Mann’s Screw Up #7.1 – Semantics

Most people hate discussing semantics. Unfortunately, it’s necessary when people try to abuse semantics to win an argument. Michael Mann’s defense of his “trick” is one of those cases.

As you’ll recall, Michael Mann’s “trick” was to append the instrumental record to his temperature reconstruction, smooth the resulting series then truncate it so it appeared to only be a reconstructed series. That’s unquestionably dishonest.

Naturally, Mann doesn’t admit such. Instead, he attempts to abuse semantics to cover it up. On page 210 of his book, he attempts to say his trick had nothing to do with hiding things:

The full quotation from Jone’s e-mail was (emphasis added), “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” Only by omitting the twenty-three words in between “trick” and “hide the decline” were change deniers able to fabricate the claim of a supposed “trick to hide the decline.” No such phrases was used in the e-mail nor in any of the stolen e-mails for that matter. Indeed, “Make’s Nature trick” and “hide the decline” had nothing to do with each other.

He says the two phrases “had nothing to do with each other,” and people can only pretend otherwise by omitting words. Let’s consider this. Here is the original quote:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

The words people omit are prepositional phrases. All they do is clarify what the trick was. This can be seen by paring down the sentence. First, we remove the phrases listing the periods which had data added. That gives us:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series… to hide the decline.

This gives us the phrase “Mike’s Nature trick”; a description of what it is, “add in the real temps to each series”; and a purpose, “to hide the decline.” We can remove the description and get:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick… to hide the decline.

In other words, anyone with basic reading skills can see Mann is just making things up when he says the two phrases had nothing to do with each other.

5 comments

  1. Brandon: Out of curiosity, I took a look at how “scientific misconduct” is defined. I found this definition promulgated by the British Journal of Medicine that is consistent with similar definitions from many other sources. “Scientific misconduct–Falsification of data: ranges from fabrication to deceptive selective reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data, or willful suppression and/or distortion of data.” http://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-authors/forms-policies-and-checklists/scientific-misconduct

    I think that it would be interesting to analyze Mann’s screw ups in light of this definition. Particularly relevant to cataloging of Mann’s screw ups are : 1) deceptive selective reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data; 2) willful suppression and/or distortion of data.

    I would also argue that failure to accurately disclose methods would fall within this definition (e.g. not reporting the irregular form of PCA analysis.)

  2. pauldd, there are a lot of things Michael Mann did that could potentially be classified as “scientific misconduct” depending on what definition you use. It’s interesting to look at what would be, but it’s also a potentially dangerous distraction. Mann and his defenders like to focus on words like “trick” or “censored” in order to avoid the actual criticisms. Talking about “misconduct” or “fraud” allows for the same thing.

    That’s why I’ve never been able to decide whether looking at those things is worth it or not.

  3. I think Mann has wiggle room here. It can be reasonably inferred as
    I’ve completed Mike’s Nature Trick, adding in temperatures from 1980 and from 1960 in Keith’s to hide the decline in Keith’s.

  4. It’s rather amusing that he thinks putting the description of the trick back into the quote makes it any more defensible. If you remove the “trick” phrase from the front and just say “I’ve just finished adding {details} to hide the decline” does that make it any better? Even if you replace the word “trick” with “technique”, the details make it clear that what was done was completely illegitimate. The words “hide the decline” are what’s damning, not “trick”.

  5. phwest, that’s a common tactic used by Michael Mann and his defenders. We saw the same thing with his tests that prove he knew his results were dependent upon a small amount of tree ring data. He constantly focused on how the name of the directory they were stored in, “CENSORED,” didn’t mean anything bad.

    He was right about that point, but the name of the directory wasn’t the problem. The problem was what was in the directory. He pretty much just ignored that.

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