Sunday, December 6, 2009

For Heavens Sake. The Stolen Emails are Not a 'Climategate'

In the above video, the Conservative blogger Adrian McNair made a complete fool of himself. Trying to deflect attention away from the War crimes issue, he focuses on some big 'Climate Gate', suggesting that these emails reflect some kind of conspiracy.

First off, they were stolen and second, they deal with the politics between scientists. Nothing in them suggests that the science is wrong.

Climatologists under pressure

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.

The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall (see page 551). To these denialists, the scientists' scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial 'smoking gun': proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe.

This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country's much needed climate bill. Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

First, Earth's cryosphere is changing as one would expect in a warming climate. These changes include glacier retreat, thinning and areal reduction of Arctic sea ice, reductions in permafrost and accelerated loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Second, the global sea level is rising. The rise is caused in part by water pouring in from melting glaciers and ice sheets, but also by thermal expansion as the oceans warm. Third, decades of biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is arriving earlier each year.

Denialists often maintain that these changes are just a symptom of natural climate variability. But when climate modellers test this assertion by running their simulations with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide held fixed, the results bear little resemblance to the observed warming. The strong implication is that increased greenhouse-gas emissions have played an important part in recent warming, meaning that curbing the world's voracious appetite for carbon is essential (see pages 568 and 570).

Mail trail

A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists' conspiracy theories. In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751–771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89–110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden.

The theft highlights the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers.

The e-mail theft also highlights how difficult it can be for climate researchers to follow the canons of scientific openness, which require them to make public the data on which they base their conclusions. This is best done via open online archives, such as the ones maintained by the IPCC ( and the US National Climatic Data Center (

Tricky business

But for much crucial information the reality is very different. Researchers are barred from publicly releasing meteorological data from many countries owing to contractual restrictions. Moreover, in countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the national meteorological services will provide data sets only when researchers specifically request them, and only after a significant delay. The lack of standard formats can also make it hard to compare and integrate data from different sources. Every aspect of this situation needs to change: if the current episode does not spur meteorological services to improve researchers' ease of access, governments should force them to do so.

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers' own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a 'trick' — slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature's policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.

The UEA responded too slowly to the eruption of coverage in the media, but deserves credit for now being publicly supportive of the integrity of its scientists while also holding an independent investigation of its researchers' compliance with Britain's freedom of information requirements (see

In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.


  1. Sigh.

    First of all, the Climategate emails weren't a "deflection". They were well stated as a topic of the segment.

    Secondly, the emails make it clear that there was manipulation of data, the discounting of entire data sets that didn't correspond to the desired the scientists, and elaborate plans to subvert the process of peer review.

  2. That sounds more like the Fraser Institute. However, I have not read the 3000 pages of STOLEN emails, nor am I a scientist, but I believe nobel prize winning climate scientists over denial groups sponsored by the fossil fuel industry.

    The impact of climate change is very real and many nations are already experiencing it's devastating affects.

    We can choose to do nothing and face possible trade sanctions, or we can listen to those in the know and help to save the planet.

    Harper's words recently reveal his views "This may be a shock," Harper said last month in the House of Commons, "but the negotiators Canada assigns to international negotiations (like Copenhagen) are there to represent the interests of Canada, not the interests of Mali." (Toronto Star Dec. 6)

    Canada has become the Bush administration, and we are fast becoming the hated ones.

    According to Star reporter Brett Popplewell "The word "Canada" is so reviled in some places that travelling Canadians mask their citizenship by wearing American flags on their caps and backpacks."

    Aren't you proud?

  3. There's no doubt in my mind that Canadian left-wing ideologues who have been jealous of American left-wing ideologues very much want the Harper government to be the Bush administration.

    That doesn't make it so.

    Once again, the complaints that the emails were stolen amounts to nothing more than a schoolyard bully's defense. "The problem isn't that I'm doing something wrong, the problem is that you told on me".

    You don't need to read all 3000 of the emails to get the sense what precisely makes this a scandal. All you have to do is read the portions wherein they talk about subverting peer review for their own benefit, altering their data (very different from "calibration"), manipulating their data to "hide the decline".

    Moreover, the Toronto Star is the most ideological newspaper in Canada. Anyone who publishes a lunatic like Antonia Zerbisias has to be taken with not only a grain, but truckloads of salt.

  4. I just published Elizabeth's May's response. The conspiracy theorists who are calling this 'climategate' are not climate scientists.

    They are mostly people who never believed in climate change in the first place, and now feel like they've been validated.

    A recent poll shows that the vast majority of Canadians want immediate action and don't want Harper to simply hang onto Obama's coat tails. (81% I think)

    Our PM may not beleive in climate change, but he does believe in polls.

    Antonia Zerbisias is a champion for women's rights. We may have to start marching again if this neo-conservative governemnt sticks around much longer.

  5. If anything, Antonia Zerbisias is a champion for fringe left-wing political thought who fancies herself a champion for women's rights.

    I'd daresay that a lot of Canadian women wouldn't want anything to do with the kind of lunatic who publicly muses about wanting an ideological rival to be shot in the face.

    You don't need to be a climate scientist to judge these emails for precisely what they are.

    "Hide the decline", Emily.

    How would you like to spin that? And that's only one of the least damning comments made during those emails.

  6. It's cherry picking. The real evidence is physical and indisputable. But if the Harper government decides to go with the deniers on this one, which clearly he has done from the beginning, that will make us the only country to do so.

    What kind of impact do you think that will have on our economy, if we start to face trade sanctions? Or extra tariffs? Not to mention our already declining international reputation.

    They want us out of the Commonwealth and there are rumours that some countries want to boycott our olympics. What then?

  7. Emily, that's the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a good, long, time.

    You don't ignore evidence simply because it supports someone else's argument.

    Elizabeth May wants to pretend that the Climategate emails should be judged by the number of them that are about health concerns and sick family members.

    These, conveniently for May, have nothing to do with the science.

    Emails about "tricks", "hiding the decline", subverting peer review and banishing dissenting thought from the scientific realm have everything to do with the science. The sooner individuals like yourself stop running away from this, the better off the debate will be.

    The simple fact of the matter is this: the climategate emails demonstrate that the East Anglia CRU -- whose projections have been the foundation of the IPCC's work -- have been fudging their data to provide an exaggerated (to term it generously) view of climate change for more than ten years.

    The science -- the alleged foundation of all the activism -- isn't nearly so decisive as individuals like yourself insist.

  8. Again, I will take the climate scientist's views and physical proof that the planet is warming.

    But even if I didn't, and went along with Harper's denial, the rest of the world does not.

    This means we could face trade sanctions, extra tariffs; any number of things that would have an adverse affect on our economic recovery.

    BTW: I remember reading somewhere that "tricks" in scientific lingo does not mean the same as an actual trick. It's some kind of slang. Maybe on Desmog blog.

    A green economy is good for the planet and good for the country. We are running out of oil anyway, so now is a perfect time to move away from fossil fuels.

  9. Emily, the emails cast serious doubt over the alleged physical proof that the planet is warming.

    Maybe you think you can spin "trick". I'd really like to see you spin "hide the decline".

  10. Not trying to spin anything, but apparently the university plans to release all their emails to put everything in perspective, and this scientist has agreed to step down.