Politics & Policy

Michael Mann Embarrasses Himself before Congress

Michael Mann testifies on Capitol Hill, March 29, 2017 (science.house.gov/YouTube)
If the climate-change evangelist can’t be bothered to take a House hearing seriously, why should anyone take him seriously?

In his testimony to the House Science Committee on Wednesday, Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, told the story of Trofim Lysenko, a plant scientist who worked for Stalinist Russia:

Lysenko was a Russian agronomist and it became Leninist doctrine to impose his views about heredity, which were crackpot theories, completely at odds with the world’s scientists. Under Stalin, scientists were being jailed if they disagreed with his theories about agriculture. And Russian agriculture actually suffered, scientists were jailed, many died in their jail cells and potentially millions of people suffered from the disastrous agriculture policies that followed from that.

The gist of Mann’s anecdote was that scientists who challenge the ruling government’s diktat on any given scientific issue are demonized and punished while innocent bystanders suffer. In the here and now, this would seemingly apply to the minority of scientists brave enough to question the reigning dogma of climate science. After all, these are the folks who have been threatened by top law-enforcement officials, personally and professionally attacked by their peers, and even driven out of their academic positions due to the harassment.

But astonishingly, Mann was not talking about those scientists: He was talking about himself. In his alternative universe, he and other climate scientists are the martyrs, oppressed and silenced by the Politburo. Never mind that Mann — a tenured professor at one of the country’s top public universities — opened his testimony by reciting a prodigious list of awards he has won, books he has authored, scientific organizations he leads. He is celebrated by the media and environmental groups around the world, and yet in front of Congress he talked like a guy on his way to the Gulag. It takes a special blend of hubris, juvenility, and dishonesty to portray yourself as a victim when you are really the bully.

It was quite a spectacle. Mann was joined on the panel by Judith Curry, John Christy, and Roger Pielke, Jr. — three scientists who have actually endured the kind of political witch-hunts Mann referred to. Rather than present data or debate the science, Mann mostly engaged in the sophistry that has gradually undermined the credibility of climate science. He repeatedly referred to a bogus “97 percent consensus” about man-made climate change, and accused the Heartland Institute of being a “climate-change denying, Koch brothers–funded outlet.” He engaged in one ad hominem attack after another against his fellow panelists and the committee’s chairman, Representative Lamar Smith. He questioned whether Smith really understood the scientific method and read a nasty quote about Smith from a smear piece in Science magazine

Mann’s rhetoric became so inflamed that he was finally upbraided by Representative Dana Rohrabacher. “From the get go, we have heard personal attack after personal attack coming from those claiming to represent the mainstream of science,” Rohrabacher said to Mann. “Call people ‘deniers’ all you want, use any kind of name you want . . . when we talk about Mr. Lysenko, that’s the kind of thing they did to the scientists in Russia. Try to call people names and beat them into submission, that’s a Stalinist tactic.”

Mann’s name-calling prompted Representative Darin LaHood (R., Ill.) to bring up his defamation lawsuit against National Review. After getting confirmation from Curry and Pielke that they had been subjected to attacks by Mann — Pielke said he couldn’t “keep up with all of Dr. Mann’s epithets” — LaHood called Mann on his hypocrisy: “You mention in your opening statement about staying away from that and yet we have a suit that’s been filed based on those exact same things. There’s a real disconnect between a defamation suit that does the exact same thing you’re engaged in that in this public forum.”

Turns out Mann appears to be a bit of a denier himself. Under questioning, Mann denied being involved with the Climate Accountability Institute even though he is featured on its website as a board member. CAI is one of the groups pushing a scorched-earth approach to climate deniers, urging lawmakers to employ the RICO statute against fossil-fuel corporations. When asked directly if he was either affiliated or associated with CAI, Mann answered “no.”

I talked to Pielke after the hearing. He was clearly frustrated about the status of the science he loves. “If these are the leading voices of climate science, they can have it,” he told me. “The field is so politicized that it’s almost impossible to break through. Now we are being compared to murderers and Stalinists. If their favored policies are so fragile in light of legitimate critique, they might want to rethink their policies.”

Mann was obviously trolling the committee and humoring his base during the hearing; he didn’t even pretend to take it seriously. (He later tweeted that — on a dare — he had referenced the movie The Princess Bride during his testimony.) That is certainly his prerogative. But you would think the day after President Trump decimated the Obama administration’s climate-change agenda by rolling back the Clean Power Plan, a leading climate scientist would at least try to make a compelling case against such sweeping action. But Mann put his own ego ahead of science. Not everyone was amused.

“Dr. Mann’s hypocrisy was on full public display,” Smith told me via e-mail. “Members of the scientific community should be free from such ad hominem attacks. Those who engage in name-calling seldom have the facts on their side.” If Mann’s behavior is representative of the seriousness of “mainstream” climate scientists, we should all reconsider the credibility of his message.

— Julie Kelly is a writer from Orland Park, Ill.

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