Saturday, November 26, 2011

Climate "skeptics" return to smearing scientists with new batch of hacked emails

As some of you might have read in the news, whoever hacked the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK in 2009 has released another batch of the decades worth of emails that they stole at the time. A large number of investigations cleared the scientists of any scientific wrong doing (as we blogged at the time) but they were critisised for being somewhat evasive to freedom of information requests (even though many of these were being sent in a purposeful attempt to waste the scientists' time).

Like last time the MO of the "skeptics" is to cherry pick small snipets from the thousands of emails and make all sorts of wild claims based on them. Of course this can require pretending the snipets mean the opposite of what the scientists meant, but these sort of niceties (honesty perhaps?) don't seem to matter a lot to some it seems. The probable reason for this is that from a quick reading of sceptic blogs, it really doesn't look like there is much in these emails for them to go on. Scientist Barry Bickmore called these the B-list emails, climate scientist Gavin Schmidt "two year old turkey" and they are probably right.

To show you what I mean here is one commonly blogged email snipet

Phil Jones, CRU, to Jonathan Overpeck, Arizona University, 8 February 2008 (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."

Skeptic response: Wow, those scientists are removing evidence that climate change might not be bad.

Here's a good example of why you should always be skeptical of quotes with ellipses. And yes, after wading through several "skeptic" blogs this is what they are saying. Here's the full quote, with bolding by me:

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."

Hold on a minute. When you read the whole email it is clear the scientists are saying they think Michael (Michael Schultz) is being over optimistic and what they will need to do is change the text to better emphasize the uncertainties.
The fact is that the "skeptic" interpretation of the email is simply impossible once you have read the whole paragraph unless you are either breathtakingly dishonest, or too lazy to actually read the email before telling the world what it means because you are too busy throwing mud.

For more explanations and debunking see, here, here and here.

One other thing I'd like to mention is that "skeptics" seem to be getting excited about the fact that some of the scientists in the emails are criticising other climate scientists. Firstly this obviously shows that any claims all the scientists are in it together is nonsense. But far from being a bad thing, or casting doubt on scientists and their work, this criticism is a good thing, because this is how science works. Scientists are of course the true skeptics in the room.

Non-scientists may not realise it, but scientists love to argue, disagree, hell they will often write scientific articles pulling apart each others findings, so it should come as no surprise that they can be very candid in their (supposedly) private emails. As a scientist myself I know that those I work with are happy to sharply critisise the work of other scientists, even those we know and like or have collaborated with. Sometimes scientific criticism can get nasty, but it also leads to better science as people work to improve their methods, data and conclusions.

What this penchant for disagreement and critisicism means is that when scientists do come to a consensus ie: that the world is warming, humans are causing it and it's likely to be bad, it's because such a large body of work has accumulated that scientists can't produce any solid evidence that the consensus is wrong and so accept the overwhelming weight of data. Most scientific research is done at the frontiers of knowledge and so commonly this is where disagreements happen, but over time problems are resolved and former frontiers become well understood. This is why jumping up and down about 10 year old criticisms of what has since become well established science is just silly.

1 comment:

  1. Over here in South Africa, this had very brief mention as an attempt at derailing COP17 (being held in this country), and no one here is getting excited about it.

    Meanwhile I've started a new blog to get locals into green issues. Grahamstown is a little like Maleny in the sense of having a mix of very green people and very rustic people who don't get it, except there are many more poor people and more donkeys. Please visit occasionally to see what we're up to.