Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the Persecution of Michael Mann

The Republican treatment of famed Climate Scientist Michael Mann, goes well beyond rational concern about scientific misconduct, and looks more and more like outright persecution of a scientist who has dared, like Galileo to contradicts the dogmas of the powerful. But Mann, like Galileo is likely to have the last laugh.

The firing of Alvin Weinberg as ORNL Director was a major landmark in the decline of science in the United States. Weinberg was a great scientist, who invented the Light Water Reactor - he patented it - the dominant reactor type of the 20th century. Weinberg was an early advocate of the breeder reactor, but not of the fashionable fast breeder. Rather he championed a highly innovative reactor concept, the molten salt reactor, a reactor which Weinberg probably believed would probably solve all of the problems of nuclear power. Weinberg was concerned about nuclear safety, and got into political trouble, because he pushed for nuclear safety research, at a time when a powerful click in Washington, viewed safety concerns as standing in the way of nuclear progress. There is little doubt, that Washington Power interests, including Congressman Chester E. (Chet) Holifield, AEC Commissioner James Ramsey, and AEC Reactor Research Director Milton Shaw, were behind Weinberg's firing, Weinberg believed that it was important to understand the social and political role of science in the United States during the mid-20th century, and coined the term, big science, but he was blind to the impact of power interests on the course of American science.

In addition to his interest in nuclear power, Weinberg was interested in all sorts of thing including the carbon cycle, and was one of the first American scientists to be alerted to the potential link between CO2 emissions and an anticipated anthropogenic climate change. Here we have one of the great ironies or Weinberg's career, had Alvin Weinberg been a figure in American science a generation later, he might have gotten into political hot water for his stance on Anthropogenic Global Warming, rather than nuclear safety.

Of course, history has plenty of examples of scientists whose research got them in trouble with politicians and religious figures. The most serious example of scientists who crossed the line was, of course, Galileo Galilei, who according to Stephen Hacking,
was responsible for the birth of modern science.
What Galileo did that was so criminal was to invent the telescope, which in turn allowed him to observe for the first time in human history, the moons of Jupiter. The observation of the moons of Jupiter circling the planet offered confirmation of the heliocentric world view, the view that the planets including the earth, circled the sun. This heliocentric view had been percolating through astronomy for a couple of centuries, but Galileo started a scientific revolution with his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Galileo's book did two things. First it opened up the eyes of European intellectuals to the case for the heliocentric world view, but beyond that it advanced the status of science as a harbinger of a new age.

There was a price to be paid for creating an intellectual revolution. Although the Inquisition had initially given its approval to Galileo's "Dialogue" before its publication, Galileo had committed some political transgressions in the text of his book, that quickly surfaced once it fell into the hands of his enemies. Galileo had committed the sin of arguing that the sun rather than the earth was the center of the universe. For this sin Galileo was tried and imprisoned by that most evil arm of a frequently evil 17th century Catholic Church, the Inquisition. Galileo was tried for and convicted of the appalling crime of heresy, and condemned by the Inquisition to living under house arrest for the rest of his life.

The tradition of the Catholic Church's persecution of Galileo Galilei has been now taken up by some Republicans who are advocating criminal prosecution of climate scientists. Right wing grand Inquisitor, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, has demanded an investigation of criminal misconduct by climate scientists without offering a shred of evidence that any crime has actually been committed.
"The world’s leading climate scientists engaged in unethical behavior and possibly violated federal laws,"
Inhofe told a senate committee. Roger Pielke, Jr. commented,
this sort of announcement is what you do when you don't think that the law has in fact been broken. If he had any evidence of law breaking he'd be acting not via announcement. So I think that it is just a bit of clown-like bluffing, serving up red meat for the partisans, but little else.
Now lest you think that Roger Pielke, Jr., is a typical left wing climate science ideologue, you really ought to check out what a real left wing climate science ideologue, Joe Romm, has to say about Piekle, whom Romm classifies as a climate skeptic.

It is now generally assumed by the American political right wing that the notion of Anthropogenic Global Warming is a hoax perpetrated by left wing scientist, and that it serves ideological rather than scientific interests. That august scholar and critique of scientific error, Sarah Palin tells us that President Obama should be
sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices.
This theory does not explain why Edward Teller, long an icon scientist for the American political right, made no qualms about his acceptance of the AGW theory in a speech to the American Chemical Society in 1957. Nor was his 1957 speech the only time Teller focused on AGW. Thirty years later, Teller wrote,
While the magnitude of the climatic impact of greenhouse gases is currently uncertain, the prospect of severe failure of the climate, for instance at the onset of the next Ice Age, is undeniable.
Clearly then Teller was no anthropogenic climate change skeptic. Thus the notion that climate change is a left wing hoax is preposterous. Teller came up with his own solution to climate change, a solution that involved geo-engineering, rather than windmills.

There have been plenty of serious scholarly reports that have exonerated Climate scientist from the charge that their conclusions are the product of of professional misconduct.

In a report that criticized some of Michael Mann's findings, but exonerated him of misconduct charges, The National Research Council acknowledged: “There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other “proxies” of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years, . . . The researchers concluded that the warming of the Northern Hemisphere in the last decades of the 20th century was unprecedented in the past thousand years. In particular, they concluded that the 1990s were the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year. Their graph depicting a rise in temperatures at the end of a long era became known as the “hockey stick.” The Research Council committee found the Mann team’s conclusion that warming in the last few decades of the 20th century was unprecedented over the last thousand years to be plausible, but it had less confidence that the warming was unprecedented prior to 1600; fewer proxies — in fewer locations — provide temperatures for periods before then. Because of larger uncertainties in temperature reconstructions for decades and individual years, and because not all proxies record temperatures for such short timescales, even less confidence can be placed in the Mann team’s conclusions about the 1990s, and 1998 in particular.

A Penn State committee stated: “The Investigatory Committee, after careful review of all available evidence, determined that there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann, Professor, Department of Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University.
More specifically, the Investigatory Committee determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.

The decision of the Investigatory Committee was unanimous.

In addition a 2006 report by the National Academy of Science found no scientific misconduct by Mann.

Any attempt to try Dr. Michael Mann, or almost any other climate scientist, would see a parade of witnesses with unquestionable scientific credentials, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, who will state that Dr. Mann has engaged in valid scientific research, and that his findings were not the product of scientific misconduct.

Yet the Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, attempted to pillage a University of Virginia warehouse, in hopes of uncovering some evidence that Dr. Mann had done something wrong. What evidence did Mr, Cuccinelli have to justify his belief in Mann’s misconduct? According to Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr., absolutely none. Despite being told by Judge Peatross, that there was no objective grounds for asserting that Dr. Mann had engaged in any misconduct, Cuccinelli has launched yet another witch hunt investigation of Dr. Mann. Cuccinelli is now demanding the right to rummage through all of Dr. Mann's university of Virginia emails for a seven year period when Man was associated with the University of Virginia, as well as his professional working documents. Paradoxically, the research that Cuccinelli wants to investigate has nothing to do with climate change. It has nothing to do with Dr. Mann's famous hockey stick, nor was Dr. Mann the principle investigator. In short, Cuccinelli is looking for any excuse to discredit Mann.

Attorneys for the University of Virginia have responded to Cuccinelli's latest fishing expedition with a counter filing that alleges Cuccinelli's sweeping demands are not based on any specific allegations of wrongful conduct, that they demand access not only to Dr. Mann's paper history, but all documents too and from Dr. Mann by 38 other scientists and scholars, but curiously not, the principal investigator of the research project, or of co-investigators other than Dr. Mann. The UVa lawyers also allege that Cuccinelli's engaged in impermissible infringement on academic freedom.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science viewed the treatment of Dr. Mann as

“a search for some basis on which to discredit these particular scientists and findings, rather than a search for understanding.”
Clearly we need to begin to speak of the persecution of Dr. Mann. The fact that right wing crackpots don’t like Dr. Mann’s conclusions does not mean that he has committed major scientific errors let alone engaged in deliberate misconduct.

Republicans like Inhofe, Palin, and Cuccinelli are not the only American politicians who have engaged in clownish, silly, anti-science behavior. When the National Academy of Sciences found that the Indian point nuclear power plant was of vital importance to the New York state electrical supply and to the state's economy, then State Attorney General and now Govenor elect Andrew Cuomo, pronounced the report "baloney”, proving that his contempt for science and scientists is at least equivalent to Inhofe's and Cuccinelli's.

Cuomo's anti-science, hysterical attempt to paint the Indian Point Reactor as dangerous will ultimately backfire on him. Likewise, the disgraceful Republican attempt to target distinguish scientists like Michael Mann with witch hunting excursions, will eventually cost the Republican party dearly.

We can accurately describe Inhofe's and Cuccinelli's treatment of Dr, Mann as a persecution. But Dr, Mann is likely to have the last laugh on his persecutors. One sure way to establish your name in the history of science is to be targeted, like Galileo, by an anti science progrom. And by linking themselves to the persecution of Mann, Republicans would see attached to their party no small infamy.


Eric said...

Michael Mann is an influential figure in my own views on climate change. Before I begame aware of him, I didn't think much about the subject. Now, everything I learn about how the sausage of paleoclimate modeling is done (by him and others) makes me--a career scientist--sceptical of the confident pronouncements of certainty. Did we have a midaeval warm period? Not if he can help it! Yes, Michael Mann has done more than anyone to make me...careful...on the subject of climate change.

Now, before I'm tarred and feathered as a "denier", you need to know that I'm a rabid fan of Th and nuclear power in general as the solution to our energy future. Do I think we should change our energy policy? Absolutely. But ideologically pure approaches like solar and wind are no panacea. I don't know how important it is to do how much to change our energy policy by when, though, and neither does Michael Mann.

Charles Barton said...

When i accepted the MSR/LFTR energy solution in 2007, I almost immediately realized that it was consistant with the sort of energy policy that conservatives could accept, and that it was sellable to conservatives without forcing them to accept the reality of climate change. Conservatives far to often want to make climate change about not liking Al Gore. My message to the right is get over it, stop putting partisan interests above the interests of our country, and start working toward acceptance of viable solutions to the national energy policy.

Anonymous said...

Mann represents the worst in climate science. The tree ring stuff is a joke as anyone with a science background can see.

That said, warmers can have less co2 if they will start pushing nuclear/LFTR rather than wind/solar.

One only has to look at Europe to see that France/nuclear has a low carbon footprint while Germany/wind/solar does not.


Charles Barton said...

Charles H, you Conservatives have been so blinded by their hate of climate scientists, that you conservatives don't see the harm you are doing to yourselves and quite possibly to your country. You need to get over it. The right wings solution to every problem seems to be to preach and practice hate for the people you disagree with. Hating Michael Mann is not going to change the reality of climate change, and calling him a bad scientist is not going to change the fact that his fellow climate scientists admire him. The country needs you to work toward solutions, not to hate the climate scientists. The mitigation processes i favor are consistent with conservative and libertarian principles, but conservatives are not going to have a say, if they continue to demonize Michael Mann.

Anonymous said...


Are you saying conservative shouldn't fight junk science? Mann, Romm, ..... Al Gore has recently admitted that corn ethanol subsidies are a bad idea (poor people starve etc). Should we wait until Mann and Romm kill people before they are fought?

Would you consider yourself close to Joe Romm? Romm is the most prominent liberal/warmer I think.

On energy policy, you are in the conservatives camp are you not? Conservative are for low cost energy to lift the worlds poor out of poverty. Libs/enviros are happy with high cost energy, fewer people, few resources consumed.

LFTR is low cost energy to the world's poor.


Charles Barton said...

Charles H, I am saying that if conservatives think that AGW is junk science then conservatism is in deep trouble. There was always a serious scientific doubt about corn ethanol. There was never a scientific consensus about it.

By your account I am an alarmist, because I am deeply concerned about anthropogenic global warming. That is because I pay attention to what serious scientist have told me, for the last 40 years. You make another serious mistake when you classify Mann with Romm. That just will not fly with people who know the score. If you were really opposed to junk science you would ignore climate audit.

Eric said...


You are too right on the subject of LFTR pushing the right buttons for conservatives. In fact, the improved safety and more manageable waste that the thorium fuel cycle brings have the potential to likewise be more palatable to greens/liberals.

Let me challenge you a bit, though, in your prescription for conservatives. Should conservatives just get on board the bandwagon of cap and trade, with solar and wind (and positive thoughts) as the presumed panacea? Is anyone better off if we all agree on the problem but delude ourselves about the solution? I view nuclear power acceptance as the litmus test of whether any liberal is truly serious about addressing climate change.

Eric said...

I think you do wrong to dismiss climate audit wholesale. It's a useful gadfly that can improve the quality of climate science, if those in the community can depoliticize enough to listen.

Michael Mann et al are experts on paleoclimatology, but they do not appear to be experts at statistical methods. I get that--I can remember back to some of the statistical and modeling tools I used for my PhD and how my grasp of them was just enough to be dangerous. This is very common across science--core expertise is expanded by a broad toolbox of necessary tools. For something as important as this, though, should we not try to improve the quality of our tools and the correctness of their application? Should we not strive also to select valid and unbiased data? The lack of willingness to do so is my main criticism of Michael Mann and my caution toward his work.

Anonymous said...


Speaking as one who has a science degree (physics) and has followed this issue closely over the last few years, Climate Audit is vastly more scientific than Mann et al. (Do you follow Climate Audit closely?)

I stand by my comparison of Mann to Romm. If you want to understand why I hold Mann is such contempt email me.

The issue is not AGW. Conservatives/skeptics believe in AGW. The issue is CAGW or not. Everyone agrees that the sensitivity is ~1dc for co2 alone. The scientific debate is about the feedbacks. Warmers assume 1 to 5dc and skeptics say 0.5 to 1 is more likely.

You are free to have a different opinion. I have moved on long ago from debating CAGW to pushing LFTR as a solution that should appeal to both warmers and skeptics. But please stop saying conservative/skeptics are obviously stupid/evil because they don't believe in AGW. They do believe in AGW. They just don't believe the evidence for CAGW is strong enough to justify shifting to high cost unreliable wind/solar and increasing the suffering of the poor.


Frank Kandrnal said...

Burning a major portion of fossil fuels in few centuries that took mother nature millions of years to accumulate must have some impact on environment no matter who says whatever. In any case, using fossil fuels to generate base load electricity when much better carbon free options exist in nuclear energy is morally wrong. It is wrong to burn the fossil resource feedstock, needed for future chemical industry.
It saddens me to see political divisions and fighting over the obvious. I am a conservative, however, I do not agree with special interests who propagate the use of fossil fuels in power generation for their own financial interests only, while blindly denying any possibility that such practice can be harmful to environment and future generations.
I also strongly disagree with hard core environmentalists whose chronic blindness and untamed zeal for solar/wind power is causing increase in fossil fuel consumption and financial/material resource waste.
Germany is the perfect example in this lunatic doctrine. Their failed alternate energy policy is supplanted by coal fired power plants and by electricity imports, thankfully some of those power imports are generated in French and Czech nuclear power plants. Nevertheless, such sucking power demand for the neighbor's juice is driving the cost of electricity up in exporting countries, especially in Czech republic, hence the population is made to suffer for the idiotic energy policies of their neighbor.
When you look at hyper pathetic performance from German solar power plants it gives you the quick realistic picture.

Charles Barton said...

Charles H, irst, my defense of Michael man had nothing to do with the quality of his scientific work. It is a response to repeated charges that he had perpetrated a hoax with his work, that he had committed deliberate fraud and that there is probable cause to believe that he has committed one or more crimes in the course of his research, So far no one has offered a a defense of these charges. You have offered confirmation of some of my other concerns. You have divided the world into good guys and bad guys, and you express a great deal of emotion about people you have decided are bad guys, while you express admiration and probably give your trust to the good guys. You admit a strong hate Michael Man, and that is enough to confirm the label of bad scientist in your eyes. Further you believe in your capacity to be objective despite your own deep emotional involvement. Do your emotions distort your judgement? That would be the case for most people, so why not you?

Anonymous said...


I hold Mann in the same regard as I hold Romm. I don't have this opinion of all climate scientists. While I don't share Dr. Hansen's concern regarding co2 I respect his sincerity evident in his support for nuclear/LFTR. I really like Roger Piekle Jr. who says he is a warmer. Judith Curry also attracts my respect.

Mann is guilty of:

1) Using proxies (tree rings) that are not good temperature proxies at all and then hiding data that illustrate this fact (e.g. "hide the decline").(anti scientific process)

2) Using poor statistics. Mann's statistics finds "hockey sticks" in "red/random noise". (anti scientific process)

3) Hiding his data from those who would like to confirm his analysis (anti scientific process).

4) Trying to subvert the peer review process. Trying to prevent papers that don't agree with him from being published and out of the IPCC process.(anti scientific process)

I challenge you to find any scientist/engineer (not seeking AGW grant money) that has followed Climate Audit closely to disagree with me.

Charles Barton said...

Charles H, you have outlined the charges against Michael Mann made by the climate audit crowd, You have not in your account of the charges claimed that Dr. Mann has done anything criminal, that would justify the current witch hunt in Virginia. Further, you have failed to provide any account of Dr. Mann's defense in response to the charges against him, and you have failed to explain why Dr. Mann's colleagues in the climate science appear to continued to hold him in high regard. Further you have not explained why several independent investigation by reputable organizations have concluded that Dr. Mann's research methods conform to accepted scientific practices.

Charles Barton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Barton said...

Charles H., I had another response to your comments, but i decided to turn it into a separate post.

Anonymous said...


If you could get your head of ClimateAudit and their unhealthy obsession with Mann for a little while you should take a look at the many temperature reconstructions from multiple researchers using different proxies and analyses that broadly agree with Mann's original hockey stick.

It sure looks like Mann was right.

The attempted vilification of Mann is quite sickening and has nothing whatsoever to do with science.

Rod Adams said...

Charles and CharlesH - I think there is a high likelihood that the issue you are discussing really has little to do with political ideology.

I agree with CharlesH on one comment - support for nuclear energy should be a litmus test of sincerity for people who proclaim to be very worried about the effects of combustion product emissions to the environment. I also agree with Charles Barton that some of the world's top scientists have been warning about the negative effects of dumping fossil fuel waste products into the environment since before I was born - and I am a grandfather.

There is a distinct possibility that people who deny the risks associated with dumping combustion products on the right are actually team members with people on the left who deny the benefits of emission free nuclear energy and claim to be promoting wind and solar energy. In both cases, the beneficiary of the activity is the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil fuel pushers gain when politicians on the right from Oklahoma and Alaska say "drill baby, drill" and deny the risk of combustion waste. They gain when Greens in Germany fight nuclear energy to the point of chaining themselves to railroad tracks. They also benefit when "liberal" bloggers like Romm quote their Lovins mentor and claim that nuclear energy is simply too expensive to matter.

I think that this is no coincidence. The leaders in the fossil fuel industry are plenty savvy enough to understand that a variety of policies that reduce people's fear of their product and increase people's fear of their competitor's product all lead to increased sales, revenue and power.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Anonymous said...

One very real "hockey stick" scandal that has very little with Michael Mann is the 2006 Wegman report to the US congress. Purporting to be an independent scholarly assessment of the "hockey stick" and other aspects of climate science by a team of eminent statisticians, it has been shown to be not only seriously flawed but riddled with plagiarized text.

Computer scientist John Massey has meticulously dissected the text of the Wegman report and shown that 35 of the 91 pages are largely plagiarized.

Wegman is now under investigation by George Mason University:

Plagiarism is a serious academic misdeed. One has to ask whether the US congress should expect any lesser standard.

Expect to hear more about this as it seeps into the main stream media.

Charles Barton said...

Anon, your report appears to be accurate, and suggests that while Michael Mann appears to have not broken any Virginia law in the conduct and reporting of his research, some of his critics may have been guilty of ethical and perhaps legal lapses.


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