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Book review of Michael Mann's The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

Posted on 9 February 2012 by John Cook

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael Mann takes us into the heart of the climate change controversy via the scientist standing in the eye of the storm - Michael Mann. He provides an eye-opening account of the lengths the opponents of climate science will go to in their campaign to slander climate scientists and distract the public from the realities of human caused global warming.

Before jumping into the dogfight, the book tells us the human story of how Mann got started in science. It was surprising to learn that his PhD began with the notion that natural variability might be greater than what climate scientists thought. I also didn't realize he'd coined the term "Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation" (AMO) off the cuff in an interview (that's the kind of trivia that a science geek like me delights in). Ironically the AMO and natural oscillations are often invoked by contrarians to cast doubt on the human influence on global warming.

Mann also describes the progress of paleoclimate science through the 1990s which puts his 1998 hockey stick research in a broader perspective. The hockey stick paper focused on all the "scientifically interesting" periods of regional climate change over the last 600 years. So a phrase that jumped out at me was Mann's characterization that the "least scientifically interesting" thing he could do with all his regional data was average it out to find the hemispheric average. It was this "least scientifically interesting" graph that sparked a smear campaign against the graph and against Michael Mann that has lasted over a decade.

As someone who has endured more attacks from the forces of climate denial than possibly any other person on the planet, Mann provides great insight into the modes of attack. He labels it the "Serengeti strategy", inspired by African lions isolating members of a zebra herd. The climate denial movement isolate individual scientists, fling reckless charges of fraud or incompetence in the attempt to discredit climate science in general - with the ultimate goal being distraction from the realities of climate change.

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.

NOTE: Anthony Watts recently blogged about The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, followed shortly by an influx of negative Amazon reviews (those WUWTers are fast readers) and a torrent of "Unhelpful" ratings applied to any positive reviews of the book. So to ensure a degree of fairness, be sure to have a look through the reviews and rate the reviews appropriately (feel free to give my review, which has been targeted quite heavily by the unhelpful brigade, a helpful rating).

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Comments 51 to 67 out of 67:

  1. Camburn #45: You really need to read the Quantifying Extreme Heat Events post, and comment on that post why you think it does not show an increase in extremes.
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  2. Point for those looking at the benefits of a Kindle version - I've made extensive 'highlights' clippings in the book, and they've all uploaded to my account at Amazon [Kindle] ready to be cut and pasted. I can also make notes, if I can bother with the fiddly keyboard (better than a phone, though!)

    Oh, and it's $9.99 and downloaded before I could check to see how fast it was downloading! I'll finish the ad now...

    Incidentally, this review came up #1 in a google search for 'mike mann hockey stick climate wars'. I realise google tailors its searches, but there's some hope this might act as a counterweight to all the 1 star review shenanigans, and, importantly, spread awareness of this Denialist tactic.
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  3. I was just at the Amazon site for the book and I see that one R. Hooper has uploaded a inappropriate image of the product. I do not see any where to complain about this behavior for a customer image.
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  4. I have a Nook and Barnes and Noble is only selling the hard copy, so far.
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  5. Paul D wrote:- "I did start reading it (like I started reading Hansens book) but got bored."

    Try a flea market; copies of Michael Chrichton's book "State of Fear" should be around for a five-and-dime price. It's the amazing story of an exile from the Caliphate of Baghdad discovering that the Vikings built a huge imitation volcano that destroyed the vineyards of Greenland and caused a 400-year cold hangover. They encoded their deception into the Sagas, where it was discovered by IPCC Scientists who were on the verge of starvation due to an impending Ice Age. Seriously, Crichton revealed it to Congress ... you can't make that stuff up.
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  6. For more on Crichton, see the Aliens Cause Global Warming thread and the salute here, and a scientific review of State of Fear here.
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  7. owl905 I made the mistake of reading Von Daniken when I was a teenager and the Daily Mail which is very similar. I won't make that mistake again with Chrichton.
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  8. Owl905, you forgot the Chinese sailing over the ice free north pole and discovering America (albeit a couple hundred years after the Vikings).
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  9. I have been directly involved in the hockey stick war. I have been been an active research ecologist for over 20 years, and during the last 10 years I have focused on climate change and its effects on living systems. During part of my recent career, I was employed as science advisor to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, a legislatively mandated commission. In March of 2007, while giving an invited report on climate change to a select committee of the Florida legislature, a conservative legislator rose from his seat and declared me to be a liar and demanded that I be dismissed. Indeed, I was asked to step from the podium. Only one newspaper in the state carried the story, and my employers did not so much as apologize for my treatment. Democracy in action, right?

    My sin? I had shown the hockey stick. When I approached the legislator who had objected, I discovered that he did not know that the National Academy and reviewed Michael Mann's work and found it to be fundamentally sound. Indeed, it was not apparent that he even knew of the existence of the US National Academy. After the climate gate emails were released, the prestigious journal Nature referred to the push back from the oil soaked Irrational Right as a "street fight." I could not agree more.

    I have carefully read and evaluated Mann's work and I find it to be of the highest standards of scientific integrity. He has been vindicated by numerous reviews. Despite continued harassment, he continues to find time to do excellent research. I have the greatest respect for him as a colleague and role model.

    To date 32 national academies have endorsed the fundamental reality of human caused climate change. Numerous professional organizations have also made clear statements to support the mainstream science. 97% of all climate scientists agree. NSF, NASA, NOAA, USDA, the NPS, and the CDC have active research programs predicated on the reality of human-caused climate change. The clarity of the climate change threat could not be greater. It is most sobering to realize that our present emissions trajectory will result in a global average warming of over 5 degrees C by 2100. Such a planet will not sustain civilization in any recognizable form. The excess CO2 that is pumped into the air today will affect our planet for thousands of years into the future. I am not an alarmist, but I am alarmed. You should be too.

    I urge everyone to read Mann's book. It is well written and compelling. Any publishing scientist who reads it will likely be chilled to the bone. I have contributed to the climate scientist legal defense fund, and urge all of you to do the same. http://climatesciencedefensefund.org/

    Stephen Mulkey, PhD
    President, Unity College
    Unity, ME 04988
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  10. The level of venom directed at Dr Mann has more than a hint of this about it
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  11. I loved the book. I just had one quibble.
    Mann spends some time explaining principal component analysis, which is important, as people like me know nothing about it. However, to explain it, he draws an analogy to the use of Factor a analysis in intelligence research, as described by Gould in The Mismeasure of Man.
    Luckily for me, I have a degree in Psychology and had read the book, so I could sort of follow along, but I still didn't understand how what Mann described was similar to reification.
    However, someone else reading the book may have been completely lost. There are many people who have heard of neither factor analysis nor principal component analysis, and using one to explain the other seems like an odd choice.
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  12. Going to go see Dr Mann speaking at the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach CA) in just over 2 hours. Still not too late to make it if you are a local!
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  13. Many people have spoke about negative reviews of this book being written by people who haven't read it. For anyone interested in a more informed review which doesn't praise the book, I offer this thread. I've been posting some reactions to the book as I read it on that thread, and my reactions haven't been positive. More importantly, my reactions are always accompanied by the text I refer to (save one about a figure, where I provide a link to an equitable figure), so there can be no denying my reaction is based on what the book says.

    I do apologize for the fact my comments are in an open thread, meaning other things are discussed in the same place. Still, it is a better option than anything else I've seen offered. So, if you're interested, my first reaction can be found here. If you're not interested, you should at least see what I discuss in this comment.

    Specifically, we find Michael Mann saying his first paper on the hockey stick was entirely dependent upon a small set of tree ring data despite the fact the paper says the exact opposite.
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  14. Well, having read it. First and foremost can I offer a health warning. If you've ever - and most people have - suffered from some level of bullying or victimisation at work; this'll bring back those memories, pumped up on steroids. By the end of the 2nd from last chapter I was feeling deeply angry. Indeed, although I appreciate the comments policy of SkS - I was feeling like there should be a site where one could sink to the same level towards deniers as they have towards climate science...

    My other, overall, impression was "wow! Did that really happen so long ago?!?" - there are so many 'arguments' which continue to float around the deniosphere, which are just so old, out of date and discredited. It really makes you wonder what they spend their Heartland Institute money on.

    Finally, I guess I agree with Liam23 that the PC story remains opaque. I though it was well explained but, as 63 Brandon so clearly shows, it's possible to miss-read. Mann actually says that the tree ring data could dominate the analysis if he hadn't actually done the PC analysis correctly... which he does, which he does explain but, clearly, it's still opaque to many people. And what a shame that people miss the point that the same analysis has been reviewed, repeated and supplemented with other data so often that, in full context, the original hockey-stick analysis was as solid as it could be.

    all in all, a good read.
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  15. les #63, Mann does not say "tree ring data could dominate the analysis if he hadn't actually done the PC analysis correctly." He says that tree ring "data appeared to be of critical importance in establishing the reliability of the reconstruction" in the tests he did on his own data, with his own methodology. That directly contradicts what his paper had said:

    On the other hand, the long-term trend in NH is relatively robust to the inclusion of dendroclimatic indicators in the network

    If you think I've misread anything, I'd be happy to discuss it. However, please remember I've quoted, quite extensively, to support my commentary. Given that, it would be appropriate to refer to the quotes I provide rather than your personal paraphrase of what the book says.
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  16. Australian readers might be interested in watching a 15 minute interview of Michael Mann on our (Australian) ABC's Lateline program, 15 March 2012.
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  17. I've finished the book over the Easter, and (only thereafter) deservedly so, put a five star review on amazon.

    Also, I've sent a short email of appreciation to MM himself (acknowledged with thanks), because I think MM deserves all friendly supports that he receives after the the amount of smear and bullying he was subjected to. Enduring the attacks of the denial machine was not easy task.

    The contrarian's focus on MBH98-99 was as silly as their arguments against AGW in general, so MM as the lead author was under big pressure defending not just himself but virtually the whole climate science. The account of the events is good, supported by numerous notes to follow up if required. The narrative is also good.
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  18. I suppose his is the best place to bring this up. It's a new (to me) prevarication by AGW denialists. The accusation is that Michael Mann has been:

    '
    caught astroturfing Amazon.com with the help of none other than John Cook author of your climate bible Skeptical Science. Seems Mike sent John a pre release copy of his book "The Hockey Stick Wars" that was distributed via the back door to a number of people to read and write reviews to be "in the holster" for the day of release.
    '

    Another related accusation (by the same culprit, dalyplanet, in the same blog on the same day) is that the reviews were manipulated by John Cook and Michael Mann. Dalyplanet has posted to SkS under the same ID. The offensive accusations occur here.

    I provided a short defense, but there is no point in trying to convince dalyplanet of anything. No one listens to him anymore and he is as much an Internet troll as anything else.

    I can see why Michael Mann saw the need to write this book. I may even read it.
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  19. Michael Mann's Amazon reviews falsify global warming, is that the gist?

    Starvation diet in some quarters. When you're boiling your boots for your next meal it's time to consider quietly slipping out of camp.
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  20. @doug_bostrom

    Yeah, that's pretty much it. Many of the very early reviews of Mann's book were personal attacks, barely or not mentioning the book. It looks like Watt's' call to his followers unleashed a rabid pack---and he had to know what they would write.

    I'll read the book, then provide a review. Even if it is not a positive review, it won't be a personal attack.
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