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Climate Change & Climategate

More than 30,000 people are gathered in Copenhagen to discuss, negotiate, and act on global warming. A treaty to control the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is not likely to come out of this UN meeting, but progress toward such a treaty is. The amount of money developed nations should contribute to developing nations to help them adapt to the global warming that is already inevitable is another major topic being discussed. C&ENtral Science is carrying blog postings from Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue, ES&T

Editor-in-chief Jerald Schnoor, and others attending the Copenhagen meeting.

Meanwhile, climate change skeptics and deniers are all atwitter about thousands of purloined e-mails and other documents from a computer at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU). They have culled through the e-mails, some of them nearly two decades old, and found what they have proclaimed to be paydirt: clear examples in their collective mind of climate change researchers cooking data, suppressing contrary research, and sullying the peer-review process.

They’re calling it “climategate,” of course.

(The e-mails are posted at a number of sites. One of the most convenient to use is http://www.eastangliaemails.com.)

The vast majority of the e-mails are innocuous and/or banal. They are shop talk among climate scientists around the world. Like most shop talk, it is unguarded and sometimes less than sophisticated. A few e-mails mention data manipulation that is being interpreted by the skeptics as nefarious but which appears to be no more than trying to correlate disparate data sets collected by a number of different methods. A couple of e-mails discuss whether editors of two journals are using the peer review process appropriately.

Some of the e-mails are disappointing, to say the least. In at least one of the e-mails, Phil Jones, director of CRU, asks Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, to delete e-mails, apparently to prevent them from being discovered by a freedom of information request. Jones clearly acted improperly in this instance; he has temporarily stepped down from his position at CRU while an investigation is being conducted.

In another one of the e-mails that skeptics have seized on, Jones writes to Mann, “The other paper by MM is just garbage—as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well—frequently as I see it.

“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!”

What to make of this? You can see that the tone is, as noted above, unguarded and colloquial. It is a conversation between two professional friends who are all too familiar with the tactics of climate change skeptics, who never miss a chance to abuse the scientific method by distorting the significance of gaps in our understanding of the climate system and apparent discrepancies between datasets collected by different methods. I would have preferred not to see prominent climate scientists engaged in tactics like those Jones describes, but I understand his mindset.

During a teleconference for reporters held last week, Mann said: “It is important to understand what peer review is. It is not a license to publish anything that does not meet the standards of scientific publishing. In climate research, what had happened was that there was an editor who appeared to be gaming the system to get papers published simply because they expressed skeptical views of climate change. There is no reason not to publish skeptical science. But skepticism works two ways. A genuine skeptic looks for questions on both sides of the issue.” Mann went on to say that the paper in question had not passed peer review but had been published anyway. As a result, the editor-in-chief of the journal, Climate Research

, resigned.

During the same teleconference, Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said of the e-mails: “The important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the science of climate change. Nothing has changed. The Earth has warmed more than 1 ºC over the last century. Global sea level has risen seven inches. Both major ice sheets are loosing ice rapidly. The ocean is more acidic than it used to be.”

And that’s just it. The skeptics want the public to believe that there is a debate on climate change between two relatively equal groups of scientists, and that one group—those who are convinced that the evidence says that humans are changing the climate—are using political clout and dishonest techniques to suppress the evidence that supports the skeptics’ point of view. That’s just not true. The national science academies of every major developed and developing country have endorsed the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those findings are the result of work by thousands of scientists. They say humans are dangerously altering Earth’s climate.

Here is a hint at what’s really going on. In a tract published by the Science & Public Policy Institute, entitled “Climategate: Caught Green-Handed,” Christopher Monckton, a British politician, pundit, and hereditary peer, writes that at the Copenhagen meeting “the world’s governing class [will meet] to discuss a treaty to inflict an unelected and tyrannical global government on us, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all once-free world markets and tax and regulate the world’s wealthier nations for its own enrichment: in short, to bring freedom, democracy, and prosperity to an instant end worldwide, at the stroke of a pen, on the pretext of addressing what is now known to be the non-problem of manmade ‘global warming.’”

What more is there to say?

Thanks for reading.


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  • Dec 10th 200912:12
    by David

    1. I really think you should stop using the term “denier.” In what other scientific debate does one side call the other side “deniers?” I can’t think of any. It’s just a smear term. It isn’t respectful. It’s not how scientists talk to one another.

    2. More importantly, beware the false dichotomy. The issue is not so clear as “deniers” versus “warmists.” There are a large multitude of scientific, social, and political questions involved here, and unfortunately they often all get conflated into the single question, “do you believe in global warming.”

    You see that in your quotation from Michael Oppenheimer. The important issue is not, as he seems to imply, whether the Earth is warming. That is certainly an important issue, but there are many, many others. For example: how much of it is due to man? Can we actually predict how much will happen in the future? Is the warming a bad thing? If so, what efforts are worth undertaking to try to stop it, or would it be better to adapt to the change? Would proposed efforts even work? Etc. You can believe in “global warming,” and have different answers to all of these questions.

  • Dec 11th 200904:12
    by Mike Rycroft

    The climate change community is following a belief that predates any scientific or flat earth theories and are using junk science to justify their superstitious dogma.

    History tells us that ancient societies attributed climatic disasters such as floods, droughts, crop failures, volcanic eruptions etc to the anger of the Gods, and attempted to appease this anger by means of human or animal sacrifices—the spilling of blood. In more recent times witchcraft was blamed for the same phenomena, based on the assumption that evil humans had the ability to control or later the weather or other natural phenomena. Several famous witchhunts are on record. This belief even survives in some societies today.

    The climate change community is simply perpetuating these superstitious beliefs by clinging to the theory that natural variations in climate, which have been going on forever, are being influenced by human activity, and worse still, that by making a modern day sacrifice, forgoing our quality of life and turning to a penitent sackcloth and ashes existence we can stop these changes. What total arrogance!! Nature is not influenced by the puny efforts of us Humans.

    The cost of this sacrifice in straight monetary terms is enormous, and far exceeds the projected monetary costs of unmitigated climate change to the world economy. This is probably the main reason why the community and their sycophants are now referring to the “human” cost of climate change, an emotional issue, and environmental agitators have also started introducing the “ future of our children “ into their arguments, in what is surely a well orchestrated change of emphasis. This shows that they have run out of scientific arguments and have no answer to legitimate and well founded questions from those they brand as skeptics and flat earthers.

    It would be far better, If we wish to leave an energy secure future for our children, if efforts and resources were spent on developing real sustainable sources of energy rather than chasing phantoms. It is a known fact, that does not require mathematical models and obscure theories for validation, that existing fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and will one day run out. That is the real carbon threat to this planet.

  • Dec 11th 200909:12
    by Zach

    Call me a “denier”, call me every derogatory term in the book. It will not change the fact that those who blindly support AGW and claim that the debate is over are behaving in a manner that is the polar opposite of scientific. Since when is skepticism in science a bad thing? I seem to recall an individual named Galileo who was shunned by the “consensus” for claiming, rightfully so, that the Earth was round as opposed to flat. Skepticism is what drives science. It’s that lingering doubt that makes you search for truth. AGW has turned into a religion, treating those that question the almighty IPCC as heretics.

    I in no way deny that the climate is changing. It has done so for the 4-5 billion years of its existence. Were humans and industrialized society responsible for climate changes that occurred more than 50,000 years ago? The problem with the “consensus” is that the theory is based off of a statistically isolated point. Humans have existed for ~50,000 years (~10% of the Earth’s existence) and industrialized society has been around for ~200 years (0.00004 % of the Earth’s existence), yet we are solely responsible for the change in the climate? This planet has weathered the extremes of heat and cold, dinosaurs, and assault by meteors and asteroids and shrugged it off. She will certainly do the same to us.

    The climate will change as it is wont to do, and there is nothing we can say about it. However, there is something we do have a say about, and that is the reckless pollution and raping of the planet (filthy waterways, deforestation, destruction of wetlands, etc.). We must change our ways to become good stewards of the planet to leave it in as good condition as possible when we are gone. We need to clean up what we have and take care of it.

    The measures be pushed with the backing of AGW are merely a means of wealth transfer, as they will not impact the production of energy merely the cost to the end user. It is a ploy to create derivative markets that governments can utilize to control the masses while making themselves rich. None of the taxes collected will go to “help the poor” as those in power very seldom part with their spoils.

  • Dec 11th 200921:12
    by Bob

    The “climategate” emails came out over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The holiday gave me a chance to read many of them in a word searchable file. I had been a climate change agnostic. But after reading the emails, I thought I should read more. Some emails reveal actions that cannot be minimized as loose talk among colleagues and are absolutely indefensible. I’ve now read the so-called climate skeptics that you dismiss. More than few a make thoughtful, rational, data based arguments. And they do not call those who differ names. Now I am questioning everything including, beyond the process, the basic data sets. We all know that, at a practical level, large reports end up being written are by just a few key people. I am concerned that those key people, who believed what they were saying, were motivated to make a policy point and skewed the data and the reporting of it as a result. The key people included those in CRU emails. You quote Lord Monckton apparently to show that his policy arguments are so transparently wacky that you needn’t say more to prove that anyone who differs is wacky. What he says could be wrong, but it’s not wacky. I think this shows that you haven’t thought about all of the financial and political motivations at work. I think some critical reanalysis of your position is in order. Even if I haven’t graduated to “denier” now I am a questioner. I hope that’s permitted in the new science of climate change.

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    Dec 13th 200915:12
    by The Mermaid, Deniers, And New Art at C&ENtral Science

    [...] to the 1992 climate change treaty). The “British lies” comment on their signs refers to the controversial emails stolen last month from East Anglia [...]

  • Dec 14th 200910:12
    by Beth Alderman

    In my experience, people who “believe in” science are like people who “believe in” a particular concept of God. When they feel threatened by despair, they try to control it by misusing their rational minds. When that breaks down, they have no way of coping and do serious damage to our collective consciousness.

    The oceanographers here in Seattle are convinced that the world is coming to an end and are happy to share their point of view. The are like End Times Dominionists who spread despair without hope. This is hardly helpful.

    A cognitive psychologist, human factors psychologist, theologian like Raimon Panikkar or someone with a pure mind, like the Dalai Lama, could shed some light in this season of northern hemisphere darkness.

    My question is, why not drop all the self-defeating, self-justifying, “rational” discussion of whether or not we have a problem and what kind it is (duh!) and focus on solutions? You don’t have to do any inner work, or achieve any psycho-spiritual insights, or win any arguments with yourself once you get started on the creative side.

    Jane Addams pointed out that it is very difficult to live in a time when your old behaviors conflict with your new understanding of the world. We experience change all the time; we have gotten over many humps.

    It will be easy for all of us to accept the demise of the oil-based energy economy and to re-imagine the new economy when those of us who are able behave as if there will be a new future, and that we will, in spite and because of our rational minds, and our strong hearts, prevail.

    So cheer up, have fun, be feisty, and continue spreading solutions to us in the grass roots. We’re listening because you’ve already started! Love that Livening up the Debate bit! You guys rock!

  • Dec 15th 200901:12
    by Steven Cooke

    Rudy ends his editorial with the question, “What more is there to say?” following a paragraph about the intentional political/power take-over of human freedom behind the stalking-horse of climate change. I agree, you can’t say more about that – unless it is just the fundamental question of whether you WANT to live under a tyranny!

    The FACT is, the ONLY consistent causative effect of pollution, emissions, and resource consumption increases over the years has been the increase in HUMAN population! The root cause is clear, and the solution is simple – the only “sustainable” action is reduction and stabilization of global population. Hmmm… NO one, especially politicians wants to talk about THAT agreement. So, it will get back to whoever has the most/biggest guns as it has throughout human history. Eventually, nature will persevere, if only at the cost of human near-extinction.

  • Dec 16th 200912:12
    by Gary Lund

    The content of the email correspondence and other documents appears to me to point to a willful effort on the part of a number of very influential climate researchers to commit what is tantamount to fraud. This apparently includes manipulation of data, destruction of data, and suppression of dissenting or contradictory results. In my mind this potentially represents scientific malfeasance of the worst sort. This situation is rendered even more egregious given the fact that multiple political policies having far reaching economic effects relied on the work of this group and their influence on other researchers as well.

    Quite frankly not only myself but the majority of colleagues I am acquainted with would be considered skeptics simply due to the fact that a convincing argument for so called man made climate change has not been made. The UN IPCC is not a scientific organization but rather a policy body. Consequently, citing the UN IPCC as scientific endorsement of the postulate of anthropogenic climate change is irrelevant. Despite frequent claims made by Rudy and others of scientific consensus, I have personally been unable to find a satisfactory scientific study supporting a anthropogenic CO2 (or related “green house gas” emission) causal link to global temperature changes. The recently released correspondence from the CRU would seem to confirm this observation.

    In my over 33 years as an ACS member I do not recall such an obsession with a single topic in C&E News as I am seeing with the anthropogenic climate change controversy. It’s getting old and I’d like to see an end to cluttering the pages of our magazine with it.

  • Dec 16th 200920:12
    by Beth Alderman

    Proof is what it takes to persuade a reasonable person to take wise action.

    The question is, what can the social phenomenon that calls itself science contribute to wise action? Before answering that, it may be worth asking, is applied science really science at all? If so, where are the new methods and ideas that scientists would be producing to enhance our collective understanding?

    Existing methods create a self-defeating conundrum in which a randomized controlled trial of M-class planets is the only study design that some would consider sufficient to yield proof of a human impact on climate. This is poignant, at best.

    Any Eskimo can tell us that the climate is changing to our detriment, and common sense can tell us that we shouldn’t rush to make it worse. If current methods are bankrupt, toss them out and don’t look back (unless, of course, you’re a historian).

    There’s nothing holy about methods or ideas; they’re tools. Remember the urban legend about R.A. Fisher: he was only trying to disprove that the lady’s ability to taste her tea was due to chance. Nothing special about that. Let’s keep the methods in perspective. A little more thesis and a little less antithesis please!

    And some new ideas and methods that represent real scientific progress, please! Have a look at qualitative analysis, at alternatives to Popperian logic, etc, etc, etc…

  • Dec 16th 200921:12
    by JL

    Rudy’s proselytizing is the sole reason I let my ACS membership lapse. Keep up the good work ACS

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