Sophistry takes on science

 Amazon Book Review of The Hockey Stick Illusion
1 Star

This book has become something of a cult classic amongst those seeking to deny anthropogenic global warming. Telling the story of Stephen McIntyre's assault on Professor Michael Mann's temperature graph which demonstrates the steep rise in late 20th century temperatures.

The statistical methods under dispute are analysed in tedious detail by Montford, but The Hockey Stick Illusion is notable for what is left out rather than what the author has chosen to include. This sleight of hand reaches a crescendo on page 212 when Montford slips in that McIntyre would  not be offering up an alternative global temperature reconstruction but was “merely demonstrating that Mann's was not robust." This second hand unfootnoted account of where McIntyre has set the bar for his own quest is all we have to define "discredited". Whether that speaks to McIntyre's  confidence in his own work or his objectives is a good question which Montford never asks, probably because the answer would result in criticism of his hero which is outside the scope of this hagiography. 

So McIntyre's approach never actually leads to a destination, it's the journey that counts. And because Montford always faces the direction opposing scientific consensus on climate the book misleads  the reader as to the scale and importance of observed recent global warming.

This is wrong because science is what is known, not what you want it to be. Someone once described science as lighting a candle in the darkness, sadly Montford and McIntyre's science is the opposite. 

Numerous researchers have replicated the hockey stick graph but McIntyre is not one of them. A true skeptic would smell a rat at that point. A scientific theory remains valid until it has been disproved or somebody comes up with something better. Neither has happened, so this book settles for the next best thing – magnifying the uncertainties inherent in scientific research whilst translating it into a popular narrative – and because this takes place under the shadow of public policy a dash of libertarian flavour is added too. For that Mr Montford will probably be remembered as the 21st century's most successful propagandist.


  1. What I found amusing was that Monford did a rather disgruntled post after Mann's own book came out asking why this book was never reference by it - as if it really had something valuable to say on the matter.

  2. I should add that Frank O'Dwyer is doing a multi-part fisking of Hockey Stick Illusion.

  3. Actually, Montford:
    1) For a key theme, relied on a quote from a review of Crichton's "State of Fear," by a petroleum geophysicist, published in a journal known for reincarnation, UFOs, ESP, weight loss by suffocated sheep ... and best of all, dog astrology.
    2) Then he added specific untruth to smear researcher Jon Overpeck, an untruth that was clear if one actually read the citation he used.

    See discussion in Wikipedia talk page, archived a while back. Defenders of Montford didn't like this much and repeatedly tried to delete it from a *talk* page (a no-no).

    If you want more on this lovely journal, see this.