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HomeClimate WatchMark Steyn and the anatomy of a stitch-up

Mark Steyn and the anatomy of a stitch-up


WHEN a story is not in the mainstream press, you can bet the house that it tells against a fragile consensus, and it will be reported only if it changes to supporting that consensus. Such a trial was the long-postponed legal brawl between plaintiff Professor Michael Mann and two non-academic defendants, Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg. Mann’s suit was that the defendants set out to ruin his reputation and livelihood by publishing in 2012 a knowingly false and defamatory claim that he had fiddled the books to produce the climate change hockey stick graph, as it came to be called.

The original charge against the defendants was ‘defamation of a Nobel Prize recipient’, but this had to be dropped when it turned out that the prize had been self-awarded: the Nobel Committee had no record of any such award. Mann’s science was, however, contested by genuine Nobel Prize winners and the many other scientists who were disturbed by what they saw as his manifestly fraudulent construct.

Curiously, despite the claim that the defamatory comments had seriously hurt his career and future prospects, the professor did nothing to bring the matter to court until this year, perhaps because it was obvious that his career had suffered no damage. Initially the media did not make anything of the trial, but that changed after a surprise punitive guilty verdict, opening floodgates of attention from the media in praise of the plaintiff.

Mann’s claim of loss of reputation was so laughably untrue that the jury in Washington DC awarded him just $1 compensation, and that should have been the end of it all. However, Mann’s counsel advised the jury that Steyn and Simberg were guilty of questioning the science behind the hockey stick graph and, to dissuade future claims being brought against the consensus position represented by Dr Mann’s research, Steyn should be ‘punished’. The prosecutor clearly wanted to prevent any future questioning of climate science by stifling what used to be called ‘freedom of speech’. The jury obliged by imposing a $1million penalty on Steyn, but just $1,000 on Simberg.

Steyn’s $1million defamatory comment was that ‘Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate change Hockey Stick graph, the very ringmaster of the three ring circus.’ The prosecutor claimed that Steyn knew his statement to be false and was thus defamatory. This opinion is impossible to reconcile with the 12 years which had lapsed since the original charge was laid by Mann, as Steyn had used that time to obtain and publish abundant scientific data from creditable witnesses supporting his contention. Science is never settled, so wrong he may be as far as the science goes, but knowingly dishonest and defamatory he was not and is not.

It all began in 1999 when Professor Mann published what became known as the hockey stick graph, which he used to support the claim that modern global warming could be explained only by mankind’s burning of fossil fuels. Its success was immediate, and Al Gore took it unexamined to the world stage in 2006, in his ‘Inconvenient Facts’ presentations about Global Warming and its illegitimate offspring Climate Change. The latter became the go-to phrase to scare audiences because, unlike Global Warming which has a scale in degrees of temperature, it is unitless and so cannot be measured. (The graph appeared in the IPCC’s 2001 summary report for policy makers, but not in the main scientific report, and never again thereafter. Given its popularity as a climate change crowd-pleaser, this is strange and could suggest that the IPCC had real concerns over its science.)

At first sight Mann’s graph looks convincing: a slow downward drift in global temperatures from 1,000 years ago, followed by an abrupt increase shortly after 1910. The thermometer was invented in 1714 but did not come into widespread use to measure global temperatures until the twentieth century so earlier data relied on tree growth rings, which can be used as proxies for variations in not just temperature, but also for rainfall and the length of growing seasons. 

Neither Mann, nor Gore, nor the IPCC noticed that the temperature shown on the graph continued to fall until around 1906, well after the start of the Industrial Revolution (generally placed at around 1790), nor was there an explanation as to the relationship between the proxy data pre-1960, and the thermometer data post that time (red on graph). This was but one of many problems with the graph, and in July 2012 Mark Steyn called it out as fraudulent in a post on National Review’s online blog The Corner, titled Football and Hockey. 

Professor Mann was aggrieved and launched a defamation suit against Steyn and his colleague Simberg in October 2012, but not so aggrieved that he managed to get the case before a judge and jury until last month. Now this is where it becomes interesting. If Steyn is right, a key prop in the IPCC conjecture that human emissions of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide (CO2) are the sole or principal cause of the rise in temperature shown on the graph must collapse. Yet the mainstream media had little to no interest in the case; if Mann’s graph was accurate, why wait 12 years before doing anything? Perhaps they expected Mann to lose and Steyn to be exonerated, so ‘least said soonest mended’ would be the best course of action? What is more surprising is that Mann took no action when Steyn published a book with the title A Disgrace to the Profession in which he documented the many criticisms of Mann’s work.

In 2008/9 an additional proxy analysis was added, extending the observed period back to 2,000 years before present (YBP), with the same result, namely that both the well-documented Roman and the Medieval/Viking warm and intervening colder periods remained invisible. Romans made wine from grapes grown in Britain, something that is has happened only recently in the southern counties, while Vikings farmed cattle in south west Greenland for several hundred years, leaving farms still buried under ice today, which should not have happened if Mann’s hockey stick was an accurate representation of temperature trends over the period.

Scientific papers pointed this out, but Mann dismissed them and his graph remained the darling of the climate change alarmists. Initially he refused requests for the raw data and the methodology used to derive the graph, despite a freedom of information request. But then he got bold and released some of the data, admitting that marked cooling in the newer proxy tree ring data post 1961 had been replaced by modern temperature data, as these supported the consensus view of Global Warming!

In a 2021 attempt by Steyn to have Mann’s lack of action in pursuing the case a sufficient cause to have the charge dismissed, the court noted: 

‘Nor is it, as this Court has ruled, about “climate change” or “science,” Oct 22, 2019 Order at 1-2. The Court is particularly careful and mindful not to step into the substance or merit of the policy debate on global warming. . . The broader question of global warming is never before this Court . . . Plaintiff is not the scientist representing the entirety of the science behind global warming.’

However, if Steyn’s assertion that the graph is fraudulent is correct, this will have a dramatic effect on the climate change debate beyond the court, as noted above. The free speech issue is of more general importance as it affects many areas where people who do not yield to the dictates of those who believe there is only one correct opinion have suffered cancelling, job loss, ostracism. That they have a right and a need to be heard is expressed most clearly by Justice Alito’s admonition that: 

‘Climate change has staked a place at the very centre of this Nation’s public discourse. Politicians, journalists, academics, and ordinary Americans discuss and debate various aspects of climate change daily – its causes, extent, urgency, consequences, and the appropriate policies for addressing it. The core purpose of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression is to ensure that all opinions on such issues have a chance to be heard and considered.’

The punitive finding of the court goes against this dictum, so an appeal would seem likely, but what will happen is as unpredictable as the constant IPCC/UN warnings of an impending climate catastrophe, and the arrival of an ‘era of global boiling’ if emissions aren’t throttled back.

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Howard Dewhirst
Howard Dewhirst
Howard Dewhirst has had a long career in international energy resources exploration relying on climate change-driven stratigraphic principles.

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