Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 26, 2014

“How to Manipulate Rubes into Covering Your Legal Bills,” Mark Steyn edition

If you haven’t been following the Michael Mann v. National Review, Inc. et al. case, here’s a quick summary.  Rand Simberg, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thought he had a clever way to capitalize on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Compare Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to Jerry Sandusky, and accuse him of producing fraudulent scientific data!  This charge was repeated by Mark Steyn, blogging for the National Review magazine, and of course, neither Steyn nor Simberg had the presence of mind to clearly label their accusations as opinion, or provide any caveats whatsoever, or… you know… provide any “evidence” for the accusations.  Having put up with such accusations by wingnuts for a number of years, Mann sued.  Of course, the defendants have been complaining about their “free speech” rights, and trying to get the case thrown out based on certain laws meant to stop people from using defamation/libel suits to stifle legitimate public discourse.  But there are limits on “free speech,” and now two different judges have ruled that they would allow the case to proceed, because it is likely to succeed if presented to a jury.  Meanwhile, Mark Steyn and others at the National Review… well, especially Steyn… can’t seem to keep their pie-holes shut long enough to keep from making their prospects even worse.  For instance, Steyn let loose with some searing remarks about how stupid and incompetent the first judge (who recently retired) was, which appears to have resulted in a parting of the ways between Steyn (and probably the NR) and their lawyers, so that now Steyn is representing himself (badly).  Anyway, if you want to  protect your “right” to publicly throw out baseless accusations of fraud, it’s going to cost you some cabbage, and so lately Steyn has been out begging the rubes to finance his Crusade for Freedom and Justice.  Recently, he did so on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.  Hewitt was quite supportive of Steyn, but given that he claims to be a Constitutional Law professor (and given Steyn’s comments on the show,) I thought it likely that Steyn might not have been completely forthcoming about the nature of the case.  Here’s the note I sent Hewitt through his Facebook page.  We’ll see if he was really misinformed, or just another rube Steyn is trying to manipulate into paying his bills.

Dear Hugh,
 
I am an active Republican and a geochemistry professor at Brigham Young University.  I noticed that you had Mark Steyn on your show the other day, complaining about how Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him had not been dismissed, and trying to drum up some donations to help him with his legal defense.  I thought you should know, however, that Steyn wasn’t being completely honest with you about the case.
 
On your show, Steyn seemed to imply that the case was about his right to disagree with Mann’s “Hockey Stick” reconstructions of paleotemperatures over the last 1000 years or so.  This is not the case.  Steyn is being sued because he made the accusation that Mann “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science,” and that Mann’s scientific work was “fraudulent”.  Both judges in the case have noted that this accusation was a statement of fact rather than mere opinion, and can hypothetically be proved true or false.  It is therefore grounds for a defamation suit, if it can be shown that 1) the accusation is false, and 2) Steyn made the accusation either knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.  
 
I don’t know whether Mann will win the case, or not, but it is clearly not just some frivolous suit meant to stifle legitimate public discourse.  For one thing, the accusation is clearly false.  The main charge against the “Hockey Stick” work was that Mann and his colleagues had misused principal components analysis (a statistical technique) to obtain a certain outcome.  But when scientific bodies such as the National Research Council reviewed the case, they found that the statistics could have been done better, but the mistakes didn’t change the results much.  They also found no evidence of “fraud”.  Now, if you were going to commit scientific “fraud,” wouldn’t you fudge your data so as to actually obtain substantially different results?  The “fraud” charge is just ridiculous, whether or not you believe the “Hockey Stick” accurately describes the temperature evolution over the last 1000 years.  For another thing, it seems very likely that Mann’s legal team can show that, at the very least, Steyn made the accusation with “reckless disregard for the truth.”  
 
Why am I so confident about that?  Because several scientific, academic, and governmental panels had already ruled there was no evidence of fraud, and Steyn knew that.  Second, because Steyn can’t seem to keep his ignorant mouth shut.  On your show, for instance, he claimed that the National Research Council agrees with him.  About what?  Certainly not about the fraud charge, which is what he actually being sued over.  Also consider this passage from one of Steyn’s recent columns.
 
“In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued.”
 
Ummm… Aside from the fact that Steyn is once again implying that he is being sued for something other than calling Mann’s work “fraudulent”, I note that Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “climate model” that made predictions about the 21st century.  It isn’t.  It didn’t.  So in other words, Steyn is insisting on his right to publicly call a scientist’s work “fraudulent”, when he clearly has made no effort to understand what said scientific work is even about.  So let’s just please ignore all his posturing about his right to his opinion about the matter.  He doesn’t even care what the facts are.
 
So, Hugh, I believe you said you are a Constitutional Law professor.  Are you still quite so hot to defend Steyn’s foolishness?
 
Sincerely, 
 
Barry Bickmore

Responses

  1. Terrific letter. Thanks for writing that.

  2. […] Michael Mann hath prevailed upon the court to allow his defamation suit to go forward.  And there was weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.  (The Apocalypse of […]

  3. Barry,
    I am an ScD former aerospace scientist (retiered). I started out accepting the generally accepted CAGW position, and followed the debate on global warming, and the hockey stick, for quite a while. I have read and analyzed a lot of the literature and claims by both sides. The argument about the hockey stick was not just that Mann used bad procedures, but that he used a figure where he appeared to deliberately misled the effect of the graph. This was the so called “hide the decline” graph. The exposed e-mails in the climategate event clearly showed bad behavior by several of the climatologists (with Mann being in the most extreme cases) trying to force an opinion that is not as well supported by evidence as claimed. I can only go by evidence, not opinion. The fact that the NRC and several groups did not find Mann totally wrong, is sad, as the panels all failed to do due diligence. If you actually read the reviews, you would be ashamed of all of them. The NRC is particularly vexing. This is the same group that in 1970′s wrote a position that there was major chance of an approaching ice age. This was a limited period response and the present position is also limited. In fact, the best present evidence is that we are presently entering a period of cooling. I won’t bother you with more details, but if you are interested in reading some of my early comment with more detail why CAGW is in error, go to The Air Vent site (a blog) and type in my name to get my supplied discussion.

    I don’t agree that MS did right, I think he needed to qualify his comments as his opinion.

    • Hi Leonard,

      I disagree about the “hide the decline” issue. They knew a certain set of data (certain tree-ring data from 1960-on in the NH) wasn’t a good temperature proxy, and this had already been discussed by Keith Briffa in the literature. So basically, they left out data known to be bad from a graph. I’m not impressed with the level of nefariousness.

      • Maybe Dr, Weinstein coupd elaborate on the NRC “position” that an ice age was approaching in the 1970s.

      • They didn’t just leave it out… “Mike’s nature trick” was referencing the deliberate way they dropped off the recent tree ring data (that would have called into question it’s use as a suitable temperature proxy) by masking the graph in amongst a number of other temp data. The effect left the reader of the graph the impression that the tree ring data agreed with the temperature record. It was a blatant deception.

        • As I said, “the decline” had already been discussed in the literature by Keith Briffa. And given that a number of studies by different groups, using different proxies and statistical techniques, have provided paleotemperature estimates within the reported error bars of Mann’s original work, can everyone please just accept that there was no “fraud” or “blatant deception” involved? What will it take?

          • Wow, so you really can’t see any problem with deliberately letting the public, the media and the policy makers believe that the tree ring proxies were in agreement with the temperature record? You think that because behind the scenes some of them expressed a modicum of concern about it being misleading that they should be absolved? They knew that Briffa’s proxy was undercutting their argument so they chopped it off and buried the evidence in colored spaghetti. Had Steve McIntyre not taken an interest in the mathematics of all this it would never have come to light. Was it you who asked “When have the AGW skeptics ever admitted to a mistake?” You can’t honestly say the equivalent of “Move along. Nothing to see here” when it comes to Mann, Jones and Briffa and “the trick”. Those graphs elevated them to rock star status and you sadly believe they were at most honestly mistaken. I’m not even going to mention the closing of circles when McIntyre asked for the code to reproduce their work.

            • “Behind the scenes”? It was publicly published in the literature! Here are the facts, as I see them.

              1) The “decline” could, conceivably cast all tree-ring proxy temperature records into doubt, if all we had to go by was tree rings and the instrumental record.

              2) But we DO have other proxies, which agree pretty well with the tree rings.

              3) Therefore, it seems reasonable to exclude certain tree-ring data from the heavily industrialized Northern Hemisphere, when we can compare the data to both the instrumental record AND other proxies to show that a) the other tree-ring data is ok for proxies, but b) the data in question is not.

              Is that so difficult to fathom? I can completely sympathize with Mike Mann going on the warpath, when ridiculous charges like these, based on a sort of voluntary ignorance about the full spectrum of data, just won’t go away.

            • Wow. If the scientists throw out bad data, you claim it’s proof that the result is fabricated.

              If the scientists don’t throw out bad data, you claim GIGO!

              Is there any allowed method for producing a result that you disagree with?

          • It was NEVER publicly published. Is THAT so hard to fathom?

            • It was.

              That is why the quote mine says “Nature trick”.

              That’s why in the paper there is a reference to Keith’s paper where the problem is discussed.

              Hell, the change is discussed in the paper as a footnote!

              But you’ve never read the papers, only the blogrolls.

            • This is the paper you were looking for (or should have been).

              http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v391/n6668/abs/391678a0.html

    • CAGW: denier tripe, meaning “Any strawman extreme I can think of, to be reconsidered at any point without admission of prior definitions being incorrect”.

      Do you believe that an average surface temperature of 200C would be bad? Catastrophic, even? Yes? Well all that requires is continuing as we are and “AGW” becomes this “CAGW” you deride.

      Indeed the CAGW complaints and strawmanning are entirely based on the same premises as creationists’ claims of “Where’s the Missing Link!?!?!”. Whatever you don’t currently have, demand it as proof of the proposition being denied. When it’s found, change the requirements in detail, just maintain the mantra “anything you don’t currently have…”.

      QUOTE> I have read and analyzed a lot of the literature and claims by both sides

      Really? So what about the claims of negligible funding of Pat Michaels by fossil fuel industries? Even he later said “Well, about 40%”. What of Monckfish’s claims of curing AIDS and Graves Disease (despite which, he still suffers from Graves)?

      No, you haven’t, have you.

      QUOTE> This was the so called “hide the decline” graph.

      Nope. No such “hide the decline” graph exists.

      Oh, and please tell me how thermometers are less accurate a measure of temperature than tree rings?

      Also please explain how only one region and one species of tree “declined” when every other indicator still tracked upward, yet the one outlier becomes “reality”.

      Or is all you heard “There is this so-called ‘hide the decline’ graph and considered that a Edward Friendly “Take THAT, Warmistas!”, not worthy of further investigation?

      QUOTE> I can only go by evidence, not opinion. The fact that the NRC and several groups did not find Mann totally wrong, is sad,

      So the evidence of the NRC’s vindication is not evidence? Or is it that all you’re going for, despite your claim, the opinions of denier blogrolls?

      QUOTE> as the panels all failed to do due diligence

      Evidence? Or is that merely opinion, that you refuse to go by?

      QUOTE> This is the same group that in 1970′s wrote a position that there was major chance of an approaching ice age

      So a fabrication you’ve heard on a blogroll that isn’t actually backed by any evidence (remember: they aren’t Time or Newsweek, the only two places that sexed up the 7 out of over 70 papers on climate that said there MAY BE an ice age because of pollution IF it weren’t cleared up (remember the Clean Air Acts? When were they?) and IF the warming effect of CO2 did not come to dominate, both caveats in the papers not cited by any denier, such as yourself, because you’ve never seen the evidence, only the claims of others. I.e. opinion, paraded as fact).

      QUOTE> I won’t bother you with more detail

      I won’t bother with uncited and unverified opinion, thanks. So, given that, I will ignore your fantasy diatribe.

  4. Twice here, once in Barry’s post and once in Leonard’s comment, I see a note that Steyn should have “clearly labelled” and “qualified his comments as opinion.” I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t understand the necessity. Steyn is a news commentator. Of course, everything he says is his opinion! Who doubts that?

    • Hi Jon. It’s from the legal definition of “libel”. See here:

      http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/libel

      And I believe the defendants in the case argued what you just said, but the judges didn’t buy it. That is, even news commentators can’t make clear, false, and defamatory accusations and just have the courts assume everything they say is meant to be “just opinion”.

      • Barry, I haven’t been following this closely but it seems to me that Mann likes to dish out the name-calling but can’t handle it when it comes back at him.

        • BWAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAA!!!!!

          Ah me, you deniers crack me up! Really.

          Cracked and leaked (twice now) private information from the scientists investigating the climate systems and you claim it’s fair game, that the public needs to know.

          Cracked and leaked HI donations list, and you whine about how Peter pretended to be someone he wasn’t and that’s a crime, ignore the content!

          And here with the “you’re all frauds” but whine when labelled denier.

          • Bad day playing World of Warcraft, Wow?

            • Ah, so you play it? Or is it you have contempt for those who do, therefore since you find my presence contemptible (for not allowing your vapid outpourings to go uncorrected) have decided that claiming so is some form of “Gotcha”?

              Big problem for you here: I don’t play WoW.

              Bad hair day, col?

            • I must say Wow, (you sure it shouldn’t be WoW?) your comments, if nothing else, are certainly enjoyable to read.

            • Yours, however, Col, are a trial and tribulation to any sane mind.

            • You should find them a pleasure then (:

            • Ok, I’m not some prude who doesn’t allow a few insults on his blog, but this is ridiculous. My new rule is that, in any conversation between Wow and Colin that takes place on my blog, each post must have some substantive point embedded in the snark and insults, or it gets deleted.

            • Hi Barry

              Point taken.

        • Hi Colin,

          He isn’t suing because of “name-calling”.

          • Hi Barry, whether you call someone a “big, fat idiot” or “fraudulent”, in the end it is still name-calling. Well in my opinion I should say.

            Whether Mann is fraudulent or not, it appears he has become hypersensitive to criticism (or smearing in his mind, and possibly the courts) and has now resorted to suing left right and centre.

            It appears to be a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

            • Hi Colin,

              They aren’t being sued for saying Mann is “a fraud” or “fraudulent”. They are being sued for falsely accusing him of specific criminal acts. The first is protected speech. The second is not.

            • Hi Barry

              Would that be comparing Mann to Sandusky or are there specific accusations of criminal activities?

            • Hi Colin,

              They accused him of fraudulently manipulating his “Hockey Stick” paleotemperature data for political ends. The Sandusky stuff just made the whole thing more vile, not more illegal.

            • Hi Barry

              Thanks for the technical clarification.

              I agree the comparison to a pedophile was vile (even though Steyn appears to distance himself from that observation) but perhaps “he listed a number of statements he thought were similarly outrageous and anti-scientific”?

              http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/willful-blindness/#comments

            • Col do you agree your accusations are therefore unfounded and agree that your claims for or against the statement you opened with, are a red herring?

    • News commentator does not make you immune from the law.

  5. The Navier Stokes equations describe fluid flow with changes in density and temperature. They are non-linear, chaotic, and show sensitive dependence on initial conditions. No finite set or record of past states is sufficient to predict a non-trivial future state. Any pretence that past states can be used to predict non-trivial future states is fraud, ignorance or insanity, ever since the publishing of Edward Lorenz’s paper “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow” in 1963. Mann pretends to use records of past states that are decidedly finite to predict future states. That is fraud or insanity.

    • Don, chaos theory doesn’t say you can’t predict anything about future states from past states. Lorentz attractors are attractors, after all. Predicting long-term averages is not the same problem as predicting short-term instantaneous states.

      Also, can you point to where Mann “pretends to use records of past states that are decidedly finite to predict future states”? I’m not sure what you are talking about.

      • Barry,
        I can’t believe you are as uninformed of chaos theory as you seem to be. Yes there are attractors, but no paper has found what attractors exist in climate. The shift from full glacial to interglacial may be a pair (driven by variation in Earths orbit, and corresponding change in NH ice), but we are talking about smaller changes within an interglacial. If you actually looked at best present understanding, you would realize that the temperature variation during the present Holocene has been as warm or warmer much of the last 10,000 years. There have been several lasting colder interludes, including the LIA, which lasted several hundred years, but the trend of the level of high periods between the lows has had a general downward trend for the last 3,000 or so years. The evidence of the bulk of proxy temperatures is not that there was no MWP or warmer times prior, it shows that the LIA was likely global, and the MWP likely the same or warmer than present. If you like I can direct you to the evidence. Your quotes of Briffa tell me you did not do due diligence on the argument. He make some good points, but on the whole is simply wrong. You really need to read some of the skeptic posts.

        Wow,
        I did not want to fill this blog with a huge set of text, so I gave a location where I have much more discussion. The Air Vent. Just put my name in the blank and several posts will discuss in detail my opinion, backed with evidence. The posts are fairly old, so I would revise them some, but not change the basic conclusions. Your comments are nasty any show the type person you are.

        • Leonard, I cannot believe someone who wishes to claim “I am an ScD former aerospace scientist (retiered)” opened with such a howler as “I can’t believe you are as uninformed of chaos theory as you seem to be”.

          If you wish to maintain the illusion of authority, you must not make such appalling statements of ignorance!

          “Yes there are attractors, but no paper has found what attractors exist in climate”

          However, this is a fabrication of your own design. The presence of the Lorentz attractor indicates that the asinine proclamation of ignorance “No finite set or record of past states is sufficient to predict a non-trivial future state.” by the OP is absolutely false by reason of misapplication of assertion.

          Climate is a boundary problem.

          Liken it to modelling a rugby/american foot -ball at the top of a hill with bushes, rocks, dips and crossing streams on the way down.

          Where will it go? Downhll is the “climate” answer. “Unpredictable after a few tens of meters” is the weather answer.

          But just because we can’t predict the precise path of the ball does not mean we cannot claim it will not roll down hill.

          Tell me, was your position technical or merely administrative? I.e. do you have the education to understand what you claim to know about, or were you just given a position whose title can be “massaged” into fake authority?

        • “Wow,
          I did not want to fill this blog with a huge set of text, ”

          Apparently you haven’t read any of your posts, then.

          Why should anyone else, if you have not the wherewithal to do so?

        • Leonard,

          Of course the climate system hasn’t been strictly mathematically defined, but it should be noted that the mere existence of “climate” as something much more predictable than “weather” is a good indicator that there are “attractors” involved. Also, the fact that there has been a fairly regular response to Milankovitch forcing is a good indicator that climate isn’t as wildly unpredictable as Don implied.

          And what about Briffa? My point about him was that he had discussed the reasoning for throwing out some of the 1960 NH tree ring proxy data publicly, before Mann et al. did just that. This was in response to your claim that the “hide the decline” business was some nefarious plot. Now you try to change the subject and say Briffa made “some good points, but on the whole is simply wrong.” Well, even if he was wrong, don’t you think it is still possible that Mann et al. were just acting on the information he gave? Stick to the topic at hand.

          Finally, I do read “skeptic” literature, and I’m not impressed. Click on the tabs above about Roy Spencer and Monckton for some examples.

          • Barry,
            It is true that night and day, summer and winter average levels of differences can be well estimated. These are driven by very large forcing (night to day insolation variation, and tilt of the planet in orbit). These are not generally considered climate as they are too short. However, the year to year average over different longer time scales (climate) seems no more predictable than weather. I am very interested why you think it is. If it was, the 15 or so year ‘PAUSE” (more likely beginning of a prolonged drop according to many) could have been predicted. The ice cores and sea bed cores clearly show variability that is not understood. There is no significant support for model predictability of climate (say 10 to 100 year periods or longer) from any data. Models have shown no significant skill either regionally or globally. The best estimators so far are purely empirical ones based on partial understanding of such as ENSO, PDO, AMO, and solar spot activity (which is related to magnetic field effects). We do not fully understand why these correlate and predict better, but even they do not allow long term prediction.

            You must understand that skeptics do not have to prove anything, only demonstrate that the real world does not support the claims stemming from the hypothesis of a human caused large effect. Skeptics are just trying to make you support them with REAL data, not models (which have some physics of the fluid mechanics, but not the rest of the physics such as ocean currents, clouds, solar variation effects, aerosols, etc.). Invoking the precautionary principle is also flawed, as cooling is much worse than warming, and forcing the temperature down at high cost when the natural trend may be down is potentially a dangerous double flaw. Also, so far the only demonstrated effect of increased CO2 is a large increase of crops and desert greening. This appears to have prevented starvation that otherwise would have occurred. I am really curious what evidence you have run across that firmed up your position.

            • Except that you would not get the diurnal changes correct for the Sahel and the Tropical Rainforest if your “model” were based on:

              “night to day insolation variation, and tilt of the planet in orbit”

              It would have to include the difference in “trace” gasses like H2O. I.e. the Greenhouse Effect.

              Hell, you’d get the wrong temperature ENTIRELY, by about 33C on average if you didn’t include the GHG effect.

            • “You must understand that skeptics do not have to prove anything”

              The IPCC WG1 reports are the evidence.

              If you claim that they are wrong, I am skeptical of your claims and I do not have to prove you wrong, you have to prove your claim right.

    • Don, read up on the Lorentz attractor.

      Read up on statistics: each roll of the dice is a chaotic stochastic event, but even though you can’t determine what the next dice roll is, you can determine the answers to other questions.

      Sometimes even more interesting ones than “will I win the lottery”.

  6. “… now two different judges have ruled that they would allow the case to proceed, because it is likely to succeed if presented to a jury.”

    This is false: E.g., Judge Weisberg: “Viewing the allegations of the amended complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a reasonable finder of fact is likely to find in favor of the plaintiff.”

    This is not remotely a suggestion that the case “is likely to succeed if presented to a jury.”

    • Not even “remotely”? I understand the distinction, however, because you are correct that the judge was viewing the case “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,” but you missed the following from further down in the judge’s order.

      Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, a reasonable jury is likely to find in favor of the plaintiff on Count VII against the National Review defendants….

    • “This is false:”

      Yes, that statement you made was false.

  7. […] Mann v. National Review et al. case (which I have previously written about here, here, and here) has the Free Speech Brigade out in force.  These people have, or at least […]


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