Climategate and the American Physical Society

On October 8, Harold "Hal" Lewis, emeritus professor of physics and ex-chair of the physics department at the University of California in Santa Barbara, resigned his membership in the American Physical Society (APS) after 67 years of membership. In his letter of resignation, Professor Lewis said:

[M]y former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

The reason: the APS treatment of Climategate and the global warming debate. If you listen carefully, you can hear the climate "consensus" starting to crack.

As usual with this kind of thing, what precipitated Lewis's resignation was a succession of events. In November of 2007, the APS released its "National Policy 07.1: CLIMATE CHANGE" document, which said in part:

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.

At the time, Professor Lewis and others objected to this statement, noting among other things that there is nothing in science that is "incontrovertible": real science is always open to new evidence and better hypotheses. In an open letter to the APS, they proposed instead:

Studies of a variety of natural processes, including ocean cycles and solar variability, indicate that they can account for variations in the Earth’s climate on the time scale of decades and centuries. Current climate models appear insufficiently reliable to properly account for natural and anthropogenic contributions to past climate change, much less project future climate.

The APS supports an objective scientific effort to understand the effects of all processes -- natural and human -- on the Earth’s climate and the biosphere’s response to climate change, and promotes technological options for meeting challenges of future climate changes, regardless of cause.

The APS rejected this firmly and summarily, with final action on November 10, 2009.

Unfortunately for the APS, this was followed inconveniently on the night of November 18, 2009, with the release of the Climategate files. First mentioned here in Pajamas Media just hours after the files were discovered, the purloined files exposed the science, and more importantly the scientists, behind the political movement to restrict carbon dioxide emissions to new scrutiny. Up to that time, people in favor of major restrictions, like Al Gore, Dr James Hansen of NASA, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had been quite effective at convincing the major media and the man on the street that the Earth was at risk because of anthropogenic ("human caused") global warming, and that dissenters were fringe figures, probably with ulterior motives or in the pay of oil companies.

The Climategate files were a major blow. The Climategate emails showed clearly that there had been some people in the climate community who had been working hard, behind the scenes and outside of the usual "scientific" channels, to discount or suppress any counter-arguments or contradictory studies that might call the notion of anthropogenic climate change into question.

In fact, the emails confirmed what had been discounted up to then as silly conspiracy theories: that "mainstream" climate researchers were conspiring to prevent their data from being examined by independent researchers; that the most respected and senior scientists in the field were using their influence to prevent counter-evidence from being published; that the AGW community was actually using their influence to damage the careers of people who weren't considered "reliable." It was a confirmation of the conspiracy theories as shocking as any "birther" or "truther" could imagine in their wildest wish-fulfillment dreams.

As there was more time to examine the evidence, it became clear that the real revelations were in the other files released at the same time. The HARRY_READ_ME file showed that even the scientists directly involved were having trouble replicating their own results -- which made their distaste for outside examination both more understandable and more scientifically unacceptable.