Anti-Science NRO and CEI File New Briefs, Get It Wrong Again

This is about the law suit filed by Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg because of accusations they made that were actionable. Michael Halpern summarized:

Competitive Enterprise Institute’s space technology and policy analyst, Rand Simberg, recently wrote a blog post in which he compared Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to former university football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. CEI published the post on its own blog, and the National Review decided it was appropriate to pass along. Michael Mann has rightly demanded that the National Review retract the blog post and issue a public apology.

The most offensive section of the CEI post, which has since been scrubbed:

“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.”

There has been a lot of back and forth in the legal proceedings, and the latest is summarized by Aaron Huertas:

The latest round of legal briefs have been filed in climate scientist Michael Mann’s lawsuit against the National Review (NRO) and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). ...

NRO makes a distinction between calling Dr. Mann’s work “fraudulent” and alleging that he had, for instance, embezzled funds or fabricated raw data.

Indeed, there are gradations of accusations one can make against a researcher. Stating that a scientist is wrong in their analysis is a far cry from saying their work is shoddy, but both are normal parts of public discourse about science. It’s another thing entirely to accuse a scientist of manipulating data or knowingly using faulty methods to reach a pre-determined conclusion. ...

The worst thing one can do to a scientist professionally is to accuse him or her of fraud. More commonly, scientists refer to fraud as “scientific misconduct” or “research misconduct.” ...

While the original research Dr. Mann’s and his colleagues conducted 15 years ago was certainly subject to criticisms and scrutiny, it held up to that scrutiny, and nobody ever made the case that it was fraudulent.

...

CEI’s legal brief rehashes investigations of scientists after a hacker (or hackers) stole emails from them in 2009. ...

Dr. Mann’s lawyers cite all the investigations in their brief. That makes sense since all the investigations are related and none found that Dr. Mann—or his colleagues—were guilty of scientific misconduct or fraud.

But CEI attempts to argue that these investigations were somehow insufficient. Regarding the two investigations that did focus specifically on Dr. Mann, CEI tries to downplay how serious they were. They write that Penn State’s committee looked at whether or not Dr. Mann “falsified data” and claimed that the “inquiry committee simply reviewed some of the [stolen] emails, spoke with Mann, and then dismissed it.” They also write the National Science Foundation “did not conduct an investigation of Mann’s data practices or research because it determined that ‘no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the Subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.’”

...In reality, these investigations were far more thorough than CEI suggests. ...These latest filings only reinforce my view that attacks against Dr. Mann are ideological and political in nature, not based on an actual assessment of his work.

You can read the rest, and more detail, here.

As you may know, we have been having a lengthy discussion here about the original work done by Mann and his colleagues. Feel free to join in! Regarding the research itself, this is very simple. Mann and his colleagues attempted to look simultaneously at some "paleorecords" ... indications from ancient sources of temperature ... and the modern "instrumental record" (i.e., from thermometers) to see if the already observed increase in temperatures thought to be linked to anthropogenic global warming really does stick out like a sore thumb among temperatures going back longer in time. The result of that study was, essentially, a graph combining ancient data and modern data that looked like a hockey stick laying on its back:

The original northern hemisphere hockey stick graph of Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1999, smoothed curve shown in blue with its uncertainty range in light blue, overlaid with green dots showing the 30-year global average of the PAGES 2k Consortium 2013 reconstruction. The red curve shows measured global mean temperature, according to HadCRUT4 data from 1850 to 2013. From Wikipedia. The original northern hemisphere hockey stick graph of Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1999, smoothed curve shown in blue with its uncertainty range in light blue, overlaid with green dots showing the 30-year global average of the PAGES 2k Consortium 2013 reconstruction. The red curve shows measured global mean temperature, according to HadCRUT4 data from 1850 to 2013. From Wikipedia.

There are three ways in which this research could be questioned. First, it was only of the Northern Hemisphere, not global. Second, it is possible that the particular observations of modern temperature, the instrumental record, was somehow incorrect or biased. Third, it is possible that even though this graph shows the modern increase in temperatures as extreme, maybe the older data is bad, or maybe if you went back further in time (and globally) you'd find pre-industrial (prior to the release of so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) periods that are warmer than today, suggesting that the underlying assumption of how greenhouse gases might be wrong.

Even at the time, though, these objections were weak. While the Norther and Southern Hemispheres may (and do) act somewhat differently from each other, they are not as out of sync as they would have to be for the basic hockey stick graph to be wrong. The instrumental data was certainly not as perfect as one might like, but it was pretty darn good data. For the last few million years, during the course of human evolution and the evolution of our current ecology, there was no reason to believe that there were periods much warmer than today, if at all.

But subsequent research was done, of course, and several findings support, refine, and expand on the hockey stick model. Additional studies of modern temperatures showed results very similar to the data used by Mann and colleagues. At least two studies look at biases (one looked at the possibility of false warming caused by urban heat island effects, another looked at areas of the Earth that are under-sampled by direct observation). Both found that the hockey stick curve was either pretty much correct for instrumental data, or actually possibly a bit lower in temperature than reality.

Of course, the entire study was extended globally, confirming this as a global pattern.

Work on paleo information extended the range of the hockey stick graph way back in time, and showed that during the Holocene (last 10,000 years) there was not a period warmer than today. Further work seems to indicate that even during among interglacial periods (we are in an interglacial now) things are warmer now than usual. It turns out that you almost certaily have to go back in time several hundred thousand years, possibly several million years, to get a time period as warm as today.

Most importantly, per has, as time has passed since the original hockey stick curve was produced, the globe has gotten warmer. The air and sea surface are warmer, though the amount of warming has been modest compared to what we would expect for a simple model where greenhouse gasses only warm the atmosphere. But a lot of heat is being absorbed by the ocean, it turns out. The true surface temperature of the planet has to include both the atmosphere and the ocean (both surface and at depth) and we think over 95% of the extra heat from global warming goes into the deep ocean, but it is not well measured.

Meanwhile the whole "Hockey Stick" controversy continued and developed. This isn't just a couple of people and a major conservative publication falsely accusing Michael Mann of fraudulent behavior (scientific misconduct). Anti-science forces have spent millions of dollars attempting, usually very clumsily, climate science, and one or more individuals went so far as to steal emails among climate scientist, falsifying using cherry picking what was said in those emails. It is an all out war between anti-science and anti-environment groups and individuals on one hand vs. scientists and rightfully concerned citizens on the other. A great description of how these "Hockey Stick Wars" played out can be found in this book.

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They also write the National Science Foundation “did not conduct an investigation of Mann’s data practices or research because it determined that ‘no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the Subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.’”

So they are upset because there was not an investigation of how he did something there was no evidence he did? Is that really the crux of this bit? Is that a sign of how desperate they are or of the low quality of their legal representation?

Thanks, Greg. One of the other aspects of this that is so striking to me is that we're still arguing about a fifteen-year-old-study. There's been so much other paleoclimate research since then and the broad conclusions are pretty clear.

By Aaron Huertas (not verified) on 29 Sep 2014 #permalink

That's the crux of the problem: There's been so much other paleoclimate research since then and the broad conclusions are pretty clear.

They feel a desperate need to apply more mud to increase obscurity.

It would be hilarious that they actually think this will make AGW go away -- if it weren't for the fact that their actions are not only failing to make it go away, they're actually making it worse.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 29 Sep 2014 #permalink

I sense a level of desperation on the part of CEI with this recent filing. It's going to be very interesting to read the judge's response.

By Rob Honeycutt (not verified) on 29 Sep 2014 #permalink

“...a hockey stick laying on its back.”

Lay is transitive – it takes an object.
Lie is intransitive – it doesn't take an object.

Laying a hockey stick on its back describes an action done to the hockey stick.
A hockey stick lying on its back describes a state, a condition. No one is doing anything to the hockey stick.

So here you want lie, not lay. (If you tell your pets to lay down you'll confuse them. They expect you to say, “Lie down.”)

__________________________________________________

I'm not qualified to understand the niceties of M&M's complaints against the original hockey stick. What I do understand is that MBH99 was a pioneer work, and that its shortcomings had no effect on the validity of its results, which have been corroborated again and again by other scientists using other methods.
http://ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/the-h…

What I also understand is that the fervent opposition to the hockey stick and the resulting vilification of Mann have little to do with valid scientific objections, but everything to do with the inconvenient visual strength and simplicity of the graph as a portrayal of unprecedented warming.

The libels were probably made with the assumption that they could be made with impunity. It's good for all of us that Mann has defended himself as forcefully as he has.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 29 Sep 2014 #permalink

Over at ClimateAudit (under the JeanS post that inspired the long comment thread here on Greg Laden's blog), Tom Fuller tries to make a distinction between saying Dr. Mann's work is fraudulent and calling him a fraud. Evidently Fuller feels the former accusation is not actionable.

I am not a lawyer and it may be that case law recognizes some distinction between these accusations. But the way I see it, Fuller's claim is a distinction without a difference. I would hope the law sees it the same way.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 29 Sep 2014 #permalink