Saturday, November 21, 2009

the latest on global warming: lying and cheating vs. theft

Does it matter if the stealing reveals the lying and cheating? Do the ends justify the means (here)? What a weird ethical dilemma!

My friends who are fans of science are fond of saying that science corrects itself. But that's not exactly what we have here. This is not Science in academic journals and rigorous debate, but science-flavored hacks vs. emailed hackers. In any case, Science corrects itself; science doesn't necessarily.

Anyway, (some of) it is out. And it relates to the missing data scandal I posted on earlier this week.

Hat tip to Chris Lang and Randy Baker for pointing to the NY Times article by Andrew Revkin this morning.

Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views....

In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”

Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information....

Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by the skeptics’ camp and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them.

...the documents will undoubtedly raise questions about the quality of research on some specific questions and the actions of some scientists....


And here's another from James Delingpole in The (London) Telegraph and posted at LewRockwell.com...

If you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the Anthropogenic Global Warming myth (aka AGW) has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after a hacker broke into the computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (aka Hadley CRU) and released 61 megabites of confidential files onto the internet. (Hat tip: Watts Up With That)

When you read some of those files – including 1079 emails and 72 documents – you realise just why the boffins at Hadley CRU might have preferred to keep them confidential.... As Andrew Bolt puts it, this scandal could well be “the greatest in modern science”. These alleged emails – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists pushing AGW theory – suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more....

Here are a few tasters. (So far, we can only refer to them as alleged emails because – though Hadley CRU’s director Phil Jones has confirmed the break-in to Ian Wishart at the Briefing Room – he has yet to fess up to any specific contents.) But if genuine, they suggest dubious practices such as:

...


And, perhaps most reprehensibly, a long series of communications discussing how best to squeeze dissenting scientists out of the peer review process. How, in other words, to create a scientific climate in which anyone who disagrees with AGW can be written off as a crank, whose views do not have a scrap of authority.

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal....


UPDATE: This controversy was later nicknamed "ClimateGate".

7 Comments:

At November 21, 2009 at 7:47 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

If the substance of these emails is borne out (and the details that have been released aren't cherry-picked or out of context), this really is devastating. Devastating to science, in particular; science depends on trust and honesty. Devastating to public policy, because if scientists or science cannot be trusted, leaders may find themselves flying blind on important technological decisions. This should temper the glee of AGW skeptics if they are indeed vindicated.

By the way, I was wondering who would have the wherewithal to engineer this kind of an email hack. Corporate interests? Foreign powers? But I remembered reading, not long ago, that there are web sites that offer email hacking services. They will produce a free sample email from your target before you pay. So this could be almost anybody. Clever young activists, I suppose.

 
At November 21, 2009 at 8:15 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I agree with every point in your first paragraph.

And it could have been done by many people. My first guess would also be young hackers/activists. And it would not even necessarily be those with an anti-AGW bent; such people seem to get a big kick out of doing it for grins. Corporate interests is somewhat likely-- although the paper trail on a conspiracy there would be devastating to them. Which govts would oppose AGW? But maybe...

 
At November 22, 2009 at 9:41 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Foreign governments are a possibility. Russia comes to mind, since Russia has a direct economic interest as the second-largest producer of petroleum.

 
At December 6, 2009 at 8:37 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

It's looking more likely that Russia is behind the email theft: Emalis that rocked climate change campaign leaked from Siberian 'closed city' university built by KGB

(I found this link in the comments in an article on the environmentalist website Grist that likens the email theft—and unsuccessful attempts to penetrate computer security at other climate research groups—to Nixon's plumbers.)

 
At December 7, 2009 at 8:45 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

An ominous possibility concerning the integrity of science (the ability to conduct science free of criminal attacks or malicious interference) was raised by University of Chicago climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert, writing in the New York Times environmentalism blog Dot Earth:

What next
[after the CRU hack]? Deliberate monkeying with data on servers? Insertion of bugs into climate models? Or at the next level, since the forces of darkness have moved to illegal operations, will we all have to get bodyguards to do climate science?

 
At December 7, 2009 at 2:01 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Interesting on the Russian angle. And a valid concern about the persecution of and attacks on scientists. Of course, any heavy-handed approach to dissent in science is ironic in this light.

The Nixon plumber analogy fails in that the victims were not anything (relevantly) wrong. The potential moral conundrum is fascinating here: using illegal means to air out unethical behavior.

 
At July 15, 2010 at 1:13 PM , Blogger Mark said...

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