Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann, one of the scientists caught in fallout from the ‘Climategate’ theft of personal email conversations by climatologists in University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, agreed to talk to the press at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco in December, 2009.
His interview is covered in the EARTH blog. Mann is well known and well regarded for his work in climate science, but is also used to ‘being a lightning rod for controversy in the climate debate’, due to his famous “hockey stick” climate graph, which describes changes in Northern Hemisphere mean temperature over the past 1,000 years, including a sharp upturn in the last 100 years.
He explained how innocent language can easily be misrepresented to support a particular viewpoint. Regarding the Climategate leaks, the Blog reports:
“The hackers..mined the e-mails for words and phrases to take out of context, thus misrepresenting what the scientists were actually saying to each other. Two specific examples included a couple of phrases used by [Phil] Jones in a 1999 email, in which he wrote (on the subject of reconstructing temperatures), “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
These are two of the most often-repeated examples, Mann said, but that’s “taking an innocent discussion between scientists out of context.” For example, by “hiding the decline,” Jones was not suggesting withholding data; he was referring specifically to a very well-known subject in the climate science community: A divergence in temperature reconstruction post-1960 between a 1998 Nature study based on tree ring density data by Keith Briffa and other temperature records. Briffa himself, in fact, had recommended not using the post-1960 part of his reconstruction, because it is not yet clear why that divergence occurs.
As for Jones’ use of the word “trick,” Mann noted, the scientific and mathematical community often use the term as a clever way to solve a problem — as in, “trick of the trade” or “the trick to solving the problem.”