My column in today’s Washington Times is dedicated to those skeptics and libertarians who, confused about Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation of Michael Mann, are aiding and abetting the enemy.
Tree Ring Circus
By Steve Milloy
May 12, 2010, Washington Times
Are academic scientists some special sub-species of humans who are beyond suspicion and above the law? That is the question now being played out in a drama between Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli and the dead-end defenders of global warming’s poster junk scientist, Michael Mann.
Cucinelli is under assault by global warming alarmist brigades and the American Civil Liberties Union for launching an investigation into whether any fraud against taxpayers occurred with respect to Mann’s hiring by the University of Virginia and his receipt of government grants. Cuccinelli recently sent UVA a civil investigative demand (CID) requesting e-mails and other documents pertaining to Mann.
Cuccinelli’s rationale is simple to understand: Mann’s claim-to-fame — the infamous “hockey stick” graph — is so bogus that one cannot help but wonder whether it is intentional fraud.
Developed in the late-1990s while Mann was at the University of Massachusetts, his hockey stick graph purports to show that average global temperature was fairly stable over the past millennium and up until the 20 the century, when it spiked up impliedly because of human activity. The hockey stick was latched onto by the alarmist community, incorporated into government and United Nations assessments of climate science and held out to the public (particularly by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”) as proof that humans were destroying the planet.
But by the mid-2000s the hockey stick graph began to be revealed for what it was — pure bunk.
Critics of the hockey stick graph first became suspicious because it failed to show two well-known periods of dramatic swings in global temperature — the so-called Medieval Optimum and the Little Ice Age. Mann’s indignant refusal to share his data and methods with critics only added fuel to the fire. Eventually, it was discovered that the computer model that produced the hockey stick would produce a hockey stick graph regardless of what data was input. But it gets worse.
Mann apparently created the hockey stick by cherry-picking data he liked and deleting data he didn’t like. While the vast majority of the hockey stick is based on temperature data extrapolated from tree rings going back hundreds of years, the tip of the blade (representing the late 20th century) was temperature data taken from thermometers. Past the obvious apples-and-oranges problem, as it turns out, Mann appended the thermometer data to the hockey stick at a point at which the tree ring data actually shows cooling. This cooling trend data was then deleted. This is what is referred to by the now-famous Climate-gate phrase “Mike’s Nature trick to … hide the decline.”
Mann’s defenders characterize this deletion of data as an elegant statistical technique. There is, however, nothing sophisticated, much less innocent about it. Contrary to Mann’s defenders, the hockey stick has never been vindicated by anyone. If nothing else, proof of its discredit lies in the fact that no one, not even the ethically challenged United Nations, relies on it anymore as evidence of manmade global warming.
Mann’s name-making hockey stick work occurred while he was at the University of Massachusetts, after which he was hired by the taxpayer-funded UVA. Did UVA hire Mann under the illusion that his hockey stick was a legitimate scientific achievement? Did Mann receive taxpayer-funded grants based on what amounts to scientific misconduct? These are legitimate inquiries — but not to everyone.
Left-wing academics, global warming alarmists, and the ACLU object to Cucinelli’s probe. They cast aspersions such as “witch hunt,” McCarthyism,” and “abuse of office.” In their less hysteric moments, they claim Cuccinelli threatens academic freedom. This is all so much rot.
Some scientists have actually been known to commit scientific misconduct tantamount to fraud. A Tulane researcher was found guilty of misconduct by the federal Office of Scientific Integrity in the late 1990s for fabricating data about pesticides being dangerous hormonal system disrupters. Don’t forget the South Korean researcher that was indicted for claiming false advances in stem cell research. Only political correctness saved a University of Pittsburgh researcher from conviction during the 1990s of manipulating data allegedly linking lead-based paint with lower IQs.
Believe it or not, scientists are just like the rest of the population — a mixture of good and bad. Mann’s hockey stick is such bad science that it compels the question, “Why?” Would UVA have hired Mann and would government grants have been awarded to him had the truth about the hockey stick been known by university and state decision-makers at the time? Were they intentionally deceived?
As the Climategate scandal has revealed, the climate alarmist mob is, at the very least, devious and unethical. It has conspired to silence its critics and to dispense with the normal give-and-take of the scientific process — all the while trumpeting the junkiest of science in trying to frighten the public and politicians into keeping the grant money flowing.
Have some of the climate mob’s members acted criminally as well? No one knows at this point. But through his hockey stick shenanigans, Mann has certainly provided Cuccinelli with “probable cause” to consider the possibility. A thorough investigation by someone not in cahoots with the climate mob is the only way to answer legitimate questions related to the expenditure of taxpayer money.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them (Regnery 2009).