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What do the 'Climategate' hacked CRU emails tell us?

What the science says...

Select a level... Intermediate Advanced

A number of independent investigations from different countries, universities and government bodies have investigated the stolen emails and found no evidence of wrong doing. Focusing on a few suggestive emails, taken out of context, merely serves to distract from the wealth of empirical evidence for man-made global warming.

Climate Myth...

Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy

“[T]he 1079 emails and 72 documents seem indeed evidence of a scandal involving most of the most prominent scientists pushing the man-made warming theory - a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science. […] emails suggesting conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.” (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun)

In November 2009, the servers at the University of East Anglia in Britain were illegally hacked and emails were stolen. When a selection of emails between climate scientists were published on the internet, a few suggestive quotes were seized upon by many claiming global warming was all just a conspiracy. A number of independent enquiries have investigated the conduct of the scientists involved in the emails. All have cleared the scientists of any wrong doing:

  1. In February 2010, the Pennsylvania State University released an Inquiry Report that investigated any 'Climategate' emails involving Dr Michael Mann, a Professor of Penn State's Department of Meteorology. They found that "there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data". On "Mike's Nature trick", they concluded "The so-called “trick”1 was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field."
  2. In March 2010, the UK government's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report finding that the criticisms of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) were misplaced and that CRU’s "Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community".
  3. In April 2010, the University of East Anglia set up an international Scientific Assessment Panel, in consultation with the Royal Society and chaired by Professor Ron Oxburgh. The Report of the International Panel assessed the integrity of the research published by the CRU and found "no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit".
  4. In June 2010, the Pennsylvania State University published their Final Investigation Report, determining "there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann".
  5. In July 2010, the University of East Anglia published the Independent Climate Change Email Review report. They examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred and concluded that "we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt."
  6. In July 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency investigated the emails and "found this was simply a candid discussion of scientists working through issues that arise in compiling and presenting large complex data sets."
  7. In September 2010, the UK Government responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, chaired by Sir Muir Russell. On the issue of releasing data, they found "In the instance of the CRU, the scientists were not legally allowed to give out the data". On the issue of attempting to corrupt the peer-review process, they found "The evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers".
  8. In February 2011, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails and found "no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data".
  9. In August 2011, the National Science Foundation concluded "Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed".

Just as there are many independent lines of evidence that humans are causing global warming, similarly a number of independent investigations have found no evidence of falsification or conspiracy by climate scientists.

"Mike's Nature trick" and "hide the decline"

The most quoted email is from Phil Jones discussing paleo-data used to reconstruct past temperatures (emphasis mine):

"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) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

"Mike's Nature trick" refers to a technique (aka "trick of the trade") used in a paper published in Nature by lead author Michael Mann (Mann 1998). The "trick" is the technique of plotting recent instrumental data along with the reconstructed data. This places recent global warming trends in the context of temperature changes over longer time scales.

The most common misconception regarding this email is the assumption that "decline" refers to declining temperatures. It actually refers to a decline in the reliability of tree rings to reflect temperatures after 1960. This is known as the "divergence problem" where tree ring proxies diverge from modern instrumental temperature records after 1960. The divergence problem is discussed in the peer reviewed literature as early as 1995, suggesting a change in the sensitivity of tree growth to temperature in recent decades (Briffa 1998). It is also examined more recently in Wilmking 2008 which explores techniques in eliminating the divergence problem. So when you look at Phil Jone's email in the context of the science discussed, it is not the schemings of a climate conspiracy but technical discussions of data handling techniques available in the peer reviewed literature. More on the hockey stick divergence problem...

Trenberth's "travesty we can't account for the lack of warming"

The second most cited email is from climate scientist and IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth. The highlighted quote is this: "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." This has been most commonly interpreted (among skeptics) as climate scientists secretly admitting amongst themselves that global warming really has stopped. Trenberth is actually discussing a paper he'd recently published that discusses the planet's energy budget - how much net energy is flowing into our climate and where it's going (Trenberth 2009).

In Trenberth's paper, he discusses how we know the planet is continually heating due to increasing carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, surface temperature sometimes shows short term cooling periods. This is due to internal variability and Trenberth was lamenting that our observation systems can't comprehensively track all the energy flow through the climate system. More on Trenberth's travesty...

The full body of evidence for man-made global warming

An important point to realise is that the emails involve a handful of scientists discussing a few pieces of climate data. Even without this data, there is still an overwhelming and consistent body of evidence, painstakingly compiled by independent scientific teams from institutions across the world.

What do they find? The planet is steadily accumulating heat. When you add up all the heat building in the oceans, land and atmosphere plus the energy required to melt glaciers and ice sheets, the planet has been accumulating heat at a rate of 190,260 Gigawatts over the past 40 years (Murphy 2009). Considering a typical nuclear power plant has an output of 1 Gigawatt, imagine over 190,000 power plants pouring their energy output directly into heating our land and oceans, melting ice and warming the air.

This build-up of heat is causing ice loss across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Both Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice at an accelerated rate (Velicogna 2009, ). Even East Antarctica, previously thought to be too cold and stable, is now losing ice mass (Chen 2009). Glacier shrinkage is accelerating. Arctic sea ice has fallen so sharply, observations exceed even the IPCC worst case scenario. The combination of warming oceans and melting ice has resulted in sea level rise tracking the upper limit of IPCC predictions.

Rising temperatures have impacted animal and plant species worldwide. The distribution of tree lines, plants and many species of animals are moving into cooler regions towards the poles. As the onset of spring is happening earlier each year, animal and plant species are responding to the shift in seasons. Scientists observe that frog breeding, bird nesting, flowering and migration patterns are all occurring earlier in the year (Parmeson 2003). There are many other physical signs of widespread warming. The height of the tropopause, a layer in our atmosphere, is rising (Santer 2003). Arctic permafrost, covering about 25% of Northern Hemisphere land, is warming and degrading (Walsh 2009). The tropical belt is widening (Seidel 2007). These results are all consistent with global warming.

What’s causing this heat build-up? Humans are emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - 29 billion tonnes in 2009 (CDIAC). Greenhouse theory predicts that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will trap heat energy as it escapes out to space. What do we observe? Carbon dioxide absorbs heat at certain wavelengths. Satellites over the past 40 years find less heat escaping to space at these wavelengths (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007). Where does the heat go? Surface measurements find more heat returning back to the Earth's surface (Philipona 2004). Tellingly, the increase occurs at those same carbon dioxide absorption wavelengths (Evans 2006). This is the human fingerprint in global warming.

There are multiple lines of empirical evidence that global warming is happening and human activity is the cause. A few suggestive emails may serve as a useful distraction for those wishing to avoid the physical realities of climate change. But they change nothing about our scientific understanding of humanity’s role in global warming.

Intermediate rebuttal written by John Cook

Update July 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


Expert interview with Kevin Trenberth

Last updated on 14 October 2016 by pattimer. View Archives

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The House of Commons report on the emails stolen from CRU has vindicated Phil Jones -- he has "no case to answer":

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones's refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.

In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty--for example, Professor Jones's alleged attempt to "hide the decline"--we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that "global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity"

Official statement from Climatic Research Unit (CRU)

In an interview with Andrew Freeman, historian Spencer Weart puts Climategate and the global warming skeptic phenomenon in perspective:

"...we've never before seen a set of people accuse an entire community of scientists of deliberate deception and other professional malfeasance. Even the tobacco companies never tried to slander legitimate cancer researchers."

George Monbiot reveals the most damaging email in The Knights Carbonic. Here is an excerpt, revealing the depth of the climate conspiracy:

"Then began the most hazardous task of all: our attempt to control the instrumental record. Securing the consent of the scientific establishment was a simple matter. But thermometers had by then become widely available, and amateur meteorologists were making their own readings. We needed to show a steady rise as industrialisation proceeded, but some of these unfortunates had other ideas. The global co-option of police and coroners required unprecedented resources, but so far we have been able to cover our tracks.
Our co-option of the physical world has been just as successful. The thinning of the Arctic ice cap was a masterstroke. The ring of secret nuclear power stations around the Arctic Circle, attached to giant immersion heaters, remains undetected, as do the space-based lasers dissolving the world’s glaciers.
Altering the migratory and reproductive patterns of the world’s wildlife has proved more challenging. Though we have now asserted control over the world’s biologists, there is no accounting for the unauthorised observations of farmers, gardeners, bird-watchers and other troublemakers. We have therefore been forced to drive migrating birds, fish and insects into higher latitudes, and to release several million tonnes of plant pheromones every year to accelerate flowering and fruiting. None of this is cheap, and ever more public money, secretly diverted from national accounts by compliant governments, is required to sustain it."

Another amusing parody is Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’ which scrutinizes the private correspondance of Isaac Newton to cast doubt on Newtonian physics and integral calculus.

MediaMatters examines many of the claims coming out of "Climategate", exposing how the emails have been distorted and misrepresented.


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Comments 51 to 81 out of 81:

  1. I can't be bothered to "define" smart consumption for you. You've don't it twice for your self I don't suppose anything I have to say will make any impact. And, yes, I can see you're lost; but as you say, you're not the subject of this thread so I'll leave that there.
  2. batvette @49, the review board was not from the same faculty as Michael Mann, and hence independent. As to the "other flaws", we have been through this before @29, 35, and 37 above. There we established that: 1) You just make up "facts" because they suit your argument; and 2) The allegations against Michael Mann where reviewed using the standard procedures as laid down by their by-laws for Penn State, procedures which are in line with those typically required in US and Australian universities. You had nothing of substance to say then, and the mere passage of time adds nothing to your attempts to beat up an issue where none exists.
  3. batvette "It comes down to people don't drive their kids to Disneyland." Why wouldn't they if they had an electric vehicle and there were recharge/replace facilities along the highways instead of servos? Or they could choose high speed rail powered by electricity (from renewable sources). You're confusing conservation with efficiency. Conservation is about using less of something in order not to waste it. Efficiency is about using the best resource for the task. For transport, using fuel that doesn't have to be mined, transported and burned is much more efficient.
  4. batvette wrote : JMurphy, is this statement disinformation or false? "Michael Mann's conduct was examined by an internal, not independent, review board of the entity which employed him and stood to lose credibility if it were revealed he acted improperly." This is what I've been saying, it's all that I'm saying, (on that matter) and if you are going to accuse me of "purveying disinformation" please specify what about it is. It's very simple : The guidelines for such an investigation - acceptable to be used for any other individual except Dr Mann, according to the so-called skeptics, it would appear - are : The Committee shall consist of at least five tenured University faculty members, each of whom should have no conflict of interest and be competent, in the judgment of the Vice President for Research, to evaluate the questions before the Committee. In this case, the individuals involved came from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Anthropology, and Human Development and Family Studies. Again, unbiased enough for any individual except Dr Mann, presumably. Ultimately, if Dr Mann had acted improperly, and it could be proved that he had, the university would have been more than keen to ensure that punishment would have been swift and proportional - if only to preserve the integrity and professionalism of the university itself. The fact that it found no such thing, due to the distinct lack of any form of evidence in the real world, still smarts with the so-called skeptics. Less of the disinformation and more of the facts, please.
  5. We can only wish Wegman would be subjected to such diligent inquiry by his employing institution. As for McIntyre, he's not at risk, no institution employs him, so who will conduct an official investigation? It's good to be a skeptic; all the glory, none of the responsibility...
  6. @JMurphy: The only disinformation is your continued accusation that's what I am doing when I state: "Michael Mann's conduct was examined by an internal, not independent, review board of the entity which employed him and stood to lose credibility if it were revealed he acted improperly." Which I simply asked you to point out what about it was such- you could not, [inflamatory deleted] [inflamatory deleted] ... that because University of Pennsylvania faculty members are from different departments than Dr. Mann, this constitutes an unbiased form of review in a matter which could place the institution's reputation at stake, but buying I'm not. This form of review which is standard at large universities is fine and dandy for matters of scope on a scale of student-teacher interactions, academic controversies like scoring papers, etc. When their work becomes influential enough that it leads to national and international policy affecting all of our lives being forged down the road, it is wholly inadequate and amounts to "good 'ole boy" culture of corrupt justice. You provide a passage which supports just what I am saying, inasmuch as it describes how these faculty members should not have a "conflict of interest", if you can describe how they all do not share the same interests of being faculty members under the employ of the same institution I'm all ears.
    Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Please acquaint yourself with the comments policy; any more of this inflamatory tone from any participant on this thread and I will start deleting posts.
  7. It would seem a large number of people would like PennState to break the law over this. Universities function under three things: National laws, their bylaws/regulations and their charter, given them by the government. Their regulations state how accusations of misconduct (in teaching or research) should be treated. This comes under the terms of their charter and if they do not respect those procedures the government can have an external enquiry, remove their charter and they're out of business. On the other hand, any acts which violate national law is prosecuted in court. Justice is blind. No one can decide, outside of the described terms, that some situation is big enough or annoying enough or news-worthy enough to treat in a special or partial way. That is corruption. What batvette and others are advocating is that people should act corruptly and treat some complaints differently to others because, well, they just feel they should. Pointing at the system and saying "well, that looks like 'good 'ole boy' culture" either has to be substantiated and tackled under national law or has to be seen as a bit of a 'look! rabbit!' trick to distract from their desire for lynch-mob 'justice'.
  8. Very true, les. Having posted a link previously to the guidelines for such a enquiry (To establish a means to handle inquiries and/or investigations into questions of ethics related to research and other scholarly activities), it would appear that such guidelines are fine for everyone except those like Dr Mann, who, presumably, should be subject to the full force of criminal law - as long as it leads to serious consequences for him. If such a legal route were also to acquit him, then the legal route must also be dismissed as biased and part of that all-encompassing conspiracy, Mann will then be judged by the blog 'scientists' and commentariat, and their followers, in the docks of the Denialosphere. In the end, nothing will satisfy some people except the public humiliation of climate scientists, following a show-trial decided by debate and a show of hands...
  9. 58 - JMurphy - yes, I was nodding in the direction of your post. I've been racking my mind to think of any organisation - publicly or privately funded - which tackles complaints in general and misconduct in particular, with anything but an internal panel of professionals from around the organisation; given that the complaint isn't a violation of national law. ...and I mean examples from within the modern western democracies - I'm not, of course, including the USSR, Maoist China etc. I'm sure no one on any part of the mainstream political spectrum would want to encourage political interference anywhere near that level...
  10. les wrote: "I'm sure no one on any part of the mainstream political spectrum would want to encourage political interference anywhere near that level..." Haven't been keeping tabs on Ken Cuccinelli, have ya? :]
  11. 60 CBDunkerson ;)
  12. The link to the US Department of Commerce in point 8 of the list of inquiries clearing the scientists (Intermediate rebuttal) is now broken.
  13. I got a 60 page report with ove 228 points of legiminate criticism (with propoer citation) why the trial and questioning may be fuzzy.

    [DB] If you want to be taken seriously, dispensing denialist literature with a sweeping hand-wave does you no favors.

    A focus on the science is best.

  14. Apparently there has been a fresh batch of emails release from CRU. Fresh round of hacked emails
  15. "Apparently there has been a fresh batch of emails release from CRU." Hmmm. The perpetrator claims to be deeply deeply concerned about transparency and openness... and is therefor anonymous.
  16. What a distraction from the real issues; just what the deniers needed. But there's a bit of good news in the Guardian article: Norfolk police have said the new set of emails is "of interest" to their investigation to find the perpetrator of the initial email release who has not yet been identified. Wasn't there a self-proclaimed major news outlet recently involved in an email hack scandal in the UK? Seems like a trend developing ...
  17. Philippe Chantreau - The Richelieu quote was from me, directed towards josiecki and pointing out how out of context quotes were abused by folks wishing to deny the science. 

  18. Since late 2009 this somewhat heated debate has gone on, "deniers" are falliing off the wagon by droves.  Only the most  "attached to their arguments"  persons can fail to accede to some facts, inconvenient or not, that the reality bearing down will affect us all the same.


    "It's not that warm", saith the lobster, turning pinkish..

  19. All:

    Per his/her request, the most recent post of josiecki has been deleted. DSL's response to it has also been deleted. 

  20. Waiting for a response....


    [JH] You hae requested that all of your comments be deleted. Your request will be honored.

  21. I seriously object to the actions of the moderator in complying with josiecki's requist.

    She does not have the right to request the deletion of anybody's posts other than her own.  Nor does she have the right to remove the context of other people's replies to her by removing her posts.  Therefore the complete removal of all her posts is an unreasonable request that should not have been complied with IMO.

    This situation is very different from that in which a poster immediately after posting discovers an error in their post and requests removal before others have responded.  Rather, we have had several days worth of debate removed because josiecki found it personally embarassing just how little she could defend her opinions (none of which, I believe, she ever offered substantive support of).

    I request that the moderators actions in removing those post be reconsidered by the entire moderation team and that the posts be reinstated.


    [DB] The matter has been brought up for discussion.

  22. I'm torn.  I agree with Tom re the posts replying to Josiecki.  On the other hand, I'd argue that error is the actual reason Josiecki wants all the posts removed.  After all, if she believes in the truth of those posts, she'd defend their publication.  I'm also sad about losing such an excellent, sustained example of empty rhetoric.

  23. DSL, a reasonable compromise would be to restore all the posts, but to snip the contents of josieki's posts as per her request with an explanation that her request is the reason for the snip.  Moderators call, of course.


  24. This is indeed a dilemma. Restoring the responses but not the posts would be unfair and even somewhat misleading. Now that decision has been taken to remove all the posts and associated responses, I think mods should stick with it and leave it at at that. Restoring per request only should be grounds for selectively restoring responses, but that would put undue burden on the mods, and the authors would probably be unsatsified because of a loss of context. No real good option, I think it should be left alone now.

  25. Wow, look what happens when you have a life away from online threads...

    A few days back I was reading a rather disingenuous post by josieki and asked her two questions about her observation that science, from her personal experience, is often corrupt. My questions were directed at her personal experience and inquired if working in the corporate world of science for profit that certain shareholder issues may have had more to do with creating the air of corruption she precived then any other explanation…it was her world I wondered if she had considered that possibility. After her opening salvo aimed at the integrity of science she attempted to anchor her point to "Climategate"

    It was her mention of Climategate that caused me to log in and reply I responded and thought I had accurately characterized the nature of this non-conspiracy conspiracy. She started this with an attempt to kick a dead horse that has long ago been shown to be a rotting corpse of cherry pick snippets and out of context personal correspondence that in no way has been shown to establish evidence of scientific collusion in the service of an agenda that is counter to the findings. Now she gets to have my own post pulled and retreat into the ether and anyone who was engaged by her is to suffer a moderated silence?

    The beauty is that there is still a world outside of thread discussions and moderation...time to go enjoy the day.

  26. What has become obvious to me is that all denialist arguments boil down to "It's a Hoax". Whatever the argument that a denialist is throwing out, it is something that the climate science community has already heard and refuted. The authors of the IPCC reports have also heard all of these arguments before. Therefore, the only way to continue to be a denier is to believe that the vast majority of scientists studying climate are wrong, or involved in the most elaborate international hoax in the history of the world. Clearly these views are irrational, and require a strong prediliction to deny climate changed usually based on ideology.

  27. Hilarious. ignore what they did and focus on the fact that a Board "cleared them".

    About as persuasive as when the police review board clears a police officer for shooting people without proper cause.

    the hockey stick and climate gate emails are scandalous. they cherry picked the series they wanted, deleted embarrassing data, and sticky taped it all together to produce the most compelling picture they could.

    it singlehandedly did more to undermine climate science than anything else.

    and we see no acknowledgement. No contrition. Just this whitewalling garbage that "they were cleared".


    and you wonder why people have doubts?


    [DB]  Repeated sloganeering snipped.

  28. Hi,

    in your article above you portray Climategate as follows: "Focusing on a few suggestive emails, taken out of context ..."

    After some minutes of googling I came across this article from the renowned british newspaper "The Telegraph" (in case someone doesn't know: the weekly version of "The Daily Telegraph"): LINK

    Citation: "There are three threads in particular in the leaked documents which have sent a shock wave through informed observers across the world. Perhaps the most obvious is the highly disturbing series of emails which show how Dr Jones and his colleagues have for years been discussing the devious tactics whereby they could avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws."

    The article also says that this scandal goes right to the heart of the IPCC: "Professor Philip Jones, the CRU's director, is in charge of the two key sets of data used by the IPCC to draw up its reports."

    The problem is that these pictures given differ so geatly that there is only one explanation: One side must be lying like a trooper.

    If the author of the article, columnist Christopher Booker, and the colleagues he is referring to, are all lying, he and them must have made up their accusations, that means the emails and the years of deceit do not exist, it is all invented. Or he misread the emails, he and his colleagues are just stupid. Or, on the other hand, climate alarmists are defending their cause by playing down a terrible scandal. Everyone shall decide for their own, which is more probable.

    The start page I read here was quite good and you made some interesting points I eventually will investigate on further. But here, talking about Climategate I once more come to the conclusion that Skeptics sometimes aren't quite that skeptic at all but love to trust in what authorities proclaim, without checking the facts.


    [DB] Shortened and activated URL.

  29. Booker is not a reliable source. The mining/fossil fuel stooge S. McIntyre years ago launched a harassment campaign by asking multiple followers to file FOI requests, directed against scientists whose work he disliked. Because they knew that the requests were not a good faith effort, the recipients were reluctant to release information, which unfortunately escalated to whole thing in a away that then became easy to exploit for the bad faith actors. It can certainly be said that Jones and others could have handled this better, and that was one of the conclusions of the investigation. Whomever can be perfect all the time when faced with bad faith attacks can throw the first stone.


  30. It is worth noting that the Telegraph is a Murdoch paper and, like all other tentacles of the Murdoch's empire, used to foster its boss' ideology. In any circumstance, I would give it only the credence it deserves. 

  31. "... there is only one explanation: One side must be lying like a trooper."

    That is a real logic failure there. I can think of at least two more explanations that would fit those criteria.

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