First of all, check out the 15 inches of snow that were dumped on Madison last night! It’s hard to believe this all happened over the course of one day.
Anyway, this may no longer be as newsworthy as it once was, but with the Copenhagen Climate Talks going on and Sarah Palin’s silly column in the WaPo Wednesday, I feel as though I should shed some light on the situation pertaining to leaked emails from the Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia, which were hacked in late November.
Although I usually stay away from heavily science-intensive arguments in this space, I was lucky enough to have received a clear explanation of the situation in class and want to pass it along. This may be boring to some, but stick with me because it’s important – especially because the coverage of certain contents of these emails are masking the coverage of other important global warming news! This debacle needs to be addressed and the perpetrators reprimanded so we can all move on ASAP!
Here is the potentially damning quote found in the email that has people riled up:
“I’ve just completed Mike [Mann]‟s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” –Phil Jones, Climate Research Unit (this quote is taken from RealClimate and also the Washington Post.)
There are a few things to be said about this.
First and foremost: whether this is deceitful, falsified, untruthful or not, the importance of transparency is HUGE in climate science and these scientists were wrong to try to hide anything because inevitably, it will come out and mess everything up. No question about that.
Peter Kelemen addresses this more eloquently:
It is often said that no one should see the ugly reality of how politics or sausages are made. But that’s not true in the world of scientific research. Transparency is the goal, and in my experience it is also the norm.
Although I am not an expert, my professor Jack Williams is and he explained what Jones was talking about and why, as he says, this is “much ado about not much.” First off, the data in question has been replicated by numerous other groups, so even if some sort of tampering or “trickery” was done to this particular data set, it must be remembered that at least 6 other major studies have collected similar data with no evidence of such trickery.
Next, the word “trick” in this situation is too strong. The “hide the decline” part in this sentence has to do with a confusing aspect of dendroclimatology (a.k.a. tree ring analysis). Normally, in this method the thin and dense rings in a tree stump indicate stress (i.e. summertime/heat) and the distance between each darker ring can indicate when summer came that particular year. Because of this, scientists have been able to use tree rings to aid the climate data in pre-technological times. However, for a reason that is currently unknown, dendroclimatology has not maintained its adherence to the normal trend in similarity between the ring curve and temperature. In other words, since about 1960, while the temperature has risen, the tree rings do not reflect this as they once did, and now show a divergence.So, the “hide the decline” that was mentioned was merely the divergence in tree-ring data, not decline in temperatures.
Yes, I can see how this email would be upsetting to climate change deniers, but when explored, is not really all it’s cracked up to be. But, that’s not to say that these scientists were correct in excluding the rest of us on their intel in the matter. Additionally, many are left wondering, if dendroclimatology has failed us randomly since 1960, why do we use it at all? Scientist Michael Mann (mentioned in the quote) has a clear explanation of this, but the bottom line is, that even when it is used, it’s used in conjunction with many other data sets.
Kelemen goes on to explain the rest of the problem in a Popular Mechanics article that, if you have time, I (and Jack Williams) would really recommend! If you don’t have time, I think he explained the conundrum of climate scientists effectively, and I have included this important explanation below:
Climate Science Not a House of Cards
Perhaps the most worrisome part of this incident is that it could easily leave the public wondering about the science of human-induced global warming. But do the potentially unethical acts implied by these e-mails invalidate the hypothesis that human output of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2, creates a serious risk of rapid climate change? No.
Outspoken critics often portray climate science as a house of cards, built on a shaky edifice of limited data and broad suppositions. However, it’s more realistic to think of the science as a deck of cards, spread out, face up. Some data and interpretations of those data are more certain than others, of course. But pulling out one or two interpretations, or the results of a few scientists, does not change the overall picture. Take away two or three cards, and there are still 49 or 50 cards facing you.
The “house of cards” view results partly from the representation of human-induced climate change in opinion polls and in the press, which split the debate into “believers” and “skeptics.” This dichotomy is misleading for many reasons, particularly because it implies that those who are concerned about human-induced climate change believe every single claim made by every scientist on this topic, in the way that some fundamentalists claim to believe in the literal truth of every word in a religious text. Similarly, it implies that all skeptics doubt the entire theory.
In fact, most scientists are skeptics, to one extent or another, about climate science and almost everything else. Of course, there are a few who actually believe with complete certainty that they are right, and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. These folks can’t conceive of the possibility that they could be mistaken; they really are like religious zealots. However, the genuine scientific skeptics greatly outnumber the true believers, and in most scientific debates the skeptics prevail … after a while.
Interested? Please read on.
Anyway, shame on those scientists, but shame on us for viewing the media uncritically on any controversial matter of such importance.
It’s time to wrap this one up, but here are some links for Copenhagen Day 3:
[but first, Sarah Palin’s column debunked]
Obama’s top aides arrive in Copenhagen
50/50 chance of meeting climate target?
Sorry for the late post!