Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“You don't have to buy from anyone. You don't have to work at any particular job. You don't have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose.”     Harry Browne

November 30, 2011

Climate Gate 2.0 – What is it, why does it matter?

by tarran

The hacker or whistle-blower who leaked a tranche of emails several years ago has struck again, releasing 5,500 emails and an encrypted set of 22,000 emails into the Internet. The proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming are claiming it is old news, with emails being taken out of context and that due to the number of investigations that exonerated the scientists involved, the matter should be ignored.

This is very wrong. The emails are worth studying in full, because they raise very serious questions about the credibility of the IPCC, the journals publishing papers on climatology, the government scientific bodies commissioning research into climate and the news organizations covering them.

Moreover, the emails call into disrepute the assertion, frequently made, that the warming of the climate over the past century is known to be “unprecedented”. While it is possible that it is unprecedented, we do not know this for certain, since the proofs advanced are provably flawed.

So what do we know? What do the emails in question tell us?

  1. The emails are from a repository from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, an organization which maintains a database of temperatures used by researchers analyzing the Earth’s climate. The database is one of several which are nominally claimed to be independently produced.
  2. The emails are not comprehensive, only about 2.5% of the emails sent to and from the professors in question have been released into the wild. The encrypted emails are well enough encrypted that unless the hacker/whistle-blower publishes the encryption key’s pass-phrase, they will not be decrypted in our life-times.
  3. The emails that are readable appear to be selected based on the subjects of discussion, primarily around controversies surrounding paleo-climate research, a branch of climatology where ice-cores, tree-cores, sedimentary-cores and other similar geological records are used to attempt to reconstruct climate from periods prior to modern temperature instrumentation. Paleo-climatologists have been instrumental in creating the narrative that the Earth is warming at an unprecedented, dangerous rate.
  4. The first controversy, “hiding the decline” is related to an attempt to create a global temperature record by Dr Michael Mann of Penn State, who used records of tree-cores collected at a handful of sites across the world to create a historical temperature record. By measuring the density and thickness of the rings, one can create a record going back about a thousand years of tree growth. Dr Mann used a statistical process that is a variant of Principal Component Analysis to generate identify which sets of tree-cores had growth patterns that most closely tracked temperature in the past hundred years. He presumed that these sets of cores would maintain a similar relationship with temperature throughout the entire record. By mathematically applying this transformation to the tree-core data, he produced the thousand year reconstruction known colloquially as the Mann Hockey Stick, which played a central role in both IPCC reports and in Al Gore’s movie, and Inconvenient Truth. At this point, I should digress to explain several critical flaws in Michael Mann’s work that doom this effort.
    • The relationship between tree growth and temperature is not linear, and is not even proportional. Here are all the things that affect tree core growth, according to the late Dr Daly:
      1. cloudiness – more clouds, less sun, less ring.
      2. pests/disease – a caterpillar or locust plague will reduce photosynthesis
      3. access to sunlight – competition within a forest can disadvantage or advantage some trees.
      4. moisture/rainfall – a key variable. Trees do not prosper in a droughteven if there’s a heat wave.
      5. snow packing in spring around the base of the trees retards growth temperature
    • Without a physical correlation, one is left with cherrypicked accidental correlation. I will give an example of this phenomenon by describing a stock-scam. A person wanting to get at gullible people’s money will email 500,000 people telling them that stock A is going to rise in the next month, and 500,000 people that stock A is going to fall. He has a 50/50 shot of being right, so 500,000 people receive the correct prediction. A month later, he selects the group that received the correct prediction and divides them in half and sends each half another set of predictions. Now 250,000 people have received two correct predictions in a row. Another two passes, and now he has 62,000 people that have received 4 correct tips from him in a row. He then contacts these people offering to invest their money for them. This is precisely the sort of cherry picking that mindlessly applying PCA to a series of unrelated parameters will produce.
    • The type of PCA Dr Mann used is infamous for creating a spurious rise at the end of a time series when applied to time series of data.
    • After 1960, the trees that had been most correlated with temperature ceased to correlate with temperatures and instead showed reduced growth rates that when converted to the apparent temperature showed a dramatic decline of 4 – 5 degrees. This is the “decline” that needed to be hidden, not the decline of actual temperatures, but a divergence of the proxy temperatures from the historical record.
    • Dr Mann “hid” this decline in his major paper published in Nature Magazine by splicing in instrumental temperature data into the curve in order to give the appearance that the proxy temperatures were rising in tandem with actual instrumental temperatures when in fact they were diverging. This became known as “Mike’s Nature Trick”
    • Dr Mann’s original reconstruction did not extend past 1980, ostensibly because the research of traveling to remote locations to core trees was difficult, expensive, and difficult to get funding for.
    • Dr Mann’s reconstruction had no Medieval Warm Period, a period where historical records indicate the Northern Hemisphere was much warmer than ordinary – with warm weather crops being grown in England and Greenland being capable of supporting subsistence farmers.
  5. Several scientists raised the above objections to Dr Mann, either in papers they published or face to face in seminars or via direct emails. Rather than responding to them, Dr Mann engaged in scientific misconduct, namely:
  6. Dr Mann was assisted in this misconduct actively by senior members of the CRU (the organization whose mail server is the source of the emails), and the knowledge of the chairman of the IPCC, an organization that is supposed to be a transparent, non-activist advisor to national governments.
  7. Separately from the Issues affecting the Hockey Stick, the CRU was also dealing with people trying to reproduce their database from raw data by stonewalling them, primarily by telling them that the raw temperature data was confidential and that CRU did not have permission from the organizations supplying them to provide the data.
  8. The people being stonewalled eventually resorted to using Freedom Of Information Act requests to attempt to pry loose data such as which meteorological stations were the source of raw data that was then processed to produce the database of global temperatures.
  9. When confronted with these FOIA requests, senior scientists at the CRU attempted to delete emails that were covered by the FOIA.
  10. The raw temperature data was not being produced because Dr Jones of the CRU, who curates the data, had lost track of which stations he had used to produce the database.
  11. Dr Jones & members of his team, with the knowledge of the FOIA officer conspired to mislead the people submitting the FOIA requests in order not to admit that they had lost their intermediate work.
  12. An inspector general investigating the deletions concluded that these officers willfully and knowingly violated the FOIA, but that having evaded detection for more than six months, the statute of limitations had run out on the crime making it unprocecutable.
  13. Simultaneously the scientists conspired with officials in the BBC to suffuse climate change alarmism into the BBC product. This conspiracy went as far as having BBC reporters prep scientists at the CRU how to maximize the impact of their interviews on news-magazine shows.
  14. The Scientists who presented a united front that equated anyone who questioned the Mann reconstruction or the CRU database as being on the par with Holocaust Deniers in their emails to each other admitted discomfort, confusion and doubt with their pronouncements in private.

The overarching tale that I see in this whole sordid affair is the usual one; it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. Losing data, doing sloppy work can be very embarrassing. Had Dr Mann been willing to contemplate that he might be mistaken, instead of assuming that everyone who disagreed with him or raised questions about his work were members of a secret cabal working for the fossil fuel industry and seeking to destroy their reputations, he might have been able to recover his reputation.

In their zeal to not admit weakness, to not consider the possibility that they were mistaken on any of their pronouncements, the scientists in question did a great deal of damage:

  1. Researchers who used the CRU/Mann analysis as part of their own work probably wasted time and money that cannot be recovered.
  2. The chilling effect of their actions almost certainly quashed research that would have given invaluable evidence to people attempting to deal with climate change.
  3. Citizens and politicians were manipulated through fraud and deceit into making decisions that they might not have made had they been provided with accurate data

The theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming has been very lucrative to government officials, scientists who are seen as visionary experts and to NGO’s involved in the environmental movement. This wealth has been extracted from people who deserve to use it for their own ends. For the very poor it has made it harder to make ends meet. The fact that the head of the IPCC was cc’ed on attempts to fire professors who published dissenting views and did nothing damns the UN involvement in the affair.

I’ve long called for the separation of Science and State, which I recognize is a pipe dream. In the absence of this, it is time for people to cease trusting the organizations that permitted the misconduct above to continue.  The efforts to mitigate climate change are interfering with economic development that is needed to bring much of humanity out of the misery of poverty, increasing the cost of living for most people living in the developing world and is creating crony-capitalistic institutions that are ripe for corruption. To steal from Dr Covey’s analogy about cutting a road through the jungle, we are probably cutting a road through the wrong jungle, and there is no point in proceeding until we figure out which jungle we should be seeking out.

TrackBack URI: http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2011/11/30/climate-gate-2-0-%e2%80%93-what-is-it-why-does-it-matter/trackback/
Read more posts from
• • •

2 Comments

  1. Well done Tarran!

    I agree with your conclusions but I would also add one other thing to answering your question as to why this matters: this does great deal of harm to science itself regardless of the discipline.

    My brother happens to be an evangelical preacher who is a creationist. When climategate 1.0 broke, he pointed to this example as a reason why scientists in general cannot necessarily be trusted to go where the evidence leads them. To put in another way, if climate scientists are lying about global warming isn’t it also possible that biologists are lying about evolution?

    Sadly, he has a point.

    I can no longer point to the mountains of peer reviewed journal articles written from Darwin to the present that overwhelmingly support evolution while my brother points to the junk science of “Intelligent Design.”

    While we should always greet new discoveries or scientific theories with some healthy skepticism, I’m afraid that the zeal from the global warming theorists have done a great deal of damage to the very foundations of what we call science.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — November 30, 2011 @ 12:16 pm
  2. This is quite true. The Hockey Stick Team has not only harmed their credibility, but they have also brought the reputation of other scientists as well.

    I don’t know if this is necessarily a bad thing; I think skepticism and a caveat emptor attitude is healthy for individuals that are having to rely on experts and for the experts being scrutinized. It keeps ‘em honest, so to speak.

    Comment by tarran — November 30, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

Comments RSS

Subscribe without commenting

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by: WordPress • Template by: Eric • Banner #1, #3, #4 by Stephen Macklin • Banner #2 by Mark RaynerXML