Thursday, December 15, 2011

Georgia Tech plays role in Climategate 2.0

Two years ago, before a UN climate conference in Copenhagen, an anonymous hacker revealed a trove of private emails in which climate scientists apparently colluded to cover up the lack of scientific evidence for global warming and discredit climate change skeptics. Several investigations of the emails in the US and the UK did not find wrongdoing on the part of the scientists. Under the Obama Administration, the scandal had little effect on federal climate policy.

Recently, just before the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, history repeated itself. A hacker calling himself “FOIA,” a reference to the Freedom of Information Act, released another bundle of more than 5,000 hacked emails. Many of the same figures from the 2009 release figure prominently in the 2011 release as well. The emails from both releases are compiled on the website in a searchable database. The emails span over ten years with the most recent dated November 10, 2009. Few media outlets in the US have picked up the story of the 2011 release.

The emails contain many examples of climate scientists making unguarded comments that are starkly different from their normal public statements. One scientist, Tommy Wils of the University of Swansea, cast doubt on the notion that climate science is settled: “Scientists talk about probabilities, not about truth or knowledge….” He continued, “What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal [sic] natural fluctuation? They'll kill us probably...” (1682).

Several scientists acknowledged the flaws in current climate models. Phil Jones, a prominent climatologist at the University of East Anglia, wrote that the “basic problem is that all models are wrong - not got enough middle and low level clouds” (email 4443). Rob Wilson of Edinburgh University wondered whether the sun might be responsible for warming. He wrote that “by weighting the solar irradiance more strongly in the models, then much of the 19th to mid 20th century warming can be explained from the sun alone” (2267). He worried that “Jeez - I sound like a sceptic [sic] - this is not my intension [sic].”

The Medieval Warm Period, a 400 year period from the 9th to the 13th century when temperatures were warm enough to allow limited agriculture in Greenland, was difficult for the climatologists to rationalize. Edward Cook of New York’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory wrote that the MWP “was more regionally extreme (mainly in terms of the frequency and duration of megadroughts [sic]) than anything we have seen in the 20th century, except perhaps for the Sahel. So in certain ways the MCA [Medieval Climatic Anomaly] period may have been more climatically extreme than in modern times.”

In another email, a Chinese scientist, Rean Guoyoo, wrote that “we did some analyses of the urban warming effect on surface air temperature trends in China, and we found the effect is pretty big…” (0044). Guoyoo went on to say, “Unfortunately, when we sent our comments [on how urban heat skews temperature readings] to the IPCC AR4 [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report], they were mostly rejected.” Guoyoo’s research seems to support anthropogenic warming locally, rather than globally.

In another email from 2004 that preceded the common usage of the term “climate change,” Asher Minns of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Bo Kjellen of the European Institute for Policy Studies discuss how “global warming freezing,” the idea that global warming might lead to a colder climate, causes public relations problems (4141). They discuss rebranding global warming as “climate change” to provide “a new story for the old news.”

A number of the emails refer to Georgia Tech. A Tech student, Jun Jian, requested and received climate data from East Anglia’s Phil Jones (1320). The email containing the data was also sent to Dr. Peter Webster, a professor at Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Webster apparently told Canadian mathematician and climate change skeptic Stephen McIntyre about the data. At the time, McIntyre was performing a statistical analysis of the famous “hockey stick graph.”

When McIntyre asked Jones for a copy of the data supplied to Georgia Tech, Jones apparently refused to supply it. According to one email (125676554), McIntyre then submitted a request for the data under the Freedom of Information Act and was again refused. When Jones refused requests for the data citing confidentiality agreements, readers of McIntyre’s blog,, submitted requests for the agreements and only a few were found to exist. Neither Webster nor McIntyre were immediately available for comment.

This is not necessarily conclusive proof that global warming is not real. As the Atlanta Creationism Examiner wrote in a recent article, there is still strong evidence that the human activity is warming the earth. However, the comments in many of the emails do show that the data is not as convincing as many would have it appear.

Some hardliners evidently took pains to hide this doubt. Phil Jones himself wrote that “one way to cover yourself… would be to delete all emails” (2440). Jones also said, “I've been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts.” Further, Jones wrote that “Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get - and has to be well hidden” (1577). Duke University’s Thomas Crowley assured Jones that “there will be no dirty laundry in the open” (2733). Crowley continued in another email (4693) that “truth” may not always be “worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships.” This attitude of secrecy and hiding data is at odds with the scientific ideal of objectively making predictions that can be verified and tested in the future.


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