Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why we should worry about the hacked emails from CRU

As anyone who follows the global warming debate knows by now, hackers penetrated the computer network at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the United Kingdom and stole more than 3,000 emails and documents, including private correspondence between climate scientists. The emails -- some or all, it's impossible to know at this stage -- were posted on the web and have been widely distributed via conventional media. Some show the climate scientists at CRU in an unfavorable light. What do I mean by an unfavorable light? Did they falsify their reports, dry lab their data, blow torch Arctic sea ice???

What the scientists at CRU did in emails spanning a decade or more is disparage the work of other scientists who have continued to argue, ad nausem, on the basis of faulty reasoning and suspect science that, among other things, man has not influenced global warming, i.e., there is no anthropogenic global warming, sunspots are causing warming, the earth is simply going through a normal warming cycle (like your clothes dryer), and a whole host of other previously refuted arguments, including that the earth isn't warming at all; all arguments that go against the climate change assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To be fair, some of the emails selectively published show that some CRU climate scientists and their correspondents took umbrage at criticisms of their work and used unfortunate language in referring to their critics. They were 'snotty,' insensitive even, and talked of boycotting a journal that published a study that they considered flawed (it turns out that their criticism of the journal and its peer review process were valid). In short, the email correspondence showed the CRU scientists to be human. Who would've thought?

As might be expected, global warming deniers are having a field day with the emails, once again claiming that global warming is a giant hoax perpetrated on the unsuspecting by greedy, unethical scientists simply seeking their next million dollar grant from gullible government bureaucrats. The denier community has selected a few emails to help make their case that climate science is a hoax and in doing so, has illustrated once again, just how little many of the most vociferous of these idiots know about any kind of science. For example, one of the emails most quoted is from Phil Jones in 1999 discussing paleo-data used to reconstruct past temperatures in which he says, "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

I've taken the following explanation for this statement from the blog, Skeptical Science.

"Mike's Nature trick" refers to the paper Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries (Mann 1998), published in Nature by lead author Michael Mann. The "trick" is the technique of plotting recent instrumental data along with the reconstructed data. This places recent global warming trends in the context of temperature changes over longer time scales.

The "decline" refers to the "divergence problem." This is where tree ring proxies diverge from modern instrumental temperature records after 1960. The divergence problem is discussed as early as 1998, suggesting a change in the sensitivity of tree growth to temperature in recent decades (Briffa 1998). It is also examined more recently in Wilmking 2008, which explores techniques in eliminating the divergence problem.

The Skeptical Science explanation ends by concluding, as I do, that when you look at Phil Jone's email in the context of the science discussed, it is not the schemings of a climate conspiracy, but rather perfectly legitimate data handling techniques that are covered in the peer reviewed literature.

So let me be clear, nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are the cause. This is one of the main conclusions of an editorial in the science magazine Nature concerning the hacked emails. And in a statement released Tuesday before last, three of the UK's leading science organizations—the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the Royal Society—issued an unusually strong statement in advance of Copenhagen. They wrote: The scientific evidence which underpins calls for action at Copenhagen is very strong. Without co-ordinated international action on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts on climate and civilization could be severe.

So, why worry about these hacked emails? Because they are but one example of an extremely well financed, well-coordinated, and concerted effort to cast doubt on global warming and its causes brought to you by the same people that launched a public relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking was not dangerous, that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases, that launched a major PR campaign to cast doubt on and delay regulations on ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), and that even now battle the EPA and other regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today.

April 14, 1994, Tobacco CEOs testify before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

Industry CEOs and their marketing departments realize that the general public is in no position to make a distinction between valid science and junk science. They realize that they don't have to prove a point, just cast doubt on science that threatens their bottom line. Once they have the doubt game going, they hit the public broadside with their version of how any new regulations will plunge the economy into a tailspin and place onerous burdens on everyone the world over, including, god forbid, higher taxes on already overtaxed Americans.

You can read about industry’s Orwellian strategy in David Michaels’ book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. The attack on climate science per se is addressed in Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore, in which the authors point out that starting in the early 1990s, three large American industry groups set to work on strategies to cast doubt on the science of climate change. Even though the oil industry’s own scientists had declared, as early as 1995, that human-induced climate change was undeniable, the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Fuels Association (a coal-fired electrical industry consortium) and a Philip Morris-sponsored anti-science group called TASSC (now defunct) all drafted and promoted campaigns of climate change disinformation.

The hacking of CRU's computers and selective publication of the stolen emails just prior to the Copenhagen climate conference by as yet unidentified forces represents another assault on science that if successful, could doom mankind to a future of deprivation, disaster, and ultimately, extinction. And that's why we should worry.

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