A shout-out for a review of Andrew Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by Matt Ridley in Prospect Magazine.
Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion is one of the best science books in years. It exposes in delicious detail, datum by datum, how a great scientific mistake of immense political weight was perpetrated, defended and camouflaged by a scientific establishment that should now be red with shame. It is a book about principal components, data mining and confidence intervals—subjects that have never before been made thrilling. It is the biography of a graph.
I can remember when I first paid attention to the “hockey stick” graph at a conference in Cambridge. The temperature line trundled along with little change for centuries, then shot through the roof in the 20th century, like the blade of an ice-hockey stick. I had become somewhat of a sceptic about the science of climate change, but here was emphatic proof that the world was much warmer today; and warming much faster than at any time in a thousand years. I resolved to shed my doubts. I assumed that since it had been published in Nature—the Canterbury Cathedral of scientific literature—it was true.
I was not the only one who was impressed. The graph appeared six times in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s third report in 2001. It was on display as a backdrop at the press conference to launch that report. James Lovelock pinned it to his wall. Al Gore used it in his film (though describing it as something else and with the Y axis upside down). Its author shot to scientific stardom. “It is hard to overestimate how influential this study has been,” said the BBC. The hockey stick is to global warming what St Paul was to Christianity.
The rest of the review is here.
Most tasty quote (my emphasis):
Well, it happens. People make mistakes in science. Corrections get made. That’s how it works, is it not? Few papers get such scrutiny as this had. But that is an even more worrying thought: how much dodgy science is being published without the benefit of an audit by Mcintyre’s ilk? As a long-time champion of science, I find the reaction of the scientific establishment more shocking than anything. The reaction was not even a shrug: it was shut-eyed denial.