again as obvious to anyone who has read the exchange, Monbiot has given Brand every opportunity to respond on the merits of the issue at hand. At each turn he has declined. The controversial accusation at issue (made together with an invitation to rebuttal, i.e. made as a pointed question) was made only after Brand had effectively conceded the field on the malaria blood slander. Will you continue to downplay the significance of this, or will you acknowledge the grievousness of Brand’s behavior?

    Second of all, once again you neglect to acknowledge that- and I’ll bold it again for you- Brand is hiding his sources on this issue, notwithstanding his prior pledge to reveal them, and notwithstanding he hasn’t provided a single justification for so doing. That’s massively incriminating and you have yet to address it, nor the other evidence that Monbiot has cited on the merits. All you’ve done is expressed, yes, righteous indignation “Monbiot served up a half-baked argument”. I sense a pattern here. How’s that saying go, when you have the law pound the law, when you have the facts pound the facts, when you have neither pound the table?… Yeah.

    Speaking of which, third of all, do you mind sharing what it is about my characterization of Monbiot’s approach that is incredible, or do you plan on keeping that for yourself? Wow made a pretty good analogy about the practice of asking a pointed question of a political leader that insinuated wrongdoing on the basis of circumstantial evidence, which is all that Monbiot has done here. I’ll agree that arguments can be made about where the line is in this type of thing, but it’s not tenable to argue that it isn’t a part of journalistic practice and hasn’t always been. Hard because it’s just not true.

    It’s hard as well to argue that it can’t be productive for getting at truth that mightn’t otherwise be gotten at, in particular when that suspicion is well-founded and when the public figure in question answers with a non-denial denial… ehem… The latter typically pricks up the ears of the *real* journalists out there, however many might be left, much like a finance minister saying ‘We have no plans to devalue our currency’ does to hedge fund managers. Your high-handed rebuke of me (and the rest of us loonies I guess) would indicate that such a question was so out of bounds as to be beyond discussion. On whose authority are we to take that seriously? Yours?

    Now I didn’t unambiguously like Monbiot’s approach here as I said before, but what I like much less the journalists too demure to ask impolite and pointed questions on the basis of what is and is not an acceptable amount of evidence to trigger suspicion. Because we have seen what the latter leads to. The last few decades are an object lesson in what results of that approach to journalism. A particularly galling example was the media’s response to Bush administration’s ritual practice of stonewalling over the jaw dropping scandals (both in depth and breadth) that marked their tenure, (and, if memory serves, there wasn’t a subpoena issued that wasn’t laughed straight out of the West Wing or VP residence). Even where that refusal to open up to any investigation or transparency over the relevant facts was damning in and of itself, the media by and large presumed innocence based on what could and could not be proven. Beyond a reasonable doubt and all that. Now, I don’t know when journalists became lap dogs, but when they did, they ceased to be journalists. And the consequences have been profound.

    Finally, if you’re looking for ad hom, look no further than the ‘you Deltoid crazies are really in denial’ routine and your inelegant bobbing and weaving in this thread for a quintessential example.

  9. #9 Majorajam
    November 17, 2010

    I’ll have to revise and extend my remarks here. Ad hominem in this case would indeed be something like, ‘you only claim DDT was banned world wide at the urging of Rachel Carson and her enviro-nazis because you’re a corporate shill’, however not just to make that point, (as Monbiot did), but to insinuate that by consequence the argument about environmentalists getting DDT banned was invalid (as he did not). The distinction accounts for why I indicated above that, “the controversial accusation at issue was made only after Brand had effectively conceded the field on the malaria blood slander”. In particular, Brand said ‘we’ll have to leave it there’ after answering nothing of Monbiot’s ruthless evisceration of his weak claims.

  10. #10 jakerman
    November 17, 2010

    Kieth, [yet one more post](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932233) where [you avoid](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932076) the substance of the critiqute of par 3 in post #54.

    Quite a pattern.

  11. #11 jakerman
    November 17, 2010

    I’m impressed with much of the contribution made here.

    [This post](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932232) was intelligent and funny.

    [This post](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932269) was clear and thoughtful.

    Then [this post](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932779) was powerful in its summary of the argument.

    I can’t do better, so I’ll just second it.

  12. #12 Bernard J.
    November 17, 2010

    I’d like to hear from as many Deltoids as possible.

    Fine. I will ask again, are you going to apply your commentary about the molehill response to Brand on this thread, to the demonstrably mountainous way-off-the-mark [character assassinations of scientists by denialists of all stripes](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2932349)?

    If so, when and where and to what extent?

    If not, why not?

    You’re rationalizing Monbiot’s use of ad homs to throw mud at Brand.

    So, what rationale will you employ to ignore the huge body of ad hominem, slander, libel, and other sundry lies, distortions, misrepresentations and untruths with which the Denialati have impugned the integrity of whole disciplines of professional scientists?

    Or are you not going to ignore this?

    I’m hanging around here as long as I am in this thread because I’m quite frankly fascinated to see what contortions some of you go through to excuse Monbiot’s slanderous column on Brand.

    You must be hypnotised then by Jo Codling’s cesspit, or Watts’ blog’s prodigeous litany of libel. It’s a wonder that you were able to peel yourself away from such sites to drop in here and pick at this nit.

    Fascinating, in fact…

  13. #13 jakerman
    November 17, 2010

    BJ, I wouldn’t even buy into the premise that KK assumes within the claims you cite.

    Monbiot with Codling and Watts?

  14. #14 Bernard J.
    November 17, 2010

    [Jakerman](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/11/stewart_brand_disappoints.php#comment-2933886).

    Kloor should be able to notice (at least, I hope that he can!) that I am not personally buying into the stink about Brand – as much as I have a very firm opinion on the lack of substance to his claims. Hopefully Kloor will be able to discern that I am asking if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and that he not actually conflates geese with ganders in the process.

    I credit him with that much intelligence, at least.

    Perhaps I am naïve?

  15. #15 Wow
    November 18, 2010

    > 100
    >
    > First of all, Monbiot is not arguing ad hominem.

    It is also an ad hominem itself:

    > Don’t listen to him! He’s ad-homming me!

    That IS an ad-hom!

    Which means I’m going to have to find a new even more epic version of epic than “homeric” because Keef tops himself (if only…) with this stonking multiverse-sized load of self-aware failure:

    > Wow: for a guy who talks a lot about brains being broke, you sure show an inability to understand what an ad hom is.

    Since he’s STILL thinking that “your arguments are wrong therefore you’re an idiot” is an ad hom.

    YET HE COMPLAINS.

    I mean, really, this kid is is king of cloud-cuckoo.

  16. #16 Michael
    November 18, 2010

    I’d like to hear from as many Deltoids as possible.

    KK,

    No, you’re wrong on Monbiot.

    Given the ongoing evasiveness of Brand on a pretty simple factual matter at the core of an extremely serious allegation, GM wasn’t a “polite thug”, just polite.

  17. #17 James Haughton
    November 18, 2010

    I think Tim is being very unfair giving Patrick Moore such a hard time. As [today's story on Radio Australia shows](http://www.radioaustralianews.net.au/story.htm?id=34861), Patrick has been very busy defending poor Indonesian paper producing companies from rapacious multinational conservation agencies, and thinks we need to “find solutions for the future” (unless they are bednets, or involve cutting down methane release from peat bogs) and “not just harp on problems forever” (unless they are alleged problems with Rachel Carson’s 40 year old book).

  18. #18 Steve L
    November 18, 2010

    Well said, James. Really all these green jerks have to think more about how to move forward. And as you pointed out, the most expeditious route to prosperity for all is to revise history.

  19. #19 MFS
    November 18, 2010

    >”Patrick has been very busy defending poor Indonesian paper producing companies from rapacious multinational conservation agencies”

    Patrick sounds like he’s channeling Tim Curtin! (see [here](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/04/tim_curtin_thread_now_a_live_s.php#comment-2481408), and [here](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/04/tim_curtin_thread_now_a_live_s.php#comment-2483319) and one of the best [here](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/03/tim_curtin_thread.php#comment-1490729))

  20. #20 Dan Cass
    November 22, 2010

    Good on you Tim, for the great blogging.

    I agree that “disappointment” is the word for Stewart Brand. I admire the work he did in the past and respect him even though I think he’s saying some things now that are wrong.

    One point to make generally is that many environmentalists feel pressure to ‘balance’ their stance, which is why they rush to adopt anti-green positions sometimes. I don’t know if Brand is doing this.

    I sympathize with them, but the problem is that it can lead to sloppy thinking and appeases the anti-scientific right, who will keep attacking anyway.

  21. #21 Hank Roberts
    November 25, 2010

    Somehow this seems prescient:
    http://www.nukees.com/comics/nukees20101124.gif

  22. #22 Hank Roberts
    July 18, 2011

    > I’ll wait to see what SB puts in his
    > web page for references for that chapter

    They’re coming one chapter at a time, but nothing for this chapter yet. Other info being added on other chapters is worth following. You know how to find it.