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Monday, December 21, 2009

McIlheran Watch: The wronger he digs, the deeper he gets

by folkbum

I am not a scientist. Patrick McIlheran isn't, either. But I read and check my sources carefully. For example, today in a blog posting, McIlheran cites energy-industry spokesman climate scientist Patrick Michaels to try to claim that peer-review is a bit more like Heathers than like Real Genius. Michaels has an op-ed in the Murdoch Finance Daily Wall Street Journal. I'm quoting the op-ed; the part McIlheran also quotes is in bold:
Messrs. Mann and Wigley also didn't like a paper I published in Climate Research in 2002. It said human activity was warming surface temperatures, and that this was consistent with the mathematical form (but not the size) of projections from computer models. Why? The magnitude of the warming in CRU's own data was not as great as in the models, so therefore the models merely were a bit enthusiastic about the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Mr. [Michael] Mann called upon his colleagues to try and put Climate Research out of business. "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal," he wrote in one of the emails. "We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board."

After Messrs. Jones and Mann threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned.
Michaels establishes a clear timeline: He published in Climate Reearch -> Mann raised a stink about his paper -> Mann organized a boycott of CR -> the editors quit because Mann intimidated them. It fits the "climategate" narrative neatly and thoroughly reinforces McIlheran's deny-a-riffic worldview. It is, however, wrong.

In January 2003, Climate Research published a literature review by Drs. Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (working at the Harvard‑Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, not a climate-research outfit). Almost immediately, the people who wrote the literature reviewed by the Soon and Baliunas--and a host of others--started noticing things that weren't right, and writing to the journal. Other editors of the journal also complained (the duo submitted to the most overtly anti-global warming editor). In March 2003, Mann wrote the email in question; no boycott ensued, and, in fact, Mann also said, "the last thing we want to do is bring attention to this paper, which will be ignored by the
community on the whole." Sure, Mann's email also mentioned Michaels, but in passing--the conversation is clearly sparked by and about Soon and Baliunas. In May 2003, Cox newspapers--now McClatchy, one of the few purely journalistic endeavors left in publishing--dug deep to find that the paper had funding from the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like Exxon, which raised more questions with the editors. This was followed in July by a statement from Mann and a dozen other scientists in another journal. Finally, at the end of July, a bunch of the editors resigned from CR because the publisher refused to let them respond without the consent of the one hinky editor, who of course refused.

Notice, none of the hubbub was instigated by anything from Patrick Michaels. The resignations and furor had nothing to do with any kind of bullying from Michael Mann, at least according to the contemporary accounts and the first-person accounts of the editors involved.

(Michals keeps writing, and McIlheran keeps quoting, to blame Mann and others for the resignation of a skeptical editor at Geophysical Research Letters, a resignation that had nothing to do with pressure from anyone: "I stepped down as GRL editor at the end of my three-year term," the guy wrote. "My departure had nothing to do with attempts by Wigley or anyone else to have me sacked.")

Now, I'm willing to cut McIlheran a little bit of slack, here, because one would like to think that Michaels knows his own biography well enough to, you know, write honestly about it. But here's Michaels, exaggerating his own role as Defender Of The True Discourse despite, of course, his own tainted past and his willingness now to play fast an loose with documented fact.

But that doesn't mean that McIlheran doesn't owe us another retraction and correction. Given that it took him two weeks, and an uncorrected-in-print-or-online op-ed in a Sunday paper, before he admitted he was wrong about one fundamental aspect of "climategate" (it was a "subtlety" that "slipped past" him), I expect this big fat error will go unmentioned, too.


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