The “ClimateGate” Leak and the Suppression of Dissent

In a post here a couple of years ago, I said that regardless of whether anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW) is occurring, the consensus on the subject exists in part because of a deliberate attempt to suppress contrary viewpoints.  Rip made a similar assertion a couple of months later, when he said, “I’m no global warming denier—I just think there is a lot of reasonable doubt.  And the politicization of the issue – complete with a campaign to stifle dissent – is appalling.”  Last week, there was a data breach at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) that seems to illustrate our point in a rather shocking way.

In case you haven’t been following the story, some time around November 19, an unknown party posted thousands of private e-mails and documents taken from the CRU on the internet.  Based on reports to date, including confirmations by some of the correspondents referenced, the data appears to be genuine.  For highlights of the documents released, we turn to Lon Glazner at Commission Impossible, who via Andrew Watts brings us this summary:

1. The scientists [apparently] colluded in efforts to thwart Freedom of Information Act requests… . They reference deleting data, hiding source code from requests, manipulating data to make it more annoying to use, and attempting to deny requests from people recognized as contributors to specific internet sites. …

2. These scientists publicly diminished opposing arguments for lack of being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In the background they discussed black-balling journals that did publish opposing views, and preventing opposing views from being published in journals they controlled. They even mention changing the rules midstream in arenas they control to ensure opposing views would not see the light of day. They discuss amongst themselves which scientists can be trusted and who should be excluded from having data because they may not be "predictable".

3. The scientists expressed concern privately over a lack of increase in global temperatures in the last decade, and the fact that they could not explain this. Publicly they discounted it as simple natural variations. In one instance, data was [apparently] manipulated to hide a decline in temperatures when graphed. Other discussions included ways to discount historic warming trends that inconveniently did not occur during increases in atmospheric CO2.

4. The emails show examples of top scientists working to create public relations messaging with favorable news outlets. It shows them identifying and cataloging, by name and association, people with opposing views. These people are then disparaged in a coordinated fashion via favorable online communities.

You don’t have to take Lon’s word for it, though.  The messages are online here, catalogued for your reading pleasure.  Bishop Hill has posted direct links to many of the messages, including:

  • Climatologist Michael Mann (originator of the “hockey stick” chart popularized by Al Gore) apparently discussing how to undermine Climate Research, a journal that has published skeptical papers.
  • Tom Wigley, a climate scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) apparently discussing how to pressure Climate Research from publishing papers skeptical of global warming.  “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 nder 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 — it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.
  • Researcher Stepan Shiyatov requesting money from CRU scientist Keith Briffa, saying, “[I]t is important for us if you can transfer the ADVANCE money on the personal accounts which we gave you earlier and the sum for one occasion transfer (for example, during one day) will not be more than 10,000 USD.  Only in this case we can avoid big taxes and use money for our work as much as possible.”  In a later message, Shiyatov says, “I am [sic] anderstanding your difficulties with [sic] transfering money and I think the best way for us if you will bring money to Krasnoyarsk and I give you a receipt.”  One would hope Briffa did not agree to either proposal.
  • Tom Wigley discussing how to deal with the advent of Freedom of Information law in UK. Jones says to use intellectual property arguments to avoid disclosing the code. He says data is covered by agreements with outsiders and that CRU will be "hiding behind them."  The University of East Anglia uses this very argument in a press release responding to the breach, so perhaps they are still trying to “hide.”
  • Jones saying UK climate organizations are coordinating to resist Freedom of Information Act requests, per advice from the Information Commissioner.
  • Climatic Research Unit director Phil Jones apparently encouraging colleagues to delete information subject to a UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 request.
  • Michael Mann and Tom Wigley discussing the publication of a skeptical paper in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), a journal of the American Geophysical Union, and discussing how to get the editor-in-chief ousted.  Mann later refers to the “leak” at GRL being “plugged.”
  • Jones saying he has found a way around releasing IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) review comments to David Holland.
  • Jones telling Mann,  “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!
  • Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, saying that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”
  • Wigley telling Jones that the land warming since 1980 has been twice the ocean warming and that this might be used by skeptics as evidence for urban heat islands.  (Or might, you know, actually be evidence for urban heats islands.  How about you be honest with the data, state your case for why it’s not evid… oh, never mind.  Who has time?)
  • Briffa talking of pressure to produce a tidy picture of "apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data" for the IPCC Third Assessment Report.
  • Mann telling New York Times reporting Andy Revkin that sketpic Stephen McIntyre is not to be t
    .   “Skepticism is essential for the functioning of science. It yields an erratic path towards eventual truth. But legitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. A necessary though not in general sufficient condition for taking a scientific criticism seriously is that it has passed through the legitimate scientific peer review process. those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.“  That would be, if I’m not mistaken, the very system from which we have seen Mann and Jones evidently conspiring to exclude those who disagree with them.
  • David Parker discussing the possibility of changing the reference period for global temperature index.  “There is a preference in the atmospheric observations chapter of IPCC AR4 to stay with the 1961-1990 normals. This is partly because a change of normals confuses users, e.g. anomalies will seem less positive than before if we change to newer normals, so the impression of global warming will be muted.”  Wouldn’t want the commoners worrying their pretty little heads about something like that.
  • Jones telling Mann that he is sending station data, and adds, “…[D]don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs 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. …We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that.”
  • Michael Mann discussing tactics for screening and delaying comments at the Real Climate blog.  “We’ll use our best discretion to make sure the skeptics don’t get to use the RC comments as a megaphone.”

We also learn that a letter to The Times from climate scientists prompted by a dispute between BP and Greenpeace was drafted with the help of Greenpeace itself—something not disclosed in the letter. 

And then there’s the e-mail from Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona that cautions, “Please write all emails as though they will be made public.”  Apparently that was good advice.

So, what to make of this?  In one of the posted messages, Tom Wigley says,

…the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both [Jones] and [Briffa] (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.

Actually, withholding data doesn’t “look like” hiding something.  Withholding data is hiding something—the data.  And why is that a problem?  I think Frank Tipler puts it well:

Every experienced scientist has had occasion to doubt a colleague’s reported experimental result. No problem: The skeptical scientist merely has to try to replicate his colleague’s result, and a failure means that the claim is false. But how does one replicate the claim that the average temperature of the Earth — an average computed from taking the data at thousands of temperature stations all across the globe — was one degree Fahrenheit lower in 1900 that it was in 2000? It is impossible to visit all the stations today, to say nothing of the stations of 1900. Replication is impossible. 

I am automatically skeptical of any claim that by its very nature cannot be replicated by other scientists. What keeps scientists honest is not that scientists are more honest than other people — we aren’t — but that we know our colleagues are looking over our shoulders. Everyone is honest when he knows he is being watched.

…The only way climate “science” can approach being a real science is for all of its raw data to be made available. Only then is it possible for outsiders to check, at least partially, the claims of the insiders.

The second reason this conspiracy has been able to survive so long is simply that climatologists are now trained to believe in global warming theory. Remember the overwhelming urge of scientists to believe in their own pet theory, to believe that the data simply must confirm the theory, to believe that the only valid data points are those which confirm the theory? …

This human failing is why we need outside non-believers to check the theory against all the data — not just the data selected by the believers.

…One can always trust experimenters who get the right answer when they do not know what the right answer is. One can never trust experimenters who know what the right answer is…, and who have total control of the only data that can confirm or reject the theory, and whose jobs depend on confirming it.

Science is not religion.  It does not ask us to take on faith the proclamations of robed elites who say, “trust us”—whether they be scientists, journalists, or activists like Al Gore.  On the contrary, it requires that we reject hypotheses until they are confirmed by evidence, at which point we accept them for so long as, and to the extent that evidence supports them.  In this climate research appears to have gone badly astray, regardless of whether AGW proves in the end to be a valid theory.

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