New Climategate emails reveal life is tough for scientists  

Posted by Big Gav in

Crikey reports the "Climategate" non-event is being rehashed now the Durban climate conference is about to start - no story last time round, no story this time round - New Climategate emails reveal life is tough for scientists.

“These folks appear to have some very large industry groups behind them running the show, setting up forums for them on capitol hill (the latest sponsored by the infamous ‘Marshall Institute’) and its best for scientists not to exchange any emails with them — they will only quote you out of context and misrepresent your comments.” — Michael Mann, Wednesday, November 12, 2003.

Climate scientist Michael Mann is known for his reconstructions of past global temperatures — namely the hockey stick graph — which has withstood extreme scrutiny since it was first published in 1999.

But as the email above shows, Manne is not without some skill in predicting the future.

In late 2009, shortly before world leaders gathered in Copenhagen for UN climate talks, a cache of private emails originating from the University of East Anglia was released onto the internet.

Climate sceptics and deniers claimed the emails showed global warming to be a hoax cooked-up by a cabal of scientists. The claims of sceptics, repeated and amplified without question by some media commentators, were examined by nine separate investigations.

A legitimate criticism was that, in the face of a persistent deluge of inquiries, some scientists had occasionally sought to block Freedom of Information requests. There were legitimate concerns raised too that some scientists had sought to prevent what they considered to be faulty science from appearing in journals.

But the inquiries cleared the scientists of any scientific wrongdoing despite the pant-wetting squeals of some climate sceptic commentators (Andrew Bolt called it one of the greatest scandals in modern science). Despite the fact that these inquiries showed many commentators had misled their viewers and readers, few (if any) were able to muster an apology or a retraction.

In the past 48 hours, a new cache of 5439 emails and 23 documents has been released, along with a “README” file. A separate encrypted file has also been released. It isn’t known who was responsible for releasing the emails, except to say that they first appeared as links to a Russian server on some climate sceptic blogs (the link is now dead, but several mirror sites have been set up).

The emails cover the same 10-year period (1999-2009) as the 2009 release and despite two years having passed, Norfolk Police — with jurisdiction over the University of East Anglia — have said little to suggest they have made any progress on their investigation.

BBC environment correspondent Richard Black reported yesterday that a Freedom of Information request to Norfolk Police had indicated that since February, just £80 had been spent on the case. Only £5,649.09 had been spent this year, but Norfolk Police pointed out this only related to additional expenditure above officer and staff time.

A statement from Norfolk Police last night said the Operation Cabin enquiry team had been “determined and persistent in following all relevant lines of enquiry, some of which have been international in nature”. The new release of emails and documents had “given us fresh lines of inquiry,” said Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory.

US Democrat Representative Edward Markey called on the US “intelligence community” to offer their help to the British, saying “This is clearly an attempt to sabotage the international climate talks for a second time, and there has not been enough attention paid to who is responsible for these illegal acts.”

The UEA has suggested these new emails were most likely held back from release by the original alleged hackers.

Almost all the climate sceptic blogs, including Andrew Bolt’s and JoNova’s, have reproduced the text of the README file which cherry-picks from 85 of the 5349 emails.

The anonymous author of the README file claims there are another 220,000 emails that “are encrypted for various reasons. We are not planning to publicly release the passphrase”.

Early yesterday, I downloaded the entire zip file of emails and 23 documents so that I could search the text of the files myself.

The purpose of the README file is obviously to draw the reader’s attention to particular emails and — in many cases — only particular parts of emails, some of which are without context. The README file omits a significant number of emails that contain scathing criticism of the “science” being distributed by so-called sceptics.

The content of the emails is wide ranging. Some discuss holidays, others the technical contents of IPCC reports. There’s criticism about scientific papers published by sceptics and plenty of criticism of each other’s work.

But the cache of emails also reveals (like the first 2009 release did) the difficulties that climate scientists have in going about their everyday work, particular under a constant barrage of Freedom of Information requests and public criticism.

For example, in an email sent on September 8, 2009, Phil Jones indicates one reason he is reluctant to voluntarily release data to particular individuals — in this case Steve McIntyre, a Canadian mathematician, blogger and oil and gas industry man (searching for “McIntyre” in the emails returns more than 300 results, including some in 2003 where McIntyre is still using his “CGX Energy” email address).

“Years ago I did send much paleo data to McIntyre but have also had nothing but criticism on his blog ever since. As I said, this criticism on blog sites is not the way to do science. If they want to engage, they have to converse in civil tones, and if people don’t want to work with them, they have to respect that and live with it.”

In one email to the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit director Phil Jones on July 3, 2007, Penn State University’s Dr Mann writes:

“The UK FOIA seems like a real pain. What McIntyre and his ilk are trying to do is to make doing science as unpleasant as possible for us. I suppose they think that discouraging the scientists is the best way to prevent the science from moving forward. Its really disgusting, and hopefully folks from higher up realise what is going on.”

In a June 5 2008 email, Phil Jones writes to Ben Santer, a leading climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

“A lot of people seem to think that because you’ve been accused of something, there must be something to warrant the accusation. Very few, including many climate scientists seem to understand the amount of mischief making out there — as we all know all too clearly.” ...

As popular climate blogger Joe Romm pointed out yesterday: “Climategate was a scandal of corrupt, deceitful, and shoddy reporting.”

It appears this scandal, again is unfolding.

1 comments

From what I understand, there were about 60 Freedom of Information requests in just one weekend. The scientists saw it as intentional harrassment. They said it would take many hours of work to answer even one FOI. They also maintain that the information being requested was freely available elsewhere.

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