Wall Street Journal: Check your facts – and then ignore them entirely

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The Wall Street Journal has stepped forward – to no one’s particular surprise – and declared that the world is uncertain about climate change, basing this conclusion on the work of a sloppy denier who still has the integrity to say that is NOT the case.

The WSJ article, by an opinion writer named Anne Jolis, lauds the work of Stephen McIntyre, the retired mining stock promoter and the denial industry’s favourite statistician. Entitled “Revenge of the Climate Layman,” the piece argues that McIntyre’s criticism of sundry “hockey stick graphs” are relevant and somehow indicative that the whole theory of climate change is on shakey ground.

“Yet,” says the WSJ‘s Jolis, “Mr. McIntyre is first to admit his work is no bullet aimed at the heart of the theory of man-made climate change.”

How could Jolis have become so confused? Well, because she never had any intention of listening to anyone who would offer a reasoned response to her delusional preferred vision of the world.

This has been painfully evident over the last few weeks, as Jolis has been nosing around, begging attention and quotes from Michael Mann, the RealClimate proprietor and Director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, and then Keith Briffa, Professor at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich.

Mann was the leading contributor to the iconic “hockey stick graph” that has become a cause celebre, entirely because of McIntyre’s first attack, a statistical quibble which might actually have proved helpful if it had been offered in a spirit of scientific collaboration and goodwill. Alas, none of either prevails. McIntyre, with the help of the Fraser Institute economist Ross McKitrick, attacked Mann personally and repeatedly, setting fire to a controversy that has raged on for years and that culminated in a kangaroo court kind of hearing in the Senate Committee of Environment and Public works, when that committee was still under the control of Republican Senator James Inhofe.

McIntyre has enjoyed a certain amount of fame since, a condition that flared up a month or so when McIntyre started criticizing a climate reconstruction graph built by Keith Briffa – another “hockey” stick shaped image. (Both Briffa and Mann hockey sticks are represented in the tiny graph above. You will not, primarily, that they are no different than any of the other reconstructions that have been assembled by excellent scientists around the world, several more of which are also represented here.)

McIntyre did two things, neither particularly forgivable. He cherry picked data to try to prove Briffa’s original graph to be incorrect. And then he accused Briffa of withholding information that he, McIntyre, already had in his possession.

When Jolis started inquiring about this fresh disagreement, a long series of people answered her queries, patiently and at length. I know this because Mann copied a group of people on his original response and several of those on the list weighed in, including me. Jolis undoubtedly got a great deal more information than she could use, much of it incredibly polite and detailed, some of it slightly more combative and a small amount fully withering. But Keith Briffa’s commentary was extensive and extraordinarily patient.

By the evidence of her column, Jolis declined to read any of it. She ignored McIntyre’s manipulations. She ignored the newer, fuller dataset that Briffa had prepared. She ignored McIntyre’s own caution that his work does NOT convincingly counter the threat of climate change. Then she settled into the conclusion that, apparently, was her starting and end point: uncertainty reigns.

The single piece of information in her article that appears faithfully reported is the Pew Center study showing that the number of Americans who believe humans are causing climate change has dropped in the last 18 months from 71 per cent to 57 per cent. Given this level of intrepid and determined journalistic incompetence, is it any wonder?

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