Climate debate shut down: Steyn vs. Mann verdict shakes free speech – Andrew Kenny

In a chilling echo of history, the trial between climate scientist Michael Mann and commentator Mark Steyn highlights a disturbing trend stifling scientific discourse and free speech. At the core lies the contentious “Hockey Stick” graph, emblematic of a shift from rigorous inquiry to blind advocacy. Steyn’s sharp critique and Mann’s aggressive response underscore the perilous climate for dissenting voices in today’s charged debate. The verdict’s punitive nature sends a clear message: silence dissent or face ruin. As Mann emerges victorious, the shadow over scientific integrity and open dialogue grows ever darker, threatening to obscure truths inconvenient to the prevailing narrative.

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By Andrew Kenny

Last week in Washington DC, USA, a court dealt a terrifying blow against science and free speech. A man was on trial, and found guilty, for attacking what he said was false science and for criticising its perpetrators. It reminded me – although I hasten to add that the similarities are imperfect – of the trial in 1633 of Galileo who, contrary to the establishment of the time, denied that the Sun moved around the Earth, and said the Earth moved around the Sun.

Last week’s case was between Michael Mann, a climate scientist who said that there was no Mediaeval Warm Period and no Little Ice Age (these terms will be explained) and Mark Steyn, an author, radio and TV presenter, entertainer and humourist, who accepted both. Mann was suing Steyn for defamation, claiming that he had damaged his career and reputation with his articles mocking his scientific claims. According to Mann, Steyn’s most damaging article was a 270-word column, published in 2012 by Rand Simberg in Competitive Enterprise Institute, which contained this sentence: “Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate change Hockey Stick graph”. (I shall explain the Hockey Stick.)

There was other peripheral stuff in the case but the Hockey Stick was at its heart. This is very important. I believe the Hockey Stick is also at the heart of the corruption of science in the 21st Century. Let me explain.

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Since ancient times, for some strange reason of human psychology, people have been longing for disaster caused by man’s sins. Check the Bible. University academics also longed for the funding that could come from pending disaster. In the 1970s, the disaster was the coming ice age, which would bring famine, extreme weather and other delights. Humanity might be wiped out by 2000. The problem was that it was difficult to blame mankind for it. Then somebody noticed that global temperatures were rising slightly at the same time as CO2 levels were rising. Hallelujah! Here was a marvellous disaster caused by our sins (burning fossil fuels for industry and commerce) and here was the world’s longest funding gravy train.

In 1988, the United Nations set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to investigate how humans were affecting the climate. From the start it was a political advocacy body and not a scientific body. It was bent on scaring people with climate alarm and so raising money. But in the beginning it kept a certain degree of scientific integrity. In its 1990 report, it published this graph.

Mediaeval Warm Period

The graph was unexceptional. It was exactly what a very large body of scientific studies had shown. It was confirmed by historical records. The Mediaeval Warm Period (MWP), approximately 900 to 1200 AD, which was worldwide, was a time of warm weather, good health, and bumper crops. On Greenland you can see the ruins of Viking houses and settlements built from about 900 AD, when they cultivated European crops where it is now too cold. Then temperatures dropped into the Little Ice Age (LIA), approximately 1300 to 1850 AD, and the Vikings abandoned Greenland.

In his History of the English People, Paul Johnson writes, “… the period 1050 – 1300 was one of the warmest and most favourable climatic periods of historic times; international trade was reviving. The area under cultivation was steadily expanding. The towns were growing; so was the population as a whole.” He wrote that in 1972, before the global warming fashion. In the horrible LIA, there was the longest sustained cold in the last ten thousand years, and terrible weather extremes. It is mentioned at length by writers and economists at the time. It appears in countless paintings – of frost fairs on the frozen Thames, for example.  

The trouble was that the graph did not fit climate alarm. It showed there was nothing unusual about the slight warming of today. The MWP was warmer than now. Then in its 2001 report, the IPCC published this graph.

This was the “Hockey Stick” graph, so named because the horizontal section looks like the shaft of an ice hockey stick, the vertical section its blade. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before. It caused a worldwide sensation. It had made the MWP and the LIA disappear. It was greeted with joy by the alarmists. It showed exactly what they wanted. It was shown six times in the IPCC report. It was brandished around the world as proof positive of dangerous manmade climate change. It was circulated around every school in Canada. It made Michael Mann, its lead author, previously unknown, a climate super-hero overnight. It was nonsense.

The first thing to notice is that the IPCC was quite happy, eager in fact, to dismiss over a thousand studies and a great mass of historical records showing the MWP and the LIA in favour of a single study denying them, which it turned out it had not checked at all. From then on the corruption of science entered a new era.

The trial of Mark Steyn last week gave horrible testimony to this era. The Hockey Stick changed science by experimentation and observation to science by revelation. It replaced proper science with superstition, critical thought with blind faith. It corrupted the scientific establishment and brought shame to previously respected scientific journals such as Nature and Scientific American. From then on, around the world, you could win any debate against anybody who questioned climate alarm with one world, “Denier!” (We South Africans say, “Denialist!”)

Curious

A clever Canadian mathematician and mining engineer, Steve McIntyre, a world expect on statistics, was curious about the statistical methods and data used to produce the Hockey Stick. He was horrified to find that the IPCC scientists and officials had never seen the data, had never asked for them, had done no due diligence, and had simply accepted the Hockey Stick by glancing at it and seeing that it showed what they wanted it to show. “Peer review” in climate science now means publishing anything that promotes climate alarm and rejecting anything that doesn’t, without scrutinising either. The Hockey Stick was based on two papers, MBH98 and MBH99, published in Nature and Geophysical Research Letters.

McIntyre asked the lead author of both papers, Michael Mann, for the data. Mann said he did not know where they were. McIntyre was amazed. After a while, one of Mann’s assistants managed to find them and showed them to McIntyre. They were a sprawling mess. Mann refused to show McIntyre the computer codes and algorithms he had used to produce the Hockey Stick from the data. All this horrified McIntyre, who in his professional life was used to openness, rigour and good practice.

McIntyre could not see how to get a Hockey Stick from the messy data. No proper statistical methods could produce it. Most of the data was from tree rings, the worst measure of past temperatures. The assumption is that in warm weather trees grow better and have thicker tree rings. But this is full of potential error. Many other factors such as rainfall, fertilisers, pests and diseases affect tree rings. And often there is the divergence problem, where tree rings get thinner in warmer weather. Most of Mann’s data series showed no Hockey Stick at all. It relied on a series from bristlecone pines known to be faulty. That would have been bad enough if Mann had used proper statistics, but he didn’t.

The only way McIntyre could squeeze a Hockey Stick out of the data was by crooking the statistics. I can explain some of the method if anybody wants but for now shall just say that it produced a Hockey Stick from random red data 99% of the time. In other words, the only explanation for the Hockey Stick consistent with the facts was fraud. (In religious times it might have been forgiven as “pious fraud” in order to produce a desired outcome, such as a miracle.)

McIntyre collaborated with another expert mathematician, Professor Ross McKitrick, a Canadian professor of economics to write a paper on his findings. (In Northern America you have to be highly qualified in maths to get postgraduate qualifications in economics.) The paper was duly published in 2003 and the Hockey Stick fraud became widely known. It was denied by the establishment. Since then, enormous amounts of additional data and observation have confirmed the MWP and the LIA.

Nonsense

Mark Steyn is not a scientist at all and doesn’t pretend to be one. But he is interested in current political affairs and current ideologies. He writes well, amusingly and often. He is a witty speaker. He’s a showman, and indeed his entry into public life was first as a threatre critic. For a long time he was the most popular contributor to the Spectator of London. He’s quick witted and observant. Naturally he spotted the climate alarm nonsense very quickly, and published an article in April 2001 in the Sunday Telegraph entitled, “When rising hot air hits cold hard facts”. He mocked the Hockey Stick long before he knew who its authors were. He then became aware of Michael Mann’s highly aggressive and vindictive attacks on anyone who questioned his science, including Steyn.

Unlike most of Mann’s victims, Steyn replied in his playful, scornful way. Mann does not defend his science; he just attacks his critics. He sued a Canadian climate scientist, Tim Ball, for defamation but lost the case in 2019 for refusing to show the methods he had used to derive the Hockey Stick. But that was in Canada; courts in the USA are different.

In 2009, came the scandal of the Climategate emails. The IPCC is controlled by a small group of scientists, in which Mann is prominent. The headquarters of this group is the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. In 2009, some brave whistleblower made public the emails that these scientists were sending to each other. It showed them hiding or deleting data; manipulating reports to get the correct result (dangerous warming); plotting to silence, ostracise or vilify any scientist who oppose the nonsense; and scheming to make sure journals never published anything that questioned climate alarm. Two more tranches of emails followed in subsequent years.

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Mann was always in the centre of the bullying and silencing of scientists who questioned him, always leading the plans to shut down scientific enquiry. The emails were damning enough but the disgraceful white-washing of them by the climate establishment in a series of enquiries made it far worse – as if Jacob Zuma had asked the Gupta brothers to conduct an enquiry into state capture.

I urge everyone to read the proceedings of the trial last week of Mann vs Steyn. Witness after witness testified to Mann’s bullying and bad science. Dr Judith Curry, a learned climate scientist, a gracious woman of the highest scientific and personal integrity, testified that Mann had driven her out of the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology by non-stop campaigning against her as a “denier” and “serial climate misinformer”. There was even a disgusting suggestion that she had used sex to get high position.

Mark Steyn addressed the court in a wheelchair. He began his testimony with, “I apologize for not standing up. I’m a Canadian on his last legs, so I have difficulty standing, but I have no difficulty standing on the truth…“ But the truth is that he has suffered three heart attacks recently and has been disabled. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the terrible strain of this court case, which has been hanging over him for eleven years, has wrecked his health. Steyn has seen the ruin Mann has visited on others, and knows that Mann has money and power behind him. While Steyn has had to pay all of his own legal costs, Mann has paid none of his. His rich backers have paid for him. Climate alarm is very lucrative.

Arguments

The arguments for the prosecution, advanced by John Williams, were bizarre. To quote a commentator, “He said that the jury should award punitive damages so that in the future, no one will dare engage in ‘climate denialism’ – whatever that is – just as Donald Trump’s ‘election denialism’ needs to be suppressed.” During the trial Williams had accused Steyn of working for Fox News (he hadn’t), thereby suggesting that if he had been working for Fox he must be guilty of defaming Michael Mann.

The verdict, delivered by a jury (all of whom apparently agreed with climate alarm), was strange and horrifying. It was obvious from the evidence that Mann had suffered no damages at all from anything Steyn had done. So the jury only awarded $1 dollar for compensatory damages to Mann but $1 million dollars against Steyn in punitive damages. The reason was to shut him up, and to shut up anybody else who told the truth about climate science. This is exactly what Mann wants.

We must be very careful about evoking Galileo. Mark Steyn is no Galileo and never pretends to be. He says he is no scientist, and Galileo was the greatest scientist of his age. Unfortunately, perhaps, he was like Steyn in one respect: he was very eloquent and had a scathing sense of humour. He had good evidence that the Earth moved around the Sun, not the other way round. He announced this. Nobody stirred. The Church didn’t care which moved around which; it had far more serious problems to deal with (the 30 Years War, the Transubstantiation, Richelieu and so on). But then Galileo teased the Church with his playful “Dialogues” about planetary motion.

The Church was reluctantly drawn into the dispute and put him on trial. If it had been using modern arguments, it could have said that “97% of scientists” believed that the Sun went round the Earth” (which might have been true then, even if today’s “97% of scientists” is nonsense) and this proved that the Sun did go round the Earth. It could have accused him of “planetary denialism”. Anyway, the verdict was to shut him up – pretty much the same verdict as against Steyn.

What now? Michael Mann has won. You can now shut down any debate on climate change by declaring that anybody who disagrees with you is a “Denialist!” or “Right-winger!” You can stop the funding or wreck the career of any scientist who dares to show that rising CO2 is not causing dangerous climate change (it isn’t). A colleague at UCT lost his job for just this; I was personally involved.

Below is a photo of a Viking building in Greenland, inhabited during the Mediaeval Warm Period, abandoned when the Little Ice Age began.

But the IPCC and Michael Mann state that the MWP never existed. So if you showed this picture in the USA, would you be sued for defamation? Would you be accused of climate denialism?

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and was republished with permission

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