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The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines Paperback – November 26, 2013
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
About the Author
Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University. Despite being in the public eye, he continues an active research program in climate science and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers in leading scientific journals. He is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union. In 2012 he received the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union. Along with other scientists, he contributed to the reports of the IPCC, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He is also a co-founder of the award-winning website www.RealClimate.org.
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Until 5 years ago I was a neutral bystander in the climate change debate, and when I finally looked into the subject I expected to uncover a raging scientific debate. I discovered that there wasn’t one. The “debate” was entirely in the political realm.
On the one side there is a solid body of scientific work beginning in the 1820s and developed following standard scientific processes with the usual wrong turns, dead-ends and flashes of inspiration along the way as does every scientific field. The science was largely established by the 1960s, and work since then has mainly served to validate the science and improve projections of the future. Michael Mann’s work is just one part of that journey.
On the other side is a collection of political arguments using scientific language and published in newspapers, books and various web sites but almost never in scientific journals. The arguments made have either been refuted or found to be immaterial, yet they do not stop because they are effective at sowing seeds of doubt among the public. You will find examples of them in the One Star comments of this book. This side is also described very well in the Oreskes and Conway book “Merchants of Doubt”. The motivations could be political, philosophical, financial, or religious, but they are never intended to advance the science.
Mann’s book includes an extensive set of notes and references that I found very helpful so that every assertion in his book can be checked. This is an essential facet of any scientific paper. Those who advance arguments against established climate science often do not provide any references that one can check. Or the references they do provide are either not scientific or they do not support the point being made. If you buy any book on a scientific subject I highly recommend that you check all references to any points you might question, and ignore any author that consistently distorts the science.
The book discusses briefly Mann’s hockey stick work in the context of other paleoclimate work, and what it does and doesn’t mean to climate science. The book also explains how scientists think about their work and that of other scientists, which I found more interesting. It supports by my experience, both academically and professionally, that scientists like nothing better than showing that some established view is incorrect, and that they have a better answer. They don’t rise to the top of their profession or even keep their jobs by merely rubber-stamping the work of others. It’s telling that no scientist has been able to show in a scientifically rigorous way where Mann’s hockey stick work is wrong. In fact multiple efforts using various techniques have shown that Mann’s hockey stick is basically correct.
Human activity has changed and continues to change earth’s climate, and all signs indicate it is not for the better. We have sailed into uncharted territory, and surprises should be expected. We should focus on finding solutions and not attacking the people who describe where we are heading and why. The bigger issue for all of us is why some people, especially those with political power, feel it important to continue attack not only climate science but also climate scientists. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; the science is the same no matter what your party affiliation is. This book will help explain why the battles you see being waged are political and not scientific ones.
But, at some level, we have to depend on the scientific enterprise to inform policy makers of how things work, what proposals are likely to address societal problems, and so on. When science is politicized, we face an unfortunate situation. Whoever can buy the most persuasive research may win out. We have people asserting that vaccines are deadly in their effects, that climate change is a fraud, that the earth is only several thousand years old. . . . My perspective? What is wrong with us as a nation when everything is up for bid?
Anyhow, this is a book that traces Michael Mann's career and the political context in which he has researched climate change. Disclaimer: I am a professor at Penn State as he is. But I don't know him outside of his work. He discusses the early stages of his research as a young scholar and how he became involved with the circle of scientists working on climate change. He does a nice job of explaining his approach and methods.
He also discusses the politicization of climate change. He notes the "science for hire" approach by opponents of climate change (it is hard not to use those terms; the majority of scientists who have taken a position on the subject in refereed, peer-reviewed publications accept the concept). While the peer review process is not infallible, it is surely better than "research for hire."
The book is as to some extent a personal as well as (more typically) a scientific document. I get a sense sometimes that Mann feels a bit sorry for himself (but I can't blame him as he has been singled out by many critics--including some reviewers here--as the devil himself).
At any rate, this is a very good work to get a sense of the inside story of the politics of climate change. A very good investment to have purchased this book.