Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hacked climate scientists' emails: How bad is it?

philThe news that hackers have published a huge series of emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia is causing great excitement in global warming denial circles.

The most serious excerpt is this:

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 explanation given by Professor Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit:
The following email, which I can confirm is genuine, has caused a great deal of ill-informed comment, but has been taken completely out of context and I want to put the record straight.
"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. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct +is 0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998."
This email referred to a “trick” of adding recent instrumental data to the end of temperature reconstructions that were based on proxy data. The requirement for the WMO Statement was for up-to-date evidence showing how temperatures may have changed over the last 1000 years. To produce temperature series that were completely up-to-date (i.e. through to 1999) it was necessary to combine the temperature reconstructions with the instrumental record, because the temperature reconstructions from proxy data ended many years earlier whereas the instrumental record is updated every month. The use of the word “trick” was not intended to imply any deception.

Phil Jones comments here “One of the three temperature reconstructions was based entirely on a particular set of tree-ring data that shows a strong correlation with temperature from the 19th century through to the mid-20th century, but does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960. This is well known and is called the ‘decline’ or ‘divergence’. The use of the term ‘hiding the decline’ was in an email written in haste. CRU has not sought to hide the decline. Indeed, CRU has published a number of articles that both illustrate, and discuss the implications of, this recent tree-ring decline, including the article that is listed in the legend of the WMO Statement figure. It is because of this trend in these tree-ring data that we know does not represent temperature change that I only show this series up to 1960 in the WMO Statement.”

The ‘decline’ in this set of tree-ring data should not be taken to mean that there is any problem with the instrumental temperature data. As for the tree-ring decline, various manifestations of this phenomenon have been discussed by numerous authors, and its implications are clearly signposted in Chapter 6 of the IPCC AR4 report.

Under this passage, there are graphs which illustrate what was done.

There is an excellent interview (13.2.2010) with Phil Jones and Roger Harrabin of BBC Radio 4 here.

This seems to be a plausible explanation.

Other black marks in the report:
  • regrettable gloating over the death of an AGW skeptic.
  • request to delete emails to avoid Freedom of Information requests.
  • efforts were made to prevent skeptical papers being published in scientific journals.
  • Dr Trenberth is down as saying ""The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t".
    [Response on Real Climate: Trenberth is talking about our inability to be able to measure the net radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere to the requisite precision to be able to say on short time scales what the energy budget is doing. The observations are inadequate for that ] More on this here on skeptical science.
    And Desmogblog.
To me, that is a reasonable clarification, as is Price's, above.

There is no doubt more, but these are the most serious points I picked up on a huge (nearly 1000 comments) debate on the Real Climate site.

What the emails do show is that scientist are fully human. Surprise, surprise. They display frustration with opposition, and express it in an emotional way.

My opinion is that there is nothing here to make anyone doubt global warming as a whole, but of course the deniers and journalists will milk it for all that it is worth.
That in turn will increase doubt in the electorate, which will diminish the political will to get a sound agreement at Copenhagen or after.

Which is a bad result for all of us, AGW deniers included.

What to do? Clearly, the sensible response from the scientific community is to review the data and use of data in the papers of Phil Jones and Trenberth. Others are calling for an inquiry. Let's hope that gets done as soon as possible.

Rupert's Read has some insights

This is a URL for some of the hacked emails.

StudentScum has a good take on it

This is an interesting analysis of the email list - from an intelligent skeptic.

Authoritative, full analysis by ENDS here

Random Thought: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. There may be a hacker at work on a denialist site at this very moment...


Anonymous said...

Let's hope that gets done as soon as possible. And let's hope that you as a seeker after truth push for release of all of the data and code of the models so that open science can be conducted. Otherwise suspicion will abound and the public doubt over the truthfulness of the scientists will continue to increase.

Scientists are human, and that is why it is important to verify results through full disclosure, especially when there are public reports of scientific misconduct. There have been cases in the past in environmental and other scientific papers of data falsification leading to publications being withdrawn after having gone through peer review. Total openness and replication of the results are the only way to restrore trust.

DocRichard said...

Anonymous, for once I fully agree with you. I do not think there was falsification, but for the sake of confidence, there should be disclosure and a re-check.

I have been immersed in this stuff for the past couple of days, and I am now far more deeply worried about what our children are going to have to deal with, and astounded that a small number of deniers have been able to have such a huge influence on the public. These American right-wing shock jocks are frightening.

Anonymous said...

trick: a crafty or underhanded device, maneuver, stratagem, or the like, intended to deceive or cheat; artifice; ruse; wile.

hide: to conceal from knowledge or exposure; keep secret

Nice try, but it is clearly obvious from the verbiage of the e-mail that a subterfuge is in the works.

These America left-wing alarmists are frightening.

DocRichard said...

I like to go to the dictionary too, it is a good way to clarify arguments. However, language is in a state of flux, and new meanings come in all the time.

Watch this video for your answer

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly, however the best way, in my experience at least, to discern true meaning is to look at contemporary uses of the terms. I don't believe there's any wiggle room here.

In your previous comment you state "there should be disclosure and a re-check", which would be quite prudent in this case instead of make sweeping arguments based on few words in a private conversation. However there is no data to re-check, its all been deleted. An even more damning action... Granted, not by the same persons, but by the same general audience which seems to point to a conspiracy.

Also, excuse my slight jab, in my hasty posting of a reply, I did not notice you are from the UK, my apologies.

DocRichard said...

What, do you only jab Americans?

The deleted data happened before Price was in post, and it was ojust one set of worked data. It was not the only copy either.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I genuinely laughed out loud. I have no compunctions regarding jabs at anyone, just want to get my nationalities straight.

Seems our (my) government has engendered a decidedly anti-American attitude in the world over the last few years and I didn't want to label anyone appropriately :)

Anonymous said...

Dang, I have a typo in every comment so far, that should have been "inappropriately".

Anonymous said...

trick: a clever or ingenious device or expedient; adroit technique: the tricks of the trade.

Courtesy of

What I'm intending to do here is not cherry pick and assume righteousness, nor am I lacking to cite references. A refreshing thought but one only the science community only seems to follow, bless it.

The information in question needs full disclosure to ensure validity by peer review. Of that there's no doubt.

It's sad though: I can understand some reticence from scientific parties to do such given the proponents of consumerism oft not need any citation, reference or evidence behind a swathe of claims to the contrary.

I for one would love to see for myself the evidence that polar bear numbers have increased five fold, that there are numerous other scientific theories that explain current conditions including anthropogenic carbon contributions, that somehow global climate change pundits stand to gain financially from reducing carbon emissions - as if lining their pockets are the first and last concerns here.

To date none has been forthcoming, at least not to this anonymous citizen.