|GLOBAL WARMING AND POLITICAL INTIMIDATION
How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as the Earth Heated Up
Raymond S. Bradley
Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011
In 1998 a scientific paper by Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes was published. It analyzed so-called proxy data from sediments, coral reefs, ice cores, and tree rings to estimate the change in average temperatures over about the past thousand years. Plotted, the results show a sharp upward spike in the twentieth century. The paper was known as MBH98, and its temperature plot came to be called the hockey stick graph. The paper, and especially its "hockey stick," led some to respond in much the same way as a bull reacts to a red flag waved in front of it: they attacked the paper and its authors, and they kept on attacking. Indeed, they have not stopped even today, sixteen years later.
Raymond Bradley describes those attacks on himself and his co-authors here. But his account is about far more than unjustified attacks on three scientists who wrote a paper; it describes a general war on the whole of climate science.1 A number of the most important skirmishes in that war took place in the halls of Congress. Bradley describes a hearing in which he took part in fascinating detail. The hearing was led by James Inhofe, and was one of those in which novelist Michael Crichton was invited to testify on climate science. As is all too familiar, the panel split along party lines, with Republicans on the side that disbelieves the science. But Barton, despite his powerful position, did not have things all his way. Democratic Senators2 spoke against his ploy, and Republican Sherwood Boehlert weighed in with a memorable critique.3 Barton's underhanded tactic was blasted by newspaper editorial writers within a day or two, and shortly after that scientific organizations joined the opposition.
Suffice it to say that the battle was a protracted one. Barton went on to commission a study of the statistical methodology used in MBH98 and its refinement, MBH99. The study was led by Edward J. Wegman of George Mason University, who assembled a team of statisticians and over nine months analyzed the work of Mann, Bradley and Hughes and that of Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, the principal critics of the three scientists' work. Almost simultaneously, Congressman Sherwood Boehlert commissioned the National Research Council to do its own report. The upshot of all this investigation was vindication for Mann, Bradley and Hughes. Their methods were found to be substantially correct, their integrity intact. Later studies confirmed their results; by 2010 there were two dozen independent reconstructions of past climate that showed similar mostly flat temperatures across hundreds of years, followed by a sharp upturn in the twentieth century.
As Bradley notes in his book, the recent spate of political meddling with scientific findings, and associated attacks on scientists, are not only misguided but counterproductive.
Science must remain separate from politics, but once scientists understand the issues, we must then decide our own political stance. By the same token, politics must stay out of science. Once politicians try to influence public opinion by manipulating scientific information or suppressing the findings of government scientists, we enter a world of duplicity and deception. Trust evaporates and cynicism triumphs. And then we all lose.
– Page 141
Moreso than many scientists, Bradley writes with a graceful and accurate style, avoiding jargon and excessive citations in the text. There are instances of errors and clumsy phrasing, but these are the rare exceptions. Of a surety they do not diminish the worth of his message or the enjoyment of reading it. The book is well indexed and well annotated (although I would like the numbers marking these notes in the text to be a little larger.) There is a list of recommended reading. I have not yet read Mann's book, but I can say it has a high bar to meet if it aspires to better this volume, which I recommend with full marks.