Sunday, March 4, 2012

No good deed goes unpunished

For a long time now, I have maintained that the primary, perhaps only, engine of progress was honesty.  Until a problem is accurately defined, it cannot be solved and the ONLY way to accurately define a problem is to banish any possibility of dishonesty.  I even go so far as to posit that the biggest difference between the Producers and Predators is that Producers must be honest to succeed while Predators usually lie to achieve their goals.  Of course, embracing honesty means that Producers have made massive progress in history while the Predators are damn lucky if today's practitioners show ANY improvement over thousands of years.

But even though societies tend to honor the truth-tellers in theory, the lot of the honest person is often miserable in practice.  Today, we are exposed to just one more example.

Death threats, intimidation and abuse: climate change scientist Michael E. Mann counts the cost of honesty
Research by Michael E. Mann confirmed the reality of global warming. Little did he know that it would also expose him to a vicious hate campaign, Saturday 3 March 2012

The scientist who has borne the full brunt of attacks by climate change deniers, including death threats and accusations of misappropriating funds, is set to hit back.

Michael E. Mann, creator of the "hockey stick" graph that illustrates recent rapid rises in global temperatures, is to publish a book next month detailing the "disingenuous and cynical" methods used by those who have tried to disprove his findings. The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars is a startling depiction of a scientist persecuted for trying to tell the truth.

Among the tactics used against Mann were the theft and publication, in 2009, of emails he had exchanged with climate scientist Professor Phil Jones of East Anglia University. Selected, distorted versions of these emails were then published on the internet in order to undermine UN climate talks due to begin in Copenhagen a few weeks later. These negotiations ended in failure. The use of those emails to kill off the climate talks was "a crime against humanity, a crime against the planet," says Mann, a scientist at Penn State University.

In his book, Mann warns that "public discourse has been polluted now for decades by corporate-funded disinformation – not just with climate change but with a host of health, environmental and societal threats." The implications for the planet are grim, he adds.

Mann became a target of climate deniers' hate because his research revealed there has been a recent increase of almost 1°C across the globe, a rise that was unprecedented "during at least the last 1,000 years" and which has been linked to rising emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, factories and power plants. Many other studies have since supported this finding although climate change deniers still reject his conclusions.

Mann's research particularly infuriated deniers after it was used prominently by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in one of its assessment reports, making him a target of right-wing denial campaigners. But as the 46-year-old scientist told the Observer, he only entered this research field by accident. "I was interested in variations in temperatures of the oceans over the past millennium. But there are no records of these changes so I had to find proxy measures: coral growth, ice cores and tree rings."

By studying these he could trace temperature fluctuations over the past 1,000 years, he realised. The result was a graph that showed small oscillations in temperature over that period until, about 150 years ago, there was a sudden jump, a clear indication that human activities were likely to be involved. A colleague suggested the graph looked like a hockey stick and the name stuck. The results of the study were published in Nature in 1998. Mann's life changed for ever.

"The trouble is that the hockey stick graph become an icon and deniers reckoned if they could smash the icon, the whole concept of global warming would be destroyed with it. Bring down Mike Mann and we can bring down the IPCC, they reckoned. It is a classic technique for the deniers' movement, I have discovered, and I don't mean only those who reject the idea of global warming but those who insist that smoking doesn't cause cancer or that industrial pollution isn't linked to acid rain." more

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