Tag Archives: Michael Mann

Attacking Climate Science and Scientists

You are a scientists and you are doing two things.

First, you have finished a preliminary study and submitted a grant proposal based on your evolving idea about something, and you have just submitted a related paper to a peer reviewed journal. Well, OK, that’s a bunch of things, but they are all related to the temporal stream of the research you are expected to do as a member of the academic community.

Second, you are having conversations with your mentor, your colleagues, others, about this research in which you are traveling up and down various alleyways searching for answers to outstanding questions, ways to refine your methodology, approaches to explaining complex things. Most of the time, just when you think you might have cornered an answer, it turns out to be just another question briefly disguised as a result. But, the whole time, you are having this conversation and it is fruitful and productive, and helps your research move forward.

Suddenly, Nefarious Guy, who is the antagonist in this story, appears on the scene. The first thing Nefarious Guy does is to force you to release the data from your preliminary study, and to put a copy of the peer reviewed paper you’ve submitted on the internet. The result? Some bogus dood at another institution gets hold of your preliminary study, publishes the result under his own name. Meanwhile, the journal contacts you and says they are rejecting your paper. They want new, as yet undistributed results taking up the precious pages of their journal, and your paper is no longer new, since it is all over the internet. The last four years of work is now severely damaged. Your tenure committee is not impressed with your excuses. Your career is damaged. Later, when you give a talk to some high school kids on what is like to be a scientist, a youngster asks, “What advice would you give to someone like me, who really wants to be a scientist?” You are compelled, ethically, to tell her to start off by making friends with a lawyer and not having very high expectations for her career.

But Nefarious Guy did not end his antics there. He also got hold of many of those conversations you’ve been having with your colleagues. You see, those conversations, in conformity with the way the modern world works, have largely been via email, and these emails have been acquired and made public. Now, Nefarious Guy and his minions have been mining these emails and putting bits and pieces of them out there, stripped of their actual context and embedded in a stream of lies about how the research was done and what the motivations of the researcher “really” are.

This dishonest misrepresentation of the honest conversations you’ve had does not damage your career, because all the other scientists and academics, including the granting agencies, can see right through Nefarious Guy’s exploits. But his actions do something worse. They damage science itself, because they become part of the public discourse, and the public is generally gullible, often looking for a reason to complain anyway, and do not understand the nature of what has happened.

Nefarious Guy is a stand in for any number of politically motivated science deniers who wish to damage the scientific process, discredit the widely held scientific consensus on climate change, and punish individual scientists for being honest and truthful.

One such individual is Congressman Lemar Smith of Texas. Michael Mann, a climate scientist who has been subjected to some of this sort of nefarious activity, recently wrote an Op Ed in the New York Times that talks about Smith’s assault on climate science.

Mann notes that Smith “has long disputed the overwhelming scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are changing the climate. Now he is using his committee chairmanship to go after the government’s own climate scientists, whose latest study is an inconvenience to his views.”

Last month, Smith subpoenaed climate scientist Kathryn Sullivan of NOAA demanding the release of those honest convo emails and other similar documents pertaining to climate change related research published in Science. The study produced results most inconvenient. Essentially, it was a detailed look at the data showing that the famous #FauxPause in the rise of global surface temperatures was indeed faux.

NOAA told Smith to take a hike. Smith doubled down. More than once. It is important to note that no one is denying access to data, methods, or results. The entire scientific community is appalled at Congressman Smith’s requests and his implications that these scientists are up to something. The information Smith needs to prove himself wrong are available. This is nothing but an expeditionary move to damage science and some of the scientists who do that science.

Mann notes that Smith has tried to do this sort of damage before, sometimes with success.

Mann concludes,

While there is no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans, there is absolutely a debate to be had about the details of climate policy, and there are prominent Republicans participating constructively in that discourse. Let’s hear more from these sensible voices. And let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.

The New York Times gave Smith right of reply, in which he doubles down yet again, asserting that “federal employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have altered temperature data to try to refute an 18-year plateau in global temperatures…” He insists that satellite data refute the idea that warming has continued. That satellite data to which he refers is the cooked up unpublished and unreviewed, known-to-be-faulty bogus result of a couple of science deniers. Well, it is published, in a blog post, but not in the peer reviewed literature.

No wonder so many Americans distrust Congress. Both houses.

Science Denialists Have Delayed Action On Climate Change: Soon vs. the Hockey Stick

If you have not been living in a cave, and had you been, I’d respect that, you know about Willie Soon Gate. Willie soon is a researcher on soft money at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon is well known for producing research of questionable quality that anemically attempts to buck the scientific consensus that human caused greenhouse gas pollution is rapidly raising the Earth’s temperature. Soon’s links to the fossil fuel industry have been known for some time, but recently, he has gotten into even more hot water over having published papers without properly disclosing that the work was funded by Big Fossil. The story is complex and I will not recite it here. What I want to do instead is to place the story in a larger context.
Soon did not arrive on the horizon recently. His involvement with anti-climate change science activism goes back over ten years. The rise of Willie Soon and the early effects of his ‘research’ on policy have been well documented in Michael Mann’s book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Let me give you the short version first, followed by elaboration using a handful of quotes from Mann’s book. Really, though, you should just go read the book. (By the way, if you do read it, consider leaving a review at Amazon; there has been a concerted effort by science denialists to leave bogus one star and otherwise horrid, inaccurate reviews on that site!)

The following graphic shows the march of global surface temperatures over the period we call the “Instrumental record,” which is the period of time best measured by thermometers and, later, satellites. The inset is a version of the famous “Hockey Stick Graph produced by Michael Mann and colleagues, showing recent warming in the context of previous natural variation. The inset shows both the “Hockey Stick” (in blue) and an independent reconstruction by the PAGES2k group (in green) which is an independent validation of the original Hockey Stick result.
GlobalWarming_Since_1880_in_context
This shows a the very end of period of mainly “natural variation” followed by a dramatic increase in surface temperatures owing to increased greenhouse gas pollution.

Here is a closeup of the same graph showing just the period of time over which the surface temperature variation, which amounts to an average increase, that is unambiguously anomalous compared to the past. This increase is pretty much entirely due to the effects of humans.

GlobalWarmingSince1960_The_Damage_Done_By_Willie_Soon_And_Others

I’ve marked off a section of this graph that shows just the data since about 2003. This is the year that these two things happened: 1) Willie Soon co-authored two papers arguing that global warming wasn’t really happening, or was not human caused; and 2) Senator Jim Inhofe held Congressional hearings on climate change at which Soon, Mann, and others, testified.
There is no doubt whatsoever that action to reduce climate change has been slowed or even simply stopped in some cases by Big Fossil funded anti-science activism, which generally has involved an unholy marriage between crappy science and political maneuvering in Congress and elsewhere, a marriage involving a big dowery from fossil fuel interests. Willie Soon’s papers and Inhofe’s use of bad science is only part of the picture, but a key part, and at least, illustrative of the process. The following are brief quotes from Mann’s book describing part of the story. Again, read the book to get the full context and all of the details.

Soon after Mann and his colleagues published the Hockey Stick research, there was a range of reactions among which were attacks from the denialist community. One of these was a non peer reviewed piece put on a web site.

“The Summer of Our Discontent” (August 1998), had been invited from Sally Baliunas and Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. [Suggesting] that we had extended the MBH98 hockey stick no further back in time than A.D. 1400 for fear of encountering the warmer temperatures of the medieval warm period—a charge that … is nonsensical, since the stopping point was entirely determined by objective statistical criteria. Second, they claimed that our reconstruction suffered from an issue known as the “divergence problem”…

(I’ve discussed the divergence problem at length elsewhere on this blog.)

In a section of his book called “The Paper That Launched a Half-Dozen Resignations,” Mann talks about the Soon and Baliunas paper. Both Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon were at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Soon being a protege of Baliunas’. She had previously worked on the role of the sun in the Earth’s climate system.

The two went on to publish a number of articles analyzing the relationships between records of past solar variability and climate. … the Soon and Baliunas article took the form of two nearly identical papers published simultaneously in two different journals in spring 2003. One version of the paper appeared in the journal Climate Research while the other (which, it turns out, was simply a longer, unedited version of the first, but with three more coauthors added) was published in the journal Energy and Environment. Duplicate publication of a paper is highly unusual, and in fact is strictly forbidden by most academic journals. That both the authors and the study had been supported by the American Petroleum Institute—each of the authors had a long history of fossil fuel industry funding—combined with the highly unusual dual publication of the paper raised some eyebrows. Questions had been raised, moreover, about the two journals that jointly published the paper. Climate Research had in the recent past published a spate of contrarian papers of questionable scientific merit. Some members of the editorial board had already expressed concern that one editor at the journal known for his advocacy for the fossil fuel industry.

[One of the journal’s editors,] Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen … quite remarkably confessed in an interview … “I’m following my political agenda—a bit, anyway. But isn’t that the right of the editor?” The Soon and Baliunas study claimed to contradict previous work—including our own—that suggested that the average warmth of the Northern Hemisphere in recent decades was unprecedented over a time frame of at least the past millennium.

Mann goes on to explain in detail why the papers were scientifically flawed, and notes that …

The authors in many cases had mischaracterized or misrepresented the past studies they claimed to be assessing in their meta-analysis … Paleoclimatologist Peter de Menocal of Columbia University/LDEO, for example, who had developed a proxy record of ocean surface temperature from sediments off the coast of Africa, indicated that “Mr. Soon and his colleagues could not justify their conclusions that the African record showed the 20th century as being unexceptional … My record has no business being used to address that question.”

In response to Soon and Baliunas,

A group of twelve leading climate scientists joined me in authoring a rebuttal to Soon and Baliunas in Eos, the official newsletter of the American Geophysical Union. … The American Geophysical Union considered our rejoinder important enough to issue a press release entitled “Leading Climate Scientists Reaffirm View That Late 20th Century Warming Was Unusual and Resulted from Human Activity” in early July 2003, just prior to the article’s publication. Nevertheless, the Soon and Baliunas study was immediately taken up by the U.S. Senate’s leading climate change denier, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

This brings us to the use of Soon’s and other denialist work as a tool to develop a contrarian argument in a Senate Hearing. Senator James Inhofe, famous for claiming that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public, chaired the hearing which was held in July 2003. Again, you should read Mann’s account for all the amazing details; it is a rousing story! In essence, Soon and his work were being used to argue against the importance of Global Warming, and Mann represented the scientific view. The story also involves Hillary Clinton (in case you were wondering about her position on climate change). Here’s the part of Mann’s recounting I want you to see:

Midway through the hearing, [ranking member] Jeffords dropped a bombshell. He announced that his staff had received a note from Hans Von Storch announcing his resignation as chief editor of the journal Climate Research, in protest over the publication of the Soon and Baliunas paper. Von Storch was no scientific ally of mine. Indeed … he and I had had disputes in the past regarding the relative merits of statistical climate reconstruction methods. But ally or not, Von Storch was outraged that such a transparently flawed paper had been published in his journal. His note, which Jeffords read aloud, was to the point: “My view … is that the review of the Soon et al. paper failed to detect significant methodological flaws … The paper should not have been published in this forum, not because of the eventual conclusion, but because of the insufficient evidence to draw this conclusion.” Von Storch’s resignation had been precipitated by the refusal of the journal’s publisher, Otto Kinne, to allow him to publish an editorial expressing his view that the peer review process had clearly failed with the Soon and Baliunas paper. Several other editors quit as well (ultimately six editors—half the editorial board—would quit in protest over the incident)….

Perhaps the single most troubling issue to arise from the Soon and Baliunas affair was that of apparent editorial malpractice. At the two journals that published versions of the paper, the peer review process appears to have been compromised to produce a study in the scientific literature that could be seized upon by those with a contrarian policy agenda. … It is particularly pernicious when that process is compromised or co-opted for political ends.

Funded, I’ll add, by Big Fossil.

I asked Michael Mann how much damage he reckons Soon and Baliunas, and others like them, have done to the process of developing good policies to combat climate change. He told me, “Well, they are the hired hands of the “Merchants of Doubt”, the ones who do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by muddying the waters and confusing the public into thinking that there is still a scientific debate about whether climate change is happening, whether it is due to human activity, and whether it is a problem. There is none. It is hard to know just how much damage these deniers-for-hire have done to our civilization and our planet by needlessly delaying the action necessary to avert dangerous climate change.

As a follow-up, I wondered if he thought the recent exposure of climate science denials tactics would change the nature of future Senate hearings for the better. “I do—in my dreams,” he said. “Sadly, we are not there yet. While there is a worthy debate to be had about how we confront the challenge of averting the climate change threat, there is no legitimate debate to be had about whether or not the problem exists. Currently we have a congress that is committed to keeping that fake debate alive, as we have seen all too recently in the antics of folks like Senator James “climate change is a hoax” Inhofe, who now controls the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We have to get past that.”

Finally, I asked Mann if he saw evidence that the peer review process has ultimately been improved as a result of clear abuses by denialist authors, or the reaction of publishers to those abuses. He told me, “Well, I certainly think that the scientific community is now far more aware of some of the bad faith efforts that have been made by industry-funded climate change deniers to pollute the peer-reviewed literature with antiscientific, agenda-driven screeds. Cracks still exist in the system, but slowly they are being repaired as scientists and editors increasingly learn more about the forces of antiscience that are still very much at play today.”


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

The Serengeti Strategy

What is the Serengeti Strategy?

“The Serengeti Strategy” is a term coined by climate scientist Michael Mann in which “special interests faced with adverse scientific evidence … target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once.” His invention of the analogy must have been an interesting moment, given the context. In his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Line, Mann talks about a trip to scientific meetings in Arusha as an IPCC co-author, during which he took the usual side trip to the Serengeti:

After the meeting, I joined a daylong expedition to see one of the world’s greatest displays of nature: Serengeti National Park. Here, zebras, giraffes, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, wildebeests, baboons, warthogs, gazelles, and ostriches wander among some of the world’s most dangerous predators: lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Among the most striking and curious scenes I saw that day were groups of zebras standing back to back, forming a continuous wall of vertical stripes. “Why do they do this?” an IPCC colleague asked the tour guide. “To confuse the lions,” he explained. Predators, in what I call the “Serengeti strategy,” look for the most vulnerable animals at the edge of a herd. But they have difficulty picking out an individual zebra to attack when it is seamlessly incorporated into the larger group, lost in this case in a continuous wall of stripes. Only later would I understand the profound lesson this scene from nature had to offer me and my fellow climate scientists in the years to come.

Later in the same book, Mann, writing about attacks on his “Hockey Stick” research, notes:

Climate change deniers went on to wage a public—and very personal—assault against my coauthors and me in the hope that somehow they might discredit all of climate science, the fruit of the labors of thousands of scientists from around the world, by discrediting us and our work. The Serengeti strategy writ large.

More recently, Mann published a paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, The Serengeti strategy: How special interests try to intimidate scientists, and how best to fight back.

What do Michael Mann, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin and PZ Myers have in common?

Mann provides other examples of the Serengeti Strategy in use. Most of these examples will be familiar to you. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian “think” tank, produced a website called “RachelWasWrong” for the purpose of discrediting the environment friendly writings of Rachel Carson. The site attacks Carson, ineffectively if you know the facts, in an effort to discredit environmentalism in general.

Mann also mentions Darwin. To my knowledge, there wasn’t much of a Serengeti Strategy launched against Darwin in his day. People didn’t operate that way back then, perhaps. The attempts at refuting Darwin’s theories of evolution were more regularly launched at the theories themselves, and of course, Darwin had his bulldog, Thomas Huxley, which helped keep him out of the fight. But in more recent times, we see creationist organizations attacking Darwin by trying to link him with Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust, etc., in order to make his ideas seem unpalatable. That is of course a good example of an ad hominem attack.

Individual modern day evolutionary biologists are also attacked this way. One of the best examples is probably the regular attacks by Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, or operatives of the Intelligent Design purveying Discovery Institute, on biologist and blogger PZ Myers.

I’ve been the subject of this strategy as well, most annoyingly by members of the Mens Rights Movement, who wish to discredit the commonly held and relatively sensible version of human behavioral biology (related to human behavior, sex differences, etc) to which I subscribe. This came to a head a while back when I wrote a novel (which you must have read by now, right?) live on the internet as a fundraiser for the Secular Student Alliance, an organization that I strongly supported. The very secular Mens Rights Movement set aside the fact that this effort was to raise money for a cause they actually supported in order to attempt to destroy sales of the revised version of the novel with numerous bogus awful reviews (here is where you can find the details of that dust up, and a link to get your own copy of the novel!). Michael Mann has been attacked, by the way, in a similar manner, on his Amazon page.

The point of all this is that ad hominem, or other, attacks on individuals who publicly represent a point of view, as a means of taking down the larger concept (the reality of global warming, evolutionary biology, etc.) is a technique. Mann is especially well prepared to discuss this problem because he pretty much lives every day with a ring of hungry hyenas following him around. (By the way, Mann leaves off hyenas in his list of dangerous predators in the Serengeti. Indeed, there are times and places in that region where hyenas are the main predator, to the extent that lions may be found scavenging off their kills more often than the other way around. But I digress.)

So why is this strategy employed and how well does it work?

From Mann’s paper:

…it is effective, for a number of reasons. By singling out a sole scientist, it is possible for the forces of “anti-science” to bring many more resources to bear on one individual, exerting enormous pressure from multiple directions at once, making defense difficult. It is similar to what happens when a group of lions on the Serengeti seek out a vulnerable individual zebra at the edge of a herd, which is why I call it the “Serengeti strategy”…

I can’t help but think that one of those resources, a gaggle of willing internet trolls, is more easily engaged in attacks on individuals rather than ideas because an attack on an individual is a potentially satisfying act of sadism, while an attack on an idea is not. Also, the latter is harder work. And, yes, there is evidence that the internet trolls are sadists.

Mann also notes that it is more difficult to attack an entire group of scientists, several individuals expert in a subfield, at once. This, indeed, is what makes the Serengeti predator analogy work. However, this is also an appropriate moment to note a minor weakness in the analogy. Super-predators in open habitats, those who hunt cursorially, tend to achieve the best results when an individual member of the herd goes off in the wrong direction or is slower because of a weakness or injury. That aspect of actual predation does not apply to the Serengeti Strategy against scientists, and in fact, it may be that going after one of the stronger members of the herd is the preferred strategy.

In his article Mann provides detailed discussion of the strategy and its links to big industry, and also ties together the idea of “swiftboating” and Serengeti Strategy. With respect to the latter, we may fold back in, once again, anti-evoltuionary biology strategies. As Mann notes, scientists are ethically bound to approach problems, and discussions of problems, in a certain way, whereby things like facts and strong theories predominate in the formulation of arguments. The attackers don’t have to do this. They can do and say whatever they want. They can lie, cheat, obfuscate, cherry pick. Moreover they can switch strategies as needed. The same individual science denialist may claim a certain scientific finding is invalid, say during an Internet conversation in a blog’s comments section. Once an argument is made (by others) against that point, that denialist may drop it, and move on to a different point. But later, in a different Internet context, the same denialist will re-use the original discredited point. Most denialists have a laundry list of points they keep coming back to, often shifting from one point to the next very quickly in order to avoid being pinned down. This is known as the Gish Gallop.

Speaking of attacks on the Hockey Stick research, which by the way has been tested by a great deal of subsequent research and found to be solid, Mann notes:

Many of the attacks claimed that the hockey stick was simply wrong, or bad science, or that it was debunked or dis- credited, despite all evidence to the contrary–such as the reaffirmation of our findings by the National Academy of Sciences, the subsequent reports of the IPCC, and the most recent peer- reviewed research.

Others were challenges to my integrity and honesty. Most worrisome were thinly veiled threats leveled against my family and me. (And some not so veiled, such as letters and e-mails threatening my life and my family’s lives, including an envelope sent in the mail that contained a white powder, subsequently investigated by the FBI …

Then came the manufactured, so- called “climategate” controversy … in which climate change deniers stole thousands of e-mails and mined them for words and phrases that could be taken out of context and made to sound as if scientists had been doctor- ing data or otherwise engaged in misbehavior. Nine investigations later, we know that the only wrongdoing was the criminal theft of the e-mails in the first place.

What to do about the anti-science Serengeti Strategy?

Mann notes that he became a “science advocate” instead of just a regular scientist because of these attacks. I find this interesting. Many other scientists, such as myself, have gotten into science advocacy because of attacks on science, but not necessarily because of attacks on us. The attacks came later because we stuck our heads up. I would like to know how unique that aspect of Mann’s situation is.

In any event, there are probably things one can do to respond to this situation, mainly having to to with communication. Giving public talks, lectures, and interviews is part of it, Mann notes. Engaging on the Internet, such as through a blog (Mann was a cofounder of RealClimate) helps. Mann is a go-to guy for the press, which as he notes must be very satisfying. When denialists are circling and begin to howl, their very victim is brought in to provide a response. You don’t see that on the African Savanna very often. And, where possible, Mann suggests engaging with good faith skeptics in a constructive manner. But, when the good faith is not there, don’t engage.

Mann closes his article on a positive, or at least, optimistic note:

There is some evidence that flat-out climate change denial has lost favor over the past few years. With authoritative reports coming in from not just the scientific community but the business community, the national security community, and even some conservative groups that climate change is a very real and existential threat to society, a new breed of climate change contrarian — ?the delayer — has now emerged.

Examples of individuals occupying that niche in the media today are folks like Judith Curry … Richard Muller, and … Bjorn Lomborg. Rather than flat-out denying the existence of human-caused climate change, delayers claim to accept the science, but downplay the seriousness of the threat or the need to act. The end result is an assertion that we should delay or resist entirely any efforts to mitigate the climate change threat…

So while the battle is far from over, the tide does appear to be turning. We are seeing the slow but steady retreat of climate change contrarians … The window of public discourse appears to be shifting away from the false debate … There is still time to act so that we avert leaving a fundamentally degraded planet for future generations….

We scientists?must hold ourselves to a higher standard than the deniers-for-hire. We must be honest as we convey the threat posed by climate change to the public. But we must also be effective. The stakes are simply too great for us to fail to communicate the risks of inaction.

I recommend reading the original paper, as I’ve only briefly summarized it here.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:The Battle Continues

Climate Scientist Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, gave a talk at Trinity College a couple of days ago on climate change and ethics. Just so you know, the Hockey Stick is a graph Mann and colleagues produced during the late 20th century showing how rapid recent global warming stands in stark contrast to previous centuries of climate change. The research itself has been repeatedly reconfirmed, refined, replicated, and verified, so it is for real. See, for example, this post by Stefan Rahmstorf.

Anyway, here’s the interview: Continue reading The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:The Battle Continues

Interview With Climate Scientist Michael Mann

As you know, I do the occasional science-related interview on Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio, on Radio AM 950. (See this for a list of all, or at least most, of the work I’ve done with that show.)

On Sunday October 5th at the ungodly hour of 9:00 AM Central Time, I’ll be interviewing Michael Mann, and Mike Haubrich will host. There is plenty to talk about but if you have a specific topic you’d like to see covered, or a specific question, feel free to note it below in the comments section.

It is also possible to call in or send an email to the station during the show. Listen to the show and Mike will give details at that time. If you don’t happen to live in the listening range of the radio station, there may be ways to listen. I once found the show on the Roku, and it is possible to listen on line. I’ll let Mike Haurbrich post in the comments how to do that because I’m not sure my information is current.

The show will be a podcast available here or on iTunes.

Michael Mann is probably the most famous active climate scientist. In 1988/9, he and colleagues published a paper looking at recent and historical changes in surface temperatures, presenting a graph dubbed the “Hockey Stick” because it looked like a hockey sick laying on its back with its blade representing the rising cluster of warm temperature measurements following centuries of normal, cooler, temperatures. Climate scientists have carefully examined and expanded on this work since then. As a result, the hockey stick has been refined, expanded (back father in time), and verified by numerous studies. Meanwhile, those with an anti-climate science, or anti-global warming agenda have spent considerable effort trying to debunk the hockey stick, but have failed to do so. But they still think they have a case, and the “Hockey Stick Wars” have continued apace. Mann wrote “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines” about that very conflict.

Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology in the departments of Meteorology and Geosciences at Penn State, and he is Director of Earth System Science Center. He has a B.A. in Physics and Applied Math from the University of California at Berkeley, an M.S. degree in Physics from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Geology & Geophysics also from Yale. He was one of the lead authors on the IPCC’s Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001. He is the recipient of NOAA’s outstanding publication award (2002). He is one of the scientists who contributed to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Friend of the Planet Award from our friends at the National Center for Science Education, and is a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He has authored over 170 scientific papers. More information can be found here.

Steve McIntyre Misrepresents Climate Research History

Who is Steve McIntyre?

From DeSmogBlog.com:

Stephen McIntyre has been a long-time mining industry executive, mostly working on the “stock market side” of mining exploration deals. He published a blog called Climate Audit where he attempts to analyse in sometimes long and extensive detail the work of climate change scientists where he documents “statistical mistakes” in peer-reviewed scientific literature. …

McIntyre has been described as a “persistent amateur who had no credentials in applied science before stepping into the global warming debate in 2003” and has been a prominent critic of temperature records that suggest increasing global temperatures over the past 1000 years.

As of 2003, McIntyre had worked in the mineral business for 30 years and he has been an officer or director of small public mineral exploration companies for over 16 years…

In February, 2014, he put up four blog posts attacking Dr. Michael Mann in relation to Mann’s defamation suit against Mark Steyn et al, claiming in those posts that Mann had “misrepresented the findings of reports and inquiries into his work and the work of other climate scientists in relation to the so-called “climategate” affair, when the emails of scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were illegally hacked and then published.” (desmogblog.com)

Today, McIntyre’s blog posted a lengthy “fisking” (sort of) written by Jean S, of the climategate emails. The focus is on the famous “Hockey Stick” curve produced by Mann and others just prior to 2000. This graph is an assembly of carefully vetted climate records including proxies and the modern instrumental record. The different sources of information used to show dramatic 20th century warming are well documented in Mann’s publications and further documented in freely distributed supplementary information. Two objections seem to have been raised by climate science denialists such as McIntyre and others. One is that one of the proxies, certain tree ring data, show cooling or at least a lack of warming. The other is that the graphic representation of 20th century warming uncritically combined proxy data and instrumental data.

Denier Complaints About Climate Proxies Are Based On Ignorance Of The Science

A proxy, or proxyindicator, is a natural system that leaves a recoverable residue that varies in some measurable or observable way, such that the variation may correspond to a natural variation happening in the world at the time the proxy was being formed. For example, the ratio of Oxygen-16 and Oxygen-18, two stable isotopes of that element, in Oxygen incorporated in stable form (in biogenic tissues, for example) indicates the ratio of these isotopes in the ambient environment, which in turn, indicates the amount of each element available at the time, which in turn, indicates how much of each type of oxygen is trapped in glacial ice (which tends to have more Oxygen-16 because glaciers are ultimately made of vapor, which is isotopically light). Oxygen isotope ratios of materials recovered from deep sea cores indicate the march of glacial formation and melting over long periods of time.
The first of these two objections to Mann’s work, and other work, relies on naiveté among potential readers about proxyindicators. As is the case with all scientific data, all proxies are suspect, and all proxies have the potential of varying in sensitivity over time. Scientists must always evaluate the quality of the data they use, and not accept it uncritically.

For example, say you wanted to estimate the flow of a major river over time. You could measure how much silt is deposited on the river’s flood plain by taking Carbon-14 samples at numerous depths in the floodplain. A greater depth between samples separated by similar amounts of time might mean more flooding. But, as the flood plain matures and raises in elevation, the frequency of floods year to year may decrease, causing a decline in the rate of siltation, and thus, apparent water flow in relation to the actual water flow. Furthermore, at some point, the flood plain is essentially filled up, and flooding overbank happens elsewhere along the river, and no longer (or infrequently) at your sample site. This is a decline in the usefulness of the proxy to the point that you have to simply stop using it.

Another example. Say you want to use pollen counts form layers found in mud at the bottom of a lake, the layers having been recovered from cores sunk in the lake. Assume your lake is in a region that started out as grassland but slowly became more forested. Trees act as pollen filters. Pollen wafting across the landscape is caught in the trees. In the early part of the lake core data, pollen may be introduced from many kilometers away from wind blown plants (grasses, some trees) and from similar distances from plants that do not distribute pollen via wind, but in small quantities (such plants produce way less pollen than wind pollenated plants) via streams that enter the lake. Over time, however, trees will grow up first around the lake, then over a larger area of the landscape. Windblown pollen from grasses is less likely to get into the pond, and there may be less of that pollen because trees are replacing grassland. Meanwhile, the longer distance stream carried pollen may continue to represent the original catchment of pollen. But, if there are changes in rainfall patterns, that could change too. People looking at pollen in lake cores may use an independent measure, such as the amount of iron in the sediment, to indicate how much water comes in from longer distances via streams vs. how much comes in from groundwater and as direct rain. They will use studies of pollen taphonomy, which look at changes in “pollen rain” as forests develop, to calibrate the effects of trees on the wind blown grass pollen representation. At some point, near the top of the core, the tree pollen may be suddenly and dramatically reduced and the wind blown grass pollen may switch to mostly corn or wheat. This is farmers coming in and completely changing the environment. The core from that point on up may become useless. In sum, the entire core has to be analyzed as a dynamic, changing proxy where some of the changes are important information about the changing environment, while other changes are indicative of an increase or a decline in sensitivity of the proxy as an indicator of what is being studied.

Something similar is going on with the tree ring data Mann used. At around 1960 the ability of the tree ring data to represent regional temperature declines and the tree rings become useless. Prior to that time the data should be used. After that time the data should be discarded.

A proxy is not a pre-calibrated consistent source of information. It is a method that uses measurements of recovered material that allow the reconstruction of an ancient process. But that requires understanding the process well enough to develop a way of determining when the proxy is being helpful and when it is providing noise. A good amount of the research on ancient paleoclimate and paleoecology is about how the proxies work. With this research it is possible in many cases to evaluate the utility of a proxy at a given location, and furthermore, to assess which parts of the proxy can be used, which parts need to be further calibrated, and which parts need to be ignored because of a decline in their usefulness.

We see climate science deniers claiming, for example, that the tree ring proxy used by Mann needs to be used “all or nothing.” This is nothing more than ignorance of how paleoclimatology works.

(See also: Clearing up misconceptions regarding ‘hide the decline’)

Complaints About The Hockey Stick Graph Are Not Valid

McIntyre’s arguments (along with others) about the graph are middle-school level obfuscation of the point. The scientists who published the original Hockey Stick graph went through pains to be clear about what information was going into which part of the overall curve. Subsequent renditions of the same data, or similar sets of data with new information added, range across the board from highly complex constructs showing the different sources of the data, error ranges, etc. to those that simplify by drawing a simple curve of combined information. I wrote about this here, showing how this practice, of sometimes making a very complex thing simpler in a way that makes the point accurately, is done all the time.

The latest post on McIntyre’s site, completely misrepresented what happened with the Hockey Stick curve. Nowhere in the quoted emails is there any suggestion or approval or any indication by Michael Mann of seamlessly merging proxyindicator data and instrumental data. The original documents clearly show that this is not what happened at any stage.

Why Do McIntyre And Others Fabricate These Objections?

If you read JeanS’s post closely, s/he seems to be simultaneously implying that Mann created a falsified representation of how the data come together, while at the same time admitting he did not. This is an increasingly common tactic among climate science denialists. They can no longer totally make up what they are saying because they are too easily called on it, yet want to provide other denialists with fodder, and confuse anyone involved in policy, or who just wants to learn, with more confusion and less clarity.

The only way to accept or even seriously consider the arguments that climate scientists developing the Hockey Stick curve or similar research were involved in inappropriate shenanigans is to anchor oneself deeply in a mire of intentional ignorance. There seems to be only one reason to do that (other than simply being very, very ignorant): a commitment to anti-science activism, with the likely intention of damaging the translation of good science into useful policy.

This is something a mining industry executive might do out of self interest and to represent the interests of that industry. Is that the case here? There is a trick to help determine if that is the case. Follow the money.


The graphic depicted above is from here. It is a 2007 version o the often replicated and used “Hockey Stick.”

There is now a Tumblr for stuff like this.

More on Steve McIntyre:

RealClimate on McIntyre
Skeptical Science on McIntyre
Rational Wiki on McIntyre

Electronic Frontier Foundation Messes Up

I just realized that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a brief with the court in relation to Mann vs. the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg (variously). This is disappointing and will probably color my opinion of EFF going forward on whatever else they do. Their brief isn’t just ethically wrong, or something I disagree with. It is unintelligent and poorly considered. They simply got it wrong, as though they did not know anything about the law suit. It is embarrassing.

I wonder how they got talked/roped into this? I would really like to know that.

Anyway, I wrote them a letter and here it is:

To whom it may concern,

I’m generally a supporter of the things Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stands for, but I object strenuously to your amicus brief and it’s meaning in relation to the suit brought by Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg.

Your brief makes the argument that open discussion of important public issues should not be fettered by law suits of this type. You are correct in principle but you have erred in this case. Mann’s suit is not about open public debate, and he has as a scientist been involved in open public debate in far more ways than most individuals have ever been. I’ll add that Mann’s research is all open source or open access with respect to data, methods, software, and results.

The suit is not about debate. It is about defamation. This is not a matter of interpretation. While one might (incorrectly) feel defamed when someone disagrees, Mann’s suit is not about that sort of reaction. It is about actual defamation.

Perhaps Mann is wrong. Perhaps the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg have not engaged in defamation with specific statements they have made. But that can be determined in court. Mann has the right to sue for this. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg have engaged in plenty of other forms of debate and public discourse regarding climate change and Mann’s research, but that is not at issue in this suit. You have failed to make that important distinction.

And please don’t make the mistake, or should I say, perpetuate the mistake you have already made (collectively with others), that opposition to Mann’s science is part of that defamation. It is not. Nor is science denialism or the seemingly nefarious distribution of false information about climate change by science skeptics or supporters of the fossil fuel industry part of this defamation. The National Review and other parties in this suit have lied, misrepresented, and also, simply gotten the science wrong. That is not what this is about, that is not the subject of Mann’s suit. This suit is about specific defamatory statements made as a much smaller subset of the communication and rhetoric among these parties.

It is a little embarrassing that EFF, usually much more thoughtful and intelligent about its decisions and activism, has somehow been roped into signing on to essentially support this defamatory practice. Shame on you.

I urge you do withdraw your support of the appeal as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Greg Laden

More information here.

This is also relevant, from here:

“The Court finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record to demonstrate that Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits,” said a DC Superior Court judge in her latest procedural ruling in the defamation case of Michael Mann v. National Review, et al. “The evidence before the Court indicates the likelihood that ‘actual malice’ is present in the [National Review’s] conduct.”

The Court clearly recognizes that some members involved in the climate-change discussions and debates employ harsh words. The NR Defendants are reputed to use this manner of speech; however there is a line between rhetorical hyperbole and defamation. In this case, the evidence before the Court demonstrates that something more than mere rhetorical hyperbole is, at least at this stage present. Accusations of fraud, especially where such accusations are made frequently through the continuous usage of words such as “whitewashed,” “intellectually bogus,” “ringmaster of the tree-ring circus” and “cover-up” amount to more than rhetorical hyperbole. …

The evidence before the Court indicates the likelihood that “actual malice” is present in the NR Defendants’ conduct. …

The court clearly understands the difference between people whinging about science details, science denialism, etc. on one hand and what may be categorized as defamation.