What Those Hacked Climate E-Mails Really Say

A Different Picture Emerges When You Read Them All

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Strange, isn’t it that media are not wondering about who hacked into the computers and who paid them? Or why Dr. Andrew Weaver’s office in Victoria has been broken into twice. My guess is that all the computers of all the climate research centers of the world have been repeatedly attacked, but defenses held everywhere but East Anglia.

The scientists at East Anglia, plus colleagues around the world, are being hung out to dry as though they did something wrong. I did not want to spring to their defense until I read all their emails. Yes, all 3,000 or whatever of them.

Starting from 1996, these good and decent scientists write to each other on e-mail as colleagues and often as co-authors of work in paleoclimatology.

Tough stuff using proxy records to figure out what the temperature was in as many data points as you can find on the planet, going back as far as you can. (Dendochronology chat: Tree rings telling you more about summer temperatures than annual, and mostly from the boreal region).

They wrote each other sharing ideas for handling the records from tree rings. They struggled with how to re-calibrate surface sea temperature records. This was a neat thread. Turns out those navies around the world kept records of the temperature of the sea water before using it in the steam room engines. The temperature records shifted when they stopped using wooden buckets and moved to canvas buckets.

Tough work evening out the temperatures so they are comparable. Or the sorting out of the famous Winter Ice Fairs on the Thames. Lord Lawson and his ilk love this anecdotal stuff. Little Ice Age. Turns out there were weirs on the Thames that kept sections fairly shallow. Once the weirs were removed the river never froze solid again.

These stolen emails are also opening up the personal lives of private and serious scientists. Illnesses, family troubles. Cheery notes of “need to get this surgery over and then I will get busy with my review,” “getting married, did I mention, will work on this next data set a soon as I am back from my honeymoon. …” or their Christmas emails, sent up to Christmas Eve and back to work before Boxing Day was over.

Wives with cancer, at hospital, revising papers, while awaiting birth of first grandchild. These guys work without a break. They never once suggest “cooking the books” or fudging the science.

How dare the world’s media fall into the trap set by contrarian propagandists without reading the whole set?

Yes, it was a trap. An elaborate sting operation.

At first, the emails talk about requests for data, and they mention to each other that so and so wants the data, I just referred them to all the data we have placed in the public domain. Sometimes they write that they sent more on request, but something seems strange as they do not think the people wanting the data are actually proper scientists.

The emails are the story of serious science up against blogs. Here is one of the emails as they begin to realize they cannot win, from December 2, 2008.

Message from Gavin Schmidt at NASA To Ben Santer at Lawrence Livermore Labs, copied to Phil Jones at East Anglia and others:


“There are two very different things going on here. One is technical and related to the actual science and the actual statistics, the second is political, and is much more concerned with how incidents like this can be portrayed. The second is the issue here. …

“Thus any increase in publicity on this — whether in the pages of Nature or elsewhere — is much more likely to bring further negative fallout despite your desire to clear the air. Whatever you say, it will still be presented as you hiding data.

“The contrarians have found that there is actually no limit to what you can ask people for (raw data, intermediate steps, additional calculations, sensitivity calculations, all the code, a workable version of the code on any platform, etc) and like Somali pirates they have found that once someone has paid up, they can always shake them down again.”

He goes on to suggest that the university and directors of programs just point out where the data can be found in the public domain and urge them to try their own calculations (if they have the competence.) He suggests they point out how it can be done by getting a grad student to work up the data from public sources that the contrarians keep demanding.

The enormous volume of e-mails gives a picture of thoroughly decent scientists increasingly finding themselves in a nightmare. One refers to the atmosphere moving to something akin to that created by Joseph R. McCarthy. Their professional reputations are suddenly at risk. They write each other in disbelief, protesting, “I have never been political. I am an honest scientist.” They are threatened, and “sting” operation FOI requests are set up to ensnare them and keep them from doing their work.

And now the worst of the worst are gleefully eviscerating my new friends (yup, that’s how you feel after reading these guys’ emails for the last dozen years, like putting on the kettle and hoping they drop round for tea.)

Worst of the worst? Patrick Michaels of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

He was once at the University of Virginia and considered a decent scientist. He is famous for giving testimony attacking Dr. James Hansen to the U.S. Senate showing how wrong Hansen’s projections were. Only he had redrawn Hansen’s graph to make it wrong! (He admitted this when I cross-examined him on CBC Sunday Morning’s “Kyoto on Trial” in 2002). And all the media cheerfully quote Michaels doing his impersonation of serious scientist deeply troubled by emails that suggest the East Anglia group had little use for him.

More hacked emails will apparently be released soon. The one scientist I think has some explaining to do is Dr. Wang at State University of New York at Albany who has told colleagues for years he has the hard data from Chinese meteorological stations but never seems to be able to produce it. It is a very small piece of data in the scheme of things, but Wang should either produce the data or explain where he got the numbers.

Certainly nothing in these emails suggests any problem with fundamental science. Dr. Phil Jones, who headed up the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia, has just stepped aside during the investigation. My money is on a full exoneration for him.

Meanwhile, the walking propaganda machines for the fossil fuel industry will continue their Disinformation Pyramid Scheme. Only responding to each lie with a well-referenced fact, duking it out with these guys on blog sites and newspaper letters to the editor will help keep the truth in mind.

In the meantime, if you want to get to know some wonderful scientists, their life is on display on a Russian server.


See also:

Civil Conspiracy Lawsuits Filed Against Climate Change Deniers

Climate Science 101: Holdren, Lubchenco Take Congress Back to School

Military Veterans Seek Inhofe Apology over Global Warming Remark

Skeptics Exaggerating Science Scandal to Derail Copenhagen Climate Talks

Latest Science Shows Climate Change Outpacing Previous Projections

In Congressional Hearings, Amateurs Invited to Confuse Climate Science

A Climate Deception Revisited: What’s Behind the Signatures of 31,478 Skeptical “Scientists”