Fifteen years on from the notorious Climategate scandal, and the widely debunked temperature ‘hockey stick’ is centre stage in a libel trial in a Washington D.C. court. In the widely-billed climate trial of the century, the fake Nobel laureate Michael Mann is suing the journalist Mark Steyn for claiming that his infamous hockey stick graph is fraudulent. The case has enormous ramifications since it can be argued that the hockey stick removed the concept of natural climate variability for an entire generation. It is fraudulent, claims Steyn, both in its construction and in the uses to which it has been put by Al Gore, the IPCC, every school and most governments throughout the Western world.
The hockey stick first appeared in 1998 and purported to show that global temperatures had slowly declined for around 1,000 years before shooting up suddenly in recent years under the impact of humans burning hydrocarbons and increasing the supply of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It was widely quoted by activists and was published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To this day, many activists argue that the small recent rises in global temperature are exceptional and have not been witnessed in the past going back 125,000 years. Widespread and convincing proxy evidence, along with historical observations, suggest otherwise. It is generally accepted that a medieval warming period saw similar rises to those witnessed today. But proxy evidence can work both ways. According to Steyn, the Mann graph abolished warming in medieval times using two clumps of trees – some California bristlecones and just one cedar from the Gaspe Peninsula for the years up to 1421.
“Tree rings are absolutely brilliant at telling you the temperature in 1432”, Steyn has observed sarcastically, and if you criticise that on Twitter, Mann says you are funded by the Koch Brothers. In 2012 Mann sued Steyn in the District of Columbia Superior Court for “defamation of a Nobel Prize recipient”. Mann has since withdrawn the false Nobel claim but not the defamation charge. In court hearings it has been revealed that if Mann loses he will not pay a cent. As always, there is interest in who funds a great deal of climate activism and ‘lawfare’ around the world.
The hockey stick featured in the Climategate scandal in 2009 when leaked emails, possibly from an internal whistleblower, showed the process by which Mann and a number of colleagues working out of the University of East Anglia had used proxy evidence to arrive at the graph. It was said that a reference in the emails to “Mike’s Nature Trick” referred to the practice of using the most convenient proxy or temperature measurements to fit the desired narrative. The emails showed how competing climate claims were kept out of science journals and requests for information about the methodology these activists were using were denied. At the time, Professor Jerome Ravetz of Oxford University noted that within two months the East Anglian scientists and the IPCC “were discredited”. Even if only a fraction of their scientific claims were eventually refuted, added Ravetz, “their credibility as trustworthy scientists was lost”. Even George Monbiot in the Guardian was appalled, noting that pretending the climate email leak wasn’t a crisis wouldn’t make it go away.
In fact, there was a massive pretence that the emails were not a crisis and interest faded. Internal inquiries whitewashed the affair, ‘denier’ abuse rapidly took away any perceived need to debate sceptics, the leaks were blamed on bad players (probably funded by the Koch Brothers), and a general air of “move along please, nothing to see here” descended on the tame, mainstream media.
Michael Mann continued his career, rising up the climate activist ranks, and is currently a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He still seems keen on supressing climate information that doesn’t follow the ‘settled’ narrative. Last year he was part of a successful attempt to get a published science paper by four scientists retracted in a Springer Nature journal. The scientists, including three professors of physics, argued that a climate ‘emergency’ was not supported by the available weather data. Mann told the Guardian that “either the consensus of the world’s climate experts that climate change is causing a very clear increase in many types of weather extremes is wrong, or a couple of nuclear physics dudes in Italy are wrong”. Mann is no stranger to abuse, referring to Steyn at one point as an “odious excuse for a human being”.
The stakes could not be higher for Mann, and the reputation of ‘climate science’ more widely. Mann may well find his abuse and false claims of Nobel honours do not play well in a court room before a judge and a jury. He is up against an opponent of considerable intelligence and sharp, quick wit. Mark Steyn has been a regular on U.S. broadcast media, and U.K. viewers will remember him from a stint on GB News. A stint, it might be noted, that was required viewing if only for speculation as to how long Ofcom would allow it to continue. Not long, as it turned out. It is difficult to second guess a court trial, even one held these days in a solid Democrat city. But Mann, who can come across as an attention-seeking and vicious science nerd, is up against a skilled showman. This was evidenced by the following opening exchange when Mann complained that Steyn’s writings had led to him receiving a “mean look” in a supermarket. Having elicited precise details of where Mann received his mean look, Steyn observed:
Excellent. Excellent. Truly excellent answer there… I thought that was a good answer. Let’s say for the sake of argument you were in the pet food aisle and you were standing there. How do you know the mean look was not because you were blocking the guy because you were dithering between the Fancy Feast Gourmet Tuna and the Fancy Feast Salmon Delight?
Steyn in fine form, subtly tutoring Mann in the pitfalls of causation. The trial is expected to continue for up to another week. You can listen to a podcast in which actors re-enact key moments from the trial hosted by Phelim McAleer here.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.