Mann’s Ego – Basis of Climate Change Evidence?

My last post was the first in a series discussing significant examples of Michael Mann behaving in… questionable ways. The example in that post was the stupidly named “Excelgate.” There was a related issue I wanted to discuss because it’s hilarious, but it didn’t seem important enough to include. As such, I’m making this post as Mann’s Screw Up #1.1. Or 1.5. Or something.

You’ll remember in the last post I showed Mann told multiple lies about a spreadhseet. The most important for this post is in his book he claimed Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick’s criticisms of his work:

were false, resulting from their misunderstanding of the format of a spreadsheet version of the dataset they had specifically requested from my associate, Scott Rutherford. None of the problems they cited were present in the raw, publicly available version of our dataset, which was available at that time at ftp://holocene.evsc.virginia.edu/pub/MBH98/.

This contradicted other stories he told about the same issue, one of which said Mann’s co-author “unintentionally sent an incorrectly formatted spreadsheet” and another which said the file sent “was essentially useless.” It’s pretty silly.

What’s more silly is something Mann wrote in the same section of his book. The note that story came from is given for a paragraph on page 123 of Mann’s book. That paragraph has the amazing claim:

The fact that their critique rested on what could most charitably be desribed as a misunderstanding of the data used in our study hardly mattered, though. For the time being, climate change deniers had everything they needed to do immediate damage. They had a published study purporting to call into question the basis of the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change

McIntyre and McKitrick’s paper criticized Mann’s hockey stick. According to Mann, McIntyre and McKitrick questioned “the basis of the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change.” That means, according to Michael Mann, his hockey stick was the basis of the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change.

I won’t begrudge an ego in someone whose work is that important, but I must say, I cannot imagine a more damning argument for the global warming cause than saying Michael Mann’s work was the entire basis for it.

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17 comments

  1. Yes, well that’s pure hyperbole. Mann is nothing, if not the centre of his own hyperinflated universe.

    None of this is going to help Steyn, however. Here is the nub of Mann complaints against the various parties joined in his defamation action:
    “…for their utterly false and defamatory statements against Dr. Mann – accusing him of academic fraud and comparing him to a convicted child molester, Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced former footbal coach at Pennsylvannia State University.”

    All of the rest of his complaint is either context for the above, or irrelevant guff. There are a number of elements to a successful defamation case. It varies depending upon the jurisdiction and I’m no expert in the law of the State in which it’s being tried. However, these principles are fairly universal:

    * Did the defendant (Steyn, et al) actually do what the plantiff (Mann) alleges? – ie. did they actually accuse him of “academic fraud” and/or compare him to a “convicted child molester”.
    * Assuming that they did accuse him of either, were these accusations true? [Truth is the most powerful weapon for acquittable…most of the time.]
    * Did Mann suffer a damage that monetary (or other) compensation could address?
    * Was it a form of protected speech/opinion? [This last includes the First Amendment.]

  2. After some further investigation, there is a law colloquially called the “anti-SLAPP” legislation governing it. In order to succeed, Mann will need to additionally show that the comments were made with actual malice. That is, actual knowledge that the allegedly defamatory claims were false or made with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the claims made.

    This legislation also gives the defendants the right to file a motion to dismiss, which the judge must grant unless he/she believes that the case is likely to succeed “on the merits”. The defendants did this and it was rejected. Here’s what the appeals court judge had to say:
    “Opinions and rhetorical hyperbole are protected speech under the First Amendment. Arguably, several of defendants’ statements fall into these protected categories. Some of defendants’ statements, however, contain what could reasonably be understood as assertions of fact. Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity. They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable.”

    I won’t repeat the actual quote by Rand Simberg which Mann alleges is defamatory, because Mann is not only suing him and the magazine which published it, but also a couple of others who republished it. However, you can read it for yourselves on page 3 of the judge’s ruling here: http://tinyurl.com/k8hqwv6

    Initially, I had thought that this case would be long on legal argumentation, statutory interpretation and precedents, and short on the “juicy” bits – ie. Mann’s research.

    However, my reading of Weisberg J.’s ruling is that we can forget the supposed comparison to Jerry Sandusky – that’s the rhetorical hyperbole bit. What is actually important is, as his honour said:
    “The statement “he has molested and tortured data” could easily be interpreted to mean that the plaintiff distorted, manipulated, or misrepresented his data. Certainly the statement is capable of a defamatory meaning, which means the questions of whether it was false and made with “actual malice” are questions of fact for the jury.”

    You will note that in addition to repeating Simberg’s quote, Steyn added a bit in his article about the Hockey-stick graph being “fraudlent”. This is a separate allegation in the case.

    Consequently, we are going to get a lot of evidence led as to nitty gritty of how the Hockey-stick came about. Jury selection will be interesting, as will the way the case is conducted – how do you explain PC analysis, r2 tests, upsidedown Tjilander, Yamal (the most important tree in the world), etc. to a layperson audience?

    McIntyre’s investigations will be crucial to the defence, however the technical nature of his and McKitrick’s presentations would not be. Certainly the Climategate emails will be important. However, perhaps just as important will be any emails which arise in the discovery process which were not cc’d to a staff member at CRU (remembering that those are the only emails released via Climategate).

    Graphical comparisons should be central, IMO: cherry-picking of proxies and the effect that they would have if all proxies had been used; the results of red noise testing, which still produce hockey-sticks using Mann’s protocols; the “splice” of actual temperatures onto the proxy record.

    It does promise to be interesting!

  3. Just one more thing, although it probably goes without saying. It’s not going to be enough for the defendants to prove that Mann was wrong. Nor will it be enough to show that his work was shoddy. The allegations are of something more serious than that – of actually doing something that was fraudulent. That’s a higher burden of proof, IMO.

  4. @Anto-The defendant has no burden of proof whatsoever. I suspect you don’t have clue how American law works.

  5. @timetochooseagain. I’m sorry, but I think I’m more aware of how it works than yourself.

    You need to understand what’s going on here. The judge has indicated that the statements made are capable of a defamatory meaning. I fully agree with that – if you accuse someone of fraud or “molesting” the data, it’s clearly capable of being defamatory.

    Assuming that this is the case, it is a defence to show that the statement was true.

    “Typically, where the statements made by the defendant constitute defamation per se, the defendant has the burden of proving that the allegations are true.”
    http://www.attorneys-usa.com/intentional/defamation.html

  6. This blog is hilarious. By the way, you are reading that quote wrong. It was the so called “skeptics” who claim–and still claim–that the hockey stick was the only important evidence for human induced climate change. You have an amazing ability to misread things in weird ways.

  7. Boris, how in the world do you think that quote supports your claim? Mann clearly said skeptics had a study purporting to question key evidence for global warming. McIntyre and McKitrick’s paper only criticized Mann’s hockey stick.

    How do you suggest McIntyre and McKitrick criticizing Mann’s hockey stick meant their paper purported to question key evidence of global warming? Since they only criticized one piece of work, the only way they could purport to question such evidence is if that work was the evidence.

    If you’re going to claim my interpretation is wrong, you’ll need to do more than wave your hands. You’ll need to explain why the sentence should be interpreted in a different way.

  8. @Anto – You still don’t have it quite right. Even given the court’s statement, the burden of proof is NOT on the defense (Steyn) to prove that Mann’s work is fraudulent.

    The burden of proof remains entirely on Mann to show two things: 1) his work is NOT fraudulent, AND 2) Steyn, et al made their accusations knowing full-well that Mann’s work was not fraudulent (i.e., that they displayed actual malice). To win the case, Mann must prove both of these. He might get away with #1 (I expect he will, as the court will likely defer to the judgement of others on scientific matters…but who knows?), but Mann will NOT be able to prove #2.

    Cheers.

  9. @Anto – Sorry, meant to include this. Your link up above is fine, but you need to scroll down to the section on ‘defamation of a public figure.’ Since Mann is a public figure, the burden is on him to prove ‘actual malice.’ (I’m willing to bet that Mann’s lawyer has been chewing his ass off for writing the op-ed in which he stipulates to being a ‘reluctant’ public figure.)

    Mann is the Plaintiff; he will present his case first. He can make all the accusations he wants that Steyn ‘knows’ Mann’s work isn’t fraudulent.

    Steyn will then get to respond. Steyn does not. have to prove that Mann's work is fraudulent. He only has to show that he genuinely believed at the time he wrote the piece that Mann's work is fraudulent.

  10. @Dr C – you said, “The burden of proof remains entirely on Mann to show two things: 1) his work is NOT fraudulent”.

    With respect, I don’t think so. Defamation “per se” recognises that some statements are assumed to have harmed the plantiff’s reputation, without the need to prove further harm. Allegations of criminality (eg. fraud) are in this category. In such a case, I am entirely correct to say that it is a defence to such an action for the defendant to prove that the statement is true and that Mann will not have to prove that his work was NOT fraudulent. The allegation of fraud is presumed to be defamatory, unless proven otherwise.
    http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/what-defamatory-statement

    With respect to malice, I’m aware that it’s a separate element which needs to be proven (by Mann, this time). You’ll note that I mentioned this in my second post, above.

  11. It seems to me that Steyn can’t be convicted for libel by quoting another writer. The words aren’t his, so that charge can’t stick. The charge of scientific fraud is the one on which to focus, and if it’s true that the “blade” of the stick was created by appending actual thermometer readings onto the proxy results — well, I don’t see how that’s anything but scientific fraud. That will be the most important point of all.

    More interestingly, I think, is that I think Steyn is calling Mann’s bluff. Mann is probably figuring that a settlement will be reached out of court, but if so, he’s not reckoning on Steyn’s bulldoggedness (some might say bullHEADedness) on free-speech issues. If this goes into discovery, Mann will be dreaming of the day when all he had to deal with were a few FOIA requests.

  12. It is NOT necessary that Steyn show he believed his “fraud” comment to be true.

    Larry Flynt certainly did NOT believe Jerry Falwell raped his own mother in an outhouse.

    Steyn has the option of showing the truth of the claim. But Steyn may, if he chooses, meet his own legal burden by proving that Mann is a public figure (As was Pastor Falwell) and that Mann’s climate change remediation advocacy is a matter of public policy (as was the so-called “Moral Majority” movement) and that in debate with a public figure on a matter of public policy, the gloves come off and anything goes. It certainly helps Steyn and hurts Mann’s complaint that Mann has published commentary including the words “fraud”, “fraudulent” and related terms with regard to those who fail to worship Mann’s upthrust stick.

  13. Further to the Falwell v Flynt case;

    Steyn is a professional critic — of music and stage shows, among other things. By definition he sells his opinion on the works of others. He sells his OPINION. It it understood to be opinion. The market he sells into understands it is buying opinion.

    Mann accuses his critics (in general, but not Steyn in particular as far as I know) of being paid “shills” for oil companies and other deep pocketed conspirators against science. If Mann were to definitively state that Steyn had shaped his published opinion to the needs of the high-bidder, (as Armstrong Williams was accused of selling his opinion regarding the No Child Left Behind law to the GW Bush White House staff) then Mann would be making a fact-based claim regarding the value and honesty of Steyn’s opinion. Mann would be intentionally damaging the career of an opinion vendor.

    This is exactly parallel to Falwell’s claim against Flynt: “That’s not funny, that’s sick!” Falwell argued that a parody, to enjoy the protections of the US First Amendment, had to have some sort of recognizable humorous elements, and the “raping mom” claim failed to meet that test. Flynt countered that a failed joke (even stipulating that it might have failed) still enjoys the same protections as a successful joke. Here, Mann is saying that Steyn’s witticisms such as “master of the tree-ring circus” are not mere puns, or humorous opinion but are actionable claims of fact. Mann argues that “fraud” is not used loosely, but specifically regarding publication of climate data that Steyn has reason to know is false, or maliciously and falsely claims to be false. Were Steyn in a different profession — say, statistics — and had Steyn made a claim that Mann had published flawed work — say, “bad methods and right answer is NOT science” — then Mann MIGHT have grounds to suppose that Steyn was a psuedonym of Edward Wegman, that NRO columns were the Congressional Record, and have filed a lawsuit back in 2006. As it is, Steyn’s comments, even if couched in terms of fact-claims, must be discounted as opinion while the claims of professional statisticians, physicists, and engineers, while more factual in nature, are going — as far as Mann and his lawyers are concerned — unmolested. ( If I may use that term without inviting a lawsuit of my own… )

    That Mann did NOT sue Edward Wegman, or for that matter Steven McIntyre, a much more creditable source for fact-based claims about shoddy work, tortured data, and fraudulent results, indicates that Mann sues what he considers easier targets, like radio talk show hosts, Broadway theater critics, and political humorists. Selective and malicious law-fare is exactly the SLAPP that DC’s statute was intended to prevent.

  14. @James – actually, he can. Republishing someone else’s defamatory words is no different from writing or uttering them yourself as far as the law is concerned. However, it is not clear that each republisher does so “with malice”. That would need to be separately proven for each defendant.

  15. The GREAT BENEFIT of this lawsuit is…. DISCOVERY!

    Mr. Steyn will propound a request to produce… the data sets upon which Prof. Mann bases his writings.

    There will be zero ability for Prof Mann to refuse to produce ALL of the data.

    Prof. Mann will be required to produce all of the math and manipulations of the data sets to support his Hockey Stick graph.

    If he refuses to do so, or cannot do so, Mr. Steyn wins.

    QED

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