An Open Letter to Stephen MCIntyre

This is probably the hardest thing I've ever written. I've thought about it time and time again. I've tried to write it a hundred times, and I've deleted it for a hundred different reasons. The thoughts and emotions I want to convey are so great no words I could ever come up with could suitably express them. The words I type today will never be adequate.

To Stephen McIntyre, I want to say something. Above and beyond anything else, I want to say this. Thank you.

i will probably never meet you. I will probably never see your face or hear your voice, save for some copies technology provides me. I will probably never sit with you, to speak with you on any topic. This is something I truly lament.

I first saw you name while I was in high school, a callow youth with no real understanding of the world around him. I found your original site, Climate2003.com, due to a random internet search brought upon by casual discussion on a message board somewhere about something I had no grasp of. In truth, I remember nothing of what led me to discovering you.

What I do remember is something simple, something wonderful. It is the idea what matters is the truth. When I came upon your site, I didn't think, "This guy says something I like therefore it is right." In fact, I didn't really understand what you said. You talked about mathematics beyond anything ever heard and discussed science beyond anything I had ever been exposed to.

But in the process, you demonstrated ideas. I didn't know what an eigenvector was. Looking at matrices as you discussed linear combinatrics made my head spin. Looking at the things you discussed made me understand how out of my depth I truly was. I always thought of myself as a bright individual, but reading your commentary showed me being bright didn't mean I knew anything.

But at the same time, it showed me something else. It showed me even if I didn't understand all the technical, nuances of a topic, I could understand the conceptual points. I might not undetstand what it meant when you argued some series showedc up in eigenvector #4 instead of eigenvector #1. The linear algebra was beyond anything I had ever seen. But I didn't need to understand the math to understand the condcept that what matters was what data whent into the eigenvector you used, regardless of what number you assigned to it.

There is so much more I could say. There are hundreds of examples I could discuss where a "respected" scientist like Gavin Schmidt or Michael Mann said you were wrong.
In terms of math, I couldn't contradict them. I was nobody. I was a kid with no training for or knowledge of the math you were discussing. But I was a kid who understood sometimes you didn't need to get the specific edetails and nuances to understand the concepts involved.

Back then, if you asked me to explain the difference between NOAMER PC1 and NOAMER PC4, I would have blanked. I had no idea what meant. I didn't understand why short-centered PCA was wrong in any mathematical sense. All I understood was what you said, that what matters wasn't the output of some complex, arcane formula, but what that output meant.

I didn't understand the math. I didn't even understand the sciene. But what I did understand was an idea you expressed. That idea was it doesn't matter what the results of any particular calculation were, but what those results meant. That you couldn't just look at numbers given by a formula and say, "That's the answer." That you had to understand what those numbers meant, what questions and concerns they left unanswered.

With this in mind, I remember spending years reading what you wrote. I remember spending years reading what your critics wrote. I remember time and time again when I saw your critics disagree, dissemble or outright lie to contradict you. I remember time and time again where even without understanding the technical issues involved, I could see through the nonsense people threw up to say you were wrong.

I could go on. I could write a thousand words about how I sat and watched you, listened to you, and I wouldn't cover a fraction of what I remember. I spent years feeling so inadequate I couldn't bring myself to comment just to say, "Thanks."

I will always regret not expressing my thoughts sooner, and no amount of words I write now will ever convey the gratitude I feel toward you. You influenced me in ways you'll never understand. You helped shape my understanding of the world you'll never know. The person I would have been had I not happened upon you is a person I cannot begin to imagine. To put it in the bluntest of terms, you have likely influenced me more than anyone else in my entire life.

I won't attempt to describe the ways you've influenced me. I won't attempt to list the ideals you've helped instill in me, with your words and with your actions. I won't attempt to describe the encyclopedic knowledge you've obtained of seemingly arcane topics which I've attempted to create a poor facsimile of. Nothing I say could ever be adequate.

.

But it is for that very reason I must speak up today. It is because of the ideals and concepts you helped imbue in me I must write this post, no matter how much it pains me. It is because you are the person I respect more than perhaps anyone else in the world, that I must say this.

You are wrong.

This isn't some academic dispute over an arcane detail. If it were, I probably wouldn't feel adequate to challenge you. After all, you've done more to influence me as a person than anyone else in this world. My friends, my family, they were fine for what they were. They just didn't teach me what it meant to believe in something, in ideals about what is right and wrong.

I understand you've grown older than you might like. For reasons I won't go into here, I know what it means to feel one's body break down and decay with time. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is miserable. It is horrible to feel you have so much more to contribute yet are unable to because of things beyond your control.

Yet, I know something more. I know that no matter what we feel, no matter what we think, in the end there is an absolute sense of truth and justice we can aspire to. There is no factual basios for it. There is no objective reality which says it is what one must aspire to. But even so, if I understand you the way I think I do, it is something we care dearly about.

So in that light, I would like to tell you something I think is important. I think you've allowed yourself to become misled. I think you've allowed yourself to become laxidasical. I think you have a lot of great ideas left to express, abd you have written quite a few things in the last year I think are truly insightful.

But at the same time, you've said some incredibly stupid things. Maybe it's fatigue. I'd understand if so. You've lived a long life. Nobody would fault you if you were unable to put forth the effort you once exhibited.

Perhaps it's something else. Perhaps there is some sort of bias which causes you to be unable to view certain topics in a fair-minded way. Perhaps there is something about the topics of your recent discussions which wasn't present in the discussions I followed for so many years. I don't know.

And to be honest, I don't care today. I don't care about the things you've said which I think are wrong, stupid or even morally offensive. Those disagreements are important to me. However, they are not important as something else. No matter what happens, no matter what either of us says or does, there is one inescapable reality.

You have made me a better person. At a time I didn't know what to think, to feel, about the world around me, you showed me something I can never replace. You showed me a set of standards, a type of behavior, I could believe in and aspite to. That will never go away. No matter what disdagreements we may have, no matter what things we say, I will never forget how much you helped shape the person I came to be.

So for that, I want to say thank you. No words I ever come up with will express the true extent of my sentiments. You will never know how important your contributions to my life have been. Writing this post is difficult not because I am bad at expressing my feelings, which I am, but because I know no words will ever express the true depth of how I feel.

So whatever may come of the future, whatever disagreements we may have, one message will always stand above the rest for me. Thank you Stephen McIntyre. I am a far better person because of discovering you.

Brandon Shollenberger

13 comments

  1. When the movie comes out, I would cast Tom Selleck in the role of Stevie Mack, but I have no idea who to cast for you, Brandon.

  2. Brandon,

    I want to thank you for your affect on my climate browsing and writing. I know exactly where I first ran across you:

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R1P95Y1ZG8FEGR?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl

    I wrote an Amazon review of Mann's book, but didn't understand the technical issues that well, and was being ridiculed and belittled with all kinds of complicated sounding words. You showed up and evened out the score. There was one particular obnoxious commenter with the handle Burrowing Owl. His name is David Rice (I'm not outing him -- he's all over Amazon, Facebook and other comment threads) and he's got to be Mann's biggest groupie. Running across his comments through the years and learning more about the technical issues involved was really an eye opener for how someone can sound knowledgeable by using big words, but in actuality, be utterly clueless.

    Very truly yours,

    Mike Dombroski (aka Canman)

  3. The idea of someone casting an actor to play me in a movie is possibly the more horrifying thought I've ever had >.<

  4. Brandon, the tribute portion of your letter is touching and inspiring. However, if it was simply to set up a "but" that kind of spoils it. Although you don't say it exactly I read your letter as an attempt at an intervention. If so, I think you should consider a few things first.

    If Climate Audit's most valuable contribution to your education that what teachers, textbooks and TV network news were claiming could all be wrong, that the group consensus is not always correct, (despite it being socially safe), why should it surprise you then that such a deep diving and critical thinking mind such as Steve's might come to other non-consensus views?

    By the way, I know someone else like this. I often can disagree with both of them vehemently and still respect and even admire them. The key is the degree of complexity, shown through research sweat, put into their analyses.

  5. The point of this post wasn't just to set up a "but" as some people seem to think. The reality is, over the last couple years, most of what I've written about Steve McIntyre has been critical. My last post before this one shows just how bad I think some of what he writes has been. I've long been aware of how this creates a record which might make people think I view McIntyre negatively overall. Nothing could be further from the truth. The point of this post was to show the conflict between my great respect for McIntyre and my (sometimes quite harsh) criticisms of things he has said and done.

    Did I intend this as an intervention? No. Would I like it if it served as some sort of one which caused McIntyre to take more time trying to get a full picture of things before writing about them/coming to a conclusion regarding them? Sure. I'd like it if a person I respect greatly would stop saying incredibly stupid things. That'd be awesome. That's not the point of this post though. The point of this post is to try to show something I normally don't have cause to discuss. I don't normally say these sort of things, but I wanted to try to force myself to do so once so people could see something of how I feel which they might not otherwise see.

    For the record, this has nothing to do with consensus/non-consensus position. I don't care what people positions are. I care about how people behave regarding those positions. I have no more difficulty having discussions with people who think the United States' actions in Syria have been horrible than I do having a discussion with someone who thinks global warming is a major threat to human civilization. If people don't want to believe Russia hacked the DNC servers, that's fine. But when these same people deride others for being wrong based upon incredibly stupid arguments... that's not fine. When they refuse to acknowledge/correct errors, that is not fine. When they secretly edit posts to change things I criticize, that's not fine.

    McIntyre taught, by example, a set of standards. All I want from him is to abide by them. Sometimes he doesn't. I criticize that. But it doesn't change that i respect him a great deal.

  6. Canman, Amazon appears to have changed it's rating system. When the book came out, Mann rigged it with Skeptical Science, arranging for them to provide great reviews for his book, AND they arranged to have the top rated negative reviews as well. When another negative review got posted and rated too high, Mann would tweet about it to get people to vote it down.

  7. "I don't care what people positions are. I care about how people behave regarding those positions."

    I agree. But all I see Steve Mc doing is laying out evidence. You are free to contest his evidence or his logical conclusions. I don't see him name calling, or misquoting or falsifying arguments. I think you do care about what people you respect say and believe. I suggest the old fashioned strategy of patient, well composed argument. And then even more research and more debate.

    On Syrian intervention, this is one of the most complex political issues since Vietnam. There are no obviously wrong opinions considering the unverifiable nature of most of the relevant information. I don't know if you are familiar with the Gulf of Tonkin incidents that escalated the Vietnam War. We still may not know the exact truth on what really happened. Steve remembers these events when they hit the news and also as they fell apart under historical scrutiny. This is part of unvoiced evidence that will make you even smarter than you are now when the hair left on your head is mostly gray.

  8. Ron Graf:

    I agree. But all I see Steve Mc doing is laying out evidence. You are free to contest his evidence or his logical conclusions. I don't see him name calling, or misquoting or falsifying arguments.

    Yeah, but I'm sure you also haven't looked. That's the trick. I spend a great deal of time talking about things, providing extensive detail and reference. Nobody pays attention. Then when I write something referring back to all that, people chime in to say they haven't seen what I refer to. The same thing was done when I criticized Richard Tol. It's not that I don't write about these things. It's not that I don't try to get people to pay attention. People just aren't interested so they don't pay attention. Then they use the ignorance that creates to act surprised when they're mentioned.

    It's the same trick many global warming advocates use. It's not that most global warming advocates haven't been exposed to proof of Michael Mann committing fraud. They just choose not to pay attention when someone tries to get them to look at it. Then later, they say, "Well I haven't seen anything that'd make me believe that." Of course not. They decided they weren't interested in what people tried to tell them so they didn't wind up seeing things inconvenient to their views. And the fact they would have behaved differently if "Anthony Watts" was said rather than "Michael Mann"? Well, they say that's okay because people are free to be interested in whatever they want to be interested in.

    It's the primary form of bias in things like the global warming debate. And if you look at the responses to this post which have been negative, you'll see it in abundance. That's why they're forced to pathetic responses like calling me autistic instead of addressing any points I might make. (Yes, that is one of the responses this post has gotten.)

  9. Brandon, With respect, this post is so long, it tries people's patience and most won't want to spend the time. I've always been told to provide an executive summary up front with a single paragraph making the main points. It has worked much better for me in achieving results than long essays that no one will read.

    I guess the point for me is why is this an important issue? McIntyre is surely quite wrong on some things. You are quite wrong on some things. I've found it best in achieving things in the real scientific and business world to just ignore areas of disagreement unless they are critical to the task at hand. I've ignored McIntyre's Syria and hacking stuff because I don't have the time to pay attention to everything and have vastly more interesting things to attend to. Life is too short for this kind of stuff in my opinion.

  10. I would agree that people have biases that impair their perceptions. There are, however, a few fundamental truths in which we can all agree. One of them one is that being wrong is a natural part of life. How we each deal with this unavoidable problem determines who we are. You are clearly not autistic -- a little caustitic sometimes maybe. Your friends overlook this (count me) because you are also very interesting, and have many original sincere and valid arguments.

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