Funniest Question of the Year?

There was a post at Andrew Gelman's blog recently about a topic I've discussed here often so I chimed in on a couple things. An exchange happened because I made a couple remarks about things like how climate change is not expected to drive humanity extinct or even cause the deaths of billions of people. In my comments, I mentioned how the worst projections of the IPCC aren't anywhere near that extreme. This lead to a discussion of the tired meme which says the IPCC is overly conservative in its projections of the impacts of climate change, a meme which relies upon the alarmist views of a relatively small number of people. Discussion of this idea led to what may go down as the funniest question of the year:

For those who don't know, the IPCC won a Nobel prize. Michael Mann was an author on an IPCC report so he went around repeatedly telling everybody he had won a Nobel prize, which was not true. Personally, I don't think the fact Mann stole credit for the IPCC's Nobel prize means he should be trusted over the IPCC.

(I mean no offense to the person who asked the question. I'm sure he didn't know these things.)


  1. IIRC, several IPCC contributors claimed "Nobel Prize winner" language in their CVs, until eventually the Nobel Committee told them to desist. What is perhaps more annoying is the implied attribution of scientific prestige by the omission of context, referring to "Nobel Prize", conflating the Nobel Peace Prize, which the IPCC (not Mann) was awarded, with the scientific Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine. To the extent that one wishes to argue from authority, it is a poor choice to think that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient has, by that award, demonstrated any scientific acumen, just as it would be inappropriate to rely on Thomas Mann -- who actually did win a Nobel Prize (in Literature) -- for scientific insight.

  2. HaroldW, I'm not sure about the specifics of what you say. For instance, I know a number of people made similar claims about winning a Nobel Prize, but I don't know if it was in their CVs or just in other locations like profile pages on university websites. I also don't know if they stopped because the Nobel committee told them to or if it was something else, like public ridicule. But in any substantive manner, you're definitely right. Mann was not the only one to do this, and the only reason people stopped doing it is they were basically forced to.

    You also raise a good point about this being the Nobel Peace Prize, which requires no scientific acumen. To be honest, I'm not sure it requires anything really. Barack Obama was nominated for it just two weeks after he took office. Whatever one thinks of Obama, plenty of people have been elected as President of the United States without being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama hadn't done anything as president yet so it's not like he had earned the award for his leadership.

  3. Brandon, you're right about both parts of that first sentence of mine. [Glad I had added "IIRC", because I obviously didn't. ;-)] I think of academics' university biographical pages as CVs, but that is loose wording on my part. Googling, I find that Donna Laframboise has some links to Nobel-winning claims at the bottom of page 5 here -- some are called CVs, others not.

    As for why they stopped -- the Nobel committee was not directly involved, say in the manner that trademark infringement would be dealt with, by attorneys' cease-and-desist letters, but they did issue a clear statement:

    In a statement of 29 October, 2012 the IPCC clarified that the "prize was awarded to the IPCC as an organisation, and not to any individual involved with the IPCC. Thus it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official, or scientist who worked on IPCC reports, as a Nobel laureate or Nobel Prize winner. It would be correct to describe a scientist who was involved with AR4 or earlier IPCC reports in this way: 'X contributed to the reports of the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.'"

    After that, I suspect that the erroneous claims were largely corrected by the individuals involved.

    Mann, of course, famously made the claim of being a Nobel Prize winner in his defamation suit against Steyn et al., with the context implying that his work was worthy of a Nobel *science* prize. I like the precision of the IPCC's statement above, where they are specific about naming the Peace Prize, because in a scientist's CV/bio, "Nobel Prize" by itself suggests a scientific award.

    P.S. Thanks for the "preview" feature. It helped me fix an HTML error prior to posting.

  4. HaroldW, no worries about not remembering the details. I didn't remember either. I never paid attention to anyone doing it other than Michael Mann as he was the only one who did it in a way that really drew attention. Putting it in a bio/CV would be wrong, but putting it in a widely publicized legal filing makes it obvious. Plus, I'm not sure I've even heard of the people listed in that link for anything other than this reason.

    I can't tell you how many times the preview and edit features have saved me. It took a bit of work to get plugins for the features which worked (Dreamhost automatically updates WordPress on my site, and that sometimes breaks older plugins), but I am glad I did it.

  5. By the way HaroldW, I just noticed the statement you cited if from the IPCC, not the Nobel committee.

  6. Yuck, another sloppy error on my part...very sorry. Yes, it was the IPCC, of course [it says so right in the statement] which clarified the award and suggested rewording of the erroneous claims.. Not a Nobel cause at all.

  7. HaroldW, no worries. The Nobel committee confirmed the same thing. I'm not sure if they issued a public statement, but here's an example of confirmation via direct communication.

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