ClimateGate or Skeptic Smear Campaign?

ClimateGate or Skeptic Smear Campaign?

Three leading scientists believe the scandal that erupted over hacked emails is nothing more than a “smear campaign” aimed at sabotaging December climate talks in Copenhagen. We hear from the University of East Anglia’s Prof Trevor Davies, as well as the New York Times, BBC News, Richard Koman and David Penberthy.

by Stacy Feldman, SolveClimate (25 November 2009):

Three leading scientists who on Tuesday released a report documenting the accelerating pace of climate change said the scandal that erupted last week over hacked emails from climate scientists is nothing more than a “smear campaign” aimed at sabotaging December climate talks in Copenhagen.

“We’re facing an effort by special interests who are trying to confuse the public,” said Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a lead author of the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

Dissenters see action to slow global warming as “a threat,” he said. The comments were made in a conference call for reporters.

The scientists—Somerville, Michael Mann of Penn State and Eric Steig of University of Washington—were supposed to be discussing their new report, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a dismal update of the UN IPCC’s 2007 climate data by 26 scientists from eight nations.

Instead they spent much of the time diffusing the hacker controversy, known in the media as “Climate Gate.”

The scandal began on November 20, when an unknown hacker stole at least 169 megabytes of emails from computers at the prominent Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia and put them online for the world to see.

CRU is considered one of the world’s leading institutions concerned with human-caused global warming. The leaked emails contain private correspondence on climate science dating back to 1996.

Skeptics of global warming say these messages are filled with evidence of manipulated data from lead authors of the UN’s highly influential IPCC reports.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma, pictured here), a climate skeptic, said he would launch an inquiry into UN climate change research in response.

In an interview with the Washington Times radio show, Inhofe explained the investigation would look into “the way cooked the science to make this thing look as if the science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not.”

CRU Vice-Chancellor of Research Trevor Davies responded in an official statement:

“There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation.”

Michael Mann, co-author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis and lead author of the UN IPCC Third Assessment Report, blamed skeptics for taking the personal emails out of context.

“What they’ve done is search through stolen personal emails—confidential between colleagues who often speak in a language they understand and is often foreign to the outside world. Suddenly, all these are subject to cherry picking,” he said.

They’ve turned “something innocent into something nefarious,” Mann added.

The vital point being left out, he said, is that “regardless of how cherry-picked,” there is “absolutely nothing in any of the emails that calls into the question the deep level of consensus of climate change.”

This is a “smear campaign to distract the public,” said Mann. “Those opposed to climate action, simply don’t have the science on their side,” he added.

Professor Davies called the stolen data “the latest example of a sustained and, in some instances, a vexatious campaign” designed “to distract from reasoned debate” about urgent action governments must take to reverse climate change.

According to Somerville, the comments in the emails “have nothing to do with the scientific case” for climate change.

It is “desperate” to launch this right before Copenhagen, Eric Steig, co-author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis, said on the call.

Sen. Inhofe, meanwhile, lauded the timing of the incident.

“The interesting part of this is it’s happening right before Copenhagen. And, so, the timing couldn’t be better. Whoever is on the ball in Great Britain, their timing was good,” he said.

Science Can’t Silence Skeptics, Still

The fallout from the scandal is putting some of the world’s leading climate scientists on the defensive and underlining the influence of skeptics, even as the case for human-caused warming gets stronger.

According to the Copenhagen Diagnosis report, climate change has rapidly accelerated beyond all previous predictions and humans are to blame.

The findings are a synthesis of 200 peer-reviewed papers that continued to pour in from all over the world after the UN IPCC issued its 2007 analysis. Somerville described the report as an “authoritative assessment” of the newest climate change data.

The results reveal that global warming emissions in 2008 were nearly 40 percent higher than those in 1990. Further, sea level rise is 80 percent above past IPCC predictions.

If 2 degree Celsius warming is to be avoided—the point at which catastrophic damage is predicted to occur—fossil fuel emissions must peak between 2015 and 2020, “and then decline rapidly,” the authors warn.

“There’s an urgency to this that is not politically or ideological driven,” said Somerville. This is “objective scientific reality,” he added, and we’re “running out of time,” to stop the problem.

In a statement released on Tuesday, 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.”


Richard Koman on Richard Koman, (25 November 2009):

Internet security and climate change had a surprising run-in last week, as thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit wound up on climate-skeptic web sites. The University says it is cooperating with police and launching its own investigation into how the emails wound up online.

While many universities have suffered data breaches by cybercriminals, the fact that this data was released to anti-climate change sites strongly suggests the breach was politically motivated, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at Circle Security. “There is no doubt in my mind that the break-in was a targeted attack,” Storms said.

“Cybercriminals seek assets worth value on the black market — private and personal information primarily. Large amounts of emails about climate research aren’t worth much when it comes to identity theft,” Storms said. “Further, if the attackers felt there was monetary value in this information, they would not have leaked it so readily.”


New York Times reported that:

The intruders sought to create a mock blog post there and to upload the full batch of files from Britain. That effort was thwarted, Dr. Schmidt said, and scientists immediately notified colleagues at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. The first posts that revealed details from the files appeared Thursday at The Air Vent, a Web site devoted to skeptics’ arguments.

The BBC News reported:

The e-mail system of one of the world’s leading climate research units has been breached by hackers.

E-mails reportedly from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), including personal exchanges, appeared on the internet on Thursday.

A university spokesman confirmed the email system had been hacked and that information was taken and published without permission.

An investigation was underway and the police had been informed, he added.

“We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites,” the spokesman stated.

“Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all of this material is genuine.

“This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation.

“We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this enquiry.”

Researchers at CRU, one of the world’s leading research bodies on natural and human-induced climate change, played a key role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which is considered to be the most authoritative report of its kind.

‘Inside information’

Graham Cluley, a computer security expert, suggested that December’s key climate summit in Copenhagen, which has made headlines around the world, could have increased the university’s profile as a possible target among hackers.

“There are passionate opinions on both sides of the climate debate and there will be people trying to knock down the other side,” Mr Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, told BBC News.

“If they feel that they can gather inside information on what the other side is up to, then they may feel that is ammunition for their counterargument.”

Mr Cluley added that universities were vulnerable to attacks by hackers because so many people required access to IT systems.

“You do need proper security in place; you need to be careful regarding communications and make sure your systems are secure.

“I trust that they will now be looking at the systems, and investigating how this happened and ensuring that something like this does not happen again.”



David Penberthy for The Age (27 November 2009):  

ONE thing that has always struck me as odd about the vehement opponents of childhood immunisation is how people with absolutely no scientific background can thumb their noses at mainstream scientific opinion.

Not to mention their comfort with plonking their potentially disease-carrying kids in the middle of a crowded childcare centre, populated by the offspring of families with the sense and humility to defer to those who actually hold medical degrees.

It seems a special kind of impertinence for people who have absolutely no scientific background to declare that the overwhelming body of medical knowledge, gathered over the centuries, tested and re-tested, not for commercial gain but the good of humanity, should be blithely dismissed out of hand for opinions that have no basis in science, or are embraced only on the scientific fringes.

Right now, the climate change deniers are set to overtake the anti-vaccination crowd with their conceited disregard for the scientific mainstream.

There are a number of parallels – a determination to distort the valid scientific work of anyone who does not subscribe to their theories, to suggest sinister motives (when logic suggests that none could be there) and to amplify the work of scientists on the fringes as the marginalised but heroic voices who alone have the courage to put arguments to the test.

As much as I respect colleagues such as Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt, I cannot cop their analysis of the leaked email scandal from the University of East Anglia which they and other climate change deniers are now citing as proof that the whole global warming caper is – as Liberal Senator and climate sceptic Nick Minchin might say – some sort of communist plot.

Emails from scientists seconded to the university’s climate change research unit, the Hadley Centre, have been made public after the institution’s computer systems were hacked.

The emails include a number of statements from prominent climate scientists, some of whom have been advising the United Nations, in which they question their own research methods, challenge their findings and the assumptions they have made.

One email which has been held up by climate change deniers as the most damning features an admission from American climatologist Kevin Trenberth that scientists cannot quantify the lack of global warming to date.

“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 . . . our observing system is inadequate,” it reads.

That statement of itself doesn’t suggest to me that this scientist or any of his colleagues are cooking the books to create some imagined climate change artifice.

Rather, it sounds like a very orthodox call for scientific rigour – a statement of frustration that more has not been done to devise a more reliable method of measuring and checking the extent of temperature increases.

Other leaked emails show the scientists agonising over the veracity of their results.

Which is what you want them to do – not to knock things into shape to suit their prejudice, but to demand they face even more scrutiny.

But in the hands of the climate change deniers it is irrefutable proof that the whole thing is a con and a sham, proof that climate change is some sort of cult or religion (ignoring the fact that climate change deniers are so evangelical about their views that they could really join the Scientologists in holding tax-free status).

The University of East Anglia beat-up does not alter the fact that almost every scientist on the face of this planet believes that the evidence of climate change is there.

Of course, agreeing with their thesis does not mean that you should automatically be locked into backing Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong on the CPRS.

There are many aspects to their handling of this issue which grate.

There are more fundamental questions which go to jobs, cost of living, the future viability of communities in places such as the Hunter and Traralgon and Gippsland and the Iron Triangle.

It’s silly for Rudd to call this the greatest moral challenge of our times.

It’s a scientific challenge, and a policy challenge, but a moral challenge it ain’t.

Also, you can spare us the computer-modelled images showing that Campbelltown could become absolute waterfront in 2030 – although if you happen to live in Micronesia it might be a more compelling graphic.

There is also still a massively important pragmatic argument surrounding the CPRS – namely, if other bigger-polluting nations don’t introduce a regime such as ours, why should we claim the (moral) high ground by clobbering our own economy when others are refusing to act?

But when it comes to the basic questions of science, forgive me for sticking with the guys in the lab coats.

The most vociferous critics of climate change on the conservative side of Australian politics are blokes whose past careers include working as policy wonks, party directors, graziers, lawyers, and one of them was a publican.

These are all noble professions – particularly the last one – but I am not sure what kind of standing they give them to posture as such confident experts on the most perplexing scientific question of the age.

Being a lowly hack, I have no scientific background either, obviously. Which is why I will listen to what most scientists say.

For all the continuing scientific arguments, there was something I heard recently on an aeroplane which triggered a much more emotional and awestruck response from the passengers, and one which the party political deniers should remember as they advocate that government stay idle on this question.

It was last Thursday, when the pilot said: “Welcome to Adelaide, where the local time is 8.40pm and the temperature is 39 degrees.”


The University of East Anglia has released a statement from Prof Trevor Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research:

The publication of a selection of the emails and data stolen from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has led to some questioning of the climate science research published by CRU and others.

There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation.

CRU’s peer-reviewed publications are consistent with, and have contributed to, the overwhelming scientific consensus that the climate is being strongly influenced by human activity. The interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice mean that the strongly-increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do not produce a uniform year-on-year increase in global temperature.

On time-scales of 5-10 years, however, there is a broad scientific consensus that the Earth will continue to warm, with attendant changes in the climate, for the foreseeable future. It is important, for all countries, that this warming is slowed down, through substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the most dangerous impacts of climate change. Respected international research groups, using other data sets, have come to the same conclusion.

The publication of a selection of stolen data is the latest example of a sustained and, in some instances, a vexatious campaign which may have been designed to distract from reasoned debate about the nature of the urgent action which world governments must consider to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change.

We are committed to furthering this debate despite being faced with difficult circumstances related to a criminal breach of our security systems and our concern to protect colleagues from the more extreme behaviour of some who have responded in irrational and unpleasant ways to the publication of personal information.


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