Standards

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:

20150820_034530

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.

14 comments

  1. Context and accuracy is important especially when paraphrasing a longish piece of work. Sometimes, as wth Judith's example, the end result is trivial, but it would be tribalism in the extreme to excuse everything on 'our' side whilst criticising the self same thing when made by the 'other' side.

    Look forward to any other material mistakes you notice.

    I am something of a reasonably objective observer in this as I haven't followed this steyn and Mann saga from the outset and don't have a visceral hatred of Mann although I believe the hockey stick was a very
    Poor piece of work which in the normal course of events might have been withdrawn if it hadn't suddenly become the icon it did and raised Mann to cult status. I know very little of steyns work either as he tends to cover areas outside of my interest.

    Tonyb

  2. Hey Tonyb, thanks for your comment. I don't really have strong feelings for Michael Mann as a person. I think he's beneath contempt. As in, I don't care about him as a person. I only care about the things which revolve around him. I care that flaws in his work get excused, ignored or even covered up. I care that blatant dishonesty on his part gets tolerated to the point he can all but come out and admit to it in his book and not suffer any consequence. Things like that bother me even though if I saw Mann in the grocery store I probably wouldn't bat an eye (okay, I would, but only because I'd be wondering why he was in a town in the middle of nowhere).

    As for Steyn, I don't think I had even heard of him before Mann sued him. I naturally came out as supporter of him based just on the fact he was being sued. Then he had some bizarre reactions after I wrote a post he didn't like, and I decided I don't get him as a person and I don't care to try. After that, I chuckled at some of his more bizarre antics (like writing a piece which denied anyone had compared Michael Mann to a child molester) but otherwise just ignored him.

    But after reading this book... man. There is a lot more wrong with the book than just this one quote being misrepresented. There are so many misrepresentations, I had to stop reading the book for the night. I was tweeting some reactions to the book because I didn't want to write how I feel because I knew if I did I wouldn't be able to write about it calmly (I'm already a bit rambly from agitation), but one of my last tweets before putting the book down was:

    I'm only ten pages in, and I honestly think @MarkSteynOnline's book is more misleading then @MichaelEMann's so far.

    If the book keeps going the way it has for the introduction and first couple pages of the first chapter, I'll probably do another in-process review like I did for Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller's book, where I make one topic and post new comments with my thoughts as I progress through the book. There's been so much wrong so far in the 15 pages I've read so far, that's the only way I could keep up with all the problems.

    My favorite one so far is the blogger Tamino sometime derisively refers to Judith Curry as "Aunt Judy." Steyn tells his readers the reason for this is to make a porno reference, because apparently the phrase "Aunt Judy" has some use there. And because of that, Tamino must have intended it that way. Seriously.

    It's like, you know, I've read Tamino's blog for years, and I've seen him call her "Aunt Judy" a number of times. I never realized he was making a porno reference. Apparently I'm just oblivious.

    >.>

  3. Beware the one-sentence quotation. The lack of context is always suspect. And it's journalistic malfeasance to use part of a sentence and represent it as the whole thing. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal calls this sort of thing "Dowdification" after the columnist Maureen Dowd who edits words out of sentences to make them sound like what she wants them to say rather than what they actually say. Stick to your standards, Brandon. The polemicists shouldn't be allowed to get away with shoddy work.

  4. Gary, you should look at my newer post. It's way worse than this post indicates. Or at least shows. This post does only deal with the first sentence of the book. I don't know how much it could really indicate. But it certainly didn't prepare me for what came five pages later, much less what came the page after that.

    I mean, talking about Tamino and p0rn together is certainly weird and something I couldn't have anticipated, but defending Greg Laden's intelligence?!

  5. "According to @MarkSteynOnline, Tamino calls @curryja "Aunt Judy" as a porno reference."

    what he wrote

    "Diehard Manniac blogger "Tamino", for example, condescendingly refers to the aforementioned and distinguished Dr Judith Curry as "Aunt Judy" (see https://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/biotech-biostitutes/), which appears to be a derogatory porno term for an older woman one would be willing to have sex with if no one younger was to hand. Given that Mann enthusiastically facilitated the reduction of scientific dispute to name-calling, it would be unreasonable to expect his Mannboys to confine themselves to merely the Holocaust echoes of "denier".

    Tamino calls her Aunt Judy.
    Yes, that terms appears to be ( actually is ) a porno term.

    parse very carefully and you'll see that Steyn is being very clever.

    Note he never writes that Tamino USED it as a porno term.

  6. "No joke. Steyn actually says that."

    Actually he does not say that.

    He says

    "“Diehard Manniac blogger “Tamino”, for example, condescendingly refers to the aforementioned and distinguished Dr Judith Curry as “Aunt Judy” (see https://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/biotech-biostitutes/), which appears to be a derogatory porno term for an older woman one would be willing to have sex with if no one younger was to hand. Given that Mann enthusiastically facilitated the reduction of scientific dispute to name-calling, it would be unreasonable to expect his Mannboys to confine themselves to merely the Holocaust echoes of “denier”."

    Suppose Steyn said "Brandon writes fluff"
    And you could say "Steyn uses a porno term to describe my writing"
    That would be true
    Suppose you said "Steyn described my writing as porno"
    That would be false.
    Steyn is playing a very sharp game. He realizes that the term has at least two meanings. One pornographic (Aunt Judy) and the other
    non pornographic. That why he writes it the way he does, saying tamino USES a term that 'appears' to have a pornographic meaning
    ( Among other meanings ) AND Tamino's readers "pick up on" the pornographic meaning. Very sharp writing.

  7. Steven Mosher:

    parse very carefully and you’ll see that Steyn is being very clever.

    Note he never writes that Tamino USED it as a porno term.

    I actually noticed that a little after I read the passage. I probably should have caught it sooner, but Steyn is supposed to be bold and brave, speaking his mind without hesitation. I didn't think to look for cases of him using subtle nuance to imply things while being able to argue he didn't actually say them. I was going to add a note correcting that point, but Steyn wrote a piece with a lengthy discussion about things I said on this topic without once raising the issue. I figure that means he didn't intend for us to take the meaning careful parsing allows us to come up with. I probably should have still noted it though.

    By the way, Steyn's piece is hilarious, though probably not in the way he intended. The tribalism is incredible. I don't know what time his piece was written, so I don't know if he was unaware of my posts about his book, if they weren't written, or if there was some mix of the above. What I do know is he says:

    Brandon Shollenberger, one of the most extraordinarily un-self-aware people even by the Internet's standards, has begun an ill-advised Tweet-as-you-go of my book and thus spent most of this morning stridently debating whether "Aunt Judy" is a "porno term" or merely "derogatory". Start here and scroll down. Look at the first response he gets, and how he insists on arguing the point back and forth. (I hope the lady customer at SteynOnline who very generously bought Shollenberger a gift copy of the book because he was "having trouble" with his bank account is enjoying his peculiar priorities.)

    I encourage anyone to click on that link and see how many tweets I wrote then guess how long it took me to write them. I'd wager it waas less than five minutes. I spend more time than that catching up on webcomics each day (which I was doing while writing those tweets). If I had any "peculiar priorities," this morning, it was probably in spending 25 minutes catching up on the last month of Dilbert strips. It wasn't in the "most of this morning," also known as five minutes, stridently debating, also known as having a discussion, about a silly thing Steyn said.

    But that's not really a tribalistic thing. That's just Steyn overreacting. He probably put more effort into that paragraph about my tweets than I put into the tweets themselves, which is funny, but not really insightful. What's insightful is how he went on to say:

    So Shollenberger wants to spend his morning insisting that "Aunt Judy" is not a "porno term". In that case, what is it? And why do you support its application to the former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, member of the National Research Council's Climate Research Committee and the NASA Advisory Council Earth Science Committee, recipient of the Henry G Houghton Research Award from the American Meteorological Society, and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences?

    Uh... what? That's a lot of words. Maybe I got lost in the jumble and it really isn't as stupid as it sounds. Let's check what comes a little later to get some clarification:

    Shollenberger defends Tamino

    Maybe he just misspoke? I mean, surely Steyn isn't so ridiculous as to say:

    Do you ever listen to yourself, Shollenberger? Are you so tone-deaf you have no idea what you're defending here?

    Okay, I guess I was wrong. Steyn really does think criticizing his description of what the phrase "Aunt Judy" means somehow automatically translates into defending the use of the phrase "Aunt Judy" as a sexist and derogatory nickname for Judith Curry. The two have nothing to do with one another, yet... there you have it. Criticize Steyn on one point, and you're defending his enemies on all points.

    This is like accusing OJ Simpson of committing genocide then saying, "How dare you defend a murderer?!" when people point out he didn't commit genocide.

  8. So yeah, I just took a real look at the picture Mark Steyn refers to in that piece claiming I defended Tamino for the first time. I hadn't paid much attention to it before because I was distracted by all the nonsense Steyn was writing, but then I saw it again on Twitter and noticed it was different there. It turns out Steyn had cropped the image when he reposted it to his site. In doing so, he cropped out the person's face, which I think was a good idea. There would have been nothing to be gained by posting some person's face on his website when the point of the picture was just to show a tattoo she had.

    But noticing that difference made me look a bit more at the picture. Take a look at it yourself. Here's the cropped version from Steyn's site. This is what Steyn said about it:

    ~Michael E Mann Tweeted the photograph at top right from a female admirer, who has had his hockey stick tattooed on her arm. I don't know how common this is among Mann's fans. I understand his devoted Mini-Me, Greg Mann-Laden, prefers to wear it as a novelty tramp stamp: The shaft runs straight across the top of his left thigh and then the blade shoots up his butt.

    Um... what? Does Steyn even look at what he makes fun of? That tattoo looks nothing like a hockey stick. Nobody could possibly mistake it for one. Why would Steyn, a person who has spent years in a lawsuit because of criticizing Mann and his hockey stick?

    I have no idea. Anyone who just looked at the image when thinking about what to write should have known it wasn't Mann's hockey stick. I could understand not knowing what the image was, because it doesn't have any label, but it looks nothing like any of Michael Mann's work. My first guess is it's supposed to be the CO2 record like that seen in this image, but I don't know.

    I don't really care either. The fact Mann tweeted a picture of it doesn't mean it is automatically his hockey stick. Except in Steyn's eyes. Apparently that's all it took to fool Steyn.

  9. @mosher?

    Steyn is "Being clever"?

    As you point out, he was being acute ate and factual. Term used. Term is a porno reference.

    The real question is, after being informed about how particularly nasty the term is, why not simply apologise and say "you didn't realise it meant that to the wider world"

    @brandon

    LOL, you misquoted Steyn. Hoisted by your own petard!

  10. On your Dr. Patzelt quote where he says ". . . Our current climate . . .", I am not sure why you don't Dr. Patzelt was only referring to one small region with 3 glaciers.

    It seems to me that when he says "Our current climate" he is including everybody in his audience.

    Unless everybody in the audience lives in that small region with the 3 glaciers (which I doubt), it seems to me that he is comparing the current global temperature to the historic temperature of this small region and makes the very comparison which Steyn quotes him for.

    So I don't agree with your interpretation of the Dr. Patzelt quote.

  11. Sorry - editing error.

    I meant to say "I am not sure why you think Dr. Patzelt was only referring to one small region with 3 glaciers."

  12. Geckko:

    The real question is, after being informed about how particularly nasty the term is, why not simply apologise and say “you didn’t realise it meant that to the wider world”

    Tamino stopped using the term over a year ago, and nobody ever suggested the term might mean anything related to p0rn until this book was published, a few weeks ago. As far as I know, nobody has talked to Tamino about this, so I don't know how you expect Tamino to have apologized.

    LOL, you misquoted Steyn. Hoisted by your own petard!

    Um... no? Even if you agree with Mosher, I didn't misquote Steyn; I described the context of his quotation wrong because I fell for a trick he used. Falling for a trick somebody plays on you where they try to make you think their words say something when they don't quite say it isn't misquoting them if you manage to quote their words accurately.

    Besides which, Steyn's response to me shows Mosher's attempt at semantic parsing is a non-issue as Steyn didn't intend the trick Mosher says he intended. Steyn's response didn't take issue with the interpretation I attributed to his passage; it embraces it. That shows he meant what I said, even if his words were written in a way which would have let him weasel out.

  13. RickA:

    On your Dr. Patzelt quote where he says “. . . Our current climate . . .”, I am not sure why you don’t Dr. Patzelt was only referring to one small region with 3 glaciers.

    It seems to me that when he says “Our current climate” he is including everybody in his audience.

    He's a scientist talking about results from a study he did of the climate of the Alps in the past. He gave a twenty two minute presentation entirely about this one mountain range. Directly underneath the quote Steyn used is a visual which accompanied it that had the caption:

    Top curve shows the reconstructed temperature of the Alps over the Holocene. Dark-shaded areas show warm periods. (Snipped from Patzelt’s presentation at the 13:30 mark).

    "[R]econstructed temperature of the Alps. Twenty two minutes talking only about the Alps. Data which is only taken from the Alps. Seems pretty clear to me.

    But thanks for making me actually check the video. I hadn't watched the video before because the image and partial transcript were enough to make it obvious enough to me. Watching the video made me realize something important though - that video isn't in English. That means the quote Steyn uses is not an actual quote, it's a translated quote.

    Which is fine. You're allowed to use translations. I just think people should be informed when a quote is not a direct quote. Maybe that's just me.

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