I today received my signed copy of Mark Steyn’s “A disgrace to the profession”: The world’s scientists in their own words on Michael E Mann, his hockey stick, and their damage to science. Volume 1.
In 2012, Michael Mann sued Mark Steyn and others for defamation, for saying that his hockey stick was “fraudulent”. Various people filed “amicus briefs” opposed to Michael Mann because they saw the court case as an attack on free speech. Steyn had expected similar briefs to be filed by global warming alarmist organisations in support of Mann. But none were filed.
Steyn was puzzled by this. We’re always being told that 97% of climate scientists believe that global warming is real and being caused by human carbon dioxide emissions, so why weren’t they stepping up to show their support for Mann? With the defamation case languishing in the US justice system, Steyn decided to find out what other climate scientists actually thought of the hockey stick. So the book has 120 short chapters, each giving the opinions of individual scientists, both alarmist and sceptical, on Michael Mann and his hockey stick. Which I suppose could mean 120 new defamation law suits get filed by Michael Mann (but not against Mark Steyn).
Michael Mann was granted his PhD in geology and geophysics in 1998. The Mann, Bradley and Hughes reconstruction covering 1,000 years (MBH99) was published by Geophysical Research Letters in March 1999 with the cautious title Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: inferences, uncertainties, and limitations. It was immediately dubbed The Hockey Stick (above) by Jerry Mahlman. A version of the MBH99 graph was featured prominently in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), in which Mann was one of the lead authors. It was also used by Al Gore in The Inconvenient Truth (2006).
The Hockey Stick has become (and arguably remains) an iconic graph. And Michael Mann has since enjoyed an illustrious career, currently as a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University.
Michael Mann enjoyed a meteoric rise in a few short years from being a just-qualified climatologist to a world-renowned figure, who had linked global warming to human carbon dioxide emissions.
Which is very like Richard Doll, who as a young doctor teamed up with Bradford Hill to produce the 1950 London Hospitals study, which linked lung cancer with cigarettes smoking, and who went on to enjoy a long and illustrious career.
The two stories share many similarities, even if they are separated by 50 years: Two young unknowns publish surprising statistical studies indicating dire effects from trace amounts of gas, and their theses rapidly become the new orthodoxy. At the time of the publication of the 1950 Doll and Hill study, smoking was regarded as a harmless pastime. And at the time of the publication of IPCC Third Assessment Report, most people didn’t think that carbon dioxide had any dangerous warming effect. But within a few years, many (most?) people became convinced that smoking caused lung cancer and carbon dioxide caused global warming, despite there being strong criticism of both studies. How did this happen?
Perhaps one key feature of both studies is that they immediately made headline news, and lots of people came out either for or against them. They were both subjects of public controversy that was being played out in the mass media rather than in the corridors of science. Sceptics were demonised as front groups for big tobacco, or big oil.
If some people immediately accepted the studies, it may have been that they were people who would readily accept the latest scientific hypotheses, in whatever field of inquiry they appeared. For some people, newer always means better, and old ideas are regarded as waiting for new ideas to knock them on the head. And if some people didn’t accept the studies, it was because they were conservatives who wouldn’t readily change their minds.
Similar public controversy does not always accompany such paradigm shifts. When plate tectonics superseded prior scientific teachings, there seems to have been very little controversy. But this seems to have been because the entire geological community recognised that the evidence in favour of plate tectonics had become overwhelming, once sea floor spreading had been documented.
If public controversy accompanied both the new smoking-causes-lung-cancer hypothesis and the new carbon-dioxide-causes-global-warming hypothesis, it may have been because not everybody in the relevant scientific communities accepted the new findings, and they were thrown open to public debate. And the media took positions in the public controversy. Once this happens, it’s ceased to be science, and has become religion.
The public response was probably also determined by how simply the new hypotheses could be summarised. In the case of the 1950 study, 99% of lung cancer patients had been found to be smokers – case closed. In the case of the 1999 Hockey Stick:
Because the graph so neatly strengthened the case for man-made warming, Dr Broeker says, “a lot of people grabbed the hockey stick.” (Steyn page 84)
And once these simple ideas or images had been established in the public mind, it was almost impossible for them to be erased.
But this doesn’t mean that they’re not pseudoscience:
Nobel Prize winner Ivar Glaever: “In pseudoscience you begin with a hypotheses which is very appealing to you, and then you look for things which confirm the hypothesis.” (Steyn page 5)
There are a lot of people who don’t like smoking, and love the idea that smoking causes lung cancer. There are also a lot of people who see catastrophe looming from all directions, and like the idea of catastrophic global warming.
Or there hasn’t been a rush to judgment:
Dr Las Kamel: “Common sense in science tells you to be a bit skeptic about any investigation which throws old truths away and gives a completely new picture… Not so in this case.” (Steyn page 81)
Or statistical malpractice. Richard Doll was a doctor, not a statistician. As also was George Godber and most of the other advocates of the statistically-based smoking hypothesis. What do doctors know about statistics? The statistically-based Hockey Stick was constructed by climatologists. What do climatologists know about statistics? And what for that matter do the general public know about statistics?
Professor James Zidek: “How such an expensive project was launched and collected so much data without having statisticians on board is a mystery.” (Steyn page 67)
There are so many similarities between the global warming controversy and the tobacco controversy that I’m surprised that more people don’t point them out. Perhaps it’s that the global warming controversy broke out in an internet era in which information was readily available, while the tobacco controversy broke out in the pre-internet era in which information was much harder to obtain. Nevertheless, almost all the criticisms of global warming hypotheses can be applied to the tobacco hypothesis. It’s about time they were.