Monday, March 03, 2014

Mann Vs. Steyn: Steve McIntyre Weighs In

I've written fairly extensively on the topic of Michael Mann's defamation case against Mark Steyn. Earlier this month, having fired, or been fired by, his lawyers, Mark Steyn appealed to the Internet to help build a case for claiming that, when he described Michael Mann's work as "fraudulent", he was not accusing him of scientific misconduct.  

Canadian climate change denier Steve McIntyre has now stepped up to make that case.  It's not going to help.

As usual, reading through McI's writing at Climate Audit is a joyless experience.  There's veiled accusations, insinuations, quote-mining, tortured semantics ...the works.  It's a hard job to boil it down to some at-bottom essence.  I am going to focus on this post, mostly because it's been reproduced uncritically at The Volokh Conspiracy blog, a right-wing legal blog which the Washington Post has, for some reason, decided to carry, and where it may therefore be seen by a larger audience.  The end-point of McI's argument  is that Michael Mann was not exonerated by the many, many panels, boards, and etc. which investigated him.  Therefore Steyn's claim, that Mann's results were "fraudulent", can somehow be supported.  That's what I gather, at least, having read through his original piece and its regurgitation at the VC site twice now.

McI's analysis of the Oxburgh Panel's report lean quite heavily on a few tossed-off comments made by statistician David Hand at a press-conference announcing the panel's findings.  These remarks were widely reported at the time.  McI quotes three or four press outlets, but I will reference just The Daily Telegraph, which seems to have reproduced them most extensively:

Professor David Hand said that the research – led by US scientist Michael Mann – would have shown less dramatic results if more reliable techniques had been used to analyse the data… But the reviewers found that the scientists could have used better statistical methods in analysing some of their data, although it was unlikely to have made much difference to their results.
That was not the case with some previous climate change reports, where “inappropriate methods” had exaggerated the global warming phenomenon. Prof Hand singled out a 1998 paper by Prof Mann of Pennsylvania State University, a constant target for climate change sceptics, as an example of this. He said the graph, that showed global temperature records going back 1,000 years, was exaggerated – although any reproduction using improved techniques is likely to also show a sharp rise in global warming. He agreed the graph would be more like a field hockey stick than the ice hockey blade it was originally compared to. “The particular technique they used exaggerated the size of the blade at the end of the hockey stick. Had they used an appropriate technique the size of the blade of the hockey stick would have been smaller,” he said. “The change in temperature is not as great over the 20th century compared to the past as suggested by the Mann paper.”

So, to begin with, let's assume that David Hand is strictly speaking correct here.  Mann's research team could have used more appropriate statistical techniques, and these would have given less "exaggerated" results.  Although the results obtained were not greatly exaggerated, because as Hand notes better techniques would also have shown "a sharp rise in global warming".  The work might have been done more carefully, in other words, but the fact it wasn't doesn't matter much.

This a long, long way from an accusation of scientific misconduct.  And remember, previous judges have already concluded that in this particular setting Steyn's use of "fraudulent" = "scientific misconduct. There is no colloquial sense of the term where it means something less serious.  So how this is suppose to help Steyn's case is a little bit mysterious.

But, of course, it's pretty clear that Hand has got his facts bungled.  Mann's team was interested in a paleoclimatic reconstruction--in an attempt to determine temperature changes before the instrumental record.  This work took the 20th century instrumental record, which shows rapid increases in temperature,  as a given, and did nothing to transform it in either an exaggerated or any other manner.  Therefore Hand's criticism seems to have little merit.

And it is significant that shortly after the Panel published its findings, it added the following addendum to them:

Addendum to report, 19 April 2010

For the avoidance of misunderstanding in the light of various press stories, it is important to be clear that the neither the panel report nor the press briefing intended to imply that any research group in the field of climate change had been deliberately misleading in any of their analyses or intentionally exaggerated their findings. Rather, the aim was to draw attention to the complexity of statistics in this field, and the need to use the best possible methods. 

As I argued at the time, this sounds pretty close to a grovelling apology.  Oddly enough, McI and the folks at the VC blog interpret it differently:

Note that this statement doesn’t actually offer an opinion on whether the (criticized) findings were “deliberately misleading” or “intentionally exaggerated,” merely stating that their comments were not intended to imply this accusation.

This strikes me as semantic noodling, but if we are going to engage in such things, note that the addendum references not just Mann's team but "any research group in the field of climate change".  So if it is refusing to offer an opinion of Mann's work, it is also refusing to offer one on the work of the CRU scientists who were the subject of its investigation in the first place.  And such a stance would be ridiculous given the reason for the panel's existence.

Finally, McI seems to be claiming that, since the panel was not investigating Mann directly, it cannot "exonerate" him.  Indeed, the Oxburgh Panel had other concerns, and if I remember events correctly, it was only when a small group of deniers within the  U.K. Institute of Physics hijacked a sub-committee and used it to spread the accusations of misconduct more broadly, that Mann and his team were dragged into this mess.  But insofar as the panel touched on Mann's work, it cleared him of wrong-doing.  Other investigations, more directly focused, cleared him in a more decisive fashion.  And it's more than a little silly that McI would lean on a non-existent colloquial sense of "fraudulent" while insisting on a legalistic reading of "exonerate".


Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether Styne did defame Macintyre or not makes no difference to me. Put I do know that styne has certainly defamed the holy name of Islam and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by suggesting many time that Islam is the root of all evil in the world. Styne has suggested that Muslims should be deported from countries like Canada and Europe. Canada is a multicultural, pluralist nation where citizens have the right to religious freedom. This also includes that right to be free from persecution which means free from having the holy name of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)defamed by either, pictures, video or words. I hope that when Justin Trudeau is elected as PM he will ensure the protection of Canadian Muslims by passing hate laws that prohibit defamatory content against Islam and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

RobH said...

It's just amazing to me that all these guys seem completely oblivious as to how the US legal system works. They seem intent upon playing out their entire case in the blogosphere, where that's more than likely to not set well with the judge presiding over the case.

Steyn is amusingly continuing to dig his hole deeper and deeper. Now he's buying shovels for all his online buddies to help deepen the hole.

He seems intent upon making sure that he's buried deep as possible by the end of this. I say, more power to him.

Sou said...

Thanks for picking this up. It's as if fake sceptics are all wanting a piece of the action, disappointed they aren't being sued for defamation and trying to rectify the situation.

It's not just McIntyre who's waving his hand and shouting "pick me, pick me". I've noticed a few others having a shot as well. (What are Canadian defamation laws like?)

Or maybe it's just that they've all got it in for Mark Steyn for one reason or other and are willing him to lose.

bigcitylib said...

Defamation is not as tough to prove up here, but there's less money involved. McIntyre typically knows how to stay...just...on the right side of them.

Lars said...

At first I was relishing the thought of Steyn getting beaten like a rented mule. He's a good proxy for all of the malicious ignoramuses who've been assaulting environmental science over the past decade or so.
But it might work out that Steyn, win or lose, and his scrufoulous friends will be able to present this as a victory - by the simple act of forcing a scientist to defend his science in a court of law, they've managed to shift the norms of the controversy from those of science (which they obviously don't understand and can't deal with) to those of politics and the law. Which norms, needless to say, are antithetical to the conduct of science.

JustAnotherWesterner said...

I agree with Jeremy. We need blasphemy laws. No more tearing down crosses, questioning Christianity or denying the Bible. Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour. Accept it or go to jail.

iOpener said...

Lars: You wrote that Steyn is "forcing a scientist to defend his science in a court of law"

Steyn sued Mann? No he did not, except by counterclaim after Mann sued him. Mann chose to debate an opinion journalist in a court of law and more recently all over the internet.

No doubt you think that Tim Ball in BC sued Mann too. But he didn't either.

RobH: I am a lawyer and I know exactly what Steyn is doing, and he's succeeding. He's preparing his battleground and tempting Mann repeatedly to mount a public podium and make himself more and more of a public figure. Check the twitterfeed for @MichaelEMann and read the silly putz shooting himself in the foot.

And for those of you who think Steyn is representing himself, you'll soon find there is a very senior, very clever, very Machiavellian lawyer advising him.

rspung said...

anybody who doesn't think mann is a fraud needs to read the nas investigation report. mann doesn't include it in his list of "exonerations" because they ripped him apart.

the report concluded mann systematically underestimated the uncertainties in the data, the hockey stick had no statistical significance, mann's analysis created bias in the shape of the reconstructions, mann used data that should not be used for temperature reconstructions (in other words, fraudulent data) and mann's methodology was "bad mathematics".

that right there is enough to destroy mann's case. but to make things worse for mann, three other experts agreed with the conclusions of the report.

bigcitylib said...

Rspung has been reading stuff on the internet.

iOpener said...

Hey BigCityLib, now I get it, you're that guy who got is lunch eaten by Steyn back in 2008 in, when Steyn wrote

You never did hear from Zonis did you? Didn't you also write "Hopefully, Marvin Zonis will respond (I've emailed). Should I be in error, MS will get an apology."

Did you apologize?

And you stealth changed your original post.

A liberal weasel, dear oh dear, imagine that.

bigcitylib said...

Actually, I did apologize:

bigcitylib said...

Steyn never did come out with a clear anti-bestiality statement.

Lars said...

Well, since you're a lawyer, iOpener, I'd appreciate an explanation of what the "discovery" in this case will be. Doesn't it amount to the possibility that Mann will have to explain his science? There's been a lot of chortling in the denialosphere about how he's really going to take a drubbing when he has to justify his shoddy methods at that time. Or am I wrong? I'm not a lawyer, on either side of the Medicine Line.

iOpener said...

Well BigCity, your apology lacked grace, honesty, clarity and humility, but still, for a lefty, not bad.

Mike Dombroski said...

And it's more than a little silly that McI would lean on a non-existent colloquial sense of "fraudulent" while insisting on a legalistic reading of "exonerate".

The colloquial sense of "fraudulent" is not silly. It was used in an opinion piece about a controversial subject (Mann's hockey stick graph) that has long been an object of contention.

Steve Bloom said...

One can be contentious all day long about pretty much anything without making an accusation of fraud. Quite nasty words like "wrong," "erroneous," "incompetent" can be used. Fraud is is a different matter.

So iOpener, did Steyn's high-powered, senior lawyer write the recent judge-enraging court filing Steyn submitted? Attacking the competence of the judge seems to me not the smartest move in the context of a defamation suit, but then again I am not a high-powered, senior legal mind.

Unknown said...

"Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel." Mark Twain

Bryson said...

iOpener-- you've got a lot gall to accuse BCL of being a weasel with the foul and arrogant language you use. Personally, I suspect the boils are on you, but trading insults isn't my main aim and pleasure here. It's watching deniers like you thrash about, doubling-down on their wild, paranoid accusations against those damn scientists who keep telling you what you don't want to hear. Mike is standing up to you (and the odious Dr. Ball), but the main hope you express is that somehow Mann becomes a big enough public figure to raise the bar for his claims against Steyn and the NR, even as you aggressively assert 'truth' as the real defense. Which is it, big guy? Truth, or 'lies are OK because Mann is a public figure'? If the latter, you're making a very good case for your own status as a weasel.

Lars said...

Yes, Bryson, and the nice thing about watching all of this false triumphalism and anticipating its come-uppance is that you incur no moral penalty in doing so.