Another Nail In ‘Climategate’s’ Coffin

FactCheck.org takes on the ‘climategate’ nontroversy.

Unsurprisingly, they find that ‘climategate’ is nothing but a bunch of hot air–they conclude that climate change skeptics took the emails out of context and claimed the scientists said things they never actually did:

Skeptics claim this trove of e-mails shows the scientists at the U.K. research center were engaging in evidence-tampering, and they are portraying the affair as a major scandal: “Climategate.” Saudi Arabian climate negotiator Mohammad Al-Sabban went so far as to tell the BBC: “It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change.” He said that he expected news of the e-mails to disrupt the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen this month. An article from the conservative-leaning Canada Free Press claims that the stolen files are proof of a “deliberate fraud” and “the greatest deception in history.”

Missing the Mark

We find such claims to be far wide of the mark. The e-mails (which have been made available by an unidentified individual here) do show a few scientists talking frankly among themselves — sometimes being rude, dismissive, insular, or even behaving like jerks. Whether they show anything beyond that is still in doubt. There are two investigations underway, by the U.K.’s Met Office and East Anglia University, and the head of CRU, Phil Jones, has “stepped aside” until they are completed. However, many of the e-mails that are being held up as “smoking guns” have been misrepresented by global-warming skeptics eager to find evidence of a conspiracy. And even if they showed what the critics claim, there remains ample evidence that the earth in getting warmer. Even as the affair was unfolding, the World Meteorological Organization announced on Dec. 8 that the 2000-2009 decade would likely be the warmest on record, and that 2009 might be the fifth warmest year ever recorded. (The hottest year on record was 1998.)

I wrote about the WMO’s findings here.

This conclusion is based not only on the CRU data that critics are now questioning, but also incorporates data from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To that extent, this graph represents the data sets from CRU (black line), NASA (blue line) and the NOAA (red line). Even if you were to discount everything from the CRU, all of the other data still corroborates the fact that anthropogenic global warming exists:

Continuing:

Claims that the e-mails are evidence of fraud or deceit, however, misrepresent what they actually say. A prime example is a 1999 e-mail from Jones, who wrote: “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.” Skeptics claim the words “trick” and “decline” show Jones is using sneaky manipulations to mask a decline in global temperatures. But that’s not the case. Actual temperatures, as measured by scientific instruments such as thermometers, were rising at the time of the writing of this decade-old e-mail, and (as we’ve noted) have continued to rise since then. Jones was referring to the decline in temperatures implied by measurements of the width and density of tree rings. In recent decades, these measures indicate a dip, while more accurate instrument-measured temperatures continue to rise.

Scientists at CRU use tree-ring data and other “proxy” measurements to estimate temperatures from times before instrumental temperature data began to be collected. However, since about 1960, tree-ring data have diverged from actual measured temperatures. Far from covering it up, CRU scientists and others have published reports of this divergence many timesThe “trick” that Jones was writing about in his 1999 e-mail was simply adding the actual, measured instrumental data into a graph of historic temperatures. Jones says it’s a “trick” in the colloquial sense of an adroit feat — “a clever thing to do,” as he put it — not a deception. What’s hidden is the fact that tree-ring data in recent decades doesn’t track with thermometer measurements.

[…]

Other quotes that skeptics say are evidence of “data manipulation” actually refer to how numbers are presented, not to falsifying those numbers. For instance, in one e-mail climate scientist Tom Crowley writes: “I have been fiddling with the best way to illustrate the stable nature of the medieval warm period.” Crowley is referring to the best way to translate the data into a graphic format. We’re the first to admit that charts and graphs can give a false or misleading impression of what data actually show.

[…]

We simply note that “fiddling” with the way data are displayed — even in a way that some may see as misleading — is not the same thing as falsifying the numbers.

[All emphasis mine]

Climate change skeptics have been desperate to find anything something they can use dispute anthropogenic global warming, so it makes sense that they would latch onto this.

But, as I’ve said before, this isn’t the smoking gun the right thinks it is and the emails don’t say what the right claims they do. Indeed, no skeptic has been able to say what, exactly, the ‘climategate’ emails disprove–largely because they don’t really disprove anything. Perhaps they raise some doubts, but not nearly enough to put even a dent in the myriad data proving that global warming is real and man-made.

Skeptics are hoping they can just claim these emails disprove global warming and that everyone will believe it. They’re hoping that if they say that climate change is a fraud and a hoax and a scam often enough that people will believe it’s true, even though it isn’t.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised–if the skeptics are willing to ignore decades of solid climatological data, of course they’d be willing to ignore the fact that their made-up scandal doesn’t prove a thing about global warming.

But the more we learn about ‘climategate,’ the more we learn just how little substance there is here–and just how dishonest the climate change skeptics are.

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One comment

  1. hkyson · December 12, 2009

    “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

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