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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

“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. 551
    Ron says:

    For the first time in my life I feel ashamed to be a scientist.

    “But really, you think anyone would really delete their data? That would be ridiculous. – gavin”

    “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.”

    You seem a sound guy Gavin, I struggle to understand why you try to defend this kind of behaviour. I understand you are thinking of the bigger picture here but you are shooting yourself in the foot by not just admitting some things went terribly wrong here when it comes to sharing data for scrutiny and having the proper scientific attitude. You only make people suspicious by witholding data and software/methods.
    The fact that journals allow us to pick or refuse certain reviewers already shows how messed up the whole system has become. Which is why I always must smile when people insist on peer review in these discussions.
    A dark day for science indeed, but hopefully some good will come out of it by exposing the very human and sometimes base emotions that underly the system.

  2. 552
    petek says:


    I agree, a final battle was overdue.
    One single question: Is there one open source model provided by the sceptics which can be computed and explain the undisputed rise in global temperature over the past decades using the datasets? Yes or no?

  3. 553
    Kurt says:

    Gavin, in reply to 544 yes I think someone might delete their data if disclosure would provide evidence of deceptive misuse. In Phil Jones’ email mentioned in 542, he said he is sending station data to an ally but will delete the file rather than disclose it to opponents. Surely that can’t be the same data as HadCRU, for why would he bother commenting on the selective disclosure of something that is publicly available. What makes you positive that Phil Jones was just joking about that? If he already compiled and sent it once, it takes zero additional effort to send again or release publicly. The most plausible interpretation, it seems to me, that he feared giving ammo to critics of his interpretation. That’s not to say Jones knew he was wrong. Quite possibly he felt that critics would misuse the data to wrongly discredit him. If so, one can empathize with his pain. Still, don’t you think that’s a bad way to respond to critics, as well as being illegal under the FOI?

    [Response: It’s hyperbole. No-one has, or is going to, delete any data. – gavin]

  4. 554
    Johnathome says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote :”I’m going to try to be uncharacteristically nice to all you lower-than-snakesh*t and dumber-than-owlsh*t denialists”

    Is this THE Ray Ladbury? The scientist? Words fail me? Lets just cut out the insults shall we? Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, whats with the name calling? I would hope your IQ is better than this!

  5. 555
    Steve Geiger says:

    RE 546. Gavin, right…they asked if it was ‘illegal to delete emails’…you are correct, your response was ‘no’…its not illegal. That is my point, of course, that someone was indicating that, if one ‘really needs to’, they can delete the files *if*, of course, its under the guise of their normal file maintenance procedures. Given the context, its very clear what they were indicating.

    BTW – obviously your taking heat on behalf of a lot of other folks and presumably you don’t feel that all of this stuff is completely defensible. Thanks for allowing this open discussion to continue. I primarily stopped reading this site a while back for the express reason that individuals with very pertinent, on topic information were having their posts screened. That alone is so damaging to (what should be, IMO) the purpose of this site. Thanks for allowing to post this.

    Steve G.

    [Response: Sorry, the question asked whether it was legal, I said no. – gavin]

  6. 556
    eric says:

    “Is there one open source model provided by the sceptics which can be computed and explain the undisputed rise in global temperature over the past decades using the datasets? Yes or no?”

    Yes – that would be the actual measured, undisputed, temperature decline of the last decade.

    [Response: Hmm…. Last ten years (Oct 99-Oct 09)., Last decade (2000-2009). – gavin]

  7. 557
    JMilan says:

    SecularAnimist wrote: “The problem is that you are unable to distinguish between “informed comment” and rote regurgitation of ExxonMobil-funded lies and distortions, and that you believe that someone’s political or ideological “viewpoint” has anything at all to do with scientific facts about physical reality.”

    That illogical argument, lumping all opponents into some evil group that can then be denigrated and ignored. It’s the same thing far-right groups do, lump all their opponents into some evil group. Let’s not do the same.

    There are genuine questions and issues to be debated in AGW. There are questions about quality of ground-station data, etc. which I think are valid to discuss. AGW opponents have their own problems of inconvenient data and RC often does discuss and point those out, and rightly so. But let’s not let this controversy push us into defenders of dogma, no opposition or questioning allowed by the “unfaithful.”

    I’m not saying to stop the filtering of the obviously nonsensical and the ranters. But deliberately colluding with one group to give them special voice while surreptitiously suppressing the posts of their critics (as RC offered to do in the leaked emails) — that’s just wrong.

  8. 558
    John Doe says:

    Gavin — in comment 508, I was referring to Gary Funkhouser’s email that I had quoted, not to anything you’ve ever written. So your response is completely inapt.

    Thanks, by the way, for letting so many critical comments go through.

    [Response: Fair enough. But you have grossly misunderstood Funkhouser’s email. Where did he say he was looking for a pre-ordained result? Instead, it sounds very much to me that the batch of trees he was looking at simply wasn’t coherent – maybe it couldn’t be cross-dated, maybe the inter-sample variance was much larger than they can deal with, maybe their wasn’t enough multiple cores etc. Sometimes, in climate as in a lab-based science, you just don’t get good data. And that doesn’t allow you to conclude anything. – gavin]

  9. 559
    hunter says:

    Dr. Schmidt,
    What was wrong with my post on this topic that states the following:
    “If you found out your 401-k was being managed like these guys are managing climate science, what would you do?
    Would you trust what they told you?
    Would you keep your money with them?”
    I compliment you here and elsewhere for permitting real dialogue on your blog. That clearly takes you out of the group I suggest in my post.
    My hope is that the example you set here will propagate in the climate science community.

  10. 560
    Anthony Jackson says:

    “I agree, a final battle was overdue.
    One single question: Is there one open source model provided by the sceptics which can be computed and explain the undisputed rise in global temperature over the past decades using the datasets? Yes or no?”

    Th use of a computer model is a poor argument for or against the topic, how can we trust the data when we do not know every variable or how each one effects the other?

  11. 561
    Saul Mitsuzki says:

    I’ve been reflecting on this episode and one thing becomes abundantly clear:

    It is high time for the governments of the world, probably through the auspices of the U.N. to assemble a massive open multifocal database using uniform parameters, assumptions, and mechanisms. Historical data should be hashed into a single uniform format.

    From this uniform source, let the scientists model away. The review, analysis and interpretation of their results can focus on their methods and not on the question the scientists in the emails were accused (apparently with some justification) of obfuscating: I.e., the allegation data were selected and manipulated to generate “hockey sticks.”

    I figure a few $billion will do it. An especially intensive focus for data that will illuminate the last half dozen decades with a lot more data points (trees, locations, etc.) seems crucial.

    Where scientists even joke (if that is what it was) about destroying data rather than releasing it, the political machine and “man on the street” will become even more difficult to persuade. The creation of an open data set produced under conditions susceptible of verification and validation is the only solution. If cores from 5 trees get included in the database, the trees from which they were derived must be identified and the cords themselves warehoused for validation. It will be a monumental effort. But at this point, I fear grave harm has been done do any studies that rely on so many of the datum that are mentioned in these emails.

    The hubris of a few scientists appears to be fueling an argument that opens up to challenge not just the data itself, but the facts “in the field.” One who feels alarmed at the behavior with regard to the data will find it very easy to wonder whether there were other cores, measurements, or samples that were taken, but intentionally not put into the data sets.

    This is akin to the problem we see in the U.S. when there are efforts to suppress votes of one kind (i.e., minority or military). They do not become a part of the count, and because those subgroups are somewhat homogeneous in their politics the exclusion of their voices works a measurable “tilt” in the outcome.

    The only solution is a validated central open repository from which papers and methods and models can be drawn, and which can be tested and validated by others using the same data.

  12. 562
    Rich says:

    With the risk of insult from BPL, I will ask a straightforward question. What is the response to the reports that Global Temps have not risen in the past 10yrs as expected, even though Co2 has continued its upward trend? Using Jones’ own data, they expected a .2c increase for this time period, but reality is temp has remained stagnant with a .07 increase and a 0.00 when el nino, nina is factored? Maybe im just one of the ignorant BPL describes…but im just looking for an answer and am willing to take an insult to hear a response.

    [Response: Try here. – gavin]

  13. 563
    Kurt says:

    Gavin, in response to 553, your firm denial is an expression of faith, without adequate supporting evidence. I hope you are right, but Feynman long ago noted that science deals in doubt, not faith. Phil Jones’ emails cast doubt on his own integrity and on those of some of his allies. You would have more scientific credibility, and support your own cause better, if you said “based on what I know of X, I don’t believe he would do that, am distressed by his emails suggesting otherwise, and am asking him to take leave from his post until we can confirm everything is in order”.

    [Response: Oh yes, like that is really up to me…. Look, I’ve known Phil Jones for a decade and I have no doubts as to his integrity despite some rather unfortunate comments in these emails. Neither he, nor his allies (whoever they might be), are deleting any data. Not now. Not ever. You don’t know him, but you have formed an impression based on these communications. Now I doubt I will convince you that your impression is wrong, but it is. – gavin]

  14. 564
    Jonathan Gilligan says:

    About the word “trick,” here’s yet another reference: Steven Weinberg, “Precision Tests of Quantum Mechanics,” Physical Review Letters 62, 485 (1989), doi 10.1103/PhysRevLett.62.485: “This may be improved by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude by the reduction of the rf power to lengthen the transition time T, or by use of the Ramsey trick, with several free-precession times of several minutes at various stages in the transition.”

  15. 565
    Varga Endre says:

    “Other then Gods how do any of the other topics effect Economic policy, please don’t tell me your a scientist.”

    Like astrology? If its true, then you can base your Economic policy (with big E) on the position of stars. Like some ancients did. And some moderns, too.

    But no, we do not usually research astrology (or ESP), because they are very unlikely to be true. We have limited time and resources, therefore we do not research every damned idea on Earth.

    And yes, I am a scientist (although I better like to consider myself as an engineer), and I do not know how this could mean anything in this context.

    Also, recent Economic policies (with big E), failed miserably with their risk models, so I tend to be extra conservative with risk. And AGW — even if its not certain — is a risk we cannot avoid taking into consideration.

  16. 566
    Ray Ladbury says:

    johnathome says “Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, whats with the name calling? I would hope your IQ is better than this!”

    Well, my IQ is sufficiently high that I know that my cause will not be helped by illegally hacking into a website, stealing emails, selectively editing and releasing them to discredit individual scientists and science in general and feigning to be “…Shocked! Shocked!”

    Really, I’m curious. If this incident is not worthy of the harshest condemnation, what is? My point is that this doesn’t change a thing. There are still mountains of evidence–both literally and figuratively–that show humans are changing the climate. One side is actually looking at that evidence and trying to determine its implications. Scientists are human. We speak intemperately at times. We make mistakes. We also come closer to producing the truth than any other human endeavor. And the denialists, well, can you point to even one accomplishment by anti-science…ever?

  17. 567
    John Franklin says:

    The hacked emails demonstrate the arrogance and social ineptitude that permeates the academic world. While the displays of pettiness and insecurity are comical in discussions of the humanities, in this case they demonstrate why academics should not be trusted with an issue as important as documenting and modeling climate change.

    For its part RealClimate needs to have a clear stated policy concerning how posts and comments are filtered. It also needs to distance itself from (rather than trying to trivialize) the egregious behavior displayed in some of the emails.

    The biology grad students I knew would always say “You can always tell a physical scientist but you can’t tell them much.” This episode appears to prove they were correct.

  18. 568
    Jim Bouldin says:

    “For the first time in my life I feel ashamed to be a scientist…The fact that journals allow us to pick or refuse certain reviewers already shows how messed up the whole system has become. Which is why I always must smile when people insist on peer review in these discussions.”

    What are you talking about? Nobody “picks or refuses certain reviewers”. What is allowed, at some journals, are requests that certain potential reviewers be included or excluded. The subject matter editor, or Editor in Chief can honor or not honor those requests as they see fit. These options are put in place to increase the chances that one can receive a fair review, by avoiding those who are either not an expert on the topic, or who may not be counted on to give a fair review for whatever reason.

    Mind telling us what kind of scientist you are by the way, given that you don’t seem to understand this? And why are you ashamed about something that doesn’t involve you?

    Crocodile tears.

  19. 569
    Perik Erikson says:

    “Who did this (distorting data)? And what claim do you think it was supporting?

    You, gavin, distort data and they are your claims (your money, your status, your right etc.).

    Until recently I thought that banking was a respectable profession. The same I did for scientists.

    [Response: Really? Perhaps you could provide some evidence for your accusations? I don’t even have any data to distort! – gavin]

  20. 570
    tensorized lurker says:

    Re: Jonathan Gilligan#563,

    It is not the word ‘trick’ that is at issue here but the hiding of proxy data that decline in the recent decades (1980 onwards) using measured temperatures.

    [Response: Again, how is a publication in Nature hiding anything? I know you don’t think that climate scientists are very bright, but really, the purloined Nature article? – gavin]

  21. 571
    SE says:

    I have read many of the emails that lead me to some sympathy for the researchers whose emails have been disclosed. I see some indications that your error (at least W.R.T some of you) was that you tried to follow the a Righteous at the same time as an objective path. Which makes me all the more sorry for saying what needs very badly to be said.

    After that reading I can come to only one conclusion. The Hadley and American scientists that speak of evading FOIA laws and censorship of anyone that has a dissenting view in “peer reviewed” journals need to learn from this experience.

    The idea demonstrated by so many posters here that “Thy shall not question thy God” just shows what a poor foundation was built for the GW house of cards that has been constructed.

    This is not to say the cards have no validity as they are all pieces of the puzzle. But rather to say what a botched up mess this is.

    There is at least a 75% chance that the release was the act of a Whistle blowing and not hacking.

    The emails disclosed (many of which have been confirmed by their authors – to their credit) by their selection at the very least demonstrate knowledge of what a smoking gun looks like.

    But the most serious criticism I have is one that I don’t see anyone mentioning here or elsewhere.

    I’ll look at what you’ve said over the weekend re CCSP.
    I don’t know the other panel members. I’ve not heard any
    more about it since agreeing a week ago.
    As for FOIA Sarah isn’t technically employed by UEA and she
    will likely be paid by Manchester Metropolitan University.
    I wouldn’t worry about the code. ***If FOIA does ever get
    used by anyone, there is also ***IPR to consider as well.***
    Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people,
    so I will be hiding behind them. I’ll be passing any
    requests onto the person at UEA who has been given a post to
    deal with them.

    Could someone try to justify how publicly paid for research leads to Institutional and person Intellectual Property Right$$?

    ESPECIALLY when you are using your conclusion of that “behind the curtain” data to tell the rest of the human race to spend trillions to fix the problems you are claiming exist and need to be fixed.

    All the while the institutions you work for find monetary value in hiding your pubilicly funded work habits that they do not want to give up.

    Shame on you Phil et al. Shame on the institutions that you work for. Shame on the politicians, government bureaucrats, and others that are supporting you in this.

    My advice to you is this. Open up all the data sets, all of the statistical climate models, and anything else that has to do with your public assertions.

    How are your actions any different than that of a commercial airline pilot that is insisting that his training and reputation makes a breath analyzer test unnecessary right before he get on the plane?

    If you do not wish to be transparent then it is time to clean house and get Scientists who really are objective. Scientist that do not work for institutions that are looking to make money off of publicly funded research.

    Climate of the earth is a very serious subject. It desperately needs to be treated that way. How can it be otherwise when in the past the climate of the earth has killed nearly all life on Earth?

    Though it also needs to be treated as and in context of one of many very serious issues.

    You have created a monster. Much, but certainly not all, has nothing to do with science. Until you decide to be completely transparent the real science will not begin.

    [Response: Well, IPR comes into it because the toolkits set up or data collected by scientists are usually the back-bone of their scientific output, and sometimes have taken years to refine. In a very real sense, that is what makes a scientist productive and is the basis by which they are judged worthy of future funding. People are therefore protective of it (and rightly so). – gavin]

  22. 572
    simon abingdon says:

    If for example you’re going for a job interview, and you know you’re worth it, all you have to do is speak from the heart and your integrity will become apparent.

    That’s how Gavin comes across to me. Sometimes a little exasperated perhaps. But withal unfailingly convincing in the face of hostile and unremitting pressure. Always responsive and never evasive.

    You can’t fake that.

  23. 573
    Steve Geiger says:

    563. The elements of the ‘trick’ have been pretty reasonably established. Go read about it on that ‘other’ web site. People had figured that out quite some time ago.

  24. 574
    Joe says:

    Someone mentioned this from Richard Feynman, his address to the grad class in 1974 at CalTech (at it is all too appropriate in light of the conduct shown in the emails:

    But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

    We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It’s a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

    Why didn’t they discover that the new number was higher right away? It’s a thing that scientists are ashamed of–this history–because it’s apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something must be wrong–and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan’s value they didn’t look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We’ve learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don’t have that kind of a disease.

    For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were. “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.” He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.” I think that’s kind of dishonest. If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing–and if they don’t want to support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.

    One example of the principle is this: If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results.

    I say that’s also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don’t publish such a result, it seems to me you’re not giving scientific advice. You’re being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don’t publish it at all. That’s not giving scientific advice.

    So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

  25. 575
    PhryingPhish says:

    If (just IF mind you) tomorrow we found out that 1. GW was NOT happening or 2. That GW was actually Good for the world, would you, or any like scientist have the courage to say, “Well, I guess I was wrong. Gotta go now and find a new job.”, I doubt it.

  26. 576
    Lyn from UK says:

    “…posting private correspondence without permission is unethical. We therefore aren’t going to post any of the emails here…”

    Are you insane? If the emails are true, they are at best at least reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, eg a conspiracy to defraud the taxpayer who paid for ‘honest’ academic research.

    I am a British taxpayer, a big supporter of a cleaner environment, but seething at the thought that the intelligentsia yet again piss down my back and tell me it’s raining because I don’t hold a PhD.

  27. 577
    jontie says:

    The same type of ‘incriminating’ emails could be found in the inbox of academics in any field. Academics often play fast and loose with peer review to build/consolidate their careers. Not nice, but the drive for success and prestige can make people behave badly.
    But, does this mean the scientific consensus is wrong? Of course not, it just means leading scientists are not candidates for sainthood. Big deal.

  28. 578
    Medawar says:

    This may not actually have been a hack as such.
    Some are saying that, due to the sheer volume of data, it’s more characteristic of a badly-disposed-of hard drive (or backup tape) and the date of most of the material would rather support this.

    This changes the legalities more than slightly, transferring most of the liability to the careless disposer (who might have broken the data protection act) rather than the “hacker”. If he hasn’t actually hacked anything, but found or brought an old drive or backup tape, he’s broken copyright law at worst.

    It’s also possible that someone deliberately gave this data out, of course. But see age of the material, above.

    If the material was mislaid, or sold, and wasn’t hacked, then there is no basis for a police investigation and one suspects at Norfolk Constabulary have far better things to do with their time. It would be for copyright holders to take civil action, (trading standards can assist only when the copyright breach is done for direct profit, as in video piracy.)

    The hope that the police will briskly crack down and spare certain people embarrassment is probably a vain one: if they don’t do anything much when one is burgled, mugged or raped, is it realistic to expect their immediate attention when it’s not even clear that the data was acquired by criminal means?

    And if they do jump to the tune of important scientists and policy-makers, is that actually the right thing? I’m sure that if the Chief Constable of Norfolk really has any men spare this weekend, they’re on their way to Cumbria to assist overwhelmed colleagues.

  29. 579
    Jim Bouldin says:

    While the displays of pettiness and insecurity are comical in discussions of the humanities, in this case they demonstrate why academics should not be trusted with an issue as important as documenting and modeling climate change.

    You prefer say, plumbers, or maybe retired mining consultants?

  30. 580
    Varga Endre says:

    It is actually very sad, that this whole AGW debate ends up in a giant flame war. I really want the AGW Theory opponents (don’t like neither skeptic, neither denialist — each term is heavily biased) to be true. I really want. Time will tell.

  31. 581
    West Houston says:

    QUoting NY Times:
    “Dr. Trenberth said Friday that he was appalled at the release of the e-mail messages. But he added that he thought the revelations might backfire against climate skeptics. He said that he thought that the messages showed “the integrity of scientists.”
    Quoting one of the Scientists (with integrity) in question:
    “Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the (c-word) out of him. Very tempted.”

    Just search the new CRU email database for “c-word”. You’ll have to sort through hundreds, but it’s there.

  32. 582
    encs says:

    “For the first time in my life I feel ashamed to be a scientist.”

    Counterpoint: I’m a scientist, too, and I do not share your feelings in the slightest.

    Further, I understand why an institution might be reticent to share raw data willy-nilly — with unqualified culture warriors, especially — even if they legally could, which sometimes they can’t. Perhaps you can present the facts of a specific case in which you think data was unduly embargoed? That way we can make up our own minds, albeit without the benefit of your scolding and hand-wringing.

  33. 583
    J says:

    The elephant in the room of these emails is that key players in AGW are engaged in CYA, propaganda, suppression of opposition, and hiding their work. I.e., the opposite of honest scientific inquiry.

    “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” is not a viable rebuttal and its not working.

  34. 584
    Perik Erikson says:

    By the way gavin

    stop calling mankind not being part of nature
    it created us and GW
    mankind only creates the words (concepts)

    go for it. bye

  35. 585
    Jim Bouldin says:

    The biology grad students I knew would always say “You can always tell a physical scientist but you can’t tell them much.” This episode appears to prove they were correct.

    Iron clad proof, without a doubt. Just as the whole deal proves AGW is bogus right?

  36. 586
    Ian Rae says:

    The IPCC has often uses the consensus claim — ‘thousands of climate scientists agree’. This is a claim based on the credibility of scientists. And unfortunately the fallout of these emails will be a loss of credibility.

    One good thing I see in them is the quiet questioning of the current science — such as Kevin Trenberth saying they can’t account for the lack of recent warming and that it is a travesty.

    [Response: See here. It’s not what you think. – gavin]

  37. 587
    Biff Larkin says:

    So, are you RealClimate guys going to let Steve McIntyre have a look at your data or not?

    [Response: What data would that be? And RealClimate is a website, not a research institute. – gavin]

  38. 588
    Chris Hill says:

    For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

    Richard Feynman

    There is no harm in doubt and skepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made.

    Richard Feynman

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

    Richard Feynman

  39. 589

    re: #511

    Dear Ike,

    I am glad the good folks here let through your comment. I said essentially the same as the first half of your comment, but it didn’t make the cut here — too blunt, I guess.

    But one thing you forgot to mention is that the NYT’s “article” let Patrick Michaels have the first and last word, and even called him a “climatologist.” No mention of the fact that he is known to take funds from CEI and mountain-top-removal coal companies, among others.

    What has happened is certainly disheartening, but I encourage all of you here at RealClimate to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on because you are our best hope.

    And, you might think of taking your show on the road like Gordon Hamilton and company because the more people see you up close and personal, the more effective you will be.

  40. 590
    Lazar says:


    Working under the assumption that the emails are genuine…

    Nothing has been found to incriminate the science itself. The personal stuff is irrelevant. The bad stuff relates to responses to FOI and one presentation of results, and are imv very bad…

    a) Requesting that scientists delete email correspondence
    b) in the knowledge that those emails may be subject to FOI

    [Response: This was ill-advised. – gavin]

    c) Proposing to deliberately mangle/supply requested data into a form that is more difficult to use

    [Response: Not true. – gavin]

    d) Proposing the deletion of parts of a dataset before it is released under FOI

    [Response: Depends what was requested and what was in the datafile. Some of it might not have been responsive. – gavin]

    e) Considering the deletion of an entire dataset to avoid FOI release

    [Response: Shouldn’t have been said but is clearly hyperbole and not an actual proposal. – gavin]

    f) Deliberately concealing a mismatch between reconstructed and instrumental temperatures (“to hide the decline” is unambiguous, and is not excused by the fact that the discrepancy is discussed in *other* publications; Pat Michaels’ omission of Hansen 1988’s B & C scenarios in Congressional testimony is not justified by the fact that they were available in Hansen 1988 — I am not saying though that the two are ethically equivalent)

    [Response: They are not in the slightest. Michaels’ actions were a deliberate misrepresentation of Hansen’s work in front of Congress. The incompleteness of a caption in a brochure while unfortunate is nothing like as serious, nor does it rise to deliberate misrepresentation. The procedure used should simply have been noted more clearly. – gavin]

    g) Witholding a clean, commented version of publicly released code, presumably with the intention of not making use of the code any easier

    [Response: Your presumption is just not justified by the text. Just below he says “Phil: is this worth a followup note to GRL, w/ a link to the Matlab code?” which is hardly a declaration that the code is going to be withheld. Code gets cleaned up and hopefully easier to use all the time. – gavin]

    This appears to be (hopefully) ‘the lot’. All relate to Phil Jones with the exception of g) (Michael Mann).

    With to the release of data, some of the less frequently cited emails reveal that Jones and other climate scientists were genuinely concerned that it would be used by ‘auditors’ and other ‘skeptics’ to obfuscate the science. Scientists other than Jones also claimed a huge waste of time would result from debunking such distortions. There is no evidence of an intent to ‘hide errors’. I thoroughly agree with those assessments, having observed the actions of ‘auditors’ and other ‘skeptics’ for some time. The intention of Jones may have been ‘good’. That does not excuse the actions. The ends do not justify the means, as the means are part of the ends. This is a war between science and PR disinformation. War has ethics, and both sides may have different standards. What are scientific ethics in this regard? Of course the other side are engaged in a scope and depth of dishonesty which makes the current kerfuffle appear trifling. Sadly, and ironically, they can now cast doubt on the integrity of the climate science community and the science with impunity. I think this will shake public confidence and setback understanding by years. If the climate science community act to defend Jones’ actions, it will make the issue worse in the public eye. Discussing climate science with ‘skeptics’ is even more pointless forevermore, as any discussion will inevitably derail to this issue.

    I’ll be crossposting to other climate science sites in the hope of eliciting comment and criticism (particularly from Barton, Hank, Chris, Deep, TCO, George, Eli, Timothy, and David.)



  41. 591
    Russ Doty says:

    So now that this is in the public domaine. Suppose the perpetrators hack into the Exxon computers and those of other fossil fuel fratricidalists so we get a “fair and balanced” picture of what is going on. Better yet all those climate naysayers who are exploiting this “openness” can open up their emails to the public as several on this site have offerred.

  42. 592
    Ike Solem says:

    real climate news:

    GREENLAND lost 1500 cubic kilometres of ice between 2000 and 2008, making it responsible for one-sixth of global sea-level rise. Even worse, there are signs that the rate of ice loss is increasing.

    Michiel van den Broeke of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues began by modelling the difference in annual snowfall and snowmelt in Greenland between 2003 and 2008 to reveal the net ice loss for each year. They then compared each year’s loss with that calculated from readings by the GRACE satellite, which “weighs” the ice sheet by measuring its gravity.

    Is the Greenland Ice Sheet also behaving sinisterly?

    real climate policy news (UPI):

    Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the stalled climate legislation is likely to undermine efforts at reaching a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen, Emirati newspaper The National reports.

    “What’s really missing is the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “And, in the absence of at least the U.S., I’m not too sure you can get any kind of binding global agreement.”

    Pachauri said American lawmakers are far behind their counterparts in the industrialized world in moving ahead with appropriate climate-change legislation.

    “Europe is pretty much on board, Japan has come up with very ambitious targets, even in the developing countries, the emerging markets, there is at least some indication that their own national action plans will be taken,” he said.”

    Are our U.S. Senators also behaving sinisterly? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a straight news article in the NYT say anything like, “Still, the Senator’s actions could be seen as sinister.”

    Maybe the NYT should have just run with the headline, “Emails reveal sinister agenda of climate scientists.”

  43. 593
    Ron says:

    ccpo says:
    21 November 2009 at 3:45 AM “Try posting a dissenting view at WUWT. I’ve never posted a lie, a slander, or anything else but the truth there, but I am banned.”

    -ccpo, maybe your problem is that nobody (strictly speaking) can POST a slander. Slanders are spoken, in contrast to libels which are defamations that are written (posted) or expressed in some other permanent form, e.g. a taped audio message. The latter are deemed more serious because they take time to make which indicate intent to defame, whereas a slander can be expressed in haste, or simply a slip of the tongue. You’re welcome.

    Ray Ladbury says:
    20 November 2009 at 6:56 PM
    “To hell with these bastards [denialists]. Let them bask in their own irrelevance while the rest of us get about constructing a sustainable society.”

    -Ray, I think it would be great if you’d actually spend more of your time “…constructing a sustainable society” than you do here with your never ending stream of destructive and boorish back street tough guy patois. You may have a great deal to contribute, but it all seems to come out sounding like poop. Thanks.


  44. 594
    Xyrus says:

    Re: 524
    “bielie says:
    21 November 2009 at 12:48 PM

    According to the spreadsheet there were £13,718,547.00 in grants! (to the pound) That’s probably more than the GDP of some countries that will receive climate restitution dollars under the proposed Copenhagen accord!”

    13 million pounds? Really? The military spends more on toilet paper and tooth brushes than that.

    The GDP of England is 2.3 trillion in US dollars. 13 million pounds is roughly 21 million US dollars. So all that climate research amounts to a whopping .0001% of the budget. Even if it were billions, that’s still .01%.

    But you are right about one thing. That is slightly more or equal to the GDP of two countries (Tuvalu, Niue).


  45. 595
    helvio says:

    I don’t even understand what the fuss is all about… For me, as a scientist who uses a lot of computer programming to simulate (truly predictable) physical systems in particle physics, who share his code and data when asked (no need for FOI-like requests!), who works in a field where data, configurations, codes are generically open, I can only interpret the behavior reflected in some emails as the negation of science. It’s crystal clear and as simply as this: if you don’t share the data and/or the codes used to analyze it -when legitimately asked for them- then you must be hiding something! Claiming that these codes and data are the results of funded research, and that 3rd parties not covered by these funds have no right to access them, it’s complete BS! Funds are used to do research, results are obtained and published, and the credit is due. And that’s what realscience is! Hiding, destroying (or intending to), or making it difficult to access the methods used to obtain those results screams -fraud-. The honest scientist is not afraid of the results they publish, nor selfish. They want knowledge to progress, even if they are not its author.

  46. 596
    DaveS says:

    ***”What data would that be? And RealClimate is a website, not a research institute. – gavin”

    You have a fondness for playing silly semantic games to avoid addressing points. RealClimate is a website, sure… and many of its contributors have just been exposed in emails conspiring to avoid compliance with FOIA requests (among many other things)…

    Is it really that hard to acknowledge “Oh yeah, Real Climate is a bunch of scientists who are conspiring to withhold data, so your question about whether we will release our data makes perfect sense”? Why can’t you just answer the question?

    [Response: Because your question doesn’t make any sense. Nobody associated with RealClimate conspired to avoid compliance with FOI because none of them are under any FOI requests. (I have been involved with two in the past as mentioned above, neither of which involved data of any type). So rather than me rack my brains for what data it is you are referring to, perhaps you could just tell me what data do you think any of us are holding that anyone would like to see? – gavin]

  47. 597
    MarkB says:

    With all the many emails, the “cream of the crop” being held up by the political crowd turns out to be nothing.

    Following Simon Abingdon’s comment #570, I admire the incredible patience Dr. Schmidt and other scientists are and have been displaying over the years and over the latest soap box episode. I don’t know of any scientific field that is remotely close to being under similar constant politically-motivated assault, which is apparent with some of the trollish comments and charges being thrown around here. What other field of science has legions of fanatics cheering on hackers stealing personal emails going back over a decade and quote mining them, desperate to find some “dirt”, feigning “outrage” over scientists saying not-so-nice things about others, and making very poor conclusions regarding emails containing discussions of studies and data? This is political ugliness – something genuinely skeptical scientists wouldn’t want to be a part of. Frankly, I hope this doesn’t lead to scientists becoming too restrained and talking less candidly when communicating with other scientists and the public, or deters intelligent young people from entering the field, knowing that they will be under constant attack. Climate scientists are doing a tremendous service to society. I hope they will keep up the good work, and will not be deterred by political bullies.

  48. 598
    petek says:

    “The use of a computer model is a poor argument for or against the topic, how can we trust the data when we do not know every variable or how each one effects the other?

    Data is measured. Sure, data measurement will and needs to be improved, you may not trust the models, I agree, better trust the data and not the variables. Consider this. Yes, there is a problem, the last decade shows no significant warming trend (also no decline, but look at the long term trend). The previous decades show a very significant warming trend. As a result the models start to lose touch with the data, true. Nobody wants to forge data, so there might be a need to adjust the models. This is an ongoing scientific process and matter of conflict and dispite, computing power makes many things easier. I started helping to work on carbon sinks in the 80s and on athmospheric models. The first model was done on a C64. I only did the code review, but gained a little bit of insight. These things then were really ugly but have become much better since. Like always stated in this blog, it is easier to create long term models and there is a simple reason, statistical noise, which tends to disappear over time. It is far easier to do a one year UK road congestion forecast than predicting a London traffic jam at a given time (e.g. accident or tube strike).

    Yes, falsification is a good concept, but it has its flaws. If a theory is falsfied you are left with no theory if there is no theory to counter it. An audit is not enough though. In sciences you need to establish an opposite theory or at least a valid argument – based on observation (data) or experiment that challenges a theory. The basic science by experiment is settled, okay, now you can come up with the argument of invalid or incomplete data. Yes, it is incomplete and Gavin probably wants to shoot ten more satellites into the earth orbit. As humans we have to live with data as we get those pieces and try to transform them into information. That is the central point, data does not equal information.

  49. 599
    Jim Bouldin says:

    “But, does this mean the scientific consensus is wrong? Of course not, it just means leading scientists are not candidates for sainthood. Big deal.”

    No, it doesn’t even mean that. It does mean that certain individuals will break into a server and distribute information to those who will use it to bolster their already paranoid viewpoint about climate scientists.

  50. 600
    Xyrus says:

    ” Anthony Jackson says:
    21 November 2009 at 2:23 PM

    Th use of a computer model is a poor argument for or against the topic, how can we trust the data when we do not know every variable or how each one effects the other?”

    No it isn’t. And such a statement shows your complete lack of understanding.

    The point of a model is to help study potential relationships and verify against observations. You’re not going to simulate climate in a lab, so the only option is to use models as a testing board. The more we learn, the more we add to the model for a more accurate representation.

    If your problem is that you don’t understand the math and/or science, then you nee to enroll into classes or a degree program that will. The point of the models is to help the scientists understand and test their hypotheses, not teach or train the masses in advance concepts of climatology.