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Climate contention

Eduardo Zorita thinks we might all be getting a little het up over the email in which Michael Mann says this of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP):

Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen Northern Hemisphere records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly [2000 years] back--I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2k, rather than the usual 1k, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made [with] regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP", even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back.

Eduardo notes the context - of creating a new temperature reconstruction - and suggests that the word "contain" must therefore mean "incorporate". I'm not so sure.

If the words are to have the meaning Eduardo suggests, then the normal English idiom would be to have a subject in the sentence. Something like: would be nice to have the reconstruction contain the putative MWP...

or, since we already know wer'e talking about a temperature reconstruction: would be nice to try to have it contain the putative MWP"...

Alternatively, he could have avoided referring back to the subject by using a different word altogether: would be nice to try to incorporate the putative MWP...

This feature of the standard idiom is not seen in the alternative meaning of "contain", which is "restrain". Here the word "contain" doesn't need to refer back to its subject, but sits comfortably on its own. would be nice to try to contain the putative MWP...

just as he said it.

Let's refer back to the original quote. would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP"...

Why does he use quotation marks around "contain"? There is no obvious need to do so, but could it be that this is a way of giving his readers the equivalent of a nudge and a wink? And what then is the meaning of the nudge and the wink? Is he pointing out that he has used an idiom of "restrain", but is implying that, of course, he is talking about "incorporating" the MWP? Or is it the other way round - that it really would be nice to restrain the MWP?

Who knows? Without seeing the "good point that Peck made with respect to the memo" it's hard to say, but of course there will be those who point out that Peck is Jonathan Overpeck, the man who is alleged to have written the infamous "get rid of the Medieval Warm Period " email.


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Reader Comments (19)

I think I'm with Eduardo on this one. Remember Prof. Mann is not English, and American idiom differs significantly from Received English. It's very difficult to analyse one sentence in isolation.
I'd read it as "contain" being put in quotes to indicate being used to mean "incorporate". After all, email is largely spur-of-the-moment stuff and most of us don't agonise for hours over the 'mot juste'.
We have enough ammunition to be able to afford magnaminity and give even MM the benefit of the doubt over so small a matter.

Dec 9, 2009 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterDisputin

Micael Mann's English is good enough. 99% of good native English speakers would choose "to restrain". The quotes are used like we all use quotes - it means it is not me saying it directly, but comes from another source. It is basically using a phrase without taking responsibility for it. I use that construct all the time.

Dec 9, 2009 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

We have enough ammunition to be able to afford magnaminity and give even MM the benefit of the doubt over so small a matter.

Would he give you such magnanimity? It is not small. Court cases are won and lost on such interpretations. Like any politician Michael Mann fights dirty, and then hides behinds his "scientific credentials" to prevent an attack. He has "Authority without Respnsibility". Which makes him very dangerous.

If you have him by the b*lls do not let go because you will get a kick where it hurts.

Dec 9, 2009 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket has it right. The use of the word contain and the quotation marks carry's the obvious meaning. Any other interpritation is absurd. How could a professor of his standing possibly have a vocabularly that does not include the word incorporate. As Jiminy said in this context you use quatation marks to say something indirectly with a nudge and a wink without accepting responsibility for it. The quotation marks are used because he knows what he is suggesting is not ethical. I see no evidence of such tortured use of the English language in his other emails. The MWP has consistantly been either absent or underepresented in their graphs. Without containing the MWP a substantial plank of their theory collapses. Can there be any doubt? You have to torture the language to arrive at any other conclusion. I think the KISS principle applies here. Certainly less doubt the the theory of AGW! :) The same sort of tortured explanation was used by DTom Wigley in an interview today; see here

I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of these re-interpritations of plain English in the coming weeks.

Dec 9, 2009 at 9:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheSkyIsFalling

I commented somewhere that so many arguments about the climate debate end up with someone from the warmist side arguing that English words as used by climatologists don't have the same meaning that they do when ordinary people use them.

Dec 9, 2009 at 9:12 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Hmm the Andrew Bolt blog link did not seem to come up right. The Tom Wigley interview dissection by Bolt is an excellent read. Plain English denied or a new spin given. I was sickened to read it. Search for Andrew Bolt blog and the relevant post will be one dated 9 Dec 09.

[BH: I've fixed it for you]

Dec 9, 2009 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheSkyIsFalling

LOL Bishop - that is a good observation.

Dec 9, 2009 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheSkyIsFalling

If Mann wanted it to simply include the MWP he wouldn't put contain in speech marks. That he said "contain" implies either to restrain it as explained, or parsing it a little differently but with the same result, to include the MWP while making it a regional event only - ie he wants the reconstruction to use data that includes the MWP but not skew his ideas of what a reconstruction should look like, so that people who say 'Where's the MWP?' can be told it is in there but was a regional event only. To include the MWP but minimise the impact of it.

They are talking about a map pointing to charts of regional reconstructions. The MWP was presumably to be on a few but not on others.

From the email
"If we wanted to be fancy, we could do
this the way certain plots were presented in one of the past IPCC reports (was it 1990?)
in which a spatial map was provided in the center (this would show the locations of the
proxies), with "rays" radiating out to the top, sides, and bottom attached to rectanges
showing the different timeseries. Its a bit of work, but would be a great way to convey
both the spatial and temporal information at the same time."

Dec 9, 2009 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

I would distinguish the desire that a reconstruction INCLUDE the putative MWP from the desire to CONTAIN its magnitude. However, while it is possible that Mann's written scientific English is a s duff as his mastery of Statistics, there is no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dec 9, 2009 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

I think we all know what contain means in this sort of context.

It means limit, reduce, restrict, or otherwise downgrade in some way.

For any native English speaker, no other interpretation of that sentence makes sense.

Why do they keep wriggling?

Dec 9, 2009 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter MacFarlane

In this context, "contain" would be "suppress", "deny", "restrict", "limit". Words that warmists are quite familiar with.

Dec 9, 2009 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRich Day

This isn't about a single sentence with no context.
It's ridiculous to argue that Mann means "incorporate". His every word and action for the last decade or so has been dependent on minimising - to the point of disappearing - the MWP. Is that even disputed by any sane warmist? Mann doesn't even, in public, want to call it that. Why the hell would he want to "incorporate" the thing he says doesn't exist?

Dec 9, 2009 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

"Prof. Mann is not English, and American idiom differs significantly from Received English." Not in this regard.
If Mann had meant "incorporate" he wouldn't have called it the "putative" MWP. Pretty obvious to me. Including it is a grugding concession, limiting evidence of an obsession.

Dec 9, 2009 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Halpern

edurado has his own website along with von storch. as my english is probably worse than his could somebody who can spell ask him

Dec 9, 2009 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterKamboshigh

Paul Krugman of the NYTimes had the audacity to suggest that Mann was talking about putting a start time on the MVP. He suggested that we know when it ended but not when it started, so it needed to be "contained." His words, not mine, and I don't buy it for a nano-second. Krugman is about as far left as it's possible to get in the U.S. without being seen as a loonie.

Dec 9, 2009 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Doesn't the word "putative" before MWP tell us what Mann meant by "contain"?

Dec 10, 2009 at 2:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerry Gain

I am an American. I don't think there is any way to read " "contain" the putative "MWP" " any other way than isolating it and keeping it out so they don't have to deal with how it muddies their model. Americans have historically used "contain" like this, and usually having to do with a negative. Look at the policy of "containment" with regards to the spread of Communism, for example.

I think the meaning is pretty clear, unless of course Michael Mann simply left out a word or two or three. Having done this myself a few times, it is possible but the dismissive way in which he uses the word "putative" sort implies that there wasn't any omission...

Anyway, just my thought.

Dec 10, 2009 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterJordan Daniels

In this case I think "contain" probably means includes and not restrain or inhibit. Remember the MWP is a period 800 to 1,300 years ago, so a reconstruction going back to 1,000 years does not fully "contain" the MWP, whereas one that is 2,000 years long does.

However what is really revealing here is the mindset of Mann. "I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2k, rather than the usual 1k, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made [with] regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP", even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back."

Translation: I know and believe for a fact that the MWP doesnt exist. Thus we need a reconstruction spanning the years that "contain" this so called mythical (putative) MWP. Contain as in spans. It obviously cannot "contain" what (I believe) doesnt exist, hence the inverted commas..

Here the transgression is not that he is deliberately setting out to remove something that he has discovered, but that he is setting out to discover what, he has made up his mind, it is not there. Quite against the scientific method, which first seeks for evidence THEN makes up ones mind on the basis of the evidence discovered.

"even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back." He doesnt have the evidence but has made up his mind it aint there.

Dec 13, 2009 at 7:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

PS - This mindset is confirmed by the reference to Peck (Jonathan Overpeck), the man who is not only alleged to have written the infamous "get rid of the Medieval Warm Period " email, but in the climategate emails acknowledges he may have sent it.

Dec 13, 2009 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

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