A Really Bad Idea

Regular readers will have no doubts about my skepticism of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.  In particular, in these pages and at Climate Skeptic, I have repeatedly criticized the details of Michael Mann's work on the hockey stick.  I won't repeat those issues today, though some of the past articles are indexed here.

That being said, efforts by Republicans in Virginia to bring legislative or even criminal action against Mann for his work when he was at the University of Virginia is about the worst idea I have heard in quite some time.  Though nominally about forcing public disclosure (something I am always in favor of from state entities) the ultimate goal is to drag Mann into court

Cuccinelli has said he wants to see whether a fraud investigation would be warranted into Mann's work, which showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming

[As an aside, this is actually NOT what Mann's hockey stick work purports to show.  The point of the hockey stick is to make the case that historic temperatures before 1850 were incredibly stable and flat, and thus recent increases of 0.6-0.8C over the last 150 years are unprecedented in comparison.   His research added nothing to our knowledge about recent warming, it was on focused on pre-industrial warming.   The same folks that say with confidence the science is settled don't even understand it].

For those frustrated with just how bad Mann's work is and upset at the incredible effort to protect this work from criticism or scrutiny by hiding key data (as documented in the East Anglia climategate emails), I know it must feel good to get some sort of public retribution.  But the potential precedent here of bringing up scientists on charges essentially for sloppy or incorrect work is awful.

Bad science happens all the time, completely absent any evil conspiracies.  Human nature is to see only the data that confirms ones hypotheses and, if possible, to resists scrutiny and criticism.  This happens all the time in science and if we started hauling everyone into court or into a Senate committee, we have half of academia there  (and then likely the other half when the party in power changed).  Team politics are a terrible disease and the last thing we need is to drag them any further into science and academia.

Science will eventually right itself, and what is needed is simply the time and openness to allow adversarial scrutiny and replication within academia to run its course.  Seriously, are we next going to drag the cold fusion guys in to court?  How about all the folks in the geology field that resisted plate tectonics for so long.  Will we call to account the losers in the string theory debate?

If legislators want to help, they can

  • Make sure there are standards in place for archiving and public availability of any data and code associated with government funded research
  • Improve the governments own climate data management
  • Ensure that state funding is distributed in a way to support a rich dialog on multiple sides of contested scientific issues.


  1. astonerii:

    "But the potential precedent here of bringing up scientists on charges essentially for sloppy or incorrect work is awful."

    But he is not just a Scientist. He is a scientist working on the tax payer's dime. Therefore, we have every right to every single bit of information used and created in his scientific efforts. We also have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers (me and you) to ensure that scientific research is done without fraud. The only scientists that would be subject to this scrutiny would be those taking tax paying dollars, and quite frankly, I would be perfectly happy to live in a United States of America that has very few publicly funded scientists, and those particularly would work for the Military and NASA and be subject to punishment for fraud.

  2. Foxfier:

    I can't remember-- was he acting in good faith, or was he another data-butcher?
    If he did alter the data, and tried to hide it, that's evidence of fraud. His employers thus have a right to take him to court.

    It won't chill genuine science to prosecute false science when there is evidence of willful fraud.

  3. Johnnyreb:

    There is a big difference in making mistakes and out right lying or cover-ups. Hide the decline, destroy emails rather than comply with FOIA etc.

  4. Fred:

    but a show trial will put the fear factor back on the table for all the Climate Scientologists who have gotten away with piles of terrible, shoddy work driven by politics and the desire to keep the Research Gravy Train rolling in.

    To say nothing of the craven desire for public adoration, fawning media attention and lots of freebie trips to Bali & Cancun.

    So there are benefits in nailing Mann's butt to a courthouse door for awhile.

    It will send a message to the rest of his cronies & scammers that the game has a new referee & the old rules are coming back in force.

  5. DrTorch:

    Once again, I think you're wrong here Coyote.

    Mann had a responsibility to do his work in good faith. Withholding data to support a claim is defined as fraud. I'd get fired for such an offense at my institution...at the very least.

    This is an important case, as it could set a precedent reminding researchers, of all fields, that integrity of the data is a non-negotiable.

    The premise of the university is that there is a such a thing as objective "truth". And maybe this could be a lever for public universities to start getting rid of their Marxist faculty members.

  6. Jim Collins:

    I'm in favor of sending this to trial. I really don't care what happens to Mann, the bigger picture has to be considered. There are dozens of BS lawsuits in court over "Global Warming". Having Mann's inaccuracies called out in a Court of Law will establish precedent and aid those fighting these lawsuits and hopefully prevent more of these suits in the future. This trial will also establish precedents that can be used to fight the EPA's version of "Cap and Trade".

  7. Bearster:

    Coyote, I was in agreement with the first part. I agree that bringing criminal charges is only going to create a chilling effect, lots and LOTS of CYA from scientists, and make them even more conservative (that is to say afraid of challenging politically powerful constituencies). I've never thought that fear motiviated people to do good work, especially if they were bad people inclined to do bad work.

    But you lost me when you propose mechanisms for how state-funded science ought to be done better. The root problem, of course, is state funding for science. The only solution is to eliminate this. For a good concretization, look at the State Science Institute and Dr. Robert Stadtler in Atlas Shrugged.

  8. me:

    Whenever we have the judicative or legislative branch determining what is and isn't good science, we end up with values of 3 for pi. I'd rather avoid that.

    That said, Mann is a stinkbag and there are ways the scientific community deals with that.

    For all those calling for him to be dragged before a court because he wasted tax payer dollars - are you as in favor of dragging Bush into court because of the waste of tax payer dollars that was caused by clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

    I am asking because you really ought to examine your motives if you condemn one but not the other.

  9. markm:

    There are three places where "science" is routinely butchered even worse than Mann did:

    The newsroom
    The courtroom
    Congressional committees

    You can't get better science by hauling Mann into the 2nd or 3rd of those places.

    OTOH, if there were requirements in the grants Mann accepted, or the regulations governing them, requiring recipients to retain data, working calculations, etc., and make them available on request, then Mann violated the contract and should face penalties. If such requirements are not standard for grants, the standards must be changed - but they won't apply to Mann ex post facto.

    Bearster: That would be a good point in an ideal world. In the world we actually live in, the government tends to discourage private donations by grabbing 40% of the national income, and scientists often have to depend on the fraction of a percent that trickles back from government to them...

  10. Mike S:

    Actually, it's even simpler than you suggest:

    If legislators want to help, they can

    - End all government funded research
    - End the government's own climate data management
    - Stop public funding of scientific research, stop public welfare for green technologies, eliminate all federal regulations not specifically authorized by the Constitution.

    The only reason there's big money and big fraud in climate research is that the premise is based on a lie, and because there's practically unlimited public funds available to entities with friends in government.

    Get government out of that business, and all the self-supporting fraud will fall apart on its own.

  11. Henry Bowman:

    Of all the folks intimately involved in advocating AGW, Michael Mann is the one fellow who stands out very clearly as a likely fraud. I rather doubt that there is sufficient evidence to convict him of fraud, though of course I don't know the details, but in my view he, more so than any others of ClimateGate infamy, is an plain fraud, and he knows it. Given that, I'd love to see him go to jail, though I doubt very much that such will come to pass.

  12. Bearster:

    markm: I think of a concept that I call "compensation". It is letting the air out of the other three tires, if you have a flat. At least the car rides level.

    Today, the government takes 40% (more, really) of every productive person's income. So let's compensate for that by using some of it to fund "science" based on politics?? It can't work. It cannot be "reformed". The only solution is to roll the government back to its only legitimate purpose and leave science to scientists. Today "science" is performed by politicians, charlatans, and actors in the kibuki theater.

  13. Mesa Econoguy:

    I used to be with you on this one coyote, but I can't reconcile the fact that while what these people are doing may constitute some form of perverted science, that alone cannot justify letting them continue.

    Yes, science often self-corrects when errant, but not once it enters the public sphere. As you know, once legislation is enacted (or even just political mass-movements mobilized), it is extremely difficult if not impossible to reverse them, or correct them to some benign form.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that a purely political actor, in cloaked in legality, is inserting itself into the argument. But to not have that tension of oversight and adversarial relationship leaves these people to their own devices, and when that drives public policy, that puts it in the political arena and is exceptionally dangerous left unchecked.

    If there is one takeaway lesson from AGW, it is that academia is in denial and is completely incapable of policing itself.

    Mr. Mann et al. require at minimum an investigatory inquiry, and likely prosecution.

  14. Foxfier:

    For those talking about judges choosing what's good science: where on earth are you getting that? We're talking about fraud.

    If I hand pick six things, and tell people they're randomly selected, it doesn't matter if they're raffle tickets or data points.

    It doesn't matter if someone's result is right or wrong, the attempt to willfully misrepresent the facts is what matters, and that is REALLY hard to prove.

  15. Ignoramus:

    We're at war people, in case you didn't know.

    In the month after Climategate broke, Michael Mann got a $560,000 grant paid for out of Stimulus. I suspect this was part of a successful effort to forestall any academic inquiry by his current employer, Penn State.

    Thanks to Mann & Co, this bullshit science has led to the EPA declaring CO2 to be a pollutant. This train has already left the station. Lots of bad things will happen unless this Runaway Train is stopped.

    The EPA is poised to regulate anything bigger than a newsstand, with CO2 as the excuse.

    There's pending class action litigation based on CO2. One such suit is based on CO2 having helped cause Hurricane Katrina. Damage claims include "loss of consortium" ... so if you didn't get laid in New Orleans the week after Katrina hit ... you're part of the class.

    I could go on.

    Hang him high.

  16. mysterian:

    The suggested first legislative step actually happened quite some time ago when Browner, our current environmental czar, regulated dust as the EPA admin in the Clinton days. NONE of the data justifying the regulation were made public leading to congress to act and fix the problem. You can see how successful they were.

  17. Doug:

    Ignoramus, it was the frickin' Supreme Court that ruled CO2 to be a pollutant in 2007's "Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency," not the EPA. My (admittedly limited) understanding of the decision was that the court ruled that the EPA was avoiding its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act (Congress's doing) by NOT creating rules that treat CO2 as a pollutant, while ruling that CO2 was indeed a pollutant. Which then turned loose the EPA Dogs Of War upon all of us.

    My only question is "how much did Mann's 'research play into the Court's ruling?" If it played ANY part, then yes, Mann should be up on fraud charges because of his role in creating a massively expensive --- and needless --- layer of legal meddling in our lives.

    But in baser terms, I'm all for hanging the SOB because I know he's all for hanging me for firing up my Evinrude on weekends.

  18. astonerii:

    Doug, I think you have it exactly opposite.

    The EPA ruled that it was a pollutant. They then decided to let congress work out the details of the regulations on that pollution. They got dragged into court and the Supreme Court said that if EPA says it is a pollutant, then the EPA has no choice but to regulate it, with out without congress writing the rules.

  19. caseyboy:

    Professional disgrace is punishment enough for bad science done in good faith. However, bad science done to promote a personal position that has significant financial implications is criminal in my opinion. Unfortunately the only way to find out which scenario applies to Mann is to collect evidence and sworn testimony. Yes, that could have a "chilling" effect on science, but given what we've since from science later that might be a good thing.

  20. ben:

    Imagine Professor X wholly fabricates results that sends the world into a spin. Professor X is rapdily promoted, makes a fortune, enjoys huge prestige, and watches while the world turns itself upside down responding to his results, knowing that his results are false and resisting all attempts to test his idea.

    Professor X benefitted form his fraud, imposed massive costs on society, and did so knowingly and deliberately, and not as the unforunate and unforseeable outcome of an experiment. Is it not in society's interests to punish Professor X due to a) the damage done and b) the fraudulent nature of his offense. And should we not think that the normal academic disciplinary mechanisms will be insufficient given the extraordinary nature of the costs?

  21. Dr. T:

    Mann's work wasn't sloppy or unavoidably incorrect or incorrect due to stupidity. He deliberately used a combination of cherry picking and falsifying data to create his hockey stick graph. In other words, he knowingly committed fraud and then heavily promoted his fraudulent work. He did so while working at a state government institution and while receiving federal funds. I am a former medical scientist, and I support the prosecution of Mann for fraud. "Bad science" is not the accused; the criminal scientist is.

  22. Mesa Econoguy:

    And that's called fraudulent misrepresentation, Dr. T, and is legally actionable.

    At minimum, I want these guys in court under oath, forced to sweat out a lengthy cross examination.

    Get all the science out there, and have the courts finally compel full discovery of what should already be available.

    Based on that information, we can hopefully gain a fuller understanding of what they are still concealing, and how much was willfully concealed to "prove" their bogus case.

    Even if the result is no convictions, we will have additional information, the public will know more about how shady these people are, and it will function as a deterrent to future pseudoscientific shysters.

  23. Mesa Econoguy:

    Correction: it's fraud in the inducement. Policymakers are detrimentally reliant upon fraudulent science conducted by Mr. Mann, et al.

    That's a very large stretch, but again, the goal is to compel legal discovery, not (necessarily) convictions.

    I would consider it a milestone of sanity were Mr. Mann jailed, but that likely will not happen.

  24. rxc:

    I have to agree with the majority of the commenters - Michael Mann is not being persecuted, but instead, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Climategate emails showed that the normal process of scientific correction is broken when it comes to climate "science", and he did his work on govt grants. Therefore, all of his work is open to public scrutiny, and the consequences thereof. Every govt employee understands this, as well as all of the scientific contractors, whether they work for National laboratories, universities, or private firms. When you take the public dollar, it comes with a lot of strings attached, and public scrutiny is a big one. I have no sympathy for him, and I think it is time that climate "science" is held up to the public light. After all, all the leftist organizations that promote Freedom of Information always talk about the cleansing effect of sunlight. Let there be light!

  25. IgotBupkis:

    > But the potential precedent here of bringing up scientists on charges essentially for sloppy or incorrect work is awful.

    I agree with you on the whole, and probably would rather see this dropped, but there is a distinction -- a legal one -- between sloppy or incorrect work and willful fraud.

    1) I would accept a round of this if the round consisted of using subpoenas to force all the data out in the open, making it available for public scrutiny. I do not believe this possibility should concern any legitimately honest scientist -- ever.

    2) I don't believe it should be allowed to turn into a generalized witchhunt, though subpoenaed papers may well expose some other sources that ought to be subpoenaed for much the same reason.

    3) If there IS a smoking gun revealed by these subpoenas, showing that Mann, et al, had direct, inarguable knowledge of the fact that their data did not say what they wanted the public to believe (and I believe the East Anglia reveals had some indications of this possibility), then yes, fraud charges should be applied to the (ahem!) Mann.

  26. Ted Rado:

    Let's not let the AGW arguments destroy our right to free speech. The phony scientists will in due course be exposed, and will wind up as laughing stocks with their reputations in tatters. We can't complain about the EPA telling us not to exhale, and then turn around and drag the incompetent (or worse) scientists off to jail. It will all work out in the end without such drastic measures.

  27. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    One of the signs of being a crackpot is "fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant." (Also see the essay When the Cranks Rule.)

  28. tehag:

    I don't see any reason to prosecute Mann for fraud provided that he has his tenure revoked and is unhireable as scientist anywhere in the US. When Bellesiles defrauded his university by producing "Arming America," he had his tenure revoked. If, OTOH, Mann continues to produce "scientific" work and has tenure, then the arguments that science is self-correcting are hooey. Criminal prosecution for fraud is the only cudgel left to silence criminals.

  29. Foxfier:

    Joseph H-
    Nobody is asking for show trials (30 points on your list, if it includes mocking and forced recanting) and I doubt the quality of a list that holds that telling someone about a really obvious spelling error (20 points) is a giant sign of being a "crackpot."

    "Fraud" is not that hard to understand, even if it is very, very hard to prove.

    You do not have a right to commit fraud as part of free speech, not even for personal gain.

    Bupkis is the only one that seems to understand that and still disagree.

  30. JL Harms:

    I find it hard to take global warming nuts serious, when history reports very hot weather in the 1200-1400's in Europe and historical evidence that the Vikings settled and farmed much of the frozen areas in Greenland until after 200 years the cold forced them to leave. The History channel reported the actual evidence and unearthed dwellings, churches and graves proving they were settled there.

    History like this blows the Mann hockey stick data to hell. Also a group of statisticians in Canada studied the hockey stick data and proven the temp spike Mann talks about is incorrect. The computer models I have seen don't make any allowance for the effects of the sun. How can anyone take the warming nuts serious when they discount solar warming due to sun spots and earth orbit drift?

    Even if we are getting warmer, I don't believe the USA can affect it either way. China and India have to be laughing themselves silly as the USA destroys their industry chasing a phantom.

  31. Ignoramus:

    A follow-up on a point above: The Supreme Court just announced that it will review one of the "AGW = public nuisance" tort cases. It'll get argued in the Spring of 2011. Expect a 5-4 decision, hopefully going the right way.

    Today's Supreme Court justices are idiot savants: They're really smart in a very narrow way. I wouldn't trust most of them to valet park my car.

    It'd help the outcome of "AGW = public nuisance" if between now and Spring 2011 they come to realize that AGW isn't "settled science." They won't learn this from travelling in their usual circles, as we live in a country where a Rush-listening truck driver is much more likely to know what "Russian tree rings" signify than a New York Times-reading resident of New York's Upper West Side.

    Speaking of The New York Times, I'm not alone in noting the irony that the NYT wouldn't report on ClimateGate because the e-mails there had been "purloined" but that the NYT is more than pleased to facilitate WikiLeaks. "All the news that fits."

    Ignoramus, over

  32. gadfly:

    At the same time Virginia's AG takes on Mann's inhumanity to man, George Mason University is investigating charges of plagiarism against Edward Wegman for assembling a white paper for Congressman Joe Barton exploring the veracity of Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph. Not surprisingly, Wegman and staff used original work from McIntyre and McKitricks. I am not defending Wegman and I believe that the serious charges need to be probed and the question answered as to whether or not a study for enlightening Congress on the Mann creation requires footnotes.

    GMU is taking the high ground but UVA walked away from their duty to question Mann's research and other transgressions that were exposed by Climategate. So AG Cuccinelli stepped in to fill the void left by academia.

    You know, it is amazing to behold how, in academia, liberals always get a pass when other liberals are in charge of the chicken coop.