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Informative Overview On Climate-Gate

From the UK’s Register:

Climategate: Why it matters

The scandal we see and the scandal we don’t

By Andrew Orlowski

30th November 2009

Reading the Climategate archive is a bit like discovering that Professional Wrestling is rigged. You mean, it is? Really?

The archive – a carefully curated 160MB collection of source code, emails and other documents from the internal network of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia – provides grim confirmation for critics of climate science. But it also raises far more troubling questions.

Perhaps the real scandal is the dependence of media and politicians on their academics’ work – an ask-no-questions approach that saw them surrender much of their power, and ultimately authority. This doesn’t absolve the CRU crew of the charges, but might put it into a better context.

After a week of scrutiny of the emails, attention is now turning to the programming source code. Three quarters of the material released is the work of the academics, much of which they had jealously guarded. This includes a version of the world’s most cited and respected temperature record – HADCRUT – and a number of surveys which featured prominently in the reports of the UN’s climate change panel, the IPCC. The actors here shaped the UN reports, and ultimately – because no politician dare contradict the ‘science’ – shaped global policy.

The allegations over the past week are fourfold: that climate scientists controlled the publishing process to discredit opposing views and further their own theory; they manipulated data to make recent temperature trends look anomalous; they withheld and destroyed data they should have released as good scientific practice, and they were generally beastly about people who criticised their work. (You’ll note that one of these is far less serious than the others.)

But why should this be a surprise?

The secretive Jones is no secret

The secretive approach of CRU director Jones and his colleagues, particularly in the paleoclimatology field, is not a secret. Distinguished scientists have testified to this throughout from the early 1990s onwards. A report specifically commissioned four years ago by Congress, the Wegman Report, identified many of the failings discussed in the past week.

Failings are understandable, climatology is in its infancy, and the man-made greenhouse gas theory is a recent development. However no action was taken. A little like Goldman Sachs, the group that includes the CRU Crew was deemed to be [too] important to fail – or even have the semblance of fallibility.

A lightning recap of what CRU is, and what role it plays, helps bring the puzzle out of the shadows.

CRU was founded in 1972 by the ‘Father of Climatology’, former Met Office meteorologist Hubert Lamb. Until around 1980, solar modulation was believed to be the driving factor in climatic variation. A not unreasonable idea, you might think, since our energy (unless you live by a volcano vent) is derived from the sun. Without a better understanding of the sun, climatology may be reasonably be called "speculative meteorology".

But CRU’s increasing influence, according to its own history (http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/about/history/), stemmed from politicians taking an interest. "The UK Government became a strong supporter of climate research in the mid-1980s, following a meeting between Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and a small number of climate researchers, which included Tom Wigley, the CRU director at the time. This and other meetings eventually led to the setting up of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, within the Met Office," the CRU notes.

Lamb (who died in 1997), however remained sceptical of the greenhouse gas hypothesis to the end.

In addition to inheriting all the problems of climatology, the greenhouse gas hypothesis has several unique issues of its own, and addressing them is a challenge for the most scrupulous researcher. How CRU addressed them was to define climatology for two decades – and ultimately defined the public debate and policy, too.

The gas theory is based on an elegant ‘energy budget’ model, but it leans heavily on positive feedbacks resulting from greenhouse gases such as CO2 in order to produce the warming CO2 cannot do by itself. Yet no simple empirical laboratory tests are of use here. Nor is there a ‘fingerprint’ or tell-tale signal that anthropogenically produced gases are the primary forcing factor. Hence climatology’s increasing reliance, since 1980, on a range of anecdotal evidence and computer modelling.

In a fiercely contested field, both methods were fiercely guarded. The result of this was the blurring of the line between correlation and causation, and hindcasting and forecasting. Slowly, but surely, an "assertion" was becoming "proof".

The first IPCC report in 1990 used the established temperature record created by Lamb. It’s very different to the one we’re familiar with today – and that’s the work of CRU director Phil Jones, CRU’s pioneer dendrochronologist Keith Briffa, and their colleagues in (mainly) US institutions.

You can see the difference here.

Lamb’s temperature graph, featured in the first IPCC report in 1990

Without the error bars (grey), the Medieval Warm Period disappears Source: IPCC TAR 2001

Although Lamb’s version is supported by historical accounts, archaeology, geology and even contemporary literature, two key differences are the decreased significance of the Medieval Warming Period (CRU and its allies prefer the term ‘MCA’, or "Medieval Climate Anomaly") and a radically warmer modern period.

Jones and his team began to produce work that contradicted the established picture in 1990 – and CRU was able to do so from both ends. By creating new temperature recreations, it could create a new account of history. By issuing a monthly gridded temperature set while making raw station data unavailable for inspection, it defined contemporary data. So CRU controlled two important narratives: the "then", and the "now".

In the FOIA.ZIP archive, we find Jones unambiguous in an email: "We will be rewriting people’s perceived wisdom about the course of temperature change over the past millennium," he wrote.

In text books co-authored with Ray Bradley (1992 and 1996) and a landmark paper with Ben Santer (1996), Jones described artificial reconstructions that questioned the established historical record. Jones and Briffa were both co-authors of a 1995 paper (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v376/n6536/abs/376156a0.html) for NatureUnusual Twentieth-century Summer Warmth in a 1,000-year Temperature Record from Siberia – that used a tree ring reconstruction from the Urals to claim that the mean 20th Century temperature is higher than any period since 914. Sympathetic researchers in the US produced similar graphs, again emphasising that modern warming (0.7C in the 20th Century), was anomalous.

Since these scientists declined to document their methodology and the raw sample, they were difficult to dispute. By 2001, with the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report or TAR, the new version of history was the established one. The ‘Hockey Stick’ controversy only broke three years subsequently.

That resulted in the Wegman report. Although CRU hadn’t produced the Hockey Stick (the work of American metereologist Michael Mann) or used his statistical techniques, Wegman implicated leading CRU figures as part of a close knit network.

In our further exploration of the social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction, we found that at least 43 authors have direct ties to Dr. Mann by virtue of coauthored papers with him. Our findings from this analysis suggest that authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface.

Wegman also criticised their workmanship:

[…]the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.

Wegman had identified other networks in climate science which also "peer reviewed" each other’s work, removing criticism from the record, and acting as gatekeepers.

Over four years later the ‘Climategate’ archive provides evidence to support this. We find Jones discussing how to avoid FOIA requests, advising the deletion of email and telling his own information officers not to release data to critics. Earlier this summer, CRU said that it had failed to maintain the raw station data it had gathered, citing lack of storage space.

But to what purpose were these networks acting?

Playing politics – or feeding a demand?

‘Climategate’ raises far more questions than it answers, and one of the most intriguing of these is how a small group (backing a new theory, in an infant field) came to have such a huge effect on global policy making. Is it fair to hang CRU Director Jones and his colleagues out to dry – as some climate campaigners such as George Monbiot have suggested? If the buck doesn’t stop with the CRU climatologists – then who or what is really to blame?

Poring over the archive, it’s easy to find a nose here, and a large leathery foot over there – and to conclude that the owner of the room may have a very strange taste in furnishings. The elephant in the room can go unnoticed.

The CRU team may have stepped into a scientific vacuum, but that doesn’t account for the qualities of the climate debate today. It is beset with a sense of crisis and urgency, and the ascendancy of a quite specific and narrow set of policy options that precludes the cool and rational assessment of the problem that an engineer might employ. Or equally, the cost/benefit calculations that an economist might use. (Actually, many have, and here’s a good recent example (http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4245) from Richard Tol – but this is not part of the public discourse, or diplomatic agenda as illustrated by the Copenhagen Conference, where the focus is on emissions reductions).

Briffa himself apparently found being "true" to his science and his customer difficult. "I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which are not always the same," he writes, after wrapping up the chapter on which he was joint lead author for the fourth IPCC report published. in 2007

The ignorance of the natural world displayed by the scientists is remarkably at odds with the notion that the science is "settled". Where’s the Global Warming, asks NCAR’s Tom Wigley. His colleague Kevin Trenberth admits they can’t answer the question. "The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t… Our observing system is inadequate." Trenberth goes on further, and admits the the energy budget hasn’t been "balanced". Wigley paraphrases him: "we are nowhere close to knowing where energy is going". It is climate experts admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing.

But were such reservations communicated to the policy makers or media?

As I mentioned earlier, the very nature of the problem itself has led the "science" onto shaky ground – onto modelling (which has no predictive value) and anecdotal evidence (which merely demonstrates correlation, but not causation). That’s why the ‘Hockey Stick’ was a very big deal: it [was] substituted for hard evidence; if fossil fuel emissions affected the climate at all significantly, this remained a future threat, and certainly not an urgent one.

The demand from institutions, (principally the UN, through its IPCC), national policy makers and the media has taken climate scientists into areas where they struggle to do good science. Add professional activists to the mix – who bring with them the Precautionary Principle – and the element of urgency is introduced.

The situation is largely self-inflicted. The scandal is that science has advanced through anecdote and poorly founded conjecture – and on this slender basis, politicians and institutions lacking vision and confidence (and given the lack of popular support, legitimacy too) have found a cause.

Perhaps some readers may find this too forgiving of the participants. Three years ago Jones confessed to climatologist Christy both the state of the "science", and some of his own motivations.

"As you know, I’m not political. 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".

This give some background on how we got to this sorry state.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, November 30th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

13 Responses to “Informative Overview On Climate-Gate”

  1. proreason says:

    Who were those other guys who re-wrote history?

    Oh yeh, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and hundreds of megalomaniac dictators who preceded them.

    But it can’t happen now.

  2. RealLife says:

    Yep, we know the truth. It is obvious that the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists- Those tens of thousands of folks in labs all over the world in different countries and languages with vastly different sources of funding and political preferences have conspired together. Yep, their independently verified data from all over the world across different branches of science have all banded together to scare us. There must be a huge conspiracy theory at play here. Why, this is just like when bigfoot shot JFK on a sound-stage that was later repainted to help film a fake moon landing as part of a Darwinist plot to convince us all that the world is orbiting the sun. When 2012 comes, they’ll see their judgment day! GOD BLESS AMERICA and fark Al Gore’s electric bill! YeHaw!

    Yep, that’s really how you all look to the rest of us. You’re insane jabbering bat brains with a reactionary hatred of all things you don’t understand. We know it and we mock you for it. Congratulations on having caught on to that last part. We do occasionally under-estimate you but can you really blame us? Seriously, you freaks have been on a constant march to attack scientific advancement since the Cold War ended and fancy bombs and spaceships stopped looking so important to you. I hate to break it to you but your Joe Plumber everyman need to be viewed as “Smart enough” by the rest of the world stops working when real thinking and problem solving is required. You can’t bluff this stuff. Not one of you simpletons designs the technology that science provides you with on a daily basis. The airbags in your car, your fancy phones, the medical treatments that save lives every second. All that stuff comes from vigorous research, modeling, and testing through a peer review process and methodology identical to that used in climate science. So when adults are talking, please put the pacifiers back in your mouths until you are actually ready to get a PHD. Then you can be part of the conversation. Yup, college elitist prick here arrogantly telling you that you need an education to be part of the debate. Don’t like that? Fine, next time a loved one falls ill, treat him or her yourself because studying is for elitists. Let us know how that works out when you get back from the funeral. Now that you’re all upset- please remember that I actually agreed with you folks on one thing: It’s time to stop coddling our children! Good luck in the new world, you’re all going to need it.

    • proreason says:

      Maybe you should consider reading the emails and looking at the comments in the computer code instead of venting your spleen

      The so-called scientists conspired for decades to distort the data and hide it from public view.

      Rational people have an issue with that.

      It’s the greatest scam in history.

      And anybody that correlates this scam with “airbags” and “fancy phones” is an airhead.

      Go back to praying at your Obamy altar. Maybe he’ll bless you with some Obamy Bucks.

    • Rusty Shackleford says:


      You failed to make your point.

      The data you refer to was not “independently arrived at and verified separately”. The data the IPCC was using was tainted and incorrectly arrived at. The vocal mouthpieces for this bad data are Algore and a huge variety of other people who claim to be bright and are fostered as such by cronies and lackeys who like their money and the limelight.

      You, yourself have now plainly stated what people despise about “elitists” but you have misunderstood the definition. A person who is genuinely intelligent and fosters that intelligence through higher learning is a true intellectual. But one like Algore who was a “C” student at an ivy league school simply is one of those types who likes exclusivity and is a snob and his behavior clearly demonstrates that. Along with that, many of our former hippy activists from the 60’s are now tenured (but still angry) college professors who have never had a real job, who are just as prone to exclusivity as any other groups of humans.

      Given the choice, would a person want to be with those who agreed with them or those who disagreed?

      My interest in science is based on the fact that when real critical science began, and even before, it was the constant challenging of information and the victory that the evidence spoke for itself.

      There is no evidence that man is causing any kind of warming on this planet. There is no evidence to say he isn’t.

      Our climate models are vague at best. Data taken in from a very small sample cannot give the whole picture. Or it can but the only way to prove that is to —–gather more data.

      What the IPCC was doing was intentionally skewing the data then lying about it then admitting that if they were ever found out it would be bad.

      No one is necessarily saying it’s a “grassy knoll” conspiracy but there are so many people who look at scientists as somehow immune from personal agendas, influence, etc that they just take what they say at face value. Science should not be political, and this climate change crapola is being followed like a religion.

      Note that the suspicion that man could change the Earth’s temperature was first floated in the 50’s. Since then, as it gains more public attention, more people just blindly believe it without knowing anything about science or how the data is gathered etc. So you’re saying the ignorant masses (non-academics) who believe in climate change are somehow more astute observers than those of us who do not?


      Kinda falls flat on its face when you put it that way.

      It’s not academics we despise. It’s academics who look upon the rest of society as troglodytes. I know many an engineer who cannot find the spark plugs to his own car and is more than happy to pay someone $120 an hour to change them. I think that’s pretty stupid.

      I know a lot of guys who fly airplanes but could not design one if you gave them all the tools to do so.

      And I know plenty of aeronautical engineers who can’t fly for s___. No kidding.

      You have made an unfair assessment of why people dismiss elitists. But I’m sure you’ll never see anything more than what you want to see in these posts from concerned people who don’t want more government in their lives and being taxed over a myth.

      Call it whatever you want. You are a liberal. You apparently think that all the book learning in the world will save the planet and all the worker minions will just have to do as the smarter people say. That’s been tried over and over. You fail to recognize that the variety of people’s skills is what makes society work. By your argument….the engineer wants to build a steel structure and has all the materials’ studies done, all the stress analysis is complete but he needs riveters, welders, etc. because he does not know how to weld or rivet and he’s afraid of heights.

      So, yes, I would go to the doctor if I needed medical care…but one I can trust and one who can explain to me what exactly is wrong. If he looks at me and says “you wouldn’t understand” then I’m going to find another doctor.

    • Petronius says:

      This insistence that people who are unqualified to think should leave all thinking to the experts and have faith in the experts’ higher authority, even –– especially –– when the experts are proven liars and frauds who misrepresent data and words in the most shameful manner.

      This raving, this resort to wild accusations and invective.

      This refusal to accept the world as it is, and this lust to control the world and its inhabitants, to change the life of every person in every nook and cranny of the globe.

      This overweening intolerance, and insistence that there be no independent thinking or logic, that there be no criticism of Man-Made-Global-Warming in the country at this precarious time, that there be no criticism of anything at any time.

      All of this is characteristic of ideological thinking in general, and of Liberalism in particular.

    • bronzeprofessor says:

      Dear Real Life,

      Hi, before I address your statement above, I would like to share my credentials — not because I think these degrees make me better than anyone, but merely to illustrate my authority to weigh in on Climategate.

      I received a PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo, in English (2003), and a BA from Yale, in Political Science (1993). I also received an MA from Buffalo, in Classics (2007), which I completed at night school while I was already a full-time tenure track professor. I am fluent in seven languages.

      While I was in graduate school, I was editor in chief of the graduate monthly magazine — this was not a peer-review publication. I came to see the difference between peer review and editorial review.

      Since 2003, I have published about 20 articles in non-peer-review periodicals, and eight peer-review articles. The peer review articles are on the following topics: “Thoreau, Homer, and Community”; “The Orientalization of John Winthrop in Edgar Allan Poe”; “Discipline and Demonize: Reading Enemies by Reading the Greeks”; “The Colors of Double Exceptionalism: African America and the Founders”; “Latino Sexuality”; “A Christian Boy and a Proud Man of Color”; “Buffalo — 1997”; “The Rhetoric of Whiteness in the Clintonian Era.”

      I am also currently director of the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Cal State Northridge, and in such capacity, I organized a conference “Sex and the Nation State: Gender Research and National Security.” For the latter conference I screened 56 proposals through a blind review process involving independent readers from Political Science, English, Philosophy, History, Asian American Studies, and the US Army. We chose 9 papers and will publish 15 based on the proposals.

      Okay– my point is, I am an academic with very substantial credentials and a lot of experience with peer review. I am not a “scientist” but I know very well how peer review is supposed to work.

      I am also a conservative Christian, registered Republican, and active member of the United States Army Reserves. There are people who reach high levels of education, attain proficiency in the scholarship that underlies liberal political thought, and still end up conservative.

      But my main reaction to your post is to say, you need to look past the Left/Right partisanship and take stock of the seriousness of these scientists’ crime against academic standards.

      The climate researchers who are now coming under attack have engaged in inexcusable behavior that totally contradicts the very essence of peer review, as well as academic integrity in general. I don’t care if these scientists were elitists — heck, I am an elitist in my own right — and that isn’t the point. Peer review processes cannot be manipulated through pressure on editors, falsification of data, or threats to have people’s doctorates revoked.

      As an established, published academic with a lot of experience in peer review, I assure you, what happened in Climategate is severe and the repercussions will be enormous. Forget who’s conservative or liberal, the world must contend with the gravity of this terrible situation.

      Robert O. Lopez, PhD

    • David says:

      As a soon to be PhD (not a PHD, whatever that is) in Mechanical Engineering (with MS, and BS in the same) does that qualify me to talk with your greatness Mr./Ms. RealLife? I can’t say it any better then the Professor did, but I will add this. Every peer review I have taken part in (mostly American Society of Mechanical Engineering) specifically asks reviewers to determine if calculations are correct. This deletion of source data represents one of two major failures.
      1) These journals do not require thorough evaluation by peer review making them as authoritative as “because I said so” or
      2) Peer reviewers within this group are so intellectually inbred that they knowingly ignore requirements to actually review data or are attempting to cover up the fact that they have no idea how to reach those same conclusions.
      RealLife, will you trust your financial future and that of your children to anyone with a PhD?
      By the way, there are not “tens of thousands” working specifically on climate change prediction. There are many who are citing “climate change” to fund a whole host of tangential interests. But citing a conclusion 5000 times doesn’t make it true if no one verifies it.

    • oldswimcoach says:

      PhD candidate here. You’re full of crap. If you had any intellectually integrity you would see the academic dishonesty and unethical research practices identified in the e-mails and by the use of data manipulation as opposed to data analysis.

    • caligirl9 says:

      I’ve worked in the academic publishing industry for ten years. I’ve earned a B.S. and an M.A. Sick of school so no Ph.D. for me.

      “Peer review” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

      I recently edited a publication that is chock full of flawed research that is the result of a leading/misleading, biased and poorly worded questionnaire. The resulting study was peer reviewed—by people who want the results of that study to be true (it has to do with the willingness to pay higher taxes to “save” the environment).

      The extremely liberal Ph.D. author with no real-world experience is now doing the “academic circuit” spewing these results and more than once has been called on the faulty research questionnaire whose results could have come out the way she wanted them to. Thus far it’s been presented in Washington, D.C. a couple of times, along with Texas and Florida. The audiences gobble it up eagerly in D.C. and buy the results hook, line and sinker, but audiences in Texas and Florida ream the researcher a new one when they see how biased and one-sided the whole study is. When someone asks her the hard questions, she shrugs, hems and haws and changes the subject,

      A good peer reviewer is skeptical and questioning. If you have a poor study, you go looking for peer reviewers who want to support your poor study.

      Anyone who is skeptical about climate change will not be asked to participate in any peer review of any study that is designed to prove climate change is true. That’s the beauty of statistics. You can make them say and/or prove whatever you want as long as you “ask” the right questions and choose your supporting data carefully. A skeptical and honest researcher will adhere to proper methodology but we don’t want that with climate change and only several hundred years of weather/climate data.

    • ptat says:

      the reallife coward has left the room! too many S&L Big Guns showed up! that wasn’t a fair fight, guys!

  3. Dave2882 says:

    On her blog, Lucia explains how to make a hockey stick chart out of random data:

    She notes:
    “Also notice that when I do this, the “blue proxie reconstruction” prior to 1960 is quite smooth. In fact, because the proxies are not sensitive, the past history prior to the “calibration” period looks unchanging. If the current period has an uptick, applying this method to red noise will make the current uptick look “unprecedented”. (The same would happen if the current period had a down turn, except we’d have unprecedented cooling. )”

    For more context:

    Among other things, the article at that last link talks about the supposed statistical justification for the hockey stick (a tortured version of RE) and pretty much makes a mockery out of it.

  4. proreason says:

    “The notion that complex climate “catastrophes” are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate”

    But what does Richard S. Lindzen know? Has he ever tricked a computer program? Has he ever created a hockey stick with an algorythm that would do so with telephone numbers?

    He’s only a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Another denier. He’s probably a science hater who wants to get back at “fancy phones” or something.


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