On Mann Mania

By Keith Kloor | August 24, 2011 12:24 pm

If you hear people talking in environmental debates about “climate-gate” and “Mann’s misconduct,” recognize that what you’re hearing is just like “Obama was born in Kenya.” These people are either passively uninformed or knowingly beyond the reach of fact. And if they can’t be convinced by the National Science Foundation, NOAA, Penn State, and various European counterparts, then they are in the realm of being anti-science.

From James Fallows over at The Atlantic, who in the same post also says a few notable things about coal and a blind spot on the left.

UPDATE: Conspiracy alert over at WUWT. For real world translation, reread above.

UPDATE 2: Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth wonders why Fox news is silent on the outcome of the latest Mann investigation.

UPDATE 3: Presto!

  • grypo

    So basically a day after he is “vindicated” a new whirlwind of phony controversy will be dredged from his personal inbox.  Although the tine suggests the drooling masses are being prepped for a let down.  Anyone else gleam that?

  • grypo

    That should be “tone” not “tine”.

    “Given the suspicious timing of the recent Mann “vindication” report (PDF) from an investigation by the National Science Foundation, I think the effort will be likely to be focused on “what wasn’t released”.  

    That should be an interesting effort.  It’s the emails that weren’t released that are the ones that have several scientists admitting that climate change is a hoax.  They’ve already lost it before there’s need to.  geez…

  • Dean_1230

    So none of the bad behavior disclosed through climategate matters?  stacking the deck against critics getting published, collusion against journals that publish critical articles, refusing to release data that is necessary to reproduce the studies to some people but openly handing it to others?

    None of that matters…

    Let me add, the science discussions that are in the climategate letters are actually the strong point of the letters.   They clearly show that there was significant technical discussions ongoing that raised very serious issues and yet in public, none of these issues were allowed to be aired.  This gets to J.C.’s discussion of confidence… behind the scenes, they had questions.  To the public, everything was an absolute certainty.  Why the difference???

  • kdk33

    Why the difference???

    research funding.

  • http://scottishsceptic.wordpress.com/ Mike Haseler

    When they set the bar so low, the fact that almost anyone gets over the bar irrespective of how bad their behaviour tells us much less about the people and everything about how low they set the bar.
    I’m now sure what counts as unacceptable behaviour in “science” these days.

  • Keith Kloor

    @3

    Of course, “bad behavior” matters. And Judith Curry and Bart V and Monbiot, among others, criticized some of this “bad behavior” at the time. Would it have been nice if the criticism from these people had prompted more public introspection from some of the main characters. Sure.

    But to overreach (like the Republican Congress did with the Clinton impeachment) and endlessly disparage and seek to delegitimize a whole science, an endeavor that reached its fruition with the recent climate change statements from Rick Perry, is another thing.

    Like I’ve been saying this week, the blowback is becoming evident. 

  • Dean_1230

    Keith @6,

    But to lump any discussion of “climategate” with being a birther is absurd!  There are legitimate issues brought forth from climategate (scientists behaving badly, extremely poor quality control – especially of computer codes, collusion to ignore FOIAs) that go beyond the scope of the supposed investigations. 

    And as for Mann, just because he was cleared of misconduct doesn’t mean that his analysis that led to MBH98 is correct.  Statisticians have shown over and over again that those methods are faulty.
    As for “Obama having been born in Kenya”, I have yet to see ANY legitimacy to the birthers claim.  In fact, there’s irrefutable evidence to the contrary…

  • Keith Kloor

    “But to lump any discussion of “climategate” with being a birther is absurd!”

    Not when for so many the leap from climategate is straight to climate-science-is-a-hoax and climate-scientists-are-fabricators.  

  • Blair

    Keith and Dean,

    Ultimately I think there is a lot of overreach on both sides in this discussion. Dean you seem to have come to grips with the general problem but then came up with (IMHO) a faulty conclusion. The behaviour detailed in “Climategate” was “bad”. It wasn’t criminal and while not entirely ethical was not sufficiently unethical to bring down academic sanctions. As such the results of the reports are fair is that they “vindicate” Dr. Mann. That is using vindicate is its legal sense in that that he broke no laws.

    IMHO Keith, on the other had, has way over-reached linking Climategate to birthers. Climategate, while not the be all and end all, did reveal a series of borderline unethical practices from undermining peer review and blocking legitimate access to information to clearly omitting data (or hiding the decline) in graphs. These behaviours are considered unacceptable in proper scientific circles and based on the release of this information the authors deserve a large degree of scorn. That being said it is not that long a stretch to suppose that someone who will omit data from graphs or attempt to subvert legitimate data access may also have fabricated data. I, personally, don’t believe that the individuals involved crossed that line but can understand where others might legitimately disagree.  Being a cynic in this case clearly does not equate with being a birther which is an order of magnitude more extreme.
      

  • Dean_1230

    Blair @9,

    You make my point better than I did.  Thanks!

    IIRC, there was only one point that could have resulted in charges (obstructing a FOIA request, or something like that) except that the statute of limitations had expired (6 months from when the obstruction took place).  Other than that, you’re right.  Nothing they did was criminal, but it surely wasn’t upholding the best scientific standards.
     

  • Stu

    The Penn investigation couldn’t even be bothered asking Mann whether he had passed on Jones’ famous (delate emails) email to Wahl. Instead, Mann was ‘vindicated’. Later on Wahl revealed that Mann had in fact sent him the email. Mann protested and said he had sent that email to Wahl in order to ‘warn him’. But Wahl got the wrong message from that and deleted the emails anyway. I think, if you believe that Mann sent that letter to Wahl as a warning (not to delete emails) then you will probably believe anything.

     

  • sharper00

    Once you accept there are people that will never change their minds, regardless of evidence, and that your only goal should only be to prevent them from confusing fair minded reasonable people, it all becomes easier.

    The “climate science is a hoax” people are out there with the birthers and in close orbit with the “Mann is a fraud that just happens to have a massive global conspiracy protecting from ever actually being caught out” folks. They won’t change their mind unless Mann starts telling them what they want to hear. The only thing to do is to make people aware that his work has been vindicated and verified again and again.  

  • Tom Scharf

    Keith,

    You sure like painting Republicans with a broad brush lately don’t you?

    Republican = Evolution denier = Climate change is a hoax = Obama is not an American = Tea party extremist.  Do you know any Republicans personally that actually believe the above?     

    Typically you are smarter than this.  Your continued mischaracterization of the Tea party movement as everything but a revolt against excessive govt spending and this recent Republicans are evil anti-science zealots meme is simply lazy journalism and puts people off.

    I can be just as lazy and proclaim Democrats as anti-science for being against nuclear power, and promoting replacing nuclear power with coal plants and other fossil fuel energy sources. 

    Climate action has become such a toxic subject politically that it’s not even on the agenda anymore (ask Al Gore).  People don’t trust climate science.  Something obviously went wrong, and it wasn’t a right wing conspiracy that caused it.  

    I don’t think this hope that climate science will become an important election issue in 2012 is going to bear any fruit.   The economy is the only top ten issue there is.

     

  • stan

    People can read what Mann said and did for themselves.  His mistakes have been documented.  He screwed up his proxies and his PCA.  His reprehensible behavior is there in his own e-mails for people to read.
     
    I don’t care what Penn St or the NSF says about it.  I can make up my own mind from the evidence.  I don’t care if they decide whether his problems amount to “fraud” or “academic misconduct”.  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether he is competent enough and honest enough to be trusted by the public on matters of policy which have serious ramifications.  Clearly, he flunks on that question.  And that’s all that matters.

  • NewYorkJ

    KK: Like I’ve been saying this week, the blowback is becoming evident.

    I don’t know.  How much coverage was given to the allegations vs the exonerations?  What percentage of people heard something about Mann or other scientists doing something wrong compared to the percentage of people who heard about the investigations exonerating them?  Frankly, I don’t see much blowback for the accusers, although that would be the case if the media did its job, particularly turning their attention towards the accusers and examining why they are so consistently dead wrong.  Like Mark Twain said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  And those shoes aren’t very interesting.

  • Tom Fuller

    As I have written here many times (and as Mosher has as well), 

    Climate science is not a fraud.
    What Mann did was very wrong-bordering on the unethical.
    The world has warmed.
    Mann did not ‘commit fraud.’
    But he has harmed both climate science and the political discussion and should not really be taken seriously until he acknowledges the problems he has caused.

    What Mann did was wrong. What Cuccinelli is doing is wrong.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. But a third will get you back on the freeway. 

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    Revkin at Dot Earth wonders why Fox news is silent on the outcome of the latest Mann investigation.

    Of course, an hour and a half later he updated his piece to point out Fox News wasn’t silent about it at all (as Keith Kloor links to).  I suppose Fox News could have posted the piece in response to Revkin’s article (they had 40 minutes to do so), but I can’t tell since there is no timestamp on it.

    Out of curiosity, I went ahead and checked the Twitter feeds for Revkin and Fox News. Revkin’s first mention of his piece/Fox’s lack of follow-up was 15 hours ago.  Fox News mentioned their piece 17 hours ago.  At first glance, it seems Revkin’s piece was made after Fox News had already posted on the issue.  If so, that would make it rather strange.  I’m curious if anyone knows just when the Fox News article actually went up.

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    By the way, here’s a question I have about this.  While people harp on Fox News for failing to discuss the results of the “investigations,” why hasn’t anyone actually discussed the investigations themselves?  Is the media really meaning to have us believe if an inquiry says something, it must be true?  There are plenty of issues which can and should be raised about these “investigations,” but the media isn’t touching any of them.  Maybe I’ve just watched Yes, Minister too much, but I expect people to be somewhat skeptical of what inquiries say.

  • http://reclaimreality.blogspot.com Jonas N

    I just read the James Fallows Atlantic-piece ..

    He says that a “a serious scientist has been vilified, without basis”

    That’s hard to swallow. There might be parts of Mann’s science that should be considered ‘serious’, but that’s not what this debate is about . At all!

    Still: None of all these ‘exonerating, independent’ investigations and committees adressed the core issues, what really has been criticized. Instead they carefully work around those parts, staring at uncontroversial things, declaring: We can se no fouls committed.

    I don’t either thing that Mann conduct amounts illegal activities. But then again, (almost) nothing is concerned with such allegations.

    Mann is, correctly and rightfully, ‘villified’ for his actions. His work has been sharply criticized for a crappy paper in 1998. First thereafter has the criticism (again rightfully) turned towards his person and conduct.

    From many sources now, we know that this was not only incompetence under duress. That these clearly were the actions of an activist with an distinct agenda (not suitable for public exposure).

    We also know that other lead climate figures, in his vicintiy and around him were aware, an partook in similar conduct.

    Keith’s opening quote (above) is ony one more diverting attempt  from the real issues. Taken at face value it is utterly stupid! It tries to establish that anyone mentioning Mann, Climate Gate, or criticizing the science should be regarded as loons.

    Nothing can be more wrong! So why did he feel he had to put that on paper?

  • Brandon Shollenberger

    Jonas N, I didn’t say anything about the article in my comments, but I agree with you.  I have to say, as absurd of positions you may find “deniers” advancing, the position promoted by Keith Kloor in this topic is equally absurd. 

    The reason many people continue you distrust claims regarding global warming is the fact people refuse to deal with the problems which are found.  When obvious problems are denied by seemingly everyone on one side, it’s only natural to be suspicious of anything coming from that side.  Ironically, these “investigations” can only serve to polarize the issue more.  Instead of resolving anything, they just push people farther to their respective sides.

    I still find it amazing the most accurate discussion of Climategate from someone who supports the global warming beliefs is from Jon Stewart.  When a comedy show is more trustworthy than mainstream media, you know there’s a problem.

  • stan

    Anyone else notice the parallels of these efforts to revive Mann’s reputation with the efforts to revive Alger Hiss’?  This reminds me of the KGB general who was asked by a Hiss relative to clear Alger Hiss of the claim that he had spied for the Soviets.  This despite Venona and a great deal of other evidence showing that he clearly had.  In 1992, the KGB general looked in some archives, didn’t find Hiss’ name, and told the family that.  Every major paper in the country had major headlines in thick, bold type declaring Hiss innocent.

    But oops — Hiss was never alleged to spy for the KGB’s forerunner.  He spied for the Soviet army.  Totally different group.  Like looking for a CIA agent in FBI files or at the Pentagon.  Not to mention that the failure to find the name “Alger Hiss” in a couple of days searching in a bunch of old paper files in a basement would not have ‘proved’ anything.  Even the general said he never said Hiss was not a spy, only that he hadn’t found his name in the KGB files he had access to (a lot had been destroyed).

    The lefties in the press didn’t care.  They wanted desperately to have Hiss cleared and they weren’t about to let reality get in the way.  The absence of logic and the inadequacy of the search didn’t matter.  They had their headlines and they were happy.

    The supposed investigations of Mann have been so limited and so cursory as to be jokes.  Yet, we hear trumpeted that Mann has been vindicated, his research carefully reviewed and deemed impeccable, global warming has been proven to be true, and all kinds of similar inflated claims.

    Keith loves to point a figure at ‘extreme’ skeptics.  The alarmists have all made fools of themselves in their haste to claim that investigations have cleared Mann.  Even the statement put out by the NSF fails to claim that.

  • Keith Kloor

    @20:
    “When a comedy show [Jon Stewart] is more trustworthy than mainstream media, you know there’s a problem.”

    Since Stewart’s object of mockery is often Fox News, I suppose many conservative readers of this blog will agree with you.

    @21:
    Alger Hiss? Wow.
     

  • stan

    As should be obvious from the comment, the parallel is in the liberal reaction, not the extent of the misdeeds.  I would have thought you read well enough to understand that.  Or did you misunderstand it on purpose?

  • http://www.veteransfreedomfarm.org steven mosher

    ” The University had been provided an extensive volume of
    emails from the Subject and determined that emails had not been deleted.”

    Unfortunately this is ambiguous. The Univeristy was supposed to investigate whether mann had anything to do with the deletion of mails. He did not delete his own mails (they determined), however, he did forward an instruction to Wahl to have Wahl delete mails. Wahl gave an interview with the OIG    where he admits deleting the mails. So just to be accurate the NSF is being ambiguous. Mann did forward Jones instruction to Wahl. Wahl did delete the mails. Whether or not there is something wrong with that behavior I have no clue. However, the record needs to be made clear.

  • Menth

    Mosher doesn’t believe Mann is 100% exonerated = Mosher is anti-science = Mosher believes Obama was born in Kenya.

    Nice and tidy. Seems like a fair extrapolation to me. Kudos Mr. Fallows.

    What’s the deal Steve? Wasn’t seeing his birth certificate enough?! It’s the exact equivalent!

    p.s a request for recognizing the nuances of individual circumstances is a sign you’re a block headed partisan who hates science and you probably think evolution is a product of Soros funded secularists. The real question is: why must you hate science so much? Why?

    /sarc off
     

  • Nullius in Verba

    <i>”He did not delete his own mails (they determined)”</i>

    Did he have any to delete?

  • Eric Adler

    Stan wrote:

    “People can read what Mann said and did for themselves.  His mistakes have been documented.  He screwed up his proxies and his PCA.  His reprehensible behavior is there in his own e-mails for people to read.”

    Mann did not screw up his proxies and PCA. McIntyre and McKittrick screwed up their analysis of what Mann did. When Mann’s data was analyzed correctly with centered PCA, the results are the same as the original non centered PCA analysis.

    A dozen subsequent papers analyzing global and Northern Hemispheric temperature averages using different proxies and different analysis validate the original conclusions in Mann’s 1998 paper, although variations in climate during MWP were larger than shown on the original paper.
     
    “I don’t care what Penn St or the NSF says about it. I can make up my own mind from the evidence.  I don’t care if they decide whether his problems amount to “fraud” or “academic misconduct”.  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether he is competent enough and honest enough to be trusted by the public on matters of policy which have serious ramifications.  Clearly, he flunks on that question.  And that’s all that matters.”

    It is clear that you are not looking at all the evidence, and are making up your mind anyway. The National Academy of Science report points out that the conclusion that human activity is creating global warming doesn’t depend on Mann’s Paleo Climate analysis and there is a lot of other evidence which makes the case. Of course you are smarter than the Scientists who wrote the National Academy of Science Report on the Hockey Stick.

     

  • Eric Adler

    JonasN wrote:
    “I just read the James Fallows Atlantic-piece ..
    He says that a “a serious scientist has been vilified, without basis”
    That’s hard to swallow. There might be parts of Mann’s science that should be considered “˜serious’, but that’s not what this debate is about . At all!”

    Yes it is. The conclusions of Mann’s original ground breaking work have been confirmed as correct by a dozen papers on reconstruction of the Northern Hemisphere and Global average temperature, using different proxies and statistical methods.  The criticisms of his work by McIntyre and McKittrick have been shown to be totally wrong.

    “Still: None of all these “˜exonerating, independent’ investigations and committees adressed the core issues, what really has been criticized. Instead they carefully work around those parts, staring at uncontroversial things, declaring: We can se no fouls committed.
    I don’t either thing that Mann conduct amounts illegal activities. But then again, (almost) nothing is concerned with such allegations.

    Mann is, correctly and rightfully, “˜villified’ for his actions. His work has been sharply criticized for a crappy paper in 1998. First thereafter has the criticism (again rightfully) turned towards his person and conduct.”

    Actually the conduct and competence of his critics especially McIntyre and Wegman deserves vilification.

    “From many sources now, we know that this was not only incompetence under duress. That these clearly were the actions of an activist with an distinct agenda (not suitable for public exposure).

    We also know that other lead climate figures, in his vicintiy and around him were aware, an partook in similar conduct.”

    Mann’s work has been vindicated by subsequent scientific research. It is McIntyre and Wegman, his principle critics, and the other phonies who chimed in such as Monckton and Watts, whose conduct is reprehensible, dishonest, and stupid.

    “Keith’s opening quote (above) is ony one more diverting attempt  from the real issues. Taken at face value it is utterly stupid! It tries to establish that anyone mentioning Mann, Climate Gate, or criticizing the science should be regarded as loons.
    Nothing can be more wrong! So why did he feel he had to put that on paper?”

    Keith never says outright that the people criticizing Mann should be regarded as loons. The sequence of statements  by Watts, and Fox News implying a conspiracy, speak for themselves.

    They are what they are. You are the one drawing the conclusions that they should be regarded as loons, from the true sequence of events and their writings that Keith presents. 

  • Tom Fuller

    Mr. Adler,

    Much of what you write here is extremely inaccurate.

  • Eric Adler

    Mr Fuller,
    Everything Stan and JonasN writes is inaccurate.

  • Eric Adler

    Dean 1330
    You wrote:
    “So none of the bad behavior disclosed through climategate matters?  stacking the deck against critics getting published, collusion against journals that publish critical articles, refusing to release data that is necessary to reproduce the studies to some people but openly handing it to others?

    None of that matters”¦”
    It isn’t pretty, but it is the emails show the normal sort of infighting that goes on between rivals.  In fact, the quality of the papers that the scientists complain about is very low. In one case, a bunch of editors resigned because a piece of junk got published.
    The fact is that the overwhelming majority of temperature and proxy data is freely available on the internet. 
    I would love to see the private emails of the principals in the corporate free market think tanks that manufacture objections to climate change to see what phoney charges they are cooking up against climate scientists.
    “Let me add, the science discussions that are in the climategate letters are actually the strong point of the letters.   They clearly show that there was significant technical discussions ongoing that raised very serious issues and yet in public, none of these issues were allowed to be aired.  This gets to J.C.’s discussion of confidence”¦ behind the scenes, they had questions.  To the public, everything was an absolute certainty.  Why the difference???”
    This is a myth created by the AGW deniers. It stems from the statement by Trenberth that we are unable to accurately track the detailed flow of energy in the climate system and need a more extensive observation network. It is no secret. He said this publicly as well. It doesn’t imply any doubt about AGW, which is what the deniers like you claim.

  • Tom Fuller

    Hmm. Well, calling me a denier is pretty much a conversation killer. Have a happy rant.

  • kdk33

    “we are unable to accurately track the detailed flow of energy in the climate system”

    “It doesn’t imply any doubt about AGW”

    These read best juxtaposed.

  • Eric Adler

    Mr Fuller @32,
    I never mentioned your name, or specifically referred to anything you posted. How can you claim I called you a denier?

  • Eric Adler

    KDK33,
    You are kind of indirect here. Are you explicitly claiming that these statements are inconsistent?  Why don’t you make this claim explicitly? If you did more than read sound bites on AGW denier web sites you would understand the issue a lot better and see that this is wrong.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5976/316.summary
    “By measuring the net radiative incoming and outgoing energy at the top of Earth’s atmosphere, it is possible to determine how much energy remains in the Earth system. But where exactly does the energy go? The main energy reservoir is the ocean, which sequesters energy as heat. Because energy is exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, this heat can resurface at a later time to affect weather and climate on a global scale. A change in the overall energy balance will thus sooner or later have consequences for the climate. Existing observing systems can measure all the required quantities, but it nevertheless remains a challenge to obtain closure of the energy budget. This inability to properly track energy””due to either inadequate measurement accuracy or inadequate data processing””has implications for understanding and predicting future climate.”
    There is also this:
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Trenberth/trenberth.papers/EnergyDiagnostics09final2.pdf

  • kdk33

    Eric,

    Thank you for the reply.  I think this is much better:

    “we are unable to accurately track the detailed flow of energy in the climate system”

    “This inability to properly track energy””due to either inadequate measurement accuracy or inadequate data processing””has implications for understanding and predicting future climate.”

    “It doesn’t imply any doubt about AGW”

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @32
    FWIW I don’t think you’re a denier.  As with most ‘lukewarmers’ and ‘free the code’ types, I think ‘useful idiot’ is probably closer to the mark. 

  • Eric Adler

    KDK33,
    @36
    You still haven’t made any sort of argument to show that the sequence of statements in 36 is illogical. This is probably because you don’t understand, or refuse to understand what he is saying.
    Trenberth says,
    “By measuring the net radiative incoming and outgoing energy at the top of Earth’s atmosphere, it is possible to determine how much energy remains in the Earth system.”
    Since you are an AGW denier, I will have to spell it out for you what this implies.
     We know the total energy entering the earth atmosphere system, and the amount exiting. More energy is entering than leaving because the greenhouse effect has slowed the release of energy into outer space. Conservation of energy, and the finite heat capacity of the earth,  implies that if more energy enters than leaves the earth is warming. There is no doubt about that according to Trenberth.
    The detailed flow of energy within the earth atmosphere system will determine precisely the detailed evolution of surface temperature across the globe, which is the information we need to deal with the warming that is to come. That is what Trenberth says we need to improve upon.
     

  • kdk33

    The difference between Marlowe and Tom:  Tom is useful.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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