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Climate Hustle

Peter Hadfield addresses the recent email release

Posted on 30 November 2011 by Rob Honeycutt

Science journalist and popular Youtube video blogger Peter Hadfield (a.k.a. Potholer54) addresses the latest release of hacked University of East Anglia emails.  Peter is a great skeptic and journalist.  Rather than jumping to conclusions on either side he's taken the time to actually read the emails and put the out-of-context snippits provided by the hacker back into the context of the original emails.

Peter also makes note of the fact that many (possibly all) of the original emails released in 2009 are inclusive in the latest release of 5000 emails.

Peter Hadfield has an impressive journalist CV.  On his Youtube "about me" he says: 

I've been a journalist for 20 years, 14 years as a science correspondent. My degree is in geology, but while working for a science magazine and several science programs I had to tackle a number of different fields, from quantum physics to microbiology. You'll find a complete resume in the video "Who I Am."

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Comments 1 to 47:

  1. It is interesting to note that Hadfield's style in the Youtube piece is entirely consistant with the Debunker's Handbook.

    A clear and simple message has been expressed with straightforward clarity.

    Thanks for posting it Rob.
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  2. Oh, how I wish I could get my local State MP to watch this video. She is a perfectly nice person who is, for some reason, a rabid denier - not a sceptic, sadly, or I would send her the link in hope that she would watch it. A great video and I thank you for putting it up here. I, too, have not read the original emails, so it is nice to now have some context.
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  3. Yes, I love how he once again highlights how so-called "skeptics" will swallow every piece of nonsense they read on the internet *without* bothering to double-check the validity of the claims-the exact *opposite* of a genuine skeptic.
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  4. Oh...well done! Simply wizard!
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  5. Another excellent piece of work by Hadfield.We all owe him our gratitude for fighting the disinformation that seems nearly bottomless (in more ways than one).And of course the same appreciation goes out to SkS.
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  6. Ditto - what tmac57 said.
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  7. Doug H@2

    What is the difference between merely a skeptic versus a rabid denier?

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  8. Karl... I'm not sure of what Doug's definition is but I'd suggest that a genuine skeptic is someone who is looking at the science to try to understand it better. Every good scientist is a skeptic. It's required. It's why you see so much tough language between climate scientists in the hacked emails.

    A denier would be someone who avoids clear, basic facts in favor of a pre-determined position. Rising CO2 is a fact. Rising global temp is a fact. The radiative properties of CO2 are a fact. That burning fossil fuels is leading to the rise in global temp is "virtually certain" (in the parlance of the IPCC). Rejecting these puts one in the position of being in denial of basic facts.
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  9. 7, Karl,

    How many deniers does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. It's not dark. If it is dark, it's not because the light bulb went out. And if it did go out, its all due to natural cycles. And anyway, the darkening trend is not statistically significant (Phil Jones said so!) and we are now in a period of ongoing brightening (Pielke said so!).
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  10. Rob Honeycutt @8

    According to, a skeptic is someone who..

    "vigorously criticise ANY evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace ANY argument, op-ed, blog or study that refutes global warming."

    Can someone merely disagree or not yet convinced, without being painted as a wingnut?

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  11. Karl... I had to back and look at the full context of the sentence to get the gist of what was being said.

    The full statement is talking about climate denial. Deniers " vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that refutes global warming."

    Disagreeing with basic facts in not skepticism. Wanting to clearly understand the uncertainties is.
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  12. KfW

    The front page is pointing out that the term "skeptic" has been appropriated in the climate change debate by those who deny the evidence for climate change, yet claim to be skeptics simply because they disagree with the staus quo. It also references "true scientific skepticism" the the ideal appraoch to the problem.

    True skepticism evaluates alternative explanations by evaluating the evidence for and against so as to determine which explanation fits that evidence most closely. It dispenses with preconceived notions if the evidence does not support them. It also accepts the status quo when the evidence supports it. When you deny evidence in favor of a preconceived notion, you are engaging in what can fairly (if not very constructively) be called denial. That denial can in fact be rabid the preconceived beliefs are very dear indeed.

    You will find if you dig into the scientific literature that there are many issues of contention and uncertainty in climate change science, and levels of nuance in our understanding that is not present the debate in the lay public. But there are also many propositions that really are no longer open to debate because the evidence for them is so strong. These can be called established facts because the weight of evidence for them is so strong.

    A proper skeptic would not simply doubt these facts a priori. That is intellectually lazy. They would instead try to understand why the evidence has proven so convincing to so many. A denier presumes a priori that such consensus is by definition proof of a consipracy rather than skeptical inquiy.
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  13. If I can buy into the conversation between Karl and Rob, one of the thing that distinguishes a genuine skeptic from a denier is that a skeptic refuses to let political convenience substitute for skepticism.

    If you read the comments of any popular denier blog, or of Skeptical Science, you will see genuinely bizzare theories proposes by so-called "skeptics" from time to time. Like the suggestion that the Earth's volcanoes produce in a day as much CO2 as humans produce in a year (in fact the Earth's volcanoes, including those underwater produce only 1/100th of the CO2 that humans produce in a year, so the ratio is almost exactly the reverse of that claimed); or variations in the Earth's surface temperature are entirely the consequence of variations in geothermal heat flows (I kid you not).

    The response from "so-called" skeptics to these theories has been, almost universally, to say that the theories are interesting, or that they would like to see more work done on the theory. With very few exceptions it is not to criticize the obvious errors in the claims. IMO there are two reasons for this behaviour. The first is a matter of overall political strategy. If your purpose is to stop anti-AGW policies rather than scientific truth, than absurd theories can help that cause, so you don't knock them on the head. The second is glass house syndrome. The so-called skeptics know that their positions cannot withstand thorough going critiques. Therefore they do not critique absurd theories lest the favour be returned.

    In contrast, on SkS I have not hesitated to criticize my fellow defenders of climate science when I have believed them to be wrong, and they have not hesitated to return the favour (and it is a favour, for which I am grateful). The reason is that for us, truth is more important than political advantage. That is one mark of a true skeptic which is transparently lacking in popular denier sites.
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  14. Rob Honeycut.....

    This website views Skeptics and Deniers as the same. Please re-read...

    "...Skeptics vigorously criticise ANY evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace ANY argument, op-ed, blog or study that refutes global warming."
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  15. Karl... Read the full paragraph. John was making a clear distinction between genuine scientific skepticism and people who profess to be skeptics but are not. That is the whole premise of the website. "Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism."

    To clarify, you could say, "Getting truly skeptical about global warming fake skepticism."
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  16. 14, Karl,

    True skeptics don't call themselves skeptics. They don't label themselves at all. They just look at information, learn and make decisions.

    The only people I've ever met who call themselves skeptics are, in fact, deniers. I see no reason to make a distinction in the language, because the only people who will be offended by a lack of distinction are the deniers who get their undies all in a bunch at being called deniers.

    So now the problem is that we're calling them skeptics?

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  17. I have to say, though. The people I admire the most are people like Barry Bickmore. People who are genuinely conservative and have had to come to the correct conclusions about climate science. I don't mind disagreeing about the solutions but let's get real about what the problem is so that we can get to the solutions.
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  18. Sphaerica-its kind of like people who call themselves "intellectuals". I've always noted that true intellectuals never refer to themselves as such, whereas pseudo-intellectuals often call themselves intellectuals ;-).
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  19. Sphaerica- I have to take issue with your statement "True skeptics don't call themselves skeptics."
    There is a large and growing international Skeptic movement that embraces that name.The vast majority of them are fighting the denial movement with great vigor.We are on your side,and take great exception when deniers use the term 'skeptic' whether it is about doubting climate change,or conspiracy theories or any kind of trashing of mainstream science.There has been much debate in the real skeptical movement about whether or not the term carries too much baggage,but the history of the modern movement dates back to the early 1970's,long before the deniers,so we got there first,and we intend to stand our ground.
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  20. Wouldn't you say that lumping skeptics in as deniers, is analogous to lumping Muslims in with terrorists?

    Doesn't it do your effort of persuasion a disservice? As it tends to radicalize some of the moderate opposition?
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    [DB] You were warned here to cease with the Concern Trolling.  Every comment made since then has either been more of the same or a complaint about moderation.  Future, similar, comments will simply be deleted and a rescinding of posting privileges will be considered.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation and compliance in this matter.

  21. Sphaerica @16, I was going to draw your attention to skeptical societies, but merely note that tmac57 @19 has beaten me to it.
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  22. Karl_from_Wylie @20, you miss the point. We did not start calling deniers "skeptics". They did. At first we did not have a problem with that and followed their chosen use until it became very obvious that they were in fact not true skeptics, but deniers.

    As to "radicalizing the moderate opposition", the deniers are certainly trying to leverage the term to do just that, just as they previously tried to leverage the term "skeptic" to suggest that their opponents where not skeptical, but rather dogmatic or gullible or both. I note, however, that it is they who are playing word games, while it is we who want to discuss the science.
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  23. Hmmm, Kyle, I think it would be more appropriate to say that Deniers calling themselves Skeptics is damaging the image of skepticism in the same way that Terrorists calling themselves Muslims is damaging the image of Islam-the fault lies not with the broader group, but with the people who're using the label under false pretenses.
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  24. sorry Karl, not Kyle.
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  25. There are people who are excessively skeptical rather than deniers. A close friend of mine is one. She would not let politics blind her to unpleasant facts but her intuitions have been formed in safety critical IT and she has some mistaken impressions about what has actually been done in climate science. She has not looked into it in detail nor looked at the breadth of the evidence. She has had a lot of other things on her plate. But she has ran into too much denialist misinformation and has not had the time to find out the actual facts. I think she is typical of a lot of technically literate people who get fooled by sciency sounding stuff that gives satisfactory answers if you look at it quickly but which you have to put a lot of effort into if you want to know why the plausible sounding answer is wrong. A lot of people with a scientific background are vulnerable to a Gish gallop in fields other than their own, especially if their intuitions and experience aggravate the problem.
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  26. tmac, Tom,

    I honestly have never seen these Skeptical societies. Can you point me towards them? And can you explain why they are (at least to me) so difficult to find that I am completely unaware of them?
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  27. 23, Marcus,

    Spot on.
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  28. 25, Lloyd,

    The person you describe is not excessively skeptical. She is instead excessively gullible and un-skeptical. She believes without question the denial tripe that she reads.

    A skeptic looks into anything, no matter what it is, because they believe nothing without proof.

    Believing uncritically in denial lies is not only as un-skeptical as believing in the science without questioning it. It's equivalent to putting your faith in the cancer-fairy instead of radiation treatments, because you don't trust those dang doctors with all of their fancy titles and letters after their names.

    Her excuses for not taking the time to look into things do not make her a lazy skeptic. They make her a lazy denier, which to me is even worse than the usual kind. At least rabid deniers put a lot of energy into reinforcing their chosen belief system. They also have at least some small chance of stumbling across and understanding something that opens their eyes.
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  29. Sphaerica @26:

    "The term “Skeptics” or “Sceptics” has been in the news a lot more than usual in the past few years. Often, this has been linked to ‘climate change scepticism’ which is a position that claims that some or all details of the theory of human-induced climate change are false. ‘Scepticism’ has also been linked to political opposition to specific measures, regardless of the science.

    Australian Skeptics is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of science and reason. We are not associated with the climate change scepticism movement, and especially not with political groups that use that term to indicate their position.

    It has always been the Australian Skeptics’ position that people should make up their minds based on the evidence. This position becomes even more important when what should be a completely scientific issue is used by politically-motivated groups to further their causes, often in the face of contradictory evidence.

    People who are not experts in fields related to climate science should seek the best available evidence, as judged by those who are experts in relevant fields. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not everyone is entitled to be taken seriously. On the very important and very complex questions of climate change and its causes, only the carefully formed opinions of relevantly qualified experts should be taken seriously.

    As in all fields of science, expertise emerges out of experience and through the peer-review process, not through media appearances or political connections."

    Oh, and those other skeptics:
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  30. Further to Tom's 29, I am also aware of a UK based organisation called Sense About Science . Whilst not calling itself "skeptic" it never-the-less practices skepticism across many areas including Climate.

    Sense About Science works with scientists and members of the public to change public debates and to equip people to make sense of science and evidence.

    Sense About Science responds to hundreds of requests for independent advice and questions on scientific evidence each year. We chase down dodgy science and mobilise networks of scientists and community groups to counter it. We also invite scientists to publish corrections of misreported research in our 'For the record' section.

    The composition of its board is very interesting...the Chair is a real Lord.
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  31. Further to the comment at 10.

    I think the opening statement on SkS could be a bit confusiing. Instead of reading like this:

    Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming

    I would suggest it be changed so as to read something more like this:

    Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. These 'skeptics' vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming

    To me that sentence isn't clear that it is the "Climate Skeptics" (or whatever label to give them) that are being referred to here.
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  32. Being skeptical is a discipline (not an ideology) practiced with both eyes open.

    When the "ism" is added to the word skeptic one should blink both eyes to make sure that one isn't looking at the world through a prism (or an ideology).
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  33. The funny thing about using the term "skeptic" is that I find I have to shift mental gears when moving from climate discussions to medical topics.

    When it comes to medicine, the "skeptics" and skepticism are about SBM, science based medicine - as against those advocating non/anti-scientific ideas about cancer therapies, anti-vaccination and the like.

    Me? I'd rather refer to climate deniers as self-styled skeptics to indicate a judgment that I/we don't accept the skeptic characterisation, but we politely refrain from clearly pejorative qualifiers such as pseudo or fake to express our non-acceptance.
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  34. I tend to agree with what Tamino wrote about skeptics recently on a post at Real Climate, as follows:

    Fake skeptics like Anthony Watts try to blame global warming on bad station siting. Turns out he was wrong.

    Then they try to blame it on dropout of reporting stations. Turns out that was wrong.

    The fake skeptics can hardly contain their worship for a new team to estimate temperature (the Berkeley team) which is started by a skeptic. They’re sure the new estimate will prove that the other estimates are fraudulent. Anthony Watts proclaims that he’ll accept whatever their results are, even if it contradicts him. It contradicts him. He refuses to accept their results. He launches into multiple tirades to discredit the new effort.

    Fake skeptics try to blame global warming on UHI. Turns out they were wrong.

    Fake skeptics try to claim global warming has “paused” or “slowed down” or isn’t even happening. Turns out they were wrong.

    Scoundrels resort to stealing a bunch of private emails and take them out of context so they can launch a campaign of character assassination. Multiple investigations follow, the science of global warming is vindicated. Again.

    The fake skeptics have got nothing. Zero. Zip. Squat. With all the real science against them, apparently their only recourse is to look for “sloppy seconds” in the stolen emails in a lame attempt to revive their smear campaign. It tells us all we need to know about the so-called “skeptics.” They are pathetic.

    I’m tempted to laugh — but the health, safety, even survival of the next generation is at stake. They’ll know who it was who sealed their fate.

    Comment by tamino — 22 Nov 2011 @ 7:03 PM

    It is these "Fake Skeptics" I would refer to as deniers.
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  35. adelady#33:

    It's much simpler to use the term 'denier' as 'one who denies the evidence.' That fits the bill for just about any subject.
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  36. Sphaerica #28,

    I know the individual. It is mostly misleading experience and consequent intuitions. You see experience in some fields can make it easier to get boged down in the details and harder to see the complete picture.
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  37. Sphareica- To add to what Tom and oneiota posted:

    The CFI (heavy emphasis on secularism/humanism)
    The JREF (famous for issuing a million dollar challenge to anyone who can demonstrate any "paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."

    Science Based Medicine (SBM)

    From those starting points,you can follow the links to other Skeptical blogs and podcasts such as The Skeptics Guide To The Universe and Richard Saunder's fine podcast The Skeptic Zone from Australia.

    In Canada theres Skeptically Speaking
    and Skeptic North

    In the UK Ben Goldacre's,and I second Oneiota's recommendation for Sense About Science.

    You will find the content and tone different at these various sites,but you should find something that suits your sensibilities.
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  38. 37, tmac57,

    Interesting. But now I'm upset that they are not far more vocal and livid with deniers. How can they have allowed such non-skeptics to adopt and so redefine the mantle of "skeptic."

    Every one of those sites you and Tom have given should be all over WUWT and other denial travesties.

    From a climate science perspective, however, such skeptics have no standing, exactly because they have been invisible. In the realm of climate science, skeptic is a code word for denier, and until that changes, my first (and correct) instinct in dealing with anyone who is self-identified as a skeptic will be to deal with them as a denier (because 9,999 out of 10,000 of such people in climate science are deniers).
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  39. 36, Lloyd Flack,

    If she actually got bogged down in any details enough to learn about them, she'd start to see what I saw long ago, which is that each and ever skeptic argument is a house of cards. When enough of them collapse, one starts being very wary of the next stupid argument they trot out.

    That your friend hasn't reached this point suggests to me that her thinking stops as soon as she arrives at a conclusion she likes -- and that is archetypical denier (not skeptic) behavior.
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  40. Sphaerica-I understand your frustration,but keep in mind that these Skeptics are not solely dealing with climate change.They have a very wide range of topics of all kinds of pseudo-science that they are tackling.Also,I think that there aren't too many that are actual climate scientists,so they do more reporting on current issues like so called Climategate,the BEST report,and such,but leave the analysis to those who do the science.I actually found my way to this site from a link that a commenter on Neurologica gave,while arguing against a denier.
    Keep an open mind about the real Skeptic movement,we are your ally,not an enemy.We cannot help it if the 'skeptic' name has been hijacked by the deniers,and we do very much resent it,and reject their claim.They are pseudo-skeptics,and science deniers.
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  41. tmac,

    I have no problem at all with the "Skeptic movement" as represented by the links you and Tom supplied. In fact I pretty much adamantly agree with whatever I read there... it looks more to me like level-headed common-sense than any special attribute like "skepticism."

    [Which perhaps doesn't speak well for the gullibility and education of the common man. :) ]

    That said, I don't really spend much time worrying about the debunking of 9/11 conspiracy theories or how the world might end in 2012 and such. I didn't find much meat there to sink my teeth into, just because most of the subjects covered struck me as "what, someone actually has to spend energy on this?"

    With that said... if there is a body of true skeptics who label and view themselves as such, they need to go on the offensive against deniers, and be rather timidly accepting if those involved in discussing climate science fail to recognize the distinction, because in my interactions in the past two years, the deniers are the prominent (and until today sole) owners of the skeptic label.
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  42. I think Sphaerica's joke @9 highlights the difference between a true sceptic and a pathological sceptic aka denialist. A true sceptic would just enquire whether you had checked that power was getting to the bulb then would accept the necessity for the bulb changing.
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  43. Spaerica #39,
    Look at Barry Bickmore's video to see why someone with a scientific background who has not looked at climate change in detail might be skeptical. Something like that has happened in this case. Sometimes someone's existing knowledge can lead them into traps. Remember the thread here on denialism in some geologists. A background in IT creates a different potential trap. They often confuse the fragility of programs with fragility in models and think there is likely to be one crucial mistake that will cause the whole thing to be invalid. I've seen this happen in quite a few people.
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  44. Karl_from_Wylie@7 et al. Just to clarify, I distinguish sceptic from denier as follows:
    Sceptic - one who bases their position upon all the available evidence.
    Denier - one who maintains their position in spite of all the available evidence.
    Rabid Denier - one who maintains their position in spite of all the available evidence and points to a selective subset, or blatant distortion, of that evidence to justify their position. Otherwise referred to above as a scoundrel.
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  45. In an attempt to suit actions to words and inform myself better, I have located and downloaded the zip file of the Climategate 2 emails. Working from the 'Read me file - formatted.docx' document, included by the hacker as a kind of guide to the naughty bits in the emails, I have started comparing the selected snippets with the original messages, to get the context.

    I am not a climate scientist, so much of the technical discussion goes over my head, but I am able to form my own opinion of the degree to which these emails should worry me. So far (and I have not worked through all 5000+), I see only robust discussion and the kind of peer review of papers that leads me to think the final versions are likely to be balanced and conservative in their conclusions.

    I also note that the vast bulk of the emails in the zip file are password protected and the hacker is unwilling (or unable) to release the encryption key. Smelling a rat, I am entitled to suspect that these locked messages detract from the sensationalism the hacker is trying to purvey.

    By hiding the raw data and highlighting supposedly salacious phrases that prove, on examination, to be taken out of context, the hacker has lost credibility, in my view. Having performed my own research, I am happy to state that I agree with the conclusions presented by Peter Hadfield in the video posted above.

    As one of the untrained majority this release of emails was supposed to confront, I find them a non-event and believe that anyone relying on them to support their pet conspiracy theory would do better to spend their time researching the originals as I am doing.
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  46. Doug H @45

    "Hiding raw data" does make one skeptical, doesn't it?
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  47. What do you mean by "skeptical," Karl? Genuine skepticism is equivalent to critical thinking. It is a mode of thought, and it can be taught. Practice and consistent application in all areas of life are essential to becoming a genuine skeptic.

    I think you mean "concerned" or "does trigger one's skeptical apparatus, doesn't it?".

    Are you implying anything beyond agreement with Doug H, Karl? If so, have out with it (well-evidenced, of course, and on the appropriate thread), or remain comfortably surrounded by your illusions. If you're not implying anything, then, yes, I agree as well.
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