Michael Mann is a public figure worthy of prominent mention in Wikipedia: “Michael E. Mann (born 1965) is an American climatologist and geophysicist, 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.