The only monkey in this trial will be Mark Steyn

Peter Jackson
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“Chase after the truth like all hell and you'll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.”

— Clarence Darrow


The hockey season may be in doubt, but hockey sticks are back in the news.

Hockey stick graphs, that is.

For more than a decade, the defining image of global warming has been the “hockey stick” graph, originally mapped by Michael E. Mann et al. back in 1998 and formally adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001.

It shows the relatively small variance of Earth’s temperatures over the past 1,000 years, ending in a sharp rise over the past century (thus resembling a horizontal hockey stick with the blade pointing up).

The graph is based primarily on proxy data — temperature estimates derived from indirect sources such as tree rings and ice core samples — but actual temperature records dating back to the 1800s are also incorporated.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the hockey stick graph has been thoroughly discredited. This stems from two things.

First, an independent scientific team (McIntyre/McKitrick) discovered flaws in Mann’s methodology not long after the graph was first published. This led many skeptics to believe it had been disproven. But Mann’s team corrected those errors and still came up with a similar result. In fact, the graph has been replicated several times by other scientists working independently.

The second source of doubt arose when years’ worth of climate research emails and other documents were hacked and leaked to the public in 2009.

A handful of those documents (of which there were thousands) seem to suggest that scientists in Britain and the U.S. were being less than honest about their work. In particular, one British researcher referred to “Mike’s Nature trick” and how to “hide the decline.” The immediate presumption was that Michael Mann was manipulating data to disguise a decline in temperature.

This latter revelation reflects a sad deficiency of the instant-news world we live in. For, while those few damning words were widely circulated by media outlets across the planet, few bothered to follow the ensuing investigation with much vigour.

As it turns out, various internal and external inquiries completely exonerated the scientists. The term “trick” simply meant a “trick of the trade,” and the “decline” was a reference to a well-known problem of diverging data from high-altitude tree-ring data since the 1960s. Apart from the latter anomaly, all other proxy components of the graph conform to actual temperature data. In fact, recent research points to a correlation between the declining tree growth and global warming itself.

To a scientist, accusations of manipulation and dishonesty are extremely serious. It is why peer review is critical in any research, and why results must be independently duplicated.

So, when acerbic, right-wing pundit Mark Steyn, in an online National Review post in July, referred to Mann’s hockey stick graph as “fraudulent,” and compared Mann to Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky, it would appear by any objective standard that a line had been crossed.

Mann has vowed to sue Steyn. And it won’t be the first time. Last year, he launched a suit against Canadian climate change denier Timothy Ball, for similar reasons.

There are few things nuttier than science on trial in a courtroom. One need only look at the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial, when attorney Clarence Darrow fought in vain for the right to teach evolution in the classroom.

But this case is about a man’s professional reputation — one the denier community has viciously targeted in an attempt to destroy the most powerful visual image in the climate change arsenal.

If Mann’s legal actions meet with success, it will undoubtedly be a watershed moment.

For now, deniers are jumping with glee at the prospect of Mann’s private work being dragged into the spotlight. They think they’ll uncover a wellspring of incriminating evidence.

If Mann’s academic exoneration is anything to go by, deniers should be careful what they wish for.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. 


Twitter: pjackson_NL


This story has been edited to correct a date.

Organizations: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, McKitrick, National Review

Geographic location: Britain, U.S., Penn

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Recent comments

  • Camboni
    October 27, 2012 - 17:48

    Wow Steve. I'm astonished at how little you know about a subject that you seem quite passionate about defending. To read your explanation of Mike's 'trick' and 'decline' is beyond comprehension. Everyone knows that the 'decline' is the declining temperature. It didn't fit into the narrative of runaway global warming, so Mike had to use a 'trick' to hide it, just like his graph also hides the Medieval Warming Period. The best part about this lawsuit is disclosure. If he proceeds with this action, he is going to be forced to give up his code. He's going to be forced to pull back the curtain and we'll all see the great and powerful climate wizard for what he is. A huckster, plain and simple.

  • Bud
    September 08, 2012 - 08:25

    Well Jackson, now you've done it. You got Mark Steyn's attention. You poor b@st@rd :)

  • Jarmo
    September 07, 2012 - 16:29

    This whole "settled science" of climate change (formerly global warming) - or as some alarmists wanted to rename it "climate disruption" - reminds me of the so called "science" of eugenics, popular during the early 20th century. A previous poster mentioned that Mann's data was reviewed by NAS, and made me laugh. Eugenics was totally supported by the National Academy of Science (NAS), the American Medical Association, as well as many elite universities such as Harvard, and many prominent politicians, writers and progressives - Teddy Roosevelt, H.G. Wells, Margaret Sanger, etc., in fact the same kind of people and organizations that today support climate change alarmism today. Unfortunately, because of belief in eugenics, many women were legally sterilized and institutionalized because of the elites' desire to purge the DNA of certain races and nationalities of undesirable traits. Some states passed laws to that effect, California, the state of cap and tax, being one of them. Seems like California always jumps on the bandwagon of the latest "science" craze. So please, don't bother reiterating that the such stalwart organization as NAS exonerated poor Micheal Mann's hockey stick graph. They've been [politically] wrong before.

  • Jed Marlin
    September 07, 2012 - 11:01

    to me, the question is this: do the climate scientists believe the governments of the world can act to prevent climate change? if the nations of the world reach an agreement to limt carbon release, will the "global climate" reach stasis and never change again? I don't think they are smart enough to do that

  • Fred Z
    September 06, 2012 - 23:13

    Mann has still not released the computer code that generates the hockey stick graph. he claims it's his own personal property, even though he created it to work on his government funded projects. Two frauds in one. Har, har, har.

  • Phil Howerton
    September 06, 2012 - 21:41

    "But this case is about a man’s professional reputation — one the denier community has viciously targeted in an attempt to destroy the most powerful visual image in the climate change arsenal" I won't even bother disputing your allegations about Mann's graph being exonerated by other studies and investigations, except to point out that it illustrates how little you really know about this subject; but I would ask you to explain why, if the graph is "the most powerful visual image in the climate change arsenal," the IPPC has stopped using it entirely in its subsequent reports. In fact, they stopped using it because, unlike you, they realized that it was in fact fraudulent.

  • Colonel Neville
    September 06, 2012 - 05:07

    You said that Mark Steyn: "...compared Mann to Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky". NO he didn't and you know it. YOU could be sued for libel. As for all your excuses and explanations regards Mann et al and the Climategate super scandal, EVERY one you made is false. James Delingpole in his fact sourced book 'Killing The World To Save It', is only one person to have empirically shown this to be so. No, really. Colonel Neville.

  • Hugh
    September 06, 2012 - 03:02

    " the “decline” was a reference to a well-known problem of diverging data from high-altitude tree-ring data since the 1960s" And why's that a problem? Because the tree-ring data doesn't support the warming we have actually seen. " The immediate presumption was that Michael Mann was manipulating data to disguise a decline in temperature." Quite right. They were trying to hide the fact that tree-rings (which they were using to show those thousands of years of consistent temperature) didn't actually seem to be a terribly reliable proxy for temperature. So that's alright then.

  • Paul Sandori
    September 05, 2012 - 17:28

    "Mann’s private work being dragged into the spotlight", you say. What "private work" is that? Nothing to do with the hockey stick? I thought scientist have been trying to get him to reveal the data on which he based his statistics. Nothing private about that. BTW, the calling people who disagree with the global warming theories "deniers" is disgusting, just as calling you a "warmist" or "fanatic" would be.

  • Bud
    September 05, 2012 - 15:17

    Wow! I am so glad I canceled my subscription to The Telegram years ago - it's getting even worse. Google News search for some new Steyn stuff and this gets returned as a hit - what a laugh! Jackson is one of the true-believers of the AGW scam and keeps trying to move the sheople to where they he thinks they need to be. Sad waste of an education, sir You should have paid more attention in your science courses - you might have realized that what Mann et al are doing, is not science. That's Steyn's point. My point is, there's no convincing an evangelist. Yup, I am so glad I stopped supporting this rag. Only regret is not dumping you sooner.

  • rkball
    September 05, 2012 - 14:37

    "To a scientist, accusations of manipulation... are extremely serious." This may be so, but I don't recall Steyn accusing Mann of manipulation. Are you accusing Steyn of doing so? If so, aren't you worried about Steyn suing you, especially since you think a man's "professional reputation" is sacrosanct and that lawsuits to protect a public reputation are a good thing?

  • rkball
    September 05, 2012 - 14:29

    "It shows the relatively small variance of Earth’s temperatures over the past 1,000 years ". If you had said "a relatively small variance", then this would have been accurate reporting. But you said "the", which indicates you accept a priori small variance as established fact. But then you've said that the hockey stick is what establishes the fact. Which is it? And, if you can't be precise in such a basic detail, how can we trust the rest of what you say?

  • Rob
    September 05, 2012 - 13:37

    Typical alarmist propaganda. To say that investigations "completely exonerated" Mann is a blatant lie. Wegman, et. al., McIntyre, and the NAS all found serious statistical errors and criticized the use of tainted proxies (bristlecones and foxtails). The 'hockey stick' remains a monument to incompetent, junk science.

    • Peter Jackson
      September 05, 2012 - 14:18

      Rob: Where are you getting your "facts" from? Go back to the Wegman report, the NAS report, etc. The NAS report exonerated Mann, apart from a couple of minor proxy issues (not serious errors). Wegman was recruited by a couple of House Republicans. His report was flawed and totally political. It was eventually pulled from a peer-reviewed journal, and Wegman himself is being investigated for plagiarism. As far as I can see, Mann has been completely exonerated from anything approaching fraud, and his graphs still stand firm alongside reams of other evidence for AGW. Scientists are politicizing this only in as far as they are forced to respond to relentless lies, distortion and personal attacks from detractors, most of whom are politically and financially motivated.

  • Steve Johnson
    September 05, 2012 - 13:35

    Peter - its not slang in emails that is unacceptable to me - its the use of two separate and inconsistent data sets in one graph to portray a desired preconceived conclusion and message for the purpose of swaying public opinion and government policy. Thats not science, it's advocacy, and in my opinion its deceptive advocacy regardless of what any investigations found.

  • Dude Rubble
    September 05, 2012 - 11:42

    I love the first two comments, oops, I didn't mean to say 2008, I meant to say 1998. At least Mann is no worse at using numbers than his supporters.

  • Gary Fraser
    September 05, 2012 - 11:31

    Peter: The people doing the "exoneration" of Mann et al are the very people who protect the institutions from which these people emanate their extreme view of climate change - hardly an objective platform, wouldn't you agree? With the billions of dollars and potential damage to whole economies at stake, I would certainly want an exoneration worthy of scrutiny. Btw - the CRU at East Anglia - you know - the guys and gals who put together the basis of the man-made global warming hysteria known as the IPCC - are now claiming the planet has been cooling for the last 10 years. Damn. Now we have to defend against crazos and their "Ice age is coming" rants - just like they did 50 years ago.

  • TC Lynch
    September 05, 2012 - 11:09

    How can something, "originally mapped by Michael E. Mann et al. back in 2008," be "formally adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001"... was a TARDIS involved?

    • Peter Jackson
      September 05, 2012 - 11:18

      First year is supposed to be 1998, It has been changed in the story.

  • Winston Adams
    September 05, 2012 - 10:48

    We know global warming is false as our shores are more often blocked with ice, St. John's harbour more often froze in winter, ships are having more trouble getting north due to all the ice, and ice again prevented Franklin from being found. And most important , Santa Claus still uses his sleigh, needs his beard for face protection against the cold winds, and still resides at the North Pole. We will know for sure that global warming is real when we see a for sale sign posted at Santa's workshop. And Mobil Oil confirms Santa is not moving, as he intents to adapt.

  • Peter Jackson
    September 05, 2012 - 09:54

    Steve: If ironic slang in personal emails was universally unacceptable, there'd be a lot more people than just these scientists in trouble. The fact is, the references were thoroughly investigated and no deception was found. Period.

    • rzr
      September 05, 2012 - 10:57

      Who investigated? Oh yeah, Penn State. Thus the Sandusky reference.

    • George Burt
      September 05, 2012 - 14:00

      Well, the people on the opposite side of the issue don't think it was thoroughly investigated. In fact, only friendly parties were allowed to participate. The fact is there is a LOT of money to be had if there IS anthropogenic global warming by these scientists. Not much if there is not. I am not a scientist, but I do recognize political activities when I see them. They may be honest and biased at the same time. When the scientists involved move heaven and earth to avoid allowing others (skeptics) to reproduce their data, why would you give them the benefit of the doubt? How many who do peer review are not getting money to study global warming? Take any political issue and allow only one side to participate and receive funding and what do you think you will get? Nothing Socratic and that is why I have doubts.

  • Steve Johnson
    September 05, 2012 - 09:10

    "The term “trick” simply meant a “trick of the trade,” and the “decline” was a reference to a well-known problem of diverging data from high-altitude tree-ring data since the 1960s" Oh I see - A simple "trick of the trade" was used to HIDE "divergent data" Totally unacceptable in science.