“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The art of disinformation

Marc Morano, over at the climate disinformation aggregator site Climate Depot, summarizes a sequence of email exchanges and episodes involving TV Weatherman Anthony Watts of the Watts Up With That (WUWT) climate change skeptic site and centered on an invitation Watts received to participate in a debate at California State University Chico (CSUC) as follows:
Anthony Watts 'disinvited' to debate: University claims it can't handle a slideshow
For his part, in his post about the episode, Watts characterizes it similarly:
 The season of disinvitation continues: Chico State University can’t handle a slideshow

So, from this I infer that CSUC invited Watts to make a presentation of some sort and that, upon hearing that Watts intended to utilize a powerpoint presentation, said that "I'm sorry, we don't have the facilities for that, we retract our invitation." The truth is that Watts was invited to be one of three representatives of the "pro" side of a debate about passing California's Proposition 23.

Prop 23 is intended to suspend the implementation of California Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), called the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This bill has a variety of provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and is strongly opposed by various energy companies, natural resource extraction companies, and warming skeptics, etc. who have invested huge sums of money in support of Prop 23. The purpose of this post is not to delve into whether or not Prop 23 should be passed. Rather, it's about Watts' and Morano's characterization of the events surrounding Watts' invitation to this debate.

Upon receipt of the invitation, Watts asked if he could utilize a PowerPoint presentation. He gave a variety of reasons for his desire to do so, including his disadvantage in a debate involving statements and rebuttals due to a partial hearing loss, his position as a television personality and familiarity with the visual medium, and his desire to make the debate an educational experience for his audience.

The organizers turned him down on this, stating that the debate was to utilize the traditions of oral argument. Several emails were exchanged, but CSUC was adamant that visual aids weren't to be allowed. They were willing to provide accommodation for his hearing disability but not to change the debate format. The key email from Watts is:

From: “Anthony Watts”
Date: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 11:13 AM
To: “Wolf, Thia”
Cc: “Peterson, Sue” ; “John Rucker” ; “Justus, Zachary”
Subject: Re: Invitation to the Great Debate
Hello Ms. Wolf,

Thank you for your reply.

{Snip by King of the Road}

To deny visuals in a public debate is in my opinion, a sad commentary on  CSUC’s program. Even in a court of law the prosecution and the defense are allowed visuals. How else would they explain forensic science to a jury?  Get with the times!

Given the disadvantages I will face, and unless there is some sort of  accommodation for me to present at least some visuals, I see no other option  but to decline your invitation.

I await your reconsideration,

Best Regards, Anthony Watts

(Emphasis mine)

In other words, when CSUC wouldn't change the debate format to meet Watts' conditions, he declined. He made a bunch of noise about going into hostile conditions at a disadvantage in the snipped portion but the bottom line is that CSUC wouldn't meet his demands and so he declined. Both in the headline and later in the post, Watts disingenuously characterizes this chain of events as himself being disinvited.

Further, nowhere does CSUC say they can't handle slides. They make it quite clear that the format was determined in advance to be oral argument only and that they would not change because of Watts' demand.

This is the nature of the disinformation promulgated by the denizens of the seething so-called skeptical swamp. As to Watts' and Morano's specific complaint here, I offer the following:

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