by Jill Fitzsimmons, cross-posted from Media Matters
The December 12 print edition of The Weekly Standard features a cover story by Steven Hayward titled “Climategate (Part II): A sequel as ugly as the original,” which discusses the recent release of more hacked emails from the climate research center at the University of East Anglia in the UK.
Hayward acknowledges from the outset that he did not do “an extended review” of the emails — and this is evident in his analysis — but he still asserts that “longtime critics of the climate cabal are going to be vindicated.” Hayward claims the emails constitute more than “a ‘smoking gun’ of scientific bias” and reveal “the rank politicization of climate science.”
Throughout the 3,500-word story, Hayward quotes from 10 of the email exchanges, but not one of them actually supports his thesis that mainstream climate science is driven by politics. Let’s take them one at a time:
1. Hayward Cites Email About Page Limits To Claim That “Politics Drives The Process.” A 2004 email from Jonathan Overpeck advises a colleague to “decide on the main message and use that to guid[e] what’s included and what is left out.” Hayward claims that this email “reinforce[s] the impression that politics drives the process”. But a closer look at the full email reveals that Overpeck is simply asking Villalba to condense a document into “0.5 pages of HIGHLY focused and relevant stuff” in order to meet page limits.
2. “Political Spin” Email Actually Showed How Critiques Among Scientists Improved IPCC Report. Hayward cites an email from then-Met Office scientist Peter Thorne to Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in February 2005 criticizing an early draft of the IPCC report for putting a “political spin” on the science. As we’ve shown, Thorne’s concerns were incorporated into the final version of the chapter released two years later, showing the self-policing nature of the field. Indeed, Hayward later concedes that “the final chapter was amended along lines Thorne recommended,” while maintaining that the scientists dismissed “several other objections and contrary observations.”
3. & 4. Hayward Quotes Emails Of Scientists Criticizing Activists’ Exaggerations Of The Evidence. Hayward quotes emails from two scientists in 2000 and 2007 expressing frustration with environmental advocates misusing science to further their political agenda. Hayward goes on to ask if leading climate scientists ever “publicly” call out exaggerations and distortions of the science. Turns out, they do that all the time.
5. Hayward Claims IPCC Process Is “Explicitly Political” Because It Includes A Diversity Of Authors. In a 2004 email, Jones describes the “very mixed bag” of authors working on a chapter of the IPCC report, saying: “we’ve picked up number of people from developing countries so IPCC can claim good geographic representation.” Jones acknowledges that diversifying the authors has made the process more difficult because many of them lack “a sense of what the big issues are” and “getting them all involved has been a challenge.” Hayward claims this email shows “how explicitly political the process of assembling the IPCC report is,” but it lends no support to his claim that climate science is skewed to reach a political conclusion. IPCC’s policy of choosing authors that “reflect a range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and expertise” and “geographical representation” is posted in its website for all to see. Each chapter of the three-volume report has around 10-12 IPCC-appointed authors, and Jones said he had no influence over their selection. Those authors don’t conduct climate research for the report, but rather summarize previous research. Hayward offered no complaints about the content of the chapter.
6. IPCC Has Openly Discussed Uncertainty About Regional Climate Models. In a 2008 email to several IPCC scientists, Jagadish Shukla expresses uncertainty about whether current climate models can project regional climate variability with enough accuracy to inform adaptation efforts “at the regional scale.” Hayward cites this exchange to expose the “problem” that “many scientists understand that their models really aren’t up to it.” But as John Timmer at Ars Technica pointed out, “the problems with regional climate projects are well known, having been discussed in a report from the National Academies of Science and been named one of the key areas of uncertainty in climate science in Nature.” Indeed, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report repeatedly notes the uncertainty around regional climate change projections.
7. Hayward Misrepresents UK’s Weather Generator Project. To illustrate “how the political-scientific complex works hand-in-glove to tightly control the results,” Hayward cites a 2009 email exchange between a Kathryn Humphrey of the UK’s environmental agency and UEA’s Jones about the UK’s Weather Generator project (Hayward falsely labels it an IPCC project), which uses “a statistical method of creating projections of future daily (or sub-daily) climate that are consistent with climate change projections for longer temporal averaging periods.” In the email, Humphrey asks Jones to respond to criticisms of the model. Hayward claims Jones is trying to mask uncertainties, but cuts out the portion of the email where Humphrey mentions the “peer review” that took place to evaluate the weather generator. Jones also says “We have been through the international peer review.” In addition, the website makes clear that “the purpose and design of a weather generator is not to provide a weather forecast for the future,” but rather “sequences that closely mimic the characteristic of real daily and hourly climate that could happen but have not or most certainly will not actually be observed.” The results are based on “probabilistic projections” which incorporate the uncertainties involved in the modeling. Jones said via email that the Weather Generator is used by “many organizations in the UK (Universities, consultants, local and regional government authorities)” to help design “projects that have life spans of 20 to 100 years (this can be buildings, flood alleviation schemes, coastal defences, new reservoirs etc.)” He added that “the projections produced are probabilistic in nature and encompass the full range of uncertainties from the climate modeling undertaken by the Met Office.”
8. Results of CERN Study Do Not Support Hayward’s Conclusion. To support his conclusion that “the climate science establishment has greatly exaggerated what it knows,” Hayward cites a 2003 email from Michael Mann dismissing a widely criticized study by Nir Shaviv and Jan Veizer which concluded that “celestial processes seem to be the dominant influence on climate change.” Hayward claims that this theory was later “vindicated” by a study from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which he claims “found a significant role for cosmic ray flux in cloud formation.” In fact, the author of the CERN study stated that the results so far “say nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate.”
9. Hayward Crops Email To Imply That IPCC’s “Conclusions [Were] Driving The Findings.” Hayward highlights a 2000 email from Timothy Carter of the Finnish Environmental Institute as “a case of the conclusions driving the findings in the detailed chapters” of the 2001 IPCC report. Hayward quotes a portion of the email in which Carter says “no matter how much talking goes on beforehand, the big decisions are made at the eleventh hour by a select core group.” But the context of the email reveals that Carter is discussing the difficulty of getting the IPCC to take positions on certain scientific questions. The email is in response to a question from Martin Parry about whether to address the impacts of possible thermohaline circulation (THC) change in a chapter for the report. Carter says that the IPCC is unlikely to take a formal stance because massive climate change from a THC collapse “is not considered likely enough and/or there isn’t enough scientific evidence to merit a headline statement on this.” Contrary to Hayward’s assertion that “conclusions driv[e] the findings,” this exchange underscores the rigorous scientific standards that must be met before the IPCC will stand behind a conclusion.
10. Emails Do Not Suggest “The Cause” Is Political Activism. Hayward cites several references in the emails “to ‘the cause’, ‘our cause,’ and other nonscientific, value-laden terms” to suggest that climate scientists are coordinating to promote an ideological agenda. But he provides no evidence that the “cause” mentioned in the emails is political activism. In an email to Media Matters, Penn State University professor Michael Mann said he was referring to “the cause of accurately conveying the science of climate change to the public and policymakers.” This is a cause he has discussed publicly, most recently at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. In other emails, individuals refer to the “cause” of housing the proposed Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at UEA. For example, UEA professor Tim O’Riordan wrote to several organizations requesting letters of support for the UEA’s bid, saying that the letters “will help our cause enormously.”
For all of Hayward’s failed attempts to identify a “smoking gun” of bias and politicization, it seems that the only example of “conclusions driving the findings” is his own story.
Jill Fitzsimmons is a researcher with Media Matters for America. This post was originally published at Media Matters and was re-printed with permission.