More Insight on Those Leaked Climate Change Emails

 2009 11 25 Climategg
[Image: "Earth Egg," from the CC-licensed Flickr stream of azrainman]

Cory told you earlier this week about the recent hacking at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, and the subsequent distribution of emails that some people say prove a global conspiracy to promote anthropogenic climate change contrary to evidence.

I wanted to get a handle on this before I posted, so I've been reading coverage and analysis for the last few days. Here's a few key points I'm picking up...

1) Evidence of vast conspiracy is sorely lacking. Ditto evidence disproving the scientific consensus on climate change. This isn't the "nail in the coffin" of anything. However, the emails do prompt some legit questions about transparency and how professional researchers respond to criticism in the age of the armchair scientist.

In fact, the whole reason the CRU seems to have been hacked is that the Unit was fighting off requests for access to the data sets it used to put together its climate models. This is one of the issues that gets discussed in the e-mails. Basically, some of the CRU researchers didn't want to release the data to people who weren't trained scientists because they were tired of spending their time fighting with bloggers and wanted to focus on research. Which is great, except for two things: First, from what I'm reading it looks like there might have been some ethical lapses in how the researchers went about blocking the release of data; Second, when you block the release of data, no matter what your real reason is, people will assume it's because you're hiding something nefarious. One of the positive outcomes of this whole hacking debacle is that it's forcing some discussion about when circling the wagons becomes protectionism, and might lead to the climate change data sets becoming more open source. Frankly, I think that's a good thing.

2) Theft is bad. But if you're a researcher who can explain context to the general public, decrying theft shouldn't be your primary objective right now.

This goes back to the whole transparency issue. This would-be scandal ought to be a learning opportunity--a chance for scientists to educate the public on the evidence for climate change. And while there is plenty of that going on, there's also a lot of people making arguments like, "we shouldn't even be talking about the content of the emails because they are stolen property." Well, you're right, they are stolen property and, technically, should be left private. But you know what? Skeptics of climate change are using these emails, no matter what you think. If experts and researchers refuse to address them, it's just going to mean that the only narrative the public hears is the one that thinks the emails are proof of conspiracy. Not helpful.

3) The Mainstream Media is covering this. They just might not be covering it the way you want, and that's probably a good thing.

I've heard from several people who have asked me why MM isn't on top of this story, and read several complaints to that effect on blogs. It comes both from people who think the emails are proof of conspiracy, and those who think there's absolutely nothing wrong in the emails at all. But I've been reading great coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post (both the official publications and attached blogs), and elsewhere. In that light, I kind of interpret the complaints as, "The MM isn't saying what I want them to say." OK. That's good. Because the story is a bit more nuanced than either opposing position would have you believe and MM coverage is reflecting that.

And now, I bring you a whole crap-ton of links.

Basically, everything I say above is a synthesis of what I've read here. I'm including all of these so you know I'm not just pulling this out of my tookus, so you can delve more deeply into this stuff if you want and because it's all pretty interesting if you're wonky like that. And I bet you are.

• FiveThirtyEight: I Read Through 160,000,000 Bytes of Hacked Files And All I Got Was This Lousy E-Mail

• openDemocracy: The Real Scandal in the Hacked Climate Change Emails Controversy

• Ed Darrell Purloined: CRU e-mails on climate science: One scientist pleads for accuracy and Smoking guns in the CRU stolen e-mails: A real tale of real ethics in science

• The Guardian: Global warming rigged? Here's the email I'd need to see

• Wired: Hacked E-Mails Fuel Global Warming Debate

• Reuters: ANALYSIS-Hacked climate e-mails awkward, not game changer

• Energy Collective: Do Leaked Emails Undermine the Scientific Consensus?

• Energy Collective: An Interesting Gripe

• Climate Progress: Here's What We Know So Far

• Climate Progress: Let's Look At the Illegally Hacked Emails In More Detail

• Washington Post Capital Weather Gang Blog: Two Parts in a Three-Part Series on Expert Opinions on Climate Change Emails (third part not yet published)

• Climate Audit: Curry on the Credibility of Climate Research

• Washington Post proper: Two Articles on the Hacking of the Files and Its Aftermath

• Science magazine Science Insider blog: In Climate Hack Story, Could Talk of Cover-Up Be as Serious as Crime?

• Yale Climate Media Forum: Climate Scientists' E-mails Hacked, Posted; So What Does it All Mean for the Climate?

• New York Times: Hacked E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute

• NYT Dot Earth blog: Two Posts Plus Expert Commentary

• National Review Online: Climate Change Scandal

• Real Climate: Two Posts + Tons More In Comments, Responses from Scientists Whose Emails Got Hacked