Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann hides atop the climate change ivory tower

Scott Ott Contributor
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Shortly after climate scientist Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann got word that a panel of his Penn State colleagues had cleared him of misconduct in the so-called “climategate” scandal, Prof. Mann was quoted in the British media as saying he believed that his little graph had gained undue attention.

The “hockey stick” graph, which purports to show a sudden uptick in global temperatures during the industrial age, should not have become a “central icon of the climate change debate”, Mann told the BBC. And yet it did, thanks to its appearance in Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” as well as in the U.N. report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — both of which employ it to advance the theory of anthropogenic [man-made] global warming.

With the pressure of Penn State’s internal ethics investigation removed, it seemed like a good time to ask Mann what he meant by the remark. My attempt to give him an opportunity to explain his comments, however, wound up reinforcing the public perception that climate scientists, like Mann, don’t see their tax-funded grants, or public university employment, as making them accountable to the public. It paints a picture of an ivory tower academic slinging mud on the little people down below, even as the tower sinks into the mire.

After several phone messages went unanswered, I sent him the following email.

Dear Dr. Mann,

I’m sure you have more important things to do than respond to interview requests from reporters. But as a Penn State-trained journalist (’83), I’m hoping you can invest a few minutes with me on the phone to help our readers at DailyCaller.com understand your recent remarks about the “hockey stick” graph. I know it’s hard to convey complex concepts in a culture accustomed to simplistic talking points, but I hope to do justice to your thoughts on this subject.  Can we talk for a few minutes on the phone soon?

Thank You,

Scott Ott

Although previous emails to Mann had elicited nothing but autoresponders — “I cannot provide individual responses to all emails” — this time he wrote back.

hi Scott,

thanks for asking about this. Always happy to talk w/ a former Nittany Lion 🙂

I actually responded to this in an interview last week: http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/michael-mann-interview-penn-state-final-report/

the specific bit is at the end of the interview:

Mann then included three paragraphs of transcript from the interview he linked to in the email. I told him I would watch the interview and send him any questions.

I reviewed the video of his interview with the “reporter” from Climate Science Watch several times, and read the transcript, which oddly enough diverges from the video periodically. I felt relieved that Mann didn’t get beaned by the softballs from the friendly interrogator. If being probed by his Penn State water cooler colleagues proved stressful, being interviewed by a groupie must have been positively grueling.

But Mann’s interview raised more questions than it answered. So, I wrote back.


I just listened to your CSW interview, and read the excerpt you included in your note. A couple of questions…

1) As someone who has kept up only with reporting in the popular press (not scientific journals), I was not aware that global climate change detractors rested their critique solely on the “hockey stick graph”. I’ve heard several “lines of attack”, including calling into question methodology (ice core samples, the accuracy of surface temperature measurements, and computer climate models, the scarcity of tree data), and more recently, doubts about glacier melt rates and whether politics has crept into science to the detriment of both. (I’m recalling these from memory, so forgive me if I’m leaving anything out, or not stating it in proper scientific terminology.) In any case, I would agree that the hockey stick graph has become iconic, but not the sole issue. So the question (finally!) is: I wonder if this could be seen as a case of a sword cutting both ways…Vice President Gore found the hockey stick a powerful tool in his hands, and made it famous, thus advancing public awareness of the theory. So, if one wishes to question the theory before a popular audience, attacking this compelling avatar makes sense, doesn’t it? (Why or why not?)

2) What would be an appropriate way for reasonable people to question climate science methods and findings without being branded as “disingenuous”, “deniers” or tools of the fossil fuel industry?

3) What do you think of people who believe that global climate change may be occurring, but that man is not primarily to blame? Or that it is part of a regular cycle over which man has little influence?

4) Assuming climate change is anthropogenic, and hazardous to our health and the environment, and that there’s something we can do about it: What kinds of options do we have for dealing with it, other than taxation and government regulation? (The solutions thus far proposed.)

Thank You,

Scott Ott

Well, I don’t know what I did wrong, but Mann’s initial happiness –remember, he used a smiley 🙂 — at the opportunity to chat with a fellow Nittany Lion faded fast.

HI Scott,

Unfortunately, I don’t have a spare minute left this week. I’ll have to let my comments stand on their merit.

I hope that will be adequate for you to do your story.

best regards,

mike mann

Crestfallen, I initially thought, “Well, I guess that’s that.”

But then I remembered that AccuWeather meteorologist, and fellow Penn Stater, Joe Bastardi had told me in January that Mann should “get off his high horse, and come down and debate the issue.”

So, I gave it one more old college try.


I appreciate how busy you are, and I’d like to let your comments “stand on their merit”, but you don’t actually answer the question from that friendly interviewer. As a Penn Stater, I expect a bit more intellectual rigor, and scientific merit from you.

Instead of answering directly, you denigrate your academic rivals and the UK Telegraph (‘predictable’, ‘denial machine’, ‘out of context’, ‘fringe media’, ‘sloppiest’, ‘slanted’, ‘very misleading’, ‘deniers’, ‘disingenuous’, ‘twisted’, ‘contorted’, ‘sad’).

You now have another chance to put your remarks in context, by answering my questions. I hope you take it.

Here’s the closest you got to answering the question: “…it was somewhat misplaced for the hockey stick to be made the central icon of the climate change debate, for the obvious reasons.”

Those reasons might be obvious to you, but not to most people.

Oddly enough, you then go on to refute your own point. If, as you say, more than an [sic] dozen studies come to the same conclusion [that] the hockey stick graph purports to represent, then I would think the graph SHOULD be the central icon of the debate. It captures, at a glance, what all of the studies show.

You then appear to denigrate your own methodology (“paleoclimatic reconstructions are really just one line of evidence”) in favor of merely restating the thesis — the earth’s getting warmer, and humans are to blame.

Mike, giving frank, scientifically-valid answers to honest questions can do nothing but buttress the reputation of a great university, and of a competent scholar. I do hope you’ll reconsider. People deserve a better understanding of the reasons behind the coming legislation that will ask them to sacrifice for the cause.

Thank You,

Scott Ott

Prof. Mann’s answer?  The autoresponder: “Your email has been received. While every effort is made to read emails received, I cannot provide individual responses to all emails.”

Now, obviously, Michael Mann is under no obligation to answer questions from The Daily Caller, but it’s striking that he considered his interview with Climate Science Watch to be tantamount to answering my questions. In fact, his interview with Climate Science Watch was little more than another water cooler conversation among colleagues and true believers, mocking the “deniers”.

Who can blame the average curious person for harboring suspicions about a purported scientist unwilling to stand behind his data or conclusions — unwilling even to explain why his findings should receive less attention than they have?

Scott Ott co-hosts the online news commentary and humor show Trifecta on PJTV.com. He also writes political satire at ScrappleFace.com and is author of the new book, ‘Laughing at Obama: Volume I’. You can read, listen to, and see more of his work ScottOtt.org.