This is a guest post by Shub Niggurath.
So we can't engage in the dishonest tactics that those looking to discredit us may be willing to engage in. But we can try to become better communicators of the science; try to find novel ways to explain to the public the fact that the science is solid …
Readers are aware of John Cook’s secret forum whose contents leaked, exposing material he and his followers would rather, not see the light of the day (see e.g. here, here and here). Most of it was the puerile fantasies of climate alarmists who need private space to admit and confess to what they cannot in public. However, there are actions undertaken behind the scenes that impact the public sphere. Again, Cook and his followers have every right to carry out these as well, but scrutinize them we can.
An Amazon.com astroturfing operation
In January 2012, the scientist Michael Mann, author of ‘The Hockey Stick Wars’ book contacted the communicator John Cook.
Starting the previous year December, Cook informed the congregation that he had digital copies of Mann’s book he could send. The purpose was clear:
… I'm anticipating a flood of spam from WUWT as soon as the book is released. If anyone else wants a PDF copy of the galley proofs in order to write a review for Amazon (and can received a 6Mb email attachment), let me know and I'll email you the PDF…
About a dozen volunteered, requesting copies of the book.
Quickly on its heels, Cook sent out a ’second round’ of copies:
Emailed the second round of SkSers a copy of the book. Any other stragglers, not too late to put in a request (you've got till February actually). I'm expecting to see reviews from all of you, btw! :-)
Cook received regular updates from Mann, keeping things on the line:
I've been informed that activity on Mike Mann's upcoming book will begin around Feb … and supposedly the Amazon launch on March 6. So possibly we can start posting reviews on March 6 but who knows, might be earlier. To all SkSers who I emailed a copy of the book, can I suggest you read the book and have your book review ready in the holster by early/mid February ready to go at a moment's notice.
Come the end of January 2012, there was a change of plans. Mann’s book was coming out earlier. He wrote Cook, asking that his band of reviewers be ‘lined up and ready to go’
it now sounds as if Amazon.com could go live w/ kindle version as soon as Jan 31st, so Amazon reviewers should be lined up and ready to go then if at all possible. WIll provide any further updates when I have more info. My publisher is urging reviewer-writers not to write blog reviews then (they have a later rollout schedule in mind for blog reviews), but it is ok to submit Amazon reviews then---and as we know, it will be important to do this quickly once Amazon opens their reviews to offset efforts of deniers. Again, its (sic) looking like this will be *Jan 31st* and we should operate under that assumption!
Thus orchestrated, Cook’s followers began posting reviews, starting immediately with the book’s release on Amazon.com. Soon, a host of 5-star reviews populated the table. The scale and speed of the operation must have been impressive. As one commenter smugly observed:
Thats a heck of a lot of people who have managed to read the Kindle edition in about 3 hours since it went on sale ;-)
John Cook kept up the pressure
I did email out over a dozen copies of the book to SkSers who specifically requested it - what happened to all those reviews?
Everything from requesting, ‘strongly recommend’ing, and ‘nagging’ for reviews and asking that they ‘report abuse’ for negative reviews was carried out in the space of 3-4 months. The followers descended on Amazon.com, voting, replying, and rating comments up or down. In a span of 10 days, they were declaring victory. They had fought back what they perceived as the Wattsupwiththat ‘swarm’.
In February, Mann got in touch with Cook:
Mike Mann informs me that the Amazon page is getting bombed again w/ ugly comments & "one" reviews. We don't know where it is coming from, but we'll need lots of help again.
Once again, ‘lots of help’ was provided.
Mann appears to have considered the review ‘ratings’ an important aspect to be controlled. In March, Hu McCulloch posted comments at Climateaudit about the book and a review on Amazon.com. Mann wrote to Cook (emphasis mine):
deniers are definitely pulling ahead this time. they look organized, lots of activity. they're voting down good reviews and voting up bad ones. pretty soon some of the really bad reviews might make it into the upper ranks.
By then however, Mann’s Amazon review pages were so thoroughly monitored and policed by the Skepticalscience team that readers took notice of the mismatch between Mann’s ideas and ‘the situation on the ground’.
I'm following several of the more active threads and I'm not getting that much activity. I see many more positive reviews going up, and the positive reviews are rated far better than the negative ones.
One commenter described Mann as being ”a little over-sensitive” and another stated Mann “ought to be pleased how things are turning out”.
Amazon.com review section for Mann’s book is evidence of Skepticalscience’s review activism. There are hundreds of comments from Skepticalscience moderators haggling with almost every customer who did not give Mann’s book a glowing review. Authors can indeed request reviews, but running a behind-the-scenes operation that posts bulk reviews, controls what reviews rise to the top, and what comments are considered helpful becomes astroturfing.
When I examined Skepticalscience’s history-rewriting campaign earlier, there was Waybackmachine, observations from readers, and little else to go on. This brief recounting shows how things were different than how they seemed.
It is well-known that Skepticalscience had nothing much to say about paleoclimatic reconstructions. For example, their first detailed explanation for Phil Jones’ email about “Mike’s Nature trick” and “hide the decline” came out only sometime in November 2010, a full year after Climategate. Jean S put the article’s claims to rest in a single comment in January 2011.
Behind the scenes, it turns out Michael Mann didn’t think the Skeptical science ‘hide the decline’ article was strong enough. In February 2011, Cook informed the group:
Im (sic) working on a hide the decline post. Because of the renewed attention on the decline, Michael Mann had a look at my decline rebuttal and told me it could be "more solid". So with the master's red ink over my work, I'm going back and having another look at it.
The ‘renewed attention’ referred to nemesis Richard Muller’s video which had then emerged on Youtube.
Basically, there has been this increased attention on 'hide the decline' because of Richard Muller's Youtube lecture. So Michael Mann had a look at the SkS rebuttal and emailed me, saying it could be more solid and also sending me some material he'd written on the decline.
What had Cook done? By March, Mann’s content and directions in hand, Cook had overwritten the pre-existing articles with a new version. As he explained (emphasis mine):
So I read through Mike's stuff, boiled it down to 3 essential points, cannabilised (sic) content from Dana, James and my own earlier stuff and compiled it into a single advanced version. … - as this is meant to be the definitive rebuttal on 'hide the decline' - any suggestions would be most welcome. … Again, sorry to Villabola and James … I don't think I've ever done this before, overwritten someone else's work, but based on the feedback from Mike Mann, this seemed the best way to go.
One of the authors of the article protested - he didn’t agree with the revision. He also pointed out that Cook had made the changes under the original authors’ names.
It is not clear to me that “Mike’s Nature trick” is separate to “hide the decline”. … I notice the intermediate rebuttal of “hide the decline” still says it was written by me, and the basic version by Villabolo. You’d better correct that.
Another author woke up to the change much later. He protested as well (emphasis in original):
…The rebuttal that's in the basic level section – [link] - has my name on it but it is not my post (?). …
Even earlier, as Cook had pored over ‘the master’s red ink’ he was alerted that what was planned wouldn’t look good:
Whoops, you shouldn’t have said that, John. Now if someone hacks into the SkS forum, they’ll know we’re all corrupt stooges and our “master” is Michael Mann. *sarcasm alert*
Another noted that the comments were “now connected to the wrong texts” and could later “lead to accusations of bad faith”.
None of these suggestions were taken on board at any point. Cook jettisoned the original text of the article, replaced it with Mann’s interpretation (of his own trick), and left author names unchanged making it appear as though they wrote the material. Furthermore, the same canard – ‘Mike’s trick had nothing to with ‘hide the decline’ – was propagated through articles at the website that had to do with the topic.
The original article concentrated on the seeming transgression: Was using ‘Mike’s trick’ to ‘hide the decline’ a fair step? Was there anything malfeasant about it?
In the revised version - under Mann’s invisible hand - Jones’ famous statement morphed and split in Kafkaesque fashion into three different things. “Mike’s Nature trick” was something unconnected to Jones’ use of it to ‘hide the decline’ which in turn, became a separate thing by itself. The issue of ‘addition of real temperatures to proxy series’ was thrown away as though it never existed or happened.
What was left of ‘Mike Nature trick’? Apparently, if one believes Cook’s (Mann’s) explanation, it is merely the “plotting recent instrumental data along with the reconstructed data.”
One struggles to comprehend what the trick was in this! Readers can gauge the level of misdirection present in the revised article from a sample statement:
It's clear that "Mike's Nature trick" is quite separate to Keith Briffa's "hide the decline".
To the contrary, Jones had discarded proxy values after 1960 for Briffa’s curve and spliced instrumental data both to Mann’s and Briffa’s series. The ‘addition of real temperatures to proxy series’was performed in the WMO graph. That is what he says he does. Jones later emailed the WMO data to Curtis Covey:
The attached file has the data you want. There are 5 columns (mine, Mike Mann's, Keith's, Annual NH and JJA NH). The last two are instrumental and only start in the 1850s. Keith's starts about 1400. All are wrt 1961-90. You will see that for the 3 multiproxy series this file has been extended to 1999 by adding in instrumental data for the season and region each was supposed to represent. […]
The splicing of instrumental data to proxy ones is there, for the world to see. In fact, Jones reiterated the point about Mike’s trick of adding real temperatures, in an email to Chris Folland (emphasis mine):
[…] All these series end around 1980 or in the early 1980s. We don't have paleo data for much of the last 20 years. It would require tremendous effort and resources[ …]
It is possible to add the instrumental series on from about 1980 (Mike sought of did this in his Nature article to say 1998 was the warmest of the millennium - and I did something similar in Rev. Geophys.) but there is no way Singer can say the proxy data doesn't record the last 20 years of warming […]
During the same period, it appears that Cook was putting together Mann’s ideas about his Nature trick so they could be fed back to Muller himself. A third party was in touch with Muller just before his Congressional hearing due on the 31st of March. Muller was being emailed Skepticalscience’s series of articles on ‘Mike’s Nature trick’ and ‘hide the decline’ written specifically for the purpose (emphasis mine):
I'd like to get this MM#2 out before the Thursday hearing. I know someone who is in correspondance (sic) with Richard Muller, who emailed him the first SkS MM#1. So I'm going to ask him to email Muller about MM#2 before the Thursday hearing. Then I will be very interested to hear whether at the hearing, Muller conflates "Mike's trick to hide the decline" or claims the decline data was withheld then leaked.
The Skepticalscience discussions were spread out over three threads. There was valiant questioning from his commenters. One of them reminded Cook that the articles gave the “impression that [our] articles are very defensive about protecting the protagonists against the charge of deliberate intent to deceive”, while lacking “clear explanation of what the substantive point the attackers have been complaining about.” In turn, Cook revealed his idea was more circumscribed:
BTW, Peter let me know the video won't be done until next week. So I posted MM1 now. Hopefully some accountability will have Muller tempering his misinformation at Thursday's hearing.
An ideal result would be if we could get Muller to stop repeating his falsehoods in future public talks and interviews.
Readers might recall the resignation of one Hans von Storch just before a hearing.
In the outside world, armed with Skepticalscience’s explanation of Mike’s Nature trick, Mann has quoted their article as though it constituted an independent source.
For instance, he wrote on his Facebook page:
actually Mk the "trick" had nothing to do w/ the "decline" at all, so the lie goes far deeper. It was just a perfectly legitimate device for comparing two different datasets. See the discussion provided by SkepticalScience:on this: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Mikes-Nature-trick-hide-the-decline.htm
Except that the discussion in question was not provided by Skepticalscience.
In October last year, in the ‘letter-to-the-editor’ mess that broke out at the Vail Daily News, Mann sent readers to www.skepticalscience.com in his response to one Martin Hertzberg’s comments about the hockey stick. A couple of days back, Mann sent readers of the San Diego Union Tribune to Skepticalscience.com, responding to one Mr Bart Denson’s comments about the hockey stick. Last month, Skepticalscience was defending Mann against Ryan Simberg and Mark Steyn’s characterization of the hockey stick as fraud, once again, with Mann’s own explanation
On Twitter, Mann has referred followers repeatedly to skepticalscience. For example, he pointed Miranda Devine’s followers to Skepticalscience in March this year when she talked about the hockey stick. So he has his own followers, for a host of reasons.
Cook can try to rectify the situation. He can admit that he surrendered significant editorial control to Michael Mann over a topic in which he was an interested party. He can retract the articles on his website, indicating that he co-authored the hockey stick ‘rebuttals’ with Michael Mann.
As far as Michael Mann is concerned, he could write his own articles and replies. He could open his eyes to the fact that skeptics didn’t pay much attention to his tedious book. He should probably give up trying to find ‘novel ways’ to explain science to the public.