Slap-shot cli­mate sci­ence

Michael Mann takes an­other swing at his cli­mate change crit­ics

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By An­thony J. Sadar

Per­haps no cli­mate sci­ence icon is more rec­og­niz­able than the “hockey stick” graph orig­i­nally pro­duced by Michael E. Mann and his col­leagues in the 1990s and first pub­lished in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal Na­ture in 1998. This icon quickly be­came the fea­ture di­a­gram in the 2001 In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change Third As­sess­ment Re­port sum­mary doc­u­ment for pol­i­cy­mak­ers. The graph was in­stru­men­tal in con­vinc­ing many in gov­ern­ment to buy into the idea that hu­man-re­lated emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide were caus­ing an un­prece­dented in­crease in global tem­per­a­tures and so dras­tic ac­tion was needed to once again save the planet.

In a new book, “The Hockey Stick and the Cli­mate Wars: Dis­patches from the Front Lines,” Mr. Mann, a Penn State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s Earth Sys­tem Sci­ence Cen­ter, prof­fers a solid de­fense of the hock­ey­stick cli­mate re­con­struc­tion of the past 1,000 years. In his book, Mr. Mann fre­quently stresses that nu­mer­ous sim­i­lar eval­u­a­tions of proxy data pro­duced the same tell-tale graph. He ably demon­strates that chal­lenges to his work, whether from a sta­tis­ti­cal or se­lec­tion-of-data ap­proach, were fee­ble at best. And he re­lates in painful, per­sonal de­tail how po­lit­i­cal at­tacks are so hurt­ful to free in­quiry. So, from a gen­eral de­fense of aca­demic sci­en­tific re­search into re­cent cli­mate change, “The Hockey Stick and the Cli­mate Wars” is ter­rific, giv­ing am­ple peer-re­view sci­ence ref­er­ences and mak­ing rea­soned ar­gu­ments.

Mr. Mann’s book will un­doubt­edly be quoted and ref­er­enced for many years to come to sup­port the cur­rent sta­tus quo in the aca­demic world of cli­mate sci­ence. But therein lies one of the book’s ma­jor weak­nesses: It rep­re­sents a limited per­spec­tive.

Through­out “The Hockey Stick and the Cli­mate Wars,” there is the con­tin­u­ous re­sort­ing to child­ish, un­pro­fes­sional name-call­ing. Mr. Mann seems to rel­ish the phrase “cli­mate change de­nier.” On one page alone (Page 193), he uses the silly phrase or some vari­ant of it seven times. The phrase is ob­vi­ously ab­surd be­cause no one de­nies that cli­mate changes.

Such child­ish­ness is re­lated to a limited per­spec­tive and be­lies a nar­row pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal tac­tic to smear any­one who dares to chal­lenge es­tab­lished or­tho­doxy. Mr. Mann re­lies sub­stan­tially on pro­gres­sive sources such as Me­dia Trans­parency, Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Project, Source­, Des­mog­, Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, Amer­i­can Prospect, Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, and, with­out irony, Think Progress. More of these sources too nu­mer­ous to men­tion are ref­er­enced. The book’s un­in­ten­tion­ally ar­ro­gant tone, all too typ­i­cal of pro­gres­sive academia, is per­haps a hint of what, un­for­tu­nately, ir­ri­tates Amer­i­cans. And maybe that’s why the cur­rent cli­mate sci­ence of­fi­cial­dom is see­ing such great re­sis­tance from mere mor­tals. To the res­cue, though, Mr. Mann an­nounces the de­ploy­ment of the Cli­mate Sci­ence Rapid Re­sponse Team (aka “truth squad”), to quickly quash any threat to the in­sti­tu­tional ide­ol­ogy from, say, prac­tic­ing at­mo­spheric sci­en­tists in the real world.

Re­gard­less, even if Mr. Mann’s re­con­struc­tion of cli­mate change from the re­cent thou­sand years is an ac­tual re­pro­duc­tion of such change (which, based on un­der­stand­ably limited proxy data, is ar­guable), the cli­mate sci­ence au­thor­i­ties’ in­sis­tence that hu­man­pro­duced emis­sions will lead to ad­verse me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal mis­chief across the globe through­out the rest of this cen­tury and be­yond is pure prog­nos­tic pop­py­cock. The cli­mate sys­tem is too com­plex. The role of the prin­ci­pal cli­mate reg­u­la­tor, water, in all its forms — as solid in ice sheets, liq­uid in cloud droplets and oceans, and va­por in am­bi­ent air — is too un­known for pre­dic­tive cli­mate mod­els to grant fore­cast­ing for­tune to spe­cially im­bued fore­tellers.

I re­al­ize such hereti­cal talk is not wel­come in the cli­mate of to­day’s sci­ence, but, as we all know, cli­mate changes.


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