Climate change, the North Pole, and an imaginary Chinese navy

Why does the Wall Street Journal think Lord Christopher Monckton is sane?

By Andrew Leonard
Published February 7, 2007 4:35PM (EST)

How the World Works does its best to resist the urge to make fun of Wall Street Journal editorials. It's not that it's too easy. It's just unseemly, like taunting a patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease for his forgetfulness.

So, while I appreciated RealClimate's rebuttal to an editorial making the odd argument that the IPCC report on climate change released last week had actually downplayed the possible impacts of global warming, as compared to previous reports, I was unenthusiastic about blogging it myself.

But I am something of a glutton for exposing myself to absurdist displays of right-wing idiocy, so I read the editorial, which cites a certain Lord Christopher Monckton for most of its revisionist claims. Monckton, we are told, is "a one-time adviser to Margaret Thatcher who has become a voice of sanity on global warming."

Oh really? There are few things the blogosphere excels more at than debunking revisionist lies about global warming, so I decided to give myself a quick update on Lord Monckton. There was much to mull over, but the following little nugget was simply too good to pass up:

Tim Lambert, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales, noted in his blog, Deltoid, that last November, Monckton authored a lengthy piece in the Daily Telegraph that included the following assertion about the medieval era: "There was little ice at the North Pole: a Chinese naval squadron sailed right round the Arctic in 1421 and found none."

Lambert tracks down the assertion: It comes from Gavin Menzies' book "1421: The Year China Discovered America."

"1421" is probably the single most derided book purporting to be a work of Chinese history published in living memory. It has been mocked and rebutted from one end of the Internet to the other. An entire generation of historians has been forced into debt from the dental bills brought on by endless nights of teeth-gnashing at the very thought that Menzies' work might be considered by anyone to be historically accurate. Suffice to say, the evidence that a Chinese naval squadron ever sailed to the North Pole, is, uh, scant.

Lambert's summing up is spot-on: "Hey, if you are going to ignore the consensus view of scientists, you might as well ignore the consensus view of historians."

So to recap: The Wall Street Journal cites as a source a man who believes that an imaginary Chinese navy sailed to the North Pole in the Middle Ages. I'd like to say, "You can't makes this stuff up," but apparently you can!

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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