Is Mark Steyn a Liar?

My last post didn't turn out as I had intended. It began with the remark, "Anyone familiar with my writing should know I am not a fan of Michael Mann. I think the fact he became famous off of his 'hockey stick' reconstruction is disgusting and should embarrass every scientist everywhere." The reason for that is I had been planning to ask the question in this post's title, and I wanted to make it clear I wasn't asking it because I am trying to defend Michael Mann. I'm not. I think Michael Mann is a horrible person, and I don't support the lawsuit he's filed against Mark Steyn.

That said, I cannot stress how terrible the book Steyn has published in response to Mann's lawsuit is. The book contains a collection of quotes intended to show many people share similar views to Steyn's, thus making a lawsuit against him unreasonable. While I would support that idea in theory, I cannot support the actual book because to create this impression, Steyn has distorted the meaning of many of the quotes.

Remarkably, Steyn does this with even the first quote of his book, a quote he uses as the very first sentence of the book. The quote says:

Over the last 10,000 years it has been warmer than today 65 per cent of the time.

This is a powerful quote to start his book with. Michael Mann is famous for his hockey stick graph which portrayed modern warm temperatures as unprecedented in ~1,000 years. Steyn uses this quote to set up a contrast he emphasizes in his book, one where he claims Mann's hockey stick was published:

And suddenly no one remembered "geological time" or "natural climate variability" anymore. In the history of Mann-made climate change, "nothing happened in the world before the 20th century" (as Oxford physicist Jonathan Jones put it) after which the mercury shot up and straight through the top of the thermometer; in other words, it's all your fault.

This contrast between Mann's hockey stick and the previous understanding, as given by the quote from Professor Gernot Patzelt, is an important theme throughout Steyn's book. Only, it's a fabrication. You see, Patzelt never said what Steyn wants his readers to think he said. If you watch the video of Patzelt speaking:

You'll find he wasn't speaking in English. His words were translated, a fact Steyn failed to mention. He also failed to mention who did the translation. It's probably not important as the translation is likely reasonable, but the lack of disclosure is reason for caution. That caution is proven appropriate when one reads the post Steyn linked to for the quote and see:

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.”

That makes it clear Patzelt examined three glaciers in the Alps and created a temperature reconstruction based off data gathered from them. There is nothing to suggest these results should be taken as representing global temperatures. It is only by taking the words completely out of context that Steyn could create the contrast he wanted for his book.

Given how obvious it is Patzelt wasn't talking about global temperatures, one can reasonably ask, is Mark Steyn a liar?

Anyone who read the blog post Steyn cites would see this image and caption:

11_16_Alps

Which makes it clear Patzelt's results were for the Alps. They would have also seen the post's title: "Multiple Glacier Studies Show Wide Holocene Climate Variations In Asia And Europe" and read there was a different study which:

investigated glacier dynamic and climatic variations in the southeastern part of the Russian Altai during the last 7000 years and show distinct natural climatic changes had occurred.

The post's title refers to studies for Asia and Europe. It then discusses a study investigating variations in the southeastern Russian Altai, which is located in Asia. The other study is obviously Patzelt's, which examined glaciers in the Alps, located in Europe.

There is simply no way to misunderstand this. There is no way to read the post Steyn cites for this quote and come to believe the quote refers to temperatures for the planet or a hemisphere. There is no way to read any context for this quote and think it provides a contrast for Michael Mann's hockey stick.

So one can reasonably wonder, why did Mark Steyn use this quote as the first sentence of his book, presenting it as a contrast to Michael Mann's hockey stick? Was he just lying? Did he know Patzelt referred to temperatures for the Alps and decide to just pretend otherwise?

Or did he perhaps not bother to read the blog post he cites? Did Steyn maybe just see that one sentence he quoted, think it sounded sexy and not look any further? Did he maybe decide to start his book with a quote without even bothering to read the paragraph it was taken from?

I don't know. I'm not sure there's any way to tell. I'm also not sure it matters. Whether Steyn intentionally lied in his book or was just so lazy and bumbling he said things which were obviously untrue doesn't seem to make much difference. Either way, if he had the slightest interest in truth or accuracy, he wouldn't have done this sort of thing multiple times.

And yes, I mean multiple times. I've focused on this one example because I think it's incredible Steyn screwed up the very first sentence of his book, but there are plenty more. I wrote about another example two months ago. Here's the relevant portion:

Before I get to the main example, I want to show what I mean by a “relatively minor” misquotation. In Section 43, Steyn presents us this quote from Keith Briffa:

I am sick to death of Mann.

That’s a pretty strong sounding quote. Briffa and Mann are colleagues. Both have even been lead authors of the paleoclimate chapter of the IPCC report, with Mann taking the role in the Third Assessment Report while Briffa took it in the Fourth. That makes it pretty meaningful for Steyn to be able to say in this section:

As “sick to death of Mann” as he was in 2002, Professor Briffa would grow a lot sicker of him in the years ahead…

That sort of narrative is a compelling one. Briffa, an important figure in the paleoclimate community, was sick of Mann before the hockey stick controversy even began. He only grew sicker of Mann as time passed. That’s pretty damning. Only, it’s complete BS. Steyn only managed to create this narrative via a convenient misquotation. Here is the actual quotation:

I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series.

Steyn took the first part of this out of context, then added a period to present it as a standalone sentence. In doing so, he made it appear Briffa was “sick to death of Mann” rather than just sick to death of one thing Mann does. The misquotation here was relatively minor, nothing more than adding a single period, but it still helped Steyn completely change the meaning of the quote.

I may be sick to death of my friend posting silly cat photos on Facebook, but we’re still going to go hang out and have a good time tonight. In the same way, Briffa being sick of Mann doing one thing doesn’t tell us how he feels about Mann as a whole.

As that post observed, Steyn doesn't just distort quotes by taking them out of context; he also alters quotes to further distort their meanings. Or at least, he alters quotes in ways which further distorts their meanings. I'm no mind reader so I can't tell whether or not he does it on purpose. I can wonder if Steyn is a liar, but I can't be sure.

What I can be sure of is quote after quote after quote has been altered, some in ways which change their meanings. I can also be sure quotes have been taken out of context and portrayed as meaning things they do not mean. I can even be sure Steyn created at least one false quotations (see the body of ">this post). And all this happened, despite Steyn having said:

One quick bit of business: In the pages that follow, the source for each scientist’s quotation is footnoted. However, because of the extraordinary level of paranoia about “doctored quotes” that attends the climate debate, we’ve retained the various spellings – British, American or the often charming English of Swedes and Finns – and made only a few punctuation changes.

I'd like to give even more examples of the nonsense Steyn pulled in his book, such as when he falsely attributed a quote to a guy's child (and then misused it), but I think this post has dragged on long enough. No matter how many problems I might point out in this book, we'll still never be able to see into people's hearts. That means we'll probably never be able to know for sure the answer to the question:

Is Mark Steyn a liar?

6 comments

  1. In the second sentence of the quote, Patzelt says "Our current climate". He doesn't say the Alps' current climate. He says it doesn't show any anomaly in temperature development. He then emphasizes that it's an important result. I get the impression that he is using his data as evidence that this much talked about current warming of "the" climate is not anomalous. I may be wrong, but I don't think it's unreasonable for me or Mark Steyn to come to that conclusion. I'm sure Steyn (and probably me) has confirmation bias to see it this way. I think any mistakes he has made are due to glibness and haste rather than dishonesty.

  2. Canman, the guy was givin a half hour presentation on matters of th Alps. Of course he's not going to say "the Alp's current climate" every time he refers to current times. It's only by ignoring the context the quote is from you can make claims like your.

    And let's assume you were somehow correct. What if this guy really did conflate temperatures of the alps with temperatures of the planet. Would that make it okay? Would it be alright to favorably quote a person doing the same thing Mark Steyn condemned Michael Mann for doing?

    Of course not. This guy was talking about the temperatures of the Alps, but if he wasn't, he'd be doing something wrong, so it'd be wrong to quote him like this.

    And yes, it unreasonable to come to the conclusion you've come to. All else aside, the blog post cited for this quote specifically said this was in reference to the Alps. You have nothing which suggests otherwise, and you have the presentation you could look to if you wanted to confirm which interpretation is correct.

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