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Nature comments on emails stolen from CRU

An editorial in this week’s Nature comments on the email archives stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The article is available in full here, but I’ve pulled out some extracts that are pertinent to the queries that have arisen on this blog and elsewhere as to whether the content of the emails calls into question aspects of climate science and the peer-review process.

On the scientific case for global warming:

To…denialists, the scientists’ scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial ‘smoking gun’: proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe. [But] nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

On the implications for the IPCC, it says:

In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751–771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89–110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

On Nature’s own peer-review process:

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers’ own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a ‘trick’ — slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature’s policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Steve Bloom said:

    Olive, for future reference IMO a fourth should be added to the editorial’s list of major independent lines of evidence for warming, i.e. the measured expansion of the tropics and the concomitant poleward shift of the atmospheric circulation (southern polar jet excepted for the moment). It’s arguably the worst of the lot in terms of potential for near-future catastrophe.

  2. Report this comment

    Chris S said:

    You state;

    One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a ‘trick’ — slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results.

    By taking this quote out of its original context, you exhibit the very qualities that you have ascribed to denialists.

    A proactive response would have demonstrated integrity, while compulsive reaction will leave you compromised.

    Time will tell.

  3. Report this comment

    Oliver said:

    Nature has been a very reputated journal to me since I went on getting my M.Sc. However, regarding the debate around climate change I think that this week’s edition main editorial is going 2 steps far too far. First, the editorial speaks of so-called “denialists” on one side and “science and scientists” on the other. I dare say that among the “denialists” there are many scientists, too. This is very suggestive and I have never thought of Nature to present the situation unbalanced like that. Second, my perception is that many of the so-called “denialists” do not question the climate change per se. It is the question if carbon dioxide is the main cause or not. “Decarbonization” sounds like being against life. Just consider the fact of basic lectures at Universities: Anorganic chemistry and Organic chemistry. The latter is the chemistry of carbon compounds! It is the attitude towards life that is playing a role in this climate debate and decarbonization activism. I would never be for reducing carbon dioxide from the viewpoint of life. After all, this does not contradict with natural science what I learned and studied at one of the most reputated Universities.

  4. Report this comment

    PAUL SINCLAIR said:

    Today’s editorial stated:

    “In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751–771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89–110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.”

    I can’t find any references in the 2007 IPCC assessment report to these two papers. Can someone help me find them? Thanks.

  5. Report this comment

    mikep said:

    Hard to know where to begin on this. Just three points. First the Mann trick is to use actual instrumental data to smooth the proxy data so that the smoothed proxy data series goes up in the late 20th century instead of down, This may be clever, but it’s misleading. Secondly the fact that the Briffa series is truncated at 1960 because it goes down instead of up should lead to questions about the adequacy of the proxies to reconstruct earlier years – the reasons for the post 1960 divergence are unknown, so there is no reason to suppose divergence did not happen in 1400 as well. Finally Nature bears some responsibility for this mess. The original Mann article misdescribed what it had done – it did not use conventional principal components. And although Nature had the chance to set the record straight it did not take the opportunity.

  6. Report this comment

    Mac said:

    I note the constant use of the word “denialist.”

    The use of such a politically charged phrase to describe skeptics is partisan and very counter-productive.

    As for the ‘trick’ that fooled Nature everyone and his climate dog now know how that was achieved.

    http://camirror.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/gerry-north-doesnt-understand-the-trick/

    Nature’s reputation has been badly tarnished by Climategate. Deal with that instead of lashing out at so called “denialists”.

  7. Report this comment

    Steve Reynolds said:

    This editorial adds further evidence that the process of publishing papers related to climate science in the peer-reviewed literature (at least specifically in your journal) has been politicized.

    From the tone and name-calling, I doubt any author planning to write anything containing the least deviation from the AGW party line would expect his paper to get a fair hearing here.

  8. Report this comment

    Vyadh said:

    Mac: Well “skeptic” is definately the wrong word. They are actually interested in the evidence.

    The best one I have heard is “cynic”, which is almost as good as denialist, but without the dodgy overtones.

    Climate cynic – yes, that is almost perfect. 🙂

  9. Report this comment

    Michal Gancarski said:

    I cannot believe how tasteless this editorial is. Not only the zealous tone and derogatory words such us “denialist” are things that should never happen in a respected scientific publication, “Nature” completely missed some important issues.

    1. Defending science is not synonymous with defending particular scientists. Science is a mode of discovery, a process that is designed specifically to minimize the influence of human faults and biases on final results. What this editorial shows is tribal mentality on the part of the editorial staff and in this community such behavior should be nothing to be proud of. CRU scientists have not only been extremely rude (politeness is helpful but not necessary to do good science), they have been also careless about archiving the raw data used in their research and indices (or “value-added” data) they produce. They even admit they erased parts of it for reasons that just do not add up.

    2. The stolen (?) emails do reveal a conspiracy. Organized efforts to withhold release of data subject to FOIA based on the person who made the requests constitute a conspiracy even though it is not the kind of global all-encompassing plot some people would like to find in the material that has been leaked. The same goes for making sure that “improper” e-mails have been deleted by every person involved.

    3. I am not sure whether “Mike’s trick” is something truly legitimate. There are “tricks” in mathematics but we know they are correct because they are proven mathematical procedures for solving particular problems. From what I understand about how folks at Real Climate and Climate Audit describe the problem, “Mike’s trick” is joining two data series coming from completely different sources (proxies vs. instrumental readings) and then smoothing them as one. Is this something that should be done? Shouldn’t they, for example, be compared as two distinct series instead?

    I am truly agnostic about scientific basis on which the AGW theory is built. I am not a climatologist therefore I cannot asses this field but I am interested in economic and political implications of policies that take climate science as granted. Policy making has its own quirks with special interest groups, lobbying and rent seeking kicking in whenever there is substantial amount of wealth to be redistributed. I would like to be sure that at least what is preached as science is indeed science.

    Please, correct me if I am wrong. Thank you.

  10. Report this comment

    Olive Heffernan said:

    RE complaints about Nature’s use of the inflammatory term ‘denialists’, the fact is that almost any term is politically charged in this context. Also worth pointing out that scientists are (or should be) skeptics.

  11. Report this comment

    Michal Gancarski said:

    @Olive

    Yes, many terms are politically charged here but “denialist” or “denier” are labels that bear clear resemblance to “Holocaust deniers” and this is why they are so offensive. This is not how scientists should talk, at least not in the public (or publications).

    Also, in my previous comment there should be a “such as” instead of “such us”. Sorry, just emotions.

  12. Report this comment

    Buckland said:

    This tone of this editorial would be appropriate for the average internet newsgroup. However one would expect something more from Nature.

    A person doesn’t have to be a ‘denialist’ to find issues with the content and said emails. Conspiring to evade sunlight laws, discussing how best to punish journals that publish contrary studies, and details of how to stiff those trying to confirm a piece of work gives many pause.

    As do reputable publications that mask printing uncritical explanations of events with schoolyard taunts.

  13. Report this comment

    David Palen said:

    The fact that most of the press is ignoring this global warming scandal and the fact that scientific journals such as Nature are dimissing it makes it clear to me that this is all about politics and little about science. Let’s call global warming a political science topic moving forward. I tend to trust what Bjorn Lomborg publishes about this topic,rather than Al Gore. For Gore and many researchers, this is all about making more money. Average people will suffer by paying higher gas and energy prices, while those like Al Gore will keep on living the high life (and purchasing carbon credits to calm their guilt).

  14. Report this comment

    Michael Hammer said:

    Global policy in response to climate change is, by definition, critically linked to the convergence of scientific understandings of what is happening to the world’s environment. The work of the IPCC constitutes a major step forward, as it puts evidence at the heart of policy, rather than leaving everything to a mere negotiation of interests. Yet, in the febrile mood ahead of the Climate summit in Copenhagen, the relationship between science and politics has been exposed as less than robust, and issues of accountability have taken centre stage.

    This said, the connection between policy, politics and science is worth reinforcing, not damaging. In order to make it work productively policy makers and the media need to understand that while the principles of accountability that underpin legitimacy, such as a need for transparency, are largely congruous across different spheres of work and communications. But the actual mechanisms to realise accountability are specific to each epistemological community. A partisan and mediatised debate between climate sceptics and those who concurr with the IPCC assessments will not help the cause.

  15. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    What I want to know is does Joe Romm now write the editorials at Nature? The style is rather familiar.

  16. Report this comment

    Jesus Rosino said:

    Thanks, Nature, for this necessary editorial.

    Most of these comments are just ignorance plus arrogance, just the usual denialist speech.

    Oliver: The question of CO2 is not about biology in geologic time scales, but about rapid climate change. You absolutely missed the discipline in your message.

    Mikep & Mac: we know that the divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, and that tree-ring proxy reconstructions are reliable before 1960. Didn’t you know that? Then, please, show some dignity and don’t waste our time: stop speaking and restrain your public comments to something you know about. Only SOME trees have that problem (high northern latitudinal ones), and they closely track back in time the ones that don’t have any divergence problems.

    Michal Gancarski: the different data are NOT presented AS ONE. The different sources are EXPLICITLY mentioned and differenciated in the graph with different colours.

    There’s no scientific debate about the cause of the current climate change. That’s why you don’t find such documents in the peer review literature. Of course there is a fight here (as shown in the CRU mails), but it is not against opinions being different, it is against opinions being baseless.

  17. Report this comment

    John M said:

    PAUL SINCLAIR | December 3, 2009 05:15 AM and Mitch Waldrop | December 3, 2009 01:46 PM

    Regarding the “redefine what peer review is”, the actual email doesn’t refer to Soon, but does mention “MM”, so it’s not clear to me which “papers” Jones was referring to.

    But it is interesting that in the same email, Jones appears to be sharing a PDF with Mann that he’s not supposed to be sharing, presumably a priveledged manuscript.

    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=419&filename=1089318616.txt

    But, as Mitch indicates, the “contrarian” papers are indeed mentioned in Chapter 6, so it may be that Jones was as unsuccessful at redefining peer review as he was at actually deleting the emails he thought he was deleting.

    It’s interesting to note, however, that the same IPCC section that Mitch points to refers to “Wahl & Amman (2007)”, which is the famous “Jesus paper”.

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2008/8/11/caspar-and-the-jesus-paper.html

    So while Jones perhaps couldn’t redefine peer review, it appears he managed to redefine “cut-off date” and “deadline”.

  18. Report this comment

    Steve Reynolds said:

    “…Nature’s use of the inflammatory term ‘denialists’, the fact is that almost any term is politically charged in this context.”

    If you insist on using that term, could you please define it?

    It might make some sense applied to politicians such as Senator Inhofe, but do you really believe it applies to people like Richard Lindzen and Steve McIntyre? If so, how do you justify that? What specifically are they denying?

    I hope Nature can distinguish more than two sides here, rather than a tribalist ‘us vs. them’.

  19. Report this comment

    PaulM said:

    This editorial can only be described as disgusting.

    How can a formerly highly regarded journal have sunk so low?

    First we have the repeated This editorial can only be described as disgusting.

    How can a formerly highly regarded journal have sunk so low?

    First we have the repeated use of the ‘denialist’ smear, more worthy of an political activist blog.

    The article is just full of false statements, and repeats the usual spin and exaggeration of the global warming fanatics. In fact the only ‘denialist’ here is the person who wrote this ridiculous article.

    One false claim is about the word ‘trick’. This word is used by mathematicians for a clever way to solve an equation. But a reputable scientist would NEVER use the word ‘trick’ to describe a way of presenting data, let alone in conjunction with the phrase ‘hide the decline’ .

  20. Report this comment

    Doug P said:

    Nature’s stature is considerably diminished with the publication of this kind of editorial. This is very disappointing, but I appreciate the honesty. Now there can be no doubt about how Nature operates.

  21. Report this comment

    Michal Gancarski said:

    Jesus Rosino:

    "

    the different data are NOT presented AS ONE. The different sources are EXPLICITLY mentioned and differenciated in the graph with different colours.

    "

    I have not claimed anything contrary to what you have written above. This is the relevant part of my comment:

    "

    “Mike’s trick” is joining two data series coming from completely different sources (proxies vs. instrumental readings) and then smoothing them as one

    "

    It may not be exactly what “the trick” is but it is quite close I think:

    http://camirror.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/gerry-north-doesnt-understand-the-trick/

    "

    Jones deleted the post-1960 values of the Briffa reconstruction, replaced them with instrumental values, smoothed the spliced series (see posts by both Jean S and myself proving this) and ended up with a reconstruction that looked like an accurate reconstruction of late 20th century temperatures. He didn’t merely show a temperature series alongside a proxy reconstruction, which is what the NAS panel did.

    "

    Now, I may be wrong or simplistic in my interpretation but I do not think your response has enough merit to show my mistake. I invite you to try again.

    Also, some advice to you, Jesus. Next time you start your comment with a sentence containing the “d” word and accusations of arrogance and ignorance, at least make sure you read cautiously what you comment on. A straw man is not something you can easily hide when all comments are open for everybody’s scrutiny. Again, being polite is not necessary for doing good science but it still helps when dealing with people and debating in public.

  22. Report this comment

    Patrick McCafferty said:

    Can we please stop calling people who disagree with us ‘deniers’ or ‘denialists’. They are entitled to their opinion.Dispute their points by all means by reasoned argument but dismissing people with derogatory terms is completely wrong and suggests you are frightened by their views and have no reasoned rebuttal.Remember the forecasts on global freezing, HIV, population growth, CJD and other scientific doom mongering before you criticise those with opposing views.Prepare your arguments logically or stay out of the maelstrom.

  23. Report this comment

    Jesús Rosino said:

    Michal Gancarski,

    You are implying that data from two different sources were presented as if they came from the same source (“smoothing them as one”).

    That’s not true. And that was my only point.

    ——————-

    P.S. You’re using trees as a temperature proxy, so you stop using them when they stop working as a temperature proxy. Then, if you want to give context with current temperatures, you can complete the gap with another source measuring the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with that and I have never seen any expert critical of this (widely known) issue.

    *Incidentally, I don’t see any smoothing of the instrumental data in MBH98.

  24. Report this comment

    Jesús Rosino said:

    As for the term denialism, it is nothing new to science. We have already seen it in tobacco, ozone layer, AIDS, lead, DDT, asbestos, evolutionary science, etc. For those unfamiliar with the anti-science movements, I recommend this article on the subject:

    Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? (full pdf)

    Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee

    The European Journal of Public Health 2009 19(1):2-4; doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckn139

    Where they take the definition of denialism from the Hoofnagle brothers: “the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.”

    From my own experience, the core denialist arguments are (1) everything is possible, so we cannot trust empirical science and (2) falsely implying contradictory evedence where there isn’t any.

    I also recommend some books on the subject:

    Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

    Erik Conway & Naomi Oreskes

    Climate Cover-Up, The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

    James Hoggan & Richard Littlemore

    Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate

    Dr. Stephen H. Schneider

    Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future

    Sheril Kirshenbaum

    The Republican War on Science

    Chris Mooney

    Or some documentaries:

    Out of Balance: ExxonMobil’s Impact on Climate Change

    The Denial Machine: how fossil fuel corporations have kept the global warming debate alive

    Climate Wars (I, II y III)

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