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Putting ClimateGate in Perspective

Posted By JoNova On March 29, 2010 @ 4:29 am In AGW socio-political | Comments Disabled

Image: ClimateGate Tank arrives in Australia
I attribute much of the recent rapid rise of the skeptics to the ongoing effects of ClimateGate, yet in a sense the emails that were sprung from East Anglia did nothing more than confirm what most skeptics already suspected. Despite that, I’m convinced it was instrumental, and Lawrence Solomon, author of The Deniers, has written an unusually good summary in the form of a speech for the Colorado Mining Association.

With his permission, I’ve included my favourite points here, as well as a copy of the full speech. His blog is a part of the Energy Probe team.

The Climategate emails confirmed much of what the sceptics had been saying for years.

  • They confirmed that the peer review process had been corrupted, that scientists were arranging friendly reviews.
  • They confirmed that the science journals had been corrupted.
  • That journals that refused to play ball with the doomsayers faced boycotts and their editors faced firing.
  • They confirmed that sceptical scientists were being systematically excluded from the top‐tier journals.
  • The Climategate emails confirmed that journalists were likewise threatened with boycotts if they didn’t play ball.
  • The Climategate emails confirmed that the science itself was suspect. That the doomsayers themselves couldn’t make the data work. That they were debating among themselves some of the same points that the sceptics raised, and were privately acknowledging that they didn’t have answers to the issues that the sceptics raised.
  • The Climategate emails confirmed that the doomsayers were so determined to hide their data from inquiring minds that they were prepared to break the law to hide it – and did break the law – by avoiding Freedom of Information requests.
  • The Climategate emails confirmed that raw temperature data collected from countries around the world was destroyed. It appears the UK is missing raw temperature data going back to 1850.

The scientists at the heart of the Climategate emails aren’t fringe players on some periphery. They operate what’s known as the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University in the UK. This is the group that collects temperature data, messages it, and then feeds it to the UN and others. This is the data that we have been relying on to tell us if the globe has been warming or not. This same data is then used by virtually everyone in the climate science field who is concerned with historical temperatures.

Without the raw data, it is impossible to confirm that the planet has been warming over the last 150 years. The only ones who now know by how much the planet has been warming, if at all, are the same people who have destroyed the raw data. There are now six separate investigations underway which have been spawned by the Climategate emails. One of those six is by the UK Met Office, which partnered with the Climatic Research Unit in producing the data sets.
The UK Met Office – this is the UK government’s meteorological department – says it will need three years to recreate the data that has been destroyed.

Which aspect of the ClimateGate expose was most important?

Here Laurence and I don’t necessarily agree, he points at the effect it had on the “doomsayers”:

No, the real significance of the Climategate emails comes from the panic they instilled in the ranks of the doomsayers.
With all these investigations going on, the doomsayers are starting to point fingers at each other. The conspirators are turning on each other in attempts to exculpate themselves.

He has some good examples too, but I think the main effect was first and foremost on skeptics, and then on the press and officials, and secondarily on the carbon crisis crowd (but it’s open  for debate). Why do I say “skeptics” first? Because ClimateGate transformed the skeptical community. Those who were borderline skeptic were not just pulled into the active camp, they were turbo-charged. For them the issue had shifted from a scene where science had been exaggerated to a question about active deceit. This wasn’t just about stretching the truth, it was now fraud. As I mentioned in December, and again in more detail last month, nothing bar anything galvanises people more than the innate urge to strike back at a free-loader–it’s retribution, and there’s an evolutionary reason why altruistic groups need to punish those who abuse their trust. Worse, the lowest parasites are those who prey on our good nature; those who tell us we should help the planet, all while they aim to help themselves.

For those skeptics like myself who were already active, the Climategate emails gave us license to escalate our language. We no longer were constrained so much by the threat of legal action against us. It was clear that most of the Climategate subjects would never want to go to court where a discovery of documents would expose their failings to rigorous analysis.

Together these shifts created an army of emailling, letter-writing, phone calling skeptics. It was this new force that generated the ripple effect through thousands of results in online polls, comments on news articles, and letters to the editors. Political parties noticed, journalists couldn’t miss it, and so eventually did the institutions of the doomsayers. Without thousands of skeptics out there to broadcast the messages in the emails, the sound of emails sneaking out of a university science unit would surely have fallen on few ears.

A story of top scientists who were ignored

Aside from my minor quibble about the players in the unfolding ClimateGate saga, Solomon has written a very good speech. Some of it comes straight from his book “The Deniers”–which I recommend. He’s one of the only authors that can get away with using the term “Deniers”–mostly because he’s taken the term to a logical extreme, and shown how the namecalling is  used against some of the most qualified and esteemed people. I enjoyed reading The Deniers. Solomon has done a lot of research, and from an angle that few others have pursued. It’s well written.

Click on the image to see the book for sale on Amazon.

From the book:

“More than six months ago, I began writing this series, The Deniers. When I began, I accepted the prevailing view that scientists overwhelmingly believe that climate change threatens the planet. I doubted only claims that the dissenters were either kooks on the margins of science or sell-outs in the pockets of the oil companies.

“My series set out to profile the dissenters — those who deny that the science is settled on climate change — and to have their views heard. To demonstrate that dissent is credible, I chose high-ranking scientists at the world’s premier scientific establishments. I considered stopping after writing six profiles, thinking I had made my point, but continued the series due to feedback from readers. I next planned to stop writing after 10 profiles, then 12, but the feedback increased. Now, after profiling more than 20 deniers [38 at last count], I do not know when I will stop — the list of distinguished scientists who question the IPCC grows daily, as does the number of emails I receive, many from scientists who express gratitude for my series.

“Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that a scientific consensus exists on climate change. Certainly there is no consensus at the very top echelons of scientists — the ranks from which I have been drawing my subjects — and certainly there is no consensus among astrophysicists and other solar scientists, several of whom I have profiled. If anything, the majority view among these subsets of the scientific community may run in the opposite direction.” …

“Most of the deniers I have written about have suffered for their scientific findings — some have been forced from their positions, others lost funding grants or been publicly criticized. In writing about these … , I have inadvertently added to their anguish. None among [them] welcome the term “denier” — a hateful word that I used ironically, but perhaps illadvisedly. … The word “denier,” of course, is employed to tar scientists who dissent from IPCC convention. In other disciplines, dissent is part of what’s called ‘the scientific method’ and lauded.”

For commenters — obviously I expect people to use the term “denier” in discussion below. But as usual, if someone throws it as an insult, they’ll still need to come up with the empirical evidence we deny, or apologize before they can post again…

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