The Climate Scientists Who Wrote the Hacked Emails Explain the Cherry-Picked Phrases, If That’s Your Thing

So there were these hacked emails. Made a big ruckus back in the day. You remember, that time long, long ago when people were still excited about things like international climate change negotiations and Tiger Woods and President Obama, for that matter.

You must have heard of those emails. At least if you watch Fox News.

Anyway, somebody got the idea that the three remaining conservatives who understand climate science needed stomping on. So the cherry-picking perpetrators released a few more emails that apparently weren’t even considered sexy enough for prime time the first time around. You know, like those midseason replacement TV shows that get canceled almost immediately or movies that are so lame they go straight to DVD.

Since they have nothing better to do, the people who wrote those emails and actually know what they mean thought somebody, anybody might be interested in that, as opposed to the umpteenth story on how “scientists are human beings, therefore they are no different from, say, journalists, and who really believes anything those folks say?”


So here forthwith are two pieces, one from the University of East Anglia and the other from the UK Guardian. Warning: It ain’t The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though it does have a higher body count, at least in the long term….


Cherry-picked phrases explained

Professor Phil Jones, and his colleagues, explain the context of some of the phrases cherry-picked from the thousands of emails (1995–2009) posted on the web on November 22, 2011.

Because of the volume of messages, this is inevitably a small selection that have been most quoted. Professor Jones stresses the importance of reading each quote in the context of the whole email trails — which have also been posted online.

Phil Jones:

Email 3062: “We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written […] We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff.”What has been cut out of this quote is the explanation that we wanted the science to reflect the limits of scientific knowledge ‘warts and all’: “We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written that sounds as though it could have been written by a coral person 25 years ago. We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff. What we want is good honest stuff, warts and all, dubious dating, interpretation marginally better etc.”

Incidentally, this refers to Michael Schulz and not Michael Mann as bloggers appear to believe.

Email 2775: “I too don’t see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we’re choosing the periods to show the warming.”

The full email exchange reveals that we were choosing colours for a chart covering periods that showed warming. The periods chosen were 1901 to 2005 (the long record) and 1979 to 2005 (the satellite record).

Email 0714: “Getting people we know and trust [into IPCC] is vital — hence my comment about the tornadoes group.”

This was related to the selection of contributing authors, not IPCC-appointed chapter authors over which I have no influence. It means scientists we could trust to write succinct and clear text.

Email 1788: “There shouldn’t be someone else at UEA with different views [from “recent extreme weather is due to global warming”] — at least not a climatologist.”

This was in response to a request from a TV programme (via the university press office) which wanted to find two climatologists from UEA with differing views to debate on air. It was my view that I doubted if we could find anyone of that opposing view among my colleagues.

Email 0896: “I think the urban-related warming should be smaller than this, but I can’t think of a good way to argue this. I am hopeful of finding something in the data that makes by their Figure 3.”

These were discussions between me and two Chinese scientists and they were resolved, as evidenced by the paper in Journal of Geophysical Research. It was about confusion over different regions of China.

Email 4443: “Basic problem is that all models are wrong — not got enough middle and low level clouds.”

This is a discussion that referred to climate models of the late 1990s vintage. These issues were well-known and they have improved in more recent modelling. This related to model differences in development of a multi-model average for the future. The work was not published in the peer-reviewed literature.

Email 2440: “I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process”

At the end of the IPCC process, chapters, formal comments and responses are all published and that is the appropriate place for this information. It is important that scientists should be allowed free and frank discussion during the writing process. I might also point out that I decided not to take part in AR5 because of the time commitment it requires. .

Email 1577: “Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get — and has to be well hidden. I’ve discussed this with the main funder…in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original station data.”

‘Hidden’ refers here to some of the work on data collection and management. This is a common issue in some areas of climate research and refers to issues of an operational nature and research aspects. An obvious example is updating earlier data sets within a new project. Most funders are fully aware that this is common practice.

Email 1897: “Do I understand it correctly — if he doesn’t pay the £10 we don’t have to respond? With the earlier FOI requests re David Holland, I wasted a part of a day deleting numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics. So I have virtually nothing. I even deleted the email that I inadvertently sent.”

This relates to a request from Steve McIntyre made under the Data Protection Act for any personal data held about him. Following a previous experience with FoI, I had adopted a more judicious approach to retention of emails that I no longer needed. I had deleted old exchanges with sceptics I had prior to 2005. I was saying that I probably no longer had any emails relating to Mr McIntyre, a prominent sceptic.

The emails referred to were unrelated to any prior request from Mr Holland. Let me say again that I have never knowingly deleted any material subject to a current FoI request and this email should not be read in that way.

Keith Briffa:

Email 2009: “I find myself in the strange position of being very skeptical of the quality of all present reconstructions, yet sounding like a pro greenhouse zealot here!”

In email 2009, I am trying to reinforce the request to my co-author to provide a strongly critical review of the draft text. I believed that I had taken account of the considerable uncertainties in the evidence when producing the draft and still came to the conclusion that the late 20th century was unusually warm. I wanted to know whether he thought that this assessment was entirely valid. I would add that I was and still am acutely aware of the shortcomings of the palaeoclimate evidence but the conclusions of chapter 6 of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report were arrived at after taking these into account, as is made clear by the section on ‘Key Uncertainties” (p. 483).

Tim Osborn (an author of the 2007 palaeoclimate chapter):

Email 4923:

The 2007 IPCC report conclusions did not weaken the 2001 IPCC report conclusions. The 2007 IPCC report said this (page 436): “The TAR [2001 report] pointed to the ‘exceptional warmth of the late 20th century, relative to the past 1,000 years’. Subsequent evidence has strengthened this conclusion.

Actually, if you refer to email 4923 itself, it says: “Temperatures during the last two decades of the 20th century were probably the warmest of the last millennium.” Note the word ‘PROBABLY’. Neither the 2001 (Third Assessment Report) nor the 2007 (Fourth Assessment Report) by the IPCC stated that these decades WERE the warmest of the millennium. Both used less certain language, acknowledging that prior to the period with instrumental temperatures from thermometers things are much less certain (in IPCC parlance “likely” meant “with a probability above 66%”). The crux of the question is whether the 2007 report backtracked or watered down the 2001 report’s conclusions.

2001 TAR (page 102): “the 1990s are likely to have been the warmest decade of the millennium in the Northern Hemisphere and 1998 is likely to have been the warmest year”.

2007 AR4 (page 436): “The TAR [2001 report] pointed to the ‘exceptional warmth of the late 20th century, relative to the past 1,000 years’. Subsequent evidence has strengthened this conclusion. It is very likely that average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were higher than for any other 50-year period in the last 500 years. It is also likely that this 50-year period was the warmest Northern Hemisphere period in the last 1.3 kyr, and that this warmth was more widespread than during any other 50-year period in the last 1.3 kyr.”

So, the 2007 report considers that subsequent evidence has strengthened the 2001 report conclusions. But neither report referred explicitly to the last two decades of the 1900s: TAR (2001) talked about just one decade, the 1990s. AR4 (2007) talked about 50-year periods.

Here are excerpts from the UK Guardian’s story, “The leaked climate science emails — and what they mean”:

“Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous.” — Peter Thorne, research scientist, Met Office Hadley Centre, to Phil Jones, UEA, 4 February 2005 (email 1939)

Having been asked to look over an early draft of part of the latest IPCC report, Thorne expresses concern that it over-simplifies or even dismisses uncertainty about temperature rises in the atmosphere. The fact Thorne was asked to comment is part of the process intended to make sure such omissions or distortions do not get published, and his reponse demonstrates the openness with which the scientists debate those issues. The resulting public review drafts and final report in 2007 reflected much more observational uncertainty, in line with Thorne’s comments.

See also Media Matters’ post on that email.

“Mike, the figure you sent is very deceptive … there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC.” — Tom Wigley, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, US, to Michael Mann, Penn State University, US, and others, 14 October 2009 (email 2884)

Wigley is referring to a graph on the Real Climate blog by climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. On Wednesday Schmidt responded, again on the blog, saying he “disagreed (and disagree) with Wigley”, and replied at the time to say so. The general allegation about dishonest presentations is uncomfortable, but these are often scientifically difficult judgements, and are being argued out.

“The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guide what’s included and what is left out.” — Jonathan Overpeck, University of Arizona, to Ricardo Villalba, IANIGLA-CONICET, Argentina, 16 December 2004 (email 4755)

Overpeck is advising Villalba on how to edit something down to a half-page summary, in which context his advice looks less conspiratorial. Notably, he goes on immediately to say: “For the IPCC, we need to know what is relevant and useful for assessing recent and future climate change. Moreover, we have to have solid data — not inconclusive information.”

“My most immediate concern is to whether to leave this statement [“the last two decades of the 20th century were probably the warmest of the last millennium”] in or whether I should remove it in the anticipation that by the time of the 4th assessment report we’ll have withdrawn this statement.” — Peter Stott, Met Office Hadley Centre, to Phil Jones and others, 8 September 2004 (email 4923)

Stott is preparing for a meeting with the ecologist David Bellamy, who has publicly called global warming “poppycock”, and is being cautious about not overstating the evidence in case ongoing research shows it to be untrue. In the event the IPCC report in 2007 still suggests they were the warmest decades, despite the previous extra research.

“The results for 400ppm [parts per million carbon in the atmosphere] stabilization look odd in many cases … As it stands we’ll have to delete the results from the paper if it is to be published.” — Rachel Warren, UEA, to Rita Yu, UEA, 19 August 2008 (email 310)

This is a clear illustration of the danger of people posting excerpts online using ellipsis (…). What Warren actually wrote was: “The results for 400ppm stabilization look odd in many cases as I have commented before. I would like to try to understand why, before we finish the paper. As it stands we’ll have to delete the results from the paper if it is to be published.” Warren has seen an anomoly in Yu’s results; Yu is a PhD student and she is being asked to give more detail before an unexplained anomoly is written up in a journal paper.

“What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal natural fluctuation? They’ll kill us probably …” — Tommy Wills, Swansea University to the mailing list for tree-ring data forum ITRDB, 28 Mar 2007 (email 1682)

Wills’ email is part of an exchange about whether and how to respond to climate sceptic criticisms. It appears to be a point made for more for rhetorical effect than anything else. As one contributor on the blog Quark Soup by David Appell put it: “Well, at least they considered it as an option.”

“I doubt the modelling world will be able to get away with this much longer.” — Tim Barnett, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, US, to Gabi Hegerl, Duke University, US, 18 May 2007 (email 850)

This is during a discussion about information a group of scientists wants to request from climate modellers to improve their understanding of the models — and presumably improve the models themselves. Barnett says getting forcing data is “a must” because many climate models, when tested against history, produced results close to observed temperatures, despite making different assumptions about “forcing” (probably radiative forcing, the net difference between heat radiation entering the earth’s atmosphere and leaving it).

Those who don’t repeat the past are condemned to remember it.

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