Editorial – In support of Dr. Michael Mann and open debate

UPDATE: Lubos Motl has a poll running on whether this is the right stance to take or not. Feel free to take it here – Anthony

This is an editorial that I never thought I’d be writing and I expect readers are also surprised to see it. Before you come to a conclusion about my decision, please read the entire essay – there’s a good reason for me to take this position in this particular case. See the event below.

There’s an organization called choosecommonsense.org that is running a letter writing campaign to Penn State to prevent Dr.Mann from speaking. In my opinion, this is the wrong thing to do and the wrong message to send. Let me explain.

First, here is the message the group is pushing:

On February 9th, the Penn State Forum Speaker’s Series is featuring Professor Michael Mann in a speech regarding global warming. This is the same professor who is at the center of the ‘Climategate’ controversy for allegedly manipulating scientific data to align with his extreme political views on global warming.

Join us in calling on the administrators of Penn State to end its support of Michael Mann and his radical agenda.

Now let me be the first to say that I don’t respect Dr. Michael Mann nor do I respect his paleoclimatic work, which I consider to be borderline fraudulent, as do many others. Others have even stronger opinions about the work, especially about the long maligned “hockey stick” and all of its problems.

And, in reading through the Climategate emails, we can see examples where Dr. Mann himself tries to stifle debate. From Tom Nelson:

Email 1335, Nov 2005, Michael “Robust Debate” Mann on the prospect of attending a workshop also attended by a guy who disagrees with him: “If Zorita is in, I am out!’

Email 1335

cc: Phil Jones

, Keith Briffa , Heinz Wanner date: Tue, 29 Nov 2005 10:26:33 -0500 from: “Michael E. Mann” subject: Re: Workshop: Participants/ 1. Circular to: Christoph Kull

Christoph,

Can I please have an explanation of what happened here???? You sent out a list yesterday of partipipants that we had all agreed upon. Today, you sent out emails to a DIFFERENT list, inviting an additional participant (Zorita) who we SPECIFICALLY DISCUSSED and decided (as I understood it) would not be invited because of personality conflict issues. At the very least, this needed further discussion, not unilateral overruling without notice.

I’d like an explanation of what happened here. I do not believe that this event will be constructive and amicable with Zorita’s participation. If the recommendaitons of the organizers are not going to be followed, I am unsure I can participate in or endorse this event. If Zorita is in, I am out!

Mike

Email 4862, Keith Briffa to the whining Mann

We simply will not allow you to withdraw . You know perfectly well that you are too important in all this to take such action. If it requires my talking to Eduardo and getting him to withdraw , then so be it.

Of course, skeptics are the complete opposite of Dr. Mann, we wish to engage debate where he does not. He wants to be the only voice in the room.

Therefore, I think the approach of choosecommonsense.org is absolutely wrong. They shouldn’t be trying to muzzle Dr. Mann, but instead should be pushing for open debate in our land of free speech. They should be pushing Penn State to allow a point-counterpoint dialog in the Penn State Forum Speaker Series instead of trying to muzzle him.

Dr. Mann himself supports “robust debate” when he’s tweeting to his friends:

Twitter / @MichaelEMann: Good editorial on #CRUHack …

Good editorial on #CRUHack2 in The Economist: emails actually show science working as it should (robust debate, etc.) econ.st/tteL8L

Though, I suspect that if presented with an open debate in the Penn State Forum Speaker Series, Dr. Mann would say “…if so and so is in, I am OUT!”.

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andrew

I completely agree on multiple levels, not the least of which is, for the most part, the more we can get folks like Mann to make statements on the public record, the weaker their position becomes. Truth is truth. I’d rather Mann and his friends go on the record and speak their “beliefs” as much as possible.

Philip Peake

Agree 100%. I don’t particularly like what I know of Michael Mann, and I think he knowingly misleads people, but censorship is the wrong answer.
Rather than agitating to increase suppression of free speech, people should be agitating to open it up, and allow people who disagree with Mr. Mann to have their views heard. Particularly in the mainstream media.

Nylo

I totally agree.

David Davidovics

I think your reasoning is sound. Skeptics must not come to resemble the alarmists in efforts to expose the truth about the exaggerations of global warming. The last thing we need is to give Mann more ammo for his perpetual heroic victim complex.

Anthony,
Are you advocating that government should use some of its people’s tax money to support Mann having a platform to disseminate his religious views under the guise of science to an unsuspecting public, without being required to reply in the same forum to uncomfortable questions about his past work?
RTF

KR

Thumbs up, Anthony.

Ian W

I agree completely – ALL Michael Mann’s views should be given full publicity especially those from the ClimateGate emails tranches one and two. I would in fact put it stronger and require Michael Mann to explain himself. There are a number of questions I am sure WUWT could provide to allow him to explain his position.

Wondering Aloud

While I understand your point, I think after all of Mann’s efforts to silence his critics, AKA real scientists, he really doesn’t have any grounds to complain himself.

Adam Gallon

Agreed, Mann shouldn’t be muzzled, he should be debated.
He’ll chicken out of a real debate, Mann v McIntyre, for example!

Neo

I’d like to see Mr. Mann defend his position with representatives of all (there aren’t always just two) sides in forum of equal respect.

Richard deSousa

Mann will be absent and flee
, like Al Gore, if he has to debate an opponent of substance such as Richard Lindzen or Stephen McIntyre or Christopher Monckton.

A physicist

Here’s a post that many folks will be surprised to see “A physicist” writing: an essay in praise of … Anthony Watts.
There are a few regulars here on WUWT (and I am one of them) whose posts upon occasion depart from “orthodox skepticism.” To Anthony’s great credit — as appreciated by everyone who acknowledges the vital role of civil debate in democracy — Anthony Watts has made WUWT into a forum where meta-skeptical posts not only are tolerated, but accepted and even encouraged, provided solely that the fundamental principle of strong skepticism and strong science is reasonably respected: “Focus criticism upon ideas, not persons.”
For outstanding commitment and service to this fundamental principle of American-style democracy and debate, appreciation and thanks are due to Anthony, from me and from everyone.
Thank you, Anthony Watts.

pochas

Dissent without violence is the hallmark of a mature society. Attempts at thought control push us backwards.

Richard deSousa

Mann will be absent and flee, like Al Gore, if he has to debate an opponent of substance such as Richard Lindzen or Stephen McIntyre or Christopher Monckton.

oMan

RTF: It would be nice if the organizers of this Forum were to require a panel of speakers offering more than one view, ideally a spectrum of views and some back-and-forth to identify areas of (dis)agreement and work on them. Maybe they could even come up with joint research proposals to settle some of the open questions. But I suspect what they’ll get is a “moderator” who just throws the speaker a few softballs as he sells the same old stuff. This is unlikely to be exemplary of honest academic inquiry and discourse; and is very likely to be a waste of taxpayer and institutional resource. IMHO.

DonK31

The big advantage in having free speech is that it allows idiots to prove it.

Mark T

Dr. Mann himself supports “robust debate” when he’s tweeting to his friends:

But he really doesn’t. To him, “robust debate” is debating with someone that agrees in every aspect except perhaps the font of the paper. He steadfastly refuses to stand up to any real criticism of his work.
Personally, the “public debate” thing regarding scientific issues is a joke. It does not advance science in any way. It is much more about oration than content. Scientific debate is best when done in a room with dissenting members given equal opportunity to state their cases. “Zingers” don’t matter. All that matters is the content. There is often no compromise (indeed, the correct answer cannot be expected to be an average of incorrect answers), sometimes nobody agrees and the process stalemates. Sometimes it simply takes until there is more evidence. Sometimes ideas get lost in the “neat idea, but impossible to prove/implement” land of limbo.
Mark

Gator

I say give him plenty of rope! 😉

I totally agree. We cannot complain about the CAWG espouses attempting to silence CAGW skeptics if we engage in the same sort of behavior. By all means let him speak. And there should be no attempt to disrupt this event. If they don’t allow the CAGW skeptical side to be heard, we can point that out. You never know, there could be a Penn state student for whom intellectual curiosity has not be suppressed.

Let the science and the free speech be open and accessible to anyone and everyone. By all means test it, scrutinise it, oppose it but never silence it !

Theo Goodwin

I agree. We should always support open debate. We should encourage Mann to debate.
However, I think you are not aware of the “situation on the ground” at college campuses in the US. The power of Political Correctness is huge and pre-stifles nearly all dissenting opinion. My guess is that those who protest Mann are doing so because they have no other means to get their own message out. Remember that every college in the US, even the tiny little community colleges, has a Diversity Dean. You should read these words and weep.

I agree. The best way further to expose his nonsense is to provide an opportunity for him to respond to his critics in such a forum.

margaret berger

Free speech alive and well on the internet.

ggm

I’m not sure Mann should be supported. Given all we know about the (C)AGW frauw (and yes, it is a deliberate fraud), I think there is no doubt that Mann has participated in an act of mass fraud of tax payer money. I would have given him the benefit of the doubt until 4 or 5 years ago, but since then, there is absolutely no excuse for Mann etc to not acknowlege they were completely wrong in their work and appologise for the $billions of our money wasted due to his incompetance – but instead they have hunkered down and continue to promote their fraud for their own benefit. No warming, models proven wrong, data hidden and adjusted, every aspect of their fraud is continously proven wrong on an almost daily basis. You can not convince a con-artist about the “errors of his ways” by pointing out his deliberate lies are wrong – they will only stop when they know they will be brought to account legally for their fraud. You dont beat crooks by playing nice. I uderstand where you are coming from – but unlike you, I consider Mann a criminal who should be brought to account in our courts. The sooner Mann is made to realise where this will end for him and his accomplices, the sooner he might try to right his wrongs.

Joachim Seifert

Mann should use his right of “free speech” here with US on this blog, where you
meet knowledgeable folks….. this is the place for debate….- Anthony, invitation please!-…
… The “Commonsense”- people are RIGHT, they know that unprepared and in other
sections studying folks are easy prey for Mann & Co…… because they do not have
our background knowledge……
…….If Mann were in a public dispute with major Skeptics….this would have scientific
value…… whereas propagating Nonsense over and over, as his recent sea level talks….
……then better use your commen sense as COMMENSENSE people…..
JS

Ray

Now Mann will run with this situation and put all climate skeptics in the same boat. ALL skeptics want to silence him sort of thing… don’t give him ammunitions, let him speak and dig his own scientific grave in the process.

Vinny

Anthony, as a non scientist maybe I can speak more openly, (I don’t depend on grants), the only thing I question about your editorial is in my opinion Micheal Mann is not borderline fraudulent he is totally fraudulent. His approach to global warming has been insincere at best, worst case he has out right lied.
Micheal Mann would never debate anyone, especially on an equal footing, because all his opponent has to say is show me your back up evidence proving your premise and he would fold like a wrinkled shirt.
He should resign, he has been pushing a political agenda which has a goal of picking the worlds pockets and that is inexcusable.
Try telling the people freezing to death in Europe and Asia about global warming, I’m sure they would love to hear that right about now.

BarryW

Given Penn States actions in the past, the protest is a wasted effort IMHO. The question is not should Mann be allowed to speak, but have those he disagrees with been denied the chance to speak. My guess is that they are perfectly happy with denying the right to speak as long as it’s someone they disagree with. That should be the point of any protest.

oMan,
Thank you, I agree, and I take it further, as my comment shows. It’s not censorship for government to require religious proponents to fund their own messaging — even in a university setting. Unless of course there is a requirement for alternative viewpoints to get equal time, and for the professor(s) to make an honest reply to questions posed by critics.
The First Amendment addresses not just freedom of speech and of the press, but also the concept of government “respecting” an “establishment of religion.” That part is also extremely important.
RTF

don

Ah life is irony, affording Mr. Mann the rights and privileges of robust debate that he so nefariously denied to others under the rubric of doing good consensual science in the cause of crackpot realism. Makes one want to puke [snip] Hopefully the boy will do some time for defrauding the state while enjoying the academic freedom to stifle the free flow of ideas.

Brandon C

I agree with Anthony that stopping people from speaking is wrong. But I can’t help feel that this is the greens and climate activists falling on their own sword. After all it was the people from this group that started the whole idea of creating backlash against speakers to get them cancelled. If this is going to be the standard operating proceedure from the left to censor sceptics, then I see no reason why others should not be allowed to do as they do.

The shrill alarmists are their own worst enemy. Let them talk.

cui bono

Of course let him speak, that’s his right, and others have the right to hear (or jeer) him.
Ulterior motive: apart from A. Gore, no-one has done more to polarise opinion, cast doubt on AGW and mobilise the forces of scepticism more than Mann. Given his past record in trying to stifle debate and remove anyone who disagrees with him, the ultimate irony would be for him to be able to claim some sort of intellectual martyrdom.

Kaboom

I agree. Let him speak. Worst case he is only helping to further build the case against him as a scientist and a human being by opening his mouth in public.

Eric Anderson

Just curious. Am I right that the organization isn’t suggesting that Mann shouldn’t have a general right to free speech to espouse his views? They seem to be concerned about the forum and the university’s support. What they seem to be suggesting is that the university shouldn’t give Mann a center stage to spout his views, when he has been engaging in activities that bring the university into disrepute. Are there individuals other than Mann who might better represent the university in the Forum Speaker Series? Also they seem to be suggesting that the university should stop supporting his activities, which have brought a black eye on the university.
Sure, a debate would be better, but not sure I’m too offended by the group’s suggestion that the university should stop putting its own weight and reputation behind Mann.

Paul Westhaver

The truth is messy business. Rarely in human experience does a collective process proceed without battles. Even in science matters where, ostensibly, the debates are supposed to be based on fact… facts ate the product of egos and agenda and inspiration.
Here are a couple of my favorite messy science ruckuses:
(Lemaitre and Gamow) vs (Fred Hoyle)….. Hoyle lost even though he had widespread popular support…he died denying the Big Bang Theory.
((Bohr vs Heisenberg) VS Einstein) …Solvay Conference in 1927….now we have quantum mechanics….
So let the messy debate continue. The truth will prevail.
Anthony is providing the forum for this climate debate. It is important that you know where you are and when you are in relation to history. Anthony is smack dab in the middle and is hosting the discourse right here, right now. The institutions have dropped the ball on the scientific process yet it lives in it ugly messy manifestation here. Thanks, Anthony. This blog will produce the definitive answer and will reign as the judicial authority on the outcome.

Fred from Canuckistan

Agree.
Let’s hope there is a Q&A after his talk so people can ask him why Climatologists have been so very, very wrong in their predictions . . . those answers will be where the hilarity meets road.

In my collage of Josh’s cartoons (over 1200 web-page hits up to date)
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/CHshow.htm
I’ve let Dr. Mann speak ( I think he is the seated one holding notepad).
I invite Dr. Mann to make a short statement, but no abuse please, I guaranty it will be added to the text of the webpage, and I am confident that Anthony will not censor it.

PaulH

I agree with Anthony. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in preventing Mr. Mann from speaking.

Michael Palmer

The only surprise here for me is that Anthony expects us to be surprised. His position is the only honorable one and entirely of a piece with his usual approach to open debate.

Bob B

I agree, let Mann say what he wants.

R. Gates

I applaud Anthony for his stance here. The support open dialog is an important feature of a free and open society. Mann’s refusal to attend an event with Zorita of course reflects their conflict over the validity of the Hockey Stick (see: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.167.9579&rep=rep1&type=pdf). But regardless of whether Mann was justified in that refusal, it’s nice to see Anthony continue to be a champion of open discussion. (just one more reason I think he’ll do well with the 2012 Weblog Bloggies).

Septic Matthew

I had the same thought when I read of the attempt to muzzle Dr. Mann. Thank you for your editorial.

Mike Smith

Why did you think readers would be surprised?
You have taken exactly the position I expected. I would have done the same, and for the simple reason that it’s the Right Thing (TM) to do.
Censorship doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

kelly

Kudos to Anthony.
When I was young my father wisely counseled me to be honest for the practical reason that a dishonest person is soon found out simply because he loses track of the truth while others do not. If what Professor Mann is claiming is not borne out (and it has not been and is unlikely to be) then he is simply poking holes in his own credibility every time he repeats a false claim. Why would anyone want to stop him from doing that?

Nope. Wrong. This is a war, and they started it. Unilateral disarmament loses a war. Niceness doesn’t work when you’re dealing with people who EXPLICITLY WANT TO DESTROY THE ENTIRE HUMAN SPECIES.
Actually niceness doesn’t work at all. Not in any circumstance. Never.

Jay Davis

Unless a prominent skeptic is also slated to speak in these forums, Mann should not be given a free ride. Without dissenting views being presented, this forum is merely another opportunity for Mann to spout his propaganda unopposed.

JJ

I disagree.
Mann should not be invited to speak in a public forum. Not because of his unscientific “work”, or because of his political views, or because of his pissy, condescending attitude, or because of the things he is likely to say about “global warming”. Those are all objectionable, but airing out the objectionable is what open debate and free communication is about. He should not be invited to speak, because of his persistant attacks on open debate and his egregious denial of free communication to others.
This is the guy who, if he doesn’t like what you say, tries to get you fired from your job. This is the guy who parrots his involvement at RealClimate, which purports to be a forum but is instead a one sided propaganda tool where dissenting opinion is rigorously censored. This is the guy who brings illegitimate and frivolous libel lawsuits against those who disagree with him, attempting to use the police power of the state to censor others and punish them for open debate and free communication. This is the guy who actively resists legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests – coopting millions of dollars of other people’s money to do so. This is the guy who participates in conspiracies to destroy records open to Freedom of Information Act Requests.
Until such time as he is convicted for crimes, Mann has the Constitutional right to freedom of speech. That is not in dispute, and I am not suggesting that the state muzzle him unless and until that time comes. But the Constitutional right to freedom of speech is the freedom from government censorship. The Constitutional right to freedom of speech does not obligate other people to provide you a forum. Invitation to such fora are instead governed by the public’s commitment to the principle of open debate and free communication. It is an appropriate demonstration of commitment to that principle to sanction those, like Mann, who actively deny the benefits of that principle to others.
There are plenty of people who can stand up in front of a crowd and tell whoppers about treemometers and the lack of a Medieval Warm Period. There are plenty of people who can hide a decline. If the organizers of this debate believe that presenting such nonsense is necessary to free communication and open debate, then they should invite an effective advocate for those positions. But it should be someone who has not acted so egregiously against open debate and sought to deny the free comunication of others. Mann’s opinions may deserve the opportunity to be heard in a forum provided by others. He does not.

Evan Jones

I agree.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Lead by example.

Richard M

Where does the right to free speech end?
[SNIP on this blog it ends with the published site policy, and while you are certainly entitled to your opinion about who Penn State might allow to speak, this sort of comment will do nothing but create an off-topic flame-fest not directly related to the issue at hand, so while it pains me to have to snip it, I must. – Anthony]