A week before last Thanksgiving, a news story broke about a large number of emails that had been hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU), one of the leading climatology research groups responsible for advancing the theory of man-made global warming and providing data to support that theory. The hacked emails were presented in a way that suggested scientists had deliberately falsified data to build the case for global warming. Climate change deniers came out in force claiming that the stolen emails offered proof of a deliberate fraud. Some even went as far as to suggest that the entire findings of the IPCC should be overturned. Saudi climate negotiator Mohammad Al-Sabban said, “It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change.”
Snippets taken out of context certainly did give that impression, even to those who did not want it to be true.
However, in a 63-page, March 31st ruling, the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons concluded, “We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus.”
There was surprisingly little coverage of the exoneration in the mainstream media, especially when compared to the frenzy over the original allegations.
The emails had been taken out of context and pieced together as one might a jig-saw puzzle to reveal a picture of corrupt, ideologically-driven scientists tampering with data to make it more conveniently fit the story of The Inconvenient Truth, which links human activities with the onset of a catastrophic shift of our planetary climate system.
For example, one email from CRU director Phil Jones, who had temporarily stepped aside while the investigation of the matter was underway, read, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” This certainly could be construed to be an attempt to hide an “inconvenient” actual decline in temperature during a time when the models that climatologists were using to advance their theory claimed that it should have been rising.
This however, is simply not the case. Anyone who had taken the time to actually read these emails in their entirety, would have discovered that, in context, the remark refers specifically to certain tree ring data, that appeared to decline when other far more reliable data (such as from thermometers) were showing an increase. Tree ring data is of the many proxy sources the scientists use to construct temperature records when other data is not available. “Mike” in the note refers to Michael Mann, the lead author of a study published in Nature entitled Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries (Mann 1998), which explained the divergence between the tree ring data and existing temperature records.
Which is why the investigating committee reported, “Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.”
The timing of the leaks was effective, as it was no doubt intended, in taking much wind out of the sails of the US delegation that was about to take off for Copenhagen, hoping to do something about the climate problem. I think we all know what happened there. Apparently, the impression still lingers. According to a recent Gallup Poll 48 percent of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated. This is up from 31 percent in 2006.
The problem was that few, if any, people actually bothered to read through all 60 MB of data comprising well over 1000 emails spanning a period of thirteen years. Those who had, like Peter Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor, seem to agree that, ““Nothing in the package appears to overturn the general idea—arrived at via many lines of evidence—that the CO2 humans have been pumping into the atmosphere is warming the planet, nor does anything bolster the notion some put forward of a hoax on the part of climate scientists.”
Others, like Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, found the reading fascinating, painting a picture of the scientists that, while not always saint-like in their remarks about their adversaries, are hardworking, dedicated and sympathetic given the fierce politically-motivated opposition they face on a daily basis. “The enormous volume of emails give a picture of thoroughly decent scientists increasingly finding themselves in a nightmare. One refers to the atmosphere moving to something akin to that created by Joseph R. McCarthy. Their professional reputations are suddenly at risk. They write each other in disbelief, protesting “I have never been political. I am an honest scientist.” They are threatened, and “sting” operation FOI (freedom of information act) requests are set up to ensnare them and keep them from doing their work.”
Another, perhaps more skeptical source, factcheck.org said, “It’s clear from the e-mails that there are people with whom the scientists would rather not share. What’s less clear is whether any deliberate obstruction actually occurred—that’s one of the subjects of the East Anglia investigation.”
The investigation concluded that, “The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.”
The Pew Center on Climate Change lists 39 renowned agencies, ranging from the World Meteorological Association to the American Medical Association that have re-affirmed their support of the IPCC findings “that global warming has begun, is very likely caused by man, and will be unstoppable for centuries….”
And White House science adviser John Holdren said, at a recent congressional hearing on the subject, “”However this particular controversy comes out, the result will not call into question the bulk of our understanding of how the climate works or how humans are affecting it.”
Meanwhile, the hacker who exposed the scientists’ emails remains at large.