Scientists Respond Cautiously to Hijacked Email

I’ve spent several days dithering over whether to weigh in on the recent email heist from a server at the University of East Anglia in the UK. For those who choose to read it that way, the hacked email originally passed among climate scientists worldwide has, rightly or wrongly, provided those who reject the prevailing climate science with enough radioactive ammo to fill Yucca Mountain.

Some high-profile California researchers figure prominently in the material. In a searchable database of the messages, for example, the name of Ben Santer, a climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Lab came up 173 times. Stanford’s Steve Schneider came up 71 times. Both are outspoken defenders of science supporting the human contribution to global warming.

Another scientist quoted or referred to (99 times), Kevin Trenberth, is a name familiar to readers of this blog and listeners to Climate Watch radio coverage. Trenberth is a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO.  I’ve interviewed him mostly about the role of the Pacific oscillation known as El Nino in climate patterns. After the decade’s worth of email came to light, I wrote Trenberth for a response. His reply may not be entirely original. Some lines have also been attributed to a spokesman for the university whose servers were invaded. In any case, here’s Trenberth’s response to Climate Watch:

It is a matter of concern that data, including personal information about individuals, appears to have been illegally taken and a criminal investigation is underway. The selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way. The volume of material published and its piecemeal nature makes it impossible to confirm what proportion is genuine.  Many elements have been published selectively on a number of websites. Generally the items are out of context, incomplete and very misleading. Some others are wildly misinterpreted and have a simple explanation.

The material published relates to the work of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and other scientists around the world.  Many of the scientists featured in the emails with [Phil] Jones [of East Anglia] have web sites and freely and openly make available their papers, presentations, blogs and other information. Several of the emails document the detailed procedures used in the IPCC AR4 Fourth Assessment report for Chapter 3 (for which Phil Jones and Kevin Trenberth were coordinating lead authors) and other chapters. They actually reveal the integrity of the process and the hard work that goes into such an assessment.

Trenberth then went on to cite some specific “examples of misinterpretations:”

From Kevin Trenberth, interpreted as a failure of computer models:

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.”

This refers to the inability of our current observations from satellites and in situ to account for where all the energy has gone. A paper on this is available here:

Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 1, 19-27, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [PDF]

This paper tracks the effects of the changing Sun, how much heat went into the land, ocean, melting Arctic sea ice, melting Greenland and Antarctica, and changes in clouds, along with changes in greenhouse gases. We can track this well for 1993 to 2003, but not for 2004 to 2008. It does NOT mean that global warming is not happening, on the contrary, it suggests that we simply can’t fully explain why 2008 was as cool as it was, but with an implication that warming will come back, as it has. In 2008 there was a La Nina event.  We now have an El Nino underway.

Kevin Trenberth

Meanwhile, the university’s Climate Research Unit has posted a series of rebuttals. Still, this digital hijacking is disturbing on a lot of levels. Whether you accept the prevailing climate science or consider the email damning evidence to the contrary, it is a distraction from the business at hand in Copenhagen and a public relations train wreck for the IPCC and many of its most eminent contributing scientists. You can bet that it won’t be forgotten when a major climate bill hits the floor of the U.S. Senate for debate, early next year. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, vocal critic of global warming science, is already calling for an investigation.

Scientists Respond Cautiously to Hijacked Email 25 November,2009Craig Miller

5 thoughts on “Scientists Respond Cautiously to Hijacked Email”

  1. These California scientists have authored/co-authored many of the studies relied on by the UN IPCC, and world governments. These studies have been used to pronounce global warming an immediate threat. These scientist appear to have been aware their fellow scientist were hiding data, deleting data files, hiding source code, manipulating data to make it more difficult to use, and denied requests from scientist who were contributors to Climate Audit. These actions prevented the replication of critical papers that pointed to accelerated warming, when there was reasonable doubts based on other studies and satellite data. Replication is the holy grail of scientific validity. These scientists acted more like political hacks chasing grants than true scientists.

  2. So you regard the East Anglia e-mail scandal as merely a “distraction from the business at hand in Copenhagen”? Seriously??

    The East Anglia e-mail scandal should result in the CANCELLATION of Copenhagen. You don’t have to read many of the e-mails to understand that some of the leading recordkeepers in the global warming movement are admitting to fudging their own 150-year weather data — the same numbers that influence decisions by the United Nations and the U.S. Congress!

    Elsewhere in their e-mails, these so-called scientists make admissions such as “Global warming is NOT happening!”

    Now that we know the global warming books were cooked, the upcoming Copenhagen event looks about as relevant as an Enron stockholders’ meeting.

    If you can handle the truth, take a look at Lord Christopher Monckton’s new report, “Climategate: Caught Green-handed” and you’ll see how the historic temperature charts have been distorted to create the illusion that the Earth is heating up like a microwave.

    I suggest you open your mind to the possibility that you’ve been scammed. The Copenhagen Agreement has less to do with saving the earth than in getting the world’s industrialized nations to fork over billions of dollars to the Third World (via the U.N., naturally) and creating a transnational agency that would actually have power over the nations that sign the treaty.

    Your use of terms like “email heist” and “invaded (server)” reveals an obvious pro-global warming bias. I rather doubt that if the e-mails had pertained to a Bush administration policy, you’d have spent a nanosecond agonizing over whether to “weigh in” on them.

  3. Self-correction: In citing the “Global warming is NOT happening” statement, I may have inadvertently copied a paraphrase from one of my sources instead of an actual quote from the East Anglia e-mails. In any case, we find statements such as these in the e-mails:

    1. “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone … We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.”

    2. “I hope you’re not right about the lack of warming lasting till about 2020.”

    3. “I can’t see either of these [skeptics’] papers being in the next IPCC report. K and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

    4. “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

  4. 1) I agree with R. Steele, who wrote “These scientists acted more like political hacks chasing grants than true scientists.” It seems, sadly, a burgeoning cultural problem in our world that so many people just “want to be famous.” These specific CRU people failed to respect Science. And they failed while working on one of the most significant science problems of our time. To my eye, then, these folks cease to be scientists. Like politicians, they were playing in their profession, using it as a springboard to notoreity. So, you guys can go home now. We can take it from here, thank you very much.

    2) As for Mr. Bias’ views, well, never before has the phrase “hoist on his own petard” been more applicable. Accusing others of bias, and then trotting out as his ‘proof’ a set of speculation, premature conclusions, and politicized cites, utterly undermines his asserted point. Alas, this results in no forward progress in the dialog. We all have a point of view. We would all do well to accept that fact; if we disagree with others, then sure, speak your mind, but please “be hard on the problem, soft on the person.” (Roger Fisher, 1983). I for one, can certainly read, understand and live with Mr. Bias’ p/o/v, then criticize it without resorting to ad hominems. That tactic is “less than zero.”

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Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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