ClimateGate as Rorschach Test

In the 10 days since we first blogged about “ClimateGate” — the unauthorized release of e-mails and other material from the Climate Research Unit (C.R.U.) at East Anglia University in Norwich, England — it’s become strikingly clear that one’s view of the issue is deeply colored by his or her incoming biases. No surprise there, but still, the demarcation is stark. One of the best indicators: when you stumble onto a blog post about the topic, you can tell which way the wind is blowing simply by looking at the banner ad at the top of the site: if it’s for an M.B.A. in Sustainable Business, you’re going to hear one thing about ClimateGate; if the ad shows Al Gore with a Pinocchio nose, meanwhile — well, you get the idea.

Those who feel that global warming is the most pressing issue of our era, a potential catastrophe that needs to be addressed by governments around the world as soon as possible, generally argue that ClimateGate is a tempest in a teapot — little more than the sort of academic infighting and nasty language you’d find by raiding any academic’s hard drive; that if the aggrieved climate scientists seemed to be stonewalling, it was out of aggravation with the disruptive tactics used by some global-warming skeptics who are probably funded by the oil industry; that the scientists who wrote potentially incriminating e-mails represent just a few of the thousands of scientists who have contributed to the global-warming literature; and that, if anything, climatologists need more support in the future to fight off skeptics’ attacks.

This camp wonders why there hasn’t been more outrage about the fact that the C.R.U. material was illegally obtained.

The other side, meanwhile, cries “Remember the Pentagon Papers!” while also positing that the C.R.U. “hack” may have in fact been the work of an internal whistleblower who was distraught that scientific fraud was being perpetrated.

This second camp feels that the C.R.U. material proves what they’ve been arguing all along: that the threat of global warming lies somewhere between exaggeration and hoax; that it is a conventional wisdom produced by an alarmist cabal of climate scientists whose research has set the agenda of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.); that the e-mails prove the scientists have been manipulating climate data, bullying anyone with dissenting views, and encouraging one another to delete incriminating evidence that might be gained under a Freedom of Information Act request; and, most ominously, that a long document called HARRY_READ_Me, which at this point appears to be the four-year work log of one Ian (Harry) Harris, a C.R.U. research staffer, seems to suggest that the C.R.U.’s underlying global-temperature data were an absolute mess.

This camp also feels that the mainstream media has underplayed ClimateGate — although this view is probably now fading. In just the past few days, there has been a ton of coverage. Still, they complain that the major American TV networks are ignoring the story, leaving it to Jon Stewart to break the news. I won’t steal Stewart’s thunder except to say that he now apparently believes that rising sea levels are caused by “God’s tears”:

But if you want a really good example of how deeply polarized the issue is, take a look at these TV exchanges. In the first, George Will says the C.R.U. material shows the scientists “suppressing criticism, gaming the peer-review process, and all the rest,” while Paul Krugman states “There’s nothing in there”:

And in this conversation between Stuart Varney and Ed Begley Jr. — well, hold on to your hat:

Many blogs covering the topic are just as bombastic. The most prominent blogs in the arena, however, tend to be less so. That said, emotions still run high — particularly in the comments sections. If you feel like wading into the conversation, you might wish to sample Dot Earth, Watts Up With That, and RealClimate, which presents “climate science from climate scientists.” The discussions at RealClimate are intense, for at least two reasons: they are more about the science itself than the conversations at other blogs; and several of its contributors are the very scientists whose e-mails were among the C.R.U. leak, including Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State and one of the scientists responsible for the now-famous “hockey stick” graph, which has been widely used as evidence of a dangerous global-warming trend.

Mann has not blogged at RealClimate since the C.R.U. data were released. His most recent post, strangely enough, was headlined “Climate Cover-Up: A (Brief) Review,” but he was referring to global-warming skeptics’ “disinformation campaigns” against legitimate climate science. He has, however, given a few interviews (see here, for instance).

Meanwhile, Penn State’s college paper, the Daily Collegian, reports that Mann is the subject of a university inquiry into whether he “fabricated or manipulated data on global warming.” And Mann seems to be distancing himself from Phil Jones, the director of the C.R.U. and the scientist who is at the very center of the scandal. Jones, it should be noted, has temporarily stepped down from that position while his actions are being investigated.

So how will ClimateGate affect future climate research and, importantly, climate legislation?

I think the best answer is that it’s far too early to say. Despite the rather dramatic early response to ClimateGate, one senses that there are many other shoes to still be dropped. Many parties will be poring over those documents in the weeks and months to come. Already, however, the scandal has entered the political arena. Just yesterday, at a Congressional hearing on “The State of Climate Science,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) “called for an investigation of the e-mails,” according to NPR, saying that “at worst, it’s junk science and it’s part of a massive international scientific fraud.”

In Australia, meanwhile, the government’s anticipated plan to set up a cap-and-trade system — seen as a strong down payment toward further such legislation at the U.N.’s upcoming climate-change conference in Copenhagen — was unexpectedly shot down. If you concur with the Telegraph‘s James Delingpole — whose first article on Climategate began “If you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW” — this was but the first political defeat the scandal will produce.

As for the central scientific issue here — that the most prominent climate scientists’ computerized models may be neither as robust nor as predictive as many people think — that is something we write about in some detail in SuperFreakonomics. Passages like the following have won us a few detractors in certain quadrants of the climate-research community:

The current generation of climate-prediction models are, as Lowell Wood puts it, “enormously crude.” … “The climate models are crude in space and they’re crude in time,” he continues. “So there’s an enormous amount of natural phenomena they can’t model. They can’t do even giant storms like hurricanes.”

There are several reasons for this, [Nathan] Myhrvold explains. Today’s models use a grid of cells to map the earth, and those grids are too large to allow for the modeling of actual weather. Smaller and more accurate grids would require better modeling software, which would require more computing power. “We’re trying to predict climate change 20 to 30 years from now,” he says, “but it will take us almost the same amount of time for the computer industry to give us fast enough computers to do the job.”

That said, most current climate models tend to produce similar predictions. This might lead one to reasonably conclude that climate scientists have a pretty good handle on the future.

Not so, says Wood.

“Everybody turns their knobs” — that is, adjusts the control parameters and coefficients of their models — “so they aren’t the outlier, because the outlying model is going to have difficulty getting funded.” In other words, the economic reality of research funding, rather than a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus, leads the models to approximately match one another. It isn’t that current climate models should be ignored, Wood says — but, when considering the fate of the planet, one should properly appreciate their limited nature.

So if what we’re all really after here is “a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus,” what is the current route to that goal? It is hard to think that the I.P.C.C. won’t think twice about every research paper it considers in the future. If the entire enterprise has been tainted — a big “if” — who will, or should, be leading the charge toward producing scientific research wherein every cloud formation doesn’t look like just another Rorschach blot?


Frank Talk

Wether the Earth is warming is not the most important question in this debate. It has warmed and cooled before, and it may be doing one or the other now.

I belive the more important question is, if the Earth is warming, are human-made CO2 emissions really the cause? Policymakers here and abroad believe the Earth is indeed warming and CO2 is the cause -- and the policies being proposed as a remedy will have significant consequences.

But I am not convinced, nor do I believe that anyone has addressed what I think are the most important questions:

At the end of the last ice age, some 10,000+ years ago, the Earth warmed substantially. There were no coal plants or automobiles then, no significant source of human-made CO2 emissions. So...

1) What caused the Earth to warm then; and 2) How do we know that same phenomenon is not occuring again, today?

I would like to see the media and policymakers ask those questions. And I would like to see a reputable climate scientist -- if there is such a person -- address them.

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Paul

I have only a litlle BA in Economics and no background in Earth Sciences, but in general isn't pollution bad?

Personally, I am not nearly as concerned about why the Earth is warming as much as I do think it is a bad idea. If reducing pollution may help, that is a good thing. One of the latest issues of National Geographic had a simple analogy for this -- think of a bath tub, if more pollution is coming than can be removed, we run into problems. Just like too much water going into a tub that can't be drained.

Isn't a balance more desireable? Sure It won't kill me, probably not my kids or their kids, but someday it will get us all.

But heck, better to put off to tomorrow, what gets int he way of profits today, right?

Mick Langan

I cannot believe the title on the video is "Paul Krugman smacks down George Will". Has the Left completely abandoned reason?

David L. Hagen

Follow the money. NASA refused to publish Ferenc Miskolczi's new planetary climate theory. Miskloczi now reveals that the global greenhouse effect (total optical depth) including both H2O and CO2 has been essentially flat for 61 years from 1948 to 2008. See:
http://miskolczi.webs.com/

Icecap.us is the blog by numerous climate "realists" - scientists skeptical of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. See
http://icecap.us/

TJ

"This camp wonders why there hasn't been more outrage about the fact that the C.R.U. material was illegally obtained."

Really? Really... REALLY!??

So, you'd have them arrest the boy who declared the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes? I guess this is what to expect from a parishioner in the Church of Mann-Made Global Warming.

Yes, I spelled Mann correctly.

Greg

Something I find disturbing is that they were even able to destroy the data. I work in statistical analysis, and SOP is for independent replication and the preservation of raw data. The fact that it is not there leads me to believe that it was not destroyed, but that it never existed in the first place. There is way to much money involved, and way to many qualified analysts available to allow this to happen.

Aristophanes

I've been to the Arctic and the Rocky Mountain glaciers 25 years ago, and more recently.

There is substantial melting in that time period. Heat melts ice, and it's happening everywhere.

We don't need these models, just a lot of thermometers and ice measurements to show that when ice melts on such a vast scale, it's getting warmer.

Earth is a closed system and no one, not even the skeptics, deny that the Earth has been subject to extreme warming before. In any closed system, adding carbon at the rate humans are, the heat goes up. the "hockey stick" graphs and other software models are intermediary interpretations of the evidence. They are not the evidence. The real evidence demonstrates that global warming has occurred in the past, with CO2 the likely cause, and we are releasing C02 now, and that ice is melting.

Simpler science = better answers. Even my old Inuit neighbour I revisited last year tells me it's warming!

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Hyperion

"The latest meme is that Google is ever so-subtly tweaking its autosuggest results to make it more difficult to find information about climategate, because the autosuggest results are not what some people think they should be.

Does anyone see the slight inconsistency there?"

This is absolutely confirmed. I have been posting about this for several days to make people aware. Google is not doing a good job filtering this out, but they are trying. Use Bing to find more info on Climategate.

Hyperion

"This camp wonders why there hasn't been more outrage about the fact that the C.R.U. material was illegally obtained."

Puts you in the same camp with Barbara Boxer, but almost no one else. Not exactly the same camp an intelligent person would want to be in. There is no hacker, this was an inside job. You are not going to gain any traction with that. And this is not going away. Do yourself a favor and stop supporting these corrupt scientist and the politicians and con artist that have bought them off, and start doing some objective reporting.

Ed

The definition of hide is as follows...

hide 1 (hd)
v. hid (hd), hid?den (hdn) or hid, hid?ing, hides
v.tr.
1. To put or keep out of sight; secrete.
2. To prevent the disclosure or recognition of; conceal: tried to hide the facts.
3. To cut off from sight; cover up: Clouds hid the stars.
4. To avert (one's gaze), especially in shame or grief.
v.intr.
1. To keep oneself out of sight.
2. To seek refuge.

Any Questions? No matter which side of the issue your on weve been deceived and lied to for finacial gain. Im glad the truth is finally coming out that the cooling of the last 11 years is a fact and we are completely within a normal range of our globes temps.CO2 is a natural organic compound on which all life is sustained. It is not a pollutant
like benzene or perclorethylene and is essential for photosynthesis in plants and crops.

"A true patriot questions his lying government."

fred

GIGO

misterb

Let me remind everyone of Dr. Levitt's post on this subject elsewhere on the blog. He seems to have the appropriate response.
From my point of view, if global warming is totally debunked, it changes nothing. If man has the capacity to change the planet, and it's indisputable that we do, then we have the responsibility to change it for the better.

ZS

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/12/ta120309.html

"...on November 24, Stephen J. Dubner, who wrote about Climategate for the Freakonomics blog at NYT.com, appeared on Fox Business Network with host David Asman. Asman introduced the segment by evoking efforts by Hitler and Stalin to manipulate science to achieve their evil ends. Asman said, preposterously, "Well, it can't happen here, as many people have said, but apparently it has." Asman's guest completely allowed the comparison of climate scientists to the mass murderers to stand.

Dubner then claimed that the emails showed that scientists were "colluding" with Al Gore in "distorting evidence." He insisted that "you can't read these emails and feel that the IPCC's or the major climate scientists' findings and predictions about global warming are kosher." He also claimed, without any evidence, that the hackers who illegally obtained the emails "either wanted to get in there because they knew there was something they should read. Or maybe there's a whistle blower." Dubner's conjecture put him in league with Rush Limbaugh, who, the day before, guessed "maybe there's a whistle blower inside the organization who is just unhappy about what's going on."

In light of all this, Mr. Dubner, it seems really disingenuous for you to pretend that you're straddling the two "camps" of "ClimateGate". With your chapter in Superfreakonomics, and your comments on Asman's show, you've made your position clear. Why not just go ahead and throw your cards on the table and claim your links on Watt's Up With That and Climate Depot? You'd be equally misguided, but at least you'd be honest.

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P

I don't believe anything anyone says anymore.

cirby

Aristophanes: "There is substantial melting in that time period. Heat melts ice, and it's happening everywhere."

...except that doesn't seem to be the mechanism for disappearing glaciers. What DOES seem to be happening is normal melt levels at lower altitudes, combined with much higher sublimation rates (ice evaporates without melting in low-humidity conditions, like the ice in your freezer), along with much lower precipitation rates. Kilimanjaro, for example, is losing a lot of ice - but it's mostly because the areas around have changed to agriculture, and don't generate high-altitude snow downwind like jungles do.

They're not seeing detectably higher temps on most of the glaciers that are "melting" - which sorta kills the global warming idea for that. Many of the glaciers that are disappearing are at altitudes where the temperature never gets anywhere close to warm enough to allow melting.

The biggest glacier-killer is lower humidity - which also is a counter-argument for anthropogenic global warming, since one of the primary assumptions is that higher CO2 causes a positive feedback that causes much higher humidity, which causes the REAL warming (no, CO2 by itself can't do it at current levels - we'd need ten times as much CO2 to get the predicted effects instead of 1/3 more).

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melting pot

let's wait for the investigation results. So far, too much ado about stolen emails. Anyway, the CRU data reflect a tiny proportion of what's been gathered by other scientists around the world. These data sets have been in the public domain for a long time and the skeptics have not been able to prove anything with them (much against the evidence that CO2 is helping to warm the world at a very rapid rate.)
Another propaganda ploy by the skeptics and those who sponsor them. They don't care that reputations and careers get destroyed as long as they create doubt among the general public. That's the game.

Peter Anderson

Completely irrelevant, non-issue. It doesn't matter if scientists have personal disputes. All that matters is the science. The consensus is clear, anthropogenic exacerbation of global warming is a reality. But don't believe me, do nothing for the next twenty years and see what happens. Nature doesn't watch FOX news.

Patrick

A change in the Earth's temperature, even a statistically significant one, can be caused by any number of factors. Because of this, a change or a lack of change in the temperature does not prove or disprove human made global warming. What matters here is CO2 levels, since CO2 is by far the most important human-produced chemical which can cause global warming.

Air with CO2 is more insulating than air without CO2. This is a fact - if you don't believe it, you do not have adequate knowledge to participate in this debate. What is not a fact is whether humans emit enough of it to cause an appreciable amount of warming.

Quantifying the amount required to meaningfully change the earth's temperature shouldn't be impossible, and neither should quantifying the net change in CO2 levels caused by human emissions. If humans are releasing enough to meaningfully insulate the world then climate change is something to be concerned about. If not, it's not. Evidence supporting or refuting the idea that the earth is getting warmer is useless without pinpointing the cause.

Someone please put a chemical engineer in charge of this. Arguing about this ice core and tree ring crap is pointless. Correlation != causation.

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Epiminondas

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!"

:-)))))

UnBrainwashed

Quote
'Beneath this dispute is a relatively new, very postmodern environmental idea known as 'The Precautionary Principle.'

As defined by one official version:
'When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.'

The global-warming establishment says we know 'enough' to impose new rules on the world's use of carbon fuels. The dissenters say this demotes science's traditional standards of evidence.'

It's The Precautionary Principle - STOOPID!

This not science!

This is a hypothesis where any, I'll repeat that just in case you missed it, ANY piece of crap (CO2?) could be deemed as being 'Detrimental' to The Planet's existence, without any proof needed!

i.e. where the 'Problem' has neither been identified nor understood, however we-will-do-as-we-please-to-make-the-assumed-problem-go-away' anyway, without any sign or indicator of completion!

That is like the War on Terror, never ending

The piece goes on to say;

'The Environmental Protection Agency's dramatic Endangerment Finding in April that greenhouse gas emissions qualify as an air pollutant - with implications for a vast new regulatory regime(!) - used what the agency called a precautionary approach.

The EPA admitted 'varying degrees of uncertainty across many of these scientific issues.' (possibly take the word 'scientific' out of that last sentence!)

Again, this puts hard science in the new position of saying, close enough is good enough. (NOT good enough imo)

One hopes civil engineers never build bridges under this theory.'

Tolerance Threshold? 100/100!

I equate this to a Shaman throwing bones.

The blatant smothering/erasing of essential data, which would easily prove their point if they were confident in their workings and results, is a crime in itself.

Then we hear about shutting down Peer Review magazines because they are not following the 'Program'.

Constant refusal to comply with the FOIA.

This must have been a leak, can you imagine being on the inside and witnessing this type of unprofessional behavior, all to make sure your research grant won't disappear it seems, add to that the responsibility of the TRILLIONS (45 Trillion being a rough estimate, but if you look at the methods used that could quadruple for ANY reason) of TAX for Al Gore & Blood et al. to pocket?

I think any sane person with a conscience would bring it to the people, as it will be the people who truly suffer from this religion, which is all it is when you put the lack of proof and a blind faith into the equation.

These people are working to an anti human agenda don't mistake that.

Their behavior has been so disgraceful and repugnant threatening at least one their peers with physical violence.

Bob Ward from the Grantham unit has a piece today in one of the rags where he has at the top a photo of Nick Griffin!(?) the obvious connection with deniers being nazis!

The language he uses is so full of vitriol he is like a dying beast scrambling an elephant pit surrounded by wolves. (being the non-believers, 'You are either with us, or against us')

These are charlatans at best and are right on the edge of being egotistical criminal maniacs.

What I can't understand is that with the vast sums of money they have been given they can't afford a backup hard drive? or, with the millions they have squandered on this chicanery, why they couldn't hire a store or even buy a shed for hard copy!

This Parrot is Rancid and very very dead.

They either have to prove their position by public explanation or, if they can't, go to jail for a long time and watch the Lawsuits piling up, which I know they are already!

Don't get me started on Gore's 9 lies, proven at the High Court no less, in his rank little film.

Blood & Gore's et al. Billions of Carbon Credit Thievery

THAT is a Tax on life and nothing less!

Oh! and how come Obama is the Head of the UN Security Council AND the President of the United States of America at the same time? This is illegal.

We are all being sold a pup and the gullible are lapping it up.

Alarm bells ringing?

I thank you.

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