Climate Email Hacked

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To paraphrase Julie Andrews, “The Blogs are Alive …”, but this time with stolen emails rather than “Music”.

Documents and archived emails were stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Hadley Climatic Research Center (CRU). The first accounts indicate that 1,072 emails and 72 documents were stolen and then posted anonymously on file servers.

The stolen property appears to be the genuine article, as the CRU director has confirmed them. Less certain is what all this means.

Much has been made about the tone of the emails. Scientists are complaining about those with whom they disagree, insulting them and acting like normal, partisan human beings. There are some “plain English” misunderstandings afoot as well, as evidenced by this quote from an email that is being reproduced in several blogs:

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 blogs typically highlight or bold the word “trick” and the phrase “hide the decline” as evidence of a smoking gun.

The problem is that the email is about a well-known and discussed issue, the “divergence problem.” As I understand the issue, historical proxies, like tree ring, lake sediment and ice core samples, provide a measure of accuracy in the aggregate, but are not as accurate for telling us what the temperature was in the last few decades. It evidently is a common and well-known issue, even though the pro-climate change advocates will tell you there are no problems in the data. The scientists involved debate this issue, and come to an agreement on how to best deal with it; the advocacy groups simply gloss over any difficulties, even if they do not alter the end result. So the average person can be forgiven if finding this issue is shocking; what about the “consensus”? This is the messy stuff that leads to that consensus; like sausage, you sometimes don’t want to know what’s in it.

Now, about the word “trick”. In this context, it is used to indicate there is a difficult task at hand, such as in this statement that might be made to a winter driver:

When you find yourself in a skid on ice, the trick is to keep from making it worse. Steer in the direction of the skid and keep your foot off the brakes.

So the hard part about reconstructing historical temperature records is merging the proxies with the instrument data, and we need to discuss how to do this; that seems like an OK statement.

Less clear is what the phrase “to hide the decline” means; it appears this is either to correct what they truly believe is an error in the data when you combine the proxies and instrument data (most likely in my view), or is the “smoking gun” of a conspiracy to hide warming data (extremely unlikely, at least in my view again).

As to the language of the emails, I am shocked, shocked to find there is emotion in them! As stated in our post Climate: Mistakes or Prevarication, scientists are surprisingly human underneath those white smocks with pocket protectors.

As the popular RealClimate blog explains:

Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

Cross-posted to FrankHagan.com