Academic freedom lecturer takes on claims of climate change deniers


Renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann took on those who deny climate change and highlighted the importance of acting to combat this environmental threat during Tuesday’s University Senate Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom.

Speaking to a full crowd at the Law School’s Honigman Auditorium, the Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University and director of its Earth System Science Center, said those on the front lines of the climate change debate “were dealing with fake news and alternative facts before they were in fashion.”

Throughout his lecture, Mann dissected the ways in which climate change is often portrayed as a debatable phenomenon.

For instance, when climate change is a news show topic, producers will host a scientist alongside a “climate change contrarian,” even though a vast majority of scientists agree climate change “is real, it’s human-caused, it’s already a problem,” he said.

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann took on climate change deniers and called for action to combat the environmental threat. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

One of Mann’s pet peeves is the way the connection between climate change and extreme weather events is discussed.

“The question whether we can prove that climate change caused some particular storm is the wrong question, is an irrelevant question,” Mann said. “The relevant question is, are the impacts of these storms being made worse by climate change, are they becoming more common?”

He was speaking at the 27th annual lecture that honors three former U-M faculty members — Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson — who invoked their constitutional rights when called to testify before a panel of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954. All three were suspended from U-M. Markert subsequently was reinstated, and Davis and Nickerson were dismissed.

In introducing Mann, President Mark Schlissel said he hopes U-M will always be “an unalienable forum for discovery, debate and discussion — a place where respect and disagreement are complementary, where each makes the other stronger and where we all advocate for and learn from their confluence.”

The audience for the 27th Annual University Senate Davis, Market, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

In his lecture, Mann said the last two years have been the warmest globally when one considers global sea surface temperatures, and that the warmer waters contribute to more intense hurricanes. He disagreed with the notion that it’s a coincidence the planet’s waters have become warmer at the same time we’ve witnessed some of the worst natural disasters on record.

Mann argued fossil fuel interests have “cultivated” climate change denial and spent millions of dollars in a “massive misinformation campaign” intended to confuse both the public and policymakers about climate science. He said this campaign has tried to discredit the science and the scientists behind it — himself included.

He said denial has several stages, including claiming it does not exist, that it’s natural or self-correcting, or that it’s possibly “a good thing.”

He outlined how data and research can debunk these types of claims when applied to climate change.

“If you look objectively at the impacts of climate change on food, on water, on human health, on our economy, on national security — across the board, climate change is already doing great damage,” Mann said. “And if we continue on this road, we will see truly catastrophic and irreversible impacts.”

The path forward, Mann said, is to solve the problem at its source — to find solutions to the ongoing accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere.

He said the new administration presents a setback in the fight against climate change, but while President Donald Trump has threatened to back out of the Paris climate accord and eliminate other pro-environmental measures, state and local governments can potentially help the nation live up to its promises in the Paris agreement.

He said people also have to make sure their voices are heard on the issue.

“The decisions we make and the actions we take in the years ahead are going to determine what sort of planet we leave behind for our children, grandchildren,” Mann said.



  1. Greg crawford
    on October 4, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Trump and his supporters are ignorant and are a danger to the future of our planet and have little insight regarding how their actions effect our children’s future. Their bottom line is how much money their corporations are making.

    • Nick Schroeder
      on October 4, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      No doubt many of you are tired of seeing this post and yet I persist. Just explain per traditional scientific etiquette and dialogue why my methods and conclusions are wrong and I will have to stop until corrections are made. Simple and in your hands.

      If it had not been for “deniers” challenging the “consensus” doctors and surgeons would still be going from patient to patient with infectious hands and clothing.
      Here’s an excellent example of fake news.

      “97% of scientists (implying ALL!!! scientists) believe in man-caused climate change.”

      What the MSM meant to say is 97% of all CLIMATE scientists (similar to aroma-therapists and horse whisperers) actively researching and publishing in that field (At this point insert getting paid.) consider the evidence compelling – all 82 of them – cherry picked out of the 10,500 surveys that were sent out. (Doran and Zimmerman)

      Demonizing, marginalizing, silencing and censoring the skeptics and critics (Union of Concerned “Scientists” & Disqus & FB & USA Today & MSN) is the real anti-science. Science without doubt, science without uncertainty, becomes religion.

      Believing that 0.04% of the atmospheric gases magically influences weather and dominates the climate takes a real sci fi flight of fantasy (or article of faith).

      The upwelling/down welling/”back” radiation of greenhouse theory is comic book science, Saturday morning cartoon science, cinematic shape-shifting, mutant superhero science defying six of the three most fundamental laws of thermodynamics and physics.

      Believing in the upwelling/downwelling”/back” radiation GHG/GHE theory is like believing in the X-men, but without the kewl movies. Not surprising since they share a common fan base.

      4,600!!!! (new record & plus 2,800 since 6/9) views collected on the following three papers and NOBODY has disputed my methods or conclusions.

      Step right up, be the first, take ‘em apart.

      Bring science, I did.—We-don-t-need-no-stinkin-greenhouse-Warning-science-ahead-

      • Randy Brich
        on October 8, 2017 at 4:55 pm

        As refreshing as a kitesurfing session on Lake Oahe. THE HOCKEY STICK ILLUSION by Bishop Hill illustrates the methodical errors MM employs.

    • Kristian Fredriksson
      on October 4, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      So are you for or against academic freedom. I guess Michael Mann is against it, so I don´t understand why he is there. To point the problem out maybe?

  2. J. B.
    on October 4, 2017 at 7:49 am

    I tried to attend but could not find a seat. Is there a recording of the talk?

  3. Nick Schroeder
    on October 4, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    The genesis of RGHE theory is the incorrect notion that the atmosphere warms the surface (and that is NOT the ground). Explaining the mechanism behind this erroneous notion demands some truly contorted physics, thermo and heat transfer, i.e. energy out of nowhere, cold to hot w/o work, perpetual motion.

    Is space cold or hot? There are no molecules in space so our common definitions of hot/cold/heat/energy don’t apply.

    The temperatures of objects in space, e.g. the Earth, Moon, space station, Mars, Venus, etc. are determined by the radiation flowing past them. In the case of the Earth, the solar irradiance of 1,368 W/m^2 has a Stefan Boltzmann black body equilibrium temperature of 394 K, 121 C, 250 F. That’s hot. Sort of.

    But an object’s albedo reflects away some of that energy and reduces that temperature.

    The Earth’s albedo reflects away about 30% of the Sun’s 1,368 W/m^2 energy leaving 70% or 958 W/m^2 to “warm” the surface (1.5 m above ground) and at an S-B BB equilibrium temperature of 361 K, 33 C cooler (394-361) than the earth with no atmosphere or albedo.

    The Earth’s albedo/atmosphere doesn’t keep the Earth warm, it keeps the Earth cool.

    Bring science, I did.—We-don-t-need-no-stinkin-greenhouse-Warning-science-ahead-

    • Rolf Lasso
      on October 5, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      “The Earth’s albedo reflects away about 30% of the Sun’s 1,368 W/m^2 energy leaving 70% or 958 W/m^2 to “warm” the surface (1.5 m above ground) and at an S-B BB equilibrium temperature of 361 K, 33 C cooler (394-361) than the earth with no atmosphere or albedo.”

      From 958W/m^2 you count directly to the sphere surface when dividing by 4(pir^2). If we add volume inside and use spherical shells, we get 1360.8=977+383, from surface temp 1/2*1360.8/V^2=383W, 287 kelvin, with V=4/3(pi*r^3). For the perfect sphere, effective emission is equal to solar insolation when combining with surface temp^4.

      Adding that gravity in terms of thermal resistance in units Nm^2, which is equal to W/m^2, is g^2, and the source power of a force equal to gravity in Nm^2 is 383W(N)/m^2, 4g^2.

      I think there is a more interesting scientific standpoint to be found in totally ignoring science based on the greenhouse fantasy. We clean up by firing Mann and everyone that believes the greenhouse theory is correct. If a scientist promoted the AGW-threat, they have invalidated themselves. They cannot do science anymore.

      • Rolf Lasso
        on October 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm

        Forgot, g=9.78m/s according to Nasa. Surface acceleration. So emission from a earth is, (977.3W/4)+95.65Nm^2= T_effective + g^2

        A simple heat engine.

        • Michael Atzmon
          on October 7, 2017 at 3:44 pm

          Mr. Lasso, the first point made in any introductory physics course is that two sides of an equation have to have the same units (i.e., 3 apples = 5 oranges is not a valid statement). Every step of your post violates this principle.

    • Michael Atzmon
      on October 7, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Mr. Schroeder, your post is an example of the dangers of incomplete knowledge.
      1) Different parts of the solar spectrum are absorbed to a different degree. Visible light is hardly absorbed in the atmosphere, as we know, but infrared, which dominates the black-body radiation emitted by the earth, is a absorbed in the atmosphere to a great degree, an effect that is enhanced by CO2. For similar reasons, sunshine heats cars and greenhouses. See for details.
      2) Your calculation has an accounting error: The irradiance of 1361 W/m^2 is the value when the sun is at the zenith, averaged over the days of the year. When further averaging over the 24 hours of the day, you obtain a significantly smaller value. Therefore, if the earth didn’t have an atmosphere, its average temperature would be -18°C (about 0 F). It is because of the infrared absorption in the atmosphere that the earth is warmer.

      • Joz Jonlin
        on October 14, 2017 at 8:26 pm

        Cars and greenhouses lack a freely convective atmosphere. Claiming the atmosphere is anything remotely like a greenhouse or a closed vehicle is absurd, yet it’s a common and vacuous claim. This claim is either made from scientific ignorance or it’s a blatant and willful lie.

  4. Stephen Heins
    on October 4, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    [A humble scientist is a wise scientist. Anyone making predictions should heed the words of the great philosopher Casey Stengel: “Don’t make prediction especially about the future.” This might be a great time to have a thorough discussion on climate change, without rancor or name-calling.

    Let’s admit that there are many, many people in the world who haven’t accepted the fact that the planet will always face an uncertain future, with imperfect measurements, and with imperfect knowledge, humans, and politics.

    Science is never settled. Steve]

  5. Stephen Heins
    on October 4, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    P.S. Clearly, Michael Mann has no sense of humor, nor does he have a sense of irony. As an “Academic freedom lecturer,” he gave a speech preaching for the end of the climate debate at University of Michigan, after President Mark Schlissel introduced Mann by saying that UM will always be “an unalienable forum for discovery, debate, and discussion.

  6. Stephen Heins
    on October 4, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    P.S. Clearly, Michael Mann has no sense of humor, nor does he have a sense of irony. As an “Academic freedom lecturer,” he gave a speech preaching for the end of the climate debate at University of Michigan, after President Mark Schlissel introduced Mann by saying that UM will always be “an unalienable forum for discovery, debate, and discussion.

    • Stephen Heins
      on October 4, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      Sorry about the repetition, unlike Michael I only repeated myself once. I tried to delete it, but the software wouldn’t let me.

  7. david smith
    on October 5, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Mike tries to shut down debate. At an “academic freedom” event. Ha ha!

  8. Chip Ster
    on October 5, 2017 at 3:05 am

    The same Michael Mann who was caught manipulating tree ring data, who colluded to blacklist scientists from academic journals and now slaps costly lawsuits on critics – this Mr Mann – was invited to lecture on academic freedom?

    And the journalist who covered it did so with a straight face, having apparently not bothered to Google his long history of hysteria.

    Hard to believe that even now in 2017 there are still people who take this man seriously.

  9. Mark Michaels
    on October 5, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Why did Michael Mann hide his data from climate skeptics? Why did he implore other climatologists to hide there data from climate skeptics? How did he ever get invited to this conference?

  10. Dave Fair
    on October 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    It’s politics, not science nor academic freedom.

    As long as MM spouts current dogma, he is welcome at any liberal event.

  11. Chandler Davis
    on October 13, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Let me first express my welcome to Michael Mann as Academic Freedom Lecturer. I am proud to have my name associated with this remarkable series, and with Prof. Mann. Second, thank you to Safiya Merchant and the Record for a fair and enlightening report. I would add this to it: the question period was the high point of the event. Questions and comments abounded, from all sorts of listeners: the kind of forum we need more of. (The climate-change-denialist fringe was absent, so it is odd to see it so prominent in your Comments column.)

  12. Bart R
    on October 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    It greatly saddens me to see so many in the comments parading infamy and rhetoric about as science, firstly for the direct harms they do, and secondly for the clear lack they have of grasp of what science is.

    Science is the philosophy or principal holding exact or most nearly true only inference solely from all observation with least assumption, exception or omission possible but no more than possible until new observation leads to new inference.

    Therefore a number of species of argument abounding in other fields are invalid when discussing science. Science does not entail argument by authority, nor appeal to emotion, nor tolerate logical fallacy nor abide false claims, as debaters are used to. Debating itself is no more than the formalized descendent of primitive Greek practices of seeking to make the worse case seem the better as a warning to students not to succumb to such tricks.

    One trespasser challenges, “If it had not been for ‘deniers’ challenging the “consensus” doctors and surgeons would still be going from patient to patient with infectious hands and clothing.” This is a false claim; indeed it reverses the actual historical record wherein scientific evidence for the inference of ‘germ theory of contagion’ mounted while for over a century medical practitioners continued to deny their filthy hands were killing their trusting patients.

    These tropes that echo back inverted narratives to clad false arguments abound: Galileo for example is compared to the Ted Cruz and Jim Inhofes of the world, for crying out loud. For shame.

    The straw man arguments, the embracing of irrationality, the self-pride of those who choose to depict nescience and propaganda as science and righteousness is galling.

    There have been some 150,000 peer-reviewed academic studies published in the last six decades building page by page, line of data by line of data, challenge and experiment and reproduction and refinement leading to the present understanding of climate anyone willing to read and study could obtain. Instead these strutting peacocks concoct and repeat nonsense from blog posts and political hacks.

    They pollute the discourse with every mischief they can, all patently to avoid paying for the harms their fossil affiliations do, and they call it with no apparent sense of irony, ‘academic freedom’.

    The surface of the moon is colder than the surface of the Earth in exactly the ways and exactly the amounts predicted by the Physics behind our understanding of AGW. Over 26,000 natural observable proxies for temperature or other aspects of climate change behave exactly as the same Physics predicts when too much fossil waste for the biosphere to dispose of efficiently.

    And these time-wasters want to debate the number of scientists who dance on the head of a pin.

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