The scientist most identified with the climate change ‘hockey stick’ graph offers his own first-hand views on having become one of climate skeptics’ favorite punching bags. And in his just-released book, Mann characteristically does so with gusto.

Also see: Yale Forum Youtube Video with Michael Mann

One can readily understand Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann’s mood of celebration on learning that his newly released book contains some key text already needing to be updated.

No better way to learn that than to hear the end has come for a long, drawn-out, and ideologically motivated legal threat. In this case, it was one brought by a state attorney general widely seen as having gone off on an ill-considered vendetta.

Book Review and Commentary

Mann was getting the news of the Virginia Supreme Court’s quashing of A.G. Ken Cuccinelli’s action against him and Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. He got the news just as he was preparing for a March 2 interview with public radio’s Ira Flatow and “Science Friday.”

He scarcely had time to put out a reaction statement celebrating the take-down of what he called “Cuccinelli’s witch hunt.” He added that he regretted the state’s and his supporters’ having had to spend money and time on the suit: He did so with a tweak of Cuccinelli, saying those funds could have been better spent on “measures to protect Virginia’s coast line from the damaging effects of sea level rise it is already seeing.”

Michael Mann, as those who have seen him in action will attest, can take a punch. In his new book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, he shows that he can throw a few too.

It’s a good thing, as climate “skeptics” have long trained their haymakers on Mann as the single individual most identified with the “hockey stick” icon. And therefore, by their strange reasoning, with much of the concern over a warming climate.

As much as any climate scientist alive today, Mann, because of his hockey stick research, has become, by his own term, “a principal bête noir for those who denied the importance or even the existence of climate change.” Mann clearly includes controversial Virginia Attorney General and governor-want-to-be Cuccinelli as part of “a coordinated assault against the scientific community … vested interests who simply want to stick their heads in the sand and deny the problem of human-caused climate change, rather than engage in the good-faith debate about what to do about it.”

Mann by no means takes fondly to assaults on the solar plexus, or, he would maintain with ample justification, others aimed well below the belt. He, for one, is disinclined to suffer his many and harshest climate “skeptic” critics gently or in silence.

He by no means gives them the silent treatment in the newly-released The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, from Columbia University Press. Any doubt about his determined resilience will be readily dismissed with a reading of Mann’s new first-hand (“up close and personal,” some might say) “dispatches.”

Add an M to MBH … for ‘Moxie’

The “MBH99” acronym familiar to those in climate science spheres stems from the 1999 research report Mann did with two coauthor’s, Ray Bradley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Malcolm Hughes of the University of Arizona. With this new book comes another term for that “M”: You can make that Moxie.

It’s not like Mann set out as a young scientist to quickly rank among the climate science community’s most heavily-targeted “villains,” as judged by those rejecting the well-established scientific evidence. Indeed, he writes in his first-hand account that he more or less became the accidental icon of climate change concern when his 1999 hockey-stick-shaped illustration of Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the past thousand years found itself front and center in the 2001 IPCC “Summary for Policy Makers.”

That prominence fed “a very public — and very personal — assault against my coauthors and me in the hope that somehow they [skeptics] might discredit all of climate science, the fruits of the labors of thousands of scientists from around the world.”

It ain’t-a-gonna happen, not on Mann’s watch, not if he has anything to say about it at least. And say about it is exactly what he does through the nearly 400-page hardback.

While not one to automatically run from the spotlight thrust on him, Mann acknowledges in the book that “There is a potential downside to one’s scientific study becoming the focus of so much attention …. The more prominence a particular study or idea gets, the more tantalizing it is to best it in some ways.” In being seen (correctly) as bolstering the case “for the reality and threat” of human-caused climate change, it was only natural for that MBH study to attract “the unwanted attention of the climate change denial machine.”

And attract it, it indeed has. And no doubt will, for some time into the future, notwithstanding the hockey stick’s by no means being the single linchpin on which climate concerns rest.

Mann writes in his book of the “Serengeti strategy,” in which predators single-out a particular victim they may judge to be most vulnerable and seek to separate it from the larger group. He points to repeated independent peer review analyses of and support for the results of his research to indicate his critics have misfired.

Mann throughout spares no rod in castigating what he sees as science pretenders set on demolishing his and his colleagues’ scientific research on climate. He writes of his critics in the University of East Anglia hacked e-mails controversy as having engaged in “one of the best-coordinated ‘swiftboat’ campaigns in modern history.” He writes of a commentator’s summarizing a 2010 investigation spearheaded by Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe, he of the “hoax” line, with the McCarthyite reference: “Are you now or have you ever been a climate scientist?” He is unrestrained in his blasts at Republican Congressmen Joe Barton of Texas, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, much of Fox News, and myriad bloggers and assorted blow-hards.

And yet, “At some level, the attention was almost flattering,” Mann writes of his critics targeting of him. That is, except for the “direct aim” not just at him but at “my livelihood, my reputation, my safety — but even my family.”

“The forces of climate change denial have, I believe, awakened a ‘sleeping bear,’” It’s clear he’s not limiting that reference to just him: “My fellow scientists will be fighting back, and I look forward to joining them in this battle.”

It should surprise few that Mann’s book is unlikely to change the minds of those pre-programmed to adhere to their unwavering view of the climate crisis as nothing of the kind. For those already in his camp on the science of the issue, he provides fresh ammunition for confronting the charge of some skeptics that “man-made” climate change should be spelled with two m’s. Both, it can be said, will be better off for taking the time to read Michael Mann’s account for themselves … and then go from there.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, © 2012 Michael E. Mann; Columbia University Press, ISBN-10: 023115254X; ISBN 978-0-231-15254-9 in paperback and ISBN 978-0-231-52638-8 as e-book. Listed at in early March for $18.22.

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Bud Ward

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...