A number of us here at Cliscep and on other sites recently received this email:
I’m sure this e-mail comes out of the blue, and I am sorry to bother you like this. Some of you may not like me. Some of you may not care about me, one way or another. Some of you may even be fond of me. I don’t know. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.
The reason I write this e-mail is I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the influence Stephen McIntyre has had on me, and on my life, and I finally decided to put my thoughts into words. You can see them here:
I know I’m not a particularly good writer. No words I could come up with could hope to express the extent of my sentiments. I know that. I know writing that post may accomplish nothing. I know writing you about this post may accomplish even less. To be honest, I don’t know what I hope to achieve by sending this e-mail.
But whatever may come of it, I feel it is important I at least try to express my feelings toward one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known, even if I’ve never had the privilege of actually meeting him. Feel free to ignore this e-mail, to mock it or do whatever else you might want with it.
I just felt it was something I needed to send to anyone I knew who might read it.
Here is Brandon’s article in full (with a few corrections):
AN OPEN LETTER TO STEPHEN MCINTYRE
This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve thought about it time and time again. I’ve tried to write it a hundred times, and I’ve deleted it for a hundred different reasons. The thoughts and emotions I want to convey are so great no words I could ever come up with could suitably express them. The words I type today will never be adequate.
To Stephen McIntyre, I want to say something. Above and beyond anything else, I want to say this. Thank you.
I will probably never meet you. I will probably never see your face or hear your voice, save for some copies technology provides me. I will probably never sit with you, to speak with you on any topic. This is something I truly lament.
I first saw you name while I was in high school, a callow youth with no real understanding of the world around him. I found your original site, Climate2003.com, due to a random internet search brought upon by casual discussion on a message board somewhere about something I had no grasp of. In truth, I remember nothing of what led me to discovering you.
What I do remember is something simple, something wonderful. It is the idea what matters is the truth. When I came upon your site, I didn’t think, “This guy says something I like therefore it is right.” In fact, I didn’t really understand what you said. You talked about mathematics beyond anything ever heard and discussed science beyond anything I had ever been exposed to.
But in the process, you demonstrated ideas. I didn’t know what an eigenvector was. Looking at matrices as you discussed linear combinatrics made my head spin. Looking at the things you discussed made me understand how out of my depth I truly was. I always thought of myself as a bright individual, but reading your commentary showed me being bright didn’t mean I knew anything.
But at the same time, it showed me something else. It showed me even if I didn’t understand all the technical, nuances of a topic, I could understand the conceptual points. I might not understand what it meant when you argued some series showed up in eigenvector #4 instead of eigenvector #1. The linear algebra was beyond anything I had ever seen. But I didn’t need to understand the math to understand the concept that what matters was what data went into the eigenvector you used, regardless of what number you assigned to it.
There is so much more I could say. There are hundreds of examples I could discuss where a “respected” scientist like Gavin Schmidt or Michael Mann said you were wrong. In terms of math, I couldn’t contradict them. I was nobody. I was a kid with no training for or knowledge of the math you were discussing. But I was a kid who understood sometimes you didn’t need to get the specific details and nuances to understand the concepts involved.
Back then, if you asked me to explain the difference between NOAMER PC1 and NOAMER PC4, I would have blanked. I had no idea what meant. I didn’t understand why short-centered PCA was wrong in any mathematical sense. All I understood was what you said, that what matters wasn’t the output of some complex, arcane formula, but what that output meant.
I didn’t understand the math. I didn’t even understand the science. But what I did understand was an idea you expressed. That idea was it doesn’t matter what the results of any particular calculation were, but what those results meant. That you couldn’t just look at numbers given by a formula and say, “That’s the answer.” That you had to understand what those numbers meant, what questions and concerns they left unanswered.
With this in mind, I remember spending years reading what you wrote. I remember spending years reading what your critics wrote. I remember time and time again when I saw your critics disagree, dissemble or outright lie to contradict you. I remember time and time again where even without understanding the technical issues involved, I could see through the nonsense people threw up to say you were wrong.
I could go on. I could write a thousand words about how I sat and watched you, listened to you, and I wouldn’t cover a fraction of what I remember. I spent years feeling so inadequate I couldn’t bring myself to comment just to say, “Thanks.”
I will always regret not expressing my thoughts sooner, and no amount of words I write now will ever convey the gratitude I feel toward you. You influenced me in ways you’ll never understand. You helped shape my understanding of the world you’ll never know. The person I would have been had I not happened upon you is a person I cannot begin to imagine. To put it in the bluntest of terms, you have likely influenced me more than anyone else in my entire life.
I won’t attempt to describe the ways you’ve influenced me. I won’t attempt to list the ideals you’ve helped instill in me, with your words and with your actions. I won’t attempt to describe the encyclopedic knowledge you’ve obtained of seemingly arcane topics which I’ve attempted to create a poor facsimile of. Nothing I say could ever be adequate.
But it is for that very reason I must speak up today. It is because of the ideals and concepts you helped imbue in me I must write this post, no matter how much it pains me. It is because you are the person I respect more than perhaps anyone else in the world, that I must say this.
You are wrong.
This isn’t some academic dispute over an arcane detail. If it were, I probably wouldn’t feel adequate to challenge you. After all, you’ve done more to influence me as a person than anyone else in this world. My friends, my family, they were fine for what they were. They just didn’t teach me what it meant to believe in something, in ideals about what is right and wrong.
I understand you’ve grown older than you might like. For reasons I won’t go into here, I know what it means to feel one’s body break down and decay with time. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is miserable. It is horrible to feel you have so much more to contribute yet are unable to because of things beyond your control.
Yet, I know something more. I know that no matter what we feel, no matter what we think, in the end there is an absolute sense of truth and justice we can aspire to. There is no factual basis for it. There is no objective reality which says it is what one must aspire to. But even so, if I understand you the way I think I do, it is something we care dearly about.
So in that light, I would like to tell you something I think is important. I think you’ve allowed yourself to become misled. I think you’ve allowed yourself to become lackadaisical. I think you have a lot of great ideas left to express, and you have written quite a few things in the last year I think are truly insightful.
But at the same time, you’ve said some incredibly stupid things. Maybe it’s fatigue. I’d understand if so. You’ve lived a long life. Nobody would fault you if you were unable to put forth the effort you once exhibited.
Perhaps it’s something else. Perhaps there is some sort of bias which causes you to be unable to view certain topics in a fair-minded way. Perhaps there is something about the topics of your recent discussions which wasn’t present in the discussions I followed for so many years. I don’t know.
And to be honest, I don’t care today. I don’t care about the things you’ve said which I think are wrong, stupid or even morally offensive. Those disagreements are important to me. However, they are not important as something else. No matter what happens, no matter what either of us says or does, there is one inescapable reality.
You have made me a better person. At a time I didn’t know what to think, to feel, about the world around me, you showed me something I can never replace. You showed me a set of standards, a type of behavior, I could believe in and aspire to. That will never go away. No matter what disagreements we may have, no matter what things we say, I will never forget how much you helped shape the person I came to be.
So for that, I want to say thank you. No words I ever come up with will express the true extent of my sentiments. You will never know how important your contributions to my life have been. Writing this post is difficult not because I am bad at expressing my feelings, which I am, but because I know no words will ever express the true depth of how I feel.
So whatever may come of the future, whatever disagreements we may have, one message will always stand above the rest for me. Thank you Stephen McIntyre. I am a far better person because of discovering you.