The murky waters of climate change research

When the rest of you saw the snow begin to fall, you probably began thinking of all things wintery and Christmassy, but for me the early and heavy snowfall brought to mind the considerably less festive 2009 Climategate episode. For those not familiar, or have forgotten, one of the greatest modern scientific scandals was caused when a hacker broke into the computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (aka CRU) and released over a 1000 private emails and 72 documents.

The government funded research facility, burdened with investigating Anthropogenic Global Warming (climate change caused by human activity), came under heavy fire when the private documents appeared to show the scientists involved behaving in ways that undermined their scientific research. The data included a particularly controversial email written by Phil Jones (head of the CRU) stating “Kevin and I will keep them out [of the IPCC report] somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

This caused considerable furore, since the integrity of a scientific publication depends on the fact that it has been reviewed by other experts in the field, and the attempts to keep certain members of the scientific community, who happen to oppose the conclusion found in the IPCC report, out of the review process obviously appears dubious.

Other accusations against the climate scientists included suppression of evidence, fantasies of violence against sceptics and most interestingly personal doubts about whether there even is global warming let alone if it’s anthropogenic. This last point is evidenced in an email which states that:

“the fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.”

On the other hand, it must be taken into account that after the investigation into the CRU, no one was found of any wrongdoing, scientific or otherwise. And to add, there are just as many websites, journals and the like arguing equally convincingly and eloquently for AGW, which serves to make matters even more confusing. So it seems it is difficult to rely upon the ‘experts’ in this case (which governments appeared to have no difficulty in when drafting the various protocols, applying levies and raising ‘green’ taxes) especially when you have high profile figures such as Harold Lewis, a fellow of the American Physical Society for 67 years, sending equally high profile resignation letters which damn the climate scientists:

“[The reason for my resignation] is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.”

It is difficult for layman such as me to justify the case either way, so I make no attempt to. But what I will say is that the APS using the word ‘incontrovertible’ to describe their climate change conclusions is incredibly inappropriate, to say the least. Few things in the world of physics are incontrovertible; this is not one of them. Now, I am all for the reduction of pollution and waste, and the promotion of clean energy and energy independence, but to fine the public and businesses with levies and taxes based on debatable science and Al Gore-style fear mongering makes me very uncomfortable.

Second graph constructed by Professors Ross McKitrick and Christopher Essex.

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