The great climate change science scandal

Leaked emails have revealed the unwillingness of climate change scientists to engage in a proper debate with the sceptics who doubt global warming

Jonathan Leake
Environment Editor
The Sunday Times [UK]
November 29, 2009

The storm began with just four cryptic words. “A miracle has happened,” announced a contributor to Climate Audit, a website devoted to criticising the science of climate change.

“RC” said nothing more — but included a web link that took anyone who clicked on it to another site, Real Climate.

There, on the morning of November 17, they found a treasure trove: a thousand or so emails sent or received by Professor Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Jones is a key player in the science of climate change. His department’s databases on global temperature changes and its measurements have been crucial in building the case for global warming.

What those emails suggested, however, was that Jones and some colleagues may have become so convinced of their case that they crossed the line from objective research into active campaigning.

In one, Jones boasted of using statistical “tricks” to obliterate apparent declines in global temperature. In another he advocated deleting data rather than handing them to climate sceptics. And in a third he proposed organised boycotts of journals that had the temerity to publish papers that undermined the message.

It was a powerful and controversial mix — far too powerful for some. Real Climate is a website designed for scientists who share Jones’s belief in man-made climate change. Within hours the file had been stripped from the site.

Several hours later, however, it reappeared — this time on an obscure Russian server. Soon it had been copied to a host of other servers, first in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and then Europe and America.

What’s more, the anonymous poster was determined not to be stymied again. He or she posted comments on climate-sceptic blogs, detailing a dozen of the best emails and offering web links to the rest. Jones’s statistical tricks were now public property.

Steve McIntyre, a prominent climate sceptic, was amazed. “Words failed me,” he said. Another, Patrick Michaels, declared: “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud.” …

…Professor Mike Hulme, a fellow researcher of Jones at the University of East Anglia and author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, said: “The attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organisation within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

There could, however, be another reason why the unit rejected requests to see its data.

This weekend it emerged that the unit has thrown away much of the data. Tucked away on its website is this statement: “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites … We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (ie, quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

If true, it is extraordinary. It means that the data on which a large part of the world’s understanding of climate change is based can never be revisited or checked. Pielke said: “Can this be serious? It is now impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. [The unit] is basically saying, ‘Trust us’.”

WHERE does this leave the climate debate? …

Read the entire article at The Sunday Times of London.

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