Crackpots and Lunatics

The world is insane. I came to that conclusion years ago, but it hasn't stopped me from being constantly surprised by the things I see. For instance, I've recently started reading a new book by Mark Steyn named A Disgrace to the Profession. It has 120 two page sections, each devoted to showing how a scientist expressed disagreement with Michael Mann or his work.

There are some other framing pages as well, but those 120 section are the meat of the book. Mann has filed a lawsuit against Steyn, and the idea is to portray those 120 scientists as supporting Steyn. I suspect that's not an accurate portrayal for a number of them, and I've discussed that in a recent thread where I've been writing my thoughts on the book as I read through it in a sort of "live review."

But even if these people would support Steyn, there's always the question of, "Why should we listen to what they have to say?" Steyn presents them as being 120 scientists with all sorts of impressive credentials, but does that mean we should just trust their opinions? Or do we just care about the number of them, regardless of what their opinions might be? Or is it maybe that we do care about their opinions, trusting that those opinions are right, because after all, Steyn would never quote people who are obviously crackpots and lunatics?

I hope it's not the last of those. If it is, we're all in for a world of disappointment.

The third main section Steyn's book begins on Page 11. It's all about how Steyn is supported by Professor David R Legates, PhD, whose credentials are given as:

Professor of Geography and former Director of the Center for Climate Research at the University of Delaware. Former Delaware State Climatologist, Coordinator of the Delaware Geographic Alliance and Associate Director of the Delaware Space Grant Consortum. Author of peer-reviewed papers published in The International Journal of Climatology, The Bulletin of the American Meterological Society and other journals.

It looks all impressive and whatnot. It certainly looks as impressive as the credentials given for everyone else in the book. So what if I told you Legates is a crackpot?

No, I'm not going to tell you he holds crazy beliefs that makes him the subject of ridicule amongst most scientists. I'm not going to tell you he publishes terrible papers which get him laughed out rooms on a regular basis. I'm not going to tell you anything like that. Instead, I'm just going to show you how what Steyn quotes him as saying is completely stupid and insane. Here's Steyn:

After taking control of the past – the shaft of the hockey stick – it was necessary to clarify the present – the blade – with a clear, simple message; this is the hottest year of the hottest decade of the hottest century, like, forever! Following the publication of his 2004 paper “Estimation and representation of long-term (>40 year) trends of Northern-Hemisphere-gridded surface temperature: A note of caution1” Dr Legates wrote2:

Anyone reading this might guess Legates is about to say something about "Northern-Hemisphere-gridded surface temperature." After all, Steyn explained that following a paper about estimating it, Legates wrote this piece. Steyn quotes it as saying:

Recently, my colleagues and I closely examined the "blade" of Mann's latest temperature reconstruction (Geophysical Research Letters, February 2004). According to the IPCC (2001) and many other published sources, the earth warmed only 0.6°C (1°F) during the 20th century. However, that contrasts sharply with the most recent reconstruction by Mann and Jones, which shows warming over the last century of 0.95°C (1.5°F) - a temperature rise more than 50 percent larger than the IPCC claims. Mann's warming estimate has grown substantially over the last couple of years, apparently to accommodate his continuing claim that the 1990s were the warmest decade of the last two millennia, but we found that the blade of the hockey stick could not be reproduced using either the same techniques as Mann and Jones or other common statistical techniques. Since reproducibility is a hallmark of scientific inquiry and the blade does not represent the observed climate record, it is unreliable...

A normal person might wonder why Steyn would mention a paper about estimating temperatures of the Northern Hemisphere then provide a quote talking about global temperatures. They probably wouldn't make too much of it though. They'd just read that paragraph and think, "Dang, Mann even exaggerated the amount of modern warming by 50%? He's horrible."

And if a reader was skeptical enough to do a cursory check of the claim, they might go ahead and look up the paper by Legates. Steyn provides a reference for it. I checked, and I found this image:

8_24_Legates_Crazy

Its caption says:

Figure 3. The comparison of the 40-yr low-pass filtered series using wavelet transform (red curve, same as Figure 2c) with the 40-yr Hamming weights smoothed series (blue curve, same as Figure 2b) with endpoints padding recommended by the author(s) of Figure 2.21 of the IPCC TAR. Our curves (panel d) are, in turn, compared on the same time-temperature scales with smoothed series (all the red-solid curves) by (a) Mann [2002] (Figure 1b), (b) Mann et al. [2003] (Figure 1c), and (c) Mann and Jones [2003] (Figure 1d). A progression is seen toward increasingly higher values at 2000 over the short 1–2 years span of publication interval.

Which would seem to support what Steyn quoted Legates as saying. There's a little peculiarity as Legates referenced the paper in his article as (Geophysical Research Letters, February 2004) but Mann and Jones 2003 in the paper he co-authored, but that's a trivial detail that doesn't really matter. What matters is:

Mann's warming estimate has grown substantially over the last couple of years, apparently to accommodate his continuing claim that the 1990s were the warmest decade of the last two millennia

And as he points out, the increase in Mann's estimate for that warming is greater than the amount of warming given by the IPCC report. So that all sounds great and fine. Except, it still doesn't address this one tiny, little problem: The Northern Hemisphere is not the entire planet.

Here is Mann and Jones 2003's results for the entire planet:

8_24_Mann_Jones_2003_c

Take note of the word Globe. It's hard to miss. It's right there for the reader to see. Also, take note of the fact those aren't the results Legates and his co-authors presented. One would presume that's because Legates or one of his co-authors understood when looking at "Northern-Hemisphere-gridded surface temperature," you don't use results given for the entire Globe. You look instead look at the paper you're criticizing and see above the global results:

8_24_Mann_Jones_2003_Fig_3

Are results for the Northern Hemisphere. Those results show greater warming in recent times than the global results do, but that's not remotely surprising. It's an expected result. Climate scientists have long said land will warm faster than oceans will. That means the northern hemisphere will warm faster than the southern hemisphere since it has more land. The expected result is the northern hemisphere will also warm faster than the planet as a whole.

Additionally, it's just weird to think Mann would have done anything to affect the amount of warming in recent times. Mann and his co-authors were reconstructing past temperatures. Those are the blue line in those graphs. They don't even go all the way up to the end of the 1900s. The red line, the one Mann supposedly fiddled with, is the modern instrumental record. Mann didn't create that. He just used it. He pretty much just plotted it.

But according to Legates, Mann didn't just plot it; he fiddled with it first to increase the amount of warming it showed by 50%. That's idiotic. Yeah, there may be some small differences between the total amount of warming you'll see in graphs from paper to paper. Exactly how high a line will go depends on details like how much you smooth your data and things like that, all of which involve subjective decisions. But this is what the IPCC said about the amount of warming there had been in the 1900s:

The global average surface temperature (the average of near surface air temperature over land, and sea surface temperature) has increased since 1861. Over the 20th century the increase has been 0.6 ± 0.2°C

That and the figure it provides to go along with it matches the graph Mann provides pretty well. Whether the red line in this graph:

8_24_Mann_Jones_2003_c

Went as high as it did or a hair less high would make absolutely no difference to anybody except some crackpot like Professor David R Legates, PhD, decided the entire Southern Hemisphere doesn't exist, and suddenly, he's on a list with 119 other "respected scientists" telling us how horrible Michael Mann's work is.

There's a bit of humor here which would be lost on most people. One of the primary criticisms of Mann's work is his claim to reconstruct temperatures in areas nowhere near the area the data he relies on is collected in. This includes creating a "southern hemisphere" temperature reconstruction largely by using data from the northern hemisphere. It's almost as though both Mann and his critics want to pretend half the planet doesn't exist.

But I guess what really happens is they just forget about it. Shortly after Legates writes and publishes an entire paper about estimating "Northern-Hemisphere-gridded surface temperature," he... forgets the southern hemisphere exists. And immediately after writing a sentence about"Northern-Hemisphere-gridded surface temperature," Steyn just forgets that when there is a north, there is also a south.

Or maybe not. Maybe Steyn just doesn't care. Maybe Steyn is smarter than I give him credit for. Maybe he just knows it doesn't matter if the things he publishes are true or not. Maybe he realizes his talent is in writing, and lies often make for better stories than the truth.

I don't know. What I do know is if you're willing to look to crackpots and lunatics for support, it won't mean much when you find supporters.

11 comments

  1. But the blue wiggle doesn't match the red wiggle. The proxies are not exploding in the eighties, that's what "hiding the decline" was all about.

  2. Hans Erren, that would be a good point to discuss and focus on. I've talked about it a number of times myself. Mark Steyn might at some point in his book. He hasn't thus far, but I'm not very far in his book. Even if he does though, it doesn't change anything about his discussion in this section, which is utter garbage.

    And that's a huge problem. Even if Steyn gets things right, if it is mixed with things like this, he'll have no credibility with anyone who has a genuinely open mind. Anyone applying critical thought to Steyn's book will see things like this and think the "support" Steyn has doesn't mean much. They'll also think the constant misrepresentations he publishes might kind of mean Michael Mann has a point with his lawsuit, even if Mann isn't the right person to sue Steyn for his constant misrepresentations.

  3. I think one of Steyn's purposes with this book is "litigation support": to show a bunch of people with academic credentials critiquing Mann's work, undermining Mann's claims that his purported exoneration by various expert bodies mean that Steyn acted with "actual malice" etc etc.

    For that purpose, the quality of the critiques doesn't matter much, if only because the court presumably won't delve into the science.

    I'd guess Steyn's other motivations are some mix of , love of combat & commitment to upholding freedom of expression.

  4. I have not read the book, but I have read reviews as well as Steyn's own commentary.

    The complete title gives us clues as to what the book is all about:

    "A Disgrace to the Profession": The World's Scientists - In Their Own Words - On Michael E Mann

    It is a collection of actual quotes from other scientists and what they say about Michael Mann.

    Maybe the difference is merely semantical, but I don't think you are entirely accurate when you say:

    "...and the idea is to portray those 120 scientists as supporting Steyn."

    They aren't so much as supporting Steyn, who many probably don't even know, as much as they are denigrating Mann. That, I believe, is the point of the book. Steyn wishes to put forth the proposition that Michael E Mann's colleagues and contemporaries are not supportive of him or the science he generates. So support for Steyn by proxy 😉

    The book presumably quote mines only those that are most favorable to Steyn. Of course that is Steyn's prerogative, as it is his book to write and sell.

    The quotes I am aware of are mostly from the Climate Gate emails. And indeed, there are some particularly damning comments from other scientists.

    Cheers!

  5. Szilard, the problem with that is even people with academic credentials can be loons. It's all well and fine for Mark Steyn ot get up in court and say, "It was okay for me to say what I said because 120 scientists said similar things." The problem is that argument will fail if Michael Mann's lawyer can get up and say, "Well 120 sounds impressive, and I obviously can't go through the whole list, but here are some crackpots and lunatics Steyn includes in it."

    If you have a few completely horrible examples like this one on a list, it doesn't matter how many good examples you might have. Nobody will trust your list if they think any random schmuck with a crazy idea can get on it, even if he does happen to have a degree. The only way to make a list trustworthy is to take the time to vet it and to make sure you go back and take steps to fix it when errors are pointed out. Steyn's not doing that.

    As for Steyn's motivations, I'd largely agree with you, except for one thing. I'm not sure what he's doing is "upholding freedom of expression." There are limits to our freedom of expression, and libel laws do exist for a reason. Given the significant number of misrepresentations and untruths in Steyn's book, I think Steyn might manage to show why freedom of expression has limits. I don't know that anything Steyn says in this book could merit a lawsuit, but some of it sure does skate close.

  6. Kozlowski, I love the the phrasing of supporting Steyn by proxy. I wish I had thought of it. Not only is it more accurate and precise, it's great meta humor with the use of "proxy." I think I'm going to steal it.

    One of the strangest things to me about the book so far is Steyn does a really bad job of making his case. He misses a number of damning points. I pointed out one example here. It's like, he put a lot of effort into quote mining people, going so far as to misquoting them to do it, but... he still missed a lot of juicy stuff? How does that even happen?

  7. "It’s like, he put a lot of effort into quote mining people, going so far as to misquoting them to do it, but… he still missed a lot of juicy stuff?
    How does that even happen?"

    Well, I have a thought, prompted by what might be only a joke, but might, barely, be instead, a clue.

    The title of the work, which you have abbreviated, actually ends with the words "Volume I". This is most likely a joke -- to imply without coming outright and claiming that at least another, comparably sized, collection of quotes is coming in the sequel. A writer who primarily deals with songs and movies regularly deals with sequels.

    But, what if it's NOT a joke? What if there IS another pile of such quotes? At least some of the juicy stuff known to exist is going to be needed in the sequel, too, right? No professional humorist would load ALL the funny quotable bits into the first book and leave the boring dregs for the second book.

    So, maybe, just maybe, you're onto something here, Brandon. Maybe you can even lay down a marker and forecast or predict five or ten of the juiciest quotes you KNOW fall into the general category of stuff Steyn benefits from, and get it into the public view before Steyn does.

  8. Pouncer, the problem with that is if all you want is juicy sounding soundbites, without concern for their actual meaning or quality of source, then Mark Steyn's book is doing a good job. His book is doing a great job of providing quotable bits people can throw out there to sound good.

    I don't think I could do a better job. I'm not good at quote mining people. I don't think I could have pulled up half the quotes Steyn pulled up, but that's because I actually care about accuracy and meaning, and only relying on sources who aren't howling at the moon crazy. That limits me. When you're free of limitations like that, you can come up with a lot more material. Which is probably why what you refer to as a joke doesn't appear to be a joke. Steyn says in his introduction:

    We wound up with far more material that we could ever fit in one book, so this is Volume One...

    And ends his book:

    ...and don't forget

    "A disgrace to the profession"
    Volume II

    featuring much more from
    THE WORLD'S SCIENTISTS
    - in their own words -
    ON MICHAEL E MANN,
    HIS HOCKEY STICK,
    AND THEIR DAMAGE TO SCIENCE

    coming soon from

    STOCKADE
    BOOKS

    It has a logo for Stockade Books, and it's all centered, but I couldn't capture that in my comment. The point is it appears Steyn really is going to find 100+ more quotes from people, just like the quotes in this book, but they're just going to be the like the ones in this book.

    I mean, maybe I could figure out what some of those quotes would be in advance, but just reading this book makes me want to set it or my head on fire, so I think I'll pass on trying. I was less offended by Michael Mann's book than by this one. At least with his book, it took some knowledge/research to spot some of the misrepresentations. With Steyn's, I think the most work it's taken has been to read a paragraph.

  9. Mark Steyn explained his reasoning for the book. Michael Mann and the Climate establishment set the standard that only scientists' statements matter, and so he has set forth the statements of people with PhDs. I suspect he will eventually try to reference it in court. This is helpful to counter the idea among judges that scientists are apolitical and honest and presumed correct and that to challenge his intellect is tantamount to a declaration of fraud.

  10. MikeN, I'm pretty sure neither Michael Mann nor most other climate scientists have said its the opinions of "scientists" which count. They might have said that for "climate scientists," but if so, Steyn's book does little to address that. Most of the people he quotes have no connection to climate science.

    But leaving that aside, this book will do little, if anything, to bolster Steyn's case in the eye's of fairminded people along the lines you describe due to the fact he favorably cites any and all crackpots as long as they are "scientists." That you can find people with PhDs who believe crazy things does not make those things less crazy.

    If Styen tells a jury he has quotes from 120 scientists which support him, Mann can respond, "Yeah, and look at how many are whackjobs. Is Steyn saying he actually believes these loons?" What's Steyn's response then? If he says yes, then he's telling everyone he believes people roughly the equivalent of crop circle nuts. If he says no, then he's telling them he was disingenuous with his book, promoting people as trustworthy even though he knows they're not.

    Or maybe he says he just didn't bother to check the sources he was quote mining?

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