Norwich, we have a problem - Macleans.ca

Norwich, we have a problem

Climate change skeptics needn’t be skeptical about leaked e-mails

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I can’t say I am spectacularly surprised at the emerging scandal over private e-mails obtained from the servers of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, which is at the heart of the process that produces IPCC reports on climate change. Some of the controversial practices revealed by the leaked e-mail corpus, such as fidgeting with visual presentations of statistics in order to make them as impressive and sensational as possible, are just evil habits that nonetheless form part of the standard operating procedure of applied science. But others—ignoring requests for data sets from one’s scientific adversaries, playing politics with scientific editorial boards, denouncing criticisms as not being peer-reviewed while working behind the scenes to ensure that those same criticisms are shut out of the peer-reviewed literature—were already known parts of the climate-panic industry’s playbook.

The CRU e-mails, whose veracity has so far held up to intense worldwide scrutiny and been generally confirmed by the University of East Anglia, reveal top IPCC contributors to be supercilious, inquisitorial, paranoid, nasty, thuggish, hypocritical, and, in general, trapped in an echo chamber of very modest dimension. If you didn’t already have a sense that all of this was true, you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the debate.

If, on the other hand, you instinctively think that “Climategate” isn’t going to be a big deal in the long run, I would suggest contemplating the very earliest reactions of the climatology nerds at ClimateAudit.org, the global-warming skepticism site edited by Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre (who is mentioned dozens if not hundreds of times in the CRU e-mails as a particularly intractable bête noire). In the hours immediately after the CRU leak, many members of the Climate Audit community, confronted with evidence of malfeasance and scumbaggery by the scientists who have been attacking skeptics as lunatics and astroturfers for two decades, at first reacted with… well, skepticism. And, in some cases, even sorrow. Sample quotes from the comment thread:

  • An ideological hacker smart enough to hack CRU is smart enough to manufacture a bombshell or two and seed it amongst the rest of the data. Treat “too good to be true” material with a lot of caution initially from such a source.
  • Folks I would run, not walk, away from this as quickly as possible. To think they would be stupid enough to not cover their tracks on this is not credible IMO. While parts are likely real, some could be added as embellishments meant to create the furor it is already creating in the skeptic community. Let’s not make any judgements on the authenticity until we are sure what we have here is real and not a plant.
  • I find this really quite shocking and distrubing. I mean it is one thing to think that such subversion is going on; it is quite another thing – if this is all undoctored – to read it. I don’t know whether to be elated (as a skeptic) or a little sad that this will reflect badly on science regardless.
  • I have concerns like others that this entire archive may be a “spiked” version of an otherwise legitimate (hacked) archive …but much of my concern is driven by the fact that I assume that things can’t be this blatant.

More such examples could be cited. The point is that the skeptics suspected the contents of the CRU leak were too “good”—that is, too damaging to the cause of the global warming hypothesis and the IPCC—to be true. It now seems nearly certain that they are true. Under the circumstances, what George Monbiot calls “climate rationalists” can hardly maintain a posture of indifference and dismissiveness. Monbiot himself, displaying a courageous spirit of openness that his critics may not have anticipated, has been arguing as much: but voices of agreement on his side of the debate are so few that he admits “I have seldom felt so alone.”