The issue of global warming/climate change has been in the news.
The Copenhagen climate change conference is coming up and some emails from scientists have been revealed which some consider scandalous. I’ve already skimmed about a dozen articles about these emails and for the most part it all seems rather stupid. Yes, some scientists have agendas. As for these particular scientists, even assuming they are guilty of the allegations, so what?
There is no reason to dismiss the consensus opinion of an entire field based on a few scientists. The scientific method isn’t dependent on every single scientist being honest and unbiased. If that was the case, we should dismiss all medical research as that field is probably more corrupt than climatology. Just follow the money as they say.
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As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from 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).
So begins the RealClimate post on this hack-heard-round-the-blogosphere. At the end, I’ll excerpt that post, which makes clear this is much ado about not bloody much. I’ll also look at the
The predictable FoxNews take is here (screen capture of their front page is above). At the end, I’ll post some truly amazing quotes from the anti-scientific side of the blogosphere, from Brad Johnson’s Wonk Room post, including this from the Telegraph’s James Delingpole:
If you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW.
Whatever smoke the anti-scientific disinformers are able to blow into people’s faces over this bunch of emails dating back over a decade, it doesn’t change the basic facts about human-caused warming:
Figure: Time series of global mean heat storage (0–2000 m), measured in 108 Jm-2.
The NYT’s Revkin has a piece whose headline and lede, typically, misses the entire point, “Hacked E-Mails Fuel Climate Change Skeptics.” Note to Andy: Everything fuels the disinformers! And that includes studies and data that prove the exact opposite of what they assert.
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.The CRU hack
STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, he is also going to be dealing with health care, right now on the floor of the Senate. He announced this week to Copenhagen to deal with climate change. And it comes at a time when the politics seem to be changing a little bit in this.
Let me show our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. It shows whether people believe global warming is occurring. That number is going down. July 2008, 80 percent of the public; down to 72 percent now. And there’s been a sort of a real partisanship. Look at Republicans, 74 percent believed global warming was occurring back in 2008. Now, a 20-point drop to 54 percent.
George, there has been a partinizing of this issue, and let me turn to one more complication we’ve had over the last week. This Climate Research Institute at East Anglia University, someone hacked into their e-mail account and showed a bunch of emails between scientists, which opponents of climate change legislation said proves that they are rigging the science and trying to hide information that runs counter to their theories.
WILL: It raises the question of — we’re being asked to wage trillions of dollars and substantially curtail freedom on climate models that are imperfect and unproven. And the consensus far from being as solid as they say it is, and the debate as over as they say it is. The e-mails indicate people are very nervous about suppressing criticism, gaming the peer review process for scholarly works and all the rest. One of the e-mails said it is a travesty, his word, it is a travesty that we cannot explain the fact that global warming has stopped. Well, they shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. It’s a complicated business, and that’s why we shouldn’t be (inaudible).
KRUGMAN: All those e-mails — people have never seen what academic discussion looks like. There’s not a single smoking gun in there. There’s nothing in there. And the travesty is that people are not able to explain why the fact that 1988 was a very warm year doesn’t actually mean that global warming has stopped. I mean, that’s loose wording. Right? Everything is about — we’re really in the same situation as if there was one extremely warm day in April. And then people are saying, well, you see, May is cooler than April, there’s no trend here. And that’s what — the travesty is how hard it has been to explain…
WILL: One of the emails, Paul, said he wished he could delete, get rid of the medieval warming period. That lasted 600 years…
KRUGMAN: It’s not — read — this has all been explained. What he meant is they want to put a start on it. We have an end to it, we don’t have a start on it. There’s a lot of loose use of language when you’re just talking among each other. And what (inaudible) really meant, deleting would be meant that, you know, we don’t know when this thing started, because we don’t have very good data back then. There weren’t any weather stations. And that’s what the context was.
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What is interesting is that the polling results have changed despite the science not having changed which demonstrates that most people aren’t basing their opinions on the actual science. A consensus of scientists and scientific organizations in the world agree that climate change exists and is a major problem, and I personally trust scientists when it comes to scientific issues.
The naysayers can’t disprove the science and so they attack the scientists and the entire field. It’s interesting that this is the same tactic apologists use. If they don’t have a rational argument based on facts and consensus opinions of experts, then the only way they can win a debate is by attacking their opponent and distract from the real issues. It’s rather pathetic, but unfortunately it can be very effective in muddying the water and emotionally swaying the general public.
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As always, the full Swifthack Scandal: What You Need to Know document can be found here.
In the statements from scientists section:
Marine-Mammal Biologist Peter Watts:
Science doesn’t work despite scientists being asses. Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process. Haven’t any of these guys ever heard of “peer review”?
There’s this myth in wide circulation: rational, emotionless Vulcans in white coats, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their Scientific Methods unsullied by bias or emotionalism. Most people know it’s a myth, of course; they subscribe to a more nuanced view in which scientists are as petty and vain and human as anyone (and as egotistical as any therapist or financier), people who use scientific methodology to tamp down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.
In the pieces of general interest section:
Changes in the Weather
The Manufactured Doubt Industry and the Hacked Email Controversy
Using Karl’s Trick To Hide The Consensus
ClimateGate: Addressing the ‘Not a Hacker’ Meme
With ‘ClimateGate,’ Some Republicans Embrace Thug Politics
The Global Warming Emails Non-Event
Climate Science Data Sources
Tell it to the Ice Caps
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I was listening to NPR at work last night. Diane Rehm had an interesting two part show. In the first part, she had a discussion with several people about the Copenhagen conference and the email issue. In the second part, she talked with Wendell Berry. The first part is the one of the few intelligent and in-depth discussions about climate change I’ve heard recently in the news.
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It’s important to understand here that the timing of this event is rather suspect. We’re one week away from this historic summit in Copenhagen, where leaders from around the world will be meeting to discuss how to combat the threat of human-caused climate change. And going into that meeting, there’s a very robust consensus among the world’s scientists that the problem is real and there’s something that we need to do about it.
Now there is, of course, a group of people and there are special interests who do not want to see any progress made at this summit. And frankly, they don’t have the science on their side. The science behind human-caused climate change is quite solid. The National Academy of Science in the U.S. has weighed in on this…there is in fact a consensus behind the reality of climate change. So, the other side doesn’t have the science on their side, and instead they’ve engaged frankly in what I believe is a smear campaign; stolen emails, taken out of context, mined for single words or phrases that can be twisted and taken out of context, in many cases to completely misrepresent the context of what was being discussed.
…let me stress again that there is nothing in any of these emails that in an way calls into question the consensus of the world’s scientists that the problem of climate change is real and that we need to do something to confront it. So my hope is that people will see through this fairly thinly disguised smear campaign and recognize that in no way does anything in any of these emails call into question the validity of the science behind human-caused climate change.
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I’ve discussed the issue of environmental threats in a much earlier post: Human Stupidity. Here is the basic conclusion:
“We should stop adding massive pollution to the environment not because we know what it does but because we don’t know what it does.”
So, even if the climate change contrarians were correct about the limits of what we know and can predict, that would be all the more reason we should stop taking such grand risks in polluting and destroying the environment. It’s just plain commonsense, but it’s also known as the precautionary principle.
I also found helpful this discussion about tipping points and climate change. There was an argument made in that discussion that explains why we should act to stop climate change no matter what the cause. If we humans have caused or contributed to climate change, then we just need to change specific behaviors, practices, and laws. If we humans haven’t caused or contributed to climate change, then it’s a natural process that once understood could be stopped or altered by human intervention.
I’ll end with the poem Wendell Berry read near the end of his talk with Diane Rehm:
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.
2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.
3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.
4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.
5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
Wendell Berry, “Questionnaire” from Leavings.