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Pielke Sr.: Climategate Emails Just a Small Sample of a Broad Issue (PJM Exclusive)

Professor Roger Pielke Sr. is mentioned often in the Climategate data dump emails -- generally unkindly. Professor Pielke is an atmospheric scientist at CIRES at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a professor emeritus at Colorado State University, a former Colorado State climatologist, and an active critic of the IPCC process. (A more detailed biography is appended below.)

In a Pajamas Media exclusive, Dr. Pielke kindly agreed to an email interview regarding his reaction to the CRU emails and his opinion of their implications.

PJM: The release of the purloined emails and files from the UEA Climatic Research Unit has been a shock that still reverberates in the world of climate science, and among the critics of the current state of climate science. On the one hand, it has led some people to denounce "global warming" as a "hoax"; on the other, RealClimate.org apparently dismisses it as a tempest in a teacup. In your opinion, how important are these revelations?

Pielke: Both those who denounce "global warming" as a hoax and RealClimate's claim that this is a "tempest in a teapot" are incorrect. With respect to the role of humans in the climate system, there is incontrovertible evidence that we exert both warming and cooling effects. The warming occurs through the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and certain aerosols, and cooling [occurs due to] other types of aerosols. Land use change due to human land management also effects warming and cooling forcings.

With respect to the RealClimate dismissal of the emails, however, there are serious issues exposed by the emails -- including the goal of these scientists to prevent proper scientific disclosure of their data, as well as to control what papers appear in the peer reviewed literature and climate assessments. The IPCC assessment, with which major policy decisions are being made, involves the individuals in the emails who have senior leadership positions.

PJM: Do you feel these revelations suggest scientific misconduct on anyone's part?

Pielke: I will defer to independent assessment of this particular episode. However, it is very important to realize that this is just a sample of what is a much broader goal of the leadership of the IPCC process to control what science the policymakers receive.

PJM: The CRU has now announced its intention to make all data freely available; at the same time, they announced that much of their raw data had been deleted/destroyed. Is the "value-added" data set useful? How much of a loss was the destruction of the original data? Can the original data be recovered, say, by returning to original source documents?

Pielke: The "value-added" terminology just means that they have adjusted the data based on a number of effects, each of which involves statistical uncertainty and bias. It certainly should be possible to return to the original data and recreate (and add photographs of the observing sites). However, the original data should also be at NCDC and GISS, so these sources of this information should be sought as well.

The photographs are essential, however, in order to determine if the locations where the temperatures are being observed are well-sited. Anthony Watts has documented that this is a major concern in the U.S. (Watts, A. 2009: Is the U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable? 28 pages, March 2009 The Heartland Institute), and this also appears to be true elsewhere in the world.

PJM: Do these revelations call the utility of the peer review system into question? Is it, as some have suggested, the worst method except for all the others? What changes could be made to improve peer review?

Pielke: This episode shows there are problems with the peer review process when editors (who are "judges") introduce their own biases in the review process with their selection of referees and with their decisions. One suggested improvement is to publish the reviews and papers (at least electronically) of all rejected papers and reviews of all accepted papers.

PJM: Anyone who has followed your blog for some years knows that you have had your own issues with the people included in the "Jones-Mann-Wigley clique." Do you feel some degree of vindication now?

Pielke: Of course, it is always pleasant to have documentation that these individuals are inappropriately using their senior positions to prejudice the scientific assessment and publication process, as I have reported on my weblog for several years. What is more important, however, is that the significance of this breach of the scientific method be recognized by the policymakers and other scientific colleagues who have requested climate assessments.