Mann vs. Steyn: Heresy Shall be Crushed
(Originally published in July 2013)
Remember when scientists and other truth-seekers used to get all riled up about the way the Catholic Church treated Galileo? The outcry was not over the fact that Galileo was a “peer-reviewed” researcher, and therefore beyond question. Quite the contrary: the argument was that, from the point of view of the quest for truth, no one, including the representatives of official orthodoxy and authority, ought to be regarded as beyond question. In the Michael Mann lawsuit against Mark Steyn and National Review, it is the “award-winning researcher” who is joining the fight for Church orthodoxy, while the defendants are the persecuted Galileos.
Mann, of course, is the creator of the famous “hockey stick graph” that has been employed doggedly throughout the doctrinaire climate science community and the mainstream media as proof that the Earth has shown a marked and unprecedented increase in global mean temperature during the brief period of industrial society’s extreme CO2 production, which increase is consequently cited as proof that man’s industrial activity is causing the temperature rise. Let us leave aside the climate religion’s little logical problem, namely the contradiction between (a) its complete dependence on the premise that rising CO2 levels can and do have an immediate and substantial effect on global temperature, and (b) its attempts to dismiss the significance of the fact that global temperature has not increased significantly since 1995 while CO2 emissions have continued to rise, on the grounds that this is supposedly too short a period to prove anything.
The concern in this context is not so much the truth or falsity of the global warming theory, but the implications of this lawsuit, and its social importance, should Mann actually win.
Steyn, along with many researchers on whom Steyn, of course, has leaned in developing his critique, have questioned both the methods and the conclusions of the research which led to Mann’s hockey stick graph. In particular, there has been a good deal of concern over the possibility that Mann cherry-picked his Siberian tree ring samples in order to present the strongest data in support of his anthropogenic global warming conclusion, by discarding the samples which would have muddied the (desired?) statistical result. Then there was the infamous “hide the decline” e-mail scandal involving Mann’s British colleague Phil Jones of East Anglia University. Both Jones and Mann were investigated and exonerated—by their own respective universities, which have built much of their recent prestige and global influence on the global warming research industry led by Mann and Jones.
Now a U.S. district court judge has joined the academic employers and ideological beneficiaries of the famed global warming scientists in rejecting out of hand any suggestion that Mann might have engaged in questionable research practices. In her denial of the defendants’ request for dismissal of the case, Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene draws a line between harsh opinions expressed independently of factual claims (acceptable speech), and harsh opinions expressed on the basis of false factual claims (unacceptable speech). Hence, Steyn’s and NRO’s accusations that Mann’s hockey stick graph is “fraudulent” and “intellectually bogus” are, the judge concludes, unacceptable expressions of opinion, as they claim to be based upon facts (the e-mails and information about the tree ring samples, for example), whereas:
[A]ssertions of fraud “rely on facts which are provably false” particularly in light of the fact that Plaintiff [Mann] has been investigated by several bodies (including the EPA) and determined that Plaintiff’s research and conclusions are sound and not based on misleading information. (p. 15)
Aside from the fact that the passage, like many in Judge Combs Greene’s discussion, is a grammatical nightmare—due to the slip “and determined,” she literally says that “Plaintiff has determined that Plaintiff’s research is sound”—notice that she singles out the EPA as a particularly reputable independent investigator in defense of Mann’s research. Given that the EPA is a federal agency led by appointees of a U.S. administration thoroughly invested in the climate change narrative, and currently moving to take drastic economic steps on the issue through the agency of the EPA itself, and that the EPA’s own website declares its adherence to the climate change science and has made climate change-based regulation and activism its primary mission for the coming years, the judge’s particular reliance on the EPA’s judgment of Mann as evidence against the defendants’ harsh criticisms reveals the court’s disingenuousness and/or complete confusion about the nature of the public debate on this issue.
Mann has taken his critics to court—all of them, in effect, with Steyn and NRO as stand-ins—for saying his research is fraudulent and bogus. The court has upheld the legitimacy of his suit by citing the support of his research by precisely the organizations with the greatest vested interest in his vindication—including government agencies deeply involved in climate change advocacy (EPA and NOAA), and a public university. The message: the State is on board with Mr. Mann, and has had enough of his work being challenged.
There has been much discussion of late of the use of the IRS, the DHS, and potentially the NSA, to thwart and intimidate opponents of the progressive agenda. The concern is not only that such uses of government agencies and resources are unjust in themselves, but that they will—and are intended to—have a “cooling effect” (if we’re still allowed to talk about “cooling”) on opponents and critics of government policy. Mann’s lawsuit and the good judge’s rejection of the defendants’ move for dismissal are further evidence of the use of state authority to intimidate and silence private criticism, i.e., to put the squeeze on the unreserved pursuit of controversial but legitimate free speech.
Again bringing to bear the weight of the predictable judgment of Mann’s supporters and beneficiaries, the judge argues:
Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those accusations [she means “investigations”] having found Plaintiff’s work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. Reference to Plaintiff, as a fraud is a misstatement of fact. The NR defendants’ reference to Plaintiff as “the man behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey stick’ graph” is arguably [she means provably] a misstatement of fact (the evidence indicates otherwise as Plaintiff’s work has been found to be sound). (p. 19)
The official supporters of global warming theory, who have used Mann’s hockey stick graph as a chief support beam in their edifice of anti-freedom policy advocacy, national sovereignty circumvention, and a rich cottage industry of academic grants, university specializations, and career-boosting publication records, have all “looked at the evidence” and concluded that Mann conducted his research in the purest spirit of good science. Therefore, anyone who suggests, however hyperbolically, that his work does not meet the standards of good science, is out of line, and deserves legal retribution.
The lesson here: The Church condemned Galileo, or any scientist who seemed to contradict Church doctrine, because they were afraid of the public challenge—i.e. afraid official doctrine could not withstand the presence of an alternative position. Mann’s lawsuit might suggest a similar discomfort on the part of the supporters of the unraveling “science” of anthropogenic global warming/cooling/climate change. Governments throughout the world (the “Church” in this case) are taking active steps to undermine human freedom and to eliminate property rights in the name of a scientific position that is rife with alarmists working under the auspices of scholarly research, and models and predictions that are daily being contradicted by facts.
Hundreds of scholars like Michael Mann and Phil Jones, in the face of legitimate challenges to their theories, not just by men but by reality, have chosen to circle the wagons, to obfuscate and deny all problems with their proposals. Furthermore, knowing that their theories are being used to buttress political action of a most undemocratic and questionable sort, they have said nothing to dilute the fervor with which their ideas and models are trumpeted as rationalizations for tyranny.
In this light, some critics and skeptics (this one included) have taken to portraying some of the global warming theorists themselves in an unflattering light; tangible losses of liberty tend to cause men to question the integrity of those who are providing the intellectual support for the practical degradations they are facing. This personal side of the anti-climate change argument is therefore perhaps unavoidable. For the representatives of the government-approved status quo on this issue to brand these personal criticisms as “provably false,” and to allow a defamation lawsuit to proceed against those who make them, seems to fall within the standard contemporary rubric of today’s progressive assault on humanity. Heretics will be condemned; beware all ye who would question the Church.
For all the progressive outcry in defense of Mann, his defenders (including, apparently, Judge Combs Greene) seem to have no problem with the smear of all who question the climate change pseudo-orthodoxy as “flat-earthers,” “anti-science,” “extremists,” and “lackeys of big oil.” What about the thousands of legitimate, accredited scientists who believe anthropogenic global warming is untenable, including even some (well-buried) dissenters within the UN’s IPCC itself? If a court can decide that Mann’s research “and conclusions” have been sufficiently vindicated as to be judged provably “sound”—that is, sound enough to be regarded as legally unassailable—then what does this imply about the research and results of all those who believe they are proving Mann’s conclusions false? The implication is clear enough: anthropogenic global warming is one area of truth-seeking that is no longer merely “settled science” (whatever that means), but is now settled law. It is now, apparently, legally dangerous to question this theory, unless one prefaces one’s questions with the proviso that the research supporting the theory was conducted with the purest scientific heart, and that its conclusions are sound. Meanwhile, again, the same proviso need not be proffered when ripping up the research, opinions, and character of the “flat-earthers.”
The story of Galileo’s condemnation is typically presented as an example of the struggle of independent scientific investigation against coercive authority. We’re looking through the other end of the telescope now. Men are being condemned by coercive authority in the name of science. A district court judge has determined that Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph is “provably sound” science in good standing, because his friends—and in particular his government friends—say so. Skeptics shall be silenced.
Final Note: Judge Combs Greene recently announced her retirement from the District of Columbia Superior Court as of September, 2013, and is under review for her requested appointment as a senior judge. (At least you won’t have to worry about her working as a substitute English teacher.)