A Hockey Stick that Can't Keep its Tip Up

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A tartly critical new reader (see “Cherrypicking” here) complains that the DeSmogBlog has not immersed itself, on every possible occasion in theThe "Hockey Stick" graph “hockey stick” debate.

Our apologies. For those who are unfamiliar, the “hockey stick” defined the shape of an early graph by one of the world’s most respected climate scientists, Dr. Michael Mann. The graph appeared to demonstrate a long-term spike in global warming that meant the 20th century was the warmest in more than a thousand years.

In a 2002 book (Taken By Storm), Christopher Essex and the economist Dr. Ross McKitrick took issue with Mann’s statistical method, pointing out some matters of legitimate concern, and the climate change denial lobby grasped the now-flacid hockey stick and began shaking it hither and yon, arguing that if this one graph was flawed, all climate change science was similiarly shakey.

The hockey stick argument has gone back and forth and this week, a clutch of very reputable statisticians appeared before Congress to say that, yes indeed, the hockey stick graph is statistically unverifiable. Not necessarily wrong, mind you: “unverifiable.” (The Seattle PI has a good take on this story here. The National Association of Manufacturers has a quite different take here.)

If you care deeply about the details of the hockey stick graph, look to realclimate.org, where scientific minutiae is assessed by scientists. But, once again, the very fact of the hockey stick debate demonstrates what we have been trying to say: the self-interested lobbyists who wish to block action on climate change don’t want us to consider the big yes or no questions (Is climate change happening? Are humans responsible? Should we be doing something about it?); they want us to talk about the hockey stick. Or, as Washington state Rep. Jay Inslee said at this week’s hearing:

“Instead of really engaging congressional talent in figuring out how to deal with this problem, we try to poke little pin holes in one particular statistical conclusion of one particular study when the overwhelming evidence is that we have to act to deal with this global challenge.”

So, in answer to our aforementioned critic, we’re not cherrypicking, we’re trying to keep our eye on the ball.

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