Climate scientist and CSI Fellow Michael E. Mann is one of two winners of the prestigious 2019 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He is known for his courageous championing of the findings of climate science in the face of aggressive opposition from nonscientist forces.
He shares the Tyler Prize with Warren M. Washington, Distinguished Scholar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Washington is one of the fathers of numerical modeling of the complex interactions within and between Earth’s land, ocean, and atmosphere. Washington literally wrote the earliest book about climate modeling.
The Tyler Prize has been called the “Nobel Prize for the Environment.” The $200,000 prize will be shared equally by the two scientists.
“The Tyler Prize Executive Committee is honored to recognize two outstanding scientists, who have not only advanced our knowledge of climate change, but also demonstrated exceptional courage and commitment to public policy,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Tyler Prize chair.
Mann pioneered the use of proxy data to estimate global temperatures back to more than a thousand years into the past. These proxies include ice cores, tree rings, and lake sediments. His analysis showed that our planet’s climate was getting warmer, and rapidly so. This produced a pattern that in 1999 became known as the “Hockey Stick Graph.” Some have labeled it “the most controversial chart in science.”
Oil and gas lobbyists began attacking the Hockey Stick in an attempt to discredit Mann, its junior author. As the Tyler committee points out, “Dr. Mann endured blistering legal and political attacks, including the carefully orchestrated email hack that became known as ‘Climategate.’” (SI’s coverage included “Climate Wars: Science and Its Disputers,” March/April 2010; D. Morrison, “Disinformation about Global Warming,” March/April 2010; M. Boslough, “Mann Bites Dog: Why ‘Climategate’ Was Newsworthy,” May/June 2010; “The Winter of our Discontent,” May/June 2010; “Climate Wars: Reaction to SI Coverage,” July/August 2010; and M. Boslough, interview, “Michael Mann and the Climate Wars,” November/December 2016.)
The Tyler awards committee points out that despite this intense scrutiny, Mann chose not to retreat to his lab but to accelerate his efforts to make the science demonstrating climate change accessible to the public.
“He has become one of the ‘go-to’ scientists when the U.S. media wants an explanation for the latest scientific findings about climate change, or the connection between the latest disaster and climate change,” said Professor Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “He is a staunch defender of good science, but he does not suffer fools lightly, and routinely calls them out in a very public manner. He is edgy, but right.”
“Professor Mann did not choose the easy way out,” said Naomi Oreskes, Harvard professor of the history of science and author of the book Merchants of Doubt. “For his courage in the face of this challenge, Mike Mann is not just a great scientist, but also a hero.”
In physicist and CSI Fellow Mark Boslough’s interview with Mann in the November/December 2016 Skeptical Inquirer, he noted that the attacks on Mann “backfired spectacularly in your case.” Mann replied, “Well, yes—I like to think the hyenas tangled with the wrong zebra.”
But he pointed out that the same tactics continue to be deployed, with politicians serving subpoenas on climate scientists and otherwise attempting to send “a collective chill throughout the entire climate science community.” He added, “The motive is personal destruction.” He concluded, “The silver lining is that we are now creating a whole generation of scientist communicators who are not only doing great science but are effectively communicating the science and its implications to the general public.”
Mann was a speaker at both CSICon 2016 and 2017, and in early 2018 the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) announced his election as a fellow. The citation called him “a noted climate scientist” who advanced “the scientific understanding of historic climate change” and is also “active in public outreach and countering misunderstandings about the findings of climate research” (March/April 2018).
“I’m truly honored to be recognized by the Tyler Prize committee and pleased they mentioned my science outreach efforts in their praise,” Mann told the Skeptical Inquirer. “Of course, public outreach and communication is a community-wide effort, and I thank my friends at CSI for the role they’ve played in fighting pseudoscience and antiscience as we seek to inform the public and policymakers about matters of policy-relevant science.”
Mann and Washington will deliver a public lecture on their work on May 2 at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center. In a private ceremony on May 3, the Tyler Prize Executive Committee and the international environmental community will honor the two laureates during a ceremony at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, San Francisco.
Cover Image Courtesy Of: Joshua Yospyn