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Three Things You Absolutely Must Know About Climategate

This could prove to be climate science's Vietnam.

by
Iain Murray

Bio

November 24, 2009 - 12:42 am
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They’re calling it “Climategate.” The scandal that the suffix –gate implies is the state of climate science over the past decade or so revealed by a thousand or so emails, documents, and computer code sets between various prominent scientists released following a leak from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

This may seem obscure, but the science involved is being used to justify the diversion of literally trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels. The CRU is the Pentagon of global warming science, and these documents are its Pentagon Papers.

Here are three things everyone should know about the Climategate Papers.  Links are provided so that the full context of every quote can be seen by anyone interested.

First, the scientists discuss manipulating data to get their preferred results. The most prominently featured scientists are paleoclimatologists, who reconstruct historical temperatures and who were responsible for a series of reconstructions that seemed to show a sharp rise in temperatures well above historical variation in recent decades.

In 1999, Phil Jones, the head of CRU, wrote to activist scientist Michael “Mike” Mann that he has just “completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps … to hide the decline”(0942777075).  This refers to a decline in temperatures in recent years revealed by the data he had been reconstructing that conflicted with the observed temperature record. The inconvenient data was therefore hidden under a completely different set of data. Some “trick.”

Mann later (2003) announced that “it would be nice to try to ‘contain’ the putative ‘MWP,’ even if we don’t yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back” (1054736277). The MWP is the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures may have been higher than today. Mann’s desire to “contain” this phenomenon even in the absence of any data suggesting that this is possible is a clear indication of a desire to manipulate the science. There are other examples of putting political/presentational considerations before the science throughout the collection.

Secondly, scientists on several occasions discussed methods of subverting the scientific peer review process to ensure that skeptical papers had no access to publication. In 2003, Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, complained that paleoclimatologist Hans von Storch was responsible for “the publication of crap science ‘in order to stimulate debate’” and that they “must get rid of von Storch” (1051190249) as an editor of the journal Climate Research (he indeed subsequently resigned).

In 2005, Michael Mann said that there was a “fundamental problem w/ GRL now,” referring to the journal Geophysical Research Letters published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), because “they have published far too many deeply flawed contrarian papers in the past year or so” and “it is probably best to do an end run around GRL now where possible.” Tom Wigley responded that “we could go through official AGU channels to get him [the editor of GRL] ousted” (1106322460).  A few months later, the editor of GRL having left his post, Mann comments, “The GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/ new editorial leadership there” (1132094873).

Having seemingly succeeded with Climate Research and Geophysical Research Letters, the most recent target of the scientists’ ire has been Weather, a journal of the Royal Meteorological Society (RMS). Phil Jones commented in March 2009, “I’m having a dispute with the new editor of Weather. I’ve complained about him to the RMS Chief Exec. If I don’t get him to back down, I won’t be sending any more papers to any RMS journals and I’ll be resigning from the RMS” (1237496573).

This issue is all the more important because the scientists involved in these discussions have repeatedly accused their critics of being irrelevant because they fail to publish in the peer reviewed literature. For example, in October this year, Mr. Mann told Andy Revkin of the New York Times:

[L]egitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. Those such as [Stephen] McIntyre [the target of much of the criticism in the CRU Papers] who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.

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