Michael Mann, Bill Maher and Mark Steyn: Public Figures All

Michael Mann is a public figure worthy of prominent mention in Wikipedia: “Michael E. Mann (born 1965) is an American climatologist and geophysicist,[1] currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University,”

As co-author of MBH 1998 (with numerous sequels), he has come in for his fair share of criticism regarding that paper and his subsequent efforts to defend it. He will probably always be associated with the Hockey Stick Chart that was frequently and prominently featured by the IPCC as an icon of human caused global warming.

Some of that criticism has come from me. I think the blade of his hockey stick is accurate, but that the shaft representing historical temperatures as flat is artificially manufactured by wrong choices he made during analysis. I don’t think he’s a fraud and I don’t think the Hockey Stick Chart is fraudulent. I do think he has defended his hockey stick long after learning that many of the criticisms leveled at it were accurate. That may be natural, but it isn’t science.

Bill Maher is a vociferous advocate of early and urgent action to stabilize the Earth’s climate. He is also an advocate of positions on vaccines and GMOs that are a-scientific, if not anti-scientific. He’s an acerbic comic who used to be quite funny–now he’s a political spokesman for that part of the left that I don’t really like to be associated with, although I am probably further to the left than he.

Bill Maher trapped Michael Mann in Mann’s recent appearance on Maher’s show, pushing him to pronounce ‘the science settled.’ At first,  Mann wouldn’t say it. He said “You don’t have to ask me,” before rattling off the names of several science organizations that have pronounced on the state of climate science.

But Maher wouldn’t let go. “Yeah, but they’re not on this show. C’mon–the science is settled, right? I mean it’s super-settled.” And Mann succumbed, saying yes it was. See it here:

So now we have a prominent climate scientist saying on television that the science is settled. For years, climate activists have maintained that scientists didn’t say the science was settled, that only a few untrained and over-enthusiastic advocates would say something so unscientific, people like Al Gore or Bill McKibben. Scientists know better, right?

Being a public figure is dangerous and requires training. Being a public figure in the spotlight on prime time television is even deadlier.

Michael Mann is suing Mark Steyn for repeating and amplifying Rand Simberg’s statement that Mann’s Hockey Stick Chart is fraudulent. In an interesting twist, Mann is accusing Steyn of calling him a fraud, quite different from calling his work product fraudulent.

Mark Steyn is an acerbic humorist writing conservative columns (and delightful anecdotes about pop music from previous decades). He doesn’t get on TV, but otherwise fills much the same ecological niche on the right that Maher does on the left. One crucial difference is that Steyn is still funny.

If the law is still the law, Steyn will win the lawsuit filed against him. Michael Mann is a public figure, Steyn’s comment is clearly opinion and there is a body of evidence that supports his characterization of Mann’s Hockey Stick Chart.

But the reason I’m writing this is to show how easy it is for professionals to use and abuse a scientist. No matter how much Mann may have asked to be in the limelight, both Maher on the left and Steyn on the right have used Mann to score points in a wider ideological struggle. Mann lost to Maher’s need for an emphatic headline that does violence to science. (Scientists don’t use phrases like ‘the science is settled.’) Mann will lose to Steyn’s need for an easy target for ditto-heads. They’re all public figures–but Maher and Steyn are professional public figures. Mann is an amateur.

Bill Maher can’t be taken seriously. He is almost a cartoon character of everything I don’t like about my own Left. Anti vaccine? Anti GMO? C’mon.

Mark Steyn can’t be taken seriously. He writes about the fall of America and Hillary’s plot in Benghazi. I mean, c’mon. He guest hosts on Rush Limbaugh and has chosen to target that audience.

Both Maher and Steyn could have done better, could have done more. They settled.

They are all public figures in American public discourse. I am at a loss as to why that is true. The American public loses by this type of political celebrity. I love Jonathan Stewart and Steve Colbert, but they’re part of the problem.  (I think they know it and agree, which IMO is why they’ve both moved on.)  So was Mort Sahl back in the day. In small doses I like to watch Bill O’Reilly–but he’s just the flip side of the coin. I used to love to watch William F. Buckley on the other side of the fence. He was part of the problem too.

As for Mann, when I was younger I could learn about science and learn to love science watching, listening and reading Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould and a host of sci-fi writers. Mann, and James Hansen for that matter, are a step down from that.

Maher and Steyn and Michael Mann-they all chose their position, their schtick, their audience instead of using their talents to shine a light on the real world.

I don’t think I want to be famous. (I don’t think I have to worry much about it…) That comforts me.


14 responses to “Michael Mann, Bill Maher and Mark Steyn: Public Figures All

  1. At one time, Mann worked as a scientist. It would be a stretch to call him a scientist now. He works primarily as a Konsensus advocate and college administrator.

  2. http://www.steynstore.com/page1.html
    Steyn is head and shoulders above Maher in every sense.
    Mann is like the Lance Armstrong of science: using legal action to hide the truth.

    • I agree. Steyn is a serious intellectual. I read one of his books. I’m not sure if he is right about everything, but he is very knowledgeable and makes his case very well.

  3. Maher a leftist? Read anything he says on foreign policy or race.
    He’s an atheist who thinks God gave Palestine to the Israeli’s. You can’t get more politically correct than that. He’s what some now call a cultural leftist, but what the real left used to call a “bedroom revisionist.”
    Look at the smoothing functions that Mann must have used to get the hockey stick. He got what he was trying to get. If he had honestly applied the same smoothing function to the whole data set, either the shaft would have shown a big hump or the blade would have gone flat.

    • I didn’t know USA Middle East policy was a left-right issue. I like Bill Maher because he opposed the Iraq war, sort of. But Hillary Clinton seems to be a hawk. Maybe it’s because she wants to please donors. I don’t know, this whole issue confuses me.

      Anyway, here’s a link to an article in a website I hate. In this case I agree with the contents


      • Fernando,
        Yes, the left-right paradigm is deeply flawed and not improving with age at all.
        Since the last several “population boom” crises have been bust, I am not surprised that the latest one would be as well. What is called for in my humble opinion is a definitive and effective critical review of scientific predictions of doom. Far too many careers, from Malthus to Ehrlich to Mann and so many others, have been built on what has proven to be utter crap.

  4. Bill Maher can’t be taken seriously. He is almost a cartoon character of everything I don’t like about my own Left. Anti vaccine? Anti GMO? C’mon.

    Don’t forget Anti nuclear. One of his guests (I think it was Mary Matlin) mentioned nuclear and Maher said “we don’t need it. Look at Fukishima”.

  5. Tom,

    I think you make a mistake saying: “Mark Steyn can’t be taken seriously.” Michael Mann is finding that out in real time. Steyn’s new book “A Disgrace to the Profession” is only the tip of the iceberg. IMHO Mann should have been censured long ago. The fact that some still view him as an icon of climate science is a disgrace.

    Mark Steyn is fighting for our freedom of speech and his past history shows that he will not give up until he prevails. The fact that numerous amicus briefs were filed in his behalf by major entities including the ACLU and NYTimes (hardly right wing Rush Limbaugh fans) and not a single brief was filed in support of Mann, is a strong indication that Mann’s suit was frivolous and doomed to fail.

    • Hi Mark

      I agree with the idea that Michael Mann should take Steyn seriously. But as a commentator on the American scene, apart from his work on pop music, I think he fails. Not due to lack of talent or insight, but because of a conscious choice to pitch his writing at a narrow segment of the population.

      • Hi Tom,

        I find myself quite disappointed with, albeit not completely surprised by, your – IMHO, very superficial – “assessment” of Steyn’s extensive body of writing.

        And I have to wonder how much of your “assessment” of Steyn is coloured by your own frequently voiced admiration of Obama (something that I, for one, have never understood!) – rather than any extensive reading of Steyn’s work.

        By the same token, there is also some question in my mind regarding your apparently unchanged commitment to the UN proliferated hypothesis and “arguments” that – one of these days, come hell and/or high water – human-generated CO2 is gonna harm us all.

        I, for one, would like to see some truly independent surveys conducted in which straightforward, rather than various degrees of meaiy-mouthed agenda-driven, questions are asked.

        My working “hypothesis” is that in such a case, one would find that agreement with Steyn – and disagreement with the UN generated and proliferated CO2 mantra – is far more prevalent than your “narrow segment” would suggest.

        I’ve lived long enough to know that there are pendulums in politics. And – notwithstanding the flood of ill-informed superficial inanities one can find on the ‘net these days (in no small measure thanks to the disgraceful efforts of the N.Y. Times and other MSM outlets on both sides of our border) – eventually the pendulum will swing back to the views of (what used to be called) the silent majority:-)

  6. Hi Hilary

    Well, my opinion may be superficial–but I’ve read a lot of what he has written. And although I agree with him regarding the particulars of his fight with Mann, there’s precious little else that I find reasonable in what he writes.

    Most of the people I communicate with in the blogosphere have very different political opinions than mine, which is cool–there aren’t that many committed leftists out there (and many leftists out there should be committed, I’ll grant you).

    But all this talk about Obama giving away the store sounds… Trumpish to me. Hilary and Benghazi–doesn’t anyone realize that Hilary would have ascended to the presidency on clouds of glory if she had known what was going on in Benghazi and moved to stop it? The hard right position on this just seems nonsensical.

    As for Obama, he campaigned on getting us out of the Middle East and bringing in Obamacare. He won the elections and did what he said he was going to do. You can argue right or wrong on those two policy initiatives and many others, but he did that while not interfering too much with recovery from a very bad recession. (And from me, ‘not interfering’ is very high praise for a politician.)

    Let’s see what people are saying about Obama a few years after he leaves office. If he’s succeeded by Pericles, Obama will probably look bad. If he’s succeeded by Trump, he might start to look pretty good.

  7. I probably should have said Solon rather than Pericles. Or maybe Tsiprias….

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