Those CRU emails and the state of climate science

by Richard on December 3, 2009

I see that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has stepped aside following the controversy over the hacking of the unit’s email

Professor Jones said: “What is most important is that CRU continues its world-leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible.

“After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the director’s role during the course of the independent review.”

Professor Peter Liss will become acting director while the review is conducted, the university said.

At the time that the theft of the data was revealed climate sceptics picked up on the word “trick” in one e-mail from 1999 and talk of “hiding the decline”.

Professor Jones said the e-mail was genuine but taken “completely out of context”.

He released a copy of the actual e-email which reads: “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.”

Professor Jones said: “The first thing to point out is that this refers to one diagram - not a scientific paper.

“The word ‘trick’ was used here colloquially as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward.”

It’s important to note that his temporary (I hope) resignation is not an admission of any guilt or impropriety in the unit’s work. He clearly stands by the data they have gathered and the methods which they have used to analyse that data. Robert Watson, UEA’s Professor of Environmental Sciences and a DEFRA Chief Scientific Advisor, has made a similar point on the radio the other day. The CRU data has been corroborated by other agencies around the world, notably NASA and NOAA, (the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and nothing in the leaked emails changes that.

The climate change ’skeptics’ have been keen to trumpet this as evidence as some sort of conspiracy within the scientific community. There are two things that puzzle me about this.

First, what would the purpose of such a conspiracy be? The pursuit of funding? That’s hardly credible, but more so than the alternative that’s sometimes presented — that the climate change scientists are working for (or part of) some massive worldwide cabal bent on seizing political power.

Second, is there any evidence from history that suggests that scientists would get away with such a conspiracy? Whenever scientific fraud has been discovered, it has been by scientists. To believe that the case for anthropogenic climate change is a conspiracy, you have to believe that a whole discipline has abandoned the scientific method in order to pursue some other agenda. An individual might go bad. A department, possibly. Even an institution. But a whole discipline? Please.

But if we’re looking for conspiracies, let’s pause and ask ourselves how and why these leaked emails have been released so close to the Copenhagen conference. Is it just a coincidence? Although climate scientists and ‘greens’ are often accused of science for political purposes, I can’t help noticing that it is the ’skeptics’ who most often use arguments based on politics. Do you ever wonder why that is?

Could it be, just possibly, that it’s because the scientific argument is essentially over? The leading ’skeptics’ have never been shy of being less than truthful (Remember Channel 4’s Global Warming Swindle programme?); now it looks as though they’ve stooped to stealing email as well.

Meanwhile, the world is getting warmer. No one with any credibility doubts it. The best explanation remains the rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a result of human activity. The politicians gathering in Copenhagen should not be deflected from the urgency of this issue.

Related Posts:
CRU Hack (23/11/09)
The hacking of CRU (aka “Climategate”) (26/11/09)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


Mike 12.03.09 at 5:58 pm

You probably already know that Methodist Preacher has mentioned you today on this subject.


Richard 12.03.09 at 6:07 pm

I didn’t know. What are the odds that he’s been complimentary?


Richard 12.03.09 at 10:18 pm

I come from an evening leading a reading group (looking at Desmond Tutu’s excellent “God has a dream”) eager to find out what MP had to say that involved connexions, but he’s gone all shy and taken it down. However, the web is a peculiar place. Put something up, even for a few hours, and traces are likely to be around if you know where to look. My instinct was right: it wasn’t complimentary. I’ll not say more than that.


J 12.03.09 at 11:26 pm

“First, what would the purpose of such a conspiracy be?”

Though many charges have been made, including the corrosively annoying misuse of the expression “follow the money”, I think the purpose is pursuit of what is effectively a religious belief. I do not think Jones, Mann, et al, are lying; they appear to be so certain they’re right that when evidence contradicts their theory, the evidence must be wrong, much as (most) biblical literalists insist evidence for evolution or the age of the earth must be wrong.

“Second, is there any evidence from history that suggests that scientists would get away with such a conspiracy?”

Probably, but not that I can think of offhand. That’s why AGW theory is crumbling before our eyes.

“Whenever scientific fraud has been discovered, it has been by scientists”

Not necessarily, but that seems to be the case here.


Richard 12.04.09 at 12:21 am

“That’s why AGW theory is crumbling before our eyes”
I don’t accept that. At all.

“I think the purpose is pursuit of what is effectively a religious belief”
So an entire discipline of scientists is not lying. They’ve been infected with a religious virus (as Dawkins might say)?
I’d find easier to believe that they’re all lying.


Methodist Preacher 12.04.09 at 8:30 am

Sorry lads, I don’t read Connexions as often as I used to - it has lost a lot of its edge since Richard moved from Swansea - and the posting some days ago on “climategate” had passed me by.

I did check before I posted but clearly this was not thorough enough and my conclusions were wrong. Thank you Mike for pointing this out. The post was taken down at the first opportunity. I know that the same editorial decision would not be taken on this blog.

I notice however that “climategate”, whilst giving George Monbiot an opportunity of a pause for thought, provides no such respite for the tribalists on this site.

By the way, I reproduce an worrying article from the London Evening Standard today on a growing problem about which the average Methodist church and its staff will have to counsel individuals. But I don’t recall Connexions ever mentioning problem gambling, but perhaps I’m wrong on that one too? I look forward to your post, together with a “hat tip”.


Richard 12.04.09 at 11:32 am

There are a couple of separate issues here. I’ll try to be brief.

On climate change, what you call being tribal I would call confidence in the science. Even if the CRU are unmasked as a bunch of fraudulant shysters — something I regard as extremely unlikely — this is not the only source of evidence for anthropogenic climate change, nor am I the only person convinced by it. Someone else raised the case of Piltdown man in relation to this topic, and it’s an instructive comparison. That example of scientific fraud set back evolutionary biology (by leading it up a blind alley) but it did not alter the essential facts of evolution by natural selection. ‘Skeptics’ keep inviting us to believe that a whole discipline has not only become poilticized to the point where it no longer does good science, and at the same time have kept their deception every major scientific body in the world, convincing them of the need for action on climate change.

Having been convinced by the evidence for AGW, I regard it as urgent that the world’s politicians get round to agreeing a just method of ensuring that CO2 emissions don’t continue to rise, because the consequences of a failure to take action could be truly dreadful. Yes, there’s a risk attached to taking action if it turns out to be unnecessary, but it is much smaller and less serious. Those risks haven’t been altered by the release of some stolen emails.

The email hack is being investigated by the police. The contents of the emails are being scrutinized by the IPCC. My hope would be that any wrongdoing is brought to light and punished appropriately. But if the emails have any impact at all on the science of climate change, I’ll eat my hat.*

There’s a blogging issue here too, though. You’re right that I wouldn’t normally take down a post after I’ve pressed the publish button. (I don’t say ‘never’. That would be rash) I’ve always regarded blogging as being about conversation and, just as in face-to-face talking, “toothpaste doesn’t go back in the tube”. (That, btw, works splendidly as a children’s talk: you can have great fun writing messages on large sheets of coloured paper with cheap toothpaste and then invite the children to ‘take back’ what they’ve written. But I digress) Removing the post might make you feel as if you’ve fulfilled your obligations, but when something has been posted on the internet it can be very obstinate about disappearing completely. The fact that I’ve read your post after you took it down is evidence of that. Far better to post an update, or even offer a clarification in the comments.

I have posted a bit about gambling in the past, but you’re right that it isn’t a topic that has been a major feature here. I’m fairly sure that it is something we broadly agree about (though I have to say that I don’t like the ‘tone’ of the comments you’ve made towards the Methodist Church on this issue in the past). You might remember, though, that back in July you made it clear that I wasn’t welcome at your blog, and nothing that has happened in the meantime suggests you’ve changed your mind. I’d be glad to have the wrong end of the stick about this. Shall we let bygones be bygones?

*Easy to say, because I’m not a wearer of hats really. But you know what I mean

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