But their Emails!

But their Emails

Here we go again. It's always emails with these people.

First there was "Climategate!" — the misquoting, selective quoting, and uninformed quoting of stolen emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in Great Britain. Emails between CRU scientists and other climate scientists around the world promised to peel back the curtain and reveal the global warming scam. Alarmist scientists had used "tricks" to "hide the decline"! They "can't account for the lack of warming" so they have to fake the temperature data! The whole thing is a hoax!

Not so much.

With out-of-context quoting you can make scientists say anything. And that was the case with Climategate — it suffered from an extreme lack of context. The full context of the emails simply showed scientists discussing their work openly with each other. They show that they are merely human — they are argumentative as well as congratulatory; they get angry, with each other and the contrarians who attack them and their work.

Despite contrarians' promise to reveal the nefarious world of scheming scientists, the larger context of emails plus the peer-reviewed literature merely shows how science works. The literature gives us the finished products of scientific research, while the emails give us a glimpse of the back-and-forth between scientists as they hash out their experiments, data, and interpretations, and work toward publishing their results. This science has withstood assaults like Climategate (and the nothingburger Son of Climategate: Climategate II) because there is no nefarious world to reveal here.

But that has not stopped the contrarians from trying the same thing over and over again. The latest example is the use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests — which are designed to allow taxpayers to have access to certain government records — to litigate for the release of more emails. Of particular interest are the emails of one Michael E. Mann, because apparently all of climate science hinges on his work, especially the “Hockey Stick”. Show that Mann’s research is fake and the entire house of cards will crumble.

In 2011, the American Tradition Institute (ATI) brought a lawsuit against Dr. Mann and the University of Virginia (where Mann was a professor from 1999 to 2005) for the release of his emails, claiming that as a public university professor, Mann’s emails were effectively government records that should be turned over to anyone who asked under Virginia’s FOIA law. The case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, which rejected this premise and blocked this email release in 2014.

What is a climate science denying outfit like ATI supposed to do? Move on to a more “compliant” state. ATI morphed into the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (EELI) and brought a lawsuit in Arizona against the University of Arizona and two of its professors: Malcolm Hughes,  a coauthor of Mann’s on the famous Hockey Stick papers, and Jonathan Overpeck, a lead author on the IPCC’s fourth and fifth Assessment Reports.

EELI claims they are bringing these lawsuits in the interests of open science, to make the workings of scientific research available to all American arm-chair “scientists”. That sounds like a lofty goal. Except they also say they want the emails released in order to “embarrass both Professors Hughes and Overpeck and the University [of Arizona].” They also have not sought data, results, or other study information — only emails. Well, that doesn’t sound very “scientific”.

One wonders, if the shoe were on the other foot, and the private correspondence and paperwork of EELI were made available, what might the public learn about this “charity.

In the end, the courts in Arizona have proved to be more compliant than in Virginia: the emails will be released. But only after hours and hours of wasted time by Drs. Hughes and Overpeck in sifting through their years of emails to cull any truly confidential information:

Dr. Hughes testified it took him ten weeks to go through all the emails, and he lost an entire research summer to reviewing old emails as well as losing a grant that expired. Dr. Overpeck testified it took him six weeks to go through everything and he was unable to use his sabbatical. (Source)

This “wasted time” is another of the unstated goals of such lawsuits: take precious time away from climate scientists’ real research by burying them in frivolous busy-work.

In a preemptive move Michael Mann has decided to publish his own copies of the emails that the U of AZ was forced to release to EELI:

Of course, I wish I did not need to do this. But since these emails will be handed over any day now to David Schnare [of EELI], it is our hope to use this exercise instead as a teaching moment and an opportunity to further public appreciation and understanding of science...

You can access Mann's emails here, (enter “mail_guest” for both username and password).

In days and weeks to come, contrarians (who think they are arm-chair scientists) might sift through the U of AZ emails in hopes of finding some nugget to embarrass Mann, Hughes, Overpeck or any of the numerous scientists they email every day in their effort to understand how the climate system works. They may uncover more “tricks” used by scientists as they describe their research. There may be strong disagreements between scientists. There may be ridicule of the contrarians who pepper scientists with amateurish questions.

But the hoped for climate change scam will still fail to materialize from this new batch of emails. Anyone reading these emails (really reading them — not just poking at them to try to find “gotcha” phrases) will find scientists merely working together to understand the climate, and trying to find the best way to communicate what they discover to the wider world.

Thanks to jg for the illustration.

Posted by David Kirtley on Friday, 30 November, 2018

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