Book review - The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars now Available in Paperback
Posted on 6 November 2013 by John Cook
This is an updated book review of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, by Michael Mann, with the paperback edition released this week. The re-release features a foreword by Bill "The Science Guy" Nye (which opens with the great line "If you like to worry about things, you are living in a great time"). The book also includes an additional chapter based on the eventful last 18 months. You can order it directly from Columbia University Press or pre-order at Amazon.
The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars 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.
Lastly, the new paperback edition of the book features an additional chapter, where Mann covers some of the events over the past 18 months. Apparently there's never a dull moment in Mann's life as the list of recent developments are extensive. He discusses new research confirming the results of the original hockey stick, including the impressive PAGES 2K project. He gives other examples of ugly attacks on scientists such as the Heartland Institutes billboard likening anyone who accepts climate change science with the Unabomber, or James Delingpole contemplating "should Michael Mann be given the electric chair?" He describes how Steve Milloy offered to pay $500 to anyone who would attend a public talk by Mann and ask a question "debunking" his views. He also describes attempts to obtain his personal emails by Ken Cuccinelli (who I note just lost the election for Virginia governor).
One thing Michael Mann doesn't mention in his new chapter is a recent paper he co-authored with a number of scientists, The Subterranean War on Science. This broadens the scope from climate science to include scientists working on the link between smoking and cancer. I heartily recommend reading this freely available, open-access paper, which shines important daylight on the bullying and intimidatory tactics employed by climate science deniers against scientists, institutions and journal editors.