by Judith Curry
Mark Steyn’s latest blog post, and the ensuing tweets, prompts some reflections on norms of behavior for scientists versus political commentators.
Yesterday Mark Steyn posted Mann is an island. Here are some excerpts that I will refer to:
The ACT might more usefully hand out awards of $18,793 to respectable persons willing to defend in public Michael E Mann. The Nobel Fauxreate and the world’s most un-exonerated man has been reduced to giving interviews to weird creepy fringe obsessives like Greg Laden on Puffball FM …whoops, sorry, I mean “Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio”. Why an atheist radio station would want to interview the prophet of a millenarial cult like Mannatollah Mike is a mystery to me, but you can find out live this Sunday at 9am Central.
Notwithstanding recent setbacks for their chap, Rabett & Co are staying chipper. Following the assertion that “Mann’s defenders are becoming scarce”, one commenter responds:
You’re confusing Michael Mann with Mark Steyn.
Indeed. You can’t tell the players without a score card. Currently in the DC courts, my defenders are down to notorious Koch-funded denialist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Reporters Committee for Press Freedom, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of American Publishers, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (The Village Voice et al), NBC Universal, Bloomberg News, the publishers of USA Today, Time, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic and The Bergen County Record.
Whereas Michael Mann’s defenders are Eli Rabett and Greg Laden.
Mann doesn’t critique Dr Curry’s science; he attacks her, in a way that’s really quite remarkable for a so-called “man of science”. That’s why the cost of keeping Michael Mann as the face of Big Climate activism is so high, and why fewer and fewer people think it’s worth it.
Yesterday, Greg Laden tweeted:
Greg Laden @gregladen
Do you seriously condone ms harassment of @MichaelEMann? And me? I am flabbergasted. Didn’t think u were that kind of person. @curryja
From his blog post, it seems that Greg Laden is upset that I ‘favorited’ Steyn’s tweet. I use the ‘favorite’ function as a filing system to flag tweets with links I want to read later, or things I want to consider for my Week in Review post. Favoriting does not connote that I condone or endorse; in fact I have also favorited Sou Boudanga’s crazy posts about me to include in Week in Review. I’ve never looked at anyone else’s lists of ‘favorites’; I had no idea mine were under scrutiny.
The rules of partisan twitter warfare seem to be this:
- Only follow fellow partisans
- Block anyone who questions you or tries to argue with you
- “Favorite” function is a way of keeping score in a partisan war
JC message to Greg Laden: Well, I am not a partisan and I don’t play by these rules. I follow a broad spectrum of people, and I have only blocked one person. I use the favorite function as a filing system.
Mann: norms of scientific behavior
The reason that Mann finds himself singled out for attacks is, IMO, is that he has violated the norms of behavior for a scientist. What are these norms? They derive from the norms of science (Mertonian norms are a starting point). Of particular relevance here are:
- Communalism All scientists should have equal access to scientific goods (intellectual property) and there should be a sense of common ownership in order to promote collective collaboration, secrecy is the opposite of this norm.
- Universalism All scientists can contribute to science regardless of race, nationality, culture, or gender.
- Disinterestedness according to which scientists are supposed to act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for personal gain.
Norms of scientific behavior, derived from these norms of science, that I regard Mann to have violated are:
- Attempts to thwart M&M in their efforts to reproduce MBH98, 99 (violates communalism)
- Helping Phil Jones et al. figure out how to circumvent FOIA requests (violates communalism)
- Attempts to dismiss M&M’s 2004 publication because McIntyre was a shill for fossil fuels (violates universalism)
- Attacking the person not the argument: calling me ‘denier’, ‘anti-science’, ‘serial climate disinformer’ (violates universalism)
- Advocacy related to his area of expertise (violates disinterestedness, although the norm of disinterestedness is contested)
#1, #3, and #4 are moves in scientific warfare that are perhaps not too uncommon in scientific debates. The other two relate to the high public relevance of climate science. Lets face it, if this scientific debate was about string theory or something, Mark Steyn would not be paying attention. And if Mann wasn’t an advocate, Steyn may not have paid attention either.
While there is considerable debate about the appropriate roles and responsibilities of scientists regarding advocacy, I will say this. If you choose to be an advocate, and you engage in skullduggery such as #1-#4, your advocacy will amplify the public concern over #1-#4.
Steyn: norms of behavior
Mark Steyn is a political commentator, who is held to the norms of behavior of journalists. See the Wikipedia for Journalism Ethics and Standards. Whether Steyn’s original comments regarding ‘fraudulent hockey stick’ are libelous remains to be seen (e.g. court case). But mud slinging seems to be part of the job description for political commentators. That community does not seem to regard Steyn’s comments to have violated the norms of journalist behavior as per the amici briefs filed on Steyn’s behalf by a substantial number of publishers, organizations and newspapers.
People on twitter ask things like “How is Mann’s calling Curry a serial climate misinformer as bad or worse as Steyn referring to Mann’s fraudulent hockey stick?” Well the issue is the different norms of behavior between scientists and political commentators. In the climate wars, there is not a level mudslinging playing field for scientists and political commentators.
When I have criticized Mann, I have criticized his involvement in Hiding the Decline, and also his violations of the norms of what I regard as appropriate behavior by scientists. This is far different than what Mann has been doing in #1-#5 above. 5 years ago, defending Michael Mann against his attackers was regarded by many scientists as defending climate science. At this point, I am not seeing many climate scientists standing up for Michael Mann, owing to his violations of the norms, unless they are extreme partisans.
And finally a response to Greg Laden. What do I think of Steyn’s remark “weird creepy fringe obsessives like Greg Laden”. Well I know almost nothing about Greg Laden so I don’t know what might be behind Steyn’s remark. Does such a statement violate the norms for political commentators? Probably not. Do I think it was an effective journalistic ploy? No. If Steyn is going after Mann, I don’t think it is effective to gratuitously insult Mann’s supporters.
A question for Greg Laden. While you appear to be a partisan that supports Mann, do you condone his behavior #1-#4 above?