Rhetorically hyperbolic? Or reckless disregard for truth? (Update)

Posted January 23rd, 2014 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Paradox

When will NRO and Mark Steyn et al tell their followers that they are now claiming, in their defense, that their allegations of fraud against Michael Mann were merely rhetorical hyperbole rather than statements of fact that can be proven false?

Motions to dismiss a complaint by Michael Mann against NRO and Mark Steyn have been dismissed by DC Superior Court Judge Weisberg, who has affirmed previous rulings. In his ruling, he states that the allegation that the plaintiff , i.e., Michael Mann, “molested and tortured data” is not rhetorically hyperbolic – as was the comparison to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.   Whether it was false and made with “actual malice” are questions of fact that a jury will now get to decide.

For background, see my previous post, and updates by Eli Rabett and Climate Science Watch, which has been keeping the closest tabs on the case.

Rhetorical hyperbole? Or reckless disregard for truth?

Posted July 28th, 2013 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Paradox

Rather than stand behind their allegations – that Michael Mann has been engaged in fraud and scientific misconduct,  the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the National Review (NR) along with two of their journalists. now argue that these were merely “expressions of opinion and rhetorical hyperbole… not assertions of fact”.

These arguments were made in their Motion(s) to Dismiss a Complaint brought against them by Michael Mann for “utterly false and defamatory statements” with regard to the falsely debunked hockey stick. On July 19, that motion was denied by the DC Circuit Court, which held that the statements were based on “provably false facts”, and thus not protected under the constitution. (unless indicated otherwise, quoted text in this post is from the legal documents available through the above link)

As a public figure, the challenge for Mann and his legal team will now be to show that there was “actual malice.”  In this case, that the statements are not merely false, but that they were “made with knowledge of their falsity”, i.e., “with reckless disregard for their truth.” Given that there have been at least six investigations of Mann’s research activities that have found no evidence of data manipulation or other scientific wrongdoing,  which were at least partly a result of calls for investigation by CEI itself,  this case should not be a difficult one to make.  (Those six investigations do not include all of the peer-reviewed studies confirming Mann’s work.) Although Judge Green found it likely that Mann “could prove actual malice”, she also considers it a potentially close case.

So unless the defendants find other ways to have the case dismissed, it looks like a jury will get to decide whether they were making good faith arguments, or not. In a few previous posts, I reviewed some of the hockey stick allegations to make that case that these so-called climate “skeptics” are not acting in good faith. Rather, that they are engaged in a deceptive parody of science, intended to deceive those least informed, who cannot tell the difference. It starts with the act of calling themselves “skeptics”. Given that the “defendants contend that any reasonable reader would interpret their statements as rhetorical hyperbole,”  it might be interesting to hear from their readers (or maybe not). In those previous posts, I neglected to discuss the role of certain think tanks, such as CEI, who played a lead role in publicizing if not actually fabricating these unsubstantiated claims, and in calling for investigations. However, much of what is known is well chronicled in Michael Mann’s book, and by John Mashey. Revisiting these…

It also looks like Myron Ebell (one of the ringleaders at CEI) will get what he once wished for. According to some of the Mashey Chronicles, back, in 2005, when Congressman Joe Barton sent letters to Mann and his co-authors, essentially initiating a witch hunt, Ebell very promptly circulated those letters to an undisclosed email list – possibly before they were even seen by those to whom they were addressed.  Ebell was also quoted in a BBC article saying “We’ve always wanted to get the science on trial” and “we would like to figure out a way to get this into a court of law.”

So one would have expected at least CEI to welcome the opportunity to make their case, and to hear something more from them than the chirping of crickets. However, as Eli has pointed out, the arguments in their Motion to Dismiss, that the statements were “not assertions of fact” is “going to make it tough for them to argue that they were telling the truth about him and askin for discovery to dig dirt.” Mann will be under no such limitations.

Popcorn anyone?

An aggressive and practical strategy?

Posted April 26th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Paradox
Comments Off

At the Oil Drum, Jeff Vail provides a more nuanced explanation of why energy efficiency measures are not effective as a standalone solution for reducing energy consumption (alluded to in earlier PNT posts, here and here and in future ones not yet written…).  Among these are the Jevons Paradox which, applied to energy has a “rebound effect.” Lower demand brings down prices which increases demand. Perhaps not to previous levels, but then there is the indirect or “shadow” rebound effect of what is done with the money saved, like taking a trip to Hawaii, or just spending it on plastic baubles or other goods and services that require energy to produce.

One solution to this is an energy tax, and then investing the proceeds in the design of and transition to lifestyles that consume less energy, like development of mass transportation, for example? Gas taxes are a show-stopper for elected officials who fear to even mention the possibility but, if prices are going to go up anyway, the choice isn’t between paying more or less but between adding to oil company coffers and getting better public transportation and other public services in exchange. But to do that, we would also have to keep our elected officials accountable… An interesting research question is whether there would be a higher willingness-to-pay taxes  if those paying them had more confidence it would bring improved services.

As for reducing the reduction of the rate of increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by a whopping 4/10ths of 1%, Stephen Colbert gives credit, where credit is due for the administration’s “aggressive and practical strategy” for increasing real estate in Greenland, includes a few hot melting facts, and nails Bush for not paying any attention to the Poles:

Luntz – just “a language guy”?

Posted April 25th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Paradox

Frank Luntz, whose infamous 1998 memo recommended playing up scientific uncertainty to avoid action on climate change, now says he is “a language guy… not a policy guy”, as if these two could be separated.  In an interview that aired last night on the Frontline series on Hot Politics, he also said his role was just “to figure out what language would work.” Since then, as the interviewer stated, “”[An] entire group of science skeptics grew up around that, who have in some ways moved the debate back to “scientists aren’t really sure,” when in fact scientists are sure. “”

Now that the context and his beliefs have shifted, Luntz is trying to make himself look “reasonable” and position himself in that elusive middle ground, blaming the lack of action on “those who have used global warming as a baseball bat to beat up the opposition.” Though he now accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, in his view, “the problem with those who advocate a change to global warming is that, frankly, they’re hysterical.” As for those who still follow his 1998 recommendations, “That’s their responsibility. They have to defend that.”

hmmm – I’ll fess up to having been, at times, hysterical, but not as much about global warming as about the impossibility of having the kind of quiet rational discussion about it - of the kind that Luntz now advocates, with seemingly intelligent people who still maintain that “the evidence isn’t all in.” Believe me, I have tried, only to have Benny Peiser quoted to me again. Which takes us back to the 1998 Luntz memo. He says he was only reflecting back the language-in-use of the day. But that isn’t quite right. Actually, what he did was misuse the language of the day to reinforce a distorted image of science as a crystal ball, as if it could ever provide certainty, and exploit (or enable others to exploit)  the fear of uncertainty and general angst about the future for political gain. He also helped give credence to arguments that lacked intellectual merit, clouded public discourse, and prevented earlier action on an issue not only of high uncertainty but also urgency and high stakes, which he now says requires preventive action!*&!%!!^@&%^&!!!

ok, following Luntz’ current advice, I’m going to just take a deep breath…. Lets talk – about uncertainty. As I said in one of the initial posts on this blog, “if science could provide certainty, decisions would just be a problem like that of rocket science. With enough research, computer models would tell us the best course of action, and the losers could all be compensated. And if you believe that is even possible, you probably also believe there was a decisive victory for Bush in the recent US election.” Like the birds and the bees, uncertainty is a fact of life, for which science can at least provide a navigational device. (the bees might need to learn science too, to make up for the loss of their navigational devices, but I digress)

I’m really glad Luntz has changed his beliefs and his tune but if he wants absolution, he needs to take some responsibility for his words and the way they are used,  just as scientists can no longer separate themselves from the intended uses of the knowledge they generate.

He also now says:

I believe in common ground, and I believe in a consensus. There has to be a way that we can be environmentally protective and not be anti-economy. There has to be a way that those who care about the future both from an economic standpoint and a environmentally responsible standpoint can be in the same room and find agreement that moves us in the right direction.

What’s the language? It’s a balanced approach; it’s a common-sense approach. It takes into account this consensus that you speak of, and you even used the word, the word “consensus.” Mark my words, the word “consensus” is going to be part of the environmental debate going forward, because it suggests that people — rational people, decent people — can come together and have an agreement, not only on what is happening in this country, but how best to deal with it in the future.

The only problem I have with these last statements is that he probably gets paid a lot more than I do to say them. It isn’t like I, and many others, haven’t said similar things.  More on that to come…