Oh this is going to be fun. Michael Mann—he of the iconic climate change “hockey stick” that purports to prove man-made climate change by displaying how global temperature is at its highest level in 2000 years (somehow making the Medieval warm period disappear)—is threatening to sue National Review and Mark Steyn (and perhaps Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars) for libel for questioning whether Penn State’s exoneration of Mann over the “Climategate” scandal was as self-serving as their investigation of Jerry Sandusky. Rand Simberg wrote in a blogpost post that “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.”
The editor of Simberg’s blog subsequently removed this sentence from the post, but it lives on in a post of Steyn’s, to which Steyn added:
Not sure I’d have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point. Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change “hockey-stick” graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus. And, when the East Anglia emails came out, Penn State felt obliged to “investigate” Professor Mann. Graham Spanier, the Penn State president forced to resign over Sandusky, was the same cove who investigated Mann. And, as with Sandusky and Paterno, the college declined to find one of its star names guilty of any wrongdoing.
If an institution is prepared to cover up systemic statutory rape of minors, what won’t it cover up? Whether or not he’s “the Jerry Sandusky of climate change”, he remains the Michael Mann of climate change, in part because his “investigation” by a deeply corrupt administration was a joke.
Now, Mann claims that Steyn’s use of the term “fraudulent” is libelous. I’m not a libel lawyer, but I strongly doubt it. But even without getting into the legal fine points of whether opinion about a public figure can be libelous, I want to note the irony of the situation. Cast your mind back to 2002, when the environmental left (but I repeat. . . oh, never mind—you know the rest) was in a snit about Bjorn Lomborg. An official government body in Denmark with the Orwellian title Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (I’m sure it sounds better in the original German Danish) found that Lomborg was guilty of “scientific dishonesty,” though they never correctly cited a single fact (or alleged error or distortion) in support of this conclusion, which was, incidentally, subsequently overturned after everybody recognized it as a purely political hatchet job. Other scientists used the word “scam” (a synonym for “fraud,” no?) in describing Lomborg’s findings in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. There was never a hint from Lomborg or anyone that such language was libelous. (Nor did he press charges after being assaulted more than once.) As I wrote about the persecution of Lomborg ten years ago, “The level of vituperation directed at Lomborg belies either a disturbing self-righteousness that brooks no criticism or a lack of confidence that supposedly superior science can win out in a sustained debate.”
As we see now with Mann, people from his scientific circle can dish it out to people like Lomborg, but can’t take it.
National Review’s editor, Rich Lowry, has today posted a public answer to Mann: “Get lost.” Here’s the most relevant paragraph of the piece in my mind:
Usually, you don’t welcome a nuisance lawsuit, because it’s a nuisance. It consumes time. It costs money. But this is a different matter in light of one word: discovery. If Mann sues us, the materials we will need to mount a full defense will be extremely wide-ranging. So if he files a complaint, we will be doing more than fighting a nuisance lawsuit; we will be embarking on a journalistic project of great interest to us and our readers.
This is where the fun will begin. First off, Mann has been stonewalling on legal requests to turn over his own emails and other private documents in suits against his former employer, the University of Virginia. Now he’ll have to cough those up. But second, I’ll enjoy reading depositions of some of his scientific colleagues, many of whom, while agreeing with Mann generally about climate change, nonetheless find Mann to be an insufferable jerk. In my long review of the “Climategate” email cache, I came across repeated complaints about Mann’s ego, along with doubts about his hockey stick. (So much for an iron-clad “consensus.’) Here’s the relevant part of my long Weekly Standard article about Climategate in 2009 that deals with Mann:
CRU scientist Keith Briffa, whose work on tree rings in Siberia has been subject to its own controversies, emailed Edward Cook of Columbia University: “I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series,” adding that he was tired of “the increasing trend of self-opinionated verbiage [Mann] has produced over the last few years . . . and (better say no more).”
Cook replied: “I agree with you. We both know the probable flaws in Mike’s recon[struction], particularly as it relates to the tropical stuff. Your response is also why I chose not to read the published version of his letter. It would be too aggravating. . . . It is puzzling to me that a guy as bright as Mike would be so unwilling to evaluate his own work a bit more objectively.”
In yet another revealing email, Cook told Briffa: “Of course [Bradley] and other members of the MBH [Mann, Bradley, Hughes] camp have a fundamental dislike for the very concept of the MWP, so I tend to view their evaluations as starting out from a somewhat biased perspective, i.e. the cup is not only ‘half-empty’; it is demonstrably ‘broken’. I come more from the ‘cup half-full’ camp when it comes to the MWP, maybe yes, maybe no, but it is too early to say what it is.”
Even as the IPCC was picking up Mann’s hockey stick with enthusiasm, Briffa sent Mann a note of caution about “the possibility of expressing an impression of more consensus than might actually exist. I suppose the earlier talk implying that we should not ‘muddy the waters’ by including contradictory evidence worried me. IPCC is supposed to represent consensus but also areas of uncertainty in the evidence.” Briffa had previously dissented from the hockey stick reconstruction in a 1999 email to Mann and Phil Jones: “I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.” Even Malcolm Hughes, one of the original hockey stick coauthors, privately expressed reservations about overreliance on their invention, writing to Cook, Mann and others in 2002:
“All of our attempts, so far, to estimate hemisphere-scale temperatures for the period around 1000 years ago are based on far fewer data than any of us would like. None of the datasets used so far has anything like the geographical distribution that experience with recent centuries indicates we need, and no one has yet found a convincing way of validating the lower-frequency components of them against independent data. As Ed [Cook] wrote, in the tree-ring records that form the backbone of most of the published estimates, the problem of poor replication near the beginnings of records is particularly acute, and ubiquitous. . . . Therefore, I accept that everything we are doing is preliminary, and should be treated with considerable caution.”
Mann didn’t react well to these hesitations from his colleagues. Even Ray Bradley, a coauthor of the hockey stick article, felt compelled to send a message to Briffa after one of Mann’s self-serving emails with the single line: “Excuse me while I puke.” One extended thread grew increasingly acrimonious as Mann lashed out at his colleagues. He wrote to Briffa, Jones, and seven others in a fury over their favorable remarks about a Science magazine article that offered a temperature history that differed from the hockey stick: “Sadly, your piece on the Esper et al paper is more flawed than even the paper itself. . . . There is a lot of damage control that needs to be done and, in my opinion, you’ve done a disservice to the honest discussions we had all had in the past, because you’ve misrepresented the evidence.”
To Briffa in particular Mann wrote: “Hopefully, you know that I respect you quite a bit as a scientist! But in this case, I think you were sloppy. And the sloppiness had a real cost.” Mann’s bad manners prompted Bradley to reply: “I wish to disassociate myself with Mike’s comments, or at least the tone of them. I do not consider myself the final arbiter of what Science should publish, nor do I consider what you did to signify the end of civilization as we know it.” Tempers got so out of hand that Tom Crowley of Duke University intervened: “I am concerned about the stressed tone of some of the words being circulated lately. . . . I think you are all fine fellows and very good scientists and that it is time to smoke the peace pipe on all this and put a temporary moratorium on more email messages until tempers cool down a bit.” Mann responded with his best imitation of Don Corleone: “This is ultimately about the science, it’s not personal.” If the CRU circle treat each other this way, it is no wonder they treat skeptics even more rudely.
As I say, deposing this entire happy band of climateers will be great fun.
Mann has a history of running to the courtroom. He sued Canada’s Tim Ball for saying that Mann belongs in the state pen rather than Penn State. Methinks maybe Ball got it wrong. Mann may be headed for a padded cell somewhere. By the way, hasn’t Mann heard of the track record of people who haul Mark Steyn into court? It isn’t pretty.