Climatologist Michael Mann responds to Palin’s anti-science op-ed

“E-mail furor doesn’t alter evidence for climate change”

I cannot condone some things that colleagues of mine wrote or requested in the e-mails recently stolen from a climate research unit at a British university. But the messages do not undermine the scientific case that human-caused climate change is real.

After their widely criticized lapse in judgment in publishing an op-ed on climate science (!) by Sarah Palin (see “Washington Post goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Palin in five months“), the Post has now published two pieces by actual scientists in response.  The first, published online, was by Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science (see “Don’t let the climate doubters fool you“).

And now, finally, they have published a piece in their print edition, by climatologist Michael Mann — of the much attacked and much vindicated hockey stick graph (see (see NAS Report and

Mann is a genuine climate scientist, Palin, not so much. Sadly, seeing climate change up close provided the ex-Governor no more insight into anthropogenic global warming than seeing Russia from her home state provided her insight into U.S. foreign policy.  And that was one of the many points Mann made about man-made global warming [sorry,  couldn’t resist that one].

Since Palin’s piece was very widely read, I’m  going to repost the rest of Mann’s in its entirety:

The hacked e-mails have been mined for words and phrases that can be distorted to misrepresent what the scientists were discussing. In a Dec. 9 op-ed, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin argued that “The e-mails reveal that leading climate ‘experts’ . . . manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures.” Yet the e-mail she cites was written in 1999, just after the warmest year ever recorded (1998) to that date. It could not possibly have referred to the claim that global temperatures have declined over this decade — a claim that is false (the current decade, as has been recently reported, will go down as the warmest on record).

In one case, professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia refers to a “trick” regarding temperature data that he attributes to an article that co-authors and I published in the journal Nature in 1998. We showed one up-to-date temperature data set from thermometer measurements along with a longer data set, based on calculations from natural “proxy” records such as ice cores, corals and tree rings, that ended in 1980. The “trick” (by which scientists generally mean a clever solution, i.e., a “trick of the trade”) was that the longer-term record could be viewed in the context of recent temperature measurements.

There was nothing secret about this. Both temperature curves were clearly labeled in our Nature article, and anyone could download the data we plotted. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed this work in 2006 in a study reported by this newspaper [“Past Few Decades Warmest on Record, Study Confirms,” news story, June 23, 2006]. Members of the peer-review panel said that they “saw nothing that spoke . . . of any manipulation” and that the study was “an honest attempt to construct a data analysis procedure.”

In the same e-mail, Jones uses the phrase “hide the decline” in reference to work by tree-ring expert Keith Briffa. Because tree-ring information has been found to correlate well with temperature readings, it is used to plot temperatures going back hundreds of years or more. Briffa described a phenomenon in which the density of wood exhibits an enigmatic decline in response to temperature after about 1960. This decline was the focus of Briffa’s original article, and Briffa was clear that these data should not be used to represent temperatures after 1960. By saying “hide the decline,” Jones meant that a diagram he was producing was not to show those data during the unreliable post-1960 period.

The conspiracy theories about the e-mails are fueled in part by their criticisms of the quality of two papers regarding global warming and a suggestion that at least one of the papers be kept out of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. As Nature noted in a recent editorial, neither the e-mail writers nor the IPCC suppressed any findings. Both papers were included in the IPCC’s report. Some statements in the stolen e-mails reflect poor judgment — for example, a colleague referring to deleting e-mails that might be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request — but there is no evidence that this happened.

Palin wrote that Alaska’s climate is changing but referred to “thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice” as “natural, cyclical environmental trends.” In fact, such changes are among the effects scientists predicted would occur as greenhouse gas levels increase. Scientific evidence for the reality of human-caused climate change includes independently replicated data documenting the extent of warming; unprecedented melting of glaciers; rises in global sea levels; increasingly widespread continental drought; and models that predict all of these things but only when human impacts are included. Those same models project far more profound and potentially damaging impacts of climate change if we do not take action to stabilize greenhouse gas levels.

The scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change is based on decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world. The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that the scientific case is clear. As world leaders work in Copenhagen to try to combat this problem, some critics are seeking to cloud the debate and confuse the public.

Hear!  Hear!

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23 Responses to Climatologist Michael Mann responds to Palin’s anti-science op-ed

  1. Dean says:

    My local rural newspaper just printed a long letter by a biologist making the general AGW case and why the emails don’t undermine it. I jsut sent them this:

    I imagine you are going to get overwhelmed by letters from skeptics. I think that the fundamental mistake that so many skeptics make is in thinking that climate change science is new and flimsy, a house of cards where if you challenge it and pull out one card, the whole house tumbles.

    In fact, the science behind the greenhouse process is quite old, with study of some aspects of it going back well over a hundred years, with a foundation in well-tested physics and chemistry. So when the more thoughtful of the skeptics offer questions or challenges that seem valid, it is more like chipping away at the corner of a solid brick building than pulling a card from a house or cards. The computer models and statistics are just add-on proof, besides melting glaciers, changed animal habitat and migrations, longer summers, etc, etc, etc.

    That’s why science academies from these countries or regions: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Caribbean, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and of course our own National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all repeatedly backed the manmade climate change science and not a single national science academy anywhere in the world disagrees with it. The American Physical Society (with 50,000 member physicists) says (and I quote): “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.. . . We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.”

    It’s one thing to debate the best policy to pursue, but whether you like cap and trade or not, the science is quite solid.

  2. Philip H. says:

    Dean, Bravo to you. Hope you get published. thw Wa Po IS my hometown paper, so I’ve bben watching this one up close.

  3. Come on people.
    Point awarded to Palin.
    This is a visceral, emotional battle. Skeptics will never be swayed by logic and science. She is attacking reason with emotions. Anti-science can never brandish science. This is pandering.

  4. glen says:

    Along with publishing M. Mann’s op-ed today, the Post also released their poll numbers on the environment, Obama and scientist.

    [JR: Blogged on.]

  5. paulina says:


    Point awarded to Palin in what “contest”?

    Mann’s target audience in a WaPo op-ed can’t be people who are actually swayed by Palin. He’s simply setting the record straight.

    For most people who are either not very familiar with the issues or maybe have been somewhat confused by the media’s sensationalism re SwiftHack, his op-ed approach should be extremely helpful.

    I thought he did a great job at the AGU on this, too, based on reports (link above, stuck in moderation).

  6. Jeff Kelley says:

    Wow, some aspects of study go back well over a hundred years. Remind me again how long people “proved” that the heavens orbited the earth. Please share with us all how those sophisticated computer models deal with the happy fluffy cloud or the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. Or perhaps share how those well those models work when you run them backwards. You climate hacks need a better sense of history. Maybe a geologist can tell you the story of Alfred Wegener and how the “consensus of scientists” ridiculed him and his plate tectonic theory. A true scientist knows better than to speak in terms of “the evidence is incontrovertible”. Amateurs

    Proudly skeptical.

  7. caerbannog says:

    Jeff Kelley said…

    proudly skeptical

    (You misspelled “ignorant”, but no matter…)

    Watch this and become proudly *informed* rather than proudly ignorant.

  8. Jeff,

    Stating that “established science” has been wrong in the past is not controversial. Wegeners ideas eventually triumphed because the evidence accumulated. In the case of AGW, the evidence is accumulating in it´s favour, while the old idea that humanity is incapable of affecting our environment on a global scale is loosing ground at avalanche rate.

    Proudly amateur

  9. Chris Dudley says:

    Politifact awarded Palin the lie of the year for her death panels lie.

  10. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Jeff Kelley. Which models don’t work when you run them backwards? Please show evidence. My understanding they do work when they run them backwards, which gives the modelers confidence that the forward projection will also be somewhat accurate. has a two page FAQ on models. Have you reviewed it esp the part on fluffy white clouds?

    caerbannog…I’m downloading from your link right now. It’s taking a while (big file, wireless download). Better be worth it or I’m bringing out the holy hand-grenade. :-)

  11. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Ok, that was a very good lecture (see caerbannog’s link #8). Jeff, you definitely should watch it. I’d love to have someone like Dr. Alley as my prof when I was back in school. I liked the split screen showing Dr. Alley and the slides (I had to stop and squint at the screen a couple of times to see what he was referring to since the laser pointer isn’t “saved” when they embed the PowerPoint slides).

    Coincidentally, I just ordered Dr. Alley’s book The Two-Mile Time Machine last night after Dr. David Archer recommended it to me when I contacted him with a question. He said I’d enjoy it, and if Dr. Alley’s enthusiasm comes through even a little bit, it’ll be a great book.

    Dr. Archer’s class lectures, btw, are also online and are quite informative too.

  12. [#6 Paulina]

    Michael Mann has done an admirable job of presenting the science. Kudos and thank you’s… And WAPO should be thanked for posting it.

    However, WAPO is deeply engaged in the carbon economy. Any controversy helps to sell papers… It has little regard for the real solutions to the problems – rather it is the presentation. It’s business is the delivery and presentation, not the answers.

    Sarah Palin is a cheerleader politician who emotionally connects with fearful and victimized audiences. She too has little regard for seeking answers to any real problems of the world. Her role is that of a pandering demagogue – and the climategate emails were an easy target for her to hit with one shot.

    Michael Mann is demonstrating a superb command of science and reason. People with fears, people afraid of the future, those who mistrust leaders, and who have a tunnel vision view of life and science, will see little meaning or value in what he offers. Sorry.

    WAPO exists to derive profit as vehicle for delivering effective advertising. Part of that process is to maintain the ethos of such an advertisement-supported world. For us to know what that is – simply do a content analysis of all the print ads in the WAPO for a week or so – that should define it nicely. [Christmas ads may show a hyper representation of that] To maintain their business, WAPO must nurture and sustain that fantasy world – through opinion and selection of news – all as a way to maintain the effectiveness of their ads.

    The contest is to maintain the structure that permits AGW denial and maintains a high carbon lifestyle. Even though logic and science arguments “won” – do not mean that there will be any changes. Changing the ad supported news business model to avoid supporting carbon commerce is a very slow process.

    Easy prediction: look for a new opinion piece from George Will on Copenhagen.

  13. pointer says:

    Jeff Kelley is absolutely right. Science always advances through scientific revolution, when the dissidents are shown to be right after all. Think Galileo, Copernicus, homeopathy, vaccination, the total lack of a link between HIV and AIDS. Oh wait.

  14. Richard Brenne says:

    Another example is J Harlan Bretz, who discovered the evidence for the Missoula Floods, one of the two greatest floods found in the geologic record (10 times the volume of all the world’s rivers combined up to 1100 feet in places, 700 feet in the Columbia Gorge, 400 feet deep in downtown Portland and up to the 400 foot level all the way around the Willamette Valley).

    Bretz spent every summer and every spare day he could get the rest of the year doing intensive field work.

    Also Galileo and the others you mention (Newton, Einstein – every great scientist) DID THE WORK. The observing, measuring, the theorizing, the modeling.

    What’s frustrating is that those who are not doing the work want to criticize those who are doing the work. In this case it’s not one lone geologist or astronomer, but thousands of them.

    Disputing those who’ve dedicated their life to understanding climate change is arrogant and ignorant in the extreme, and that’s a dangerous combination, as Bush and Palin teach us.

  15. Mima says:

    One day at work in a side discussion about global warming a (very conservative) colleague said he doesn’t believe any information that comes from a model.

    The irony: He works as a business analyst.

    I guess he’s not developing models when he’s develops functional designs for computer applications.

    I’ve since learned that some people who say they don’t believe in models have no idea what a scientific model is. Are we arguing the right point in talking about specific models?

  16. Michael says:

    Palin is no scientist, as is your much-lauded shaman Al Gore.

    So what?

  17. Jason says:

    Your point being, Michael?

    Whenever deniers bring out Al Gore as an argument (esp in combination with allusions to religious belief) I have to think of little school children in a shouting match when arguments have run out. “Yeah, but your momma is fat!”

  18. Jim Bouldin says:

    Nice piece by Mike. You can’t say it any clearer than that.

  19. Dano says:

    proudly skeptical

    You can almost guarantee these days that someone who asserts “proudly skeptical” has inadvertently or on purpose “forgot” to put pseudo in front of “skeptical”.

    TRUE skeptics are not so credulous and gullible and stubborn as to reject the findings.


    And what Richard Brenne said.



  20. SecularAnimist says:

    Jeff Kelley says: “… Proudly skeptical …”

    You are not “skeptical”. You are a GULLIBLE DUPE who has been bamboozled by fossil fuel industry-funded cranks, frauds, propaganda mills disguised as “conservative” think tanks, “right-wing” media personalities, and other bought-and-paid-for purveyors of pseudo-scientific drivel, outright lies, and malicious hate-speech and harassment against climate scientists.

    What you are “proud of” is willful, belligerent ignorance.

  21. I suspect many global-warming deniers would be perfectly willing to hire illegal-immigrant carpenters to build them an ark, though, if it came to that.

  22. 怀孕 says: