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December 03, 2009

Great Article on ClimateGate from the Sunday Times (UK)

Not a lot you haven't heard -- though the scientists now beginning to perk up and say "Wait a damn minute here" is good -- but a great recap. Puts everything into the proper chronology and goes back to the beginning of the dispute -- over the hockey stick, and why that's so very crucial. Anyone who's been a bit lost in all this until now should find themselves suitably caught up by the article's end.


I'll quote this part, just to prove I myself read it (or whatever), but do yourself a favor and skip my excerpt and just read the whole thing. Good article to email to a newcomer to all of this, too.


Some critics believe that the unit’s findings need to be treated with more caution, because all the published data have been “corrected” — meaning they have been altered to compensate for possible anomalies in the way they were taken. Such changes are normal; what’s controversial is how they are done. This is compounded by the unwillingness of the unit to release the original raw data.

David Holland, an engineer from Northampton, is one of a number of sceptics who believe the unit has got this process wrong. When he submitted a request for the figures under freedom of information laws he was refused because it was “not in the public interest”.

Others who made similar requests were turned down because they were not academics, among them McIntyre, a Canadian who runs the Climate Audit website.

A genuine academic, Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, also tried. He said: “I was rejected for an entirely different reason. The [unit] told me they had obtained the data under confidentiality agreements and so could not supply them. This was odd because they had already supplied some of them to other academics, but only those who support the idea of climate change.”

IT was against this background that the emails were leaked last week, reinforcing suspicions that scientific objectivity has been sacrificed. There is unease even among researchers who strongly support the idea that humans are changing the climate. Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: “Over the last decade there has been a very political battle between the climate sceptics and activist scientists.

“It seems to me that the scientists have lost touch with what they were up to. They saw themselves as in a battle with the sceptics rather than advancing scientific knowledge.”

Professor Mike Hulme, a fellow researcher of Jones at the University of East Anglia and author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, said: “The attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organisation within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

There could, however, be another reason why the unit rejected requests to see its data.

This weekend it emerged that the unit has thrown away much of the data. Tucked away on its website is this statement: “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites ... We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (ie, quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

If true, it is extraordinary. It means that the data on which a large part of the world’s understanding of climate change is based can never be revisited or checked. Pielke said: “Can this be serious? It is now impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. [The unit] is basically saying, ‘Trust us’.”

Since I'm doing another post, I'll just say that speculation that James Hansen is behind this leak seems daft. Maybe he does want Copenhagen to fail; but what he definitely doesn't want is the Cult of the Virgin Gaia to fail, and that's what this leak accomplishes. (Or forwards, at least.)

And as interesting as it is, timing-wise, Al Gore's cancellation of one appearance at Climate Mecca doesn't mean anything at all.


Damn... This recap is good too.

First, the data games: the data manipulation that has been most seized upon by bloggers involves the choice of which sources of temperature data should be used to reflect climate trends after 1960. Because thermometer-based measurements of the climate are only about 150 years old (and are quite spotty for much of that time), when scientists set out to construct long-term estimates of temperature trends, they use what are called “proxies,” such as tree-ring measurements that ostensibly reveal the temperatures that the tree experienced as it grew. As it happens, the tree-ring proxies match up with the thermometer measurements up until about 1960, when there is a “divergence” between the two sets of data. The tree rings indicate a global cooling after 1960, while the thermometer data indicates a sharp warming.

The CRU scientists decided to simply stop using the inconveniently non-warming tree-ring data after 1960, and splice the modern thermometer-based temperature readings instead, using statistical methods to smooth out and conceal the transition. In one email, this is discussed as a “trick” developed by Michael Mann, one of the creators of the infamous climate “hockey stick chart,” that would “hide the decline” shown by the tree rings and emphasize the recent spike in thermometer data, preserving the sanctity of the hockey stick. One problem with this is, if the tree rings don’t accurately reflect temperatures since 1960, why should we believe they accurately reflected temperatures in the past? If temperatures could diverge now, couldn’t they have equally diverged in the medieval warm period of 1,000 years ago? If so, current temperatures could be historically unremarkable, cutting away one of the key rationales for blaming human greenhouse gas emissions for recent climate changes.

There’s also the well-known problem in the thermometer record of an upward bias due to increasing urbanization around weather stations. Which is right, the trees, or the thermometers? Perhaps neither.

In another data manipulation discussion, one of the CRU researchers discusses changing the (arbitrary) baseline that is used to define “average temperature,” but is discouraged from doing so, as a less arbitrary baseline would reduce the appearance of global warming. About all we can say now is that it’s unclear that the public has been shown accurate reconstructions of historic temperatures, nor been given the context to understand whether recent climate changes are unusual or caused by human activity.

He swings 'round to the peer-review corruption:

Finally, and most troubling, are the suggestions that a tribe of incestuous climate scientists may have actively conspired to undermine the peer-review process, until now considered a determinant of what is worthy of scientific consideration, and what is not.

The scientists at CRU and throughout the climate change establishment, along with people such as former Vice President Al Gore, have slammed skeptics for not publishing in the peer-reviewed literature. What the Climategate documents reveal is that this small group of scientists, who are often called upon to peer review each other’s work as well as skeptical articles, have discussed ways of keeping findings they don’t like out of the peer-reviewed literature, even if it required trying to oust editors, boycotting certain journals, or reclassifying a prestigious journal that publishes skeptical articles as a fringe journal unworthy of consideration. They also discuss their specific intention to exclude contrary findings from the IPCC reports, even if they “have to redefine what the peer-reviewed literature is!” Is it surprising that many skeptics simply choose to forgo efforts to place materials in peer-reviewed journals when one knows that it will likely be blockaded by biased reviewers?


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posted by Ace at 09:34 PM

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