Note about terminology:
There are several to get straight so people know where I stand.
AGW Supporter – I consider AGW to be the main scientific paradigm on climate change at this time. This does not mean it is entirely correct, but thus far, it is the best thing going and is supported by basic science. In other words, it is not all spurious correlation. AGW Supporter is reserved for people who come out and state plainly that they agree with the main scientific paradigm claim that the earth is warming and that it is largely due to human release of greenhouse gasses, among other human effects, and that climate sensitivity suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, non-negligible negative effects on the climate and human societies will likely result.
Skeptic – a skeptic is someone who argues that the evidence they have seen is not convincing and thus they do not feel capable of supporting the existing paradigm, but neither do they reject it. They feel that it is not well-enough supported to be a basis for the development of public policy.
Contrarian – a contrarian actively rejects the dominant scientific paradigm, and supports alternative explanations, such as cosmic galactic rays, natural variation cycles yet to be discovered, unknown solar facings, or the decline of pirates over the last few centuries. (that link is a joke, son, you’re supposed to laugh) What I see at these blogs or papers is very often a bad-faith rejection of the AGW theory and research supporting it, and an almost desperate “anything but AGW” approach. In this approach, the overwhelming majority of papers supporting AGW are rejected but very limited and questionable articles published often in non-peer review journals and websites are accepted far too uncritically.
Denialist – a denialist is someone who, for pay or other rewards, denies the dominant scientific paradigm. This is reserved for climate lobbyists, various front organizations for fossil fuel interests, or political movements who are interested primarily in rejecting the science so they can continue to benefit from those activities that are contraindicated by AGW theory. They reject the policies based on the AGW paradigm. This would include individuals in the pay of Exxon, American Petroleum Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Friends of Science, and any lobby groups, their front organizations and astroturfing / greenwashing campaigns.
Lukewarmer – these people accept that warming is occurring, that CO2 is likely implicated, but don’t accept the more alarming forecasts and predictions for a doubling of CO2.
I don’t use skeptic for McIntyre. He calls himself an agnostic and so that is what I will call him. His comments come across as rather wishy-washy on global warming, and his statements seem more intended to prevent anyone from identifying his position rather than revealing that he doesn’t have one. That’s just my opinion based on what I have read. I’d be quite happy for him to clarify his position vis a vis the dominant paradigm. If he would, I’d feel better including him in one of the above categories.
There is also the question of his ties to corporate interests in the oil and gas industry, such as CGX, and his past associations with mining corporations, which in my view as a policy analyst, suggests that he has interests that could affect his actions and analysis. While he claims that no one is funding his work, this does not mean he doesn’t have interests that might affect his approach. We are all biased in some way – the issue is how well we are able to acknowledge those biases and prevent them from unduly influencing our judgement when it comes to carrying out or analyzing science.
So, back to the Nature editorial dated 3 December 2009.
First off, it is an editorial, not a scientific article. It must therefore be judged as such..
An editorial, also called a leading article, is a piece of writing intended to promote an opinion or perspective.
What is the main thrust of the editorial?
Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.
Since the CRU incident, skeptic/agnostic, contrarian and denialist blogs have focused on several of the emails and the Harry file, using those as evidence of wrong-doing and sloppy uncertain science on the part of climate scientists in general and some climate scientists such as Phil Jones, Gavin McLeod, Ken Briffa and Michael Mann in particular.
Several claims have arisen from these emails and the Harry file:
- The emails show that Mann and others used “tricks” to “hide the decline” in temperature thus proving that global warming stopped and that the science and scientists can’t be trusted because they tried to deceive and hide reality.
- The emails show that Jones ordered others to delete emails that might discuss the AR4 so that FOI requests could be more easily denied.
- The emails show Jones and others trying to interfere in the peer review process, preventing legitimate scientific papers from being published, especially those that contradicted the dominant paradigm.
- The Harry File reveals the shoddy state of the data and code, and also indicates that scientists manipulated the data in order to fit preconceived notions of increased warming.
- Taken as a whole, the emails and Harry file shows that there is a scientific conspiracy to manipulate the data to show that the world is warming when it is not.
The Nature article rejects this and suggests that the emails do not show any effort by climate scientists to conceal or manipulate the data: on the contrary, it argues that the “theft” highlights a concerted effort on the part of denialists to undermine the scientific consensus, smear climate science and the scientists working in the field, and prevent them from carrying on their work through endless and time-consuming requests for information, often under the FOI laws.
It describes the CRU email event as a “theft” and argues that the emails were “stolen” – this despite the fact that an investigation has not yet concluded on the matter. I am personally skeptical of this interpretation – it could be a whistle-blower from inside the CRU, or it could be hackers trying to scuttle the Copenhagen conference in particular and climate science in general.
I usually use the term “CRU hack/leak” to indicate I do not yet feel able to call it one way or the other. There are reports that the event is being investigated and several possibilities have been brought forward, including the Russians trying to discredit climate science because of the heavy reliance in Russia on the oil and gas industry. There have been a number of candidates for “whistle blowers / leakers” including Keith Briffa, James Hansen, and poor exasperated Harry of the Harry file.
Quite inflammatory language is used in the piece, including “denialist fringe” “propaganda windfall” “paranoid interpretation” “obstructionist politicians” “denialist conspiracy theories”. This is clearly a partisan offering, one which supports the climate scientists involved in the CRU event and tries to shift focus onto the efforts of some skeptics / contrarians / denialists to discredit climate science.
It involves, depending on how you look at it, either a diversion from the appearance of wrongdoing on the part of some climate scientists or a refocusing onto the real climategate – the denialist attempt to discredit climate science.
The editorial restates some of the evidence used to support the AGW dominant paradigm, including the cryosphere, sea level rise, biological effects of warming, all they claim are consistent with the AGW theory. They claim that climate models are not able to reproduce current warming and its effects without reference to CO2 emissions increases, and that taken together, this evidence suggests “that curbing the world’s voracious appetite for carbon is essential”.
The editorial defends the reluctance or inability of climate scientists to release data to those who have requested it, citing confidentiality agreements. The editorial includes a section on the burden on scientists who have to respond to numerous requests for information, often under FOI legislation:
If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden.
This passage was the subject of a post on Climate Audit, wherein McIntyre calls this claim of “harassment” and “endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts” a “myth“, citing his own 3 FOI requests to US scientists as proof.
My criticism of his post and charge that he failed to prove it was a myth and over-reached the editorial, got me into the penalty box.
The editorial next shifts focus onto the problems and burdens facing climate science in such a politicized environment. One of the big criticisms from the skeptics and contrarians is the charge that climate scientists like Phil Jones and Mike Mann have not been forthcoming with their data so that their work can be “audited” or replicated. The editorial also addresses this in a section that discusses confidentiality agreements and data ownership.
Finally, we have a summary statement of the editorial’s position on what many observers have called “the real climategate”:
In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.
So clearly, the Nature editorial sees the issue as the negative effects on climate scientists of the politicization of climate science, particularly through the efforts of denialists to discredit the science and its practitioners through actions such as requests for data through FOIs and other means.
It acknowledges the importance of communicating professionally – don’t call opponents “bozos” in emails — and make data and methods available to others. This is perhaps the only concession to the skeptics / contrarians that the Nature editorial makes.
So, what to make of it?
- The editorial dismisses the skeptic / contrarian / denialist charges that the scientists have deceived the public, manipulated the data without justification to show warming when it doesn’t exist, and have undermined the peer-review system.
- It restates its acceptance of the AGW dominant paradigm and the need to act based on its findings.
- It casts the statements of climate scientists in the emails as those of “human beings” under attack, at the limits of their tolerance, tempted to act in ways that undermine scientific values.
- It asserts the necessity to communicate professionally, make their data and methods available to others, and calls for support to climate scientists in the burden of providing information to those who request it.
What questions does this editorial raise?
- How much of a burden are the requests from non-scientists, including skeptics, contrarians, denialist or the general public for information, either directly or under FOI?
- Is the editorial correct to conclude the emails reveal no wrongdoing?
- Do the emails question the credibility of climate science and scientists?
Interestingly enough, on several blogs including Climate Audit, the number of FOIs sent to climate science and scientists in general is being uncovered. It will be interesting to see how the debate around the numbers develops.