BBC Newshour: Judith Curry and Bob Ward debate Steyn versus Mann
For background on this issue, see my previous posts:
On tonite’s BBC WorldNews NewsHour, I participated in a 15 minute segment with Bob Ward on the Trial of the Century? The link to the podcast is [here]. I have a quote right at the beginning and at around 14:05, then the main segment starts around 29:45. I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.
JC’s prepared remarks
UPDATE: A transcript of the program is [here].
I know that I am not a great off-the-cuff speaker (much better with the written word), so for an interview like this, I try to anticipate the questions, and then prepare some concise and snappy remarks. Excerpts of my prepared remarks are provided below, I managed to get about 30% of these points across. The questions turned out to be less about the nitty gritty of Mann versus Steyn, but more about the broader free speech issues (I think Bob Ward also prepared for more nitty gritty related to Mann versus Steyn). In an event, here are some of the remarks that I prepared:
The key statement of concern made by Mark Steyn is that Michael Mann molested and tortured data – specifically the tree ring data that were used in his famous hockey stick analysis. Unlike data that you collect in a controlled laboratory environment, climate data is messy. First you have to select which data you are going to use, and this selection process inevitably leads to concerns about ‘cherry picking.’ Second, you need to calibrate or adjust the data, particularly if you are using proxy data such as tree rings. And thirdly you need to select the statistical methods for analyzing the data. Mann’s data analysis has been criticized with regards to all three of these issues. In fact, Andrew Montford wrote an entire book on this subject called The Hockey Stick Illusion.
As a climate scientist who participates in the public debate on climate change, I have also been attacked in the media. It stings, but you develop a thick skin and I’ve learned to ignore such things. The most egregious attacks on my scientific reputation have come from Michael Mann himself: he has referred to my recent Congressional testimony as “anti-science” and ‘typical denier talking points’, and called me a ‘serial climate disinformer’ in a piece published by the Huffington Post.
On a complex political and scientific subject like climate change that is hotly debated, of course the rhetoric will get heated. We need to have a public debate on this complex and important issue, and inhibiting journalists from speaking out on this topic would be very dangerous, in my opinion.
I come down stalwartly on the side freedom of speech, including Michael Mann’s right to make insulting and defamatory tweets, statements in op-eds, etc. As an American, I am pretty attached to the right to free speech.
Steyn’s new legal team
After Steyn parted ways with the National Review’s legal team, he was representing himself. In an article entitled What Kind of Fool Am I?, Steyn describes his new legal team. Excerpts:
Daniel J Kornstein and his co-counsel Mark Platt were the driving force behind the most consequential free-speech legislation this century.
[J]oining Messrs Kornstein and Platt will be Michael J Songer, co-chair of the Litigation Group at Crowell & Moring in Washington, DC. Mike won a big $919.9 million payout for DuPont over a trade-secrets theft case involving Kevlar, which I was planning to wear to court anyway. A critical element of that case, interestingly enough, was the other party’s deletion of emails. Mike is also a freespeecher, who teaches a course on the Law of Cyberspace at Georgetown University. He’s big on issues of copyright and intellectual property, which Mann has frequently hidden behind in his attempts to avoid disclosing the data and research that produced his “hockey stick”. In addition, Mike is a science graduate, so he understands both the technical jargon and, just as importantly, how to distill it for a jury.
So I’m no longer an out-of-control full-bore crazy. Instead, I’m an out-of-control full-bore crazy who’s lawyered up to the hilt. This will leave me free to concentrate on my core activities of insulting judges and mocking Mann’s self-conferred Nobel Prize, while Dan, Mark and Mike do the boring stuff like looking up precedents and knowing what a tort is.
Cass Sunstein on Sullivan versus NYTimes
Cass Sunstein has an article in BloombergView entitled The dark side of New York Times versus Sullivan, the landmark free speech ruling 50 years ago. Excerpts:
While it has granted indispensable breathing space for speakers, it has also created a continuing problem for public civility and for democratic self-government.
In ruling that the free speech principle safeguards even defamatory statements, the court seized the high moral ground. It affirmed the “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” It added that public debate will inevitably “include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Nonetheless, the court got the balance right in New York Times v. Sullivan: A free society cannot have “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate without breathing space for falsehoods.
I’m pretty happy with the way that the interview turned out. I managed to get my main points across (I don’t always feel that I managed this in interviews). I thought that Bob Ward did a good job of putting his point across.
This segment is particularly interesting in view of David Rose’s revelation (scroll down) that the BBC – at least in Scotland – has a new policy of protecting climatologists from challenge on the air.
So is this potentially the ‘trial of the century?’ It could be. Steyn’s new lawyers have definitely raised the level of his defense/offense (seems like his fund raising is going well). The case has genuinely important implications for how science is communicated to the public.
The culture and laws on this are different in the U.S. versus U.K., which Bob Ward brought out in the segment. My stance on this issue is as a staunch defender of free speech, even when I myself am a victim of someone else’s defamatory comments.