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“Hockey Stick Graph” Bullshit

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Trial Of The Century? Michael Mann Vs. Mark Steyn

Written by Francis Menton

Way back in October 2012, climate alarmist and activist Michael Mann brought a libel suit against Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg for allegedly defamatory blog posts that the two had written a few months previously. The case has gone through an incredible history of procedural twists and turns since then, a few of which I have covered in prior blog posts, for example here on March 20, 2014, and here on March 26, 2021. The trial finally started on January 16.

Probably most readers here are familiar with the case to at least some degree, and many may even be following the trial. (The court has a live feed available to the public. Follow this link at WattsUpWithThat if you want to tune in during the coming week.). I have watched some substantial chunks of the trial during its first two weeks.

Mann is best known as the creator of the famous “Hockey Stick” graph, purporting to be a world temperature reconstruction of the past thousand or so years, with essentially level temperatures until the 20th century, and then sharply rising temperatures in the 20th century era of human use of fossil fuels. Mann published versions of the figure in Nature magazine, originally in 1998; and the UN’s IPCC quickly (in 2001) seized on the Hockey Stick as its iconic demonstration that human use of fossil fuels was causing global warming. In the blog posts that are the subject of the case, Steyn and Simberg called Mann’s graph false and deceptive. (Steyn referred to Mann’s figure as “the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey stick’ graph” while Simberg called out “[Mann’s] and others’ hockey stick deceptions.”) 

Truth is an absolute defense in a libel case, and Steyn has vowed to prove that his blog post was true. That would then mean that the Hockey Stick graph was indeed fraudulent. Many are therefore referring to this spectacle as “the Hockey Stick on trial.” And the Hockey Stick very much is on trial, at least as one of the issues in the case. However, if you have watched some of the proceedings — seven days’ worth so far — you are likely getting quite frustrated with how little the actual truth or falsity of the graph itself figures into the matter.

During most of the second week of trial, Michael Mann himself has been on the witness stand. He began by giving unenlightening and largely conclusory testimony that his Hockey Stick graph was not fraudulent. Then on Wednesday and Thursday he was under cross-examination, initially by a lawyer for Rand Simberg (Victoria Weatherford of Baker Hostetler). Steyn (who is doing his own cross-examination of witnesses) only got to start his cross after lunch on Thursday, and he was just reaching the issues of the Hockey Stick graph when 4:30 came and the trial adjourned for the weekend.

So what have they been talking about all that time without ever getting to the Hockey Stick? The answer is that there are plenty of other issues in a trial. One thing that is always an issue is the credibility of the plaintiff. And another issue that has taken up a good deal of time has been whether Mann has suffered any damages from the alleged defamation. On the issue of damages, Mann as plaintiff bears the burden of proof.

Let’s start with Mann’s credibility. It seems that when Mann commenced the case back in 2012, he put in his Complaint that he was a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, specifically for his work documenting the 20th century “rise in surface temperatures,” i.e., the Hockey Stick. Tony Heller at his Real Climate Science site has screenshots of portions of Mann’s original October 22, 2012 Complaint. The following is the text of paragraph 2 of the Complaint (emphasis added):

2. Dr. Mann is a climate scientist whose research has focused on global warming. Along with other researchers, he was one of the first to document the steady rise in surface temperatures during the 20th Century and the steep increase in measured temperatures since the 1950s. As a result of this research, Dr. Mann and his colleagues were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prior to the Complaint, Mann had also posted on his website a picture of what appeared to be a certificate from the Nobel Institute documenting Mann’s receipt of the Peace Prize. Heller has a screenshot of the document from Mann’s website, although I cannot find it there today.

It turns out that the upper part of that picture is the actual Nobel Institute certificate; but the lower portion, including the text reading “Presented to Michael E. Mann for contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize” was not part of anything generated by the Nobel Institute. Rather, it was generated by the IPCC.

Immediately after Mann filed his Complaint, a guy named Thomas Richard of [the Washington Examiner] Examiner.com communicated with Geir Lundestad, Director of the Nobel Institute, pointing out that Mann was claiming to have received a Nobel Prize, and asking if that was accurate. Richard promptly (October 26, 2012) received a communication back from Lundestad as follows:

1) Michael Mann has never been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

2) He did not receive any personal certificate. He has taken the diploma awarded in 2007 to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and to Al Gore) and made his own text underneath this authentic-looking diploma.

3) The text underneath the diploma is entirely his own. We issued only the diploma to the IPCC as such. No individuals on the IPCC side received anything in 2007.

You can imagine how Steyn and the lawyers for Simberg are having a field day with this. In his testimony, Mann has attempted to spin this as an honest mistake — although somehow none of the other contributors to the IPCC made the same mistake of claiming that Nobel Prize was awarded personally to them. Mann has long since amended his Complaint to delete the claim that he is a Nobel Prize winner; but the original document remains in the court file of the case and cannot be made to disappear.

Then there is the issue of Mann’s many written acknowledgements thanking one Graham Spanier. Steyn spent most of Thursday afternoon confronting Mann on this issue.

If you don’t recognize Spanier’s name, here is some background. Graham Spanier became President of Penn State University in 1995, and was the President there when Mann was hired in 2005. In late 2009 there was a leak from the University of East Anglia in England of a large trove of emails in which Mann was a principal participant. The emails showed a close-knit group of prominent climate scientists engaging in what would appear from the face of the emails to be prima facie scientific misconduct — working to suppress all dissent from climate orthodoxy, controlling the peer review process in the main journals, and even discussing alterations of data in the context of the Hockey Stick graph itself. This collection of leaked emails came to be known as the “ClimateGate emails.”

Penn State’s administration, under Spanier, sprang into action to attempt to clear Mann. By February 2010, Penn State had stated that it found no evidence to support accusations against Mann; and on July 1, 2010 a special committee working under Spanier issued at report purporting to exonerate Mann of all wrongdoing.

Unfortunately for Mann, his scandal at Penn State took place contemporaneously with another scandal, also during the presidency of Spanier — that of long-time assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The Sandusky scandal became public in November 2011, upon Sandusky being indicted on 52 counts of child molestation that had occurred from 1994 to 2009. Sandusky, you will probably recall, had been an assistant football coach to long-time Penn State icon and hero Joe Paterno. Senior administrators at Penn State, including Spanier, had long known about accusations against Sandusky, and had been active participants in covering them up. After the November 2011 indictment, ex-FBI director Louis Freeh was brought in to do a full investigation of what had happened at Penn State, and he issued a scathing Report in July 2012, by which time Spanier had been forced to resign. Freeh’s Report was indeed the immediate impetus for the Simberg and Steyn blog posts that are the subject of the Mann v. Steyn lawsuit. From Steyn’s post:

[W]hen the East Anglia emails came out, Penn State felt obliged to “investigate” Professor Mann. Graham Spanier, the Penn State president forced to resign over Sandusky, was the same cove who investigated Mann. And, as with Sandusky and Paterno, the college declined to find one of its star names guilty of any wrongdoing.

Over the years since 2012, things have gotten steadily worse for Spanier. First he was forced to resign as President. Then he himself was indicted for obstruction of justice and other charges. Then he was facing trial. Then he was tried and convicted. And then he served a 60-day prison sentence.

Through all this, Michael Mann has written about one book about every 2 to 3 years. And each of them has thanked Graham Spanier in the acknowledgements. That may have been excusable back in 2012, when Spanier had just been accused of misconduct, but not yet indicted or convicted himself. But Steyn showed that Mann had continued to acknowledge Spanier through each stage of the process, including most recently in a book published in 2023.

Meanwhile, Ms. Weatherford devoted most of her cross to issues of damages. You might think that this would be rather dry stuff, and it is, but Mann never ceases to astonish with his audacity. Most notably, Mann’s principal theory of damages today appears to be that as a result of the claimed defamation, and the harm to his reputation, he has lost out on various government grants that he otherwise would have received. But it turns out that during the discovery process in the case Simberg’s lawyers demanded from Mann a list of all grants that he claimed he lost as a result of the defamation. Mann responded by objecting, saying that the information requested was “irrelevant to any issue in the case,” and not listing a single grant allegedly lost. Ms. Weatherford confronted Mann with his answers and made him acknowledge his signature under oath at the end of the document. Mann’s excuse for this answer was that his lawyers had advised him to give this response. How Mann can claim damages from lost grants after giving this answer, I have no idea.

So as I said earlier, when the trial adjourned at 4:30 on Thursday, Steyn had just begun his cross-examination on the subject of the Hockey Stick chart itself. That will now start up at 9:30 on Monday morning, and promises to be quite entertaining. For a preview of what might get covered, here is my blog post on the case from March 29, 2021, on the occasion of one of the many substantive motions briefed in the case. Mark Steyn had submitted a brief on March 3, outlining some of the evidence he had accumulated, much from the ClimateGate emails, as to the fraudulence of the Hockey Stick. Here, via my post, is an excerpt from that brief:

The [Hockey Stick graph as published in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report in 2001, in a portion written by lead author Mann] omitted tree ring proxy data collected by climate scientist Keith Briffa that showed a decline in temperatures after 1960, a message inconsistent with the prized hockey stick shape. . . . The IPCC TAR did not disclose the deletion of this data. . . . As lead author, Mann decided to omit the Briffa data without the input of his other lead authors.. . . Mann’s own collaborators cautioned him against the deletion. IPCC TAR Coordinating Lead Author Chris Folland wrote to Mann that Briffa’s data “contradicts the multiproxy curve and dilutes the message rather significantly.”. . . Briffa himself urged Mann not to succumb to “pressure to present a nice tidy story” by “ignor[ing]” his post-1960 results. . . . Mann agreed with them on the merits but bemoaned the data’s political impact: “[I]f we show Keith’s series . . . skeptics [will] have a field day.” . . . To prevent a “skeptics’ field day,” he chose to delete the data.

So we await the continuation of Steyn’s cross on Monday morning.

UPDATES/CORRECTIONS, January 29, 2024:

(1) Several commenters point out that the prison term to which Graham Spanier was sentenced was only 60 days. I have checked, and that is correct. So it was incorrect to say that Spanier got a “long” prison sentence, or to imply that he is still there.

(2) I have a friend who has served on one of the IPCC working groups. (Yes, I know that’s crazy.) He informs me that the IPCC presented him with a document thanking him for his contribution to the IPCC’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, the document being much in the format of the one pictured above as to Mann. So it appears that the IPCC, rather than Mann, is the entity that created this document. However, it remains false for Mann to claim that he won the Nobel Prize.

I have corrected these matters above in my post.

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