You Must Read—The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines

The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative. [Page 223]

9780231152549Last week I suggest that you read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which was a stunning longitudinal look at the history of contrarian “science” and denial in the U.S. on a range of topics. If you really want to understand the mechanism behind the current crop of climate denial you need to read Michael E. Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Michael E. Mann is a climatologist and member of the faculty at Pennsylvania State University. He holds a PhD in geology and geophysics. This is not the sort of person you think would be the subject of severe character defamation and the target of a coordinated public relations campaign to discredit his work.

However, in 1999 Mann—along with Raymond S. Bradley and Malcom K. Hughes—published a paper consisting of a reconstruction of climate going back approximately 1,000 years. The model, entitled MBH99 for the authors and the year in which it was published, would become famous as the “hockey stick.” The model showed a relatively stable climate, in terms of temperature volatility, for most of the time period with the recent history showing a market increase in upward volatility. Hence the hockey stick.

Somehow this model became the bete noir of the climate change denial movement—most of which was outlined extremely well in Merchants of Doubt. Michael E. Mann’s personal account shows the degree to which the attacks on this particular component of the climate debate were founded on bad science, funded by fossil fuels, and perpetuated by a modern media machine that craves controversy to feed its twenty four hour programming schedule.

The destruction of climate denier “science” is a nice read, but it hardly matters to people who will literally claim to not believe anything because of Jesus or some such shit. Don’t believe me? Check out Pastor Matthew Hagee. These are the type of people you are trying to convince that mankind has altered the physical conditions of the planet.

Even worse are the elected officials like Joe Barton and James Inhofe, who clearly do not understand the science at its most basic level, conducting hearings where they praise the work of hacks. Worse still is that these politicians use their offices like truncheons to bully those who do not fall into line. Other authors have pointed out that these tactics are strikingly similar to what took place in the Soviet Union when official science, no matter how unsubstantiated, ran up against contrarian viewpoints. Rather than let the scientific process work its natural course the contrarians were silenced. Ironically, the consensus scientific point here is that climate change is real, but the contrarian viewpoint, which is clearly false, is being given more air time than even the most insane alien abduction theory should be afforded.

If you want to understand the dynamics behind our country’s inability to address climate change read The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. You will be amazed that Congress can even get its act together enough to agree on when to take a vacation. Oh wait, they always seem able to agree on that fact.

BTW, Michael E. Mann is not to be confused with Michael Mann, the director of such films as Heat and Last of the Mohicans. I half expected Joe Barton to castigate Michael E. Mann for portraying the tobacco companies as evil doers in The Insider.

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3 responses to “You Must Read—The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines

  1. I’ve read both books you’ve mentioned, and Mann’s book twice now. They’re both quite good. With Oreske’s book I had to start making a list of the players and a few key words because they’d pop back up again in the book and I’d think, “I recognize that name, what was it s/he/they did before?”

    I’m still a bit puzzled as to why people keep attacking Dr. Mann’s work now. It has been replicated several times by different groups using different (and improved) methodologies, and using different proxies.

    Yet some people are still fixated on a piece of innovative work from 15-years ago as if science hasn’t progressed at all since 1998. If the original hockey stick were to vanish completely it wouldn’t change a thing regarding current understanding of what is happening; and we’d still be left with numerous other hockey sticks anyway.

    I guess attacking all the hockey sticks would spread the small number of deniers out too thin, and attacking just a few select scientists is more efficient (and as Dr. Mann points out in his book, is part of the Serengeti Strategy, where the lions try to separate one animal from the herd).

  2. p.s. not that I think of the deniers as lions, but more like scavengers who don’t do their own work but just try and harass those who have done the actual work.

    • Perhaps we should just call them hyenas or jackals and let the connotations flow from that point onward. The frightening thing with both of these books is that a small cabal of ill-meaning individuals can undo the work of many more dedicated scientists and public servants with little more than innuendo and petty cash. Ugh.

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