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The climategate affair
View related content: Climate Change
Climate skeptics are having a field day, celebrating the firestorm of controversy surrounding the UK’s Hadley Center Climate Research Unit (CRU), until recently, the world’s leading climate research center. One skeptic, a Canadian named Steve McIntyre has particular cause for doing a happy dance over the misery of the CRU.
If you’ve been living without an internet connection, here’s a quick overview of l’affaire Climategate. On November 17, someone posted to the internet a vast archive of materials that had been hacked or leaked from the CRU, including numerous emails, documents, computer code, and data. While all of the information has not been verified as 100% correct, none of the people cited have denied that the documents are legitimate, and some outside entities engaged in the e-mail exchanges have confirmed that they are genuine.
“Many skeptics have had their doubts about the climate data championed by the IPCC and the CRU, but one of them, Canadian Steve McIntyre a retired mathematician and policy analyst, decided to do something about it.”–Kenneth P. Green
Bloggers and skeptics immediately tore into the package, and found evidence suggesting that CRU scientists exaggerated warming; worked furiously to hide their data from outside examination; may have conspired to actually delete information to avoid freedom of information requests, and may have conspired to keep contrary findings from being published in respected climate journals, and IPCC reports.
The data manipulation that has been most seized upon by bloggers involves the choice of which sources of temperature data should be used to reflect climate trends after 1960.
Because thermometer based measurements of the climate are only about 150 years old (and are quite spotty for much of that time), when scientists set out to construct long-term estimates of temperature trends, they use what are called “proxies,” such as tree-ring measurements that ostensibly reveal the temperatures that the tree experienced as it grew.
As it happens, the tree-ring proxies match up with the thermometer measurements up until about 1960, when there is a “divergence” between the two sets of data. The tree rings indicate a global cooling after 1960, while the thermometer data indicates a sharp warming. The CRU scientists decided to simply stop using the inconveniently non-warming tree-ring data after 1960. In one email, this is discussed as a “trick” developed by Michael Mann, the creator of the infamous climate “hockey stick chart,” that would “hide the decline” shown by the tree-rings, and emphasize the recent spike in thermometer data, preserving the sanctity of the hockey stick.
Many skeptics have had their doubts about the climate data championed by the IPCC and the CRU, but one of them, Canadian Steve McIntyre a retired mathematician and policy analyst, decided to do something about it. McIntyre has been indefatigable in his efforts to get the raw data, and computer codes from the climate science community so that he could check whether or not their work was straight.
But the climate scientists at CRU and elsewhere have denied McIntyre’s information requests for years–Phil Jones even emailed that he’d destroy the data rather than let McIntyre have it.
The main excuse was that some of the raw data had been provided to CRU with strings on it preventing release. Surprisingly, within days of Climategate, the Hadley center has announced that it got all of those nasty strings cut, and voila!—are now free to release the data. That is, the data they haven’t “lost,” which supposedly includes most of the raw temperature data they ever collected.
Finally, and most troubling, are the suggestions that a tribe of incestuous climate scientists may have actively conspired to undermine the peer-review process.
The climate change industry, along with people like Al Gore have slammed skeptics for not publishing in the peer reviewed literature. What the Climategate documents reveal is that this small group of scientists, who often peer-review each other’s work as well as skeptical articles, have discussed ways of keeping findings they don’t like out of the peer-reviewed literature as well as the IPCC reports, even if it required trying to oust editors, boycotting certain journals, or to reclassifying a prestigious journal that publishes skeptical articles as a fringe journal unworthy of consideration. They also discuss their specific intention to exclude contrary findings from the IPCC reports, even if they “have to redefine what the peer-reviewed literature is!”
Science is vitally important for the operation of highly technological society, and that science must be open, transparent, and must adhere to the scientific method. The institution of science has no place in it for hiding data, hiding data-processing, shaping data to conform to pre-existing beliefs, undermining the peer-review process, cherry-picking reports in order to slant political IPCC reports, or slandering critics by comparing them with flat-earthers, moon-landing conspiracy theorists, or holocaust deniers. Let the Climategate hearings begin.
Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at AEI.
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