Viscount Monckton of Brenchely, has been challenged to a bet of $ 1000 by John Abraham on Monckton's own predictions of an incoming global cooling. Monckton has refused to pick up the challenge. (image: Christopher Monckton)
In 1980, Julian L. Simon and Paul Ehrlich entered in a famous bet on a mutually agreed-upon measure of resource scarcity. They chose a number of mineral commodities, with Simon betting on a price decrease and Ehrlich betting on an increase. Ten years afterwards, Simon won the bet.
Today, if you search the Web using Google, you'll find more than 250,000 pages dealing with the Simon-Erlich wager. It remains today one of the best known and most used examples put forward to discredit a vision that sees mineral resources as precious and scarce and recommends that they should be used with caution.
If you think about that, it is nearly incredible that the price trends of a few commodities over just a decade are considered so important for a complex and long-ranging question as the depletion of the Earth's mineral resources. By the way, if the bet had been for a later decade, Simon would have lost.
But these are the laws of communication: normally, it is not a question of relevance, it is a question of volume. Repeat something a sufficient number of times, and it will be perceived as true by the public. In this case, the message repeated over and over was that these pompous scientists are so silly to be always caught in the Chicken Little trap: always believing that we were to run out of mineral resources, and always being found wrong. So, the bet that Paul Ehrlich lost has done immense damage to an entire field of scientific research. It was, probably, a significant factor in the nearly complete disappearance of "world dynamics" studies in the 1980s; those which had started with "The Limits to Growth" in 1972.
Because of this story, I tend to believe that scientists working on climate change or resource depletion should never, never bet on anything. Any fluctuation in the wrong direction of temperatures or market prices can be picked up by the propaganda machine and be used against science and scientists. But even if trends do not fluctuate away from the expected direction, the problem is that the communication war is asymmetric. If a scientist bets against an amateur and wins, that's hardly news (dog bites man). But if the amateur wins, it is worldwide news (man bites dog).
So, I would say that John Abraham's bet against Christopher Monckton about Earth's temperatures is, at best, risky, probably counterproductive in any case. I agree that chances are largely in favor of Abrahams; Monckton himself seems to think the same, since he has refused the challenge. But climate is complex and always variable(*) and so why take this risk? Besides, as I said, if Abraham wins, (as it is very likely) nobody will take much notice. So, why give to Monckton an importance that he doesn't deserve?
(*) Abraham has been correctly cautious in mentioning that the bet would be rendered invalid in case of a "major volcanic eruption", but it is hard to define what we mean exactly a "major" volcanic eruption.