Nature editorial: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real ” or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”

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"Nature editorial: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real ” or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”"

E-mails “highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers.”

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.

The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall (see page 551). To these denialists, the scientists’ scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial ‘smoking gun': proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe.

This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real “” or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

First, Earth’s cryosphere is changing as one would expect in a warming climate. These changes include glacier retreat, thinning and areal reduction of Arctic sea ice, reductions in permafrost and accelerated loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Second, the global sea level is rising. The rise is caused in part by water pouring in from melting glaciers and ice sheets, but also by thermal expansion as the oceans warm. Third, decades of biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is arriving earlier each year.

Denialists often maintain that these changes are just a symptom of natural climate variability. But when climate modellers test this assertion by running their simulations with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide held fixed, the results bear little resemblance to the observed warming. The strong implication is that increased greenhouse-gas emissions have played an important part in recent warming, meaning that curbing the world’s voracious appetite for carbon is essential (see pages 568 and 570).

So begins, “Climatologists under pressure,” an important and lengthy editorial in tomorrow’s Nature (subs. req’d, reprinted below), the highly respected British scientific journal, which is among the few journals “that still publish original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields,” including climate science.  [I am leaving the links in the editorial, but they require a subscription.]

For all the disinformation that the deniers are pushing because of these emails — lapped up mostly by people who never understood or believed the science to begin with, I actually think this affair is an opportunity for the too-reticent, too-insular scientific community to explain climate science to the broader public, which Phil Jones and UEA chose not to do, but which many others have started doing (see Climate science statement from the Met Office, NERC and the Royal Society: It’s the hottest decade on record and “even since the 2007 IPCC Assessment the evidence for dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change has strengthened”).

Indeed, besides RealClimate and CP’s posts (at the end), I’d recommend:

A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists’ conspiracy theories. In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751-771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89-110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden.

The e-mail theft also highlights how difficult it can be for climate researchers to follow the canons of scientific openness, which require them to make public the data on which they base their conclusions. This is best done via open online archives, such as the ones maintained by the IPCC (http://www.ipcc-data.org) and the US National Climatic Data Center (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html).

Tricky business

But for much crucial information the reality is very different. Researchers are barred from publicly releasing meteorological data from many countries owing to contractual restrictions. Moreover, in countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the national meteorological services will provide data sets only when researchers specifically request them, and only after a significant delay. The lack of standard formats can also make it hard to compare and integrate data from different sources. Every aspect of this situation needs to change: if the current episode does not spur meteorological services to improve researchers’ ease of access, governments should force them to do so.

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers’ own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a ‘trick’ “” slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature‘s policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.

The UEA responded too slowly to the eruption of coverage in the media, but deserves credit for now being publicly supportive of the integrity of its scientists while also holding an independent investigation of its researchers’ compliance with Britain’s freedom of information requirements (see http://go.nature.com/zRBXRP).

In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings “” and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.

Hear!  Hear!

See also ScienceProgress’s “Not so Swift, Hackers: Why the scandal sometimes called “ClimateGate” is overblown,” and TNR‘s Vine, “Another Round With The CRU E-mails….

And always, “To stop a climate catastrophe “¦ Scientists must stop sanitising their message,” as the UK Guardian put it earlier this year.

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24 Responses to Nature editorial: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real ” or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”

  1. Ben Lawson says:

    More good solid perspectives on this “crisis”.

    I think the gleeful denialist frenzy is going to end up as a bit of an “own goal” illuminating their indefensible position rather than exposing mainstream climatologists as evil…

  2. Paul Middents says:

    The Nature editorial is in stark contrast to Pielke Sr’s masterpiece of self reference that Revkin has fronted on Dot Earth.

    Do you think Revkin will give equal time to the Nature piece?

  3. coeruleus says:

    I still wonder who hacked the e-mails and who paid him/her to hack? It really would be interesting to see skeptics’ e-mails too…you know, to be fair and balanced and all.

  4. “It really would be interesting to see skeptics’ emails too …”

    Yeah, but who could abide wading through that much 3rd grade grammar?

  5. Henry Buttal says:

    Disclosure – I am a LukeWarmist. I’m not comfortable with Al Gore’s very marketing oriented view of AGW, but fully acknowledge that humankind has impacted the environment.

    That being said, I don’t see how the purloined data being released can be anything but a positive. Lets ignore the emails for moment.

    If the datasets and associated code are fully valid, then a re-creation and validation will be possible without great effort.

    If over the years from the original development, the datasets and modeling became such a mess that it cannot be verified or recreated, then it is a problem that needs to be addressed anyway. Numerous other studies depended on the CRU transformations, and their integrity would be compromised. If this is the case, the rework should be done in an open forum – this isn’t the late 1980’s, basically everyone and their dog has enough computing to work with this amount of information. It appears that slowly but surely NASA and Gavin Schmidt has been moving in this direction anyway.

    Ultimately, this would remove one of the largest question marks around the IPCC chapters, and most of the statistical issues around the temp measures.

  6. Brad says:

    This is the beginning of the end to the movement. Most people just don’t realize it yet.

    [JR: If you’re talking about the anti-scientific disinformer movement, then I agree. It only has a few more years of life in it before the even more rapid warming and ever-more blatant climate change we’re going to see pushes them back into the fringe with the moon-landing deniers.]

  7. Thomas says:

    Very good read, thanks for posting it.

    I think it addresses quite a bit – including what some of us who are really putting an honest effort into understand it all are complaining about – don’t kill me because it’s a complicated area to get a handle on, help me figure it out by guiding me to solid material that is digestible when I ask a question – I have enough to do keeping up with developments in my real jo, as do most, to try to sort it all out on my own! And a special thanks for the added links, they look helpful in that regard).

    I came into this, “the wanting to know more about it” “this”, long after it had all become so highly charged – getting slammed every time I ask about a method isn’t going to keep me around – much more likely to make me go “screw it, I’ve got other more pressing issues to cope with…”. I don’t think that’s going to be helpful in the wider world of things, and it leaves me little to tell those who ask me questions expecting me to have a balanced viewpoint other then “yea, good luck sorting through all of that political crap”. Hopefully that isn’t the attitude anyone involved in the real science wants to nurture.

    And I’m hanging out here (and a few other sites – though not posting anywhere else) – so hopefully that indicates an honest interest enough to satisfy those who’ve been harmed by the political arena to be a little kinder if I end up confused along the way and ask a question, even if it seems “silly to the more knowledgeable in the area!

  8. Billy T says:

    Brad, which “movement” are you talking about? I think that the Nature editors have it more accurately when they say that the frenzy to discredit scientists will intensify as the US (and other countries) debate implementation of carbon restrictions. The denial “movement” has a huge amount of backing – both from the industries concerned and with the ideologues of various kinds whether economic libertarians or ‘anti-world government’ conspiracy junkies.

  9. Leif says:

    Thomas: #7 You do appear to be genuine in your interests and to that end I feel that you can find no better site to explore. I come with a life long history of “tree hugger” and an obvious bias but my motive is to become better at communicating to others so that I may help humanity back off from what I see as a precipice. This site has become my “home away from home” and can only spend as much time here as I do because the Government pays me ~$30 a day to stay alive. (SS) I like to think that at times my view points are informative, some time not so much. Mostly however, the other commentators, and Joe, inspirer me to do my best. So, I for one wish you the very best in your pursuit of knowledge in this area. I would even put myself out on a limb and say that the same goes for the vast majority of others on this site.
    Best wish, Leif

  10. MarkB says:

    I think Billy T makes an important and somewhat obvious point that is often overlooked or simplified:

    “The denial “movement” has a huge amount of backing – both from the industries concerned and with the ideologues of various kinds whether economic libertarians or ‘anti-world government’ conspiracy junkies.”

    Some believe global warming denial is mainly an industry (i.e. fossil fuels) thing. Certainly, they’ve played a huge role in misinformation, but a far greater number of individuals are simply ideologues ( irrationally fearing government) and conspiracy nuts. It would be interesting to see how much of the mass hysteria from the denial crowd over stolen emails is genuine, vs others with conflicts of interest deliberately fanning the flames. In other words, how much of their ignorance is sincere? Do they know they are full of it?

    Hardcore libertarians seem to view every issue around the ideology and utopian ideal of very small government. They are against almost all wars, not on the basis that it’s not in our national security interest, but because it costs money, financed by government. They are against climate science, because of the key policy implications that result. While ironically they tend to be non-religious, their approach to every issue is seen through their libertarian ideological glasses.

  11. MarkB hits a nail on the head!

    There is research that shows when the solution to a problem is not palatable, then people believe the problem does not exist. If the solution is palatable, the problem is credible.

    I show this in more detail at:

    http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/global_warming_misinformation_reasons.html

    See point #3. Very illuminating study.

  12. Henry Buttal says:

    MarkB,

    I don’t understand your point here. There is probably no person alive and blogging on this board that has ever experienced “small government” in the U.S. (I assume you are speaking about the U.S.), much less “very small government”. Look at the growth of the DOE since its formation/consolidation in 1977. And it wasn’t even formed from very small agencies.

    The corollary to your statement would be that all people for co2 emission control and global climate management require global governance. Is that, in fact, what you are for?

    There are too many constituencies in the U.S. to even attempt such oversimplifications.

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    Thomas –

    If you want to understand global warming – to get your feet solidly on the ground – I recommend Spencer Weart’s book “The Discovery of Global Warming”. The whole thing is available online at:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

    Can’t beat it.

  14. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    So late in the day, the long term feed backs look much closer than previously thought possible. The forcing man has supplied far outweigh the Milankovitch cycle.

    The CO2 is now the highest in many millions of years, when the sun was measurably cooler. Never has CO2 risen as fast as the last 100 years. Add to this, we now know that the climate can change with extreme rapidity.

    The horsemen are mounting and all our would be leaders do is talk about is small reductions in how much more we put in. That is those who have not covered their eyes shouting “not real not real”. Talk about a flat earth society.

    So we have too choose between those who would use ten year old science in the comforting misbelief that we have plenty of time and those who would seek to burn the scientists at the stake denying any problem at all

    Me a pessimist?

  15. Thomas says:

    Scott (#11),

    Big wink – the way the message gets delivered matters greatly, why understanding the audience (receiver) is very important. Taking the wrong approach with a group almost insures failure, far more in fact then the actual information being provided.

    Leif (#9), and Scott (continued) and Henry (#12 – you got that up while I was typing, I agree, as expaned upon below)

    Thanks, I’m learning, and so far this site is O.K. – or at least you haven’t run me off yet! You’d all likely have one heck of a fun time trying to figure out my political views – have had friends trying for years – the closest anyone has come so far is “green, with libertarian leanings”. That ought to confuse everyone here (gr)! – So don’t just write the conservative\libertarian types off as unreachable, just need a different way to communicate to ‘em – and remember, while we have terms like “green”, “libertarian”, “democrat”, “republican”, ”liberal”, “conservative” and several others, the reality amongst most real breathing alive people is far more complex, and which they are likely differs depending on the specific policy or issue. Rarely are you going to find someone who, when you really start talking to them, is one dimensional in their views. Like our society as a whole, it is much more likely to be far more complex and even seemingly contradictory at times. There isn’t any reason why the science can’t sway me because of an underlying political view – though we might still argue over the proposed solution.

    Look at it that way – and no, not every conservative\libertarian is going to be nearly as open to rethinking something – I do understand that – but many are still reachable and the same criticism can be said for the liberal\progressive. I don’t have an overriding political philosophy that trumps all other thoughts\philosophies (over riding philosophical view is existentialism\existential phenomenology – which again, isn’t at the exclusion of others I think have value). I actually view those having such seemingly single “everything has to fit” views – on either side or anywhere in between, as being a bit dangerous and naive. Have to be open to new information and let the information talk, and then be willing to adjust the already held views in response, not try to squash any new knowledge into an already set world view…

    Personally I have issues with “big government” because I worked for government, not because I think they are capable of some grand conspiracy (that would actually involve competence that I question they always have…). Its five years of my life that will always color how I view them (egos and power peeing matches are an understatement…). Those five years also taught me enough to understand the “living in a politically charged environment” that results from such though. That has allowed me to just take a deep breath few times while reading here and think “remember when you worked for the court, remember when you worked for the court…” and mostly managed to get past the statement that got my pulse going.

    I accept the need for government – I get a bit uneasy and rebellious when they seem to want to grab more power than they really need to govern though…

    Mark S (#13),

    Thanks, just bookmarked (my wife’s gona kill me – “not another project!” – I can hear it now .

    Rabid (#14),

    Have faith – people really aren’t so horrid when you give them a chance. The process may be messy and mean, but there is hope – Take me, in just a couple weeks I’ve learned a lot, adapted quite a bit of my previously very fuzzy thinking on it. While we may never agree fully on the reasons why of climate change (though I tend to defer to the scientists, just want a better understanding for myself), and though we may never agree on a workable solution, we need not disagree on the need to do something about how we use\obtain energy. As I pointed out in a couple other places here, this is not the only driver of the need to change such.

    While there may be disagreements on which realization is most pressing – you likely have allies from other understandings and realizations on energy in general that actually result in a common need (pollution period, peak oil, global warming, being reliant on resources from an unstable area of the world where the $$’s from oil just add to the instability, just for starters…).

  16. Thomas says:

    Last post (going to bed, and I have some reading to do & some videos to watch – so if I’m not very present for a couple days don’t fret, you haven’t lost me, just studying up, and I’ll still be here reading!)

    First,
    There is a very good article out from Newsweek about climate science (link is at msnbc in the “explore” section, first center block of stuff if you are unfamiliar with the page). Actually answered some other questions of mine – think you will all find it worth a read. Even gets into the “Global cooling” forecast from the early 70’s that is, apparently, still causing issues (they actually explain what went wrong in those calculations). I’d post a link but that gets me cut – hey, I’m new here, I understand (gr).

    Last,
    Part (all) of what I am trying to say to all of you is actually about communication (the only place I think I may be able to help). When you are out and about talking with people – in person, or maybe with someone you know in e-mail (not so sure you could pull this off in a thread on a blog), and they start being really resistant to the idea of “AGW”, stop and LISTEN for where their resistance to the idea is coming from.

    Once you understand their basic underlying complaint think about other issues that you can use to bring them to the same conclusion – we need to do something about how we use\conserve what is left of our oil based reserves. If they are under the “drill baby drill” illusion there are ways to get them to see that no, that’s not going to work for other reasons. For example – Shale oil? sounds great – but not so productive in the real world. Sand Tars? just the fact we think that’s worth going after should indicate something about the real current\future supply (same goes for going after the shale oil). Deep sea\coastal? Not exactly the same as drilling a well on the plains of Texas, and again, what is that saying about the real supply out there? And there is always the pollution reality – who wants to breath that brown cloud that hangs over most of our cities all day? Or visiting somewhere like The Grand Canyon and not even being able to see across it half the time anymore. It’s not just CO2 we are pumping up there in the air. If they are libertarian\conservative – why do you want to keep enriching our enemies and pouring money into unstable *monarchies* (how does that fit into you view of the value of the individual)?

    Once you get them thinking (really thinking) and show that we need adjustments regardless, then you can go back to AGW (if you even need to) – you have them listening now, they aren’t already fighting you on political\theological underpinnings, and you’ve already brought them to the point where they are recognizing we have an issue that needs to be solved – and it would be best for “all of us” if we were at the forefront of those solutions.

    I hope that clarifies some of what I am seeing that I think are not really that big a deal to work around once you recognize them. Sometimes a more meandering path intellectually is far more fruitful in a discussion then a head on, one issue argument (especially when they are resistant right from the start).

  17. Thomas,

    I agree that Spencer Weart’s book “The Discovery of Global Warming” is the first book one should read when venturing into learning about climate change.

    I have a Suggested Reading list here which includes online and offline resources:

    http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/suggested_reading_climate_change.html

  18. Keith says:

    On 12/3/09, it’s 52F at 8am in Albany, NY.
    A fluke?… we’ll see!

  19. Reality Scientist says:

    Have faith

    No thanks, I have a whole repertoire of extremely useful and credible scientific methods at my disposal. Faith if for nutjobs just like you.

  20. Thomas says:

    reality scientist,

    I’m talking in faith in your fellow man to sort it out (with science and reason).

    Not “Faith” that some mysterious power is going to make everything all right.

  21. Thomas says:

    Scott,

    Thanks – bookmarked!

    off to “study”, thanks everyone for all the links, lots for me to digest (and I know what I’m reading is worth digesting instead of guesing!)

    I’ll still be reading so if anyone thinks of another good site let me know

  22. Thomas,

    There was not a “forecast for global cooling” in the 1970s. That myth was started by a Newsweek article. The peer-reviewed literature shows that global warming dominated the conversation.

    See: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/global_dimming.html

    Message is critical. I think of the reasons that people do not know as much as they should about AGW is that AGW has not been personalized. My students really do not relate to increased drought in Africa and other locations. However, because I teach on Long Island, I speak about sea level rising and perhaps more intense hurricanes. THAT they can relate to so they take more interest in the science.

    I am currently reviewing an excellent textbook and will likely adopt it when it is released but one of the criticisms I do have is that the author doesn’t personalize the science. Hopefully, the author will incorporate some of my suggestions.

    This blog by Joe Romm does just that. :)

  23. Chris Winter says:

    Joe,

    This may be your best post on the subject of “ClimateGate” (or should we call it “CRUgate”?)

    Too few people debunk the alledgedly lucrative rewards of this imagined global warming science conspiracy. Here’s a good (if a bit snarky) commentary:

    http://akwag.blogspot.com/2009/12/follow-money-trail-to-global-warming.html

    [JR: Thanks. I do think this editorial is the best thing written on the subject to date.]

  24. Thomas says:

    Scott A (#22),

    Thanks – bookmarked (looks like another good reference site). I guess “forecast for global cooling” is off a bit – but it was nice to see an explanation of that NASA oops – that was the release that gave us all those “the world is going to freeze” movies I remember from my childhood (they were cheesy, but I like sci-fi). Unfortunately I think it is also why AGW has been met with some non productive skepticism in this country – a lot of people remember that more than know what happened, and sometimes I think academic types fail to realize how consumed most people already are in their life – which hinders their ability to keep up with things outside their own fields of employment. They remember “big headlines” and that’s about it – all the rest of their energy goes into their jobs, child rearing & such personal matters that are much more immediate and pressing in the day to day living.

    I agree with your analysis of the problem of people wrapping their minds around it – all presented in very abstract terms that just don’t get much traction in the greater world. Learned that lesson working with the kids and families in probation! And don’t take anything I say about teachers\the ” Ivory Towers” to imply I don’t like education -I still love education – why I took time out & actually “gave the company away” to work on my Masters in it – wanted to teach… turned out to be a not so great idea. When I showed up in my surgeons office barely able to walk after my student teaching I got a pretty major lecture along the lines of “what were you thinking??? – thus a class short of the degree, and likely always to remain that way.

    And I love Long Island – spent half my childhood across the sound from there, and a very dear friend from my college days is there now (actually just spent a week out there with him last year in fact!).