Patrick Michaels and Cato keep repeating an egregious falsehood about Michael Mann and the stolen emails

UPDATE:  Memo to Cato, Michaels — A quick change isn’t an apology.  For the original, which also needs fixing, go here.

Patrick J. Michaels

One of the leading anti-science disinformers, Patrick J. Michaels, can’t seem to stop spreading the most blatant disinformation.  And the Cato Institute, where’s he’s Senior Fellow, actually seems to encourage this falsification, since they let “research fellow” Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar also repeat the easily fact-checked howler.

Cato needs to issue an apology and multiple retractions.

Cato has published on its website a piece titled, “Climate Scientists Subverted Peer Review.”   While it rehashes many debunked falsehoods, one in particular is a blatant lie:

In one of the e-mails, Penn State’s Michael Mann, long a power player in the production of these reports, said this about some scientific articles he did not like: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow “” even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

This is pretty serious stuff, because it, and many similar e-mails, paint a picture of IPCC boffins committing science’s capital crime: Trying to game the peer-reviewed literature, which is akin to editing what goes in the Bible.

In this case, Mann is actually speculating about keeping contrary information out of the IPCC reports by blacklisting certain professional journals.

So many falsehoods, so little time.  The inaccuracy of Michaels’ entire analysis is underscored by the simple fact that Mann never said any such thing.  You can see the email in question here.  It was written by CRU head Phil Jones.  But Michaels and Cato can’t gain much mileage from attacking a UK scientist, so they fabricate this assault on Penn State’s Mann, who is the object of a coordinated attack by the right wing (see “Anti-science disinformers step up efforts to intimidate and harass climate scientists“).

And just so that you see this isn’t an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of misrepresentation and character assassination, Cato also repeated the lie on its website in the article “Censorship Threatens Truth on Climate,” by research fellow Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar:

Regretably, the IPCC itself is now getting tainted by this attempt to capture academic journals and censor dissenting views. Objecting to some dissenting papers, Mann is reported to have said, “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow “” even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

“Reported to have said” — what a clever trick to hide a falsehood.  The problem is that these emails are all over the friggin’ web and so it would take about 30 seconds to get the facts right, if that were actually Cato’s goal (see”Cato’s Stephen Moore says climate change is “climate improvement” and “the truth is the 1930s was a warmer decade than the last decade”).

Anyway, Michael’s basic accussation, that the IPCC comitted some “crime,” has of course been widely debunked.  Here’s Science magazine:

A second message relates to a chapter in the 2007 IPCC report that Jones edited. In 2004, he suggested that two recent papers on temperature trends didn’t deserve to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” he wrote Mann. “Kevin [Trenberth] and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is.” But Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says the papers were indeed considered. Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, an official reviewer for the chapter, says the IPCC’s peerreview procedures “were sacrosanct.” Both papers wound up being cited.

As Real Climate put it:

“Redefine the peer-reviewed literature!” . Nobody actually gets to do that, and both papers discussed in that comment – McKitrick and Michaels (2004) and Kalnay and Cai (2003) were both cited and discussed in Chapter 3 the IPCC AR4 report. As an aside, neither has stood the test of time.

As an amusing digression, I would note that Michaels’ biblical analogy unintentionally undercuts his argument.  Scholars and religious experts have spent a huge amount of time and effort “editing” out a lot of stuff — the Apocrypha — that some people want to put in the Bible.

Science, of course, has a rigorous process — the scientific method — for finding out the truth, which is why we were able to put men on the moon, eradicate small pox, and Google almost any piece of information to check its accuracy.  Peer review is part of the overall process, but sometimes bad articles do slip through.  They typically can’t do lasting damage because bad science quickly gets debunked in the literature itself.  Of course, now we have the anti-science crowd, the unscientific quacks, who keep repeating disinformation no matter how thoroughly it has been debunked.  So that’s why many have worked to keep the bad science out of the literature in the first place.

As for the general claim of subversion of the peer review process by climate scientists as Cato charges, the other key paper in question, by Soon and Baliunas, was actually an egregious case of the anti-science crowd trying (successfully) to subvert the peer review process.  That’s why “one poor paper in a scientific journal … caused the resignation of half the members of its editorial board (including the newly-appointed editor-in-chief),” as one of the editors explained here.  See the editor-in-chief’s discussion here.  More from Real Climate on that here.

But the point of this post is not to rehash all of the disinformation that the disinformers push about the stolen emails.  I’m just trying to set the record straight on this one point.  Let’s see if Cato will issue the appropriate apology and retractions.

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20 Responses to Patrick Michaels and Cato keep repeating an egregious falsehood about Michael Mann and the stolen emails

  1. Aaron Lewis says:

    I think it is time to start law suits for slander and liable. If the deep pockets of coal and oil do stand behind denialists, then it is worth-while project. If Deep Pockets step back from the denialists, then science and truth score a victory.

    Besides, schools like Penn Law should jump at the chance to teach their students a bit of real science. I expect the law of climate change including water issues is going to be a hot topic over the next couple of generations.

  2. Bryson Brown says:

    Funny how one side gets to lie and spin freely, while anything the other side says can be freely distorted and cited out of context in utterly cartoonish ways… Even with the right attribution, to read that email as a serious attack on peer-review, instead of a frustrated joke about how bad those papers are, is absurd. I’ve said harsher things about papers published in journals in my own field– such criticism is fair ball: referees, editors and publishers can all make mistakes.

    I think it might be very healthy to bring a few serious libel suits– the level of distortion and character assassination has reached a point that really requires a little push-back. On the other hand, IANAL. I’d love to hear an opinion from a knowledgeable lawyer on the prospects of successfully pursuing such a suit.

  3. Avlish says:

    Bryson, A little push back? How about coming out, flailing away, leaving a blood-soaked desert out of these misinformers? Oh, no, did I say that? I must be an opponent of the First Amendment.

    I’m not a scientist but have enough working brain cells to realize over the years that almost every piece of drollery the reactionaries cling to has been distorted, and it doesn’t matter what tenet you belong to–it goes across all spectrum of universal topics. So as usual, back in Nov. when the story came out, I tended to skim around for counter points and long behold, it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to unearth the true accounts over these e-mails.

    People need to recognize that it is not about debunking prevarications point by point through logical constructs because, as psychologists have demonstrated, when it comes to people with conspiratorial sleight-of-mind, their underlying misunderstanding of the issue stems from, what they called as, “crippled epistemology.”

  4. DavidCOG says:

    For what little good it might do, I emailed them. If anyone else wants to join me:

  5. Peter Sergienko says:

    I’m an environmental lawyer, but in general, climate scientists that are legally considered public figures would have to prove that the written statement at issue is false or made with reckless disregard of its truth or falisty and that they suffered damages as a result in order to state a defamation claim. Climate scientists who are not considered public figures would merely have to prove that the statement was negligently made and that they suffered damages as a result.

    I asked one of my partners who does practice first amendment law about an opinion piece published in our local newspaper last month that related to the stolen email controversy. The piece included statements that I knew to be false and readily verifiable as false from reading Climate Progress. Because the false statement essentially questioned a scientist’s commitment to scientific integrity (it used the phrase “cooked the books”), the false statement may have also been libel per se (inherently deemed to cause damage). Although published statements regarding the email controversy, such as the piece discussed here, have generally been couched in opinion or carefully worded to avoid a defamation action, the pieces walk a very fine line. Some of the published statements I’ve read might support a defamation claim.

  6. Wit's End says:

    Peter Sergienko,

    Do you know of any lawsuits against coal industry or other fossil fuel corporations for causing health problems from their pollution? Do you know of any for the effects of greenhouse gases on trees or agriculture? Do you think there is any merit in approaching the problem that way?

  7. Dano says:

    I’ve taken several law classes and am down in the weeds enough to be dangerous, therefore this gives me authority to state I agree with Peter @5 ;o) .

    I’ve started calling out for this:

    IMHO there needs to be a few letters flying off lawyer’s desks to some of these organizations – perhaps NRDC or someone funding some billable hours. Play their game, and send out a few press releases while you’re at it and get someone who is harrumphingly and photogenically umbraged, outraged, and disgusted to get in front of the camera and give a good show for the broadcast news to get some ratings and provide balance.

    Not hard to picture this at all. Now if only someone with influence can contact a few people…hmmm…if only someone with influence can contact a few people…who has influence and can contact a few people…I wonder who….I wonder…



  8. mike roddy says:

    I’d like to see a lawsuit, but am not optimistic about the outcome even if there were to be a judgment. The defendants would holler persecution, and only a few members of the public would know what happened. Besides, Cato has very deep pockets, and would delay a decision for years. Exxon stalled paying victims of the Valdez spill for what- 14 years?

    It’s a shame, because when I was making the rounds in Congressional committees 12 years ago Cato still had something of a reputation. Now, the entire Far Right acts in lockstep, since the oil and coal companies who fund them require it. There’s no longer even much of a pretense about true conservative ideology or problem solving.

    It’s the public we need to persuade. You would be amazed how many Americans think that people like Michaels and even Morano are legitimate, and parrot their arguments. I addressed both of them in my magazine article aimed at a younger audience, Pants on Fire, but the real debt is to Climate Coverup, Roggan’s book. We all need to build on it.

  9. Bill W says:

    Not much hope of a retraction from Cato. The sidebar of the article is chock full of “related items” that are denier stories.

  10. PSU Grad says:

    I’m glad I didn’t have a chance to write the letter suggested yesterday to the president of Penn State. Because I’m now going to include the Cato paragraph along with a statement that I do not believe Dr. Mann actually wrote those words.

    Since I make a relatively small annual donation to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, perhaps Penn State’s legal beagles can be persuaded to write a sternly worded letter to Cato.

    My four years in the military and a lifetime of dealing with bullies or various persuasions has taught me that if they hit you, you hit them back much, much harder. Bullies tend to run off when you do that.

  11. Logic Deferred says:

    Libel and slander are very difficult to prove in the US, which may be another reason why these people do not attack Phil Jones: that might conceivably expose them to a libel suit in a UK court, where the plaintiff has a significantly greater chance of winning than here.

  12. Peter Sergienko says:


    The short answer is a qualified yes, there are meritorious lawsuits at different stages involving claims against major greenhouse gas emitters seeking redress for various types of damages associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The legal theories that have been employed are based on state and federal common law, including nuisance, trespass and negligence.

    Two prominent decisions were issued this fall.

    In October in Comer v. Murphy Oil, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that plaintiffs damaged by Hurricane Katrina had standing to bring claims against major greenhouse gas emitters under Mississippi common law theories of nuisance, trespass, and negligence. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of claims based on unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy. This is the beginning of a long legal battle. Among other things, the plaintiffs will have to prove causation and, if successful in doing so, there will be significant issues concerning the allocation of damages among the defendants and other emitters of greenhouse gases not parties to the case.

    The other significant case is State of Connecticut v. AEP decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in September. There, the court basically held that federal courts have the power and obligation to hear lawsuits alleging that climate change creates a public nuisance, including, in the absence of Congressional action, the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

    If you have additional questions or need additional information, please contact me directly. I’m located in Portland, Oregon and you can find my contact information using Google.

  13. Dano says:

    Mike Roddy et al.: why on earth would you think CEI bringing a lawsuit against NASA or anybody expects it to get to trial? That is not the point.



  14. PurpleOzone says:

    This may be that Cato’s strategy load all of global warming onto Mann, since they are already pilloring him over his curve showing the rise in global temperature. So if they can establish in the public mind that one guy is responsible for the science of global warming and then sink his ideas, they may figure they’ll sink the idea of AGW.
    Of course Cato can’t hurt Mann’s reputation in the scientific community, or affect his funding (in the current administration). So, on one legal level, they aren’t harming him.
    But they’re not after his reputation among scientists. They are out to destroy global warming in the public mind. And they are succeeding in spreading distrust by attacking Mann. See the efforts of a critter called “Spectroscope” on Phil Plait’s blog
    Spectroscope’s comments are probably slanderous, and they are certainly fed by the likes of Cato.
    I like the idea of a press conference, with at least a letter to sent the Cato institute. It seems time scientists counterattacked the attempts at personal destruction.
    Mann has become the “poster boy” for AGW science to counter the polar bears.

  15. Connor says:

    I agree with Aaron on post #1, when on earth are we going to start holding these people to account for their libel and slander? They play dirty, so should we.

  16. Chris Winter says:

    Wit’s End wrote: “Do you know of any lawsuits against coal industry or other fossil fuel corporations for causing health problems from their pollution?”

    Forgive me for butting in. I know of a suit over chemicals used to clean coal. Here’s a summary:

    A chemical called polyacrylamide is used as a flocculant that helps particles settle in liquid. Flocculants are used in a variety of industries: in wastewater treatment, paper-making and oil recovery — and in cleaning freshly mined coal.

    Pure polyacrylamide is safe. But it is made by cooking acrylamide to polymerize it. The degree of cooking determines the amount of leftover acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen. Lower-quality product is less completely cooked, hence cheaper to make, and the worry is that these workers were exposed to it without being told of the danger.

    The suit alleges they are at a significantly increased risk for cancer, neurologic disorders, and reproductive problems. It asks for medical monitoring of the class as a preliminary to possible personal injury claims.

    The class is certified to include all people who worked in coal preparation plants in West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia who have had significant inhalation, ingestion or skin exposure to polyacrylamide flocculants with the residual acrylamide monomer. It also includes their offspring.

    The lawsuit is pending in the circuit court of Marshall County, WV since 2004. Defendants include Chemtall Inc. of Georgia, CIBA Specialty Chemicals Corp. and Cytec Industries Inc. of Delaware, G.E. Betz Inc. of Pennsylvania and Hychem Inc. of Florida.

    More information here:

    The Material Safety Data Sheet:

    or (7-page PDF)

  17. Wit's End says:

    Wow, thank you Peter and Chris!

  18. Alex says:

    Connor, you wouldn’t be the first to ask that. I will be absolutely floored when those with any sway actually get together and hold them to account, at least by successfully raising a stink in the mainstream media. Right now, I mostly see yapping on blogs. Nothing wrong with that, but apparently it’s not enough.

  19. Alex says:

    And nor would Aaron be the first to ask that. :-)

  20. donndublin says:

    JOE, Why do you say that Michaels accuses Mann of writing the “stolen email”?

    In the link you provide, it’s Jones that Michaels is referring to.

    Who’s the liar?

    [JR: Are you some sort of a troll-bot? Can you even read one whole post and click on the original link — CLICK HERE! He changed the Cato post after I called him out — but not the original.]