Time’s Explanation of the East Anglia Emails

Time has summarized the controversy surrounding the hacked emails from researchers at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia. Here is the section on the interpretation of the email:

To global warming doubters, the CRU emails are the new Pentagon Papers, proof that the powers that be — in this case, international climate scientists — are engaged in outright fraud and were exposed only by a brave whistleblower.

Many skeptics argue that the case for man-made global warming has been essentially undone, and that before the world goes any further in considering action to control greenhouse gas emissions, all scientific evidence for warming must be reevaluated. Jones’s email about Mann’s “trick” appears to indicate that climate researchers have been actively manipulating scientific data to better fit their models on climate change, while other e-mails seemingly confirm what skeptics had long suspected — that the globe in recent years wasn’t warming as fast as theories on climate change had assumed. Most of all, the tone of the CRU e-mails suggests that climate scientists are mired in groupthink, utterly resistant to skeptical viewpoints and willing to use pressure to silence dissenters of the global warming mainstream. In other words, the e-mails showed what Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner called “scientific fascism,” which he argues is “at worst…junk science” and “part of an international scientific fraud.”

Climate scientists are taking the e-mail controversy seriously. Inquiries are underway at University of East Anglia and Penn State, and IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri has said that the controversy cannot be “swept under the carpet,” promising also that the U.N. body will examine the emails independently. But global-warming skeptics have already declared victory. “It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change,” said Mohammed Al-Sabban, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator, according to the BBC.

4. Do the emails weaken the scientific case for global warming? Put it this way: when it comes to climate science analysis from the representative of the world’s biggest oil-producing state, it’s wise to be suspicious. In the weeks since the e-mails first became public, many climate scientists and policy experts have looked through them, and they report that the correspondence does not contradict the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming, which has been decades in the making. “The content of the stolen e-mails has no impact whatsoever on our overall understanding that human activity is driving dangerous levels of global warming,” wrote 25 leading U.S. scientists in a letter to Congress on Dec. 4. “The body of evidence that underlies our understanding of human-caused global warming remains robust.”

According to PSU’s Mann, that statistical “trick” that Jones refers to in one e-mail — which has been trumpeted by skeptics — simply referred to the replacing of proxy temperature data from tree rings in recent years with more accurate data from air temperatures. It’s an analytical technique that has been openly discussed in scientific journals for over a decade — hardly the stuff of conspiracy.

As for Mann and Jones’ apparent effort to punish the journal Climate Research, the paper that ignited his indignation is a 2003 study that turned out to be underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute. Eventually half the editorial board of the journal quit in protest. And even if CRU’s climate data turns out to have some holes, the group is only one of four major agencies, including NASA, that contribute temperature data to major climate models — and CRU’s data largely matches up with the others’.

It’s true that the e-mails reveal CRU climate scientists were dismissive of skeptics, often in harsh terms, but that’s not unusual for scientists. Science is a rough arena, as anyone who has ever survived a doctoral examination knows, and scientists aren’t shy about attacking ideas they believe are wrong — especially in private communication. Still, Jones et al. could have been more open and accepting of their critics, and if it turns out that e-mails were deleted in response to the Freedom of Information request for data, heads should roll. (Jones maintains that no e-mails or documents were deleted.)

Ultimately, though, we need to place Climategate/Swifthack in its proper context: amidst a decades-long effort by the fossil fuel industry and other climate skeptics to undercut global warming research — often by means that are far more nefarious than anything that appears in the CRU e-mails. George W. Bush’s Administration attempted to censor NASA climatologist James Hansen, while the fossil-fuel industry group the Global Climate Coalition ignored its own scientists as it spread doubt about man-made global warming. That list of wrongdoing goes on. One of the main skeptic groups promoting the e-mail controversy, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, was recently revealed to have links to the energy company Exxon-Mobil, which has long funded climate-change deniers. “This is being used to confuse the public,” says blogger James Hoggan, whose new book Climate Cover-Up details Exxon-Mobil’s campaign. “This is not a legitimate scientific issue.”

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Johannes says:

    I agree with the last part, if there is a conspiracy then the conspiracy is concerned with downplaying climate change and keeping the world from engaging in meaningful co-operation in the interests of our planet.

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