Climate Detective Gets His Mann
If you really want to understand the climate debate, you simply must read this book, by A.W. Montford, about a Canadian scientific detective named Steve McIntyre, who humbly but doggedly pursued the truth about the 1,000-year temperature reconstructions that generated the famed “hockey stick.”
The November 2009 email “hack” of Britain’s Climatic Research Unit that has generated so much recent news is only a brief epilogue. The real story happened day by day over the last decade as McIntyre, a retired mining engineer, and a his fellow Canadian Ross McKitrick, an economist, searched for, and then through, shabbily constructed data sets and magical algorithms, with surprising finds on almost every page.
As my friend George Gilder wrote:
The reader should know that the supposed email “scandal,” as described in the book, is in fact a rather trivial and even defensible part of the story. Few people are at their best in emails. What is shocking — and I use the word advisedly as a confirmed sceptic not easily shocked — is the so called science. I never imagined that it was quite this bad. It is shoddy beyond easy belief.
The hockey stick chart mostly reflects a defective algorithm that extends and inflates a few deceptive signals from as few as 20 cherry-picked trees in Colorado and Russia into a hockey stick chart that is replicated repeatedly through reshuffles of the same or similar defective and factitious data to capture and define two thousand years of climate history. These people simply had no plausible case and were pressed by their political sponsors to contrive a series of Potemkin charts.
Almost, but not quite, as surprising, was Montford’s narrative itself. Somehow he turned an esoteric battle over statistical methodology into a captivating “what happens next” mystery. British science writer Matt Ridley agreed:
Montford’s book is written with grace and flair. Like all the best science writers, he knows that the secret is not to leave out the details (because this just results in platitudes and leaps of faith), but rather to make the details delicious, even to the most unmathematical reader. I never thought I would find myself unable to put a book down because — sad, but true — I wanted to know what happened next in an r-squared calculation. This book deserves to win prizes.
Engrossing. Astonishing. Devastating.