Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Silencing the heretics: the Holy Inquisition of the Warmers

The presumed hacking of emails and records from the Climate Research United at the University of East Anglia has drawn a great deal of attention. And there is even some speculation that the hacking wasn’t a hacking a leak.

Some of the coverage, especially from fellow travellers with the warming advocates, repeats the party line that “there’s nothing here to see folks, just keep moving.” But there is enough meat in the documents to attract the attention of some press outlets usually known for their uncritical acceptance of anything the warming advocates say.

The Washington Post is as “establishment” media as you can get, only bested by the New York Times. It tends to be a reliable ally for the warming advocates. Yet, even the Post found the emails worthy of a news story that was less than flattering. It described the emails as providing a “rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes battle to shape the public perception of global warming.” I would have hoped it was a battle over the facts of science myself. But it is what it is.

The Post says that the emails revealed the defenders of the consensus as a circle of intellectuals “eager to punish its enemies.” And it describes them actively campaigning to stop studies from being published, if those studies do not correspond with their “consensus.” In one email, the center’s director, Phil Jones, writes to prominent warming advocate Michael Mann, concerning some studies that contradict aspects of his own theories. Jones tells Mann: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow—even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

The Post reveals:
In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal," Mann writes. "I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor," Jones replies.
As warming skeptic, Patrick Michaels notes in the Post article, this sort of attempt to intimidate editors into refusing to publish papers contrary to the “consensus” is very troubling. Michaels said “these same academics repeatedly criticized him for not having published more peer-reviewed papers.” On the one hand the number of published papers are used against critics while the warming advocates are simultaneously working behind-the-scenes to make sure that they don’t get papers published.

In one email to Jones, Mann complains about a paper published by Climate Research. He complains that the paper “couldn’t have cleared a ‘legitimate peer review process anywhere.” But since the paper was published, in spite of Mann’s opposition to it: “That leaves only one possibility—that the peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board.” Mann says that the hijackers presumably include “a member of my own department.”

Mann is upset that the skeptics “achieved what they wanted—the claim of a peer-reviewed paper.” He laments that once published, “there is nothing we can do about” it now. Instead he suggests pretending that the paper was never published saying it “will be ignored by the community on the whole.”

Mann refers to the strategy of attacking skeptics on the basis of peer-reviewed papers and says that the paper in question reveals of the “danger” of that tactic. He says that the skeptics responded by a “take-over” of the journal. It strikes me as a bit paranoid to assume that the only way ones critics pass peer-review is by a plot to take over a journal.

Mann then suggests that the journal in question must be punished. He says: “So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.”

Jones writes back: “I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.” He notes that his own organization has “a person… on the editorial board, but papers get dealt with by the editor assigned by Hans von Storch.” Jones says he tried to get von Storch to stop publishing critics: “I’ve had words with Hans von Storch about this, but got nowhere.”

In another set of emails Tom Wigley writes Jones, Mike Hulme (who we have covered in our previous post on this issue) and Timothy Carter. It appears to be about the journal edited by von Storch. Wigley says he is unsure of the “best way” way to handle the problem of critical papers getting published. He says: “Hans von Storch is partly to blame—he encourages the publication of crap science ‘in order to stimulate debate.’” Well, they can’t have that, can they?

Wigley says that perhaps the best method of making sure skeptics are not published “is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium of disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work.” Wigley goes further noting that it doesn’t actually matter if this is true or not. “I use the word ‘perceived’ here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about—it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.” Wigley says he get a “large group of highly credentialed scientists to sign such a letter — 50+ people.”

Wigley says he added Hulme to the discussion because Hulme previously suggested they “get board members to resign,” but Wigley said that wouldn’t work. The board members they would get to walkout would be the ones on their side and they might get replaced with skeptics. Instead, he says they “must get rid of von Storch” and says that a mass protest to the publishers, aimed at von Storch “might remove that hurdle too.”

In another exchange, Wigley writes to Mann about the Geophysical Research Letters journal, another journal that deem too unreliable for their agenda. Mann says: “It’s one thing to lose Climate Research. We can’t afford to lose GRL.” This was over a paper the journal wanted to publish. Mann says they need to investigate and if “there is a clear body of evidence that something is amiss, it could be taken through the proper channels.”

Wigley responds that “GRL had gone downhill rapidly in recent years” but says “proving bad behavior here is very difficult.” But, says that if “you think that [the editor] is in the greenhouse skeptics camps, then, if we can find documentary evidence for this, we could go through official AGU (American Geophysical Union) channels to get him ousted.”

In another exchange Graham Haughton speaks of another climate journal that Jones considered unreliable. Haughton also feels it necessary to remind Jones that academic freedom includes critics. He says that when he next sees the editor he will try to “have a quiet word with her about the way the affiliation to us is used, but the moment she is entitled to use it in the way she does.” H tells Jones, “I want to protect another academic’s freedom to be contrary and critical, even if I personally believe she is probably wrong.” (Good for Haughton.)

While some are still trying to pretend that the leaked documents mean nothing, or only that one has to be intellectually challenged to take them seriously, one of the most reliable advocates for the warming crowd realizes the evidence is very damning indeed. Left-wing columnist George Monbiot has been a staunch advocate of the warming scare and he says he and his allies have a problem.
It's no use pretending this isn't a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I'm dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.
Monbiot’s response after this is to note that these emails alone, don’t prove the anthropogenic theory of warming as false, but then no one said they did. He then concocts absurd satirical emails that would prove that. However, he does recognize that the real emails that have been released are a major blow to the political agenda that he, and the email authors, shared. It is no longer sufficient for the apologists to claim this was merely harmless banter. It is clear that these men were trying to figure out how to apply political pressure to silence critics of their own theories and shut down debate. I repeat my claim from my previous post: this is not science at work, this is politics.

One problem with the hack/leak is the massive volume of material that has been released. More and more eyes are going through the material every day. As more and more material is exposed concerns about the leak itself will diminish with most people and concerns about the content of the material will increase.

I will try to cover more angles of this story, including emails which show that data sets, used to calculate current global temperature trends, were hidden from skeptics. In the emails they discussed that the best strategy to avoid a Freedom of Information request was to claim that they lost the data. Coincidentally, when a request for such data was made, the CRU claimed that they didn’t keep the “original raw data” and couldn’t supply it, precisely the strategy planned in the emails. I suggest this story is just beginning.

Addendum: When this was posted I did not read the comments to Monbiot's piece at the Guardian. However, it was brought to my attention that Monbiot actually posted an additional comment there which is pretty shocking. One reader commented: "By now I suggest you review your file of correspondence and articles, and figure out who you need to apologize to." What was truly shocking was Monbiot's response: "I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely."

Labels: , , ,