A Change In Climate, Part 1

by Kiko Matsing

“We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps…”

So begins a seemingly benign comment at a global warming skeptic’s website (the Air Vent) that blew open the scandal about ethical misbehavior (others are calling criminal) within a group of leading scientists who supply critical data to the IPCC. The comment offered “a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents” that can be downloaded from an anonymous ftp server in Russia. The 61 MB mother lode, consisting of about 1000 emails and 3000 documents representing over a decade of correspondence between leading US and British climate change scientists (The Associated Press), was a skeptic’s wet dream. Leak of the damaging emails, hacked from the Climate Reasearch Unit at the University of East Anglia, seem to have been timed in order to undermine the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Breaking news of the email hacking at Russia Today. CRU at East Anglia has since admitted that the emails were genuine.

There is nothing else I can add to this story–the emails have already been put under microscopic scrutiny by ‘warmers’, ‘skeptics’, and ‘deniers’ alike–except to provide a resource of links to the reader who wishes to get to the bottom of things. Is there a worldwide conspiracy? Probably not. BUT within this group of scientists, who are influential in policy-making, there is strong evidence of collusion to suppress critical information, ideological bias in the treatment of data, undermining of the peer review process, and condescension to the public.

First, the hacked email files can be accessed from the following sites:

Here are some of what have been discovered in the hacked emails from the blogosphere:

  • [Some] of the most astonishing in updates below–emails suggesting conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more. (Andrew Bolt, heraldsun.com.au)
  • But perhaps the most damaging revelations… are those concerning the way Warmist scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence in order to support their cause. (James Delingpole, Telegraph.co.uk)
  • To me, the main issue is the frontal attack on the heart of science, which is transparency… The recent release of the hacked emails from CRU has provided me with an amazing insight into the attempt by Steve McIntyre, myself, and others from CA [Climate Audit] and elsewhere to obtain the raw station data from Phil Jones at the CRU… (Willis Eschenbach, Willis vs. The CRU: A History of (FOI) Evasion)
  • [A] compendium of programming code segments that show comments by the programmer that suggest places where data may be corrected, modified, adjusted, or busted. (Anthony Watts, Watts Up With That?)
  • This scandal goes beyond scientific journals and into other media used to promote the global warming dogma. For example, RealClimate.org has been billed as an objective website at which global warming activists and skeptics can engage in an impartial debate. But in the CRU e-mails, the global warming establishment boasts that RealClimate is in their pocket. (Robert Tracinski, Real Clear Politics)

Who’s Who in the Hacked Emails

Hockey Stick Graph

“Hockey Stick” graph prominently featured in the Third Assessment Report TAR of the IPCC in 2001, showing accelerated global warming in the 20th century, based on Michael Mann’s paper in Nature.

[The emails’] authors are not just any old bunch of academics. Their importance cannot be overestimated. What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (from Christopher Booker, Telegraph.co.uk, bold emphasis mine)

Okay people move along, nothing to see here, you little lookyloos

Here’s the attempt at damage control from RealClimate, to which key figures in the emails, Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann, regularly contribute:

1. Nothing shocking, just business as usual in science.

There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy… [instead], there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

2. Smug appeal to the authority of experts and the truth-value of their research products.

[It’s] important to remember that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times. Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.

3. It’s really not as bad as it looks.

No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”… Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all.

Trick or Travesty?

It is true that these are random emails, and that they can be easily taken out of context, as one blogger pointed out with regards to Kevin Trenberth’s now oft-cited “travesty” quote: The context is now clear. Trenberth is talking about the travesty of the observation system and our inability to see where the heat is going from year to year. It is well known and public that there are problems in recent years with the global climate observation system (AllegationAudit). But even ardent climate change advocate George Monbiot admits to the extent of damage and seriousness of the allegations that he called for Phil Jones’ resignation and review of published data (bold emphasis mine):

Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed. (from George Monbiot, guardian.co.uk)

Phil Jones’ “trick” of hiding the decline was cursorily dismissed by RealClimate as simply a clever, rather than covert, way of dealing with problematic data. Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit–a blog dedicated to checking reported climate change data–painstakingly pieces together the time line of the emails and the history of temperature reconstructions used by IPCC: Climate scientists have complained that this email has been taken “out of context”. In this case, I’m not sure that it’s in their interests that this email be placed in context because the context leads right back to a meeting of IPCC authors in Tanzania, raising serious questions about the role of IPCC itself in “hiding the decline” in the Briffa reconstruction (Climate Audit, IPCC and the “Trick”).

Hiding The Decline

This “apparent” truncation of data had been spotted and discussed at Climate Audit as far back as 2005: Post-1960 values of the Briffa MXD series are deleted from the IPCC TAR multiproxy spaghetti graph. These values trend downward in the original citation (Briffa [2000], see Figure 5), where post-1960 values are shown. The effect of deleting the post-1960 values of the Briffa MXD series is to make the reconstructions more “similar”. The truncation is not documented in IPCC TAR. In most cases, people would ask: who at IPCC truncated this series? why did they do so? who approved the truncation? what process was involved in approving the truncation ? (Climate Audit, A Strange Truncation of the Briffa MXD Series, bold emphasis mine)

Michael Mann’s emails make it clear why the truncation was done:

This is the problem we all picked up on (everyone in the room at IPCC was in agreement that this was a problem and a potential distraction/detraction from the reasonably [sic] concensus [sic] viewpoint we’d like to show w/ the Jones et al and Mann et al series. (from email 0938018124.txt)

Otherwise, the skeptics have an [sic] field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates. I don’t think that doubt is scientifically justified, and I’d hate to be the one to have to give it fodder! (from email 0938018124.txt)

Now they tell us that the divergence problem is well-known all along in the paleoclimatology community, but was arbitrarily left out in the IPCC report because it is not well understood and requires further research: Those authors [Briffa, et al.] have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens (RealClimate, The CRU Hack). In other words, they are confident enough in the overall picture based on other temperature reconstructions/instrumental measurements (doubt is not scientifically justified) that they are willing to remove the anomaly to make the story easily digestible by the public and to avoid confrontation with skeptics.

Anomalies are often ignored in science in favor of reasonable albeit provisional theory in order to make progress (Kuhn). What is unique in climate change science is that the production of theories no longer belongs exclusively to academic fairy land–it is directly political because it is deployed with coercive force for policy-making, and informs the call for a global re-engineering of societies and economies. “Hiding the decline” is thus no longer merely a move in an epistemological game, but a technical move to augment power. Hence, it is legitimate to demand answers to: who at IPCC truncated this series? why did they do so? who approved the truncation? what process was involved in approving the truncation?