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The Fake Scandal of Climategate

Posted on 20 November 2010 by James Wight

It’s bad enough that global warming contrarians are successfully misleading the public by propagating misconceptions about climate science. But recently it has become popular to attack climate scientists themselves, to accuse them of fraud and conspiracy. Exhibit No. 1 of the climate conspiracy theory is a collection of emails stolen (or possibly leaked) from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA), which appeared on the internet in November 2009.

Founded in 1972, CRU is only a small research unit with around 16 staff. CRU is best known for its work, since 1978, on a global record of instrumental temperature measurements from 1850 to the present, or CRUTEM. CRU’s land surface temperatures are combined with the UK Met Office Hadley Centre’s sea surface temperatures to form the global land-ocean record HadCRUT. CRU has also published reconstructions of pre-1850 temperatures based on tree rings, and CRU scientists have been involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The 1,073 emails span 13 years of correspondence between colleagues at CRU. Much of it is mundane, but in this digital age it took only a matter of hours for contrarians to do some quote-mining. Contrarians alleged that the CRU scientists had manipulated data to support predetermined conclusions, that they had stonewalled Freedom of Information (FoI) requests for data, and that they had corrupted the peer review and IPCC processes.

The story was quickly dubbed “Climategate”, and it spread rapidly from arcane contrarian blogs through conservative columnists to the mainstream media. The hyperbole was turned up to eleven. Conspiracy theorists had a field day, claiming that anyone even mentioned in the emails, or remotely connected to CRU, must also be part of a conspiracy. In this way, the Climategate conspiracy theory snowballed to include the entire field of climate science. The Climategate emails were held up as “the final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming”, and the media were only too happy to play up the controversy.

The CRU scientists have been cleared

In the months that followed, there were several inquiries into the allegations resulting from the emails. When a few of the more suggestive email quotes are reeled off by pundits without much context, they can sound pretty damning. But each and every one of these inquiries has found no fraud and no conspiracy.

The most comprehensive inquiry was the Independent Climate Change Email Review led by Sir Muir Russell, commissioned by UEA to examine the behaviour of the CRU scientists (but not the scientific validity of their work). It published its final report in July 2010 (all quotes are taken from this report unless otherwise specified). This inquiry was no whitewash: it examined the main allegations arising from the emails and their implications in meticulous detail. It focused on what the CRU scientists did, not what they said, investigating the evidence for and against each allegation. It interviewed CRU and UEA staff, and took 111 submissions including one from CRU itself. And it also did something the media completely failed to do: it attempted to put the actions of CRU scientists into context.

The Review went back to primary sources to see if CRU really was hiding or falsifying their data. It considered how much CRU’s actions influenced the IPCC’s conclusions about temperatures during the past millennium. It commissioned a paper by Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, on the context of scientific peer review. And it asked IPCC Review Editors how much influence individuals could wield on writing groups. Many of these are things any journalist could have done relatively easily, but few ever bothered to do.

The Review also commented on the broader context of science in the 21st century. To paraphrase from Chapter 5: the emergence of the blogosphere requires significantly more openness from scientists. However, providing the details necessary to validate large datasets can be difficult and time-consuming, and how FoI laws apply to research is still an evolving area. Meanwhile, the public needs to understand that science cannot and does not produce absolutely precise answers. Though the uncertainties may become smaller and better constrained over time, uncertainty in science is a fact of life which policymakers have to deal with. The chapter concludes: “the Review would urge all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand”.

The Review points out the well-known psychological phenomenon that email is less formal than other forms of communication: “Extreme forms of language are frequently applied to quite normal situations by people who would never use it in other communication channels.” The CRU scientists assumed their emails to be private, so they used “slang, jargon and acronyms” which would have been more fully explained had they been talking to the public. And although some emails suggest CRU went out of their way to make life difficult for their critics, there are others which suggest they were bending over backwards to be honest. Therefore the Review found “the e-mails cannot always be relied upon as evidence of what actually occurred, nor indicative of actual behaviour that is extreme, exceptional or unprofessional.” [section 4.3]

So when put into the proper context, what do these emails actually reveal about the behaviour of the CRU scientists? The report concluded (its emphasis):

Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour, and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognize not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science. [1.3]

These general findings are more or less consistent across the various allegations the Review investigated. Its specific findings will be summarized in the coming posts in this series.

Do the emails reveal a conspiracy?

The argument that Climategate reveals an international climate science conspiracy is not really a very skeptical one. Sure, it is skeptical in the weak sense of questioning authority, but it stops there. Unlike true skepticism, it doesn’t go on to objectively examine all the evidence and draw a conclusion based on that evidence. Instead, it cherry-picks suggestive emails, seeing everything as incontrovertible evidence of a conspiracy, and concludes all of mainstream climate science is guilty by association. This is not skepticism; this is conspiracy theory.

In reality, Climategate has not thrown any legitimate doubt on CRU’s results, let alone the conclusions of the entire climate science community. The entire work of CRU comprises only a small part of the evidence for AGW. There are all sorts of lines of evidence for global warming, and for a human influence on climate, which in no way depend on the behaviour of the CRU scientists. Global warming has been observed not just on land but also over the oceans and in the troposphere, as well as being confirmed by many other indicators such as ocean heat content, humidity, sea level, glaciers, and Arctic sea ice. And while the hockey stick tells us that humans have caused a profound disturbance to our climate system, we don’t need it to know that humans are causing global warming. The pattern of warming we observe is the same as that long predicted for greenhouse warming: the stratosphere is cooling, nights have warmed faster than days, and winters faster than summers.

But this reality doesn’t fit into the narrative that the contrarians would like to tell: that AGW is a house of cards that is falling down. It is very difficult to attack all of these diverse lines of evidence for global warming. Instead they tend to focus on some of the better publicized ones and try to associate them with a few individuals, making a much easier target. Yet while contrarians have been nosing around in scientists’ emails, the actual science has, if anything, become more concerning. Many major studies during 2009 and 2010 found things may be worse than previously thought.

The media dropped the ball

There is a famous quotation attributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This is more true in the internet age than it was when Mark Twain was alive. Unfortunately, it took months for the Climategate inquiries to put on their shoes, and by the time they reported, the damage had already been done. The media acted as an uncritical loudspeaker for the initial allegations, which will now continue to circulate around the world forever, then failed to give anywhere near the same amount of coverage to the inquiries clearing the scientists involved. For instance, Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian published no less than 85 stories about Climategate, but not one about the Muir Russell inquiry.

Even the Guardian, who have a relatively good track record on environmental reporting and were quick to criticize the worst excesses of climate conspiracy theorists, could not resist the lure of stolen emails. As George Monbiot writes, journalists see FoI requests and email hacking as a way of keeping people accountable, rather than the distraction from actual science which they are to scientists. In contrast, CRU director Phil Jones says: “I wish people would spend as much time reading my scientific papers as they do reading my e-mails.”

In defending the CRU scientists, I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks people with respectable jobs can’t do anything wrong. That’s not it at all. Scientists are human like everyone else, they make mistakes all the time, and sometimes they may behave badly. My complaint is that the media seem to expect scientists to be perfect; those who expect perfection are always going to be disappointed.

This is part of a broader problem with climate change reporting: the media holds scientists to far higher standards than it does contrarians. Climate scientists have to be right 100% of the time, but contrarians apparently can get away with being wrong nearly 100% of the time. The tiniest errors of climate scientists are nitpicked and blown out of all proportion, but contrarians get away with monstrous distortions and cherry-picking of evidence. Around the same time The Australian was bashing climate scientists, the same newspaper had no problem publishing Viscount Monckton’s blatant misrepresentations of IPCC projections (not to mention his demonstrably false conspiracy theory that the Copenhagen summit was a plot to establish a world government).

Scientists attempted to defend themselves from these attacks. 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences signed an open letter calling for an end to the politically motivated attacks on climate scientists and urging immediate action on climate change. They submitted the letter as an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. All of these newspapers had reported the attacks on climate scientists without any qualms, yet all of them refused to publish the letter. Instead the scientists submitted their open letter to Science.

This appalling double standard must come to an end. Where is the 12-part Guardian investigation on climate denial? Where are all the inquiries into Monckton’s misrepresentations of climate science, and the misinformation he is conveying to policymakers? Why doesn’t the InterAcademy Council review the scholarship of the Wegman report instead of the IPCC? (Wegman’s inquiry into the hockey stick was commissioned by and presented to the US Congress. The blogger Deep Climate has recently alleged that a large fraction of the text in his report was plagiarized. If the media applied the same standards to contrarians as they do to mainstream scientists, this should have been a huge scandal, but the media have given it almost no coverage.)

In the current model of environmental reporting, the contrarians do not lose anything by making baseless accusations. In fact, it is in their interests to throw as much mud at scientists as possible to increase the chance that some of it will stick in the public consciousness. But there is untold damage to the reputation of the scientists against whom the accusations are being made. We can only hope that in future the media will be less quick to jump to conclusions. If only editors and producers would stop and think for a moment about what they’re doing: they are playing with the future of the planet.

What are the scandal’s repercussions?

So the science is unchanged by Climategate. But politically, as many others have lamented, the affair has been very damaging both to public trust in science and to the prospects of mitigating future warming. Less has been written on the repercussions for the scientists themselves.

For one thing, the CRU scientists and other prominent climatologists are being targeted by unbelievably vitriolic and paranoid hate mail. Phil Jones told the Sunday Times he had received a number of death threats including two in one week, and considered suicide. In the US (where freedom of speech means the police cannot do anything about it), the late Stephen Schneider said he’d received hundreds of abusive emails.  A number of climate scientists allegedly appeared on a neo-Nazi death list. In Australia too, climate scientists get hate mail, as do environmental journalists and Greens politicians.

Before you dismiss these emailers as nutcases unconnected with more sophisticated contrarians, consider that Marc Morano, communications director for US Republican Senator James Inhofe and owner of the website Climate Depot, makes a habit of posting the email addresses of those he disagrees with. Morano has also been quoted as saying about climate scientists: “I seriously believe we should kick them while they’re down. They deserve to be publicly flogged.” Michael Mann told the Guardian some of his hate mail looked “cut-and-paste”. And during the Copenhagen conference, The Australian attacked Ian Fry, an Australian representing Tuvalu, because he lives away from the coast; the front-page story included a photo of his house, making it possible to deduce his address.

Schneider said he noticed a dramatic increase in hate mail whenever certain right-wing commentators attacked climate scientists. When the CRU email story broke, popular Fox News personality Glenn Beck lamented that “there’s not enough knives on planet Earth” for the “dishonored scientists” to kill themselves. Talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, said they should be “drawn and quartered”. Another talk radio host, Alex Jones, called proponents of AGW a “devil cult” who “want your property”, “a bunch of eugenicist killers” who “know it’s a scam” and “hate freedom”, “bloodthirsty control freaks” who “want to kill you and your family” (though he insisted he was “not trying to demonise them”).

Meanwhile, the US Republican Party has stepped up its war on science. In March, Republican Senator James Inhofe called for a criminal prosecution of at least 17 climate scientists — a witch-hunt against anyone even remotely associated with the CRU emails. The Republican Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, went further. In April, alleging that Michael Mann committed fraud against taxpayers, Cuccinelli demanded that the University of Virginia (UVA) provide documents relating to all of Mann’s government research grants while he was at UVA between 1999 and 2005; as well as all Mann’s correspondence with anybody on a list of 40 individuals, correspondence referencing any of those people, and correspondence with UVA administrators; and more. After this was thrown out of court in August because the grants in question were out of Cuccinelli’s jurisdiction, Cuccinelli came back with a narrower case concerning a single grant which had nothing to do with the hockey stick, alleging that some of Mann’s conclusions were not statistically rigorous. As RealClimate pointed out: “This is not just an attack on Mike Mann, it is an attack on the whole scientific enterprise.”

All in all, it has been a pretty terrible year to be a climate scientist. These hard-working scientists should be the real heroes of this story, yet instead they have been the recipients of political bullying tactics.

Far from exposing a global warming fraud, “Climategate” merely exposed the depths to which contrarians are willing to sink in their attempts to manufacture doubt about AGW. They cannot win the argument on scientific grounds, so now they are trying to discredit researchers themselves. Climategate was a fake scandal from beginning to end, and the media swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. The real scandal is the attacks on climate science which have done untold damage to the reputation of the scientists involved, the reputation of climate science (maybe even science generally), and the fight to save the planet.

This is the first part in a series on the fake scandal of Climategate. Next: Tampering with Temperatures?

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 64:

  1. As worthy as this defense is, surely this is the kind of political bun-fight SkS has resolutely stayed away from since its inception. The debate can only become a quagmire of competing claims, because this is part of an adversarial process that does not depend on, or even require, scientific evidence. Only by sticking resolutely to the science and the advocacy of the scientific method can SkS continue to avoid being drowned in the kind of mud through which we are obliged to wade elsewhere.
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  2. It's not about science, indeed. But I think we should not let politically motivated people intentionally ignore the clearings of the allegations and mislead the public.
    I hope that we'll not see other agressions to scientist so we, and scientists in first place, can only focus on the science of climate change. But I'm not that optimistic.
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  3. Good work James, I disagree with gp. It is past time we all got angry, very angry, at what these people have done and continue to do. Dispassionate science doesn't cut it with the denial industry or with the media (and that "or" really isn't there). It's time to fight back with everything we can throw back at them.
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  4. "Climate scientists have to be right 100% of the time, but contrarians apparently can get away with being wrong nearly 100% of the time."

    Says who?
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  5. batsvensson
    it does not make much sense to quibble on the numbers or on who is and who is not. The point James is making should be clear enough to anyone, the double standard.
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  6. thank you, James. It is a very transparent paper and I will use it within my paper on the situation - which is similar here in Germany -

    Contrarians contra Mainstream
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  7. Kudos, Jame. Agree with David Horton.
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  8. Original Post

    The fact that three quick fire threads have been run on Climatgate on this excellent blog in the last few days is an indication that Climategate (fairly or not) has does serious damage to the cause of AGW activism.

    Mass media always overshoots and exaggerates. The AGW alarmists had a very good run - here in Australia protagonists like Tim Flannery and our living science legend Robin Williams were talking catastrophe - the 10 year drought was definitely permanent climate change - rivers might never run again - Robin (100 metre sea level rise) Williams refused to even read the Climategate emails.

    Climategate swung the pendumum to the other extreme - the scientists (nearly all funded by you and me) were under the pump. Their socks rubbed harder on their sandals as they scrambled for clear air.

    Cries about criminal hackers funded by big oil, tobacco, rightist conspirators etc were heard. Panchuri cried 'voodoo science' as he denied ever knowing about objections to the preposterous 2035 claim.

    How things change in a year. The drought is broken over most of Australia - Tim Flannery has gone quiet and Robin Williams is airing a science journo who says that AGW scares have been exaggerated.

    Some balance might have been restored as the pendulum swung, and our hard working misunderstood scientist bretheren will take more care with their emails in future.
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  9. Many conservative columnists claim that the investigations were sponsored by the Unversity of East Anglia. Is this even true? If so, is it relevant to the accuracy of the investigations? Just to clarify, I am not a skeptic.
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  10. I really don't understand why the AGW lobby has to keep repeating that there never was a scandal, and that the scientists never did anything wrong. Who believes in all that white-washing anyway? Everybody knows that there was a bit of a scandal, and that the scientists did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. The fact that the scientific community, afterwards, is unable to find any errors within itself, is not convincing, just a bit boring.

    Climate scientists, who keep claiming that the Earth is heading towards a global disaster, have to be very careful with what they write and say. Only a week ago, on this site, we could read that significance tests are misused in three quarters of climate science papers. And what about the Himalayan glaciers?
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  11. @Riccardo #5

    I think your comment sweeps under the carpet an issue that have concerned at least me for a very long time. John made this comment to a post of mine once:

    "Perhaps a more precise description would be that a common pattern in global warming skeptic arguments is to focus on narrow pieces of evidence while ignoring other evidence that contradicts their argument."

    And this is the issue the article discuss, but in my opinion this article is in guilt of this as well. It focus on a narrow set of non representative claims, claims which is indeed pure propaganda by some skeptics, however the article also suggest guilt buy association and as such these propaganda claims then gets attributed to the be opinions of the entire skeptic camp. In doing so, the OP becomes guilty of the very same issue the OP tries to address.

    In other words, the issue I try to raise is not about the exact numbers or figures or any particular facts but the fact that the claim I quoted is obvious nonsense. It is nonsense because it a sweeping statement with no specifics and as such it is an empty statement and means nothing.

    A second point I been thinking about when reading this article is why should scientist be granted immunity to dirty tricks/propaganda in a political debate? Is it because they speak under the name of science? If that is the case, why shall we not grant the same right to other spokesmen for other organization?
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    Moderator Response: This is the first post in a series on Climategate. I will address more specific allegations in the coming days. - James
  12. As always, Ken, we can rely on you to post complete & total rubbish. The reality is that the underlying science behind climate change has always been sound-& remains sound-a fact that has irked the contrarians like yourself. Also, one good year of rain does *not* mean the drought is well & truly broken-indeed, in Perth its the worst its ever been-& even if it does, that doesn't automatically rule out the possibility that future rises in global temperature won't be catastrophic. The reality remains that the Fossil Fuel Industry-using its connections in Russia (probably Organized Crime)-hacked Web Sites & then distributed the e-mails (out of context) so as to coincide with the Copenhagen Conference. No matter how you try & spin that, Ken, it still amounts to CRIMINAL ACTIVITY-something I've yet to see the AGW proponents to be guilty of. Also, in spite of the claims that temperature data was fabricated (which would, if true, have been a real scandal) no contrarian has been able to provide *evidence* that the CRU data was false (hilariously, due to the smaller coverage of their weather stations, CRU show a *smaller* temperature gradient than the NOAA, RSS or GISS). Indeed, the worst that the e-mails reveal is that some scientists suffer from bouts of pettiness, anger & frustration-just like the rest of the Human Race. Seriously Ken et al, the moment you have something amounting to *evidence* that the predictions about AGW are false-rather than ever more fanciful ad hominem attacks-then maybe you'll gain some credibility. Until then, remember that even those from your own side *privately* don't believe their own propaganda. Now that should tell you something, shouldn't it?
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  13. Re: Argus (10)
    "Only a week ago, on this site, we could read that significance tests are misused in three quarters of climate science papers."
    Argus, if you had taken the time to read the linked paper that the post you reference was based on, you'd have noted that the author sampled 1 issue of 1 Climate Science journal. Sample size of one. Pretty tiny.

    What Maarten Ambaum (the author of that paper) did not do was examine other publications in other disciplines to get a reference baseline for comparison purposes. I mean no disrespect to the author; a canvassing-the-field-type of investigation was not the intent of the paper.

    That would be like me reading your comment and extrapolating your words I quote above to mean that most of your comments take things out of context. One has to be careful with one's quotes, doesn't one?

    The Yooper
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  14. Re; Karamanski (9)

    Here's a link to the Muir Russell report. I also commented on it here.

    In a nutshell, the Muir Russell Commission was indeed an independent investigation. I'll let you read it rather than influence your opinion in any way.

    The Yooper
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  15. Re: Argus (10)

    "Only a week ago, on this site, we could read that significance tests are misused in three quarters of climate science papers."

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/much-ado-about-something/
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  16. Argus:
    "I really don't understand why the AGW lobby has to keep repeating that there never was a scandal, and that the scientists never did anything wrong. Who believes in all that white-washing anyway?"

    You answer your own question by stating something was white washed.
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  17. #8: "three quick fire threads have been run on Climatgate on this excellent blog in the last few days is an indication"

    Or it indicates that this so-called scandal took place a year ago? For some reason, we tend to remember events in annual cycles:

    The way in which people estimate when an event occurred and the accuracy of their estimates are of concern both to psychologists interested in the structure of event memory and to other researchers who, for a variety of reasons, rely on the accuracy of people's temporal estimates.
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  18. Imagine that the Watergate burglars had actually installed their bugging equipment in Democratic Party HQ in 1972. Suppose they actually taped some compromising conversations before they were caught (e.g. a senior figure talking to a wealthy backer, another making unflattering statements about senior Republicans, maybe some discussing how to "spin" news stories in their favour).

    Imagine, that in the aftermath, most press coverage focuses on the conversations, which are sensationally inflated into a theory of a conspiracy to subvert the whole political process. The illegality of the break-in and the conspiracy behind it are virtually ignored.

    A shocking dereliction by the media? No Woodward and Bernstein? But case for case, it is what happened in the instance of so-called Climategate.
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  19. batsvensson:
    "A second point I been thinking about when reading this article is why should scientist be granted immunity to dirty tricks/propaganda in a political debate?"


    1. There are no dirty tricks on the scientists side.
    2. What political debate? The science is not political. The solutions and policy are political.
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  20. Nice article James, very thorough and excellent points. I particularly agree about the double standard when it comes to climate change. It's an interesting question to ask how much press the Wegman Report investigations would be getting if it was "pro AGW". No doubt a whole lot more than it's presently receiving. "Skeptics" seem immune to scandals somehow, while virtually everything climate scientists do becomes a media-driven scandal.
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  21. In one way, I agree with Ken Lambert. Climate scientists and climate blogs have probably paid more attention to Climategate than it merits.

    Most of what has happened since is unrelated. "Happened afterwards, therefore because of" (post hoc ergo propter hoc) is an old, old fallacy that has given rise to a heap of superstitions. Climategate's residual significance is that a lot of US states are suing the Federal government on the grounds that the data for global warming is faked. It is the old "hockey stick is broken" argument, and we know that leads nowhere.

    With so many investigations completed, it is time to move on. Responses on Climategate should be only as appropriate when it arises.
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  22. @Marcus

    "the reality is that the underlying science behind climate change has always been sound-& remains sound-a fact"

    So there is no conspiracy.

    "in Perth its the worst its ever been-& even if it does, that doesn't automatically rule out the possibility that future rises in global temperature won't be catastrophic."

    Neither does it rule out the possibility it wont be catastrophic either.

    "The reality remains that the Fossil Fuel Industry-using its connections"

    But there are some conspiracies.

    "it still amounts to CRIMINAL ACTIVITY-something I've yet to see the AGW proponents to be guilty of."

    So we got Bad Guys and Good Guys.

    "in spite of the claims ... no contrarian has been able to provide *evidence* "

    So, when Bad Guys claims there is a conspiracy there isn't one, but when Good Guys claims there is conspiracy there is one.

    "Seriously Ken et al, the moment you have something amounting to *evidence* that the predictions about AGW are false-rather than ever more fanciful ad hominem attacks-then maybe you'll gain some credibility."


    I would rather call it projections than predictions. But it doesn't matter because a prediction or projection or whatever label we like to use, can not be true (nor false) in climate science. It is at it best in state of being unknown until confirmed by an observation and as far as I know someone has yet to came back from say year 2100 and reported X meter elevated sea levels with predicted catastrophic events in case we do nothing.

    However, even if such observation would be the case, which may or may not be the case, at year 2100 we will still at that future time point have no means to tell if the made prediction was correct (i.e. true) due to an accurate model or a temporal relations since we have no parallel universe to compare the result with.

    It is a fact that climate science is not a experimental science but at most an observational science - compare with say astrophysics. The problem with observational science is that they are limited to only tell "just so"-stories.

    So whatever the case turns out to be in the predictions; if we do everything in our power, or do nothing a pro-AGW'ist can always find an add-hoc answer that will explain just exactly what happen no matter what the end result is, i.e. we are limited to fit data to a theory that best explains the observations. Any science theory must work like this, the difference for observational science is that the laboratory happens to be the subject of observation itself. Hence things can not be falsified until observed as such - if ever observed.

    This is one of the reason why hard core experimentalist are critical to observational science as their proposition in advanced can not be tested in a controlled test environment. As of no big surprise some valid scientific critics against climate science are made from the most hard core of all science we have, namely physics.

    At last, to round this up, if you because of what you claim think you are more credible than the bad guys just because you you claim your self to be with the good guys, then consider that the arguments you makes, makes you in my eyes no better then the one you condemn as being the bad guys.
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  23. Daniel Bailey (#13), I certainly admit to making a sloppy quote about 'three quarters of climate science papers'. But even if, as you point out, "the author sampled 1 issue of 1 Climate Science journal", I am guessing that he would get about the same result from another issue, or from another journal. That is my hypothesis. Scientists who rely on statistical methods to present their results, should be very well versed in how to use statistics. If they are not, it is not good science either.

    Robert Way (#15), Thanks for the link! I quote a passage from it:
    "For one thing, I don’t believe climate science should be singled out for this property. I suggest that errors of statistical interpretation are just as common in most scientific fields as they are in climate science, and that in this regard climate science is typical of science in general."

    I totally agree. All scientists should be equally aware of how they use statistics.
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  24. @The Ville

    1. Granted with a one reservation - never forget scienetist is also humans, and fraud has been committed in science. However this does not imply I suggest to say any fraud has been committed in climaet science. To my knowledge no such fraud has been committed.

    2. Not sure about that really. Science is use a bat in the debate.
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  25. @batsvensson

    "It is a fact that climate science is not a experimental science but at most an observational science - compare with say astrophysics. The problem with observational science is that they are limited to only tell "just so"-stories. "

    Brilliant, Bat, you have just ruled out most of biology, epidemiology, geology, palaeontology and oceanography as being mostly "just-so" stories. That accusation had hitherto been made solely by creationists against evolution.

    These sciences depend on experimentally demonstrated physical and chemical models, together with field observations verified by statistical analysis. I think "not even wrong" adequately describes your assertion.
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  26. On 8 July 2004 Phil Jones e-mailed to Michael Mann about some papers by Michaels and McKitrick and by De Laat and Maurellis, both discussing the influence of urbanisation on temperature. About half of the observed warming could be explained from the warming effect of urban agglomerations. Jones and Mann were not amused, and Jones wrote:
    ‘I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Cheers, Phil’

    The real scandal here isn't that Jones and Co. tried to keep those papers out of the IPCC report; it's that those papers even got published in the first place. The first paper (MM-2004) contained a very fundamental (freshman-level) error -- a degrees/radians mixup in its calculations that rendered its conclusions invalid. A paper with a blunder like that simply should *not* have been included in the IPCC report. The second paper contained more subtle problems rendering its conclusions invalid.

    Scientists who try to keep papers with fundamental errors from being published aren't engaging in censorship or suppression of competing views; they are simply *doing their jobs*.
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  27. @tobyjoyce

    Just to get one thing straight first: are you accusing me for being a creationist? If you do, then do not bother to read the reminder of this answer - just as I will not bother to read anything written by you hereafter.

    -

    I don't understand your what your objection is or why you think it is controversial what I claim.

    I am perfectly aware there is many scientific fields that fall under the category of being observational sciences. However the border line between being experimental and observational is not a black and white one but a gray scale. Other fields are named observational not because it is not possible to conduct experiment but because it would be clearly unethically to perform experiment. Psychology is good an examples as any of this.

    There preferred method is of course experimental if available, if not the observational method will do. In the case of climate science we do not have a parallel universe, not even an duplicated Earth, we can compare with therefore out of necessary reason climate science is an observational science. To me this is pretty obvious.

    However my purpose was not to catalog all and every science filed, as observational or experimental but to point at the fact there is exists a division and that climate science is observational. Because if this there are certain assertion that can not be hold as true in the same manner as in an experimental fields.
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  28. even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Don't you get it? Even if the (peer reviewed papers) were crap which most are by the way.That doesn't mean you change rules of the game so you can keep an extra man or 2 or three or more on the field to maintain your unfair advantage.It's like asking the other team to play a man down the whole game!
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  29. "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Don't you get it? Even if the (peer reviewed papers) were crap which most are by the way.That doesn't mean you change rules of the game so you can keep an extra man or 2 or three or more on the field to maintain your unfair advantage.It's like asking the other team to play a man down the whole game!"

    Darn those scientists who make it impossible for people to publish peer-reviewed papers proving that the sun is iron, the earth 6,000 years old, and that it's impossible for fire to weaken steel to the point where skyscrapers fall to earth!

    Scientists do not get to set the rules that allow them to maintain their unfair advantage!

    (do people not understand how ridiculous they look if their complaints are transferred to other fields of science?)
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  30. "There preferred method is of course experimental if available, if not the observational method will do. In the case of climate science we do not have a parallel universe, not even an duplicated Earth, we can compare with therefore out of necessary reason climate science is an observational science. To me this is pretty obvious."

    Well, batsvennson, we *are* running an experiment on the earth's climate, and like with any experiment, scientists make predictions as to what the experiment will show, and make observations as the experiment progresses. Theory, experimentation, and observation.

    The only difference here compared to classic lab experimentation is that scientists aren't controlling the experiment. An experiment it is, however.

    And, not unexpectedly, observations are closely matching theory (within error bounds) as the experiment progresses.
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  31. "However my purpose was not to catalog all and every science filed, as observational or experimental but to point at the fact there is exists a division and that climate science is observational. Because if this there are certain assertion that can not be hold as true in the same manner as in an experimental fields."

    The expected outcome of the experiment we are running was stated over a century ago. "If you add enough CO2 to the atmosphere to double its concentration, the earth will warm about 3C". There's been a lot of refinement of theory but that ballpark figure still holds.

    We're on a path towards doubling CO2, and as I said above, as the experiment progresses, that ballpark 3C figure still looks pretty good.
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  32. dhogaza,

    how do u falsify the statement "if condition X, Y then the sea level will raise with Z meter"?

    Do you falsify it with

    a) an experiment, or
    b) an observation

    ?
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  33. how do u falsify the statement "if condition X, Y then the sea level will raise with Z meter"?

    Do you falsify it with

    a) an experiment, or
    b) an observation


    "if X is changed by Y amount, then our prediction is Z" can be applied to a wide range of things that you would accept as an experiment ... except for the special case of planet earth, apparently.

    Even as you state it, you may falsify it with an experiment, i.e. "make conditions X and Y true, and observe the results". Which is exactly what we're doing.

    Now, the experiment we're doing is on a very complex system, perhaps that's confusing you ...
    0 0
  34. Well assume X and Y is some (one or several) climate related factor - I grant you the favor to pick whatever factor you like.

    Is your answer "a" or "b"?
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  35. James,

    Thanks for this. I'm afraid though it is probably a futile effort. Self-proclaimed 'skeptics' have had a year now to educate themselves on the facts, and yet we are still hearing people saying ridiculous things like this:

    "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Don't you get it?"

    It seems that they are OK with skeptics simultaneously reviewing each others' papers at the journal of Climate Research. Well, credible and ethical scientists rightly objected to that. There were other issues too at Climate Research which rightly concerned scientists with integrity.

    Also, many papers by "skeptics" continue to be published (often in second rate journals like E&E). How is it the fault of credible and ethical scientists that the research by "skeptics" is often sub-par and soundly refuted after being published.

    For example, McKitrick and Michaels (2004) was junk, still is and should not have included in the IPCC. Yet, in the end it was. So much for all the claims of gate keeping-- in fact the opposite seems to be true, junk science by "skeptics" being included in the IPCC the spirit of "balance" and fairness, not based on merit. Well, that is just wrong, and fails to advance the science and improve our understanding of the climate system. While the "skeptics" seem to be OK with that, people with integrity and interests of the advancement of science are not.

    There are other serious issues with the Wegman report James, see DeepClimate's most recent posts.

    I for one am looking forward to everyone focussing on the science again soon, especially the public release of the first Cryosat-2 data....
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  36. batsvensson:
    "Not sure about that really. Science is use a bat in the debate."

    That is debate not science. You prove my point.
    It is valid to take science and debate the theory or result, it is done by everyone, but that debate isn't science.
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  37. While I am grateful for the information you regularly provide, I do wish you would cease concentrating on the anthropomorphic aspects of climate change; they are a distraction. What is relevant is the fact that the planet is warming at an alarming rate. While I very much doubt it, the fact that human carbon emissions match the rise in temperature could be down to coincidence. It really doesn’t matter now. It will matter considerably when the time comes to pay the cost of the effects of climate change. Those nations that can be identified as culpable will pay a heavy price, and the more they procrastinate, the higher will be the price, but not yet.

    We know the science of the greenhouse effect and know that reducing carbon emissions is our best hope of avoiding a catastrophe. Let the sceptics believe that the current trend is not caused by human activity if it will make them happy. We need the scientific community to spell out where the current trend could lead us. We must identify the level of danger that is all too imminent. In a few short years we will have increased the population by almost 50%. We have food riots now, what then? Put global warming into the mix and some learned scientists believe that we will only be able to feed about one third of them. That is a truly awful statistic if it should be a reflection on the reality we face. Take Catastrophe Theory, plot time on the ‘x’ axis, food production on the ‘y’ axis and rate of change on the ‘z’ axis and the potential for harm is both obvious and the speed at which it will happen is also all to obvious.

    It would be a very strange sceptic who, while refusing to believe in the cause being human in origin, failed to agree with the overwhelming body of evidence that says reducing carbon emissions will help fight it. It would be like the captain of cruise liner doing a cruise in Antarctic waters who refused to alter course round an iceberg dead ahead because the iceberg was not human in origin.

    To continue to argue about the origins of climate change will only hinder action that is becoming more urgent by the day.

    Mel Tisdale
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    Moderator Response: The anthropogenic causes of climate change are not a distraction. If we weren’t causing climate change (which we are), then eliminating CO2 emissions would not stop it (which it will). - James
  38. batsvensson:
    "It is at it best in state of being unknown until confirmed by an observation and as far as I know someone has yet to came back from say year 2100 and reported X meter elevated sea levels with predicted catastrophic events in case we do nothing."


    You misunderstand science.
    You don't have to prove a theory by repeating an experiment that has already verified the theory.
    It was only necessary for one experiment to be done to confirm Einstein's theory, it didn't have to be repeated. Experiments are only repeated for demonstration/educational purposes, not to confirm the theory is true every time.

    As far as climate science is concerned we already have evidence of what happens when GHGs increase or decrease. The experiment to confirm it has been done in Earths past.
    0 0

  39. adrian smits at 06:47 AM on 21 November, 2010
    even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Don't you get it? Even if the (peer reviewed papers) were crap which most are by the way.That doesn't mean you change rules of the game so you can keep an extra man or 2 or three or more on the field to maintain your unfair advantage.It's like asking the other team to play a man down the whole game!


    Ummm... this is called "venting" in a private email message. Jones can't change the peer-review procedure for independent journals, no matter how frustrated he becomes. It would be like me complaining to a friend how I'd like to keep idiotic comments from being posted to skepticalscience.com. No matter how much I'd like to change the moderation rules here, there's nothing I can do but vent, because I don't have any more say over the management of this web-site than Phil Jones has over the management of Climate Research.

    That being said, it's rather interesting to see how much more upset you are about Phil Jones' venting in a private email message than you are with the publication of incompetent garbage filled with schoolboy errors in what should be respectable peer-reviewed journals. Or does incompetence not matter when it confirms your own political ideology?
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  40. KL #8

    "The fact that three quick fire threads have been run on Climatgate on this excellent blog in the last few days is an indication that Climategate (fairly or not) has does serious damage to the cause of AGW activism."

    Nope. I seem to recall at the time (one year ago), that so-called sceptics were crowing about what an enormous deal this was, being evidence of fraud etc. These days, we see that you're making the same tired claims, but are tacitly admitting that your claims are without substance.

    Worth examining as a case study of the psychology of delusion from the so-called climate sceptic if you ask me.
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  41. batsvensson #32: observational data can essentially be experimental if predictions were made before going out to observe. Think the prediction that palaeontologists would find something like Tiktaliik in Greenland - and they did. This was an experiment.

    You're arguing like a creationist, which does not mean you are. The accusation seemed simple enough.
    0 0
  42. This is part of a broader problem with climate change reporting: the media holds scientists to far higher standards than it does contrarians.

    I think that really needed to be said.
    0 0
  43. @batsvensson,

    No, I am not calling you a creationist, just pointing out that nearly all denialists sooner or later come around to using similar arguments. To be anti-science, there are only a certain amount of arguments you can use, so this is no surprise.

    I cannot see why picking out climate science as "observational" implies anything negative. Atmospheric physics, on which a lot a climate science is based, is one of the earliest branches of physics (going back to Franklin, Fourier, Tyndall, Beaufort, Arrhenius, Angstrom and on to Gilbert Plass in the 1950s).

    Incidentally, in defining "astrophysics" as "observational", you seem to have forgotten that the physics of planetary motions is the oldest branch of physics, the daddy of them all. How many "just so" stories did Newton and Galileo make up?
    0 0
  44. #27: "the border line between being experimental and observational is not a black and white one but a gray scale."

    Thus own words render it utter nonsense to declare 'it is a fact that climate science is ... '. It is your opinion as to where 'experimental' ends and 'observational' begins.

    Here is another opinion.

    This misconception arises because people assume that climate science is all about predicting future climate change, and because such predictions are for decades/centuries into the future, and we only have one planet to work with, we can’t check to see if these predictions are correct until it’s too late to be useful.

    In fact, predictions of future climate are really only a by-product of climate science. The science itself concentrates on improving our understanding of the processes that shape climate, by analyzing observations of past and present climate, and testing how well we understand them.


    So there is physical theory, data gathering and verification of model by comparison to the past. Of all the sound byte issues raised by skeptics, this is more of a bit than a byte.

    It is also veering wildly off-topic.
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  45. Caerbannog (#26): The moderator does not want this topic to be discussed; he deleted the comment that you are commenting. My original comment can be found here.

    It can never be a scandal that a paper appears in a peer-reviewed journal. That only means that an editor and two reviewers appreciate the paper. Any other scientist who disagrees can write another peer-reviewed paper to demonstrate that the first article is wrong.
    The scandal begins, where Jones tries to keep the paper out of the IPCC-report, without a peer-reviewed article that shows that the paper is wrong. The task of the IPCC is to review the peer-reviewed literature. Keeping out some articles, because Jones does not agree with them, is wrong. Jones was lead author of a very important scientific review, he was not editing a private publication supporting his personal views.
    So Jones, Mann and Trenberth were making a secret plan to narrow the scope of the IPCC-report, without justification in the peer-reviewed literature. That was harmful for the quality and independence of the IPCC-report. According to Longman's dictionary, that can be called a conspiracy.
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  46. As an extension of tobyjoyce's comment #43, I follow a few medical blogs (such as Science-Based Medicine or ScienceBlogs' Respectful Insolence), and I would venture to say that the two strains of science contrarianisms most often analyzed on those sites (anti-vaccination sentiment and anti-mainstream medicine) rely, on occasion, on strikingly similar arguments as some of the AGW contrarian claims that are documented here at Skeptical Science or that one might find when surfing over to WattsUpWithThat.

    Also, fydijstra in #45, I must beg to differ. The Lancet published a positively scandalous paper in 1998, retracted early this year, by a now much-discredited Briton who engaged in what amounts to scientific fraud.

    If the Wakefield 1998 paper, had it not been retracted, were to be included in an IPCC-style summary on the present body of evidence surrounding mass vaccination, it would be an unequivocal travesty.
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  47. And here is a rewritten version of the post to which Caerbannog (#26) replied:

    According to Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English a ‘conspiracy’ is ‘a secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful of illegal’.
    It is a matter of taste whether certain events that are elucidated in the Climategate e-mails can be called a conspiracy. On 8 July 2004 Phil Jones e-mailed to Michael Mann about some papers by Michaels and McKitrick and by De Laat and Maurellis, both discussing the influence of urbanisation on temperature. About half of the observed warming could be explained from the warming effect of urban agglomerations. Jones and Mann were not amused, and Jones wrote:
    ‘I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is! Cheers, Phil’

    Keeping some papers out of an IPCC report is not illegal. But is it harmful? The 2007 IPCC-report would certainly have been less comprehensive without reference to these papers. Affecting the quality of an IPCC report can be considered a harmful action. So, this ‘secret plan made by two or more people’ can be considered a conspiracy.

    Redefining what peer-review literature is, is not illegal either, although it is against the rules of scientific publication. And, moreover, it was impossible for Jones, Mann and Trenberth to redefine peer-review literature. This phrase can be considered boasting. It is no conspiracy.

    Nevertheless, this example shows, that there was at least one event that can be considered a conspiracy. This conspiracy was unseccesful. The papers by MM and DLM were mentioned in the final version of AR4. But Jones was successful in omitting the papers from the first and second draft. It was only after repeated comments by Steve McIntyre, that Jones was forced to add a paragraph.

    Conspiracy or not? Fact is, that the members of the Climategate e-mail club sometimes call themselves ‘the gang’ (11 times in the e-mails). Maybe that is another sort of boasting. My Longman’s dictionary says about a gang: (1) a group of young people who spend time together and often cause trouble and fight against other groups (2) a group of criminals who work together (3) humorous: a group of friends, especially young people (4) a group of workers or prisoners, doing physical work together. Which of the 4 definitions is appropriate is up to the readers. It’s their word, not mine!
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  48. fydijkstra wrote : "Affecting the quality of an IPCC report can be considered a harmful action. So, this ‘secret plan made by two or more people’ can be considered a conspiracy."


    No it can't, unless, as Composer99 suggests, you believe that anything should be included, no matter how wrong ? Perhaps you also believe that Creationist views should be allowed to be published alongside those of Evolutionary Theory ?

    Anyway, to see how shallow your conspiracy theory is, see the Muir Russell report, particularly 9.3 The CRUTEM Temperature Series
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  49. "It can never be a scandal that a paper appears in a peer-reviewed journal."

    What planet does he live on?

    Six editors resigned in the aftermath of the publication of the S&B paper precisely because it was a scandal, and they wanted to distance themselves from that scandal.

    Scandals of this sort are, thankfully, uncommon, but they do occur, regardless of your own personal (and, I might add, irrelevant) opinion.
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  50. Re: fydijkstra (47)

    Perhaps you can use your Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English to look up this: What do you call someone who persists in seeing conspiracies despite multiple investigations proving none exist?

    Seriously now, despite some bad press, what has really come out of this manufactured non-story (other than a crime being committed by whomever stole the emails)? The science of AGW is more robust than ever and the deniers have less credibility than they ever had (which wasn't much).

    End of story.

    The Yooper
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