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An inconvenient challenge

I am an arts and (though I shudder to associate Law with such "disciplines" as Sociology) social sciences man. My interests are literature, theatre and history. I love technology, but all I know about serious science is Professor Karl Popper's* explanation of the scientific method as the postulation of hypotheses followed by the performance of rigorous experiments to falsify them, resulting in provisional "truths".

One of the first bloggers I followed was A.W. Montford, known to me until recently only as Bishop Hill. Of late he has found a new audience on the topic of climate change. I have just finished his book The Hockey Stick Illusion. I feared it would be hard going but I was wrong. Despite some necessary (and thank goodness elegant) explanations of abstruse complexities, it is a page-turner. I commend it to you.

In reading it, I have acquired a new hero - a rare event at my time of life. Steve McIntyre has something in common with one of my other heroes, John Harrison. Both were derided by the closed ranks of the scientific establishment, largely on the basis of a snobbish reaction against an unqualified** "outsider." Harrison's inventions made the modern world possible. McIntyre's work (done for intellectual curiosity and at his own expense) may yet save it.

A prize-winning mathematician as a young man in Canada, McIntyre's family circumstances dictated a remunerative practical life as a mining engineer, rather than in academia. In retirement, he became interested in climate science, his gut instincts telling him that there was something wrong with a leaflet sent to every home in Canada in 2002 to promote the Kyoto Protocol. His reading led him to the work of Professor Michael E. Mann. Mann's paper, published in Nature on 23rd April 1998, strongly influenced the IPCC's and the world's politicians' view that anthropogenic global warming (AGW, or colloquially "climate change") was a potentially apocalyptic threat. A graph from that paper, showing the Earth's temperature as steady for centuries, with a sudden up-tick post-industrialisation, became the most influential image in selling AGW theory to the world. It (in its various forms over the years) is known as "the Hockey Stick" and its scientific supporters, clustered around Mann, are known as "the Hockey Team."

Many of you will have seen the graph behind Al Gore as he presented An Inconvenient Truth. You will certainly have seen it somewhere. It's burned onto our collective consciousness and it's in our childrens' school books. It's also based on flawed science and is pretty much discredited. Yet it continues to influence policy across the world, to the possible detriment of human civilisation.

Professor Mann is a poor scientist and a weak man, but not a bad person. He's sincere, as are the vast majority of proponents of the AGW hypothesis. He foresees catastrophic peril to humanity and is frustrated by those who doubt it and therefore impede (as he sees it) the necessary solutions. I am sure he was sincere in writing the original paper and in all his subsequent (sometimes dishonest) defences of it. I even believe, sadly, that he has been sincere in trashing his "opponents" and seeking to prevent their work from being published in the journals.

I imagine he feels such means are justified by a noble end. Sadly, that is how almost all corruption begins. One way to know you are going wrong in life is to catch yourself spinning data to serve your heartfelt objectives. His enemies point out that the paper and particularly the Hockey Stick propelled him from being a 33 year old unknown who had just completed his doctorate, to being one of the most influential scientists on Earth. He has certainly benefitted from it, but few men are evil enough to condemn billions to poverty for personal gain or glory. There are some such, no doubt, but I don't believe he is among them. It seems sadly clear however that for whatever (probably noble) reason, he has betrayed his calling as a man of science.

AGW proponents denounce sceptics as conspiracy theorists; ridiculing the straw man idea that so many distinguished scientists could be induced to conspire for political ends. I have never believed in such a conspiracy. I simply believe in the human weaknesses I see every day, not least in myself. Chief among these is pride. Exalt a man for a piece of work that proves flawed and his ego-involvement will lead him astray if he is anything less than a saint. He will defend it and call in every favour from his friends to do likewise. John Harrison's enemies were sincere too. Yes, their motives were mixed. They wanted the huge prize he had so clearly earned. They wanted to maintain their respected status against the rising fame of an interloper. But they were no cartoon villains and neither are the Hockey Team. Sadly, you don't need to be Dr. Evil to hold back the advance of civilisation. You just need to be misguided and proud.

That Mann is a scientific Salieri does not make McIntyre Mozart. He has exposed Mann's methodological errors, but he has never purported to attempt an alternative analysis. He has no more disproved AGW theory than Mann has "proved" it. The Bish's excellent book merely shows that the members of the Hockey Team are (as are we all) weak humans trapped in a mesh of pride. We should not allow our distaste for their perversion of science to divert us from seeking truth. That truth will take dangerously longer to establish provisionally because of their (and their supporting politicians') unscientific interference with honest attempts to test it.

* A nice moment of my life was Professor Popper's [grand-daughter][see correction in comments] (a friend of Ms Paine the Elder) spotting his books in my home and exclaiming that she had never seen copies before. But that's a story for another post.

** McIntyre, as a cursory glance at his Wikipedia biography will confirm, is far from the uneducated autodidact that Harrison was (and neither would he claim Harrison's status as a world-changing genius) but my point still stands.


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John Souter

I also believe that Stephen McIntyre is one of the true heroes of the modern age, and I admire his dedication and determination in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds against him. The fact that he has managed to maintain his dignity and enthusiasm for the subject is remarkable, given the brickbats and brickwalls that he has faced. I feel humble just thinking of what he went through at the hands of the hockey stick team.

Mann? A charlatan of the modern age, I'm afraid. If he has any self-respect, it must be delusional. There is a really interesting audio interview available with him, here:
It makes quite depressing listening.

The good Bishop Hill's book is amazing; a "page turner" as someone else said.

Finally, I would like to commend this blog post. A really nicely written summary of a shameful period of our scientific history; and excellent reference material for folk who won't or can't be bothered to read the good Bishop Hill's fantastic book.


I have often noticed this effect. Indeed (though I can't find a link right now) I have blogged about it. I have never read an accurate msm article on an area in which I have some expertise. So why do I keep expecting accuracy about other things? Thank you for giving a name to my pain.


Hating the sin and not the sinner is certainly what I was trying to do. I think I made it clear that people who spin for "a good cause" are going wrong in life and that they damage their cause by associating it with their dishonesty. and as Neil Craig says, being convinced of something's value does not negate the immorality of your actions to achieve it.

I understand the hostility expressed to the Hockey Team, but even the leaked emails from CRU show them - unscientifically - trying to defend (by wrong means) something they believe to be true. They should be fired and discredited as scientists, by all means. But they are not evil. One or two politicians profiting from AGW theory may be however.


No I wasn't taught by Popper. But I was lucky enough to be taught by Michael Oakeshott who was, literally, a scholar and a gentleman: not that Popper wasn't but he was a certainly a fearsome debater and I suspect that being tutored by him would have been a daunting experience.

James P

This is not a defence of Mann, but maybe a partial explanation. When you have spent years pursuing a goal or acting on particular beliefs, it takes a Herculean effort to admit that they (and you) may be wrong.

This occurs regularly in medicine, as Barry Marshall, the Australian doctor who finally nailed stomach ulcers nearly 30 years ago, will attest.

The medical establishment, aided and abetted by the drug industry, whose most successful product was an unnecessary treatment, held out for decades. Marshall finally got his Nobel Prize in 2005.

Neil Craig

When a respectable politician is caught lying we always say he was sincere or that he sincreely believed it was ok to steal. For some reason nobody prefaces a description of Hitler by saying he sincerely believed the human race would be better off without Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals etc though he probably was.

By definition we cannot know whether somebody sincerely believes something unless they admit they were lying. All that needs to be said is that we don't know.

In any case the human ability to rationalise what they want to believe is enormous & makes it irrelevent whether they had convinced themselves dishonesty was right.


Thanks for that gracious response. I fear that had you conducted yourself like Michael Mann or others in the Hockey Team you would have either refused to respond (on the basis that I am not a Popper "expert") or slandered me as a grandchild "denier" who is causing untold grief to any descendants of Popper.

On the subject of your post, you are far too kind to Mann who, while claiming to practise "science" succumbed to the temptations you describe. Evidently, he is a "poor scientist". Furthermore, he knew exactly what he was doing and (along with others in the Hockey Team and their political outriders) must have been aware that Steve McIntyre had rumbled him (or was, at least, asking questions which were difficult to answer honestly and frankly). Knowing that, I fail to understand, though, how you can describe him as "not a bad person". You let him (and all the other participants in this crooked construct) off the hook by implying that he should be partially excused because, although he chose to act badly, he acted with the best of intentions of which "bad persons" are apparently incapable.

By all means hate the sin and not the sinner. But Mann (and the other warmists) should also be enjoined to sin no more. As I write, the BBC keeps pumping out warmist propaganda, Gore ascribes the current winter in the US as a product of "global warming", Judith Curry still maintains that early scepticism was fuelled by a monolithic conspiracy financed by Big Oil and the UK prepares for a whitewash from the Muir Russell inquiry at the UEA and from another hopelessly compromised committee of the House of Commons

Grrumpy Old Man

If you were ever taught by Popper you are a lucky, lucky man.

Tom Forrester-Paton

I think you're being a bit kind to the members of the Tree Ring Circus. The emails clearly reveal that they knew they were flouting the Scientific Method. Some even make so bold as to protest, but are soothed into compliance. Whether or not it was complied with, Phil Jones was able to make the request that the team delete sensitive emails and data without either expecting, or getting, a single cry of foul. The scientists at CERN publish their work contemporaneously in repeatable form on their site, so the example of best practice was there for all in the scientific community to emulate.

The trouble with these sorts of frauds is that when they are debunked they leave so many people looking so silly that a conspiracy of silence ensues, and the billions already wasted on forfending a mythical catastrophe are aggravated by pointless, growth-inhibiting leggislation festering on statute books, where it will be obeyed by the Anglosphere and the northern Europeans, and elsewhere ignored. That is why a desire to see Jones, Gore, et al pilloried and punished is not mere schadenfreude - although it will be fun ("strangely cheering"?) to watch - but a fear that if we spare the rod we'll spoil the child.

Tony E

It might have started innocently enough, and Mann might have believed his own hypothesis in the beginning, but what has happened since is more revealing.

It is governments and large corporations which have driven this forward for financial and political gain. Gore might be the poster boy for it, but many governments have been complicit in covering up the truth because electorally, they would have been suicidal to have been seen to have extorted money from their populations under a falsehood.

This has meant that governments have backed only 'reliable' scientists to carry out predictable studies and have moved to stifle opposition as 'heretics & deniers'.

Central to this is the hopes of the EU & UN, that they been seen as the only option, (ie supranational government) to halt climate change, and rely on fear of it partly to prevent populations returning sovereignty to their own governments.


An excellent review except for this:

"Professor Mann is a poor scientist and a weak man, but not a bad person. He's sincere.."

That is your opinion. Certainly not mine. If he was not a deliberate fraudster I would be surprised. Surely he could not believe in his own fallacies, and the the cover-up, (see Bish's Jesus paper), was something very deliberate and dishonest.


My bad. Just checked with Ms P the Elder and she thinks he may have been her friend's great-uncle, not her grandfather.


"Professor Popper's grand-daughter"

Are you sure? I had always thought - and Who's Who 1981 appears to confirm - that, despite a long (and happy) marriage, Popper had no children, let alone grandchildren. Step-children /step-grandchild perhaps? But, there you are, what would I know? My only connection - if you can call it that - with the good prof was that I was an undergraduate at LSE when he was on the faculty.

Dr Phillip Bratby

I've read the good Bish's book twice to see the full twists in the tale, and I can thoroughly recommend it.

How Steve McIntyre kept going against all the adversities he had to endure, I will never know. He is a true hero of the modern age and deserves the Nobel Prize that was wrongly awarded to Gore and the IPCC.

Jack Hughes

Also a lot of the climate scientists knew all along that their own department was flakey but assumed that the other departments were solid.

This is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect - described by Michael Crichton:

...the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read.

Andrew Withers (LPUK)

Thank you for the recommendation, I will endeavour to acquire a copy.

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