Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Controversy Over Hacked Emails On Climate Change

Nov 23: On November 20 it was reported that hundreds of emails were illegally obtained by hacking the server at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England. The emails have been posted on the Internet and many climate change opponents are claiming they reveal conspiracy in the scientific community regarding the science behind climate change.

On November 23, the University of East Anglia issued a statement saying, "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. . ."

As an example, the University highlighted one email which they said they could "confirm is genuine," and which they said 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." The email reads: "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) 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 University comments and emphasizes, "The first thing to point out is that this refers to one diagram -- not a scientific paper -- which was used in the World Meteorological Organization'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 included 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."

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a statement saying, "Climate science contrarians are using the release of e-mails from several top scientists to attack climate science. Unfortunately for these conspiracy theorists, what the e-mails show are simply scientists at work, grappling with key issues, and displaying the full range of emotions and motivations characteristic of any urgent endeavor. Any suggestions that these e-mails will affect public and policymakers' understanding of climate science give far too much credence to blog chatter and boastful spin from groups opposed to addressing climate change. . . Policymakers and the general public should reject these attacks and not be distracted from building solutions to this urgent threat."

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and an outspoken critic of climate change science and legislation said in a radio interview on November 21st regarding last weeks announcements that climate change legislation would be put off until Spring, "cap and trade is dead forever." He said, "I told Barbara Boxer [Senate EPW Chair] after all these years. . . I won, you lost. . . get a life." He said the legislation would die a "quiet muffled death." Regarding the emails he said "We have known; not known; suspected that this was happening; we have heard testimony in private from different scientists and others, where they are subduing information they have. We're going to get into the big middle of that even though the issue may be gone; may be dead; the means that they would use. If they would do that on global warming, they would do it on health care or any other issue and that's what has to be exposed. . ."

Among the more than 1,000 climate change-related emails made public, one exchange from 2003, involved contributions from John Holdren, who is now the Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and was then a professor in the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and Director of the independent, nonprofit Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole, MA. According to an OSTP note, "That exchange -- between Holdren and a skeptical blogger -- provides an excellent summary of how a person lacking scientific expertise might best arrive at a conclusion about the conflicting data relating to the science of climate change." OSTP has released the entire email exchange (See link below).

Access a report from the New York Times with links to related information (
click here). Access links to all of the emails (click here). Access the complete release from University of East Anglia (click here). Access a release from the Union of Concerned Scientists (click here). Access the Senator Inhofe radio interview on the hacked emails (click here, about half way into the recording). Access the Holdren email exchange (click here).