Much is being made by those who really, really believe that there’s a global conspiracy among climatologists of the emails and other documents stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. According to such bloggers, thousands of “embarrassing” pieces of correspondence between some of the leading climate researchers in the world now lay bare the scheme to mislead humanity about the nature of climate change.
I downloaded the 62 MB file and took a quick look at a random selection of what are mostly dull little missives bereft of the context required to understand them in any meaningful way. Just as you’d expect from bits and piece of correspondence never intended for public consumption. Next.
One email, however, from Phil Jones, has been singled out by the usual suspects because it appears to suggest someone’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” But again, you’d have to be part of the conversation to properly interpret it. Fortunately, the Real Climate gang are, and have been, part of the loop, and they explain it thus:
The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”-see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.
There are some interesting documents in the hacked file. I may use them to bone up on some background when I have the time. But anyone who publishes them without permission from the authors clearly has a problem with their ethical subroutines.
What’s interesting is how rapidly the climate denial blogosphere has latched onto this as proof that the entire climatology community are in on a scheme to defraud the world. And why whoever the hackers are would think that this material was actually all that interesting in the first place. The hacking of the data is a worthwhile story, insofar as IT security goes, but the content is just plain banal. All we learn is that scientists are humans after all.
I’ll let the Real Climate collective sum up the situation
More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.
Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.