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Friday, May 2, 2014

Fraud and Free Speech

In 1972 I was a newly hired copywriter, working for Potomac Arts, Ltd., a direct mail fund raising agency. I was enthusiastic, passionate, and more than a little bit naïve. In addition to writing fund appeals for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, I wrote most or all of the copy for their newsletter. In writing about an organization that had attacked the right to keep and bear arms, I said that what they claimed to be doing was fraudulent. In my naiveté, I did not realize that the word “fraud or fraudulent” has legal connotations. In this narrow definition, it means that you are accusing someone of financial misuse of funds. In other words, you are accusing them of a crime.

More recently and more practically, the word fraud has taken on a broader meaning. It has been used to say that something is phony or bogus. Its definition is not limited to the strict idea that someone has financially misused funds. When you call a hoax a fraud, you are not saying that the person perpetuating the hoax has committed financial fraud. You are saying that what they are promoting cannot stand the test of objectivity and honesty.

Happily, my youthful enthusiasm for engaging in polemics did not land me in jail, nor did the agency I worked for end up in court. It did, however, require the agency to spend some dollars with an attorney to extricate themselves from the matter. I was appropriately embarrassed by causing my employer to spend funds unnecessarily. And, I learned a lesson. In matters of the law, when attorneys are involved, there are no winners. Legal expenses make everyone a loser.

It is because of my experience with the use of the word fraud that I have been following, with some interest, the lawsuit of Penn State University professor, Michael Mann against National Review, Mark Steyn, Rand Simberg, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. To the left, Michael Mann, is a sort of global warming guru. However, Mann got his rear stuck in a crack after e-mails he exchanged with Professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU) became public. Ultimately, Professor Jones admitted to the manipulation of data to give an outcome that he sought. And, according to the London Times, the disgraced climatologist barely escaped prosecution for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when he refused to comply with requests for data concerning claims by Jones and other scientists that man-made emissions were causing global warming.

Jones had been in close e-mail contact with Michael Mann, and when the e-mails of the CRU were hacked and then released to the public, it became obvious that neither Jones nor Mann were enthusiastic about making the data or the methods used to reach their conclusions available to other climate scientists with whom they disagreed. In fact, they discussed all sorts of ways of obfuscating, delaying, and otherwise ignoring requests for information. Jones even went so far as to insist that Mann destroy the e-mails he had sent to him.

Michael Mann’s response to the e-mails exposing his effort to deny access to methods and data used to create his “hockey stick” graph is similar to the White House response to the latest Benghazi e-mail implicating the Obama Administration in a cover up of the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi. The Administration discounts the e-mail as meaningless. Similarly, Professor Mann brushed off the damning e-mails between himself, Professor Jones, and others as being unimportant. In both cases, we are expected to disbelieve our lying eyes.

Nevertheless, the scheming, conniving, and maneuvering of Mann and others to discredit their critics has certainly tarnished their image as objective scientists. The bottom line with Mann and others is that the climate debate is over. This same tack has been taken by the Los Angeles Times, which now refuses to print any letters to the editor from those who challenge the scientific veracity of man caused global warming. Now, I have a degree in engineering, and for several years I worked as an environmental control engineer with the Gulf Oil Corporation. I have, of course, long since retired my slide rule for a career in fund raising. Nevertheless, the idea that man caused global warming or climate change is settled science is nuts.

Real science is about free and open inquiry. The idea that the earth was flat was settled science for the people of the ancient world, but that didn’t make it right. You can’t take a vote to decide what is right or wrong in science. At one point in time, a majority of those interested in science might have voted that the earth was flat, but that did not make the earth flat.

Science is about empirical studies of facts, using the scientific method. What is the scientific method? It is simply this…
  • Observation/Research
  • Hypothesis
  • Prediction
  • Experimentation
  • Conclusion
The simple fact is that global warming cannot be verified by the scientific method. Observation and research are incomplete. Experimentation is untrustworthy because the mathematical models are predicated on unreliable data, and because they cannot take into account all possible variables. Conclusions are impossible due to a lack of objective results gained from experimentation.

Further complicating the situation is the intrusion of politics into the scientific sphere. When you are the recipient of federal grants designed to further a belief in global warming, you are no longer an objective, scientific observer. You have become a political hack.

True scientists welcome critics who challenge their work, thus forcing them to defend their thesis and their testing results. This is the way the scientific community works. However, when someone attempts to deny their critic’s access to their methods and to the data gathering procedures, they go outside the realm of reliable science. At that point they have become advocates and political scientists, not true scientists.

I said earlier that I gained some knowledge of what can be said and what cannot be said in a fund raising letter as a result of the use of the word fraud in a 1972 newsletter. Well, I must not have totally learned that lesson because in the 1980s, a letter written by Eberle Associates, and sent out by a client, described Madalyn Murray O’Hare as an “angel of Satan.” This description caused, in part, 9 years of legal entanglement. Not only was I sued by Mrs. O’Hare, but I was also sued by her attorney on a similar matter. It all came for naught, but only after legal expenses exceeded more than $500,000. Fortunately, mine were covered by insurance, but nevertheless, it was a colossal waste of time and money. It turned out that Mrs. O’Hare had described herself as a “demon directed damsel.” A description I found rather odd, considering the fact that she said she was an atheist, and logically therefore did not believe in either demons or in Satan.

This is relevant to the current lawsuit by Michael Mann against National Review, Mark Steyn, et. al. because the good professor has generously used the term fraud and fraudulent to describe those with whom he disagrees. Apparently what’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander in the land of Mann. According to National Review, when Mann was interviewed by Mother Jones magazine he said, “…it will soon be evident that many of the claims made by the contrarians [i.e. skeptics of the global warming hypothesis] were fraudulent.” And, in his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Mann hoped that “those who have funded or otherwise participated in the fraudulent denial of climate change” will be held “accountable.” He sounds rather mean spirited and mean to me.

But, of course, as my local radio commentator Chris Plante likes to say, “If it weren’t for double standards, liberals would have no standards at all.” Indeed. Mann can dish it out, but he clearly can’t take it. What really caused the current legal ruckus was an article published by Rand Simberg on the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and then quoted in part in a National Review blog by Mark Steyn. Mr. Simberg wrote, “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and the planet.” Ouch! Apparently, this really set off the good professor. And, in fairness, no one wants to be compared with a child molester. It may have been a poor choice in wording, but it is free speech. But, with Michael Mann and those on the left, free speech is only reserved for those on the left. They really don’t believe in free speech. It’s their way, or the highway.

While Steyn disclaimed the Simberg quote, he wrote in the NR blog, “Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey stick’ graph, the very ringmaster of the tree ring circus.” (Tree ring refers to Mann’s reliance on dubious “proxy” data to gauge historical temperatures.) It is, of course, because of the use of the word fraudulent that the legal case was filed by Professor Mann.

Mann’s case is going nowhere, and it is likely that he and his attorney know that. The apparent purpose of the lawsuit (filed in the District of Columbia) is to further intimidate those who disagree with Mann and other global warming clingers from challenging them. Unfortunately, the Mann case should have been thrown out in the beginning, but because he successfully found a liberal judge, it is going forward, with justice as the casualty.

We may not yet live in an authoritarian state, but it appears that those like Mann wish we did, so that they do not have to defend their cockamamie ideas in the court of public opinion.