Mark Steyn’s recent A Disgrace to the Profession attacks Michael E. Mann’s hockey stick graph of global warming — a reconstruction of Earth’s temperatures over the past millennium that depicts a sharp uptick over the past 150 years. It is less of a book than it is a collection of quotes from respected and accredited researchers, all disparaging Mann as a scientist and, often, as a person.
Steyn’s main argument is that Mann did a great disservice to science when he used flawed data to create a graph that “proved” his argument about Earth’s rising temperatures. Steyn does not deny climate change, nor does he deny its anthropogenic causes. His issue, as he puts it, is with the shaft of the hockey stick, not the blade. His outrage lies not only in the use of poor data, but in Mann’s deletion of data in ignoring major historical climate shifts such as the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period.
To Steyn, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and all those who supported the hockey stick graph also did a disservice to science by politicizing climate change to the extent that it gives validity to deniers. However, Steyn may be giving these doubters yet more ammo, because he has done nothing to de-politicize the issue. Steyn claims that Mann has drawn his battle lines wrong — but then, so has Steyn, by attacking Mann instead of focusing on the false science.
Steyn’s writing style is broadly appealing, but his humor, initially reminiscent of XKCD, underestimates his audience. His colloquial tone could be seen as a satirical take on what Steyn refers to as Mann’s “cartoon climatology,” but it eventually subverts his argument by driving the same points over and over while never fully delving into scientific details. Although Steyn champions a nuanced view of climate science, his own nuance only goes so far as to tell his readers that they should be less certain, because meteorology and climate science are uncertain.
“The only constant about climate is change,” Steyn points out, advocating for us to better understand climate (which not enough people advocate, actually) and to adapt to changes as they come. It is a point that deserves more attention than it gets in the book. A Disgrace to the Profession is an entertaining read that sounds like a blogger’s rant. Steyn makes few points that are especially compelling, but then insists on hammering them in.
Cover Image: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.