Hacked climate scientists' emails in context

A huge amount of email from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit was hacked and released onto the web, causing much rejoicing from the climate change denialists. They read through the corpus of email and found that the scientists working on climate change often have substantive disagreements with one another, which they debate vigorously in email, and cited this as evidence of a conspiracy to cover up dissent and present a scientific consensus on climate change.

Futurismic's Tom Marcinko does a great job of putting this in context, rounding up several links to other good commentators around the web. In a nutshell: science is about the advancement of competing theories and the evaluation of these theories in light of evidence. The East Anglia Climate Research Unit's scientists disagreed in some particulars, and used peer-review to resolve them (and continue to do so). No one is paying them to cover up evidence that climate change isn't real or isn't caused by humans -- but they are conducting science the way that scientists do.

Smart enough to hack, not sophisticated enough to appreciate the daily give-and-take of how science works-is that how we nonscientists are going to approach critical issues? Maybe we can do better than that.
Those hacked climate e-mails: Good scientists, poor conspirators


    1. I don’t know how many scientists you know, but the ones I know do discuss how to present their data in the best possible light and turn negatives into positives. It’s science, it’s getting things published, it’s how things are done. I prefer to present my research warts and all, but my supervisors are much more seasoned than me and seek to inform me of how to downplay negative aspects. It doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy, just that you don’t put your weaknesses in plain view for all to critique. There are plenty of people to critique your work without you telling them how it is from the outset.

  1. “science is about the advancement of competing theories and the evaluation of these theories in light of evidence”

    What the emails show is that they have gone out of their way to cover up that there are “competing theories”. They have presented a united face to the world claiming the “science is settled”, when even they don’t believe that. And there appears to be evidence that they have done their utmost to suppress any opposing views and prevent them from being published. Is that “conducting science the way that scientists do”?

  2. Keep this in mind.

    Conservatives fear Science and Research because Science sheds light on Truth and Research sheds light on Science.

    1. I was disappointed yet again. The Futurismic post doesn’t bother to address lost faith in the scientific process at all.

  3. I think Tim Flannery said it best here http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/24/2751492.htm . This happens just a couple of weeks before Copenhagen? Not a coincidence, rather a criminal political act and apparently a well-orchestrated one at that.

    Why are there more Climate change deniers in the US and Australia? Because they are two of the largest users and exporters of carbon based energy.

  4. kjh: Norway’s economy is fully dependent on our export of fossil fuel. If your claim is correct Average Ola should be a global warming denier. But he ain’t.

  5. The word “truth” has more than one opposite. There’s the opposite of truth which is ignorance, and that’s what science mostly wants to be about.

    And then there’s the opposite of truth which is falsehood, what the climate apologists and young earth creationists are accusing science of spreading.

    The name of the game for these people isn’t so much to find truth, as to spread doubt. So ignorance is just as bad as falsehood in their eyes.

  6. @LordMarius: Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world and the largest per capita user of fossil fuels. The US is the largest user of fossil fuels (or close to it). They not only have huge fossil fuel industries but climate change means they will have to change their lifestyle.

    As I understand it and I haven’t ever been to Norway, Norway’s attitude and use of fossil fuels is quite different.

  7. It seems pointless to even attempt to discuss this. People on both sides see only what they want to see and nothing — certainly not actual evidence — seems to make any difference.

    Both sides, to quote from another BB post, ‘are able to assiduously apply double standards, fail to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs, justify abominable behavior’…

    One side sees unethical behavior, the other sees a justifiable reaction motivated by an understandable resentment.

    One side sees cherry picking, the other side sees SOP reconciliation of discrepancies.

    And so on all the way down the line.

    Naive fool that I am, I tried to discuss some of this on another [non-climate] blog. Even by internet standards, the absence of good will, and especially the hostility and defensiveness of the AGW side, frankly amazed me. And these are supposed to be the good guys. I did learn something though: apparently I am a ‘swivel-eyed denialist loon’. God only knows what it must be like on the websites run by the actual ‘swivel-eyed denialist loons’ themselves.

  8. kjh: Actually, in Norway all our future pensions are dependent on an investment fund that’s usually referred to as “the oil fund”, where the government invests the tax money collected from the Norwegian oil production. Besides that, huge parts of our overall economy is dependent on oil and gas production. Yet, the US has a lot more global warming deniers than Norway.

  9. Sadly, it doesn’t really matter what the context of this news post is. The damage is done; people who were on the fence are now convinced it’s not true, and will say for probably several years to come that it’s all just a hoax, just as a lot of people still think that a Prius is worse for the environment than a Hummer.

  10. I’ve been poking around looking at this. I’ve found nothing that shows any of the data is faked, or anything really unethical is going on here.

    Does anyone have a link to a reasonable list of the potentially damning quotes? Not just a bunch of horribly out of context one liner quotes, but actual criticism.

  11. Vellon, my understanding so far is that there is no evidence whatsoever of data being faked. However, there seems to be a distinct suggestion of possibly unethical behaviour in regard to silencing opposing viewpoints, including a reference to trying to get a particular editor fired. There’s nothing here (so far) to really change your perspective on climate change; however, the idea of science being conducted as the “advancement of competing theories, and the evaluation of these theories in light of evidence” may take a hit. If this story has any legs at all, it will come down to possible abuse of the peer review system, and that could be quite serious.

    1. “Vellon, my understanding so far is that there is no evidence whatsoever of data being faked.”

      How about (From Tom Wigley to Phil Jones):
      “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 [snip possible explanations]. My 0.15 adjustment leaves things consistent with this, so you can see where I am coming from.” [Alleged CRU Email – 1254108338.txt]

      Certainly sounds like faking the data to me.

      Or how about comments from some of the source code:
      “; Plots 24 yearly maps of calibrated (PCR-infilled or not) MXD reconstructions
      ; of growing season temperatures. Uses “corrected” MXD – but shouldn’t usually
      ; plot past 1960 because these will be artificially adjusted to look closer to
      ; the real temperatures.”

      Now I don’t know about you, but “artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures” also sounds a lot like faking data to me.

      In all honesty, I’m not really worried about those though. They should be corrected by the scientific process if it is working properly. My biggest concern is that the scientific process is not working properly – data is being hidden, and journals are being pressured not to allow alternative viewpoints.

      And if the scientific process is shown to have been compromised, my biggest fear is that the public loses faith in “Science” in general. And that would be a tragedy far greater than admitting we aren’t as sure as we claim about AGW.

      p.s. If you think we can be as sure as they claim to be, try looking up the “Harry Readme” if you want see just how complete, accurate, reproducible, consistent, etc. the code and temperature databases behind all these pronouncements are. I’ll give you a clue – it’s none of the above…

      1. Farrago, thanks for the heads up!

        That Harry Read Me file is really something. Forget the emails. If this is for real — and it certainly looks plausible enough — then I think it’s going to be getting a lot of attention in the next few days…..

  12. Thanks vellon (#13). That’s the key point.

    I had a little poke around the files myself. Didn’t see anything really surprising.

    Daily Kos has a good post on this. And if you’re a climate geek, I always recommend Real Climate for these kind of things.

  13. I was deeply bothered by the general response that this proves ANYTHING. Thank you for pointing to some sources who put the story in context. The issue is complicated enough without FUD and jumping to conclusions.

  14. Putting these emails “in context” seems a lot like “spin,” “PR” and “damage control.”

    1. ‘Putting these emails “in context” seems a lot like “spin,” “PR” and “damage control.” ‘

      Anyone who tells you that understanding context will lead you to a wrong conclusion is not to be trusted.

  15. Here is what one conservative/libertarian friend of mine posted on Facebook, relative to a Wall Street Journal article about the emails:

    “Ah, and one more little tidbit of news today that should really raise a lot of questions in the global warming debate. Politics and propoganda have degraded the open debate about climate change. Time to rethink this debate.”

  16. This case is a great example of how an ignorant (conservative) public can be duped by not having or understanding all of the information.

    To consider one of the emails, from Michael Mann, it references a Soon & Balunias paper that is skeptical of climate change and which was published in Climate Research. (Mann suggests that Climate Research’s peer review process has been compromised because of this paper.)

    If you follow the trail, you find that the paper in question was funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Dr. Soon is also the recipient of funds from the Marshall Institute, a political conservative think tank founded in part by Exxon Mobil.

    So the Soon paper is bought and paid for by a political perspective. It is supported not by impartial research, but by the money of an industry (petroleum) that would benefit directly from climate change being found false. Mann did what any self-respecting scientist would do, which is to express skepticism of shoddy (or politicized) research. But now people like Rush Limbaugh are trying to spin this as the scientific community lying for their own political ends, when it’s quite the opposite.

  17. Many seem to be confused about the goal of climate research; They try to predict *by how much* the temperature will rise. Different computer models yield different amounts, and every scientist of course wants to push his or her own prediction.

    The fact that the greenhouse effect is very real (small back-of-the envelope calculation or look it up on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_body#Temperature_of_Earth ) and the rising CO2 levels are undisputable.

    1. Exactly!

      The greenhouse effect is very basic physics, and the rising levels of CO2 in the atmospher over the past couple centuries is very simple chemistry.

      The rest is trying to figure out how much the rest of Earth’s natural systems will mitigate or exacerbate the effects of these atmospheric changes.

      BTW, to the volcano/sun people who think humanity has nothing to do with it, consider this. Look up the mass of the atmosphere. Look up the mass of fossil fuels mankind burns per year, and see how much CO2 that produces annually. Divide (2) by (1) and convert to ppm/year. Then, see how CO2 concentration has changed year by year. Convert to ppm/year. Tell me if you still think the same way.

      Yes, the total CO2 emitted by natural sources (volcanoes, decomposing plants) is larger than mankinds emissions. But these effects have existed throughout Earth’s history. They are essentially constant on any human timescale. They are balanced by natural absorption of CO2 through plant growth, soil production, and changes in ocean chemistry. Nature is stable because it works in CYCLES, positives balancing negatives almost exactly.

      Yes, scientists are still debating how much the world will warm; we would expect nothing less. Scientists also realize that non-scientists don’t appreciate this fact, and perceive a variety of opinions as “uncertainty” or “confusion,” and do not respond appropriately. What IS important is that the range of possibilities being debated has repeatedly shifted, with last decade’s worst case scenario becoming this decade’s middle-of-the-road prediction.

  18. Science has always been very reactionary. People posing alternate theories to commonly accepted facts have often been laughed at. If anyone is interested, go read about the discovery of malaria and then go read Amitabh Ghosh’s book, “The Calcutta Chromosome”.

    The problem with ‘theories’ is that they can often be designed to explain extraordinary claims. Or to debunk true claims which seem extraordinary. Hence, the only science you should really trust is science that is absolute: IE science that doesn’t take data readings. Like math and computer science.

  19. Having dealt with scientists for much of my professional career, and built quite a bit of email infrastructure, I’d be surprised if an email leak of this magnitude did not expose a great deal of arrogance, mean-spiritedness, and questionable presentation of data.

    The idea that the existence of petty, self-serving scientists should necessarily prove that a scientific consensus is absolutely incorrect is remarkably stupid.

    The idea that humans can dig up billions of pounds of material and spray it into our atmosphere without somehow impacting our lives is even more stupid.

    Experiment: Buy a siamese fighting fish (they are pretty). Keep it happy and healthy for a few months. Stir a pound of carbon black and a teaspoon of salt per gallon of water into the tank. See what happens. I’m willing to bet that the results will be the same regardless of how much email you send.

  20. A big part of science is how you make numbers into words, while being honest. Scientists in the course of writing almost ANY paper have to wrangle with themselves and others on how to do this that best conveys reality. While fraud happens (rarely), it tends to occurr in labs where one person controls all the data, not where the data points are public and are the object of such scrutiny. Publishing fraudulently leads to a professional keelhauling that’s essentially impossible to recover from. None of the exposures of the internal wranglings over presentation of data approach the level of fraud.

    Quite frankly, if the scientists had no qualms about their data, if they were not playing the devil’s advocate with themselves, they would not be scientists.

    I would wish that climate change denialists spent an equal amount of time grappling with the data and making sure that available evidence meets their conclusions. Some likely do, I question the motives of others.

    1. Snig said: “While fraud happens (rarely), it tends to occurr in labs where one person controls all the data, not where the data points are public and are the object of such scrutiny.” and “I would wish that climate change denialists spent an equal amount of time grappling with the data and making sure that available evidence meets their conclusions. Some likely do, I question the motives of others.”

      I couldn’t agree more. One who most definitely does grapple with the data and the associated statistics is Steve MacIntyre at climateaudit.org (sadly down at the moment due to the excessive load this whole bruhaha has created) who has found numerous data and statistical errors. How do the scientists react to a sceptic actually trying to analyse the data?

      “The two MMs [MacIntyre and McKitrick – farrago] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” [Phil Jones in Alleged CRU Email – 1107454306.txt]

      So they would rather delete data than let the sceptics have access to it? How’s that for confidence that your analysis will stand up to public scrutiny?

      So yes, please lets get the data released publicly and let the sceptics and the believers have at it in an equal and open manner.

      1. An offhand comment cherry picked from sifting through THIRTEEN years of emails is not a smoking gun or a significant data point. I personally once threatened to knock a colleague down and beat him with a stick if he didn’t enter data into a spreadsheet like I told him to.
        I had no actual plan to either knock him down or beat him with a stick. It’s a little unsurprising they’re not interested in collaborating with “MM”. Having read their papers, and the papers refuting these papers, I do not believe they lack agenda. I imagine I would find something of interest in their last thirteen years of emails. Quite frankly, they are not climate scientists. If this field is truly important to them and they wish to contribute to it, one or both should obtain a PhD degree in the field, or at least an allied field. Then they should consider publishing. Basing environmental policy on amateurs is not sensible. As said, wrassling the numbers into a paper is something that is disagreed over. Nothing released overturns the conclusions or even casts aspersions on the quality of the work. My standard statement, is that if you truly believe there is no threat of melting icecaps, you should capitalize on it and buy up the cheap land that the scientific community feels is at risk. Louisiana or Maldivian coastal properties should be cheap since everyone else says they’re going away. That way you’ll be rich, look smart, and be able to spend the rest of your days on a beach saying “I told you so”. Or, if you’re wrong, treading water and feeling foolish.

        1. “An offhand comment cherry picked from sifting through THIRTEEN years of emails is not a smoking gun or a significant data point.”

          I wish it were “an” offhand comment. Have you read the emails? Have you looked at the list of “interesting” emails on BishopHill’s site? They are absolutely littered with emails about hiding data from FOI requests.

          And want to know what the the scientists think of Steve McIntyre (who you call an amateur)?

          “The Korttajarvi record was oriented in the reconstruction in the way that McIntyre said. I took a look at the original reference – the temperature proxy we looked at is x-ray density, which the author interprets to be inversely related to temperature. We had
          higher values as warmer in the reconstruction, so it looks to me like we got it wrong.”

          Yep, clearly an amateur…

          Or how about:

          “You likely know that McIntyre will check this one to make sure it hasn’t changed since the IPCC close-off date July 2006! Hard copies of the WG1 report from CUP have arrived here today.

          Ammann/Wahl – try and change the Received date! Don’t give those skeptics something to amuse themselves with.”

          So again, they know he will point out an inconsistency (made so that they could get it into the IPCC report despite not being published in time) and are trying to change the dates to hide it. Clearly an amateur…

          Or on the papers refuting Michael Mann’s hockey stick:

          “Personally, I’d offer that this was known by most people who understand Mann’s methodology: it can be quite sensitive to the input data in the early centuries.
          Anyway, there’s going to be a lot of noise on this one, and knowing Mann’s very thin skin I am afraid he will react strongly, unless he has learned (as I hope he has) from the past….”

          Yep, the amateur was right again.

          Or on the more recent Yamal issue:

          “But, more generally, (even if it *is* irrelevant) how does Keith explain the McIntyre plot that compares Yamal-12 with Yamal-all? And how does he explain the apparent “selection” of the less well-replicated chronology rather that the later (better replicated) chronology?
          Of course, I don’t know how often Yamal-12 has really been used in recent, post-1995, work. I suspect from what you say it is much less often that M&M say — but where did they get their information? I presume they went thru papers to see if Yamal was cited, a pretty foolproof method if you ask me. Perhaps these things can be explained clearly and concisely — but I am not sure Keith is able to do this as he is too close to the issue and probably quite pissed of.
          And the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both you and Keith (and Mann). Yes, there are reasons — but many *good* scientists appear to be unsympathetic to these. The trouble here is that with-holding data looks like hiding something, and hiding means (in some eyes) that it is bogus science that is being hidden.”

          Oh look, the amateur is right again.

          Perhaps he isn’t quite the amateur that you believe him to be? If he was, do you think the “real” climate scientists would care what he said?

          But perhaps we should indeed defer to our betters, those more qualified. Those such as the current head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri. Who is an engineer and economist, not a climate scientist…

          Science is a meritocracy – I don’t care what degree you have, I care whether you are right.

          1. Having both reviewed and written papers, I can tell you it is far easier to find issues to dispute in someone else’s research, and especially in statistical approaches than it is to do your own research and publish it. You also feel much smarter shredding someone else’s work, but sadly, it’s not your day job in science. Pissing on someone else’s approach does not equate with validating your own theories. MM have failed to disprove the hockey stick model, though they may have identified a couple procedural flaws. They have not published anything of acclaim or otherwise demonstrated merit. They have not validated their own theories. Yes, the scientists in the emails are critically evaluating strengths and weaknesses of their approach and that of their colleagues, against outside political attack.

            The phrase that most comes to mind is this principle: “No man is hero to his valet”. There will likely be much that seems wrong, rude and small-minded, but nothing has come up to refute the climate change model.

  21. What’s peculiar to me about this story, is that somehow a hacker who retrieves information illegally is instantly a credible source for information. (S)He elaborately lied and manipulated false identities to get into the system, but apparently is trustworthy enough to not elaborately lie or fake the identities of the data by changing it to his/her favor.

    It’s a little like breaking into a competing tech shop, grabbing up all you can carry and making it out the door successfully. If someone says, “Hey! You just stole that!” The appropriate response is not, “Yeah, but check out all this cool stuff I got!”

  22. Here is a question for the Americans on BB. If we are truly concerned about GW and the effects of greenhouse gases, etc. why are we hellbent on implementing a cap and trade policy? What are carbon credits other than an excuse to pollute? You do not reduce anything in that scenario. All you do is say, “Hey don’t worry about polluting. It is alright as long as you pay to pollute.” I am not picking a side politically, but it is interesting that Al Gore’s home is more environmentally impactful than George Bush’s Crawford, TX ranch. Bush does not need carbon credits to offset his energy consumption for his geothermal energy use. To me this is disingenuous for the self appointed leader of the environmental movement in the US.

    1. Well, I think that Cap-And-Trade is best understood if you extended it to the field of murder. Say you surprise a burglar in your home and you have fear for your life. You would be justified in killing him in self-defense. However, if you refrained from doing so then under a Cap-And-Trade regime you could sell that killing to someone who didn’t have the right to kill somebody else that they wanted dead. You’d just phone up the regulatory board, arrange to send the violence to where it was needed (the Mafia or whoever) and pick up a nice bit of change in the process!

  23. But…but…somewhere in those hacked emails or in some bit of obscure data is the magic thread that will unravel the whole global warming hoax! Because that’s exactly how science works.

    If I’m ever sued and the weight of the evidence is against me, I know who I’ll want on the jury.

    1. Yes, it is all redolent of the Doonesbury cartoon where the last straggler is sitting alone in the ballroom after everyone else has left the JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theorists 35th Anniversary Re-union. “What have I missed? What is the missing piece of the puzzle?”

  24. why the defense of unethical behavior, no matter who? climate change “denialists” (actually, the people most riled up about this are those who refuse to, at this time, accept the unequivocal assertion that humans are the primary cause of the warming trend without further research) don’t all believe that there’s a worldwide conspiracy, merely that there’s a concentrated effort to squelch dissenting or critical opinions/theories/research, no matter how relevant they may actually be. and these emails show evidence of exactly that.

    THAT IS FRIGHTENING. because it goes both ways, guys. this makes it ok for people to further remove objectivity from scientific research. you can’t set a precedent like this. it isn’t good for ANYONE. the big loser here is science, and thus everyone. just because you don’t AGREE with someone’s point of view doesn’t mean you try to shut it out. seriously. that’s awful. don’t defend it.

  25. What’s peculiar to me about this story, is that somehow a hacker who retrieves information illegally is instantly a credible source for information. (S)He elaborately lied and manipulated false identities to get into the system, but apparently is trustworthy enough to not elaborately lie or fake the identities of the data by changing it to his/her favor.

    well, if you bothered to do any research on the story other than read one article linked from BB, you’d know that the CRU itself has said the documents “appear to be genuine.”

  26. Hence, the only science you should really trust is science that is absolute: IE science that doesn’t take data readings. Like math and computer science.

    computer science, absolute? clearly you’ve never worked as a software developer. ;)

  27. I wish people would stop using the word “denialist”. It’s obviously way to subconsciously equate one group of people with holocaust denial. It’s a bit offensive in that respect. Just like when you equate someone to Hitler when he is asking for health care reform. I think we can all be bigger than this.

  28. Stolen documents are part of a health democracy (see, e.g., the Pentagon Papers), so that really ought not be an issue for anyone here. Assuming they were obtained illegally, are they faked? No one seriously seems to suggest that they are.

  29. I suspect that “Climate Change Believer Parking Lot” and its sequel “Climate Change Denier Parking Lot” would make the even the troglodytes in “Sarah Palin Parking Lot” look like the collective spawn of Oliver Wendell Holmes, in comparison.

  30. <>http://www.dvlsktchn.m.k/2009/11/dt-hrrbls-hrryrdmtxt-fl.html?tm_src=fdbrnr&tm_mdm=fd&tm_cmpgn=Fd%3%20ThDvlsKtchn%20%28Th%20Dvl%27s%20Ktchn%29


    it would appear that at least some leading researchers on climate change are inexperienced and incompetent when it comes to their models and data. they’re scientists, though. why worry? there’re only hundreds of billions of dollars and entire economies at stake.

  31. I’m skeptical of anyone who is bought and paid for by an industry that stands to benefit from global climate change being a hoax. Many global warming skeptics’ research is paid for by petroleum companies, or by free market think tanks. That should immediately call into question their research.

    If you are a petroleum company or a militant believer in an unregulated free market, that will inform your results before you even start. You will want there to be no evidence of climate change, and will try strongly to find no evidence of climate change.

    I’d argue that science in general was, at the outset, agnostic on the question of global climate change. The vast majority of the evidence has shown that it does exist, therefore science re-orients itself based on verifiable data. It doesn’t begin with a goal in mind, unlike a free-market libertarian or the petroleum industry.

    1. farwest said: “I’m skeptical of anyone who is bought and paid for by an industry that stands to benefit from global climate change being a hoax.”

      Let me turn that around a little:

      “I’m skeptical of anyone who is bought and paid for by a grant funding scheme that stands to benefit from global climate change being unprecedented and in need of urgent research.”

      You know what, it makes no sense my way either (and is largely a straw man on both sides in any case). Both sides can point to the other and say “you’re biased because of where the money comes from, so I’m going to ignore your results.” But you don’t get to do that if you believe in the scientific method.

      Science is more like freedom of speech. Yes it can be annoying that the KKK, the Birthers, the anti-immunisation lobby, etc. get to have their say, but for freedom of speech to be a true right then it must be a universal right irrespective of whether I like what you are saying or not.

      Equally in science, everyone should have the right to carry out their research and present their papers without the results being ignored from the start just because of who funds it. Prove the theory wrong, don’t just assume it’s wrong because you don’t like who (allegedly) pays for it.

      So please, lets base the future of our planet on the facts, not on ad hominiem attacks (from either side). Lets base it on free access to the most critical research and data of our lifetimes, not on how well we can hide it from FOI requests. Lets base it on open and independent journals, not on journals that are pressured into rejecting any sceptical papers.

      If the science is strong enough then it will stand up to any sort of sceptical analysis, and it will come through it stronger and more accurate than it was. And if the science is not strong enough then it will be replaced by something better (until that too is improved in turn).

      That’s science, and that’s what I’d like to see…

      1. As far as the financial argument goes, scientists are typically pretty underpaid, compared to, say, oil executives. Grants don’t go directly into scientists pockets, but into the research, and has to be well accounted for. Not so true for payments of people funded by the fuel industry.

        You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts. Flat-earthers do not get to sit at the table with Carl Sagan. That’s not how science works. Reality does not neccessarily meet in the middle of what AGW and denialists believe. I’m going to bet on the scientists over the skeptics.

          1. Back in the day “the smart money” would go to the Catholic Church, and not to Galileo. I’d like to think even a non-Scientist could challenge the established rule, through diligent science. Is this a romantic notion?

          2. Galileo was a scientist. Pope wasn’t. But anyone can be a scientist if they devote a few years. If you plan on swaying the established wisdom of the scientific world, 4-10 years getting a PhD isn’t too much to ask. Medical doctors can publish without getting even a master’s degree. Helicobacter Pylori as a cause of ulcer, the importance of exercise and nutrition in overall health, smoking cessation as a boon were once controversial, now widely accepted. I remember reading that the primary advocate of homocysteine as an important marker was widely greeted with skepticism before his point was proven. Controversial viewpoints can still win the day. But these weren’t accepted until the research bore them out.

          3. But Galileo went against the accepted science of the day, which the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on. I assume there were other scientists that agreed with the Church. A consensus, even?

            So, you’re saying the gauntlet for being a Scientist, and to be taken seriously, is to invest 4-10 years? And what did people do before PhDs and other forms of accreditation?

            The science that we know today is here because of the heretics and charlatans.

          4. “The science that we know today is here because of the heretics and charlatans.”

            Pope based consensus works less well in understanding the world than scientist based consensus. Science pre-PhD proceeded more slowly back then than it does now. It’s delightful when heretical ideas and charlatans are proved right. I truly believe that. But most of science is here because people slogged through the muck of reality and sifted it into order. Most heretics and charlatans are sadly wrong.

          5. Snig, just to claify, I think I agree with you more than I disagree. I just am wary of leaning on consensus as validity.

          6. I’m going back and forth because you seem reasonable. Assumption truly is the mother of fuck-up. The Pope was not sending probes into space and continually collecting new data. The climate scientists continually are. When Bush was in office, the largest science funder in the world was no longer an advocate for climate change research. Very few climate scientists changed their minds on the topic.

            At one point Mann stopped sharing data, likely due to not enjoying collaborating people for whom he had contempt. Then he restarted. No evidence that data was destroyed. Destroying data and denying FOI is unlikely to be found to be their standard operating procedure.
            A handful of their comments were not admirable, but scientists are human too. If there were not extreme forces allied against them (including a congressional investigation by Joe Barton, witch-hunter for the energy industry) they would not be circling their wagons and acting paranoid. It’s not really paranoia if they are out to get you.
            Again, a handful of off the cuff emailed remarks culled from 13 years are unlikely to be representative of their approach.

            Human nature is likely the same. Our understanding of the physical world is much better through science. Things like this:
            Largely came from gradual careful steps of accredited career scientists challenging their assumptions and slogging their way. It’s not new. When I was a sophomore, All Enzymes Were Proteins. By the time I was a senior, ribozymes (RNA enzymes) were known, and had been suggested as the first enzyme in creation. No charlatan or heretic was used or harmed in the making of that science, but we all learned that it was different than how we were all taught. That’s how it works, slow slogs, brilliant insights, and scientists change their minds to take in the new info. While there have been some great jumps made by mad science types, there’s a tremendous framework of workaday science. The vast majority of mad science types who made big jumps in science fields were not amateurs, but people who devoted their lives to it, and were unbeholden to other masters.

          7. Snig, I appreciate the back and forth, and the time you’ve put into explaining your position. I apologize for my ignorance in painting the scientific process with a broad brush. You say, “That’s how it works, slow slogs, brilliant insights, and scientists change their minds to take in the new info.” I totally agree, and I’m sorry I didn’t give room for the more modern and true approach science makes to the truth of our universe.

            While electronic nuance doesn’t work too well, I was nonetheless overblowing the charlatans and heretics bit. I think it happens on a smaller scale, with developing a new hypothesis and testing it. You’re always developing and testing a theory that goes against some grain…which is broad enough that almost any act in life could fall into (getting the groceries or walking the dog).

            Thank you for helping me form my opinions on this point. I’ve learned a lot from you through this discussion and helped to bridge ignorance on what happens in the real world. I suppose I was coming at it from an “Indiana Jones is how archeology is done!” sort of attitude. You’re good in my book (not that this necessarily means much to you…).

            I do think I still disagree on the implications of this email dump. I was an AGW proponent within the last year and a half, but some things have happened that put eroded that belief. I think these emails seriously hurt the credibility of the CRU, and all of the dominoes that are lined up behind it.

            I still think we shouldn’t pollute and be bad stewards of the earth, but maybe we shouldn’t hinge that behavior on the suppositions of AGW. It’s looking bruised right now. Of course, I am fine with being wrong about AGW and doing something in response. But I am not for sensationalization and making the facts cleaner and sexier than they are.

            I think what they need to do now is release the data. That’s the only way it can be verified and we can really see what’s going on.

          8. Thanks for helping me sharpen my thoughts on this too. No apology needed, I know you were sort of speaking in broad strokes. I sort of feel about AGW like many of the Faithful believe in Jesus, I do think its real, and when you meet it, you’ll likely believe in it too. I think there’s a tremendous amount of data in the public sphere that supports it, and the claims of hidden data are overhyped. If people believe data is hidden, then it’s impossible to be forthcoming enough to satisfy the True Believers in the Secret Data. Ultimately this is a smoke screen, not a smoking gun. None of the framework of the argument has really been torn down. I honestly wish you were right about AGW, I’d rather have a habitable world and hear “I told you so” then experience a climate crisis. Ah well. Stay cool.

  32. bravestarr | #45
    > there’re only hundreds of billions of dollars and entire economies at stake.

    No, you are wrong. That would, in the end, be merely a footnote in history. There are hundreds of millions of human lives at stake (e.g. most of Bangladesh), plus unimaginable damage to coastal areas.

  33. Sorry, Cory, I think you’ve the missed the boat completely here. You might want to check out this WSJ article from today:


    Deleting info requested under Freedom of Information legislation is not acceptable scientific practice.

    Even George Monbiot, a fierce proponent of the global warming hypothesis, is calling for Phil Jones, who heads the CRU (from whence these documents were purloined), to resign.

    There is no “context” that can magically turn much of what is revealed in these documents into something benign.


    Donna Laframboise

  34. That’s just a cross you’ll have to bear,T0AD.
    Since you are denying that humans cause global warming, logic dictates the title ‘denialist.’ Holocaust denial is a separate issue, so why bring it up? Unless you think it’s best to be the first to invoke Godwin’s law . . .

  35. No, you are wrong. That would, in the end, be merely a footnote in history. There are hundreds of millions of human lives at stake (e.g. most of Bangladesh), plus unimaginable damage to coastal areas.

    you don’t think money has any correlation to human lives? i’ve LIVED in sub-saharan africa. i’ve seen first-hand what poverty does to human health. i will GUARANTEE you that every one of those people would gladly trade a healthier, wealthier local/regional/national economy at the risk of their homes flooding in 50 years as alleged by climatologists who aren’t properly handling their research.

    i’m not saying i think the scientists in question are wrong, or that their data, as f-ed up as it might be is necessarily INCORRECT. what i am saying is that holy shit, maybe let’s be a little more sure before we start gambling the future of the world’s industry and economy on something even the foremost experts barely understand.

    1. > maybe let’s be a little more sure

      Anybody who knows thermodynamics at an undergrad level can check for him/herself that more CO2 => higher temperatures.

      The only thing we are not sure of is how much warmer it will get, and how far the sea level will rise.

      1. Anybody who knows thermodynamics at an undergrad level can check for him/herself that more CO2 => higher temperatures.

        except that CO2 has been shown on more than one occasion to be a TRAILING indicator of warming trends. not the other way around. i’m not saying that higher CO2 does not trigger warming, i’m saying the full extent of the interactions are barely understood, and yet here we sit with people on both sides screaming at each other while the actual objective science is what gets punished. maybe we drop the agendas and try to actually figure it out, instead of jumping to conclusions and getting pissy?

  36. Papa Ray | #49
    > If all the ice in the world melted at most you would have a three foot rise in the oceans

    Where did you get such a ridiculous number? The Greenland ice sheet alone is about 3 million km^3 of ice, none of which is currently floating on water. Thats about 7m high if you distribute it across the oceans.

  37. 7 meters is about right if you melt all of Greenland. If you melt all of Antarctica, too, you end up with about 60-70 meters of sea level rise. The Arctic ice pack is — for sea level change matters — measurable, but essentially negligible.

    Now, even the most (scientifically literate) apocolyptic AGW folks don’t suggest that AGW is going to melt everything any time soon, but those are the numbers.

  38. The only thing we are not sure of is how much warmer it will get, and how far the sea level will rise.

    DUDE! are you listening to yourself?!

  39. the volume decrease of water as it turns from solid to liquid?

    Water is densest at 4C. Go above that and it expands again.

    you can play with these numbers here It’s not really significant.

    After a volume of ice melts the constant energy input no longer used to melt the ice IS signficant, because with no ice to scavenge the heat (or reflect it) it heats the air and water.

    IMHO, we’re already effed. Go apologise to your children.

    1. Thanks for replying to my honest question, MDH. And thanks for bringing up specific heat, I hadn’t thought about the energy needs of ice to convert over to water. Nice to work through the complications with you.

      I am not as certain of the pessimistic outcome. However, I live in Kansas and used to go dig up shark teeth in Western parts of the state. Granted, landmasses may be higher than they used to be…but most cultures have diluvian histories, so I’m sure there’s enough water to make life very uncomforatble for us.

      Granted, back then, I don’t think the CO2 from power plants and autos were the cause ;)

  40. tobiaspete | #60
    > But do your numbers take into account the volume decrease of water as it turns from solid to liquid?

    I haven’t factored it in because, after all, ice still has 92% of the density of water. We probably don’t know the total amount of ice in the Greenland ice shield to that accuracy, so it would be pointless to factor in small corrections due to pressure and temperature.

    bravestarr | #64
    > CO2 has been shown on more than one occasion to be a TRAILING indicator of warming trends

    So warmer weather releases CO2 in a positive feedback loop? Yay!

    > i’m saying the full extent of the interactions are barely understood

    I agree with you, but I maintain that we should do something before Manhattan becomes the new Venice.

  41. Donna Laframboise-
    Your WSJ article is on the opinion page of that paper. It is generally agreed that the news in the WSJ is excellent, but the opinion page is wingnut central. Sorry, you fail.

  42. Farrago and/or Papa Ray,

    I think most of us here believe in the robustness of science. If a legitimate scientist finds data that contradicts the prevailing view, it should absolutely be considered. In that sense, some of the actions of the CRU group were probably wrong.

    But here’s the problem: most global warming skepticism is politically funded, and supported by the petroleum industry as well as conservative/libertarian think tanks. I can dismiss it out of hand because it is in bad-faith and already aiming for a certain result at the outset (one that will allow for further drilling and greater use of petroleum.)

    Most global warming skepticism uses science as a tool of a political agenda. While there may also be climate researchers who are motivated by a left-of-center perspective, the vast majority of climate research is impartial and without a political perspective. It is searching for testable, verifiable results.

    For this reason, the public should ignore any data funded by the Heartland Institute, the Marshall Institute, or any other organization funded by the petroleum industry. These are not impartial sources–they are advancing a political agenda.

    1. I think you should rethink your premises. In fact, ALL research associated with AGW is politically motivated, as is anything where money is handed out. While it is correct to question the motivation behind research funded by groups such as big oil, one should also question the motivation behind research funded by environmental groups and governments. Governments are by definition “political,” and no group, including government, is above reproach in terms of promoting its own self interest.

      US Senate reports from 2007 highlighted the fact that research money going to proponents of AGW vs. skeptics over the prior 2 decades was on the order of $50 billion to $19 million. Follow the money. If you’re a scientist that wants the research dollars to keep flowing, you should try not to bite the hand that feeds you.

      As someone that leans libertarian, I try to look at all sides with the full knowledge of who each side’s funding source is, and take what I read with a grain of salt. I’m always against the consolidation of power & money _anywhere_, whether big corporations or government (becoming indistinguishable these days), since consolidated power/money ALWAYS breeds corruption and abuse. As most of the western world now lurches towards ever larger centralized governments, that’s where we should be looking with the most skeptical eye in terms of potential abuse of power, and in this case politicization of scientific research. Scientists funded by government dollars are ANYTHING but above reproach. The recent email expose proves that in spades.

      1. > If you’re a scientist that wants the research dollars to keep flowing, you should try not to bite the hand that feeds you.

        Apparently the climate scientists are bone-headed and stupid; During the Bush administration they did not produce the politically desired answer and were punished with budget cuts. Fools!

  43. Paraphrasing Otto Von Bishmark:
    “Science is like a sausage. It is better not to see how it is made.”

    I’ve seen how some of it was done (different field). Extremely narcissistic massive ego’s writing fictitious descriptions of perfect research projects for each other. You would sooner find a religious fanatic willing to admit doubting God than a scientist willing to admit his methods or results could be wrong.

    That said, I still side with the climate scientist (in general) on this.

  44. F**K!!! Pardon the profanity, but why on God’s green earth did these people not have data managers and proper statisticians work on their data? That Harry_read_me.txt file is as if my own most shabbily written code had gone nuts, mutated badly and grown a thousandfold!

    I was pretty convinced of AGW, and am not sceptical just yet, but I 100% do NOT trust anything these people have published! The level of Ad-Hoc data editing and analysis is way,way,WAY too high!

    Is there any active climate scientist out there who can please tell me that this is not representative of all the other work that’s been published. Please?

    On a sidenote, this is why I believe that publishing data sets and code in the open together with your articles is the only way to go. How else is the review process supposed to check your work?

  45. Wait a minute.

    Leaked emails show that public-funded scientists withheld or even destroyed data in the face of Freedom of Information Act requests. Climate scientists refuse to share their data with other scientists (a grievous sin in science) and use the peer-review process to keep their rivals from being published in mainstream journals. After the leak, official assurances announce that that nothing has changed.

    And Boing Boing glosses over the whole thing and says this is science as usual?

    Blink blink.

    Aren’t you guys usually all over the Freedom of Information Act? Aren’t you guys all about open source, make the code and data free?

    Am I on Boing Boing at all?

    Or is climate science just too important an issue to leave to curious amateurs, bloggers spending days going through leaked (extremely crappy) Fortran code, open source values, and Freedom of Information Act requests?

    Let me know when the cognitive dissonance makes your brain turn to jelly.

    1. Tania-
      Just created a new account to salute the observation you made about the perspective/spin (context) Cory is taking on this.

      Is this a BoingBoing article?

      If Cory was able to objectively step back and take an agnostic view on AGW, wouldn’t we want to focus on the fact that scientific data and analysis should be an open source process? The CRU should not be able to basically take the position “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”

      Also – a few more points from other commenters:

      With concern for skeptical research funded by the private sector (oil, industry), and their motivations to expand their control or influence? Why isn’t there equal distrust for research funded by the public sector (government) where their motivations is to expand their power and control over the economy?

      I haven’t heard his name come up in many discussions, but I think it would be worthwhile for some people to youtube some interviews and talks by the late Michael Crichton (especially his Charlie Rose interview). He took a very agnostic (I don’t know if AGW is real) viewpoint on this and compared the Climate Change mass movement to a religion.

      I see many analogies * that can be found with that observation:

      Pope = Al Gore
      Selling indulgences = Buy my carbon credits
      Monks having control of Bible texts, etc = CRU circumventing open source/FOI requests
      Invention of the printing press = proliferation of blogs/self publishing
      Martin Luther nailing his printed manifesto to the church door =
      Some anonymous whistleblower leaking this data to the internet

      *feel free to blow holes in my analogies – I’m not a religious scholar.

  46. The Pope, despite the religion in the mix, was also a primary political force. Galileo’s colleagues agreed with the Pope. Galileo wasn’t the Only Scientist In the World.

    A modern day equivalent to your statement might be to say “Poltical-based consensus works less well in understanding than scientist-based consensus.” How do you divorce science from outside influence, whether it be political, religious, or assumptions?

    I say it’s a hubris to say that human nature now is better or more enlightened than it was then, scientist or otherwise. I’m glad the PhD came along, otherwise we might still be in the Dark Ages!

    No, it’s about the people and their curious minds who make the discoveries, not the accreditation of the people who make the discoveries.

    You say, “Most heretics and charlatans are sadly wrong” but most scientific thought we have in our arsenal of understanding was, at one point or another, against the assumptions of others. So, perhaps we can agree, it’s the correct charlatans and heretics that have shaped our scientific understanding.

    Perhaps the scientific method helps divorce fact from outside influence, and over time and validation, the truth will come out. How does that happen? Independent verification? If the emails are accurate, the CRU folks avoided this, to the point of destroying data and denying FOI requests.

    1. The Pope, despite the religion in the mix, was also a primary political force.

      The notion of the Pope as religious, rather than political, seems pretty modern. The Papacy was just another European country, and a pretty powerful one.

  47. I’d also say the repercussions for disagreeing with the Pope tended to be more unfavorable then disagreeing with Al Gore.

  48. Climategate deniers…

    You just can’t spin this and retain your credibility on this subject.

    1999 e-mail, which said: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

  49. First, the study of climate isn’t really a “science.” I subscribe to Feynmann’s views on this subject. The study of climate is interesting, difficult, arcane, and quite respectable, but it will never be a science until we can test these theories in a controlled manner.

    Second, every point of view has its adherents. However, one must remain open, dispassionate, and honest about the flaws in one’s thesis. Michaelson and Morely built an interferometer and went looking for the mysterious Ether that they were certain had to exist. They didn’t find it despite thinking that it had to exist. Their negative result when published was every bit as important as the a positive result would have been.

    The blips and and bits of data that do not line up with the AGW thesis may well turn out to be the exact proof we need to prove that it is real.

    We shouldn’t be dressing up the data at all.

    One more example: Millikan’s oil drop experiment notes had large volumes of data that he arbitrarily threw out. He simply didn’t think the data fit. It turns out that he had a particular value for the charge of an electron in mind and he threw out the data that didn’t fit. Years later, after he died, others reviewed his books and discovered that had he included all his experimental data, that the resulting estimate for the charge of an electron was far more accurate.

    Note that there wasn’t any malice in any of these cases. And I do not suppose there was any malice for the climate researchers here either. However, they are deceiving themselves if they think that by dressing up this data that somehow they’re making their case better.

    What they’re doing in the long run is making the AGW case more difficult to accept, not easier.

  50. Is anyone working on finding out who hacked them? Seems like we should…. ya know…. be working that out before buying into analysis of hacked emails.

    Where are the people hacking emails from world oil producers? If you want some dirt of collusion, that is where to start.

    This was done by someone with vested interests and hence it belongs in our disregard pile.


    Oh my god! I can see why there is rejoicing from the climate change denialists. They finally learned soemthing about science.

  51. Whilst these emails do prove that the crew at CRU are not squeaky-clean PR experts, and that they have made some mistakes in dealing with their critics, they do nothing to disprove any of the science that has been conducted.

    If there is evidence of fraud, then the affair would be taken in front of a court of law for a fair trial. Because there is no evidence of fraud this will not happen. I would be surprised if anyone at all is even reprimanded by the university, let alone taken to court.

  52. jrhd | #31
    > why are we hellbent on implementing a cap and trade policy?

    There is no way to stop the warming, we added already too much greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The goal is to limit the temperature increase, for example the Copenhagen conference seems to aim at a 2 C increase limit. This means that we can only emit a certain amount of CO2 in the future.

    Basically, its the free-marked approach to distributing limited resources.

    ab3a | #83
    > will never be a science until we can test these theories in a controlled manner.

    Technically thats true, but in the strict sense of the word e.g. medicine is not a science either. Yet I’m going still going to the ER after breaking a bone.

    Or, even more to the point, take the textbook example of “Does jumping out of a plane without parachute kill you?”. Anecdotal evidence is worthless and no IRB board will allow a controlled study, hence the scientific method cannot answer it. I’m still not jumping, though.

    Yet many denialists are happy to gamble with their grandchildren’s lives since “we can’t be 100% sure”.

  53. Yet many denialists are happy to gamble with their grandchildren’s lives since “we can’t be 100% sure”.

    since you clearly aren’t listening, i want to ask you, what do you think the other side is concerned about?

    1. > what do you think the other side is concerned about?

      What do you mean by “other side”?

      We can have a legitimate discussion whether we have 3C or 5C increase by 2100. The CRU’s data and projections were probably not the best. Still, their data is a lot better than the data (if any) the denialists flout.

      There is no legitimate concern about the reality of man-made global warming. Man-made CO2 adds to the pre-existing greenhouse effect. No rational person can doubt this basic thermodynamic fact.

  54. I find this writing to be the the most disappointing in this post or the followup by Maggie Koerth-Baker (at which the ability to post comments seems to be unavailable):

    “The East Anglia Climate Research Unit’s scientists disagreed in some particulars, and used peer-review to resolve them (and continue to do so). No one is paying them to cover up evidence that climate change isn’t real or isn’t caused by humans — but they are conducting science the way that scientists do.”

    One can certainly sympathize with the frustration of “Harry,” the affable and honest computer guy (I imagine he resembles Baghdad Bob, but without the malice). But he’s not helping. Neither is it helpful to note that peer-review was employed, when there is clear evidence of gaming the group of peers who would be allowed to review papers.

    Everyone screams for data transparency (opening up government information was one of VP Gore’s jobs). Whatever passes for the scientific method today requires it as well. That didn’t happen among this group of scientists. Perhaps transparency doesn’t happen as much as adherents to this method would like (when it doesn’t damage their prospects for first-publish or first-perish). I write this not without some understanding of some academics’ desire to hoard information prior to publishing, in order to boost themselves for personal and professional reasons.

    Finally, I had to get out of reading Boing Boing via an RSS feed, in order to remember that it is, largely, non-doctrinal. Glad I did so.

  55. I love BB and Corey but give me a break. Have you read The Washington Times Friday Nov 27? The title of the article “The global-cooling cover-up” tells it all. This is not Rush or Fox news. It’s time for Al Gore and company to realize just because people like apocalyptic tales and it’s politically correct to want go on a crusade at the drop of a hat. We have limited resources why not go after some of our real problems like pandering scientists and politicians. Instead of going off half cocked after every thing that happens. Like 9/11 does anyone still think we did anything even remotely worth while in our rush to do something quickly. Why can’t we think and discuss before we rush out and do something stupid our children will be paying for for generations.

  56. > The title of the article “The global-cooling cover-up” tells it all.

    That “article” is an op-ed, and not a news article. An op-ed is a newspaper article that expresses the opinions of a writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper’s editorial board. You might just as well reference reader’s letters.

    Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion, no matter how wrong it is.

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