Saturday, 21 November 2009

'Scandal' over hacked climate-science emails at UEA: Don't believe the hype

The 'scandal' of the hacked emails from Environmental Science at UEA (http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/homepagenews/CRU-update - this includes a direct rebuttal of the single seemingly most-damaging email, the 'trick' email), my University, has been gotten out of all proportion in some of the right-wing media, old and new. I have now read a good number of the 'worst' of the hacked emails. I also know a few of the protagonists personally, and for human-interest value the hacked emails certainly do offer some tidbits. But: When the dust settles, I predict that the climate-deniers will be left holding onto hardly anything, here. There is so far as I can tell at this (still-admittedly-early) stage no significant scientific scandal, and most importantly absolutely no reason to doubt any of the fundamentals of the science of manmade climate change here, just a few unpleasant or silly or (at worst) unwise and bad-practice emails. Scientists aren't angels; like the rest of us, they sometimes get angry with their detractors, and even work to marginalise them, and so on.
Some good that may come out of this is:
1) For more people to realise that scientists are simply human, and that science is not holy writ, but to realise too that these facts and the poor behaviour at times of some scientists doesn't in itself cast any doubt over the central findings of their research. To doubt the greenhouse effect or to doubt manmade contributions to dangerous climate change is about as sensible as doubting manmade contributions to lung cancer (The two cases are actually quite similar - both involve pollution of a finite air-system; and both have seen long well-funded campaigns of denial... The smoking companies got away with manmade-lung-cancer-denial for a whole generation, before they were finally 'smoked out'.)
(2) There are quite a lot of calls now for the full data-sets which the best British climate scientists base their work and their predictions on to be made fully public. That would I think be welcome - it would among other things dispose of the climate-sceptics' silly accusations of there being a conspiracy here, of something big being hidden.
(3) There do seem to be a few instances in the hacked emails - if these particular ones are genuine - of clearly unethical and possibly unlawful behaviour. If this hacking episode means that there is less of that in future, then that will of course be a very positive result.

As a philosopher of science, it worries me to see the level of ignorance displayed by many of those who are jumping all over this leaked information as if it undermines the science around global over-heat. Except possibly in some literally marginal ways, it simply does not, once you understand the context of most of these emails.
But changes (1) thru (3) are nevertheless potentially good news for science and for all of us.

17 Comments:

Blogger Francis Turner said...

What we have here (so far) is indeed mostly embarrassing. But not all. Some of it is definitely documented unethical behaviour and possibly (e.g. collusion to fire editors and duck FOI requests) illegal.

In the long term I suspect (once the legal bit has been dealt with) the real body blow is going to be to the credibility of Science and Climate Science in particular.

If it leads to people being skeptical and actually testing things themselves then it s a good thing. But me fear is that it will lead to people being more likely to belief unscientific tosh (and no I'm not referring to tree-ring proxies). Rather, it probably means more people dabbling in alternative medicine and ducking vaccines and that's a very bad thing.

21 November 2009 at 20:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before I form a view on any of this I would like to be able to inspect all e-mails ever sent or received by

(a) Anyone connected with the major oil companies.
(b) At least a few of those who have been most vocal in their scepticism to man-made climate change.

21 November 2009 at 20:42  
Blogger Rupert said...

Francis: agreed.
Anonymous: agreed, in the sense that it is very unfair that we have been shown these private climate-science emails, and yet the emails of fossil-fuel-denialists and their stooges remain closed to us - and they are probably FAR worse.

22 November 2009 at 09:58  
Blogger Rupert said...

People (e.g. John Daly) going on about the lack of a temperature rise if you exclude El Nino and La Nina are committing a complete non-sequitur, because, even if one accepts the claim, then it doesn't follow that this shows the lack of any human-induced temperature rise - because El Nino has been getting more common in recent years, almost certainly due to global over-heat! Some climatologists and meteorologists are afraid that continued temperature rise may push the world into a permanent El Nino state. In that case, would 'sceptics' stil say that there was no net temperature rise, because if you excluded El Nino events there would be no net temperature rise??!!

22 November 2009 at 10:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rupert - on what basis do you say:

"because El Nino has been getting more common in recent years, almost certainly due to global over-heat!"

What is the scientific basis on which you make that comment?

I work DIRECTLY in this field - related to Global Warming and have not been informed that we should include any stats based on that.

Why do you think we should and on whose authority do you base those remarks?

22 November 2009 at 20:45  
Blogger DocRichard said...

My feeling is that the scientific community should commission a re-evaluation of the papers referred to in the leaks. Forthwith, if not before. In order to restore faith in climate science work generally.

I share Francis' enthusiasm for looking at denialist emails. Maybe we will one day.

The emails show that peer review is not all it's made out to be, in terms of checking validity.

The other thing that should emerge from this is a readable, clear, accurate booklet on AGW, which intercepts the sceptics' questions. Maybe there are good ones about, maybe they need updating. The public is often in two minds about AGW, which is a serious drag on the amount that leaders will be able to to at Copenhagen and after.

This leak could increase the numbers of general public who doubt AGW.

22 November 2009 at 21:21  
Anonymous Azon 459 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

23 November 2009 at 09:09  
Blogger Rupert said...

In response to Anonymous: Try these links:
http://www.aussmc.org/ChangingElNinopatterns.php
http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2009/09/25/time-for-el-ninos-half-brother-to-take-a-bow/
http://www.noonsite.com/Members/sue/R2009-10-01-2
http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P1-125770435.html
I think the evidence is pretty powerful. [Maybe I wasn't clear enough in my earlier comment that I was referring partly to this 'son of El Nino' phenomenon. Apologies if that was what misled you.]

23 November 2009 at 10:51  
Blogger Rupert said...

In terms of how the debate around the 'scandal' is developing, check out my twitterfeed, at left - lots of good links on there. [#cru is the best hashtag for this.]

23 November 2009 at 12:15  
Blogger Rupert said...

The discussion continues, HERE:
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rupert-read/real-scandal-in-hacked-climate-change-e-mails-controversy

25 November 2009 at 17:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who manages data for a living, i can tell you two things - programmers suck for the most part, and data and statistics are often dummied up to get the result the person wants. not to say that nothing is reliable, but let's think here -... hmmmm.. CRU Email is hacked. how about all that data? trustworthy now? i think not. when you get 0wned, you lose everything - you must wipe out all your data and restore from known, good , intruder-less backups. what if the hacker had access for months prior? hmmm.. the whole thing is about a big a mess as can be. yikes.. people really dont' get it. it's not about emails or pissy scientists. it's the data, and it's SHIT, google and READ README_HARRY.txt and see for yourself. the data was cooked prior to the hack, who cares at this point. start over, fire these idiots... lol

30 November 2009 at 03:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the gist of this blog posting.

I believe these e-mails are fairly damning in themselves, and indicate there may be much more to be learned in this scandal: These scientists discussed deleting e-mails and data that they thought did not follow their pre-conceived notions; so how do we know that there were not many more damning little tidbits that did not see the light of day?

At worst, we have a full-blown scandal of proportions almost unheard of in recent times, a regular Maidoff-style meltdown. Even at best we have deceitful scientists who are not following correct scientific protocol.

Worst case: Prison time for the evil scammers, very long prison time, like 10-15 years: They tried to trick the whole world, very evil and audacious, deserves a long stay in jail.

Best case: Careers ruined for some tricky scientists. In the same way the financial idiots were shamed, these scientists need to be upbraided in public and have their careers ended.

And the worst of this all: If man-induced climate changes are real, these fools have done more to hurt their own cause than any vast right-wing conspiracy could ever have done!!

Note: If you are a scientist, DO NOT fudge your data, do not lie, do not try to trick people because you have an agenda. Let the science be what it is. There is no excuse for fudging the data, period.

5 December 2009 at 16:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About this thread of "lets see the denier's e-mail":

We know that "deniers" are evil stooges of the oil companies, right?

Wrong! What if they are just ordinary folks who do not believe in human-induced global warming?

To win over those folks, you have to show real evidence, be willing to show your data, no tricks or cover-up. Most people who are not scientists need to have trust in the science to be convinced.

At this time, the climate science is like a religion: Most in the general population cannot understand the data or the math. But they are NOT fools, just not educated in the science. So they need to have faith and trust.

But now, you have pretty damming evidence that the scientists have been "cooking the books" for years. In the eyes of the general public, that totally destroys any confidence in what is being shown to them.

Climate science is now a religion that is in disrepute, its gods are now believed to be false.

You should not be defending what these guys did, you should be arguing they need to be fired and prosecuted!

5 December 2009 at 16:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The real scandal is that the human race has neither paid enough attention to the climate scientists nor changed its (by which I mean our) way of life so that that life can go on."

No, I think the real scandal is that these scientists may have been lying for years. Who pays attention to known or suspected LIARS?

Some have said that the bad behavior of a few scientists is no reason to deny human-induced climate change.

I would reply that to the extent the "bad behavior" has fudged and falsified the data and conclusion, there absolutely is every reason to doubt the research and conclusions.

I do not want to get into personal attacks on these researchers, I just want to know if they have been falsifying the data for years.

Now we have evidence they did falsify the data, we need an open hearing on this. No more hidden data and secret methods, lets get it out in the open.

The general public needs to trust when scientists speak. Having now seen these guys are not worthy of our trust, why shouldn't we be angry and untrusting of their words and work?

Can you even imagine that YOU might have been fooled by all this? Your own conclusions might be based on FALSE DATA!!

I suggest that a court of law or congressional hearing might be a good place to start getting at the truth; lets see if these all self-important scientists are willing to testify under oath about their data and methods!

5 December 2009 at 16:59  
Blogger Paul said...

Rupert,

Re: "In response to Anonymous: Try these links:"

Your first link is a press release that refers to a 'new kind' of El Niño dubbed El Niño Modoki and that it is 'expected to occur 5 times more often by the late 21st century'.

My understanding is that it's not 'new', that the term El Nino Modoki derived itself from post-paper publication and that it does not appear in the original paper but CPW (Central Pacific Warming) and EPW (Eastern Pacific Warming) does. I've also read somewhere that the El Niño could be see as two modes: the CPW and the EPW. As far as 'expected' is concerned this 'expectation' is derived from computer models and therefore can only be seen as a possibility.

Your second link is better in that it states that this so-called Modoki 'may' become more common. At the end of the article it states that researchers need to find out more about this phenomenon (my bold).

Your third link seems to be a report of a report (?) and dramatically reports of a 'new type of El Niño climate anomaly that is (my bold) occurring with more and more frequency'. This cannot be correct as the effect has only been modelled - it is a possibility indicated by modelling. Later the post appears to suggest that the authors of the paper have said that this 'new type of El Niño will (my bold) happen five times more often'. Again it's not 'will' but 'possibly'. Further on a researcher is quoted as saying 'There is an ongoing debate in the scientific literature about whether global warming will lead to more "El Nino-like" circulation changes in the Pacific or not'. Unfortunately in his next sentence this researcher is quoted using the 'will' word.

Your forth link is to an excerpt regarding a study in 2006 that suggests the El Niño was more common in the distant past (my bold). The excerpt refers to ancient corals (my bold) & giant clams. Now if I remember my geology module @ college correctly (it was over 20 years ago!) then my interpretation of this excerpt is that the study's use of the term 'distant past' refers to geologic time and not the more 'recent' time scales that AGW tends to deal with.

Happy to be corrected on anything I've said.

7 December 2009 at 23:15  
Blogger Rupert said...

Anonymous: Please stop making potentially-libellous comments, or I will have to remove them / moderate you again.

11 December 2009 at 09:38  
Blogger Rupert said...

Paul; thanks, some good points there. I may have been misled somewhat by the 3rd link.
The key point is this: There is some evidence that El Nino events are already becoming more common. There is some evidence that El Nino type events will become much more common. Read Mike Davis's superb book, LATE VICTORIAN HOLOCAUSTS: if El Nino events become more common, or even permanent, as a result of dangerous manmade climate change, then this will be a disaster for humankind. It would be totally mad, under those circumstances, and facing that risk, to hold onto the empty claim that 'temperatures have not risen outside El Nino years'. It was that LOGICAL point that I was primarily making in my comment above.

11 December 2009 at 09:42  

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25. 26. 'Scandal' over hacked climate-science emails at UEA: Don't believe the hype 27. 28.

29.
The 'scandal' of the hacked emails from Environmental Science at UEA (http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/homepagenews/CRU-update - this includes a direct rebuttal of the single seemingly most-damaging email, the 'trick' email), my University, has been gotten out of all proportion in some of the right-wing media, old and new. I have now read a good number of the 'worst' of the hacked emails. I also know a few of the protagonists personally, and for human-interest value the hacked emails certainly do offer some tidbits. But: When the dust settles, I predict that the climate-deniers will be left holding onto hardly anything, here. There is so far as I can tell at this (still-admittedly-early) stage no significant scientific scandal, and most importantly absolutely no reason to doubt any of the fundamentals of the science of manmade climate change here, just a few unpleasant or silly or (at worst) unwise and bad-practice emails. Scientists aren't angels; like the rest of us, they sometimes get angry with their detractors, and even work to marginalise them, and so on.
Some good that may come out of this is:
1) For more people to realise that scientists are simply human, and that science is not holy writ, but to realise too that these facts and the poor behaviour at times of some scientists doesn't in itself cast any doubt over the central findings of their research. To doubt the greenhouse effect or to doubt manmade contributions to dangerous climate change is about as sensible as doubting manmade contributions to lung cancer (The two cases are actually quite similar - both involve pollution of a finite air-system; and both have seen long well-funded campaigns of denial... The smoking companies got away with manmade-lung-cancer-denial for a whole generation, before they were finally 'smoked out'.)
(2) There are quite a lot of calls now for the full data-sets which the best British climate scientists base their work and their predictions on to be made fully public. That would I think be welcome - it would among other things dispose of the climate-sceptics' silly accusations of there being a conspiracy here, of something big being hidden.
(3) There do seem to be a few instances in the hacked emails - if these particular ones are genuine - of clearly unethical and possibly unlawful behaviour. If this hacking episode means that there is less of that in future, then that will of course be a very positive result.

As a philosopher of science, it worries me to see the level of ignorance displayed by many of those who are jumping all over this leaked information as if it undermines the science around global over-heat. Except possibly in some literally marginal ways, it simply does not, once you understand the context of most of these emails.
But changes (1) thru (3) are nevertheless potentially good news for science and for all of us.
To find out more, the best place to go is:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/
30. 31. 32.