The Magazine

Scientists Behaving Badly

A corrupt cabal of global warming alarmists are exposed by a massive document leak.

Dec 14, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 13 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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As tempting as it is to indulge in Schadenfreude over the richly deserved travails of a gang that has heaped endless calumny on dissenting scientists (NASA's James Hansen, for instance, compared MIT's Richard Lindzen to a tobacco-industry scientist, and Al Gore and countless -others liken skeptics to "Holocaust deniers"), the meaning of the CRU documents should not be misconstrued. The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand. In the understatement of the year, CRU's Phil Jones, one of the principal figures in the controversy, admitted the emails "do not read well." Jones is the author of the most widely cited leaked e‑missive, telling colleagues in 1999 that he had used "Mike's Nature [magazine] trick" to "hide the decline" that inconveniently shows up after 1960 in one set of temperature records. But he insists that the full context of CRU's work shows this to have been just a misleading figure of speech. Reading through the entire archive of emails, however, provides no such reassurance; to the contrary, dozens of other messages, while less blatant than "hide the decline," expose scandalously unprofessional behavior. There were ongoing efforts to rig and manipulate the peer-review process that is critical to vetting manuscripts submitted for publication in scientific journals. Data that should have been made available for inspection by other scientists and outside critics were released only grudgingly, if at all.

Perhaps more significant, the email archive also reveals that even inside this small circle of climate scientists--otherwise allied in an effort to whip up a frenzy of international political action to combat global warming--there was considerable disagreement, confusion, doubt, and at times acrimony over the results of their work. In other words, there is far less unanimity or consensus among climate insiders than we have been led to believe.

The behavior of the CRU circle has cast a long shadow over the entire climate science community, and many honest scientists will now undeservedly bear the stigma of Climategate unless a full airing of the issues is conducted. Other important climate research centers with close ties to the CRU--including NASA's Goddard Institute and the Climate Change Science Program at NOAA--should not be exempt from a full-dress investigation. Such a reevaluation must begin with an understanding of the crucial role the CRU circle has played in the global warming drama.

 

In the larger world of climate science, the Climate-gate story is overwhelmingly about one small but very important subfield--paleoclimatology, the effort to reconstruct the earth's climate during the vast sweep of time before humans began measuring and recording observations about the weather. That turns out to be a massively complicated exercise in statistical manipulation of huge amounts of raw data. Because the gap between observation and conclusion in this subfield is so dependent on statistical techniques rather than direct measurement, it was bound to be a matter of intense controversy and deserved the most searching review by outside scientists. It is exactly this kind of review that the CRU insiders acted to prevent or obscure.