Bad News for Deniers: Grown-ups Weigh in on Email Leftovers
November 23, 2011
The Journalistic first-stringers are starting to react, and climate denialists don’t like it – note the title of the snippet from BBC above, posted on youtube, apparently by a disgruntled climate-conspiracy crank – “AlJaBeeba Does Climategate 2”.
Hmmm, I’m guessing the anti-muslim slur is a clue, once again, as to the intellectual strata we are dealing with…..
24 hours in, one thing that’s different from round one, 2 years ago, is that scientists, bloggers and journalists on the side of reason have become organized and ready to respond to these guerilla attacks, and within hours of the first release, there was a major, organized push-back on the web, with top level scientists weighing in and putting out-of-context material in perspective.
It appears that the rapidly-jelling mainstream perspective will indeed be guided by the maxim “Fool me once…”
OK, now I can go pick up my turkey.
The new e-mails appeared remarkably similar to the ones released two years ago just ahead of a similar conference in Copenhagen. They involved the same scientists and many of the same issues, and some of them carried a similar tone: catty remarks by the scientists, often about papers written by others in the field.
A string of investigations following the 2009 release all came to the conclusion that scientists had not manipulated data to support their findings, though some of the reports did criticize them on minor points, such as failing to share their data or to respond properly to freedom of information requests.
Michael E. Mann, a Pennsylvania State University scientist who wrote or received some of the e-mails, said they showed the opposite of any conspiracy, demonstrating instead that climate science is a vigorous enterprise where scientists were free to argue over conclusions. “Scientists rely on the ability to have frank, sometimes even contentious discussions with each other,” Dr. Mann said in an interview Tuesday. “Science requires that.”
In one of the e-mails, Raymond S. Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, criticized a paper that Dr. Mann wrote with the climate scientist Phil Jones, which used tree rings and similar markers to find that today’s climatic warming had no precedent in recent natural history. Dr. Bradley, who has often collaborated with Dr. Mann, wrote that the 2003 paper “was truly pathetic and should never have been published.”
Dr. Bradley confirmed in an interview that the e-mail was his, but said his comment had no bearing on whether global warming was really happening. “I did not like that paper at all, and I stand by that, and I am sure that I told Mike that” at the time, he said. But he added that a disagreement over a single paper had little to do with the overall validity of climate science. “There is no doubt we have a big problem with human-induced warming,” Dr. Bradley said. “Mike’s paper has no bearing on the fundamental physics of the problem that we are facing.”
Some of the other e-mails involved comments about problems with the computer programs used to forecast future climate, known as climate models. For instance, a cryptic e-mail apparently sent by Dr. Jones, a researcher at East Anglia, said, “Basic problem is that all models are wrong — not got enough middle and low level clouds.”
Gavin A. Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA, said he found such exchanges unremarkable. He noted that difficulties in modeling were widely acknowledged and disclosed in the literature. Indeed, such problems are often discussed at scientific meetings in front of hundreds of people.
Of the new release of e-mails, Dr. Schmidt said, “It smacks of desperation.”
The “new” emails (not new in that they are from 2009 and earlier) – while trumpeted by some climate skeptics as “spectacular” and draining life from the manmade global warming movement – mean little substantively from a scientific standpoint, just like the set that preceded them.
The climate skeptic blogosphere has been quick to cherry pick certain snippets from the emails they claim show dissension within the climate science ranks, perhaps to demonstrate scientists may express more doubt about their confidence in the science in private than they do in public.
Otherwise the new batch of emails seem to add little to what was raised two years ago. Climate scientists—especially when you quote selectively from emails they think are not for public viewing—can be hypersensitive to criticism and clannish. Within the climate science world, there are clearly differences of opinions on aspects of climate science, on the certainty of models and on the confidence we can have in any sweeping assessment of global warming. Those differences come out in the emails, sometimes very bluntly—but that to me isn’t evidence of some kind of international conspiracy, but rather the not always pretty process of science and collective decision-making happening in real time.
Here’s an example: in the Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin quotes one of the hacked emails:
An official from the U.K. Met Office [Peter Thorne], a scientific organization which analyzes the climate, writes to the Climate Research Unit’s then-director Phil Jones at one point: “Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary […]”
Later, the official adds, “I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”
That might sound bad, although again, this appears to be part of a back-and-forth. But as Jocelyn Fong of the liberal press watchdog group Media Matters writes, these emails were sent in February 2005 and were discussing a first draft of what would become part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment. The final version of the chapter the two scientists were quarreling about seemed to reflect Thorne’s concerns, and cited his research several times. Isn’t that what this process supposed to be about?
Climate skeptics see gold in the latest batch of stolen emails from a British university server, purportedly showing that scientists colluded and propped up their data to demonstrate that greenhouse gases are changing the planet.
But just as a similar 2009 document dump mattered little in unraveling the scientific consensus on global warming, the 5,300 new emails and other files that surfaced on a Russian computer server Tuesday inspired little worry among researchers that the fact of human-caused climate change is in danger of being undermined.