In The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael Mann brings a unique vantage point to his “dispatches from the front lines,” chronicling the war on climate science and scientists by the global warming denial machine, alongside the advance of scientific research and understanding. Prof. Mann tells an essential story, as many readers of this site are well-aware — with detail, references, and interpretation of events during the past two decades that make this book not only a very good read, but a good reference work on science versus the denial machine.
The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, is available from Amazon and from Columbia University Press. If you order from Columbia University Press, use the promotional coupon code HOCMAN to get a 30% discount on the purchase price.
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The global warming denial machine’s predatory “Serengeti strategy” of singling out individual scientists and scientific findings for attack has been applied relentlessly to several leading climate scientists, none more so than Mann and the iconic “hockey stick” graph from paleoclimate research published in 1998. That pathbreaking work found that warming in the late 20th century was unprecedented over the last millennium. Since then, a growing and diverse body of painstaking paleoclimate research has produced multiple studies that essentially confirm and strengthen that early finding.
Mann begins his chronicle by revisiting 1995, when the IPCC Second Assessment Report concluded that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate.” This conclusion, arrived at by the leading climate scientists who had authored the IPCC report, and adopted by the governments of the world in the assessment’s Summary for Policymakers, was seen as a threat by climate change contrarians and by a fossil fuel industry-funded campaign of denialism and obstruction.
That campaign of contrarianism and obstruction had been underway at least since the time of the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, where the foundational Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted. I saw it in operation at a meeting at the State Department under the first Bush Administration, and in testimony at a hearing on global warming I organized as a professional staff member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in 1992.
So, with the IPCC 1995 report, the denialists began to hone their Serengeti strategy in earnest, singling out Ben Santer, lead author of the climate change detection and attribution chapter of the report, for an attack that was intended to destroy his reputation and career. They failed to do this — Santer remains an active scientist at the cutting edge of research — but they did establish a method and a template for action by a denial machine that has played a seriously destructive role in recent years.
In addition to a good discussion of the early years of what Mann calls the “climate wars,” the first several chapters of the book also discuss the advancement of climate research through the 1990s. Chapters 5 (“The Origins of Denial”) and 6 (“A Candle in the Dark”) run through a rogues gallery of predatory denialists and contrarian scientists and how they came to use the media and the Internet as a substitute for peer-reviewed science — along with a good discussion of how real science advances, and the importance of the major, multiply-authored and carefully vetted climate science assessments.
The scientifically based assessment, produced by leading experts in a field, which synthesizes the state of knowledge and relates it to the concerns of its intended users, is an exceptionally significant scientific-intellectual creation of the past several decades. And whether it’s the international assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the periodic U.S. National Climate Assessments, the denial machine always goes to great lengths in seeking to discredit them.
I saw this in action while working in the U.S. Global Change Research Program/Climate Change Science Program Office, in particular under the second Bush Administration. The Bush White House did its best to ignore the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports (2001 and 2007), as well as the Arctic Climate Assessment Report (2004) — and they went so far as to officially disown and effective suppress the first National Climate Assessment report (2000-2001). I have written and spoken about this Bush Administration science scandal at length on numerous occasions.
The work of Mann and his co-authors on the temperature record from paleoclimate research, i.e., the hockey stick graph, was given high salience in the IPCC 2001 Third Assessment Report — and thus, predictably in retrospect, the authors and their findings became the target of a Serengeti strategy denialist attack that continued over the past decade. We had seen it with Ben Santer, with Jim Hansen, the most eminent federal climate scientist, and with my dear friend the great Stephen Schneider, a pioneering scientist on multiple fronts who also knew how to communicate. The denialists acted as though they believed that, if one or a few key scientists, or a single piece of significant research, was discredited, that the science of anthropogenic global warming would collapse.
But the denial machine hasn’t really been interested in advancing the science of climate change, which is a complex and multifaceted body of work developed by thousands of scientists. Their fundamental aim is more in the realm of politics: manufacture an enhanced impression of fundamental scientific uncertainty — create a sense in the media, in public opinion, that there is a raging debate in the science community over what are essentially widely-agreed findings — provide talking points to elected politicians who have an interest in blocking policy action on climate — and use attack tactics to question the credibility of climate science as an enterprise and undermine the reputations of leading scientists.
In Chapter 7-11 Mann tells his story, as a participant, of a years-long series of climate war battles, leading up to late 2009, over the effort to undermine climate science, in particular by undermining the temperature record established by Mann and his fellow paleoclimate researchers. Some of this focuses on the denial machine inside the Bush Administration (events that led to my decision to become a whistleblower are summarized on pages 110-112). Some of it focuses on the denial machine in Congress. These chapters document Mann’s perspective on and analysis of the criticism from McIntyre and McKitrick, the inquisition of the scientists by the egregious Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and the notorious Wegman report he commissioned, and the sorry case of the Soon and Baliunas study and how it was used by the denialists.
This, like the rest of the book, is valuable memoir material on the collision between the world of science and the realities of politics. For those who already know something about these events, Mann’s narrative is a must-read. For attentive readers coming to this story for the first time, it is likely to be a real eye-opener.
Then, in Chapter 14, 207 pages into the book, we come to ‘Climategate’ — the bogus controversy over scientists’ stolen emails – a denialist propaganda coup and allegation of scandal that was mishandled with shameful credulity in the mainstream media. Climate Science Watch had quite a bit to say about this matter while it was unfolding, and in connection with events leading up to it, in particular the denialist-contrarian attack on EPA’s “Endangerment Finding” on greenhouse gases in 2009 — including posting relevant statements by Santer, Schneider, and Phil Jones. We defended the scientists throughout against what was clearly a scurrilous attack in the war on climate science and scientists. Mann’s 26-page exposition on “Climategate: The Real Story” is a must-read discussion by one who was caught up in the storm and profoundly influenced by the experience.
In the final chapter of the book, “Fighting Back,” in an Epilogue, and now in a 14-page Postscript to the paperback edition, Mann brings the story up to date. As Climategate receded in the rearview mirror, ongoing attacks on climate science continued. But at least some members of the science community, which had been so ill-prepared to deal with the kind of politically motivated attacks it was subjected to by the denial machine, seemed to learn from bitter experience the need to confront the attacks and push back in a more timely and concerted way. Scientists have an essential role to play in keeping the public discourse honest, and we need more of them who have the ability and the guts to help hold politicians and the media accountable for not letting scientific illiteracy, misinformation, and the denial machine drive the public narrative.
During the past 25 years, the climate science community, through an extraordinary collaborative effort, has made great advances in understanding the Earth system, global climatic disruption, and the role of human activity in influencing global change. Some of them have made great contributions in communicating their findings and the implications of climate change — in scientific assessments, congressional testimony, books, articles, and media appearances. There is much more to be done on this score.
We need more scientist-citizens — experts who sometimes will step out of their labs, as it were, to act as public intellectuals, addressing their fellow citizens and those with policymaking and management responsibilities, drawing on their expertise and translating it for ‘civilians’ in a way that will elevate the national discourse on climate change and push society to do what needs to be done.
But climate scientists have identified and are characterizing a set of problems that go far beyond the ability of the science community to solve, no matter how well scientists communicate. Climate change must be dealt with in the arenas of politics, public policy, management, the media, and public opinion — where scientific literacy is generally low and many conflicting agendas compete, driven by leaders with values, and interests to protect, that may be indifferent to, or even antithetical to, the norms and findings of scientific research. Communication and advice from the science community isn’t simply delivered into a rational, intellectually sophisticated, public-spirited, pragmatic, problem-solving arena (although reading a nearly impenetrable Summary for Policymakers of an IPCC assessment report might give the impression the scientists believe it does) — rather, it gets caught up in a political atmosphere that can be downright toxic.
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A review at Skeptical Science includes this:
The sustained level of attack that Mann has been forced to endure is extraordinary. He’s withstood threats to himself and his family, sustained PR campaigns targeting his university, mocking Youtube videos, slandering Google ads and intimidation from Republican congressmen and district attorneys. While reading through the litany of attacks, I couldn’t help wondering what the attackers thought will happen – if they successfully intimidate the scientists, do they think the ice sheets will stop sliding into the ocean and sea levels will stop rising?
The book ends on a hopeful note. The virulent attacks on climate scientists have woken a sleeping bear as the scientific community has not stood by while their own are attacked. Mann speculates that perhaps Climategate and the attack campaign was the turning point when the denial movement tacitly accepted they had no honest, science-based case for denying human-caused global warming and had to resort to smearing and intimidation.
(UPDATE November 28) Also see these reviews:
Sylvia S. Tognetti, More reasons to read The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, November 28
D.R. Tucker, Amazing Grace: A Survivor’s Story, November 26
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For the record, some earlier posts, selected from a large archive of Climate Science Watch posts that cover events and themes developed in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:
On the denialist inquisition against Mann and the University of Virginia:
On Mann’s current defamation lawsuit against the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute:
DC judge denies another effort to derail Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit (September 13, 2013)
On the “Climategate” stolen scientists’ email controversy:
Open letter to Congress from U.S. scientists on Climate Change and Recently Stolen Emails
On the Congressional denialist witch hunt:
Reports and articles on the denial machine:
Books on the denial machine:
Political interference with climate science communication under the Bush Administration:
“Hot Politics”—PBS FRONTLINE program and extended interviews online (April 26, 2007)
Rick Piltz testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee (February 7, 2007)
Climate Science Watch testimony at House Oversight Hearing (January 30, 2007)
Atmosphere of Pressure (February 2007): Along with the Union of Concerned Scientists, this Government Accountability Project report uncovers new evidence of widespread political interference in federal climate science.
Redacting the Science of Climate Change (March 2007): Details the findings of a yearlong investigation by the Government Accountability Project into political interference at federal climate science agencies.