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

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).

Posted by John Cook on Thursday, 9 February, 2012

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