The descent of Mann
Scientists should be more willing to discuss the legitimacy of the theory that global warming is caused by human activity
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled March 2nd against Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and his renewed attempts to obtain access to the emails and documents used in the research of a former University professor. Michael Mann - who was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and is a significant contributor to the theory of anthropomorphic, or man-made, global warming - received tax-payer funded grants from the years 1999 to 2005. Cuccinelli's move to check Mann's research engendered a good deal of backlash, both from the University and members of the scientific community. Many see Cuccinelli's efforts as a kind of witch hunt, malicious and counterproductive. Cuccinelli, for his part, stated: "We were simply trying to review documents that are unquestionably state property to determine whether or not fraud had been committed."
Many see the ruling as a victory for university research and the end of a protracted, uninformed attack on solid science. But some still doubt Mann and his research. Their reason? A few years ago, in late 2009, a well-publicized incident involving the hacking and subsequent leaking of climate scientists' emails gave climate change skeptics room to maneuver.\n \nSome of Mann's emails were brought into question in the breach at the University of East Anglia. In one email, there is a mention of a "trick" that had been used by Mann to "hide the decline" in temperature over the years. Mann explained that the term "trick" in this case refers to a means of solving a problem. Some of the emails seemed to suggest that climate scientists were purposefully withholding information which did not support their theories about global warming. Those whose emails were hacked, and many who follow their work, were able to diffuse the situation and divert many of the accusations coming from climate change skeptics. The incident could not be entirely forgotten, though, and doubt still exists because of it.
In light of this, I find Mann's response to Cuccinelli's actions to be a bit confusing. If Mann is competent and confident in his research and findings, then why does he not welcome the closer look at his methods? If I were in Mann's shoes, I would be more than happy to show those who questioned my work all that I had done to acquire my results. If Mann has nothing to hide, then Cuccinelli's scrutiny would serve the purpose of helping to erase any doubt which remains from the East Anglia hacking from 2009. And while I would be one of the first to say I have a problem with Big Brother looking over the shoulder of anyone publishing his or her own research, Mann's scientific investigation was funded by taxpayers. Furthermore, his legitimacy has, in the past, been called into question. That Cuccinelli was requesting to see what are, at least in part, state documents is not the outrage Mann supporters think it is.
Denying global warming is a costly venture for many scientists. Those who speak out often lose government funding for their research and are ridiculed by their peers for taking up the opposing argument. On the other side, there are those who believe that mankind is to blame for the rising temperatures, and who feel that something must be done, and soon, to save us from catastrophe. These individuals, in my experience, take it for granted that the problem and its consequences, as they see it, even exist. Their mindset is that the problem exists without a doubt and that detractors from this belief are wasting valuable time with superfluous argumentation.
I will not go as far as saying there has been no temperature change - it is hard to deny the data which suggests the increase in temperatures in recent years. But I am certainly unwilling to sign off on the anthropomorphic version of global warming without further discussion. Many scientists and climatologists dissent when it comes to the theory of man-made global warming. The strategy of believers, lately, has been to simply ignore those who challenge the idea of man-made global warming and point to the "consensus" reached by the entire scientific community saying it happened. Such a consensus is hard to come by in the scientific community and does not yet exist. As long as notable professionals around the world - such as Ivar Giaever, a Noble Prize winner and former member of the American Physical Society; Professor Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist meteorology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Professor Emeritus William Gray, who is well-known for his work in forecasting hurricanes - are challenging this idea, the debate should go on.
I say nothing critical of Mann's research - he is a well-known and respected professional in his field. I merely point out that his approach to the debate, and the approach of those on his side, will not yield any progress. If the work he has done is accurate and honest, then there should be no danger in showing it. In fact, Mann should see Cuccinelli's investigation as a chance to say: "Go ahead - check my resources. Everything I've done is verifiable and well-researched. These are the facts." Mann should take pride in his work and use it, and the opportunity provided by Cuccinelli's continued doubt, to legitimize his research and further prove his point. He has nothing to lose if he has nothing to hide.
Sam Novack's column usually appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.