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Here Are 3 Climategate Myths That Have Not Aged Well

Posted on 18 November 2019 by dana1981

This is a re-post from DeSmogUK

Excessive media coverage of an email hacking tilted the outcome of a critically important event against the victims of the crime. Sound familiar?

In 2016, it happened to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That was déjà vu for climate scientists, who seven years earlier had experienced a nearly identical chain of events leading up to the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. 

In summary: emails from the University of East Anglia in the UK were hacked, and many journalists assumed that where there was smoke, there must be fire. Even the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart jumped on the bandwagon, accusing climate scientists of trying to “trick you” based on a few selective, out-of-context quotes from the hacked emails (though he also later ripped the media for not covering the debunking of the Climategate myth). Commentators at the time were divided over whether this was a media storm, or just a storm in a very British teacup.

Nonetheless, the Copenhagen climate summit a few weeks later was widely considered a failure. That wasn’t only because of the hacked emails, just as another cache of emails aren’t the sole reason for the words “President Donald Trump” — but in both cases the media-amplified story played a significant role in shaping subsequent events. 

Nine separate inquiries into the email hack exonerated the climate scientists, but came well after the damage had been done. And a decade on, many of the climate science denial myths that emerged from the email hack are still in play.

So, on the 10th anniversary of what came to be known as ‘Climategate’, let’s examine three of the key email quotes that so captured the media’s attention, and how the associated science has since evolved.

Spoiler: the deniers’ lies haven’t aged well.

The misunderstood 'trick'

One quote regularly mangled (most recently in a myth-filled Telegraph article, which was evaluated by the climate scientists at Climate Feedback as having “very low” scientific credibility) referred to using “Mike’s Nature trick … to hide the decline.” The ellipses mask that two separate issues were being discussed in this hacked email. 

First, climate scientist Michael Mann’s “Nature trick” simply refers to adding temperature measurements from modern instruments to a chart illustrating indirect “proxy” temperature estimates (i.e., analyzing tree ring sizes) in the more distant past. The use of the word “trick” in the email was in the context of “trick of the trade,” not “tricking the audience.” If the latter were the case, the use of two different sources of data would not have been labeled as explicitly as possible in Mann’s scientific paper and subsequent reports.

Second, “hiding the decline” referred to the fact that indirect proxy temperature estimates from tree rings were known to be unreliable after about 1960. From about 1960 to 1990 they showed temperatures falling, whereas we know temperatures actually rose during that time. 

Tree ring data matched other temperature records accurately prior to 1960 before diverging from the reliable instrumental record thereafter. Climate science research has linked this so-called “divergence problem” to increases in human-caused pollution in recent decades. The email in question was merely suggesting adding reliable instrumental temperature measurement data so that the chart being discussed didn’t end with a segment of data showing a “decline” that was known to be inaccurate. So, in fact, the “trick” was an effort to give as accurate information as possible (rather than the opposite, as was repeatedly alleged).

A related quote (also included in the Telegraph article) claimed that climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck asserted that “we have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP).” This is a fabrication — Overpeck actually said, “I'm not the only one who would like to deal a mortal blow to the misuse of supposed warm period terms and myths in the literature.” 

Overpeck was correct that the MWP is incorrectly referenced regularly. For example, the recent much-maligned Telegraph article went on to claim that the MWP (which roughly spanned the years 900 to 1300 AD) “was even hotter than today,” which is a relatively widespread myth. Numerous studies have reconstructed temperatures over the past several thousand years since Mann and colleagues published their paper in the scientific journal Nature in 1998. All have arrived at the same conclusion: that the MWP was at most a small blip in average global temperatures and that current temperatures are significantly hotter. 

The most recent and robust such reconstruction was completed by a team of over 5,000 scientists from more than 100 countries contributing to the Past Global Changes (PAGES) 2k network, which produced the following chart of global temperatures over the past 2,000 years. It shows temperatures today rapidly rising above the historical record like the blade of a hockey stick.

Pages 2k

Global mean surface temperature history over the Common Era (Pages 2k, Nature Geoscience, 2019)

Record ocean heat

Another oft-referenced quote comes from a stolen email from climate scientist Kevin Trenberth saying, “we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.” 

As Trenberth has explained, this email referred to the fact that when it was written in October 2009, measurements of the amount of heat in the Earth’s climate system didn’t match what they should have been based on the overall global energy imbalance (more incoming than outgoing energy) measured by satellites. This discrepancy was due to the limitations of our observational systems, particularly in the deeper oceans — a limitation that at the time frustrated climate scientists like Trenberth.

Fortunately for Trenberth’s distress levels, measurements of the heat content of the oceans have improved significantly over the past decade, especially with more data coming from the Argo float network and its 3,000 buoys deployed in oceans around the world. In recent research, Trenberth and colleagues have now resolved his “travesty,” as heat measured in the oceans and other parts of the Earth’s climate system now match the global energy imbalance from satellite measurements.

The oceans absorb over 90 percent of that trapped heat — a vast and accelerating amount. A UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on oceans and ice from this year concluded that during the mid-to-late 20th century, the oceans absorbed an amount of heat equivalent to the energy of two Hiroshima atomic bombs every second. Since 1993, the ocean heating rate has gone up to five atomic bombs per second.

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Comments 51 to 60 out of 60:

  1. @ Ma Rodgers and nigelj

    I feel like you do not want to understand why i find it hard to trust people that talk like this. These "11" are the elite, they lose all intregrity with the leaking and i am scared by people like you that are willing to accept such behaviour considering the enormous power these "advisers" have:


    "It is pretty clear that the skeptics here have staged a bit of a coup, even in the presence of a number of reasonable folks on the editorial board30(Whetton, Goodess, ...). My guess is that Von Storch is actually with them (frankly, he’s an odd individual, and I’m not sure he isn’t himself somewhat of a skeptic himself), and with Von Storch on their side, they would have a very forceful personality promoting their new vision.There have been several papers by Pat Michaels, as well as the Soon andBaliunas paper, that couldn’t get published in a reputable journal.This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that—take over a journal!"

    "So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.."

    This is borderline paranoid. This extreme focus on public and media perception and on control of the peer reviewed processes is way beyond any professional behaviour.


    "I hope you’re not right about the lack of warming lasting till about 2020. I’d rather hoped to see the earlier Met(eorological) Office press release with Doug’s paper that said something like—“half the years to 2014 would exceed the warmest year currently on record, 1998”!Still a way to go before 2014.I seem to be getting an email a week from skeptics saying “where’s the warming gone”? I know the warming is on the decades scale, but it would be nice to wear their smug grins away."

    There are countless emails of this kind. Please try to be neutral and read them all, you can skip the skeptical explanations in black like i did and read only the colored quotes:


    This is all about power, i avoided to get into the political side of climate change, i was all busy with the science, eventualy i turned my atention to climategate and my worst apprehensions came true. Climategate reads like a second - rate thriller, this is indeed sinister.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  You keep rehashing old lines of inquiry that have been utterly exhausted.  Please re-read the OP of this post and the linked articles within it.  Why?  Because 9 separate investigations have completely exonerated all scientists of all charges:

    "The manufactured controversy over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit has generated a lot more heat than light. The email content being quoted does not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised. Most importantly, nothing in the content of these stolen emails has any impact on our overall understanding that human activities are driving dangerous levels of global warming. Media reports and contrarian claims that they do are inaccurate."

    And, as discussed here:

    "Far from exposing a global warming fraud, “Climategate” merely exposed the depths to which contrarians are willing to sink in their attempts to manufacture doubt about AGW. They cannot win the argument on scientific grounds, so now they are trying to discredit researchers themselves.

    Climategate was a fake scandal from beginning to end, and the media swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. The real scandal is the attacks on climate science which have done untold damage to the reputation of the scientists involved, public trust in science, and the prospects of mitigating future warming."

    Further, the court has ruled that academic emails can be withheld:

    "emails are proprietary records dealing with scholarly research and therefore exempt from disclosure"

    Continuing to keep rehashing the same tired points without providing any new, credible sources to support your position is sloganeering, a practice that runs afoul of this site's Comments Policy.

    The science has long moved on.  If you do not have any new, credible sources, you should too.

  2. Nyood , you use the phrase "borderline paranoid".

    The reading of your posts suggests (strongly) that you should give that term a great deal more thought ~ using introspection.

    (But it's a sad fact that the paranoid cannot usually be reasoned out of their paranoia, in large or small matters.)

    Another phrase to think on: # Making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Meanwhile, despite all the controversy, the physical Earth is warming . . . ice is melting; seas are rising and acidifying.

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  3. nyood @51, I hear where you are coming from, and I have already read many of these emails ages ago, but I have to agree with eclectic. I would say a lot of the paranoia is in your own reaction to them, and you are indeed making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Mann was expressing his frustrations with a publication stacked with climate sceptics. I can understand this. It's hardly sinister and no different from the rhetoric we hear from sceptics themselves!

    Perhaps he went too far suggesting other scientists not submit to that publication, but meh. I dont know. Seems like a molehill to me.

    The pause was longer than was expected so obviously caused some concern and worried discussion among scientists, so I'm not sure why this is seen as a big deal, but in the end it turned out to be understood better, and a nothingburger. I've explaned this @30 but you fail to acknowledge the comment, learn and move on.

    There's certainly no reason to read anything sinister or questionable into the scientists discussion at the time about the pause. Scientists sometimes express doubts like anyone else. Your reaction to this is either verging on hysterical, or is contrived.

    You do not seem to apply the same standards to the sceptics. Look at the awful politicised stuff written by C Moncton, and W Soon who failed to declare funding sources and got caught and censured. There's a long list of far more troubling things than anything about climategate.

    Since you just repeat the same stuff over and over, and have not responded to most of the specific points I have made, I wont be responding to you further until you change to something else.

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  4. blub @47, modelling an existing physical process and using it to predict future trends is completely different from making a new scientific discovery  or making an engineering invention. I fear it is therefore you who need to improve your critical thinking.

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  5. Nyood at 51 cites e-mail in which the infamous 2003 Soon/Baliunas paper is discussed. That calls for some context.

    This paper was so bad that it really could not make it in a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. This was a problem for fake skeptics, who denigrate the peer-review process and the validity of proper science publishing, but nonetheless trumpet loudly any and every "paper" they think defends their camp if it has even only the appearance of being peer-reviewed.  The timing of pending legislation further suggests that this was a poor attempt at presenting in Congress a competing point of view to what by then had necome well established scientific understanding. Unfortunately for Imhofe and others, their chosen paper was total bunk.

    The Soon/Baliunas paper was a piece of junk, squeezed through a unusual process that could be worked to allow for hand picking friendly reviewers. It was a blatant perversion of the true peer-review mechanism and its intention, and it benefited from an organized publicity campaign to attract attention that it could never have gathered on its own merits.

    It is entirely legitimate that real scientists be up in arms against such an underhanded and dishonest campaign. Any researcher worth their salt who sees such deceitful nonsense as Soon/Baliunas being elevated to the same level of validity as careful, sincere scientific work should be outraged, and should do something about it. It is only in our weird post-truth world that someone can manage to twist this situation into conspiratory paranoid wordage.

    The Soon Baliunas paper was so bad that half of the editorial board resigned in protest when they realized what had happened. In Nyood's selected quotes, the authors express surprise and doubts about Von Storch himself, some of it seemingly rooted in not knowing his character well. It should be said that Von Storch showed integrity and attempted to do the right thing; he unfortunately met a very different attitude from the likes of De Freitas, Legates amd others, and separated himself from the journal with the following words:

    "editors used different scales for judging the validity of an article. Some editors considered the problem of the Soon & Baliunas paper as merely a problem of 'opinion', while it was really a problem of severe methodological flaws. Thus, I decided that I had to disconnect from that journal, which I had served proudly for about 10 years."

    There is plenty more to read on this pathetic fiasco, including that the "paper" was in part underwritten by $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, or how the journal had been specifically targeted by so-called skeptics because they identified weaknesses in the review process.

    So, as it turns out once again, the concerns of the people cited by Nyood were entirely legitimate, justified, and their reaction was appropriate. A lack of such reaction in a case like this would be suspicious, not the other way around.

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  6. @nigelj, Philippe Chantreau. Comments 53, 55.

    Thanks for all the detailed replies, i can see where you are coming from and that you accept the political behaviour by the "11" as legit and only consequent. I can not change this view, only express that it does not go along with my understanding of scientific behaviour.

    In the end the IPCC is not researching itself but only analyzing and interpreting and they have a clear mandate, so even the egomaniac behaviour of M.Mann can be excused, he is only doing his job.

    It is just not fair, the IPCC is mising an organ that tries to falsify itself, here you will claim that they do that carefully, I will say: This is up to the skeptics that are cornered, shamed and excluded and  people like Lindzen or Curry are no lunatics, just to name the best.

    To the moderators reponse which i want to shorten with:

    "9 separate investigations have completely exonerated all scientists of all charges"

    This might be true, at the same time they were scolding the "11" for a lack of ingenuousness and transparency.

    Since i am called upon to read the OP again i want to conclude with a final note and then i will stop bothering you:

    The "Hockestick" that you use in the OP is an audacity and always will be.

    You know this. You know that warming periods are missing. You are aware of that it is targeting the public and media that do not know better.

    It is the very manipulative method that you accuse the skeptics of.

    This is the political thinking and acting i am talking of.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] "The "Hockestick" that you use in the OP is an audacity"

    The "Hockeystick" has long been affirmed and validated as correct by science and has been independently replicated by numerous independent bodies, including this one from the Trump Administration in 2017:

    Hockey Stick Validated as Correct

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Moderating this site is a tiresome chore, particularly when commentators repeatedly submit offensive, off-topic posts or intentionally misleading comments and graphics or simply make things up. We really appreciate people's cooperation in abiding by the Comments Policy, which is largely responsible for the quality of this site.
    Finally, please understand that moderation policies are not open for discussion.  If you find yourself incapable of abiding by these common set of rules that everyone else observes, then a change of venues is in the offing.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter, as no further warnings shall be given.

    Ad hominems, accusations of impropriety and political ideology snipped.

  7. I can only infer from your response that you condone the pitiful Soon/Baliunas piece and associated perversion of peer-review as "acceptable" scientific behavior. So be it then. 

    The IPCC compiles scientific research, published in scientific journals. Its goal is to identify where the weight of the evidence points. If Curry or Lindzen have insights to share, they need to hack it out in the literature, like everyone else.

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  8. I note that you do not adress any substantive point about what was happening behind the e-mails that you so eagerly condemn on the Soon/Baliunas communications.

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  9. nyood @56

    "you accept the political behaviour by the "11" as legit and only consequent. "

    Virtually all organisations have their office politics. I accept this isn't always a great thing, but the problem for me is you are not providing convincing evidence that the scientists in question have done anything significantly wrong. You are not being objective.  

    "In the end the IPCC is not researching itself but only analyzing and interpreting and they have a clear mandate, so even the egomaniac behaviour of M.Mann can be excused, he is only doing his job."

    The only mandate is the IPCC have to review the science and see where it leads. You have provided no evidence otherwise. Careful you dont slander people. Real sceptics are clear about what they mean by 'mandate'

    "It is just not fair, the IPCC is mising an organ that tries to falsify itself, here you will claim that they do that carefully, I will say: This is up to the skeptics that are cornered, shamed and excluded and people like Lindzen or Curry are no lunatics, just to name the best.

    Its a interesting point you make and I agree we need sceptical points of view, but that does not mean I have to agree with what the sceptics say, and it does not mean its ok for a scientific journal to have a board completely dominated by sceptics and Mann was justified in being annoyed by this, and scientists were justified by being annoyed by the Soon / Balinaus paper as pointed out by PC above. You have to see things in context. This was one paper and scientists haven't taken the same  stance over all sceptics papers. If they had, their might be cause for genuine concern.

    "Sceptics cornered shamed and excluded?"

    This is a wild exaggeration. Please note the IPCC goes out of its way to include sceptics in its review teams, eg Dr Vincent Grey. Please note the official investigations of climategate went out of their way to include sceptics. Please note that the scepetics have dozens of journals they can publish in, and they keep telling us how much research they publish.

    Some sceptics deserve to be shamed: I have quoted a few examples such as Moncton and Soon, but you refuse to engage and discuss.

    "9 separate investigations have completely exonerated all scientists of all charges"

    "This might be true, at the same time they were scolding the "11" for a lack of ingenuousness and transparency"

    There is no might be true about it. It is true.

    "The "Hockestick" that you use in the OP is an audacity and always will be."

    This is a composite of multiple detailed studies of the MPW. Not sure what more you would expect. How many studies would be enough for you? 

    Calling it an audacity doesn't make it an audacity. Perhaps it doesn't tell you want you want to see, so you throw mud at it.

    "This is the political thinYou know this. You know that warming periods are missing. "

    All I know is all the studies of the MPW I have seen show it was weak and I've seen dozens of studies.  I have no particular reason to doubt their veracity. Manns analysis was criticised for some bad statstics or something but the shape of his graph has been replicated over and over by other scientists using different methods. Thats good enough for me. Why would that not satisfy you?

    You sound like you are just angry that the science doesn't match how you want it to be, for whatever reason.

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  10. Nyood,

    to add to Philippe's and Nigelj's comments, I shall yet again be rather tiresome to readers, in once again pointing out your major errors.

    Lindzen and Curry are intellectual failures.    And it must be very sad (for any true skeptic) that you are forced into the corner of admitting they are "the best"  of the opposition to mainstream science.

    Dr Curry is a minimizer who goes outside of scientific truthfulness, in order to give her uncritical followers the impression that hardly any global warming is the result of the Greenhouse effect.   She creates a cloud of confused ideas ~ rather like the way a squid creates a cloud of ink to conceal things.

    Prof Lindzen was a scientific force in the 1980's , but in the past decades his (initially reasonable) Iris Hypothesis has proven to be wrong, and his future projections of global surface temperature have proven to be very wrong.   Worse still , he seems to have fallen into a religious belief that Jehovah would not permit the Earth to warm by more than a fraction of 1 degree.   Quite unscientific.

    Please note that I am not saying Lindzen and Curry are unintelligent or legally  insane.   The question of their intellectual sanity is arguable.

    Nyood , it must be disappointing for you, that you cannot suggest anyone 'better'  than Lindzen or Curry.   Nor am I aware of any 'better'  contrarians, capable of providing even a small amount of evidence to challenge the mainstream science.

    And I will not bother to detail all the falseness of your ideas about the Hockeystick.   It is one more area where you seem very reluctant to educate yourself ~ likewise with Climategate !

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