Climate change, Politics

164 – ClimateGate part 2: What is revealed?

In Part 1 I provided background to the ClimateGate scandal. This week I look at some of what has been revealed in the leaked emails.

 Most commentary on the release by hackers (or perhaps by an internal leak) of material from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia has been highly critical of the views and behaviours that are revealed. As I noted in PD163, we already knew that the Hockey Team (the group of scientists at the centre of this controversy) had taken extraordinary measures to prevent people from scrutinising their data and methods, and now we can observe the process in action, as revealed by the written words of Team members themselves. (The McIntyre referred to below is Steve McIntyre, a Canadian statistician who runs the Climate Audit blog and attempts to replicate key climate studies. See PD163.) For each quote, I’ve included a link to the full email so that you can see it in context if you wish to.

“I took a decision ages ago not to release our station data, mainly because of McIntyre”. (This and all direct quotes from the ClimateGate emails can be found here.)

“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.”

“Think I’ve managed to persuade UEA [University of East Anglia] to ignore all further FOIA [Freedom Of Information Act] requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit”.

Reading the emails, one gets a sense that the Hockey Team scientists feel persecuted, which is odd given that they are on the side of the huge majority, and have influence and funding vastly in excess of their critics. They seem to consider that a desire by others to replicate their research is in no way a legitimate thing to do – that all such efforts are, pretty much by definition, the acts of climate change “deniers”.

This quote from a blog provides a nice summary of the attitudes and behaviour of the Team scientists.

“The emails I’ve reviewed so far do not suggest that these scientists are perpetrating a knowing and deliberate hoax. On the contrary, they are true believers. I don’t doubt that they are sincerely convinced – in fact, fanatically so – that human activity is warming the earth. But the emails are disturbing nonetheless. What they reveal, more than anything, is a bunker mentality. These pro-global warming scientists see themselves as under siege, and they view AGW skeptics as bitter enemies. … The emails show beyond any reasonable doubt that these individuals are engaged in politics, not science.”

Here are a few examples that illustrate this. Explore the blogs for many more. The quotes are from a variety of different correspondents, the most common being Phil Jones, Director of the CRU.

Discussion of the possibility of getting a journal editor sacked:

“If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.” Note: he subsequently did lose the editorship.

Discussion of trying to influence journal editorial policy to prevent publication of skeptical papers:

“One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word ‘perceived’ here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about.” There is a striking irony here. These scientists incessantly say that the views of skeptics are not worth considering unless they appear in the peer-reviewed research literature, while at the same time they conspire to keep such research out of the peer-reviewed literature.

Conspiring to punish a journal that had published some peer-reviewed papers by skeptics:

“I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.”

Discussion of censoring and other strategies on

“Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC in any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, … We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include. … think of RC as a resource that is at your disposal to combat any disinformation put forward by the McIntyres of the world. Just let us know.” has routinely censored comments, even if they are slightly critical or questioning of Team research or climate change orthodoxy.

Asking colleagues to delete emails that were subject to Freedom of Information requests:

“Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. … Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.” If the remaining emails are considered safe, one wonders how bad the deleted ones were! They now claim that none were deleted. They have a strong incentive to claim that since such deletions would be illegal under the Freedom Of Information Act. In any case, in a later email the same correspondent says: “About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little – if anything at all.”

Conspiring to exclude inconvenient peer-reviewed papers from the IPCC report, by deception if necessary:

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” 

Internal acknowledgement that refusing to provide data might not look good (but not that it is unscientific):

“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.” This sensible advice from one Team member to another had no impact on Team behaviour.

Expressing a wish that climate change would occur to confirm the science:

“If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences. This isn’t being political, it is being selfish.” Maybe this is just loose talk. But given the fanaticism revealed in the rest of the leaked/hacked material, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he was serious.

Truncating data to avoid recent divergence in trends from warming expectations:

“The data are attached to this e-mail. They go from 1402 to 1995, although we usually stop the series in 1960 because of the recent non-temperature signal that is superimposed on the tree-ring data that we use.” See the consequences of this deletion here. One of the other leaked documents reveals similar truncations even more starkly here

Deleting proxy data that diverged from actual temperatures and inserting the actual temperature data instead:

“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) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

This last quote has probably had more attention than any other, given the sinister look of “trick” and “hide the decline”. Unlike most of the other quotes, this one has had a spirited defense from Phil Jones and scientists friendly to his cause. The defense focuses on the word “trick”. Jones says that he used the term to mean a clever way to do something, rather than a deception. Looking at the wording of the quote, I think that is probably a reasonable claim. On the other hand, is it reasonable to “add in real temps … to hide the decline”? Jones claims that he has no idea what he meant by the words “hide the decline”. I find this claim completely unconvincing. From the detailed article here, it is is perfectly obvious what he meant. He wanted to hide the fact that the proxy data departed radically from the actual temperatures. The additional fact that the “trick” was done without acknowledging it in the published results adds weight to concerns about what they have done.

Some skeptical commentators have gone too far in their reading of the quote, implying that it refers to hiding falling temperatures. It does not. It refers to hiding falls in proxy data (tree ring widths), by replacing them with actual temperature data, which follows a rising trend, and smoothing over the join. The significance of this is two fold. Firstly, it disguises the fact that the tree ring data do not represent temperatures as well as they would like, casting doubt on the scientists’ ability to estimate temperature levels in previous centuries (which for some of them represents a threat to their life’s work). And secondly, it provides a much more dramatic and alarming graph, which might help to galvanise support for the climate change cause.

If you care about science, and if you understand and believe in the principles that are supposed to underpin it, these emails make miserable reading. If you are a member of the public who expects science to provide independent, honest information, they are extremely concerning. Although the number of scientists directly involved is tiny, they are among the most influential climate scientists in the world.

In part 3 I’ll talk about the reactions to and implications of the ClimateGate scandal.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia