• Embarrassing climate e-mails will have limited impact
  • Scientists behaving badly won’t change evidence….

WASHINGTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Revelation of a series of embarrassing e-mails by climate scientists provides fodder for critics, but experts believe the issue will not hurt the U.S. climate bill’s chance for passage or efforts to forge a global climate change deal.

Already dubbed “Climategate,” e-mails stolen from a British university are sparking outrage from climate change skeptics who say they show that the scientists were colluding on suppressing data on how humans affect climate change.

Reuters got the headline and analysis right, but we don’t name these things after the victim of these illegal hacks — a livable climate.  We name them after the crime or its location a la Watergate.  Certainly in this modern version of The Purlioned Letter, a better name would be Hackergate, if only because Nothing-gate isn’t catchy enough to catch on.  But I welcome your suggestions.  The winner of this contest gets … absolute nothing.

You might want to read climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert’s commentary on DotEarth, “On Science and ‘Cyber-Terrorism’.”  And I’ll repost the University of East Anglia statement below.  Here’s some more from Reuters, after it quotes a few of the professional anti-scientific disinformers:

But others say the damage may be limited as the evidence is still overwhelming that a buildup of greenhouse gases is melting snow on mountain tops and shrinking global ice caps.

“The issue of scientists behaving badly does nothing to invalidate the science,” said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, LLC in Washington. “This does nothing to the U.S. climate bill, which will be decided mostly by economic forces, not environmental ones.”

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, said the release of the e-mails will be remembered mostly as as embarrassment to the researchers.

“It shows that the process of science is not always pristine,” said Leiserowitz. “But there’s no smoking gun in the e-mails from what I’ve seen.”

Leiserowitz, who is a social scientist, said the e-mails would provide fodder for the 2 to 3 percent of the general public that are hard-core climate change doubters. “For that small group it is like meat to the wolves.”

At U.N. climate talks set for next month in Copenhagen, the top producers of greenhouse gases are expected to reach political agreements on tackling climate change, but not agree on hard targets for taking action.

The e-mails may serve as good gossip in the halls at the meeting, but will not play a big role otherwise, experts said.

For one thing, the researchers involved were only a handful out of thousands across the world that have contributed to a vast convergence of data that shows the world has warmed.

“Whilst some of the e-mails show scientists to be all too human, nothing I have read makes me doubt the veracity of the peer review process or the general warming trend in the global temperature recorded,” said Piers Forster, an environment professor at the University of Leeds.

I agree with George Marshall’s analysis in the UK’s Guardian that “There was no evidence of conspiracy among climate scientists in the leaked emails – so why was the University of East Anglia’s response so pathetic?” and that “Jones should speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend his science.”  Yesterday UEA’s Climatic Research Unit finally released a statement, which I reprint below:

It is a matter of concern that data, including personal information about individuals, appears to have been illegally taken from the university and elements published selectively on a number of websites.

The volume of material published and its piecemeal nature makes it impossible to confirm what proportion is genuine. We took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation and have involved the police in what we consider to be a criminal investigation.

The material published relates to the work of our globally-respected Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and other scientists around the world. CRU’s published research is, and has always been, fully peer-reviewed by the relevant journals, and is one strand of research underpinning the strong consensus that human activity is affecting the world’s climate in ways that are potentially dangerous.

CRU is one of a number of independent centres working in this important area and reaching similar conclusions. It will continue to engage fully in reasoned debate on its findings with individuals and groups that are willing to have their research and theories subjected to scrutiny by the international scientific community. The selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way.

The raw climate data which has been requested belongs to meteorological services around the globe and restrictions are in place which means that we are not in a position to release them. We are asking each service for their consent for their data to be published in future.

In addition to supporting the police in their enquiries, we will ourselves be conducting a review, with external support, into the circumstances surrounding the theft and publication of this information and any issues emerging from it.

Comment from 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 (ie from 1981 onwards) amd 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.”

The first thing to point out is that this refers to one diagram – not a scientific paper – which was used in the World Meteorological Organisation’s statement on the status of the global climate in 1999 (WMO-no.913).

The diagram consisted of three curves showing 50-year average temperature variations for the last 1000 years. Each curve referred to a scientific paper and a key gives their details.

Climate records consist of actual temperature records from the mid-19th century and proxy data (tree rings, coral, ice cores, etc) which go back much further. The green curve on the diagram include
d proxy data up to 1960 but only actual temperatures from 1961 onwards. This is what is being discussed in the email.

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.

Jones will need to do a great deal more than that in the coming days.

NOTE:  The cartoon above was adapted from one by Mike Luckovich by the science blogger with the nom de plume (nom de fur?) Eli Rabett.  He has a good post on the hacked emails here.

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