Climategate: one year later

November 17 marked the one year anniversary of the hacking of CRU mail servers and the release of thousands of emails between climate scientists.

Though irrelevant to the scientific case for anthropogenic climate change, the event was significant in the public relations sphere. I have not found the time to do a proper memorial write up though I think it is important to reassess and reframe the controversy with the benefit of hindsight. But as luck would have it, a young climate blogger named Kate at Climate Sight has written a piece as well laid out and written as I could ever have hoped to do, full of supporting links and intelligent insights.

Please go have a read there!

That important work being done, I am free to pick a shallower approach and quickly talk about a few things the emails did not say! (I have used examples from this page as a quick one-stop shop for the climate conspiracy nut’s favorite email quotes.)

Phil Jones said “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) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”. He did not say “and I hope no one catches me because Mike and I described fully what we did in the scientific literature, what were we thinking?”

Mann said he will contact BBC’s Richard Black to find out why a BBC journalist published a sceptical article. He did not say he was contacting the IPCC’s secret service to have the journalist brought in for “questioning” [evil laugh].

Kevin Trenberth says “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” He did not say “and we better make something up quick or the funding gravy train will come off the rails.”

Tom Wigley said “A bunch of us are putting something together on the latest Lindzen and Choi crap.” He did not say “A bunch of us are putting some crap together on the latest Lindzen and Choi paper.”

Tom Wigley tells Jones “Land warming since 1980 has been twice the ocean warming — and skeptics might claim that this proves that urban warming is real and important.” He did not say “skeptics might realize that this proves that urban warming is real.”

Russian scientist Dedkova said “Of course, we are in need of additional money, especially for collecting wood samples at high latitudes and in remote regions. The cost of field works in these areas is increased many times during the last some years[….] Also, it is important for us if you can transfer the ADVANCE money on the personal accounts[…]. Only in this case we can avoid big taxes and use money for our work as much as possible.” She did not say “wire it to one of my usual Swiss bank accounts. To hell with the research, it’s time for a new private jet!”

Overpeck said “I’ve also seen the quote about getting rid of the MWP – it would seem to go back many years, maybe even to around the TAR. I’ve no idea where it came from. I didn’t say it!”. He did not say “but let’s do it, data be damned!”

Phil Jones said about the “FOI person” “Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA […] became very supportive.” He did not say “too bad everyone likes McIntyre, it will make it harder to resist his FOI requests.”

Ben Santer said “If the RMS is going to require authors to make ALL data available – raw data PLUS results from all intermediate calculations – I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.” He did not say “because that would reveal all my fraudulent research. We should eliminate the RMS.”

Mike Mann said about the journal GLR “They have published far too many deeply flawed contrarian papers in the past year or so. There is no possible excuse for them publishing all 3 Douglass papers and the Soon et al paper. These were all pure crap.” He did not say “These were all good research, but they don’t toe the party line”

Mike Mann said “legitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. A necessary though not in general sufficient condition for taking a scientific criticism seriously is that it has passed through the legitimate scientific peer review process. those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.” He did not say “those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system can not be controlled.”

Gary Funkhouser said “I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk something out of [the Kyrgyzstan proxy material]. […] I don’t think it’d be productive to try and juggle the chronology statistics any more than I already have – they just are what they are.” He did not say “so I had to fix the data.”

Phil Jones said “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow”. And yet they did appear in the next IPCC report.

I guess the serious point behind this facetious exercise is that what the emails contained is less revealing than what they did not contain. If the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, somewhere in these thousands of private emails should have been something serious, something incriminating without removing the context or reading between the lines in the most paranoid way possible. The best the denialosphere had was the infamous “hide the decline” comment which only worked when intentionally stripped of all context. There should have been something more than petty, ordinary character flaws. Some candid admission that what they are doing is wrong, or risky. Some confession that the sceptics were right. Some mention of enjoying the ill gotten gains.

But there is no there there, and there never was.

5 thoughts on “Climategate: one year later

  1. The incident was quite revealing in showing how the denialism meme network works. The selectively quoted emails functioned like a biological dye spreading through a cancer, such that Google could be used as the microscope. The emails also served a different function, in that it highlighted and perhaps strengthened the links between the AGW denialism movement and several other crackpot conspiratorial theories. It got JFK grassy knollers, birthers, tea partiers and 9-11 truthers like Alex Jones involved. The more that anthropogenic climate change denialists become indistinguishable from the likes of Colleen Thomas (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UAeSsvHhTg) the easier it is for the general public to marginalise them.

    A counter-hacker might even be tempted to encourage the process by seeding their meme network with more conspiratorial rubbish. I’m sure that the likes of McIntyre and Watt sees the risk of having too many Alex Jones fans polluting their websites to the point of losing what illusory level of credibility they think they have left.

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  2. It will be interesting to watch the news and commentators over the next few days, to see how they react to the Wikileaks publication of the ‘hacked / stolen ‘ foreign cables.

    I am sure – for consistancy – that the leakers will be hailed in the right-wing press as heroes for exposing the scams in government and the hypocracy, name-calling and lack of professionalism.

    Or maybe not.

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