Doomed Planet

Land of the Long White Hockey Stick?

The climate science world is bracing (how we journo hacks love that word “bracing”!) for the next move by Te Papa Tongarewa on Mann’s famous hockey-stick graph. Te Papa in Wellington is, of course, New Zealand’s top science museum.

A year ago I scampered in to look at its giant squid pickled in aspic and found an even more monstrous construction – Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph as the clincher for Te Papa’s global warming display.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used the Hockey Stick as its iconic graph in 2001, since it showed unprecedented warming in the 20th century, compared with the past 1000 years. Mann and the IPCC thus rubbed out the annoying Medieval Warming Period and other major (non-CO2) climate fluctuations such as the Little Ice Age around the 18th  century.

The McIntyre &  McKitrick maths/stats wizzes exposed the graph as a dud in 2003. In 2007, the next IPCC report took a very low posture on the hockey stick, basically concluding, “Don’t know”.[1]

Getting back to my first trip to Te Papa, I filled in the complaint form at reception (no response); wrote a letter to the Dominion Post newspaper (unpublished); and finally, got my email complaint via a friend to Dr Hamish Campbell, a Te Papa geologist and curator. He wrote back, amazingly, “You [my intermediary] are perfectly correct: Mann’s "hockey stick" has indeed been substantively discredited.”

Hamish said that when the exhibit was set up in 2005, he had his doubts but

“let it go with the proviso that the graph was properly referenced… and it is. Things have changed and we at Te Papa have not made any effort to respond to those changes. Now is the time to do so. You are the first person that I know of who has raised any concerns about this component of ‘Wild Water’ [the climate display].

We shall revisit this exhibit in the next few weeks and see what we can do.”

Well, a full year has elapsed and I thought it time to check what has happened. The answer: nothing.

Here’s my follow-up email to Tina Norris, Te Papa’s media person:

1. Is the Mann Hockey Stick Graph still on display ?

2. If the "Hockey Stick" is still on display, has Te Papa made any inquiries as to whether subsequent peer-reviewed literature has validated it or seriously refuted it? 

This took Te Papa nearly a month to answer, for which Tina apologized. She wrote on November 12: 

“The staff responsible for producing this exhibition, did so using the best available knowledge at the time.  They were aware of the debate surrounding the use of this graph and therefore referenced it appropriately.  At Te Papa, we believe it is our role to stimulate debate such as this.

Te Papa is currently planning a refreshment of it’s long-term exhibitions and the use of the Mann Hockey Stick Graph will be addressed as part of that process.

We appreciate you raising this issue with us as it will provide valuable insight on the future content for this exhibition.” 

I would carp a little about whether Te Papa has really stimulated “debate” by putting the Hockey Stick on display, minus any reference to scientific criticisms of it.

However, as I wrote the first time, Te Papa is an excellent role model for science museums and organisations, since it displays a scientific open-mindedness on climate controversies, and doesn’t abuse questioners and critics as deniers and nut-jobs. Te Papa stands in contrast, say, to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, which not only put childish and unscientific climate material on display, but declined to respond to my press questions about it.[2] The dogmatic President of the Australian Academy of Science, Suzanne Cory, might also learn something from Te Papa’s approach.[3]

Te Papa, the eyes of the climate science world are now upon you! May you examine and adjudicate on the Hockey Stick with scientific rigor, not forgetting to read Andrew Montford’s magisterial analysis, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science.   Keep in mind that Mann, a self-proclaimed “Nobel  Prize recipient”, has launched a defamation lawsuit over slights to his reputation. Science is exciting, isn’t it!

Tony Thomas is an incorrigible visitor of science museums


“Greater uncertainty associated with proxy-based temperature estimates for individual years means that it is more difficult to gauge the significance, or precedence, of the extreme warm years observed in the recent instrumental record, such as 1998 and 2005, in the context of the last millennium.”



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