The Climate Change Email Controversy: What Have We Learned?

For those of you who don’t keep up with the comments, we’ve been having a spirited, off-topic conversation about the news that the email servers of Britain’s Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia were hacked, with the result that some very revealing and embarrassing emails have been made public.

Climate skeptics are pointing to the emails as proof of a conspiracy to promote the cause of human-caused global warming, without regard to the scientific evidence.  Those convinced of the threat of human-caused global warming are – well, let’s face it – they’re disassembling, throwing up all kinds of red herrings, and generally retrenching in the face of a true setback.

And a setback it is, no matter what spin is put on the incident.  There is no doubt that the emails show a mean-spirited, vindictive insider mentality at work, a mentality where evidence that goes against the cause is discounted, “hidden”, ignored, and actively fought against.  The emails also show a group of scientists with little regard for ethics – there is open discussion of circumventing Freedom of Information requests, of massaging data, of celebrating the death of a skeptic, even of redefining the time-tested method of publishing scientific results:

In one e-mail, the center’s director, Phil Jones, writes Pennsylvania State University’s Michael E. Mann and questions whether the work of academics that question the link between human activities and global warming deserve to make it into the prestigious IPCC report, which represents the global consensus view on climate science.

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” Jones writes. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” Mann writes.

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor,” Jones replies.

Forget global warming for a minute – any scientists who engaged in such behavior in an organization that I headed would be immediately dismissed, no matter the quality of their work or their reputation.  Science has long been revered as a search for truth – but these scientists are involved in a political quest to push a viewpoint, the evidence be damned.

Does this mean the evidence of human-caused global warming is manufactured?  No.  There is a large and growing body of peer-reviewed research supporting the theory.  However, what it DOES mean is that we cannot be sure that evidence is not being suppressed that goes against the prevailing orthodoxy.  Nor can we be certain that the data is not being cherry-picked, on the basis of emails such as this:

Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly
explain the 1940s warming blip.

If you look at the attached plot you will see that the
land also shows the 1940s blip (as I’m sure you know).

So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 degC,
then this would be significant for the global mean — but
we’d still have to explain the land blip.

I’ve chosen 0.15 here deliberately. This still leaves an
ocean blip, and i think one needs to have some form of
ocean blip to explain the land blip (via either some common
forcing, or ocean forcing land, or vice versa, or all of
these). When you look at other blips, the land blips are
1.5 to 2 times (roughly) the ocean blips — higher sensitivity
plus thermal inertia effects. My 0.15 adjustment leaves things
consistent with this, so you can see where I am coming from.

Removing ENSO does not affect this.

It would be good to remove at least part of the 1940s blip,
but we are still left with “why the blip”.

and this:

The Figure you sent is very deceptive. As an example, historical
runs with PCM look as though they match observations — but the
match is a fluke. PCM has no indirect aerosol forcing and a low
climate sensitivity — compensating errors. In my (perhaps too
harsh)  view, there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model
results by individual authors and by IPCC.

What is the ultimate result?  Lay people cannot be expected to understand the science – they have neither the time nor the expertise to review and replicate research.  What anyone can see, however, is that this particular group of scientists is fond of denigrating dissent, manipulating data, and hiding inconvenient facts and opinions.  They are a disgrace to their cause and to the scientific community.

Skeptics need to temper their reaction:  this is not the smoking gun that disproves human-caused global warming…but it DOES reinforce the skeptic’s viewpoint.  Who could FAIL to be more skeptical of the science, when we see the blatantly unethical behavior behind the scenes?…