American Hero Climate Scientist Michael E. Mann, Ph.D.
Each of the Koch Brothers has many mansions and in each is a recreation room and in each of these is dart board bearing the image seen above. OK, I made that up, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was true.
The face adorning those hypothetical dart boards is that of Dr. Michael E. Mann, who researches and teaches climate science at Penn State University. Dr. Mann has been anointed a whipping boy for the segment of the political fringe that rejects the world-wide scientific consensus on climate change and who can't face the bad news that comes with it, in short, the deniers.
Many of our excellent Daily Kos writers have posted about or mentioned Dr. Mann and his work. LeftOfYou blog has extensively covered Dr. Mann's courageous court battle against deniers who have attacked the widely respected scientist's reputation with false smears and lies. However, I can't find a post dedicated to telling the overall story of Dr. Mann and how the trajectory of his life and work made him into an unlikely hero.
I've pulled together some of that story with some interesting links and put it out in the tall grass for anyone interested.
Born to a University of Massachusetts math professor in 1965, Michael Mann was a quintessential nerd. The movie War Games inspired the teenager to rush home to write a programming innovation to speed up and improve his computer's ability to play tic-tac-toe. He marched through UC Berkely, the University of Massachusetts and Yale, as nerdy as ever, performing ground-breaking research and obtaining his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1996. During the course of all of that, he found much more interesting applications than tic-tac-toe for his burgeoning gifts for statistical analysis and computer modeling.
By 1998, the newly minted Ph.D., now a nerdy professor at the University of Virginia, had collaborated with Dr. Raymond Bradley at the University of Massachusetts Geosciences Department, and Dr. Malcom Hughes, Regents' Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Thus, a climate scientist interested in "how present day climate differs from climates in the past, and what may have caused climates to change", teamed up with a precocious computer nerd with a talent for analysis and modeling, to analyze, with a dendrochronologist, a millennium of tree ring records preserving information about past climatic conditions. The team set out on an ambitious task, as described in the Abstract (pdf) of the research that they published:
Building on recent studies, we attempt hemispheric temperature reconstructions with proxy data networks for the past millennium. We focus not just on the reconstructions, but the uncertainites therein, and important caveats. Though expanded uncertainties prevent decisive conclusions for the period prior to AD 1400, our results suggest that the latter 20th century is anomalous in the context of at least the past millennium. The 1990s was the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year at moderately high levels of confidence. The 20th century warming counters a millennial-scale cooling trend which is consistent with long term astronomical forcing.
At the time of his work with Dr. Bradley and Dr. Hughes, Michael Mann had no inkling of the impending controversy that would transform him from an unknown computer nerd to an unlikely hero in the phony propaganda war waged against climate scientists by the Kochs, their minions and their fellow travelers. As he put it himself in this interview published in Slate.com
All Mann knew then was that he wanted to work on big problems, that resonated outside academia. At heart, he said, he was like one of the amiable nerds on the television show Big Bang Theory.
"At that time I wanted nothing more just to bury my head in my computer and study data and write papers and write programs," he said. "That is the way I was raised. That is the culture I came from."
But that's not how it went. From the same article:
What happened instead was that the "hockey stick" graph, because it so clearly represented what had happened to the climate over the course of hundreds of years, itself became a proxy in the climate wars. (Mann's reconstruction of temperatures over the last millennium itself used proxy records from tree rings and coral).
"I think because the hockey stick became an icon it's been subject to the fiercest of attacks really in the whole science of climate change," he said.
This is what all the fuss is about:
A well heeled and, shall we say, well oiled
propaganda war to discredit the emerging consensus on climate science had been well underway for a long time. When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the graph you see above, based only partially on the published research of Dr. Mann and his colleagues, the guns of that propaganda war swung around on Dr. Mann.
The barrage intensified in 2009 when a large number of emails among and between international climate scientists were hacked and stolen from servers at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. What followed became known as Climategate. Like all right-wing conspiracies these days, the whole thing was a fevered dream of the right-wing idiotocracy that hallucinated dishonest scientists seeking fame and fortune conspiring to deceive mankind into believing that humans are causing dangerous climate warming from burning too much stuff, making up numbers just to get headlines, become famous and get grants, those lying rats.
Did you ever describe something in an email that, on later reflection, you wish you had said it better? Me, too. Also, too, I imagine internationally recognized climate scientist Phil Jones, has felt the same way. He is one of the scientists at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, whose emails were among those pirated by the criminal hack mentioned above. According to Mother Jones:
In one message, CRU’s director, Phil Jones, famously described using Mann's "Nature trick" to "hide the decline." He was referring to a technique that Mann had used to control for variations in tree-ring data in a paper for the journal Nature. But Skeptics—among them the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market think tank that has received funding from the Koch bothers and Exxon Mobil—seized on this revelation as evidence that scientists were conspiring to cover up a decline in global temperatures.
Soon, climate researchers found themselves under siege. Mann's inbox was flooded with death threats and messages calling him a "fraud," a "fucking terrorist," and a "one-world-government socialist.” As Mother Jones reported in 2011, "Images of Mann and other scientists were posted on neo-Nazi sites. The CRU's Jones temporarily stepped down from his post; he later said he contemplated suicide."
Most of the usual suspects have ganged up to attack Dr. Mann and his science: FOX
, Wall Street Journal
, politically corrupt VA AG Ken Cuccinelli
, National Review
, American Enterprise Institute
, talk radio blowhards
, etc. In any event, but particularly in the face of such an irrational, personal and threatening onslaught, there is no shame in Dr. Phil Jones' tragic dejection. But, Dr. Mann reacted differently.
Rather than retreat, Dr. Mann unleashed his inner power nerd, fighting back, standing up for science; speaking out and taking action against lies and slurs. He collaborated to establish RealClimate.org, to provide an internet home for the truth about climate science and climate scientists. He stepped up to the fight in his books, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Reports from the Front Lines (Daily Kos review here) and Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming - The Illustrated Guide to the Findings of the IPCC (Daily Kos review here). When given grounds to do so by climate deniers who overstep and deliberately smear him and his science with provable lies, he fights back in court.
The attack on science nowadays is widespread. Less widespread is the incidence of scientists who stand up and fight back. Penn State climate scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, is one of the fighters. He fights against powerful and entrenched opposition. He fights for science. He fights for all of us.
As unlikely as it once might have seemed, the nerd has become a hero.