Climate-gate?

Newton/Schmidt

[Note 11/23/11:  Another cache of hacked emails from this source was just released prior to a big meeting of climate scientists advocating for the AGW hypothesis.]

It was only a matter of time before the controversy over global warming, political and ideological as it is, should generate a scandal of its very own.  Can we say that day has arrived with the recent release of private emails from the Climate Research Unit in the UK?  Andy Revkin, has a story about it on the front page of the NY Times.

Beyond the dueling news-bytes (“will backfire on the skeptics…shows the integrity of the scientists” vs. “not a smoking gun – it’s a mushroom cloud!”) is the real story, in the details that will no doubt be publicized as people go through the tremendous cache of documents.  As one pro-AGW scientist rightly said, it “will be great material for historians.”

Note:  Thanks to one commenter on Revkin’s blog who pointed to this blog that traces one controversy through the emails – very illuminating.  Too bad we have to get this stuff from right-wing fans of George Bush, but facts are facts.  Certainly, Revkin is not tracing the threads in this stuff.

The advocates of the AGW point of view often like to associate themselves with the greats of scientific history – Newton, Darwin, Einstein – and to claim that their critics are destined for history’s dustbin along with the foolish people who refused to accept the validity of these scientists’ greatest work.  Along these lines, Gavin Schmidt, at RealClimate.org defends the tone of the email exchanges – often rude and quite impolite about critics – by saying

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.

Well, Feynman was quite a character, and could be quite short with others, but as far as I know, he had a deep understanding of and commitment to the scientific process, and the free-wheeling openess and criticism it requires.  Newtown, on the other hand, towering genius that he was, had a sense of self-worth approaching the delusional, and he was an absolutely arrogant S.O.B.  His efforts to scuttle the reputations of competitors, to suppress their work, his endless litigations to quash recognition for others, and his generally secretive behavior did nothing to advance the cause of science, and may have hindered it temporarily in some areas.  Great scientist, but not quite a role model for today.

My guess is that nothing much regarding the science will be found in these files that hasn’t been pointed out already by detail-oriented critics of the AGW position.  Focusing on the “gotcha lines,” such as one writer’s use of the word “trick” to describe another scientist’s success at smoothing out a discrepancy in the data is fun for bloggers, but is irrelevant.  Practitioners of all kinds have  informal ways of talking about what they do to save time and keystrokes.  Outright fraud is not likely to be discovered, I think.

What is clear, however, is that the scientists working to support the AGW point of view don’t seem to care about openess and transparency, they comprise a rather closed community of researchers with contempt for those who disagree, and they are willing to do what they can to cook the peer review process in their favor (check out this email at the searchable online database of the emails), not the least by withholding information, because, after all, they know they’re right and the fate of the world depends on it.  This undermines their credibility and it should be publicized as such.  The first commenter on Revkin’s blog sums it up nicely, see below.

The Editor’s Selections, highlighted comments that the Times considers especially thoughtful and valuable, and supposedly representing a range of views, so far includes only one from an academic specializing in the  sociology of science who pooh-poohs the whole thing.  Notably, he concludes his dismissal with the familiar claim that the theory of AGW is beyond dispute.

Raven – no. 1 comment on A. Revkin’s blog, DotEarth
Canada
November 20th, 2009
8:22 pm

The ‘privacy/illegal activity’ argument is ultimately a partisan one and therefore irrelevant. If someone believes such disclosures help whatever political position they have then they will argue the public good trumps the wrong. If the disclosures hurt their position they will argue for privacy to be respected.

Most of the people protesting privacy violations today would be gladly ignore such concerns if the email exchanges were between executives at oil companies.

I think the media needs to focus on the bits that do undermine the integrity of the scientific establishment. Specifically the attempts to manipulate the peer review process and the willingness to delete data in order to prevent it from be analyzed by ‘unfriendies’.

Frankly, I do not see anyone can seriously argue that the peer reviewed scientific literature is an unbiased source of information on climate change at this time and that revelation has huge implications for public policy.

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15 Responses to Climate-gate?

  1. Dan says:

    …meanwhile, other scientists are still going about their work as if AGW was still real, still finding that CO2 behaves as you’d expect a greenhouse gas to in the laboratory, and the polar ice caps are still melting…

  2. lichanos says:

    @Dan:

    Not sure what your comment means. How does acceptance of AGW change the work the scientists do?

    The globe is not a laboratory bench test – if it were, computer models wouldn’t be needed. It would be, as some like to say, basic physics.

    Are the polar caps melting? I believe that the data show that the total polar ice, north and south, has actually been increasing slightly. The arctic ice has certainly been within the normal range lately after a few pretty low years.

  3. Dan says:

    How does acceptance of AGW change the work the scientists do?

    It doesn’t — I wrote that under the impression that you think that the hacked emails will convince anyone of anything on the science. I take it that you didn’t think that, and my apologies. Kudos for recognizing this.

    The globe is not a laboratory bench test – if it were, computer models wouldn’t be needed. It would be, as some like to say, basic physics.

    Of course it’s not a laboratory bench test, but are you suggesting that there’s no reason to think that CO2 in the atmosphere is somehow different from CO2 in the laboratory?! That would be stupid.

    I believe that the data show that the total polar ice, north and south, has actually been increasing slightly. The arctic ice has certainly been within the normal range lately after a few pretty low years.

    Uh, no. You need to stop laboring under the lies of the denialism crowd there Lichanos. Even the IPCC’s 4th assessment report underestimated the extent of sea ice loss.

  4. Dan says:

    Sorry, “…no reason to think…” should have been “…some reason to think…”

  5. Dan says:

    And, since you don’t seem to follow the news…

    Antarctic ice loss vaster, faster than thought: study

    Greenland ice loss ‘accelerating’

    Or you could simply read the studies reported on in those articles in the journals Nature Geoscience and Science.

  6. lichanos says:

    @Dan:

    I don’t think the files will convince anyone about the science, one way or the other, but they should. They should convince people that the IPCC and its supporters are not the objective, scrupulous, and apolitical folks that they like to pose as.

    What I meant by my question about how does AGW affect the work of scientists was that an hydrologist, a botanist, a geologist…etc, could keep on doing his or her work the same way whether or not AGW sinks or flys. It might change the social significance of what they do, but I don’t see how it would change their day to day investigations. It doesn’t strike me as a “necessary hypothesis.” That is, try analysing the evolution of a virus without having natural selection firmly in mind – you won’t get very far. AGW isn’t like that.

    …but are you suggesting that there’s no reason to think that CO2 in the atmosphere is somehow different from CO2 in the laboratory?!

    Of course I’m not suggesting that. What I mean is that the conditions of the global weather system are so complex that they cannot be simulated in a bench-scale lab experiment, which is why models are so useful as learning tools, although they should not be used as crystal balls they way they are. If the climate system were simple, it could be “modeled” on the back of an envelope. It’s the complexities that are at issue. The AGW view posits positive feedbacks, forcings, that are not observed or proven: they are only plausible and speculative. The GCMs legitimize them as tested and proven, wrongly, I maintain.

    You need to stop laboring under the lies of the denialism crowd there Lichanos. Even the IPCC’s 4th assessment report underestimated the extent of sea ice loss.

    First of all, the denialism crowd, as you call them, includes a lot of perfectly respectable people who are not rabid ideologues as the despicable moniker, denialist, implies. Just face it – that term was applied because it associates them with grotesque intellectual frauds who claim that the Nazis didn’t murder millions of Jews. It’s a real slander.

    As for
    “Even the IPCC’s 4th assessment report underestimated the extent of sea ice loss…”

    You are implying that even the IPCC was too conservative to prove your point??

    And you don’t seem to follow the news.

    I find news reporting of science, especially on issues where there is uncertainty – environmental damage, health, AGW – to be awful – period. I do not rely on it except to point me to real analysis and to gauge the popular mind. Is there something wrong with this graph of arctic ice extent? IJIS Plot

    Seems to me it shows that for this year, the extent has been within normal bounds recently as I said. Other longer-term graphs look similar. The articles you cited are discussing specific areas of Greenland and the antarctic. The two sets of data are not necessarily incompatible at all, assuming they are all true.

  7. Dan says:

    You are implying that even the IPCC was too conservative to prove your point??

    No, of course not. I’m implying that although the IPCC was responsible in making conservative statements based upon available evidence, it was just that – conservative. The reality is that it appears that the polar ice caps are decreasing more rapidly than previously estimated – NOT that that they’re increasing as you seem to think.

  8. Dan says:

    Oh, and as to your graph – no, there’s nothing wrong with that graph. What is the point of it, anyway? Are you silly enough to be talking about intra-annual sea ice extent in a discussion about global warming? Or do you just like being a smart ass in pointing out that we still have winter?

  9. lichanos says:

    I don’t see why it’s silly. I know this graph shows a few years only, but the variation is typical. A professor of mine researched this when I was an MA student in 1993 – he concluded then that there was no significant diminishment. Clearly, arctic ice flucuates a lot. Even if it were to get ice-free next summer, a prediction that is made every year and that so far has not come to pass, it wouldn’t be as remarkable as people claim. There are historical records indicating just that.

  10. Dan says:

    Lichanos,
    Yes, it’s silly (to be generous) to point to the fact that we still have winter with a graph of intra-annual sea ice growth and retreat when the argument is of inter-annual change.

    Not so unexpectedly, when you look at inter-annual sea ice extent and thickness to discuss inter-annual changes, you get graphs like this.

  11. Dan says:

    But you know I looked at your graph on intra-annual sea ice extent between 2002 and 2009 a bit closer now Lichanos… and wouldn’t you know it, the three years with the smallest minimum sea ice extent are the three most recent.

    Oh, true, 2007 was the smallest value and 2009 the largest on that graph, but surely you recognize the value of comparing a larger trend ranging not just from 2002 to 2009, but from 1978 to 2009.

    • lichanos says:

      One could reply that this graph, and the longer-term graphs show simply that arctic sea ice flucuates quite a bit. The fact that it reached a low recently and bounced back to normal is unsurprising. The fact that it went through a series of low years recently is itself unsurprising in light of the historical record going back through the 1950s and 1960s, as shown by records and observations at the north pole by nuclear submariners, and further back in literary records regarding the opening of the Northwest Passage.

      This is like talking about how N-hottest years have all been in the last ten years. Big deal. How much hotter than the previous N-hottest in the 1930s and 1940s were they? Is that why the recent study of statistical highs beings with the 1950s? This neither proves anything, nor establishes a robust trend. It bears watching, that’s all.

  12. Derek Flint says:

    30000 scientists are taking Al Gore to court over anthropological global warming.

    Many scientists believe global warming is not occurring or has ceased, other scientists believe accuracy of IPCC climate projections is questionable, still others believe global warming is primarily caused by natural processes, more believe cause of global warming is unknown, some believe global warming will not be significantly negative and even beneficial.

    The AGW consensus scientists obviously have an ulterior motive.

  13. lichanos says:

    Derek:

    “Ulterior motive?” Perhaps, but I doubt it. People get attached to their pet theories, and when they are convinced that they are saving the world, they get pretty intolerant.

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