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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). 

Available at Amazon as Kindle ebook, hardcover and paperback

UPDATE: As Andy Skuce points out below, anyone who uses the promo code HOCMAN receives a 30% discount at Columbia University Press.

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.

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Comments 1 to 24:

  1. Deniers: there is no problem

    Greenies: we have the solution

    Both are false -- there *is* a problem, but, as with all problems, but we can't jump to a solution without more thinking and research.  When we *do* have genuine solution(s), there will suddenly be an absence of deniers

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  2. I am told that if you order direct from Columbia University Press and use the promo code HOCMAN then you will get a special 30% discount.

    This offer is exclusively for readers of SkS and the Internet.

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  3. Harringray, as you imply solutions are separate from requirements. By and large, deniers are strenuously denying requirements.  

    "The vessel is sinking. What can we do to fix it?"

    "The vessel isn't sinking. The water in the hull is part of a natural tidal cycle."


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  4. Harrangay@1

    I'll grant you half of your thesis--that deniers argue or think or believe "there is no problem," but I disagree with your characterization the other side or those you call "greenies." It is especially annoying to see you employ the stale denier ploy of claiming that we need to conduct more reseach and do some more research before we can "jump to a solution." That sounds to me like a denier excuse for inaction, and I'd add that no one who grasps the severity of the problem confronting us thinks we will ever be able to "jump to a solution." It is going to be a long, hard slog.

    To use another old saw, advocating for inaction where global warming is concerned strikes me as being decidedly akin to strumming a lyre while your city burns down around you because you aren't quite sure if it was Mrs. O'Leary's cow that started the fire, or a bunch of disreputable Christians.

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  5. Harraygay - Perhaps you can tell us what you mean by a "genuine" solution? A genuine solution is stop using fossil fuels. However, that obviously creates the new problem of where do we get our energy from?

    There are some "genuine" solutions to this problem too, including nuclear power or using less energy.

    It would appear (but please correct me if wrong) that you mean a solution that doesnt involve paying more your energy or using less energy  or accepting greater risks (though that will still mean fossil fuel providers and investing continuing to deny).
    What if there is no such solution? The universe is not necessarily configured to supply us with unlimited energy. Are you happy to go on warming and watch people how didnt create the problem bear the brunt of the damage?

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  6. At some risk of piling on, Harringay's fatuous comment that "When we *do* have genuine solution(s), there will suddenly be an absence of deniers" is disproved by the number of scientific findings that do not require solutions, but still attract their share of deniers.  The most obvious case is the denial of evolution by creationists, but we must not forget the denial of the curvature of the Earth, and the denial that the Sun is at the center of the solar system (both of which still attract adherents in small numbers).  Cases in which solutions already exist, and are being put into practise, but in which denial still persists are also easilly found.  Examples include HIV aids, CFCs, and of course, vaccination.

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  7. I think Mike Mann could improve his image greatly and possibly lessen some of the "attacks" if he would just drop his Twitter account. He seems too petty in his responses to any dissent, even from fellow scientists, and comes across very poorly.  Just my humble opinion.

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  8. hank_@7,

    Can you please give a specific example when Mike Mann "comes across very poorly"?

    If you don't, I declare your comment baseless trolling, because myself, having read HSCW and followed MM's FB, cannot find such example.

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  9. chriskoz, it's not baseless trolling: a few weeks ago, when Mann called a noted dendrochronologist (Rob Wilson) a "denier," just because Wilson critiqued Mann's tree ring work--academically, mind you--then Mann had to walk it back, is just one example.

    I admire Mann, and I understand he's been a target of unrelenting *real* baseless trolling, for years: however on this and a few other circumstances, Mann *reacts* badly to anyone who critiques his work. In this example, above, Mann came off as reacticve, thin-skinned, and it was generally acknowledged to be a bad move on Mann's part. That kind of 'own goal' does not serve well the job us realists are trying to do, to overturn the fake skeptics' muddying of the waters.

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  10. @vrooomie - Thank you, you've explained it much better than I could have.

    FaceBook is one thing, you can write a whole article there. Twitter, with it's limited text space and hair trigger response time, requires some thought before posting for those who lash out too quickly. It's beneath someone of Mann's stature to be petty on Twitter and he needs to realize that he isn't helping his image by doing so.

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  11. Everybody's perspective of Mann is distorted, through particular fault of his own beyond being curious about a particular thing at a particularly sensitive point in time. A baying pack of cranks have chosen to elevate him to demigod status and now all of us-- cranks included, of course-- expect him to behave like a saint or use his lack of saintliness as a propaganda weapon.

    Mann is still the person he was before he blundered into the thing for which we chose to make him famous. Despite his peculiar circumstances Mann doesn't walk on water, he's just another person with foibles. Is he supposed to behave according to our model of his ideal, keep mum to make us happy? That's not reasonable, even if Mann had not been hounded beyond all patience. 

    The conversation between Mann and Wilson is a mundane academic spat that we have chosen to make important.  We don't have the right to expect Mann to follow our rules. Should he not have a Twitter account, because we're afraid he'll disappoint us? 

    "We like it when you write a book excoriating our enemies, Dr. Mann, but you make us squeamish when you tweet rudely." Good golly, how ridiculous we've become.

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  12. @doug_bostrom

    "The conversation between Mann and Wilson is a mundane academic spat.." Fair enough, but why try to score points on twitter by publicly spanking a collegue when an email would suffice? It looks bush league, imo. Righly or wrongly, he has been placed on an academic pedastel, at least in the AGW sector. And like anyone in the public eye, things like that are given added weight because of his high profile. Is that ridiculous? Maybe. But such is life in the internet age.

    To many out there, Mann's Climate Wars book is one long attempt to document how others have disrespected him. IMO, if he wants respect he should exercise more care on the front lines of Twitter.

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  13. "I couldn't help wondering what the attackers thought will happen"  By 'making an example of someone', you teach the population to avoid 'going there' on certain topics.  Certain (Conservative) people are being taught, by example, that its OK to bully those who are concerned about Climate Change.  And those who ARE concerned are taught not to vocalize their concern.  Frankly, this is a highly effective tactic that is responsible for the lack of progress on a RANGE of issues, if that progress would upset someone's profit stream, not just Climate Change (Healthcare in America, Gun Control in America, Income Inequality, etc).  

    In Hitlers Germany, the Fascists couldn't just disagree with the communists: they had to make an example of them by attacking them in the street.  Thus conditioned into silence, the population could be herded more easily into what came later.

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  14. Fair enough, but why try to score points on twitter by publicly spanking a collegue when an email would suffice?

    Fellow A publicly calls fellow B's work "a crock of shit" but fellow B is expected to respond only privately?

    That's a ridiculous proposition.

    Wilson set the tone, Mann only followed the rules of the game as Wilson made them. Wilson calibrated the Golden Rule: hyperbolically denigrate others as you would have them do the same to you. 

    To talk about this imaginary problem at all is to buy into and feed the synthetic, expedient, fake outrage some people are desperate for us to feel against Mann.  Come to think of it, Hank, why did you bring it up at all?

    2 1
  15. "Come to think of it, Hank, why did you bring it up at all?"

    I'm expressing my opinion, bro, as you have expressed yours. Is that not what we do here in the coments section?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You've expressed your opinion. Please move on.

    BTW, Excessive repitition is prohibited by the SKS Comment Policy.

  16. First book I downloaded to my Kindle last year.

    Great read, however Kindle does not do do a great job of the charts.

    So buy the paperback if it just a few extra dollars or euros.

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  17. Pardon me, Hank. I found myself suddenly realizing that-- as is so often the case-- we found ourselves discussing Mike Mann's character. 

    I guess in a twisted way it's appropriate; Mann's entire book hinges on what happens when we stop talking about facts and go instead to discussing the character of the person who happens to be reporting. 

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  18. Hank_ @7...  "He seems too petty..."

    That's a fascinating comment considering the organized storm of perpetual pettiness that has be directed toward Dr Mann for a decade or more. 

    Why would you not be more critical of the attacks on Dr Mann? I mean, people who have little to no understanding of his research (people who've never read his papers) are still ragging on MBH98/99 when the research is now almost 15 years old. And since then his work has been confirmed by more than a dozen similar studies.

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  19. All:

    Doug Bostrom and Rob Honeycutt have both reponded to hank_'s most recent comment. Please resist the tempatation to chime in. Dogpilling is also prohibited by the SkS Comment Policy. 

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  20. doug_bostrom@17,

    Well said. hank_@7 brought our attention to sensationalism of twitters (often distorted when re-tweeted in blogosphere) that have nothing to do with science, or even with scientists' integrity, but something to do with knee jerk reaction of eccentric people. I don't follow such stuff.

    But in this case (because I called hank_ "baseless troller" which I'm backing up) I looked it up found out the "sensational" facts to be:

    1. Wilson publicly called Mann's recent work "a crock of shit"

    2. Mann responded by tweeting: "‘Closet #climatechange #denier Rob Wilson, comes out of the closet big time. #BadScience #DisingenuousBehavior’. But hw has deleted this twitt since.

    That looks like an engagement in a "pig wrestling fight" from Mann's part, a fight started by Wilson. Everyone, including Mann, is subject to strange knee jerk reactions and I don't comment on that. When Mann realised the inappropriateness of his knee jerk reaction in public, he backed off silently. Here at SkS, we should also back off our cheers on the pig ring. Wait until the news  about a validity of  Wilson's critique.

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  21. It's not possible to say anything of value in the 140 character limit in Twitter. Scientists and serious bloggers should avoid it for this very reason. Michael Mann is not the first notable person to fall victim to its limitations.

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  22. 140 characters: "Creationism isn't even wrong. Evolution is science: it can be falsified by Precambrian apes, or if all species had different DNA bases, etc."

    1 0
  23. BillyJoe: Your most recent comment was deleted because it was both a Moderation Complaint and Off-Topic -- both of which are prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

    Please read the SkS Comments Policy and adhere to it. 

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  24. For the last 800,000 yrs, CO2 stayed below 300ppm
    CO2 was last at 400ppm ~3 Myrs ago: much of Florida was underwater
    This'll be interesting.

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