michael mann

Defamation By Internet? Part 1 - Murry Salby's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Defamation? Murry Sa;by's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Climate anti-science adapted well to the Internet. A blog storm (in this case the “SalbyStorm”) can surge through well-linked blogs to spread misinformation or unsupported accusations.  Some blogs act as tribal echo chambers where people reinforce others' anger, in this case resembling a famed witch-burning scene, with Macquarie University as main, but not only, witch.

As in the “Climategate” blog storm, the noise was intended for the mainstream. This reached The Australian, but the main SalbyStorm lasted less than a week.

Some earlier storms generated serious harassment of targeted climate scientists. In pre-blog 1996, Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer made personal attacks on Ben Santer via the Wall Street Journal. Later, blogs were employed to continue, as by Paul Chesser in this or this(Warning: those URLs are OK, but every once in a while, WebCite gets overloaded and gives odd error message. Ignore for now and try later.)

Michael Mann has replaced Santer as favored target, but there have been many other victims, such as Katharine Hayhoe. Only a small fraction of readers need get angry enough to produce reputational damage, hate mail, death threats, a dead rat on the doorstep or floods of email.

Some “skeptical” bloggers routinely accept and repeat both silly anti-science ideas, and other unsuppported claims, as here. Apologies or corrections almost never occur and even if they do, they rarely flow through the network, leaving waves of misimpression there.  First impressions stick.

On July 9-12, Macquarie suffered this kind of attack (Wave 1).  Ex-Professor Murry Salby made serious, but unsupported and sometimes contradictory, accusations against Macquarie, by the unusual route of email to bloggers. Joanne Nova (Australia), Anthony Watts (Watts Up With That, USA), and Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill, UK) republished them.

After 4 days and 1,500+ comments at those blogs alone, SalbyStorm's Wave 1 ended quickly when Salby's checkered past was detailed at DeSmogBlog.  Discussions stopped, although with little apology or introspection about gullibility at “skeptical” blogs.  A very few people had wondered at oddities of Salby's claims, searched for his past history, and independently started finding problems within a few hours. Salby supporters did not do that, preferring to specualte and comment.

People believed the worst and repeated it, sometimes expanding defamatory accusations with little concern for evidence. A few of the phrases applied to Macquarie or mainstream climate science included criminal, dictatorial, barbaric, Orwellian, Nazi, Stasi, Deutsch Physika, Marxist, Stalinist, Lysenko, thugs, Mafia, and extended further to “goose-stepping, alarmist, fascist, progressives.”  Salby was praised as a science hero, compared to Galileo, Copernicus or Einstein,  despite the evident problems in his scientific claims.

Salby sent accusations to bloggers who republished them with little visible effort to calm the mutually-reinforcing commenter outrage.  Finally, the story got repeated by The Australian.  Experienced watchers have seen this before, but  SalbyStorm makes a compact case study to document and recall in future storms.

Climate Denial Industry Hits Courts And Hollywood As Threats Fly

THE climate science denial industry doesn't like Penn State University's Professor Michael Mann very much.

Mann is the scientist behind the famous “hockey stick” graph that first appeared in the journal Nature in 1998. Mann and two other scientists Professor Raymond Bradley and Professor Malcolm Hughes had reconstructed temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere from the year 1400 to present day using data mainly from tree rings, ice cores and modern temperature readings.

The following year, the same three scientists extended their study to reconstruct 1000 years of temperatures and published this in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Each time the team plotted their data on graphs and each time the plots showed what is the now famous “hockey stick” shape with a sharp uptick in temperatures towards the end of the century.

Freedom of Information Laws Used By Climate Sceptics To Rifle Through Scientists' Daily Emails

FREEDOM of Information laws across the world were introduced as a way to open governments and their agencies to public and journalistic scrutiny and to extract the kind of information that tends not to make its way into press releases and government pamphlets.

But seen through the eyes of some climate change scientists, it is a law which appears to have been hijacked by climate science sceptics and free market think tanks as a means to rifle through their inboxes in search of anything which, when taken out of context, might be used to make them look bad.

In the US, Penn State University climate scientist Professor Michael Mann - he of the famous 'hockey stick' graph -  recently fought off a long running attempt by the climate science denial think tank the American Tradition Institute to gain access to his emails.

As The Guardian has reported, the ATI, led by one of its directors Christopher Horner, has pursued several other scientists using FOI laws to gain access to their email inboxes. Mr Horner has also made specific requests for correspondence between scientists and journalists.

Mann has described such cases as an “abuse of public records and FOIA laws”, saying the efforts were “frivolous and vexatious”.  

Lawyer with the Climate Science Legal Defence Fund Jeff Ruch told The Guardian that the requests were “basically a spying operation” to “find material that is potential of use in discrediting a scientist.”

Robert Manne: How Vested Interests Defeated Climate Science

Watch this thoughtful presentation by Professor Robert Manne at the University of Melbourne earlier this summer. It's a concise review of the whole climate change denial movement as chronicled in Merchants of Doubt, Climate Cover-up and elsewhere. It lasts just over an hour, so make some popcorn first.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Chronic Soapbox for Smears Against Climate Scientists

This is a guest post by Prof. Scott Mandia, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences and Assistant Chair of the Physical Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College, Long Island, New York, USA.

In July, 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) allowed one if its bloggers, Peter Wood, to equate the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal to the email investigation conducted by Penn State of noted climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann. I, along with many others, sent letters to CHE requesting a retraction and public apology.

Several of those letters appear below with permission from the authors to repost here:


Dear Dr. Semas,

Why has Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) allowed one of its bloggers, Peter Wood, to smear noted climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann? Woods’ latest post, “A Culture of Evasion”, quite inappropriately compares Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child rape case with that of its investigation of stolen emails that included messages from Dr. Mann. (Previous posts by Wood also maligning Dr. Mann include “Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism” and “Climate Thuggery”.) Multiple international investigations, including one from  the National Science Foundation, have carefully reviewed Dr. Mann’s email messages and have found no misconduct whatsoever. (For more on these investigations see http://bit.ly/hxdKKJ)

Daily Kos Climate Change SOS Blogathon Features Wide Range of Climate Hawk Voices

Our friends over at Daily Kos are running an amazing Climate Change SOS Blogathon this week, featuring dozens of voices from the climate hawk community. Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, John Abraham, Rep. Ed Markey, A Siegel, Richard Heinberg, Heather Libby, Brad Johnson, Kelly Rigg and DeSmog's IT director Evan Leeson are just some of the many friends of DeSmog that are contributing posts throughout the week-long blogathon.

I jumped into the action as well, contributing a piece on Tuesday titled Breaking Up With Polluters To Save The Climate.

Greg Laden just posted a scary piece about the implications of sea level rise for future generations.

There is a lot of great content. I highly recommend heading over to Daily Kos to check it out. Here is a full run-down of the posts so far. Stay tuned to the Climate Change SOS Blogathon box at the bottom of most posts to keep up with the newer entries.

Victory Declared For The Climate Science Denialists

A VICTORY has been declared in the field of climate change but the lap of honour is not being run by research scientists or renewable energy bosses, or by coral reefs, drought-stricken farmers or the citizens of low-lying countries.

Rather, if you accept as valid this declaration of victory from one of Australia’s leading thinkers, then those popping the champagne corks are the fossil fuel lobby.

Standing by the track cheering this triumph, are the conservative think tanks and the free market ideologues that believe the world should be run on their terms. To follow the analogy through to the bitter end, the losers are everyone else.

Professor Robert Manne, a political philosopher at La Trobe University, is making this declaration in a 7000-word essay published tomorrow in The Monthly magazine – its cover screaming “Victory of the Denialists: How Climate Science Was Vanquished”.

Manne’s essay charts the decades-long effort to spread doubt and confusion about the science of human-caused climate change, focusing on the think tanks and corporations that created and backed a “relentless” campaign in the United States which has infected other parts of the western world, including Australia.

Manne draws on already published books and research papers about the climate denial industry, and so in that respect close watchers won’t find anything new. But it is his declaration that climate science denialists have won which will stick in the throat of many climate change campaigners and science communicators.

I asked Professor Manne why he had come to that conclusion.

Affidavits in Michael Mann Libel Suit Reveal Astonishing Facts About Tim Ball Associate John O'Sullivan

Affidavits filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court libel litigation brought by climate scientist Michael Mann against climate science denier Timothy Ball reveal that Ball's collaborator and self-styled “legal advisor” has misrepresented his credentials and endured some significant legal embarrassments of his own. 

The affidavits also reveal that Tim Ball was “aware of the charges against John O'Sullivan almost from the start” and has tried to distance himself from his erstwhile advisor and writing partner.

The affidavits [12] come from research of science and medical writer Andrew Skolnick, who documents O'Sullivan's misrepresentations, backtracking and questionable behavior.

Tim Ball and John O'Sullivan had a close working relationship, even before Mann sued Ball for libel in March 2011. For example, they co-authored the climate science denial book Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory, which was published in 2010.

Skolnick's evidence shows that O'Sullivan made a series of false claims, including:

  • that he was an attorney with more than a decade of successful litigation in New York State and Federal courts;
  • that he was employed by a major Victoria, B.C. (Canada) law firm that is representing Ball in the libel action;
  • that he is a widely published writer, with credits in Forbes and the National Review;
  • that he had received his law degree from the University College, Cork, Ireland and/or from the University of Surrey (O'Sullivan's actual legal accreditation, apparently obtained after the Mann-Ball action commenced, comes from an online degree mill, Hill University, which promises delivery in two weeks);
  • that he is a member of the American Bar Association.

Scientists Tell US State Department Excluding Climate Impacts in Keystone XL Review 'Neither Wise nor Credible'

Ten of the nation’s top climate scientists penned a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today questioning why the State Department isn't considering the enormous climate change impacts of developing the Alberta tar sands in its review of the controversial Keystone XL export pipeline project

“At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on ‘recreation,’ ‘visual resources,’ and ‘noise,’ among other factors,” the scientists wrote. “Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible.” 
 
The State Department is currently accepting comments on the scoping evaluation that will determine what environmental considerations will be included in the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) required for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.The public comment period ends July 30.
 
The department’s previous draft EIS downplayed the climate risks of Keystone XL, arguing that the Alberta tar sands would be developed with or without it, so therefore the Obama administration has no accountability for the additional global warming pollution that will result from burning dirty tar sands oil. 
 

Mann Handled: A Decade Ago, Conservatives Attacked a Scientist—And Created a Leader

This is a review of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines, by Michael Mann.

I first became familiar with the name Michael Mann in the year 2003. I was working on what would become my book The Republican War on Science, and had learned of two related events: The controversy over the Soon and Baliunas paper in Climate Research, purporting to refute Mann and his colleagues’ famous 1998 “hockey stick” study; and a congressional hearing convened by Senator James Inhofe, at which Mann testified. Inhofe tried to wheel out the Soon and Baliunas work as if they’d dealt some sort of killer blow against climate science. In fact, just before the hearing, several editors of Climate Research had resigned over the paper.

I went on to stand up for Mann, and his work, in Republican War. Little did I know, at the time, that he himself would become the leading defender of his scientific field against political attacks.

Recently, Mann came out with a new book about his travails entitled The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines, detailing his decade long battle against political attacks and misrepresentations. The response has been all too predictable. For months, conservatives have been giving it one star reviews on Amazon.com, some of which suggest that they probably haven’t read it.

What is most fascinating to me is that the science the right is attacking Mann over—principally, the 1998 hockey stick study and its 1999 extension, as prominently exhibited in 2001 by the IPCC—is relatively old news. Indeed, and as Mann himself explains in the book, “attacks against the hockey stick…were not really about the work itself.” That work has been supported by other researchers—there is now a veritable “hockey team,” Mann notes—and anyways, the case for human caused global warming never depended on the validity of the hockey stick alone. It was always just one part of a far broader body of evidence.

Thus, conservatives who fixated on Mann, and continue to do so, tell us through their own actions that this is not really about scientific inquiry at all. If it was, then they’d be doing something quite different from giving Mann one star Amazon reviews.

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