If you've followed my blogging much at all, you know I hold Michael Mann and his work on the infamous "hockey stick" graph in contempt. As such, I was looking forward to reading a new book by Mark Steyn, a person being sued by Mann for calling the hockey stick fraudulent. I'm not a fan of Steyn's approach to writing as I prefer substance over style, but I figured even with some space devoted to his rhetorical flourishes, there would be plenty of interesting content in almost 300 pages of text.
I was even willing to look past the fact I knew the book had several misquotations in it. I knew this because people posted pictures they took of parts of the book, and I recognized many quotes they showed. Some of those quotes were off. They were off in small ways though. For instance, the quote:
I think that sent a very misleading message about how resolved this part of the scientific research was.
In Steyn's book is given as:
A very misleading message about how resolved this part of the scientific research was.
The difference in relatively minor. Steyn quoted part of a sentence, but he capitalized the first word he provided making it appear to be the first word of a sentence. That's a misquotation, but it's a small one. It could have been avoided by simply changing that first word to "[A]."
I saw a couple other misquotations like that prior to getting a copy of the book, and I'll admit they annoyed me. I was willing to look past them though. I figured I'd point them out and ask they be corrected for future editions, but otherwise, not worry about them. After all, if the worst you can say about a book is it should have had a few square brackets added to it, that's pretty good. Unfortunately, I then read the book.
Or rather, I read the first page of the book. I haven't really gotten past that page yet. I've tried to. Several times. I just can't bring myself to. You see, I have standards. One of those standards says if you try to convince me of something which is obviously untrue, I don't want to hear anything more from you. And that's what happened here.
I was willing to look past minor misquotations. Those didn't stop me because they didn't change the meaning of anything. That's not true for what Steyn did with the first quote of his book. For that quote, the very first quote of his book, he quoted the words accurately; he just completely distorted their meaning. Here's a picture:
That's how the book starts:
Over the last 10,000 years it has been warmer than today 65 per cent of the time.
That paints a very different picture than Michael Mann's hockey stick, a point Steyn immediately proceeds to hammer in. He talks about how Mann's hockey stick changed our understanding from what Dr. Gernot Patzelt described, with the planet's past having often been warmer to one where modern times were far warmer than any time in the past. He goes on and on about this.
Only, that's complete bullshit. Patzelt never said anything like that. He said those words, but as anyone looking at Steyn's source will quickly see, they weren't in reference to the planet's temperatures. It says:
In his presentation, Dr. Patzelt also reveals glacier advances and retreats in the Alps throughout the Holocene, thousands of kilometers away from the Russian Altai. Forests existed at elevations that were higher than today – in areas that are presently covered by glaciers.
At the 12:22 mark, Patzelt summarizes the data of the three glaciers examined in the Alps and presents a temperature reconstruction. His conclusion at the 13:42:
"Over the last 10,000 years it has been warmer than today 65% of the time. Our current climate does not in any way show an anomaly in temperature development. That’s an important result.”
Patzelt wasn't talking about the planet's temperatures. He was talking about temperatures as estimated via three glaciers in the Alps. Three glaciers in one range of mountains cannot tell us what the planet's temperatures have been. Not only is that something which should be obvious, it's something Steyn is certainly aware of. When I skipped ahead a couple pages, I found Steyn saying:
I wonder how many of those who regard it as an authoritative graph of global climate across the centuries are aware that its hockey-stick shape for the entire hemisphere depends on two clumps of trees: some California bristlecones, and some cedars from the Gaspé Penisula - or rather, for the years up to 1421, just one cedar from the Gaspé Penisula. Quick, hands up, who knows where the Gaspé Peninsula is? I do, because I'm a Quebecker and I've been to the Gaspé dozens of times and regard it as one of my favorite places on earth. But it is not the earth. How many of us, on being assured that "the science is settled", are aware that it's been settled on the basis of one Québécois tree?
Leaving aside the fact the Gaspé series is never the sole source for Mann's hockey stick (the bristlecones are always present along with it), making Steyn's last question wrong, this clearly shows Steyn is aware you can't draw conclusions about the planet's temperatures from a small amount of data from one area. He condemns Michael Mann for doing so.
Yet, that's exactly what he did by presenting Patzelt quote as though it referred to the planet's temperatures when it really only referred to temperatures estimated from a few glaciers in one mountain range. He did exactly what he condemned Michael Mann for doing, and he misrepresented what a person said in order to do it.
And he did it with the very first quote of his book. It was even the first sentence. The first sentence of this book contains a glaring misrepresentation anyone who just looked at the source given with it would see, one so bad it makes Steyn into a raging hypocrite.
Of course, Steyn could be better than Mann in one very important way - he could admit his mistake and correct it. That would be great. I'd respect him for it. Even if he does though, I'm still going to find it hard to read a book which started off so horribly.