Watts up with Mann?
Sep 26, 2014
Bishop Hill in Climate: Sceptics

This is a guest post by Katabasis.

It’s been an interesting few days, having attended both the Cook and Mann talks and have some valuable meetings (many for the first time) with other climate sceptics. I wanted to share a perspective that deviates somewhat from what appears to be an emerging – er – ‘consensus’ among a number of the people I had the pleasure to spend time with over the last week or so. There has been discussion in person, here and over at WUWT regarding the pursuit of some kind of rapprochement with the mainstream of climate science and climate scientists. A significant feature of the conversation thus far appears to be concern over the fractious nature of the debate, especially online. In particular there have been concerns raised regarding the effect on, and perception of, sceptics more generally as a result of the more angry and impassioned amongst us.

I want to offer something of a counterpoint. I want to, instead, make a few points in defence of angry sceptics.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to the arguments made thus far in favour of maintaining calm, polite discourse. However, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t control other people’s reactions – and that’s where most of the anger resides, anger in response to perceived provocations. Moreover I don’t think the anger is going to let up any time soon, even if some of us ‘angry sceptics’ mellow somewhat – new sceptics are joining the fold every day, and many of them are pissed off from the moment they’ve ‘turned’ to climate realism.


Let’s review the two Cabot Institute talks. First we had Cook repackaging his “97% consensus” propaganda for the hapless Bristol audience. I say ‘hapless’ because at no point in his presentation was there even the slightest acknowledgement that his work – and the prior efforts that had inspired it – had come under such severe and comprehensive criticism that it was holed below the waterline. If one of my papers had received that kind of criticism I think I would have been embarrassed to even mention it in public, never mind carry out high profile presentations of it, hoping that mere repetition of memes would carry me through.

As I mentioned over at WUWT,[1] I found the whole presentation highly offensive. Cook continues the proud tradition of the ‘team’ where they paint a cartoon image of a sceptic in crayon on the wall and then go through a clown-dancing performance of `dialogue' with the gurning visage of primary colours they’ve splattered in front of them. Just the criticisms and points Cook received in the Q & A afterwards should have shattered that image of ‘sceptics’ as defined by the Skeptical Séance team for the undecided in the audience. Or at least one would hope. His presentation was largely fact free drivel and assertion that his research was right. It was the classic ‘team’ bait and switch of asserting an authoritative consensus over a modest area (the ‘basic physics’ of CO2) and then arguing through direct implication that this applied to an astronomically wider domain (catastrophic outcomes).  This is despite his work having been comprehensively monstered by José Duarte[2] and many others.  I even cited Duarte’s work in my own question to Cook, highlighting the inclusion of numerous, ridiculously inappropriate, papers in the measure of the ‘consensus’.  A point which, like all of the others, he airily dismissed whilst going on to trail the politician’s path of answering the question he would have preferred you had asked.

Then there was Mann. There has already been significant commenting here and elsewhere regarding the bizarrely short Q and A at the end. James Delingpole[3] has noted that Mann even posted about it on Facebook. As I noted in the comments, Mann and his sychophants  are backslapping eachother over how it `speaks volumes',  that `there were no questions at all from the climate change denier contingent that supposedly had come out in force'. There weren’t many hands up it is true, but I know for sure that mine and Barry’s were two of them.   I noticed that Mann had also taken the liberty of deleting Barry’s perfectly polite and reasonable replies on that thread.

The primary thrust of Mann’s talk, prior to slating as many perceived enemies as he could, was ‘going large’ on the bait and switch I mentioned above. He even used an identical slide to Cook on the `many lines of evidence' that support AGW. He emphasised the venerability of the ‘basic science’ and then machine gunned the audience with imagery of extreme weather. Every single damn point he made about extreme weather from then on in, as far as I can tell, is unsupported by AR5. And yet the audience lapped it up. There must have been dozens of academics in the audience who just swallowed it uncritically. There was no mention of the ‘hiatus’ (his x axis stopped shortly after the year 2000 on temperature graphs); Cook on the other hand explicitly denied it using the famous Sceptical Séance ‘escalator graph'.[4].  This is despite the fact that the ‘hiatus’ is now a major topic of discussion in the ‘mainstream’ of climate science – I can verify this personally as it was brought up regularly by the IPCC scientists present at the ‘RSclimate’ event last year.[5]

Cook, Mann and many of the other members of ‘the team’ are wilfully deceptive. They should have been laughed off the stage, not applauded. I’m not willing to accept the ‘Noble cause corruption’ narrative and neither, it seems, are some others.  This isn’t just individual failure, it’s institutional. And that’s where it really sticks in the craw for me. And it drives much of my anger, as well as that of the people who I have successfully introduced to climate scepticism/realism. 

The wellspring of that anger deserves proper articulation. There’s a quote attributed to Martin Luther King that I have always liked that is apposite:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

If any of those reading consider themselves part of the ‘climate mainstream’, then I urge you to meditate on the above carefully when reading what follows as it applies to you on several levels.

When I am introducing someone to the sceptical range of views an exercise I often use  is to give them a link to the IPCC WG1 report (now AR5, previously I linked them to AR4). I then invite them to pick three chapters at random – any three whatsoever (other than the Summary for Policymakers (SPM)) – and skim them (or read them in full if they have the time) and come back to me with their impressions. I experience the same response every time and indeed, it matches my own. Reading the report’s individual chapters (sans the SPM), one comes away with the impression of a scholarly, ponderous document. Lots of caveats, uncertainties, doubts, gaps and so on are clearly articulated. In short, it is what one generally expects from academic output. Then the anger flows in. It is a painfully sharp contrast to the mainstream narratives. Within those there’s disaster lurking at any moment, around every corner. It’s always ‘worse than we thought’. The climate science establishment are unanimous in agreeing that thermageddon is imminent – they’re 95% certain, in fact! About every aspect of the topic!

At this point the brakes screech. The red lights start flashing. As I get older each year, the people I introduce to sceptical books, blogs and insights become ever younger.  They move ever closer to that group of young men and women just entering adulthood who have not seen global warming for their entire lives. Yet they’ve been indoctrinated right from the very start. Many come out of our education fearful for the future, as our host has amply demonstrated.[6]

They are told incessantly that the world is dying, there isn’t much hope without urgent and extreme action, and it’s all their fault for living with some creature comforts.  We’re drowning in something, but it isn’t rising sea levels. It’s prognostications of doom in a legion of screaming litanies that continually fail to occur as advertised. Why hasn’t action been taken? It’s those evil ‘deniers’ and their tobacco/oil/[insert idiocy] industry backing spreading doubt and preventing action. Except it isn’t. The ‘mainstream’ of climate science is chock full of doubts, including about the hysterical prophecies of the reverend Al Gore and sychophants. The heart rate rises, respiration increases. A state of low level adrenal emergency is entered.  Why didn’t they tell us? Why have our school teachers, our media, our parents, our climate science establishment not reined in the irresponsible activist-scientists and their supporters in advocate groups? Angry? You bet.

And that’s just among the general public. What of those of us who have, or have had, a continuing relationship with academia? Some of the reactions I’ve witnessed there have eclipsed even my white hot reaction.

Of my friends and family who take an interest in sincere discussion on these issues, those with a more political bent I sent to Pointman’s blog.[7] Those of a more philosophical to Ben Pile’s.[8] For those of my friends pursuing academic careers however, I sent them to Duarte’s holdout. Duarte does two things particularly well – he provides a comprehensive and scholarly critique of recent Cook and Lewandowsky offerings. He also proffers a very particular kind of outrage. That of the academic betrayed.

I felt exactly the same when I turned fully to climate scepticism/realism. As I discussed this week with Barry Woods and Richard Drake, I was working in a lab at the time. I still regarded the scientific and academic establishments as the last hold out for hope. It didn’t matter that political and economic wrangling was hopelessly fragged. Science and the quest for an ever clearer insight into the ways of the world, led by paragons of integrity, would see us through. Or so I naively believed.  Discovering that a substantive area of science had let itself be presented in such a monstrous form in the public eye was an extremely bitter pill to swallow indeed.

I discovered that being a climate sceptic in the ivory towers was dangerous. It’s why I maintain a veneer of pseudonymity still. I can’t express the anger or bitterness at the sense of extreme betrayal in the written word, though I’ve often burst my top with expletives on the subject online and off. To find that the bladder bursting conniptions of our literati concerning our imminent doom as a result of our carbon sins is in fact an exaggeration of the facts off the scale even when compared to the famous UK ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq was, for a budding academic, the worst betrayal.

I didn’t sign up for this. Duarte didn’t sign up for this. Nor did any of my friends and colleagues in my age group who planned a career either in, or closely related to academia. The covenant has been broken. It’s precisely this kind of hyperbole that they should exist in order to rein in, to let cooler heads prevail. But there’s no ponderous pontification here, the overheated chicken littles run the roost whilst the ‘mainstream’ of climate science appears to sit comfortably, keeping eggs warm for the future.  I’ve met a few of you in person now. You tell me, quietly, that you don’t agree with the hysteria at all, and that it’s clear from your published work.

Not good enough.

Some of you may remember from my report on the ‘RSclimate’ event that I challenged Mat Collins on this issue.  That’s the same Mat Collins who is the Joint Met Office Chair in Climate Change.  When I asked why he and others didn’t attempt to rein in the hysterics, who do not represent what the IPCC actually says, he said it wasn’t his responsibility. More recently, at the Walker Institute annual lecture, on climate change communication, myself and Barry Woods questioned none other than the government’s chief scientific adviser himself, Mark Walport. I put it to him that AR5 did not support catastrophic conclusions with any certainty. He responded that when he said climate change was going to be ‘bad’ he did not mean ‘catastrophic’. He failed to provide a definition of ‘bad’. This was the keynote lecture for a climate change communication outfit. If he can’t communicate something so important that is so very easily misconstrued into the worst case scenario to someone like myself who is relatively well informed on the topic, what hope the general public?

In short, there seems to be no stomach amongst the ‘mainstream’ climate establishment to do anything very much to counter the incredibly pernicious effect of our Cooks, Manns, Lewandowskys and Hansens. You don’t seem to realise that the public already lumps all of you together and some of us who know better are at the end of their tether in trying to maintain that distinction.  The effort is a law of diminishing returns – why should we attempt to lift you out of a hole you continue to keep digging deeper? History won’t care what your inscrutable paywalled article actually said. Neither will the general public. They’ll care that you didn’t speak out when you should have. That you allowed everyone who raised objections be painted as part of some shady conspiracy funded by billions in filthy lucre.  That you allowed their children to be terrified by a vision of monstrous and hopeless futures. The anger is going to continue to grow until a significant portion of the climate mainstream steps up to the plate, and would be well advised to do so before the leash well and truly snaps.

Whilst I’m loathe to use a Socialist Worker Party slogan here, this one is entirely apt:

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?



[1] http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/09/20/my-report-on-the-cook-talk-in-bristol-attendees-are-invited-to-leave-their-impressions/

[2] http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/cooking-stove-use-housing-associations-white-males-and-the-97

[3] http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/09/24/Professor-Michael-Mann-shows-his-true-class

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96MoYbVeD0M

[5] http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/10/2/a-report-from-the-royal.html

[6] http://www.thegwpf.org/climate-control/

[7] http://thepointman.wordpress.com/

[8] http://www.climate-resistance.org/

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