Skip to Content
4Jan 2013

Dan Kahan: Caught in the climate-change crossfire.

Michael Mann

While I was working with Dan Kahan yesterday to arrange for his guest post on guns and the death penalty, I came across another one of his posts--a discussion of the climate-change chapter in Nate Silver's recent book, "The Signal and the Noise." Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School who studies how cultural values shape risk perceptions, described Silver's thoughts on climate change prediction as correct and even wise. 

Then he addressed something that puzzled him--a highly critical review of Silver on The Huffington Post by Michael Mann, the climate-change scientist known for the "hockey-stick" forecast of global warming. The headline on Mann's post was "FiveThirtyEight: The Number of Things Nate Silver Gets Wrong About Climate Change." (It's a reference to Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times.)

With that headline, you might expect some pretty tough criticism, and Mann delivers. Silver's chapter on climate change is marred by straw man claims that don't stand up to scrutiny," "particularly misguided," and " takes some unnecessary cheap shots." Mann admits he didn't find 538 things wrong, but says he took "poetic license" with the headline.

Kahan's post, which he published this past Monday, said this about Mann's review:

Frankly, I find the gap between Mann’s depiction and the reality of what Silver said disturbing. You’d get the impression from reading Mann’s review that Silver is a “Chicago School” “free market fundamentalist” who dogmatically attacks the assumptions and methods of climate forecasters.

Just not so. I mean really really really untrue.

Now, he finds himself assailed on both sides. Because he called Mann "a great climate scientist," the many people who find fault with Mann's hockey stick are blaming Kahan for drinking Michael Mann Kool-Aid. And Mann's defenders are attacking Kahan for criticizing Mann's review.

Kahan was caught in the crossfire of an ongoing war that he has had little to do with. And his comments were respectful; he was puzzled by Mann's review, not angry. 

But anger is what came his way by return post. The lesson? There are apparently not many people left who can discuss climate science dispassionately, or who care to.

-Paul Raeburn

Login or register to post comments