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Review: The Hockey Stick Illusion by A W Montford

It’s possible you might not have heard of the hockey stick graph. That’s because its appearances have become less and less as time goes on. Like an ageing Hollywood star, the older it gets the shyer it becomes. Whether you are familiar with the graph and its infamous 20th century ‘uptick’ curve is immaterial; the fact is that this bogus and wholly fallacious cornerstone of the anthropogenic global warming theory is influencing our lives in immeasurable ways.

When it was first published in the late 1990s, a blaze of publicity surrounded paleo-climatologist Michael Mann’s 1000-year temperature reconstruction. Mann and his team had, so it seemed, proved beyond all doubt that temperatures had risen alarmingly since the start of the 1900s. The case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) thus appeared to have been clinched: human activity had caused and was causing unprecedented temperature rises and the knock-on effects associated with them.

Overnight, the 32-year-old became a hero of the mainstream scientific and political establishment. For not only did Mann’s reconstruction show a massive and sharp rise in temperature beginning in the 20th century, his graph also expunged the idea that there had been a medieval warm period. A double whammy. For the AGW community, the medieval warm period had always been a rather inconvenient truth. How could they claim a “climate emergency” linked to human activity if temperatures had been similar or even higher several centuries in the past? They couldn’t, not without some fantastical contortions.

Mann’s hockey curve graph – flat throughout the centuries and then that sudden, dramatic curve – was nothing short of a God send. Mann had managed to get rid of that troublesome medieval period. The man was a hero. The hockey team bathed in the adulation of their peers and the press. With grim predictions of melting ice caps and polar bear extinction and hundreds of other such predictions failing to materialise, the AGW community had needed something big. Michael Mann had provided them with it. Much to the relief of his peers and especially the politicians, AGW was back in the game and how. Everywhere you looked, the hockey stick was there staring back.

And then along came Stephen McIntyre, a retired Canadian mining executive. Right from the start McIntyre had sensed all was not quite right with this wonderfully expedient graph. Enlisting the help of Ross Mckitrick, a professor of Economics at the University of Guelph, and with time on his hands, McIntyre decided to dig deeper . . .

Mr Montford’s book unfolds a quite staggering tale of deception. It’s a story also of obfuscation, for as McIntyre and Mckitrick begin to unravel the hockey stick puzzle, Mann and his powerful supporters in the global warming community pull out every trick in the book to thwart their efforts. It’s mainly a case of stonewalling the pair’s efforts to access the data and methodology underpinning the hockey stick and derivations of it. In order to do this Mann and his colleagues pretty much broke every academic convention in the book – they had to.

As becomes apparent when reading this book, the task McIntyre set himself was as complex as it was huge: replicating the work of Mann and the AGW forum in order to assess the veracity of its findings. Although the author does not say so explicitly, the reaction of the academic heavyweights can be imagined: a non-academic daring to assess us! But as also becomes apparent McIntyre was a rather exceptional character – highly intelligent, methodical and determined to pursue truth. Handling highly advanced statistical analysis and computer coding might have daunted some, but the Canadian seemed to take it in his stride.

Although there are moments when an advanced knowledge of statistical analysis would no doubt help the reader, Montford simplifies some of the more technical aspects of the trail well enough. McIntyre had realised that in its heavy reliance on data from certain bristlecones, and a flawed analytical method thereafter, that Mann’s work was worthless. Put simply, in the way he had approached his work Mann had ensured the desired results had emerged; academic research should not of course start with preconceptions – the results should emerge at the end of the process.

But Mann and his colleagues were not necessarily seeking truth: prestige and all that comes with it appeared to be the goal. Certainly, had there been no hockey stick graph Mann’s career would not have been launched into the stratosphere, which is what subsequently happened. Had his reconstruction confirmed the existence of a medieval warm period and lack of 20th century uptick, no doubt he would have spent his career as a tenured professor in academic obscurity. As it was . . .

Although the book can be hard to follow at times, it’s worth persevering with. McIntyre’s dogged pursuit of truth compels even greater levels of skulduggery from the AGW lobby as he slowly but surely thoroughly takes apart Mann’s hockey stick graph and with it a mainstay of the global warming religion. Journals in the mould of Nature and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change join the effort to thwart him. McIntyre’s patient pursuit of facts contrasts sharply with the tricks of this powerful international clique arraigned against him.

But McIntyre has one thing on his side these politicised actors do not: integrity. The book ends just as the Climategate email scandal was breaking. Those secret emails sent between academics of the University of East Anglia (UEA) and to Mann and his hockey team, exposing the fraud in which they were involved, should have blown apart the entire AGW hypothesis. But AGW is immune to fact, immune to truth and grows fatter and more bloated by the day, the calf upon which so many rely.

‘How can we hide from him (McIntyre?)’ the academics ask at one point. ‘How can we discredit him?’ they also ask. Reading how this group conspired to delete inconvenient data while promoting fraudulent data is a revelation – or should be. Listening to them discussing how to get rid of the medieval warm period is equally astonishing. ‘I’ve got 25 years’ work invested in this (AGW) says one of the UEA team at one point. The implication was clear: the magnificent work of Steve McIntyre could not be allowed to spoil the AGW party at any cost.

According to the BBC and co the emails had been taken "out of context." Academics discussing how to subvert data and research that did not fit their agenda, pressuring journals to sack editors not "on side" and many more tricks beside, as the BBC failed to clarify further, the actual context of the e-mails remains a mystery.

Despite its premise and entire validity having been utterly destroyed and despite the fact that if applied rigorously, the data actually supports the opposite hypothesis i.e. a downtick in 20th century temperature, the hockey stick graph can still be found in the appendices of various papers and reports all of which recycle the same old myth. It’s often said ‘the truth will out.’ Apparently not when there’s $billions resting on the outcome.

A debt of gratitude is owed Steve McIntyre for his tireless quest to establish fact from political fiction. The same goes for A W Montford who does a sterling job of chronicling the whole, shameful saga.