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The CRU hack

Filed under: — group @ 20 November 2009

As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia webmail server were hacked recently (Despite some confusion generated by Anthony Watts, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Hadley Centre which is a completely separate institution). As people are also no doubt aware the breaking into of computers and releasing private information is illegal, and regardless of how they were obtained, posting private correspondence without permission is unethical. We therefore aren’t going to post any of the emails here. We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day.

Nonetheless, these emails (a presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12) are being widely circulated, and therefore require some comment. Some of them involve people here (and the archive includes the first RealClimate email we ever sent out to colleagues) and include discussions we’ve had with the CRU folk on topics related to the surface temperature record and some paleo-related issues, mainly to ensure that posting were accurate.

Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

It’s obvious that the noise-generating components of the blogosphere will generate a lot of noise about this. but it’s important to remember that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times. Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.

No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

The timing of this particular episode is probably not coincidental. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn’t much to it.

There are of course lessons to be learned. Clearly no-one would have gone to this trouble if the academic object of study was the mating habits of European butterflies. That community’s internal discussions are probably safe from the public eye. But it is important to remember that emails do seem to exist forever, and that there is always a chance that they will be inadvertently released. Most people do not act as if this is true, but they probably should.

It is tempting to point fingers and declare that people should not have been so open with their thoughts, but who amongst us would really be happy to have all of their email made public?

Let he who is without PIN cast the the first stone.

Update: The official UEA statement is as follows:

“We are aware that information from a server used for research information
in one area of the university has been made available on public websites,”
the spokesman stated.

“Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm
that all of this material is genuine.”

“This information has been obtained and published without our permission
and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from
operation.”

“We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved
the police in this enquiry.”

Update II: Please comment on the next thread.


1,092 Responses to “The CRU hack”

  1. 801
    john byatt says:

    {climate progress} are providing daily updates on the most misunderstood
    of the emails, full context of the “trick” “hide the decline” has already
    been posted, very exhaustive, if some of the fence sitters”,, suscribe for daily updates they will see that the credibility of the denialsphere is, as it has always been, zero

  2. 802
    john byatt says:

    “climate progress” also have full context and exhaustive understanding
    of “where the heck is global warming ,, this could save repeat Q and A
    and searching through posts here
    the site is linked at the right hand side of home page here at RC where sanity prevails,,well at least in the replies

  3. 803
    Eli Snyder says:

    Greenfyre has a great post about strategy for dealing with this. I highly recommend it:

    http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/cru-hack-time-to-hit-back-hard/

    Several media outlets including the WSJ and Fox are spinning this as though it calls the science of global warming into question, which they must know to be false. How irresponsible is that?

    Force them to prove it. Ask which studies have supposedly been falsified, and what evidence indicates those studies are false.

    With great respect for the scientists involved — frankly, you personally don’t matter much. What matters is the science itself, and that must be vigorously defended or we’re all in big trouble. This does not disprove the science, to try to claim that is absurd, and we need to call the media out on giving that notion any airtime.

  4. 804
    dan from NZ says:

    “it will be clearer in a few thousand years. – gavin”

    That’s easily THE most honest thing you’ve said in the 11 pages of responses I’ve just waded through.

    Dan

  5. 805
    Brnn8r says:

    Hey Gavin,

    Thanks for your reply about my (meta)science questions. My assumption about the oceans cooling was based on some data I have seen recovered from the ARGO buoys. It’s only from 2003 to 2008 and so it is probably too small a period to be robust.

    On the topic of this post, I’m sure that this must be a tough time for you and the Team. While I normally enjoy a robust debate about the science (as I don’t believe it is settled) I feel somehow sullied by the use of these private emails in the debate. Sure there are comments made in the email correspondence which are extremely unfortunate and some of the actions seem to have dubious ethical basis, but I’m not sure that the skeptical side would be any different.

    Anyway I think you’re a top notch (if sometimes evasive :) ) scientist Gavin and it’s good to have people like you on this side of the debate just as it is to have the likes of Professor Lindzen (whatever you may think of him) on the other.

    Cheers
    Steve

  6. 806
    EK says:

    While I’ll agree that the way in which these emails were obtained is a crime. The material they contain, if not falsified, is very dissapointing and should make us question the science being conducted by the people in question. As a reminder, corruption in science is a real thing that I believe needs to be dealt with in manner better than it has been. I’m sure anyone whos taken a genetics class has heard of Watson and Crick, the two men credited with discovering the structure of DNA, and how they stole key information from Rosland.

    [edit]
    Also, while discussions about European butterfly mating habits are “safe from the public eye,” because people aren’t interested in butterfy mating habits, it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have access to those discussions. Personnally I’m not ready to assume that digital files weren’t corrupted, but I think you have done yourselves a diservice to simply brush this incident aside with a single public statement.

  7. 807
    Connor says:

    Hi Gavin,

    Top work you are doing, the patience of a saint.

    Sorry to add more crap to this but I’ve been bugged by deniers I argue with regarding this one:

    On 1, this is what people call the H index. I’ve tried working
    this out and there is software for it on the web of science.

    Problem is my surname. I get a number of 62 if I just use the
    software, but I have too many papers. I then waded through
    and deleted those in journals I’d never heard of and got
    52. I think this got rid of some biologist from the 1970s/1980s,
    so go with 52.

    I don’t have pdfs of the early papers. I won’t be able to do
    anything for a few days either. When do you want this in, by
    the way? Can you email me the piece I wrote for you, as I don’t
    have this on my lap top. I can then pick it up tomorrow
    at some airport.

    The D&A work has always been with others. There is another
    area on hydrology that I omitted as well.

    ….

    Cheers
    Phil

    Can you give a brief explanation of what Mann and Jones were doing here?

    [Response: This is getting attention? Weird. The 'h-index' is a measure of how much influence your papers have had and is the number of papers you have published that have more than that number of citations in the ISI web of science. It's an automatic calculation on that site but you need to be careful that all the papers it uses are actually yours and not someone elses with the same name. A 'h-index' of 52 is very good by the way (52 papers, each of which has more than 52 citations). Mine is somewhere in the 30's I think. - gavin]

  8. 808
    Tom says:

    “Sorry if we caused you any problem, but whether a scientific idea is valid or not is not a reflection on the quality of the person who proposed it. I would advise you to take scientific criticism less personally. ”

    I think the point is that these emails do not indicate people acting to critique scientific ideas. While I understand you want to mount a defence, yours is one of the more prominent names appearing in the communication, along with many contributors and principals of this site.

    I see this issue spinning out into denial space. I would hope there is some mature reflection going on now.

    This is no longer about scientific findings. This is an issue where the roles are reverse. You should be listening to the hoi polloi on this issue.

  9. 809
    Ian Bradbury says:

    Although I agree that everything I’ve seen published (except possibly the attempt to evade FOIA) is perfectly ordinary, I still do have one general question. No new drug would be registered based solely on peer-reviewed data, however ‘solid’. Rather, the data would be submitted to regulatory agencies who may, generally do, redo some or all of the analysis, plus some new stuff. Clearly the stakes justify this.

    Given that the stakes are just as high in this area, is there an equivalent ‘regulatory oversight’, or are peer-reviewed results accepted? Iv there’s no oversight, can someone explain why the difference?

    [Response: The oversight is done by the assessment bodies - the IPCC, the NAS, the Royal Society, the CCSP in the US etc. They have often stepped in to adjudicate seeming anomalies and ensure that results are robust to different researchers or sources of data and which is why the policymakers take them more seriously. - gavin]

  10. 810
    John Lake says:

    Tell me this isn’t the funniest part. They sent out emails advising their Co-conspirators to erase certain explosive E-mails but then left the E-mails telling everyone to delete the evidence on the server to be stolen and exposed.

    My wife just asked if Al Gore will have to return the Oscar and Nobel.

  11. 811
    nanny_govt_sucks says:

    [Response: Science is not decided by majority vote. -gavin]

    Do you agree with the late Michael Chrichton (and others) that “The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.”?

    [Response: Consensus is what you have when the science is done. Consensus is what policymakers should be looking for and acting on. It isn't necessarily perfect, but it's the best they've got. - gavin]

  12. 812
    ChrisZ says:

    petek says:
    21 November 2009 at 5:37 PM
    Once again the question?

    I do not want to insult sceptics. I want a single open source model created by the sceptics (source code is more than welcome), which explains the temperature rise in the late 20th century, excluding X ( X = natural variability).

    Has there been any? “X” is quite enough to explain the perfectly unexceptional goings-on. Ask again after Greenland is GREEN and habitable again, like it was roughly a thousand years ago. If anything, the world is colder than it ought to be to be optimally habitable.

  13. 813
    Julien C says:

    You should come out with a strong public announcement in the coming few days. The mainstream media is now beginning to talk about these mails without even trying to understand the scientific methodology. I doubt journalists will check this website before writing an under-informed article that pple will read and take for granted. You MUST go to the media and explain everything about the critics made by skeptics. If you miss this opportunity to respond swiftly and rigorously in the coming days skeptics will mark several points. The COP15 conference must not be put under pressure by ignorant fools. Act and communicate now or it will be too late.

  14. 814
    Neal J. King says:

    oracle2world,

    I don’t know where you get the impression that the whole picture is too buttoned-down. There are lots of areas where the picture is vague or unclear, and there are lots of discrepancies, that get cleared up over time. The ironing out of discrepancies is generally understood to be a GOOD THING in scientific endeavor.

    What there is NOT is any clear sign that there is a fundamental missing element in the conceptual structure of the theory. The measured observations seem to fit comfortably within the current framework/paradigm, within the context of what Kuhn called “normal science”. Even if Einstein were present and working on the issue, it’s not at all clear that he would have anything revolutionary to contribute. Indeed, it’s likely he wouldn’t: The question of the impact of CO2 on climate pre-dates relativity and quantum mechanics.

  15. 815
    Doc Walt says:

    Although my research is not in this discipline, you certainly have my sympathy. The scientists I work with would simply prefer to learn new things about how nature works. Unfortunately, the current situation has forced climate scientists to shoulder the burden for saving the world tomorrow if possible, even though yesterday would have been better. It is a burden that I am happy not to have, and my blood pressure is all the better for it.

    I read comments about people wanting to “destroy their data” – the horror! It is easy to understand how people might want to pitch all their data into the wastebasket, because I have thought the same thing myself (and even said it to others) after weeks of tearing my hair out. But I never did, and ultimately I was able to work my way through it. It’s what everybody does.

    Furthermore, I never had to deal with a situation where a former less-than-credible politician decided to ally himself as a spokesman for what I was studying. My apologies to anybody out there who likes Al, but all I remember from him was a penchant for trite sound-bites.

    This entire circus seems to be founded on an attack that was initiated for the purpose of obtaining information that would allow ad hominem attacks, which has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with science. When a debate is largely about emotion rather than rational thought, we get the spectacle that is usually reserved for election cycles. However, this bonanza of “deeply troubling” thoughts should make some writers a nice bit of pocket change if the op-ed authors and PR boiler room articles are still getting the $10 grand awards for high profile pieces. Certainly there may be knowledgeable people with some doubts about AGW, but pardon me if I tend to get suspicious when the remuneration for doubts is so well funded. The denialist industry is about manufacturing confusion, or better yet, belief. Knowledge has nothing to do with it. The denialists lost me when the Seitz article was fraudulently formatted to look like an article from PNAS, so that the reader would have to check the nearest university library to find out that it really wasn’t on the pages it showed. I usually take new things with a grain of salt but I lost all my scepticism right then and there. If that was what denial meant, then I was long gone. Seitz should have been booted out of the national academy for his part in that stunt. And why in the world is some tobacco lobbyist (medical researcher) pretending to be a climate scientist anyway? But I have to admit that seeing the characters from MASH on the list of 15,000 climate sceptics was a hoot! The irony of them being from a show with a theme song “Suicide is Painless” was priceless.

    Don’t be too surprised if the files were hacked by the efforts of GCC industries, or even regressive political heavyweights. The thought that somebody might have happened to have all this on a CD or a tape that they misplaced is of course nonsense. Exxon should be so “lucky”.

    My compliments to Gavin for patiently handling all of this.

  16. 816

    Adam Soereg: nobody denies the fact that the globe had been warmed significantly since the begginning of the 20th century.

    BPL: LOTS of deniers deny exactly that. Check the global warming forums on amazon.com, or WUWT.

    AS: it is also evident that CO2 is only a minor component of the total greenhouse effect in our atmosphere.

    BPL: 26% of the clear-sky greenhouse effect (Kiehl and Trenberth 1997).

    AG: CO2 molecules can only absorb and re-emit heat on relatively narrow bandwiths of infrared radiation.

    BPL: Lots and lots of them.

    AG: The doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels can only cause a negligible increase in global temperatures.

    BPL: It only has to be a few degrees to wreck human civilization.

    AS: The validity of the whole anthropogenic global warming theory depends on the existence of positive feedbacks, mainly caused by water vapor, the most important greenhouse gas. Theoretically, water vapor feedback relies on the Clausius–Clapeyron equation. If the atmosphere warms, it can and it will hold more water vapor – the absolute humidity will increase. However, 60 years of global radiosonde measurements shows that the absolute humidity in the middle troposphere is decreasing.

    BPL: Look again:

    Brown, S., Desai, S., Keihm, S., and C. Ruf, 2007. “Ocean water vapor and cloud burden trends derived from the topex microwave radiometer.” Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium. Barcelona, Spain: IGARSS 2007, pp. 886-889.

    Dessler AE, Zhang Z, Yang P 2008. “Water-Vapor Climate Feedback Inferred from Climate Variations.” Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L20704.

    Held, I.M. and B. J. Soden, 2000. “Water vapor feedback and global warming.” Annu. Rev. Energy Environ., 25, 441–475.

    Minschwaner, K., and A. E. Dessler, 2004. “Water vapor feedback in the tropical upper troposphere: Model results and observations.” J. Climate, 17, 1272–1282.

    Oltmans, S.J. and D.J. Hoffman, “Increase in Lower-Stratospheric Water Vapor at Mid-Latitude Northern Hemisphere Site from 1981-1994,” Nature, 374 (1995): 146-149.

    Philipona, R., B. Dürr, A. Ohmura, and C. Ruckstuhl 2005. “Anthropogenic greenhouse forcing and strong water vapor feedback increase temperature in Europe.” Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L19809.

    Santer, B. D, C. Mears, F. J. Wentz, K. E. Taylor, P. J. Gleckler, T. M. L. Wigley, T. P. Barnett, J. S. Boyle, W. Bruggemann, N. P. Gillett, S. A. Klein, G. A. Meehl, T. Nozawa, D. W. Pierce, P. A. Stott, W. M. Washington, M. F. Wehner, 2007. “Identification of human-induced changes in atmospheric moisture content.” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 104, 15248-15253.

    Soden, B.J., D. L. Jackson, V. Ramaswamy, M. D. Schwarzkopf, and X. Huang, 2005. “The radiative signature of upper tropospheric moistening.” Science, 310, 841–844.
    http://www.gfy.ku.dk/~kaas/forc&feedb2008/Articles/Soden.pdf

    AG: The problem with the AGW theory is nothing else than there is no evidence for it.

    BPL: There are masses of evidence for it. You’re just not familiar with the field. I’d recommend cracking a book.

    AS: We have two empirically observed facts: global temperature has risen by about 0.6-0.7°c in the 20th century, and CO2 levels are also increasing due to the combustion of fossil fuels. But we know that CO2 alone couldn’t have caused the observed amount of warming.

    BPL: Nor did it. It was amplified by water-vapor, ice-albedo, and probably cloud feedbacks, and dampened by stratospheric aerosols.

    AS: In the 4th IPCC report we can read an argument that the observed warming cannot be explained by natural variability, only when we include the effects of increasing amount of greenhouse gases (amplified by positive feedbacks). Climate models rely on the assumption that most of the warming observed in the last 30-40 years have been caused by antropogenic factors.

    BPL: No, they do not. They incorporate known radiation physics.

    AS: A model which is based on a certain theory cannot prove the very same theory, this is also a common logical fallacy.

    BPL: See above.

    AS: The argument about “observed warming cannot be explained by natural variability” has another problems too. Literally it means that “we cannot think anything better” – argumentum ad ignorantiam.

    BPL: It means nothing of the sort. It is talking about “explained variance” in statistical analysis. Again, I recommend doing some studying.

  17. 817

    BPL: “Reflect also on the fact that Feynman was in the habit of intimidating lonely, neurotic women in bars to get them into bed with him, as he describes in one of his books, treating it as a joke.”

    Brian Macker: I read the book in question. Do you always lie this much?

    BPL: I didn’t lie at all.

    BM: He hit on the fact if you don’t tip the strippers, talk to them, that they tend to go to bed with you. How is that intimidation?

    BPL: He was clear that the worse you treated these lonely masochists, the more likely they’d let you screw them. If you don’t see that as unethical, I can’t help you.

    [enough]

  18. 818
    Llewelyn Moss says:

    9 million visitors? RealClimate probably released the emails themselves to get more traffic to their website!

  19. 819
    NB says:

    Brian says:
    21 November 2009 at 7:52 PM
    After a brief online check on google, I could not find a complete archive of the emails in question. The only material easily visible are these out-of-context snippets. Why not post the whole archive yourself, organized into threads etc.? It can’t be worse than selective release by your opponents and the “drip drip” effect.

    *********************

    http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/index.php

    I think you should not confine yourself to responding to the quotes only. There should more than enough stuff in this email archive that proves your honesty and seriousness. You can also quote something in the sense of “Do you believe such stuff can be written by somebody plotting conspiracies?”. As to dirty laundry and such stuff… Well, you will have to live with this

  20. 820
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I’m the daughter of scientist you all sharply criticized,
    > discredited, and claimed his theories were washed up

    “All” here have never agreed on anything pro or con. If that’s the Southern “y’all” meaning at least one person here, I sure can’t find any such posting.

    A scientist can’t be be discredited by the opinions of people posting on blogs–not that there aren’t plenty of anti-science blogs trying to do that, but it’s a weird idea to think blog comments could discredit any scientist. Science journals can discredit work, but that’s very different.

    Of the actual Contributors, none ever used the words “washed up” if the search result is correct.

    Results … 5 from realclimate.org for “washed up”

    Nothing said that could discredit a scientist, that I can find.
    Disparage, yes. Dispute, yes.

  21. 821
    Alan Burke says:

    A large part of the problem we all must face is a disconnect between scientists and the public. I recommend “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication – A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public.

    For an online version of the guide, visit http://cred.columbia.edu/guide

  22. 822

    Ken Hall: This hack was done to help prevent a greater crime. That of mass-murder through global depopulation, which is the alarmist’s real goal.

    BPL: You left out some important elements–namely, the black helicopters, UN detention camps, and mandatory subcutaneous tracking chips.

  23. 823
    David Bailey says:

    Nobody would begrudge the CRU concealing its private emails, but what came as a surprise to me – as an outsider – is the fact that the raw data and the relevant computer models were not public-domain – and indeed that CRU staff were actively opposing FOI requests to change that situation.

    I can’t really see how a science that depends so heavily on computer modeling and noisy environmental data can be trusted if others can’t reproduce the results!

    [Response: See above. - gavin]

  24. 824
    Alw says:

    Gavin in your response to 187 you say that CRU has not lost or destroyed any data. I was wondering where you get this information as on Aug 11 2009 CRU had the following on their age on data availability (now not accessible):

    “Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

    [Response: No data has been destroyed, the original files and numbers are with the national weather services that provided them. Removing a copy of a original file because it is not useful for my purposes is not 'deleting data' - gavin]

  25. 825
    Bill J says:

    From an independent observer,its becoming very clear that before any significant global political/budgetary agreements are made,we need to have an independent enquiry into this whole mess at CRU.To leave this in the hands of websites such as RC,WUWT or any of the others is not acceptable.Secondly, before any global agreements are legally entered into, each and every dataset which serves as the basis for committing billions of dollars of taxpayers money after Copenhagen, need to be made available for independent scrutiny and VALIDATION ,as would be the norm in ensuring their ‘suitability for purpose’ in supporting future radical global changes.

  26. 826

    FishOutOfWater: “CO2 emissions need to be cut rapidly to save marine ecosystems from increasing acidity, apart from the need to stop rapid climate change.”

    Skookum John: How convenient. Did all the marine ecosystems die back when CO2 was over 1000ppm?

    BPL: Wrong question. The proper question is, “Did all the marine ecosystems die back at times when CO2 suddenly rose way over the level it had previously been roughly stable at?” To which the answer is, YES, THEY BLOODY WELL DID. Google PETM for an example.

  27. 827

    vg28: In what sense are the Royal Society etc. independent? They are funded by the government.

    BPL: The Royal Society is funded by the government??? When did this happen?

  28. 828
    pjclarke says:

    Firstly a huge thank you to Gavin for devoting his time, energy and expertise to providing a rapid rebuttal service. Its a little sad that it needed doing, however putting the apparently damning quote-mined claims in context, and providing the actual science behind them was/is extraordinarily useful. Good job, well done. Sorry about your lost weekend. It now seems that the smoking gun/final nail/death knell is absent, and judging by the frequency with which it comes up the ‘trick/hide the decline’ quote is the favourite amongst the (remarkably unsceptical) sceptics. That’ll be a single sentence, lifted out of context, utterly misinterpreted, from a decade-old email, then.

    Secondly, This repeats some material already posted, however I took the first 15 of Bishop Hill’s online collation and examined the actual texts…

    1.Phil Jones writes to University of Hull to try to stop sceptic Sonia Boehmer Christiansen using her Hull affiliation

    …is half the story. S B-C was circulating allegations of fraud at CRU signing herself as affiliated to the University (she’s emeritus). Dr Jones found this ‘malicious’ and wrote to a Professor at Hull saying so. The context: Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen sent a mail with the title ‘RE: Please take note of potetially serious allegations of scientific ‘fraud’ by CRU and Met Office’
    The evidence for the ‘fraud’ was McIntyre’s Yamal findings, which not even McIntyre asserts are evidence of fraud, and a long piece by Pat Michaels on the data transparency issue, published on a blog and the National Review. Sonja concedes It is beyond my expertise to assess the claims made [!]

    But hey, I am going to circulate them anyway and sign myself ‘Reader Emeritus, Department of Geography, Hull University’ So we have an academic passing on claims of fraud she has not the expertise to assess under the imprimateur of the University. Seems to me at least as bad as the allegations made against some of the climate scientists. Dr Jones brought this to the attention of Sonja’s ex Professor

    ‘I realize Dr Boehmer-Christensen no longer works for you, but she is still using your affiliation.’ Hardly a demand that he prevent her doing so. Nothing improper here.

    2 Michael Mann discusses how to destroy a journal that has published sceptic papers.

    Overstated. The journal in question was ‘Climate Research’ in the wake of publication of a sceptic paper [Sally Baliunas and Willie Soon] so poor it provoked the resignation of half the board.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sallie_Baliunas#Controversy_over_the_2003_Climate_Research_paper
    http://www.sgr.org.uk/climate/StormyTimes_NL28.htm

    and Mann’s opinions were: There have been several papers by Pat Michaels, as well as the Soon & Baliunas paper, that couldn’t get published in a reputable journal. This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?

    ‘Perhaps encourage’, ‘request of our colleagues’ Hardly the language of someone hellbent on destruction. Mann’s statements are consistent with ensuring the academic literature effectively screens out substandard papers, a proper concern for a senior scientist.

    3. Tim Osborn discusses how data are truncated to stop an apparent cooling trend showing up in the results

    That is called ascribing a motive. In the case the wrong one, the data are truncated, but because of the well-known ‘Divergence problem’ post 1960. This is utterly standard: Bishop Hill reveals his ignorance. The data are attached to this e-mail. They go from 1402 to 1995, although we usually stop the series in 1960 because of the recent non-temperature signal that is superimposed on the tree-ring data that we use.

    4.Phil Jones describes the death of sceptic, John Daly, as “cheering news”.

    Actually its not at all clear that it is the death that Jones describes this way, the rest of the mail is about a completely different topic. THIS IS WHY SINGLE EMAILS WITHOUT CONTEXT ARE USELESS! Whatever the intent, this is ad hominem.

    5.Phil Jones encourages colleagues to delete information subject to FoI request

    This is the issue that gives me the most pause. But again we don’t have the full context, what we have is a request to delete mails, with no mention of the FOI. Its strong circumstantial evidence, but you’d need more to convict. Ah, but this is ‘trial by blog’

    6. Phil Jones says he has use Mann’s “Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series”…to hide the decline”

    ‘The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate’ -Gavin Schmidt.

    Surely if your aim is to ‘hide’ something then publishing it in Nature is probably not a great move …

    7. Letter to The Times from climate scientists was drafted with the help of Greenpeace.

    So what?

    8. Mann thinks he will contact BBC’s Richard Black to find out why another BBC journalist was allowed to publish a vaguely sceptical article

    Michael Mann wrote: ‘extremely disappointing to see something like this appear on BBC. its particularly odd, since climate is usually Richard Black’s beat at BBC (and he does a great job). from what I can tell, this guy was formerly a weather person at the Met Office.We may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here?

    Scientist speculates he might speak to journalist shock! (It seems he never did in the end). Is it me or is this the thinnest of thin stuff from the Planet thin?

    9. Kevin Trenberth says they can’t account for the lack of recent warming and that it is a travesty that they can’t

    This requires a little knowledge of climate science, apparently this rules out Bishop Hill ‘Trenberth is talking about our inability to be able to measure the net radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere to the requisite precision to be able to say on short time scales what the energy budget is doing. The observations are inadequate for that – not sure who is saying otherwise’ – Gavin Schmidt.

    10 Tom Wigley says that Lindzen and Choi’s paper is crap

    So do I. More relevantly, so does Dr Roy Spencer (he’s a bit more polite, but then he knew his words were for publication.) I have yet to hear any demands from the sceptics for Spencer’s resignation.

    12 Tom Wigley says that von Storch is partly to blame for sceptic papers getting published at Climate Research. Says he encourages the publication of crap science. Says they should tell publisher that the journal is being used for misinformation. Says that whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. Says they need to get editorial board to resign. Says they need to get rid of von Storch too.

    This is really the same discussion as (2) – What to do about a journal letting substandard papers into the literature? The quote is ‘Hans von Storch is partly to blame — he encourages the
    publication of crap science ‘in order to stimulate debate’. One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation
    under the guise of refereed work. I use the word ‘perceived’ here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about — it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.

    A personal opinion, in a mail the writer thought was private. Big ‘So what?’ And Tom is saying that the journal publishers, not he, are unconcerned about the veracity of what is published. Naughty Bishop Hill.

    13 Ben Santer says (presumably jokingly!) he’s “tempted, very tempted, to beat the crap” out of sceptic Pat Michaels

    And if we all followed through on jokey threats made in personal emails, the prisons would be full.

    14 Mann tells Jones that it would be nice to ‘”contain” the putative Medieval Warm Period’

    This is utterly bizarre. Mann is suggesting moving the start date of a reconstruction backwards, as it will then contain (as in ‘include’) the MWP, pretty much the opposite of the accusation. Somebody needs to improve their reading comprehension.

    Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen NH records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly 2K back–I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2K, rather than the usual 1K, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made w/ regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to “contain” the putative “MWP”, even if we don’t yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back…

    15 Tom Wigley tells Jones that the land warming since 1980 has been twice the ocean warming and that this might be used by sceptics as evidence for urban heat islands.

    Here is the mail in its entirety: ‘We probably need to say more about this. Land warming since 1980 has been twice the ocean warming — and skeptics might claim that this proves that urban warming is real and important.

    Well, yes they might, given the average level of scientific comprehension demonstrated by the sceptic who assembled this list.

  29. 829

    blogreader: Bravo, BPL. Just when I didn’t think this blog entry could get any weirder you kick it up a notch with an ad hominem on a dead guy.

    BPL: Feynman had a disorderly personal life, period. However, he was an extremely good scientist–one who would never have been taken in by the denialists. In context, my response was appropriate; the original poster was trying to set up Feynman as A) an expert on ethics, who B) would have criticized climate science. Neither is true.

  30. 830
    Marco says:

    @oracle2world:
    ANY scientific theory is an attempt to explain every single itty-bitty of data. That includes challenging the theory with non-conforming data, but this does not include simply accepting that the data IS non-conforming. You will find similar issues in medical journals. Take the following example: a trial with vitamin D sees two people drop down in the shower, breaking something. It is reported, as everything has to be reported, but also more than likely explained away by referring to accidents in the general population and (likely) too few cases to causally link it to the tested drug. At best the FDA or EMEA will ask the researchers to put it on the list as a potential factor needing further study, while accepting the initial explanation.

    Oh, and let us realise that many of the supposed anomalies that skeptics beat up on are not even anomalies and fit quite well. We’re still waiting for a comprehensive hypothesis that explains the ice age cycles, the PETM, and the current rise in temperatures without invoking a significant effect of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane. Maybe you have the hypothesis that will earn you the Nobelprize?

  31. 831
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Oracle2world, I can only assume that you don’t read much of the peer-reviewed climate science literature, where anomalies and divergences are discussed in minute detail. The question is whether any of these differences make any substantive difference to the issue of whether we are warming the planet and whether we need to address this threat.

    All climate scientists acknowledge that there are things we don’t know about climate. The role of CO2 is not among these unknowns.

  32. 832
    Paul says:

    #709 That’s great! so, CO2 levels are not rising anymore, right?…..

  33. 833
    Trond Y says:

    There is a huge difference between a collective enterprise _for_ good science, and a war _against_ “bad science”. These emails demonstrate rather unambigously how the latter approach often has got the upper hand with these leading scientists. It’s all very human, but extremely counter-productive: In fact, the more you are unfairly treated, the more you have to take care not to get drawn down to the same level yourself, getting emotional etc.

    The war-like attitude also implies the tendency to defend rather than to correct and adapt, easily leading to estimates lacking in conservatism, i.e. overselling.

    [Response: Note that these are selected emails - and most of the stuff discussing good science didn't make the cut apparently. I wonder why? - gavin]

  34. 834
    Ray Ladbury says:

    David Harper, Thank you for keeping us abreast of how the latest nontroversy is playing out over at CA. Given the level of idiocy being expressed here, I fear, a trip over to CA or WUWT would result in 3rd degree stupidity burns over 80% of one’s body.

  35. 835
    James Allan says:

    715: “So whenever AGW attempts to explain away EVERY SINGLE ITTY-BITTY piece of non-conforming data … something is not right.”

    I would agree, except that it doesn’t ever happen in the scientific literature and I defy you to point out an example of where it does. For one, AR4 was very upfront about scatter and confidence, which is something that the denialists seem to ignore.

    And let’s face it, if we were to claim we could explain everything about the world’s climate, we’d be doing ourselves out of a job…

  36. 836
    Deech56 says:

    Gavin, your work since this incident broke has been outstanding. You have met the criticisms head on, and I think it has helped those open to reason.

    People (especially newcomers): please realize that RC is not Gavin’s day job. He’s not retired, independently wealthy or pulling in blog bucks, but instead works in a highly-specialized field (note to grant newbies: no matter how much the grant support is, his salary cannot exceed 100% of the institute standard) which needs his experience and knowledge. Gavin cannot give this blog 100% of his attention all the time.

    So what’s the upshot of all this? That scientists are human? Do we need to rewrite the scientific literature as a result? Do any studies need to be withdrawn? (h/t to Greenfyre)

  37. 837
    James Allan says:

    A bit late joining this debate, but here goes anyway…

    This kind of development just makes me roll my eyes; I’m often consciously careful with the wording of my emails because they technically count as ‘written communication’ in the legal sense and I don’t want off-the-cuff stuff (particularly regarding my opinions of others) being taken out of context.

    But it doesn’t matter how careful you are, with sufficient quote-mining someone can always find something to take out of context. However, in common with the conspiracy theory style, no matter how much you twist the evidence, it can only ever be made to imply wrongdoing, not actually prove it. But more than that, this is yet one more manifestation of the fact that the deniers’ tactics are now almost entirely confined to trying to attack the scientists themselves and the procedural aspects of their work. It just goes to show that debating the science itself is something that is apparently beyond them now.

    What I see as the biggest problem here is going to be the inevitable hoaxes that will surface in the coming months, possibly years. That’s assuming they haven’t been tossed into the mix already, for that matter.

  38. 838
    Deech56 says:

    RE oracle2world

    No theory explains all the data. There are outliers, background noise, maybe data just plain wrong. So whenever AGW attempts to explain away EVERY SINGLE ITTY-BITTY piece of non-conforming data … something is not right.

    Every new drug has side effects. If a drug company reports clinical data that shows no side effects, the FDA knows the data are fraudulent.

    Finally, a comment in my field. There are drugs that in animal testing show no side effects, generally because the solubility is so low that the volume of vehicle would have to be too high to give safely. Drug companies actually do have to explain the side effects; nobody wants a black box warning. Also, animal studies in the pursuit of basic drug research often show anomalous results – these just don’t make it to the literature, and if they do, a lot of ideas are bandied about in the discussion section.

    I don’t know what climate literature you’ve been reading, but in reports of science at the cutting edge the reader will note that the authors acknowledge various limitations. Just read the title of MBH99: “Northern Temperatures in the last millennium: inferences, uncertainties and limitations. Find Mann, et al. 2008 and read the text and the <a href=supplemental material.

  39. 839
    Dave Spicer says:

    I have a friend who is a licensed electrician. Until I asked him to stop, he used to pass along all manner of right-wing “Look at this outrage! Send this to everyone you know!” emails. I’m sure he’d be sending me something about this imbroglio.

    But I’m also reasonably sure I’ve heard him describe some of his own work as a kind of “rigging” (if you get my drift). Using the “Climategate” methodology, I suppose I could therefore publicly accuse him of self-admitted incompetence and so forth. Of course I won’t, because he does good work and HE WAS KIDDING.

  40. 840
    Mike G says:

    Jere #679

    You mean like when all reef building ceased for about 12-16 million years and the hard corals were mostly replaced by non-calcifying relatives? Funny how they came back and started building reefs again shortly after CO2 levels decreased.

    MS #692

    Give me a break on the “drumming up a crisis for funding” nonsense. My former adviser works on polychaete worm taxononmy and evolution. Given that that’s not a field even remotely related to world crisis or disaster I figured he would be an excellent example to contrast the dollar values cited for Gavin et al. Over the past 6 years he has received $2.27 million from the NSF alone. That’s more than all but one of the listed climatologists received over the time period in the spreadsheets and more than any of them received over the same 6 year period. [sarcasm]Holy shit! That must mean that the evolution of polychaete worms is the REAL crisis and we almost missed it. I can’t believe we were so distracted with this AGW hoax. If you want balanced coverage of the conspiracy to cover up the worm crisis you should visit my website wormaudit.org.[/sarcasm]

  41. 841
    Peter says:

    If someone had hacked into Exxon’s servers and found emails talking about how they need to hire and promote global warming deniers, you’d be applauding and justifying the actions of the hackers.

    Now why would Exxon promote anyone to deny the very thing which has done more than anything else to push up the dollar barrel price of their product?

  42. 842
    turtle says:

    So now the big secret is out– scientists are grouchy assholes just like everybody else. What else is new?

    The glaciers are melting, the oceans are acidifying, we have driven thousands of species to extinction… Even if, somehow, magically, it turns out that this has nothing to do with carbon dioxide, IT’S STILL A PROBLEM.

    As for the ‘follow the money’ comments– yes, follow the money. Who stands to lose money if the governments of the world start taking actual steps to counteract global warming? (Hint: they sell an oily black liquid.)

    And, seriously, who stands to gain money if they do? Some two-man business in California selling solar panels? Those companies that sell ‘green’ yoga mats and water bottles? THIS is who you think is funding some kind of global conspiracy?

    If you know scientists– or academics in any field– you’ll know that getting enough of them together to form a conspiracy is about as easy as herding cats. Well, not quite as easy. At least you can physically pick up a cat and put it where you want :)

  43. 843

    oracle, I have very little idea what you are talking about. What “anomalous data” has been “explained away?”

    Tropospheric temps have been examined to a fare-thee-well. The Urban Heat Island question has been analyzed in multiple ways. Reanalysis has been piled upon reanalysis. Not to explain away, but to understand what is happening, and to characterize AGW better–and more usefully for policy makers.

    How does this “fit together too neatly?”

    For that matter how does “explained away in increasingly bizarre fashion” fit together with “way too neatly?”

  44. 844
    Ike Solem says:

    What data, Shoshin?

    What the high rate of response here does show is that this is a major PR effort being handled by some internet-based PR firm, and since Edelman is running the American Petroleum Institute’s $100 million “clean image” campaign, and is known for keeping dozens of full-time bloggers on staff, rather, comment section loaders, that would be my guess. Or, it could be ACCCE (the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity) and firms like Bonner Associates. Another plausible group working to keep this story at the top of the news could be the CO2 Capture Project, “a partnership of the world’s leading energy companies, working with academic institutions and government organizations…”

    They couldn’t do it without a little help from the press outlets themselves, however.

    Revkin’s sinister take on the matter has gained a little traction, here’s a Google News sample from the “big government” blog: “…the literal readings – that’s plural, not a one-off remark – represent “sinister interpretations” (New York Times), and the implausible is actually the appropriate reading.”

    Revkin’s failure to explain “the trick” – namely, putting paleoclimate observations in context with recent instrumental records for comparison purposes – only gives fuel to these fantasies. Revkin’s article has been picked up and re-headlined by other sources:

    “Emails show climate ‘conspiracy’”
    Andrew C. Revkin
    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1091122/jsp/foreign/story_11771110.jsp

    Other news outlets are going for maximum hysteria as well. For a really desperate example from the Telegraph UK:
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100017393/climategate-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-anthropogenic-global-warming/

    The lead is “sell off alternative energy stocks” which sort of explains the fuss, doesn’t it? Shifting to renewable energy energy sources will upset the status quo for London’s oil futures trading market, there’s not really any doubt about that. That’s a bigger threat than global warming, to some at least.

    The only reason this story is of any interest is that it’s a classic large-scale PR effort to raise doubts before Copenhagen – and the journalists and media outlets who participated in it are nothing but propaganda artists following orders. How can you tell? There’s no real news here – as at least one journalist has noticed, although it’s still a list of comments by skeptic celebrities like Christie and Pielke:

    http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2009/11/21/hacked-climate-emails-conspiracy-or-tempest-in-a-teapot/

    Media corporations have silenced real science journalists – witness the firing of the CNN science team lead by Miles O’Brien, right after they began covering a lot of climate stories objectively:

    9 Sep 2008: Polar bears resort to cannibalism as Arctic ice shrinks – CNN.com
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/09/23/arctic.ice/index.html

    4 Dec 2008: CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team
    http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/cnn_cuts_entire_science_tech_t.php

    Not an economic decision – “We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit,” said CNN spokesperson Barbara Levin.

    Translation: “We want to be able to spin stories to please our shareholders and fossil fuel-based advertisers.”

    As a result, the CNN climate coverage since then has largely been reduced to copying and pasting news releases:

    http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2009/arctic2k.jsp
    http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/09/03/arctic.warmest.temperatures/index.html

    This marks a continuing trend in the U.S. press – no more independent science and technology reporting, unless it’s heavily respun in the right direction – for example:

    5 May 2009 – “In a Fortune interview, noted climatologist John Christy contends the green crusade to fight climate change is “all cost and no benefit.”
    http://money.cnn.com/2009/05/14/magazines/fortune/globalwarming.fortune/index.htm

    Anyone could have predicted a massive staged propaganda effort in the run-up to Copenhagen – it’s just a little surprising to see that the effort is being so widely supported by our major media organizations… and if the majority shareholders in media conglomerates happen to often be the same banks and individuals who are majority shareholders in coal and oil and utilities, well, that’s just a coincidence…

    A very good argument for banning media holding companies and enforcing anti-trust laws in the media sector, isn’t it? Who knows, maybe science journalists & editors need something like tenure too.

  45. 845
    Dan says:

    “In my mind AGW would have a lot more credibility if it acknowledged up front and clearly what the anomalies are,…”

    It does. You have not read the IPCC reports.

  46. 846
    Bunyip says:

    I’ve been coming to RC for years and never posted because I’m not a scientist. But all know — we have all been ertain and still are — that consumerism is generating the poisons that will kill our planet. Do I need to understand what all this technical stuff is about I can see my family cat sheds more hair earlier every year? No! I ‘ll leave the lab stuff to the experts.

    But I’m still baffled and disoriented by this.

    Please, will someone tell me how to counter the criticism tomorrow at work.

    Please, I beg you, tell me what to think!

  47. 847
    Dale says:

    It seems to me that the science of AGW is based on facts while the denialists reality is based on factoids IMHO.

  48. 848
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 709
    “I can tell you that lately (as in last 12 years) there has been an explosion of algae around the world. It counters any extra Co2 production.”

    Other way ’round. It doesn’t appear to be countering any:

    http://www.mlo.noaa.gov/programs/coop/scripps/img/img_scripps_co2_record.gif

  49. 849

    Re: #707

    Dear Dale,

    Most likely, the scientists here on RealClimate are much better people than I am, because I most definitely would be whooping and cheering if ExxonMobil was exposed for what it is.

    It would make my day, my week, my month.

    Not that I am advocating breaking the law.

    But it would still make my day.

  50. 850
    Jinchi says:

    Since the global warming deniers now claim to have irrefutable evidence of a conspiracy, along with all the emails detailing where the bodies were hidden and presumably much of the data and computer codes that debunk the whole thing, why are they wasting their time with snippets of how much Ben Santer hates Steve McIntyre?

    Shouldn’t they be showing us charts, graphs, raw data that destroy the climate science community once and for all?


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