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The question that skeptics don't want to ask about 'Climategate'

Posted on 18 November 2010 by John Cook

A year ago, the climate debate was rocked by 'Climategate'. Email servers at the University of East Anglia were hacked, emails were stolen and distributed on the Internet. Out-of-context quotes were cited as evidence that the entire scientific case for global warming was all just a conspiracy. Even now, 12 months later, 'Climategate' is the most popular skeptic argument. But there is one question that skeptics seem to avoid:

Has 'Climategate' changed our scientific understanding of global warming?

Has the science changed? Is there any change to the many independent lines of evidence for human-caused global warming? This question is never asked because of the answer:

The evidence for human caused global warming is as solid as ever.

There are many lines of evidence that humans are causing global warming. Independent measurements of different aspects of the climate using a range of techniques by scientists all over the world all point to the same answer.  When we consider the full body of evidence, we see a distinct, discernable human fingerprint on climate change.

The 'Climategate' controversy is an attempt to divert attention away from the science. This is a common tactic in movements that seek to deny a scientific consensus - assume a conspiracy theory. But there is no evidence of any 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 "The scientists’ rigor and honesty 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".

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. However, there is an important lesson to be learnt from 'Climategate'

The real scandal of 'Climategate'

A year since 'Climategate', we can look back retrospectively and understand what happened. Anonymous hackers illegally stole emails from climate scientists in a deliberate campaign to sow doubt about climate science and discredit climate scientists. Quotes were taken out of context in an effort to mislead the public about what's happening to our climate. In the last 12 months, the scientific evidence of the negative impacts of global warming has only got stronger. The real scandal of 'Climategate' is the illegal smear campaign designed to distract people from the scientific reality of global warming.

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Comments 151 to 161 out of 161:

  1. Ken #150 You're restricting yourself to temperature data - the field is much much broader than that. Off the top of my head we can think about glaciers, ecosystems, greenhouse accounting, snowfall (some of the data here is counter-intuitive, which is useful in the messy sciences, because counter-intuitive data supported by theory is strong validation), seasonal onset, change in animal breeding times and behaviour. There are bound to be others. So the "multiple independent lines of evidence" is much much broader than you are claiming. This time I'm glad to clear up another of your scientific misconceptions.
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  2. Ken Lambert writes: Last time I checked there were two independent sets of temperature data. Surface (GCHN) and Satellite (UAH and RSS read same raw data). All the Surface temp reconstruction corrections (HADCRUT, GISTEMP etc) draw from the same data sources. There's also the satellite sea surface temperature record -- also from satellites, but using a completely different wavelength range and sensor design. And there are experimental surface temperature reconstructions using using an alternative set of stations, not GHCN. So even if you ignore all the stuff that kdkd mentions, there are at least three completely independent sources of temperature data, and a fourth semi-independent one (GSOD vs GHCN surface station analyses).
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  3. Ned #152 If I stick my aluminium foil hat on, I reckon that I could produce an argument to say that the sattelites are calibrated on the surface and ocean measures from thermometers, so strictly speaking they may not be completely independent. But that is a stretch and does require a bit of a captain paranoia approach to climate data to justify. However the other stuff I mentioned has absolutely nothing to do with temperature measures at all, but somehow validates the temperature record anyway.
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  4. Ken @ 148 "Address the main points of my comment" - I already did at 122, 141 and then again at 146. Now you are just changing the topic and pretending it is what you were talking about. "I did not claim that Dr Trenberth's opinions were gospel" - It is interesting that when you thought Trenberth's email/opinions could be used to cast doubt on the link between humans and global warming, he was very quoteable. But since I called you on that, now his opinions aren't "gospel". Ken, if you want other contributors to this site to take you seriously and have a thoughful discussion about unresolved areas in climate science, then you need to be able to admit when you are wrong. Not only is this good for your credibility, but it shows other posters (such as myself) that although we may disagree there is no intellectual dishonesty occuring and engaging with someone is actually worthwhile. Now to be clear, I am not saying you are being dishonest, it is just that, if you can't admit to being wrong, what's the point is going beyond repeating "multiple independant lines of evidence"?
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  5. The Skeptical Chymist #154 Dr Trenberth expressed private doubts about the observation system and 'lack of warming' in the Climategate emails. He does touch on the central issue of 'missing heat' on pp25 of his Aug09 paper as follows: "Possibly the heat is being sequestered in the deep ocean below the 900mm depth used for the Argo analyses...........Or the warming is not really present? In this case the blame would point to the atmosphere and cloud changes, and it should be confirmed by CERES and MODIS measurements. However, preliminary estimates for 2006 thru 2008 suggest that net radiation heating increased, which if true exacerbates the imbalance identified here" The fact is that the 'imbalance identified' (0.9W/sq.m) is based on Hansen's 2005 models. Dr Trenberth goes on: "Accordingly another much needed component is the TOA radiation, but CERES data exist only through 2005 and are not yet long or reliable enough to bear on the question" While drawing a picture of an inadequate observation system, and expressing private doubts - he has defended the 'party line' on AGW - a line dependent on Mr Hansen's models. In short he has publicly used the 'its there but we can't measure it' argument. That does not detract from the technical issues he has raised and legitimate discussion of the probability that "the warming is not really present?" (at least for the last 10 years or so)
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  6. "the probability that "the warming is not really present?" If you stick to Trenberth' own opinion, that bit is unlikely per your own quote: "However, preliminary estimates for 2006 thru 2008 suggest that net radiation heating increased" We've touched before on how measurement data must be treated when used with a physics based model, the problems with UAH data demonstrated how that goes.
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  7. Philippe Chantreau #156 "which if true exacerbates the imbalance identified here" There is your answer. If the real imbalance is higher than 0.9W/sq.m and we can only account for 0.55W/sq.m by OHC measurements then this "exacerbates the imbalance identified here". It seems that there are huge problems with the absolute accuracy of satellite measurements and only relative month-month or year-year differences (precision) is useful.
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  8. That's no answer, just a restatement. As I said earlier, the fact remains that, in physics based models, difficult to obtain measurements that do not agree with the physics are not to be overly trusted.
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  9. PC #158 Physics based models still make a host of assumptions. All the forcings used to calculate the TOA imbalances have variably wide error bars. eg: Cloud albedo and the reflectivity of the planet is assumed to be about 30% of the imcoming TSI. What if this is 1% in error ie. 29.7 to 30.3% - that alone accounts for 1.0W/sq.m and either doubles of wipes out the current estimated TOA imbalance of 0.9W/sq.m Can you then cycle your 'physics' based models 50 years (or 600 months) and still assume that reflection is 30% in every cycling? Again a 1% error in this factor alone would end up at 64% if cycled 50 times. ie. 1.01^50 = 1.64 A simple example but input this into a difference or sum equation and the result could be vastly amplified.
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  10. "actually thoughtful": If we saw a temperature change that exceeded that from the historic glacial cycle, it'd be a lot easier to believe in AGW. So far, the global warming that we're seeing appears to be a natural part of the warm phase of the glacial cycle. We reached 4.5C warmer than today (1950) during the previous warming phase, 130,000 years ago. Chris Shaker
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  11. Physics based models still make a host of assumptions? All models make a host of assumptions, including those written by the atmospheric particle modelers. Chris Shaker
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