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?


Paul

In answer to another "Paul" (I am also Paul) who asked something like : Isn't polution bad? Shouldn't we elliminate all of it? ... I remind that CO2 is a normal constituent part of the atmosphere - without which life as we know it is not possible. Plants require CO2 in order to live, and animals exhale it in order to live.

If we regard it as a "pollutant" - them baby's breath ... and whales' breath, for that matter, is a "pollutant".

I have another question. I've read and read and read about these emails and related files - and also begun to read the files themselves. Many times they have been described as "stolen" or "hacked". Is there any evidence related to that? Has anybody stepped up and said "we did it"?

-(another) Paul

John

What happened to the Norweigen trade routes which existed from 960-1300? Where was it located? Why did did it disappear? Along with that question: Where was the potato discovered? Why did its use become so vital to our existance? What did we learn from that? Ask the History Channel or the NGO. Don't rely on my answers. Research this for yourself. By the way, the sun spots and solar flairs ended.

B KAHN

None of the hollering and finger-pointing explains why the north polar ice is vanishing much faster than even the most alarmist predictions ten years ago, why the glaciers are visibly shrinking, why big chunks are falling off Antarctica, why CO2 levels have been steadily increasing for decades, and why Greenland is (unless, of course, all these reports are also faked) losing ice mass at a measurable clip. Being a scientist doesn't prevent one from saying or doing dumb things. Ditto in spades for being a politician. We're all humans and it's a lot easier to screw up than to get things right.

So by all means, let's check and recheck the science and not make exaggerated claims. But guessing wrong on this one could speed homo saps into the very large club of species that ain't no more.

PF

None of the "irrefutable science" climate models predicted the recent decade of cooling.

"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."
- Kevin Trenberth

Tom

Climatologists have trouble accurately predicting next weeks weather. Yet when it comes to climate change, they can predict with certainty far into the future.
The earth is such a complex body that nobody can predict the climate with any certainty. If the scientists were being honest, thats what they would say.

cirby

Peter Anderson: "But don't believe me, do nothing for the next twenty years and see what happens."

I've been watching for the last twenty years already, and none of the dire predictions they made two decades ago have come to pass. The world's temperature didn't climb rapidly (it got slightly cooler, as a matter of fact), hurricanes didn't get more powerful (we appear to be in a "slack" period for big storms, for that matter), et cetera.

So far, when considering their past predictions, "climate scientists" are batting zero...

EarthScienceMajor

In response to Frank Talk: Comment #23:

The warming that is occurring today is drastically different from the warming following the lat glacial period. After every one of the glacial periods during the past few hundred thousand years there was a sharp increase in temperature, causing the ice to melt. That increase is because the ice sheets cover up large portions of the continental surface. As a result, chemical weathering (a main sink of CO2) can not occur. CO2 is still being produced, by sources such as volcanoes, but it is not being removed from the atmosphere. Eventually it reaches high enough levels to cause warming.

Today, there are NO ice sheets, with the exception of Greenland and Antarctica, which have been covered in ice for approximately 15 million years. Instead of getting warmer right now, the climate should be entering another glacial period, if it stayed on the same cycles that have been dominant for the past 4 million years.

In summary, the two situations are not analogous. While I personally have taken entire courses on the subject of climate change and am thoroughly convinced that the data are robustly in favor of supporting climate change, it is clear that ClimateGate must lead to more openness.

Also, when people say that there are only 4 datasets that the climate change theories are based on, that is extremely misleading. There are only those 4 direct measurements, but countless proxies for temperature from ice cores, tree rings, corals, etc. These have been rigorously examined, and shown to be accurate representations of the Earth's climate.

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fred

Nixon dumped 18 minutes of data, Phil Jones dumped 18 years of data... you do the math.

Marie Devine

http://thepostnemail.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/briston-univ-study-contradicts-fundamental-tenents-of-copenhagen-treaty/#comment-2407
This agrees with a NOVA program.
NOVA had a program a number of years ago that if the sun and moon were a little closer, it would dramatically increase the CO2 and you would almost be able to watch things grow, they would grow so fast. By reducing CO2 it would decrease the growing capacity of the earth; we would die from starvation.

God warned against nations joining for protection and prosperity in Psalms 1 and 2, II Chronicles 16:7-12; and 20:35-37. It is counter-productive and opens a nation up to deceptions, corruption, abuses and delays as they wait for promises and expectations to be fulfilled.

We are going the wrong way. The employment lifestyle is destroying the world and our health, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are making jobs just for the sake of making jobs, seeking riches while destroying ourselves. The only sustainable and reasonable solution is to "retire." We can turn to a garden paradise lifestyle with trees, plants and pets that provide fresh food around us. That gives us the true riches of peace, healthy foods and contentment with families together. That solves "climate change" and pollution, disease, energy crisis, war, immigration, financial crises, and social problems at the same time. Any other solution causes other problems, takes away our freedoms and is not even a good delay.

Marie Devine
http://www.divine-way.com
God has solutions to world problems we created by ignoring His wisdom.

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Conservative Gal

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

Answer - yes

Harry

The BBC published some of the CRU 'supporting data'.

A big chunk of it is CO2 readings taken from the worlds largest volcano Mauna Lua.

Of course the BBC and the CRU and NOAA for that matter leave out the word 'volcano' from the description of where there data came from.

When I looked up Mauna Lua and discovered that it was the worlds largest volano and the instruments are placed 'at the peak' I went from being skeptical to outright laughing.

Even if the data is valid...only an idiot would try to prove man made anything using measurements taken from the mouth of a volcano. There just isn't any possible way to prove the volcano measurements aren't skewed by the volcano itself.

It's like having someone convicted of perjury multiple times testify in your behalf. The jury is gonna know that your best witness is a professional liar.

Stevie

"According to Lord Christopher Monckton - former science advisor to Margaret Thatcher, there are only 4 earth temperature data sets used in most climate models: 2 earth based and 2 satellite based."

Why do supposedly different posters keep recycling this little bit of propoganda verbatim?

It's sad to read these comments that expose how ignorant the right-wing is of the scientific process. I'm saddened for our country.

1. Hot earth with lots of CO2.
2. Plants sequester the carbon over the course of millenia.
3. Sequestered carbon is buried and turns into oil over time.
4. Earth cools with carbon sequestered under ground.
5. We dig up all the ancient carbon and burn it, releasing it back into the atmosphere.
6. CO2 is easily proven to be a greenhouse gas.
7. Earth gets hotter again.

Any questions?

Steven Miller

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

It has been a couple of weeks and there has been no real evidence presented that the data and emails were obtained illegally or "hacked". What is known is that the files were saved on a public portion of the CRU's servers presumably by an employee of the CRU for at least a week before someone discovered them and copied them to servers elsewhere and made their presence known.

The data and emails were quite obviously prepaired by CRU staff to comply with a freedom of information request. It would have been illegal for the CRU not to release them. "Climategate" may have been a face saving scheme that would hide the fact that CRU staff had thrown their own "scientists" to the wolves. "Climategate" also may have been an attempt to change the focus from the information that they were being forced to release anyway to making the CRU look like the victims of an evil plot. There should be a major investigation; this however is far more likely arson by insiders than an outside "hacker". The CRU has most likely burned their own house of cards down in one more attempt to divert attention from the massive fraud they have been perpetrating.

Please remember... we are dealing with people who have been making their living manipulating data, manipulating the peer review process and misleading the public and political leaders for many years. They weave a tangled web that outsiders will most likely never be able to fully understand. As the world continues to cool... more strange revelations will most likely come to light. Global Warming, Climate Change or whatever you want to call it was starting to lose its appeal to the public even with recently notched up rhetoric. The rats are now jumping ship. Even Al Gore will most likely be claiming to be a victim soon. It will be interesting to see who is left holding the bag.

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donnolo

Instead of wasting your time reading blogs -- or wasting everyone else's time posting comments -- read a clear, simple scientific explanation of what the fuss is all about: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm

SN

Even if the ideologically driven global warming deniers (all of whom are also stridently right-wing on almost every other issue) were absolutely right, why would you want to continue to pollute our air with more exhaust fumes? Isn't it poison?

In the 1970's---long before the term "global warming" existed---there was a general consensus that the pollution pumped out by the internal combustion engine and coal fired plants was toxic, caused all sorts of lung problems, and wasn't good for us.

Has that now changed? Is the exhaust from our motorized vehicles now something healthy? Should we continue to inhale it, day after day, simply because we don't believe in global warming?

If I'm a conservative, does that mean I think auto exhaust fumes are good for my health? Well, I might, if Al Gore and "the liberals" say otherwise.

Bill

Regarding Begley's "just read peer reviewded articles, that's all you need to do" rant, I read many peer reviewed articles during any given week related to my discipline and I can tell you they are not settled science just because they are peer reviewed and published. Peer reviewed published articles are discredited on a constant basis. Ask any researcher in any field. Settled science? Not even close.

Daniel

Scientists is not a proper noun, I believe. (re: the first tirade)

I also feel the Krugman smackdown reference was misplaced, but neither the left (nor Paul Krugman, for that matter), have "abandoned reason." Far from it, I should say.

MeToo

the watergate break-in was illegal, and nixon suffered for it. what if nixon/liddy discovered clear evidence that the dems were gonna rig voting booths? i would be more alarmed, and demand action, about the voting booth rigging. hotel rooms get broken into all the time, and the impact, including watergate, is modest, at best. i campaigned against nixon -- i am just sayin' what nefarious activity should we be looking at here - global tax /governance $$$ based on fraud, with leading proponent al gore set to make out like a bandit [cf: http://www.generationim.com/ ]
or someone's email acct got hacked?

J.P. Steele

This is a non-issue. And the chapter in your last book is still.....silly.

Mota S

Regrettably, you omitted in your overview
the most cogent scientific expose of climate change a few days ago, in WSJ, by Richard Lindzen, of MIT. His simple conclusion: no reason for alarm.
Is he tainted by writing in WSJ? Or is he on the payroll of Big Oil ?
Just curious.