The original hockey stick of Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1999 ) with its uncertainty range (light blue). Graph by Klaus Bitterman.
Review by Natalie K Björklund-Gordon BSc PhD
Mark Steyn is a well known and not uncontroversial figure. Among his accomplishments were the defeat of Islamists who were using Canadian anti-hate laws to oppress their critics. In the current brandishing of his vorpal sword, Steyn called the darling of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, Michael E. Mann, a fraud. Mann then decided to try to silence Steyn by suing him. Even though this highly unscientific habit of silencing critics by sending lawyers after them has worked well for Mann in the past, Mann made a very serious mistake taking on Steyn. Mann has thrown Steyn into Steyn’s own Briar Patch. Steyn’s book “A Disgrace to the Profession, The World’s Scientists – in their own words – on Michael E. Mann, his Hockey Stick and their Damage to Science – Volume One” illustrates the magnitude of Mann’s error. Steyn gets to defend himself in this lawsuit that Mann is bringing and, to his misfortune, Mann has given Steyn a great deal of ammunition to fight back with.
I am a scientist. I have a BSc in Biochemistry, a PhD in Human Genetics and have published a number of peer reviewed articles. The public likes to think of us scientists as people who are somehow a cut above the rest. But in fact, scientists are just like any other collection of human beings. There are nice ethical ones and then there are the arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic, sociopaths, and of course, everything in between. Scientists are above average in the amount of training they have had in presenting thoughts and ideas in a coherent fashion and at teaching people how to grasp important concepts. Such abilities are all too easily misused and so science has a stricter than usual set of rules to protect the innocent from us. These rules include peer review, data sharing, publishing your work, vigorous open debate and a lot of rules about tolerance of others’ ideas and protections for dissenters such as tenure. These things exist not because scientists are superior but because the average member of the public cannot easily stand up to our advanced training in the art of persuasion or the authority presumed to be vested in any PhD.
Steyn’s book is a shocking collection of meticulously documented quotes set in context, from the scientific community itself. Supporters of Mann have accused Steyn of misquoting, cherry picking and using only the doddering ramblings of a few senile retirees. They have also accused Steyn of having an unnatural obsession with Mann. This is all simply untrue. Mann sued Steyn first. Steyn is defending himself from a lawsuit and this book is part of preparing that defense. It is what 100 scientists, many of whom are experts in the field of climate science, have to say about Mann’s work. Steyn’s book is remarkably fair and balanced. He includes quotes from those who support and endorse the concepts of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (man-made, not Mann-made) and those who do not. (And no, the science is not settled.) He includes some of the most well respected and reputable members of the climate science field.
Reading this book gets to be a bit mind-numbing in the middle: all these names, with all these honorific letters after the names, in all these prestigious institutions, and in so many journals. I have seldom found so many abbreviations, acronyms, and multisyllabic words in one place. Fortunately Steyn has chosen to collect most of these at the start of each section, so you can safely skim ahead to the stuff written in plain English. Each section is itself a neatly packaged essay. Steyn certainly can write. Even in the thick field of science, where soporific writing is often considered a virtue, he writes entertainingly and well.
I have only one real criticism of Steyn’s book. If you are not familiar with some of the concepts important to the climate science debate, you will need to read carefully and pay close attention (and maybe google a few phrases), because while Steyn does explain everything, his background explanations are sometimes a bit too light. Also he does not always give the background to terms like “climategate” when they first appear, so sometimes you have to wait and this can be frustrating. This is a minor point. I expect most of the innocent bystanders to this highly polarized “war on science” have already retired to their bomb shelters, locked the door, and turned on the ventilation systems to drown out the noise of exploding shells. Most readers will have already delved into it and come to their own conclusions about just who is making war on science and who is fighting for truth. Still if you read only one book on the climate science wars, you need to read this book. In fact, it is my opinion that Steyn on Mann should be included as a mandatory textbook for anyone studying ethics of science or history of science, and wondering how not to be taken in by flimflam artists masquerading as scientists.