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Climate Hustle

Book review of Michael Mann's The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

Posted on 9 February 2012 by John Cook

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael Mann takes us into the heart of the climate change controversy via the scientist standing in the eye of the storm - Michael Mann. He provides an eye-opening account of the lengths the opponents of climate science will go to in their campaign to slander climate scientists and distract the public from the realities of human caused global warming.

Before jumping into the dogfight, the book tells us the human story of how Mann got started in science. It was surprising to learn that his PhD began with the notion that natural variability might be greater than what climate scientists thought. I also didn't realize he'd coined the term "Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation" (AMO) off the cuff in an interview (that's the kind of trivia that a science geek like me delights in). Ironically the AMO and natural oscillations are often invoked by contrarians to cast doubt on the human influence on global warming.

Mann also describes the progress of paleoclimate science through the 1990s which puts his 1998 hockey stick research in a broader perspective. The hockey stick paper focused on all the "scientifically interesting" periods of regional climate change over the last 600 years. So a phrase that jumped out at me was Mann's characterization that the "least scientifically interesting" thing he could do with all his regional data was average it out to find the hemispheric average. It was this "least scientifically interesting" graph that sparked a smear campaign against the graph and against Michael Mann that has lasted over a decade.

As someone who has endured more attacks from the forces of climate denial than possibly any other person on the planet, Mann provides great insight into the modes of attack. He labels it the "Serengeti strategy", inspired by African lions isolating members of a zebra herd. The climate denial movement isolate individual scientists, fling reckless charges of fraud or incompetence in the attempt to discredit climate science in general - with the ultimate goal being distraction from the realities of climate change.

The sustained level of attack that Mann has been forced to endure is extraordinary. He's withstood threats to himself and his family, sustained PR campaigns targeting his university, mocking Youtube videos, slandering Google ads and intimidation from Republican congressmen and district attorneys. While reading through the litany of attacks, I couldn't help wondering what the attackers thought will happen - if they successfully intimidate the scientists, do they think the ice sheets will stop sliding into the ocean and sea levels will stop rising?

The book ends on a hopeful note. The virulent attacks on climate scientists have woken a sleeping bear as the scientific community has not stood by while their own are attacked. Mann speculates that perhaps Climategate and the attack campaign was the turning point when the denial movement tacitly accepted they had no honest, science-based case for denying human-caused global warming and had to resort to smearing and intimidation.

NOTE: Anthony Watts recently blogged about The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, followed shortly by an influx of negative Amazon reviews (those WUWTers are fast readers) and a torrent of "Unhelpful" ratings applied to any positive reviews of the book. So to ensure a degree of fairness, be sure to have a look through the reviews and rate the reviews appropriately (feel free to give my review, which has been targeted quite heavily by the unhelpful brigade, a helpful rating).

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 70:

  1. As my research deals with the AMO, I was always under the impression that Rich Kerr coined the term [] - interesting...
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  2. It really is a very interesting book. It's a shame the fake skeptics are writing bad reviews without reading it, and rating all positive reviews as unhelpful. I strongly encourage people to follow John's link to Amazon, read the reviews for yourself, and rate them as you feel appropriate to try and counteract the WUWT behavior.
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  3. Dana at 2
    How about reading the book itself and then posting reviews? I first learned about this book from a post on WUWT and wouldn't dream of reviewing it without reading it. I won't spend money on it, but I am first in line at my local library.
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  4. What the fake skeptics at WUWT fail to understand (besides the science) is that spamming the Amazon site is going to only generate a controversy and controversy sells :)

    Additionally, the vitriol, rhetoric and conspiracy theories that they are filling their "reviews" with in their zeal to dismiss this book will set off reasonable peoples' BS filters.

    It is also going to show that they are frantically swarming and spamming the site without having even reading the book. That is a pretty desperate and disingenuous ploy, but I suppose such desperate antics are all they now have given the vacuity of their scientific arguments. Sadly, it is altogether completely unsurprising that they would stoop this low.

    Finally, the WUWT followers and fake skeptics swarming the Amazon site only goes to demonstrate one again that this is yet another episode in an ongoing ideological and zealous attack on Dr. Mann by fake skeptics.
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  5. I'm reading it in the Kindle version, and thoroughly enjoying it. I also note the complete absence of 'Mann the fanatical Activist' as portrayed by the Denier camp. All the uncertainties of his research are made very plain indeed.

    One of our problems is, I believe that we're substantially less inclined than folks like the WUWT mob - and I use that term deliberately - to unfairly review material we actually haven't read and devote a lot of time to trashing the reviews of others. It all feels undignified and rather 'dirty' for most of us, I suspect.

    George Monbiot has had something interesting to say on this phenomenon generally recently.
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  6. NB in saying 'one of our problems' I'm not suggesting we should adopt the same tactics, I'm saying we're at a distinct disadvantage in a truly trashy propaganda war. In the short-term, anyway.

    Also, Albatross is right: all the stampeding klutzes are virtually assuring best-seller status for the book...
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  7. Pirate - check out the Amazon link, Dana's review is there.
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  8. Yes, Bill. The fake-skeptics seem to think they can opinion poll away the physical laws of nature.
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  9. apirate - as Rob @7 notes, I did. Unfortunately some people who haven't read the book are posting 1-star reviews just because they have personal issues with Mann.
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  10. Its appears that Anthony Watts and his fellow fake skeptics are taking lessons in "Guerilla Internet Tactics".

    I recommend watching the video, it is quite an eye opener.

    Unfortunately, the climate system does not care one iota about fake skeptics trying to fix opinion polls. It will just keep responding to the ever increasing radiative forcing from adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as dictated by the physics.
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  11. Given the assault on the Amazon page from those who obviously didn't read the book (note all the 1-star ratings occurred on the same day as the Watts post) it seems to confirm much of what Dr. Mann is saying.
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  12. As a reader of both sites (SkS and WUWT) and having read the Amazon reviews, I must admit to being disappointed by both sides.

    It's obvious that both "sides" are going in and contaminating the waters. The negative reviews slamming Mann and the book in my opinion are the same as the positive reviews literally fawning over Mann like he's a deity.

    To be honest, if I were looking to buy this I would be ignoring all of the reviews as it's obvious posturing by both "sides". But since the book looks to be more about Mann's sob story than any real science, I wouldn't have read it regardless.
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  13. So Dale, did you read the reviews? Did you notice the difference between the comprehensive and thorough reviews giving it 5*s by people who evidentially had read the book, and were even not afraid to critcise aspects they didn't like. On the other hand you have 1* reviews that compare Mann to a "turd", usually a short paragraph, giving no indication they'd actually read the book.

    If you can't spot the difference between the two, I suggest you go to Specsavers...
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  14. Dale - evidence for the following, please.
    It's obvious that both "sides" are going in and contaminating the waters. The negative reviews slamming Mann and the book in my opinion are the same as the positive reviews literally fawning over Mann like he's a deity.

    Oh, I see -
    the book looks to be more about Mann's sob story than any real science,

    No, you really haven't read it, have you?

    I put it to you that what we have here is "Fake Skeptic Adopts 'View from Nowhere' Strategy in Unconvincing Attempt to Claim Evenhandedness" tone-trolling! Anyone shocked?
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  15. Totally agree with Albatross and Bill.
    I won't post opinions on the book until I have read it.
    Anything less is not critique, its advocacy.
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  16. And bill, it's pretty obvious from @12 that I haven't read the book (and don't intend to due to Mandia's review). If you didn't see that in my post, maybe you need to go to specsavers as skywatcher so eloquently put.
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  17. Dale - have a good look at the title of the book.

    "The Hockey Stick And the Climate Wars"

    and the sub-title ..... "Dispatches From The Front Lines".

    And you were expecting a science textbook? Or what?
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  18. Dana at 9 and Rob at 7
    My apologies. I should have written my post more clearl. I was commenting on this statement from you:

    "I strongly encourage people to follow John's link to Amazon, read the reviews for yourself, and rate them as you feel appropriate to try and counteract the WUWT behavior."

    It seemed like you were encouraging people to read and rate reviews and not read the book. If that is a misinterpretation - my apologies again.

    Ultimately, any reviews of books on AGW (whether from the skeptic viewpoint or the believer viewpoint) are going to be heavily biased. The same reviewers can be found on either side of the demarcation line giving 1 or 5 star reviews depending on their personal views. And, in many cases the the book is never read, or only partially read.

    For instance, Professor Mandia negative 1-star review on Laframboise's anti AGW book was the following: "...After reading about 50 pages, and it was a struggle to go that far,...". He may have read further, but we honestly don't know. His 5-star review on Mann's book was obviously extensive and glowing.

    The point is this. People are going to believe what they believe on extremely polarizing subjects like this. Books of this nature are not going to sway the other side, but may recruit lukewarmers. Both sides appear to be actively recruiting positive/negative reviews and helpful/unhelpful ratings.

    In the end, nothing on this issue will be resolved by any amount of posts here. It is an exercise in futility. Energies could be better focused elsewhere.
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  19. Dale, I don't see the book as a sob story and that's not what I took from it. I see it as an insight into the tactics of those who oppose climate science and an eye-opener at the sheer weight and longevity of the attacks. You have to read the book in detail to fully appreciate the anti-science campaign that is currently being waged and it is in the public interest that we are all aware of what's happening here. Considering all the crap he's been forced to withstand, Mike Mann is remarkably up-beat and chipper.
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  20. Note that there is also a 'Report Abuse' link for each review on the book's Amazon page. Several 'reviews' are indeed abusive and will be removed (eventually) if enough people click that link.
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  21. Glad there's a Kindle version. I'll be able to read it while away.

    John, I did find your review helpful so indicated that on Amazon after I bought the book.
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  22. "In the end, nothing on this issue will be resolved by any amount of posts here. It is an exercise in futility. Energies could be better focused elsewhere. "

    If "by this issue" you mean "is the book any good?", then I agree. If you mean "is our theory of climate valid", then posts here help those who want to find out what the science says. It wont help those who have made up there minds on an issue from ideological or other biases that are immune to data.
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  23. apiratelooksat50@18
    "Ultimately, any reviews of books on AGW (whether from the skeptic viewpoint or the believer viewpoint) are going to be heavily biased."

    Belief is not required when evidence exists. True Skeptics draw their conclusions from available evidence. True Believers dont require facts to base their beliefs on.

    in other news...

    I wish I had time to read the book before I go and see him speak at the Long Beach (California) Aquarium next Wednesday. Any other locals planning to attend?
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  24. Just wanted to post another reminder to those folks who will be in Southern California next week -- Dr. Mann will be speaking at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach (in the greater LA area) on Feb 15.

    Details here

    General public admission is only five US bucks. That means that you will have plenty of money left over to buy a copy of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" for Dr. Mann to sign.

    Just think of it -- your very own signed copy of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars".... occupying prime real-estate on your coffee table, just waiting for your favorite denier in-law to see it.

    Then when your denier relative starts ranting about Mann's "hockey-stick fraud", you can open the book and say to him, "Look at this: It's even signed by the author."

    Then grab a bag of popcorn and watch the show!
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    Response: [JC] converted your URL into a hyperlink, it was stretching out my web design.
  25. pirate#18: "Books of this nature are not going to sway the other side, but may recruit lukewarmers."

    Consider these January 2012 US poll results:

    A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters finds that 64% say global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem, including 30% who say it’s Very Serious.

    That suggests that 34% are in the 'somewhat serious' camp; you might call them 'lukewarmers.' If that large a population might be reached by Mann's book, it is very worthwhile effort.

    It is also a worthwhile effort to publicize the vile tactics in use by the deniers.

    "nothing on this issue will be resolved by any amount of posts here. It is an exercise in futility."

    I am sure there are quite a few folks who have learned a lot from posts here. Is education an exercise in futility? If so, why are you a teacher?
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  26. Thanks for writing this, John. Mike M. is a true science hero, and deserves support.
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  27. Dale,

    But since the book looks to be more about Mann's sob story than any real science, I wouldn't have read it regardless.

    So you don't know what the book is actually like, and you're not at all interested in finding out.

    Very illuminating. Thanks for sharing.
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  28. Pirate:

    "Ultimately, any reviews of books on AGW (whether from the skeptic viewpoint or the believer viewpoint) are going to be heavily biased."

    Oh, absolutely. Some reviewers will say that the peer-reviewed consensus science is very likely to be correct, and that it mandates an intelligent response from reasonable people. And others will say that Michael Mann is a lying communist stooge who was sent by George Soros to destroy capitalism, depopulate the world by 80 percent and leave a handful of cave-dwelling survivors to gnaw twigs by the light of phosphorescent lichen.

    So yeah, these views are equally biased and we can write 'em both off. That's just common sense, right?
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  29. I had a look at the Amazon reviews, and rated them as to how helpful I thought they were. The ones that didn't actually describe the content of the book, but were full of vitriol (some of which constituted little more than a couple of insults), were rated as 'unhelpful', while the ones that described & commented on the actual contents of the book were rated as 'helpful'.
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  30. I should clarify: I meant "actual contents", as opposed to "imagined contents" - a couple of reviews seemed to be based on the latter.

    Oddly enough, the reviews I rated unhelpful were all 1-star, and those I rated helpful were all 5-star. Hmm... coincidence?
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  31. The denialist carpet bombing shows a serious flaw in Amaon's comment system. It is being hijacked for political purposes - something about which the Amazon management should be excedingly concerned.

    Frankly, reviews for topical material books such as this one is should only be accepted from people who have purchased it from Amazon. Similarly, comments should only be accepted from folk who have a minimum purchase history with Amazon.

    It's not only in Amazon's interests as an ethical trader, but as a successful one, that they weed out politically-motivated nonsense.
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  32. Other than Craig Loehle, none of those opposed to Mann have done their own reconstructions.

    This one of the salient points, they dont have a credible alternative to offer.
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  33. I've just checked and can report that Amazon appears to have removed the short, 1-star, deliberate 'spoilers'.

    Actually the reviews now left seem to illustrate well the polarity of the discussion and, if anything, will encourage the casual viewer to read the book.

    So shall we call this 'bookgate'?
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  34. I for one am dissapointed the spoilers are getting removed.

    Perhaps someone can get in touch with Mann and see if he can get Amazon to keep them up.

    They are pretty much evidence of the books argument.
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  35. What is particularly interesting, in a behavioral way, is the swarming of the Amazon site. I'm still reading Mann's book, but the goings-on with all those negative reviews from people who must somehow be able to read dozens of pages a second (!!!) provide an absolutely classic example of the politics of the climate debate. Mann writes an account of it and a whole bunch of helpful dudes then come along to provide of working demonstration of what he describes!
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  36. 31, Bernard J.

    That's not at all a bad idea, and one that would be easily enforced. At a minimum, there should be a big icon next to a commenter's name showing who has or has not bought the book from Amazon. Comments should also be sorted in that order (people who bought it first, people who claim/pretend to have bought it second), and summarized that way ("Average rating for the people who bought the book from Amazon, 4.89, Average rating for all others, 1.32").
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  37. Pirate and Dale,

    Your Wattsian views of the issue as a debate with sides, recruitment, demarcation lines, and most importantly "belief" all point to a perspective that this is all about personal choice.

    On the one hand, I'd tell either of you that your time would be much better spent reading something else that teaches you about the actual science.

    On the other had, given your rather chauvinistic-militaristic view of the issues, perhaps what you need is a better insight into the perspective of someone other than yourselves (like that of a scientist who is doing his job, coming up with data and analyses that other people don't like, and then being hounded and vilified for it).

    You two are exactly the sort of people who should read the book, but with an open mind and an eye towards learning something about how your fellow skeptics behave and the use of "tactics" as an approach to a field of science, rather than participation in the science itself.
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  38. I like Manns work and the thousands like him that contribute to our knowledge about AGW. But I don't have the attention span these days to read peoples 'life' stories. I did start reading it (like I started reading Hansens book) but got bored.

    I wish these scientists would spend time to write popular science books or work on TV documentaries that get the science across to millions of people, instead of this sort of thing.

    That would be far more productive than these types of books.
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  39. Read the book? That's too much to expect. Some folks don't even want Mann to be able to speak in public at his own university.

    Coal group raps Mann, seeks halt to lecture

    These groups attract the same people who scream about their 'liberty' and fear their 'freedom' will be taken away.
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  40. If you want to see Mike Mann working as a scientist drop over to this thread on Real Climate

    Volanos, Trees, Bark

    Especially note the exchanges in the comments. The contrast to WUWT couldn't be clearer.
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  41. I've long wondered what the end game for climate denial is. The increases in droughts, floods, and violent weather over the last few years are due to a modest .8C of warming. 2.5C? The mind reels.

    I'm constantly reminded of the line from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke: Abraham said to Lazarus 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'
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  42. re: 41

    Sorry. Abraham was speaking to Dives there.
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  43. Jeffrey,

    I've long wondered what the end game for climate denial is.

    There isn't one. A few people will cling to vocal denialism no matter what, but most will simply change the subject and move on to the next ideological battleground. And unless the media change greatly, it'll be considered impolite to question their judgment. As long as you're wrong for the right reasons, no apology is necessary.

    Anyone who's capable of shame would've felt it by now, in my opinion.
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  44. For a good laugh, click and read all of the "see all my reviews" buttons on amazon for ANY of the 1 star ratings of Mann's book...

    Some have no other reviews, and others are giving 5 stars to denier books, and frequently using language like "libtards" in their reviews... wow.
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  45. Jeffrey Davis@41:
    To remind you that weather extremes are not something recent, I can only advise you to study the dust storms in the US during the 1934-1936 period.

    America: The Story of US Narrated by Liev Schreiber has very good video of that time period.

    This is one example of extreme weather. Another would be the Mississippi Flood of 1927.

    Mississippi Flood of 1927

    Extremes are not a recent event.
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    [DB] Please take discussions of extreme weather to a more appropriate thread.

  46. Camburn:

    Jeffrey Davis' comment was "increases in droughts, floods, and violent weather" [emphasis mine]. Given papers such as, if memory serves, one by Hansen, examined on this site this is an entirely reasonable statement.

    Does Jeffrey's wording actually strike you as the wording someone who was ignorant of past weather extremes would use?
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  47. Camburn,
    It is only the frequency of extreme events that is something recent. Please cite a past year wehre they had anywhere near the amount of extreme weather that the globe has had in both of the past two years. 2012 is starting out with more of the same extreme weather.

    A major cause of the dust storms in the 1930's was poor farming practice. This was not the case last year in the Texas drought. You provide a perfect example of a denier who will never look at the data.
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    [DB] Please take the discussion of extreme weather to a more appropriate thread.

  48. re: Camburn @45

    Yet another "sounds like" like argument. It's one thing for Rush Limbaugh to spout a "sounds like" argument to an audience who don't demand better, but why make one here? And it's rather ironic to make a "sound like" argument in response to my question about what denialists's end game might be. I take it that there isn't any.

    Ah, Dives we hardly knew ye.
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  49. Dorlomin (34) wrote:
    “I for one am disappointed the spoilers are getting removed.”

    I was too at first, but the only one I have noticed disappear is the “t**d” one, and when I checked that commenter’s past reviews it is clear that at least once in the past he had posted a poe.
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  50. Sphaerica at 37
    I don't even know to say about your chauvinistic-militaristic comment. That's quite a stretch, even for you, and totally unfounded.

    If you noticed from my post I am first on the list at my local library when they receive the book, and I intend to read it.
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