June 21, 2010

Highly recommended book...



I love books that take me behind the scenes to find out what really happened. And I love books that explain tricky things in a way I can understand. And I love mysteries and whodunits. AND, I love to witness that rarest of treats, the downfall of the wicked. SO, this book, The Hockey Stick Illusion, by A. W.Montford, is pure jam to me.

Did you ever wonder how climatologists can tell us things about the climate of the world many centuries ago? When there were no thermometers or weather stations? They use various "proxy data," such as isotope counts in ice cores or lake-bed cores. Also dendrochronology, which is the study of tree rings. But this is a very tricky and controversial business, and it involves intense statistical analysis of masses of very noisy data.

In 1998, an obscure young climatologist named Michael Mann wrote a paper claiming that global temperatures over the last 1,000 years had been very stable until there was a sharp upturn in the latter 20th Century. The graph he presented looked like a hockey stick—a long straight handle, then a sharp turn upwards that formed the blade.

This was fairly outrageous since the consensus view had always included the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were higher than now, and farms flourished in Greenland, and winemaking in England. Mann ought to have been greeted with extreme skepticism. Instead he was lauded, and his graph instantly became an icon of AGW—the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Why? Because the hockey stick was a "Reichstag Fire" for the leftists and fake-environmentalists who are dreaming of unprecedented power-grabs.

Enter Steve McIntyre. Once upon a time there was a brilliant young Canadian lad who planned to go to MIT for a PhD in Math. Family problems sent him into the business world instead, and he became a mining executive, using his statistics talent to delve into thousands of mining proposals. He saw the hockey stick, and immediately thought of many bogus schemes he had seen. They tended to have the shape of.... hockey sticks!

The book is the story of McIntyre's relentless insurgency fought in tangled thickets of statistical analysis. Which the author manages to make crystal clear, and utterly fascinating. (I blogged about one skirmish of the war here.)

Posted by John Weidner at June 21, 2010 9:03 AM
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