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Mann Fights Back Against Denialist Abuse

Posted on 28 July 2012 by dana1981

At Skeptical Science, we prefer to stick to discussions of the scientific literature and body of evidence.  However, for the long time there has been a systematic abuse of climate scientists from climate denialists, and from time to time this reprehensible behavior becomes so widespread that we feel the need to comment on it, for example in the cases of Katharine Hayhoe and Phil Jones.

Most recently, Michael Mann, who himself has a long history being on the receiving end of abusive letters and death threats, as he detailed in his book, has been rather viciously defamed by the Competetive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and National Review.  CEI is a right-wing think tank with a long history of denying the health effects of smoking and human-caused climate change, having received major funding from the tobacco and oil industries (i.e. over $2 million from ExxonMobil, and more recently funding from the Koch Brothers and other groups whose wealth is based in fossil fuels like the Scaife Foundations).

Recently, Ryan Simberg published a post on CEI's blog accusing Mann of

"engaging in data manipulation to keep the blade on his famous hockey-stick graph"

The CEI blog post proceded to compare Mann to Jerry Sandusky, a convicted serial child molester.  This extraordinarily inappropriate and offensive comparison has been removed from the CEI blog, but it remains in a National Review article written by Mark Steyn, which quotes Simberg's post.  We will not reproduce this reprehensible quote here.

Libelous Accusations of Fraud

The accusations of fraud are of course entirely baseless, but stem from the "Mike's Nature trick" email which was made public during the Climategate theft.  "Mike's Nature trick" referred to  the technique of plotting recent instrumental temperature data along with historical reconstructed data.  This places recent global warming trends in the context of temperature changes over longer time scales.  This graph is commonly known as the "hockey stick."

There is of course nothing 'fraudulent' about plotting instrumental temperatures on the same graph as reconstructed temperatures.  Both the instrumental (red) and reconstructed temperature (blue) are clearly labelled in Mann's 1998 Nature article, the follow-up Mann et al. 1999, and the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) (Figure 1).

Hockey Stick

Figure 1: Northern Hemisphere mean temperature anomaly in °C (IPCC TAR).

There has been subsequent scientific debate regarding the statistical methods used in Mann et al. 1999.  It was after all a groundbreaking study - one of the first northern hemisphere millennial temperature reconstructions, so of course subsequent research has resulted in improved methodologies, even by Mann himself in Mann et al. 2008 (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Composite Northern Hemisphere land and land plus ocean temperature reconstructions and estimated 95% confidence intervals. Shown for comparison are published Northern Hemisphere reconstructions (Mann 2008).

However, there is zero evidence that there was any fraudulent behavior whatsoever Mann et. al 1999, and in fact every subsequent millennial northern hemisphere temperature reconstruction has confirmed the general 'hockey stick' shape.  For example, see the summary of subsequent research on the subject in the 2007 IPCC report.

Additionally, every investigation into the Climategate emails found that the scientists whose emails were stolen, including Michael Mann, were not guilty of any wrongdoing.  Quite simply, any accusations of fraud are entirely without merit, and qualify as defamation and libel.

Sandusky Comparison Beyond the Pale

It should go without saying that comparing anyone - particularly an honest scientist - to a convicted serial child molester is simply reprehensible and should be universally condemned.  We would hope that CEI and National Review would acknowledge their writers' blatant lapses in judgment, retract the articles, and issue a profound apology to Mann for their defamation and libel.  As noted above, CEI has taken the small step of removing what they call the "Two inappropriate sentences."

So far National Review has taken no action, and Mann has retained legal counsel who has issued a letter to National Review stating:

"Needless to say, we intend to pursue all appropriate legal remedies on behalf of Dr. Mann...we reiterate our demand that this defamatory article be immediately removed from further publication, and that you issue a retraction of this article and an apology to Dr. Mann."

The letter also used the Skeptical Science Climategate rebuttal to illustrate why the accusations of fraud are entirely baseless and without merit - we are pleased to have been a useful resource in Dr. Mann's endeavors on this matter.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Mann's move onto the offensive has generated widespread commentary from the blogosphere.  For the most part there has been a great deal of support, for example on AGU blogs, Climate Crocks, Discover Magazine's Bad Astronomy, and many others, including comments on Mann's Facebook Page.  However, a number of climate denialists have inexplicably sided with CEI and National Review's defamatory attack, for example Andrew Montford and WattsUpWithThat, among others.

Denialists Frothing Up the Abusers

There is a clear connection between the behavior at climate denialist blogs and the abuse directed towards climate scientists.  Denialist blog posts constantly leap from their own flawed scientific analyses to the conclusion that climate scientists must be guilty of fraud, data manipulation, and other immoral behavior.  The letters received by climate scientists contain this same sort of language, with baseless accusations of fraud and data manipulation, followed by abusive language and often death threats.

Climate denialist blogs are also the source of the CEI and National Review accusations of fraud, which soon warped into a denigrating comparison betwen an honest climate scientist and a serial child molester.  Instead of condemning this reprehensible behavior, climate denialist ringleader WattsUpWithThat in particular appears to encourage it.

This sort of behavior must stop, especially if these climate denialists wish to be taken seriously as real 'skeptics'.  It is completely unacceptable that honest climate scientists like Mann, Jones, and Hayhoe - who are just trying to do their jobs and further the collective human understanding of the inner workings of our climate - are being subjected to abusive attacks and death threats as a reward for their efforts. 

We call on all climate 'skeptic' blogs to condemn the defamatory language from CEI and National Review, and the abuse directed towards climate scientists in general, and we wish Dr. Mann well in his efforts to hold National Review liable for its defamation of his character.

For those who wish to support Dr. Mann in this matter, donating to the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund is one option.

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Comments 51 to 51 out of 51:

  1. Thanks for all the input, everyone.  In the future I will do exactly that (link to where the discussion is happening).  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thank you.

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