ClimateGate: The Very Ugly Side of Climate Science

When we think about “scientists,” most of us probably envision people toiling away in the lab or the field, accumulating and analyzing data in order to test theories, leaving their personal biases at home, scrupulously considering any confounding data or theories and willfully distancing themselves from the political implications of their research.

How quaint.

Truth be told, scientific research has been a blood sport for centuries. But a recent scandal that’s been dubbed ClimateGate is showing a very ugly side of climate science, and anyone who clung to that old-fashioned vision of scientists at work will be surprised by the reality.

There is much to be written and said on this topic, and a lot of what’s being said at this early date is hyperbolic, on both sides of the aisle. Here’s a good summary from Andrew Revkin at The Times:

Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views. … In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”

Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents. …

The evidence pointing to a growing human contribution to global warming is so widely accepted that the hacked material is unlikely to erode the overall argument. However, the documents will undoubtedly raise questions about the quality of research on some specific questions and the actions of some scientists.

If you are a fan of science, this is a pretty grim day. If you are a fierce partisan on either side of the global-warming issue, you are either gnashing your teeth or clicking your heels. If you are a government official heading to Copenhagen soon for the climate summit, you are probably wondering what the hell you’re supposed to think now. If you are a reader of the Freakonomics blog, you are probably … well, I don’t know: tell us what you’re thinking.


Walter Wimberly

Unfortunately its very simple. Researchers make their money and fame from coming up with research that will be promoted, published, and allowed to continue getting research funds. I've read many a research paper that basically concluded with "For a better understanding however, more research will be needed..." or something like that.

If someone who's job is to research a given topic (regardless of subject), what incentive to they have to release information which would cause them to potentially become jobless? They will not want to release definitive information on a subject one way or another because the grant money will dry up and they will have to move on to another topic starting over again.

over21sam

C'mon! A few sentences from a few emails apparently are going to spell the ruin of climate science, a discipline that has been developing for the last hundred years?

Of course you don't wanna believe the obvious correlation between CO2 and temperature indices!
Of course you don't want to believe that rising CO2 will cause ocean acidification, potentially causing the extinction of vast numbers of marine species! (And there's nothing sulphate geoengineering schemes can do about that)
Of course you're not going to give any creedence to scientific efforts to understand past climates, and the factors that controlled them!

Nobody expects you to, because it wasn't enough to make you believe them before a few shady emails.

Pitiful.

Toothfairy

Hardly surprising. There is no reason to think that scientists can be any less political than anyone else. We saw the same thing happen with the Iraq mortality count when the Lancet apparently short-circuited the peer review process to release a flawed study with an inflated death count to coincide with the 2004 US Presidential election timetable.

Sarah

The MMGW theory is over. You won't believe the lengths the group of companies I work for are going to to rid themselves of any suggestion they ever supported this nonsense.

Last month the Directors were all for Copenhagen, this week, they have ordered the removal of any mention of CO2 from our websites, press information etc - it's become a dirty word over night...!

Samuel Middleton

They didn't "fudge" any data; they used two different data sets on a graph because one wasn't reliable. They reported all the raw data in that study.

I get the feeling this is being promoted so heavily by the skeptics because when you have 10+ years of emails to sort through you're going to find *something* suspicious when stripped of context, and you can be assured that if you bring it up in an argument the person you're arguing with won't be able to counter your claim without memorizing a hell of a lot of emails.

Finding out that climate scientists are largely contemptuous of climate deniers is hardly news to anyone, but is great for discrediting the science they do: "Don't listen to professor X! he's so partisan and close minded he disrespects people who disagree with him behind their backs!"

Caliphilosopher

This shows that there is a distinction between positive science and normative science. Nothing new here.

Statler

As a computer scientist, what I think is that the hacked computer servers aught to have had better security, and it disgusts me to see people implicitly condoning hacking by focusing on the emails rather than how they were obtained.

Val

The guys are all working for the 'State Science Institute'

David

Forget about the emails for a minute, check the contents of the computer program sources in the data files. The comments made by some (probably) disillusioned programmer give more damning insight into the manipulation of data.

Some examples: [Source: WUWT]
From documents\harris-tree\recon_esper.pro:

; Computes regressions on full, high and low pass Esper et al. (2002) series,
; anomalies against full NH temperatures and other series.
; CALIBRATES IT AGAINST THE LAND-ONLY TEMPERATURES NORTH OF 20 N
;
; Specify period over which to compute the regressions (stop in 1960 to avoid
; the decline

[note use of "avoid" and not "hide" as per emails quoted arounf the net]

and more:
; Plots 24 yearly maps of calibrated (PCR-infilled or not) MXD reconstructions
; of growing season temperatures. Uses “corrected” MXD – but shouldn't usually
; plot past 1960 because these will be artificially adjusted to look closer to
; the real temperatures.
;

Read more...

danny

RE: Samuel Middleton

Not true. They have not provided any raw data. That is part of the issue. They continue to hide, delete and conspire to keep this "evidence" out of real scientists hands. Hence, the many emails about avoiding the FOIA.

What the emails do reveal is the reason why why they have fought so hard against any release of the data. Its all made up and spun in ways to fit their political agenda.

If MMGW is real, why do you fear a peer review of the methodologies and data. Release the data and lets shine some light on this for everyone. Stop treating this like a religion and bring it back into the sphere of science!

Steve

This is a non-story that will sadly blow up to much more than it really is.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/

Beth

From the Washington Post coverage:

In one e-mail, the center's director, Phil Jones, writes Pennsylvania State University's Michael E. Mann and questions whether the work of academics that question the link between human activities and global warming deserve to make it into the prestigious IPCC report, which represents the global consensus view on climate science.

"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report," Jones writes. "Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal," Mann writes.

"I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor," Jones replies.

Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute who comes under fire in the e-mails, said these same academics repeatedly criticized him for not having published more peer-reviewed papers.

"There's an egregious problem here, their intimidation of journal editors," he said. "They're saying, 'If you print anything by this group, we won't send you any papers.' "

Read more...

charles

I think that the failure of the Al Gores of the world were in the tools of clarity and certainty they relied on to win over the masses. The facts are that "climate" is a complex system subject to an infinity of future unknowns, and there is neither certainty nor clarity. We can barely even scratch the surface of inputs that caused what we've seen in the past, much less guess about the future. The emails reflect this and it's nothing nefarious. It's how science works when we aren't dealing with controlled experiments.

Unfortunately complexity doesn't sell well. That makes a peak behind the curtain a little shocking for those that bought into the idea that we have a current path that will put us at x degrees warmer at x years in the future. When you get down to it, in the minds of people, the experts lied to them. This is something that many of us have known just from the expressed certainty in regards to predictions in a complex system where there are no "experts" as there are in dentistry, or carpentry. Al Gore was lying all along. This doesn't mean that we should have inaction...in fact; unpredictability is an excellent argument for why we might want to be even more careful
.

Read more...

Ronny G

Anytime politics gets involved science is distorted. Ask any politician who opposes marijuana legalization why pot is worse than Alcohol, and they will go on at length about scientific research has proven that pot is worse.

Rmoen

This controversy leads one to wonder whether the IPCC is truly objective. In my view the United States needs our own objective, transparent 'Climate Truth Commission' to think through global warming.

For twenty years I believed in man-made global warming theory, but the evidence has changed. During that period we've had ten years of warming then ten years of little or no warming. I blame my confusion on the United Nations for getting ahead of their facts. When they claimed CO2 drives global warming, they were more concerned about politics and funding than science. One only needs to look at their track record: UN forecasts do not fit what actually happened.

-- Robert Moen, www.energyplanUSA.com

Jeremy

Give me a break. This is just an example of something scientists do all the time--spiffing up their charts to highlight the conclusions they want to reach. It's not terribly ethical and it makes scientists look bad. They deserve to be criticized.

But to use this one example as a "smoking gun," let alone a "mushroom cloud" that demonstrates global warming is based on a conspiracy of scientists creating bunk science is just ridiculous. It reveals you to be at home among the flat-earthers, despite your protestations to the contrary.

I've finally had enough of reading this blog. It deserves to be on foxnews.com--not the paper (website) of record.

Chris

I am inclined to believe climate change is real but remain uncertain because scientists could embrace this in the same way they embraced eugenics.

[If climate change is real and we ignore it, we're in deep trouble. If climate change is real and we wait for politicians to do what's necessary, we're in deep trouble. If it's not real and we reduce the burning of carbon-based fuels, I think downside risks are limited.]

Dober

The truth is starting to come out, it's about time!

jesse

it's funny how many people who want to hold onto their beliefs in climate change justify this kind of fraud in so many ways.

"they're just human"

"tricks" are neat ways to present data.

etc....

read the emails. this is EXACTLY what the tobacco industry did with their "science."

so many people have so much invested in this global warming thing that you can show them how the data has been falsified to influence them and they either won't read it or they will say something absurd like statistical "tricks" are just clever ways that "scientists" use to show us the "truth."

it's so sad what we have become. dying to be lead. literally.

Nosybear

Does the fact that these e-mails were hacked alert anyone? I think there's enough ambiguity in this story that anyone reading it can see it as supporting their position. Did the scientists communicate with each other about their research? Yes. Did some of it sound like they were fudging data? Yes. Did the hacker have pure motives, i.e. could the 'hacked' e-mails have been fudged or altered? Yes. So, like the Right using the mammography and pap smear studies to discredit health care, it is easy to apply this information to areas it wasn't meant to address, in other words, imply causation where there is at best correlation.