If temperatures were not
already warm enough, the email leak from the University of East
Anglia (UK) will make sure that the United Nations climate change
summit in Copenhagen next week will be held in great weather.
In the unlikely event that
you have not heard about “Climategate”, here is what happened.
Hackers broke into servers at the University’s Climate
Research Unit (CRU), a key centre for the study of climate
change and downloaded 13 years of private emails and documents. They
posted them online on a blog
called The Air Vent.
The hackers explained: “We feel that climate science is, in the
current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby
release a random selection of correspondence, code and documents.
Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people
Climate change supporters dismissed the
revelations which emerged as bloggers trawled through 13 years of
emails as a storm in a teacup. But sceptics regard them as a “smoking
gun”, evidence that some climatologists colluded in manipulating
data to support their hypothesis that climate change is real and is
being largely caused by the actions of mankind.
Some of the emails are, at the very
least, embarrassing. In one of them, from Professor Phil Jones, the
director of the CRU, to an American colleague, the death of a sceptic
is described as “cheering news”. In another he suggests
that a “trick” was used to “hide the decline” in
temperature. They even include fantasies of violence. An American
wrote to Professor Jones: “Next time I see Pat Michaels [a
climate sceptic] at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the
crap out of him. Very tempted.”
The first point, on which everyone
agrees, is that the action was illegal. Let the law take its course.
However, this is irrelevant to the question debated. The debate is
centred, or should be, on whether the science of Global Warming,
alias Climate Change, has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that
(1) there is a global warming of the planet and (2) it is caused by
My opinion is no, it hasn’t, as I
have argued before in MercatorNet.
It does not matter how many times the rhetoric about an overwhelming
consensus is repeated. The consensus has been politically, not
scientifically, generated. The statement of this consensus has the
same value as, for example, that other famous statement that Iraq was
piling up arms of mass destruction. It is part of a political
campaign, not of an educational campaign.
The word campaign brings to mind the
second point. The email hacking is obviously part of a campaign and
the leak was timed to damage the meeting in Copenhagen. But again,
the global warming case is also a campaign. The difference between
the two is that one is sustained by the governments of some of the
most powerful states in the world, the media and environmental
groups, and has access to taxpayers’ money, while the other is
sustained by a group of diehards using their own money.
The third and central point is that
there is a hint of foul play that may have been exposed. The foul
play, if it did happen, may have a tremendous effect in the lives of
millions of peoples around the world and for generations to come.
Isn’t it common sense to call for an investigation? Isn’t it even
ethically demanded? The official reaction to such an enquiry is
pitifully suspicious. It also lacks logic.
Somebody is accusing a group of people
of tinkering with scientific data in order to produce a certain
desired result, and of not wanting to make these data available
because this could reveal the tinkering. In response, this group of
people answers that there is nothing to discuss on the whole issue
because their data have proven the truth of their results. This is
basically the content of the official response to the alleged leak.
Can the reader spot the gap in the logic?
Unwillingness to share data and methods
of analysis by certain scientists supporting the man-made global
warming interpretation has been mentioned before. Nigel Lawson
provides examples with names, dates and the specific issues in his
Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.
Finally, some of the official answers
to the email leak argue that the implicated scientists have published
their studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and this makes it
virtually impossible to assert that they tinkered with their data.
I cannot help but smile at such an
argument. Scientists, both authors and reviewers, as well as the
editors of scientific journals, are human. They have their share in
our common lot of error, taste for success, fear of peer pressure and
interest in financial resources. A very recent case is an example of
how scientific peer-review can be fooled. Jan
Hendrik Schön, a physicist working at the Bell Labs in the USA,
published a long string of articles during the 1990s and 2000s in
Science (one of the two most prestigious scientific journals
in the world) with results that he fabricated. He did it
single-handed and it took years to expose him.
Science is difficult. It relies on a
multitude of data, assumptions, simplifications and interpretations
that try to make sense of the facts. Any cutting-edge science worthy
of being considered for publication deals with opinion as much as
with fact, precisely because it is trying to break new ground.
Climate science is the epitome of this complexity, as it deals with
the planet globally and the innumerable processes going on in the
atmosphere, oceans and lithosphere in a mutual feed-back loop. Yes,
there is a very substantial possibility that a great number of papers
on the matter have substantial limitations that will be identified in
the future. Some of them may even have intentional errors.
The genuineness of the leaked emails
should be investigated. Let us see whether these angels of climate
change are completely pure and whether some demons of denying have
some goodness in them — as they may be actually interested in the
truth of the case.
Javier Cuadros is a scientist and
works in London, UK.