Daily Archives: November 26, 2009

Congress May Probe Leaked Global Warming E-Mails

Deleting e-mail messages to hide them from a FOI request is a crime in the United Kingdom.

CBS | Nov 24, 2009

by Declan McCullagh

A few days after leaked e-mail messages appeared on the Internet, the U.S. Congress may probe whether prominent scientists who are advocates of global warming theories misrepresented the truth about climate change.

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said on Monday the leaked correspondence suggested researchers “cooked the science to make this thing look as if the science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not,” according to a transcript of a radio interview posted on his Web site. Aides for Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, are also looking into the disclosure.

The leaked documents (see our previous coverage) come from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in eastern England. In global warming circles, the CRU wields outsize influence: it claims the world’s largest temperature data set, and its work and mathematical models were incorporated into the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report. That report, in turn, is what the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged it “relies on most heavily” when concluding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and should be regulated.

Last week’s leaked e-mails range from innocuous to embarrassing and, critics believe, scandalous. They show that some of the field’s most prominent scientists were so wedded to theories of man-made global warming that they ridiculed dissenters who asked for copies of their data (“have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots”), cheered the deaths of skeptical journalists, and plotted how to keep researchers who reached different conclusions from publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

One e-mail message, apparently from CRU director Phil Jones, references the U.K.’s Freedom of Information Act when asking another researcher to delete correspondence that might be disclosed in response to public records law: “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise.” Another, also apparently from Jones: global warming skeptics “have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” (Jones was a contributing author to the chapter of the U.N.’s IPCC report titled “Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes.”)

In addition to e-mail messages, the roughly 3,600 leaked documents posted on sites including Wikileaks.org and EastAngliaEmails.com include computer code and a description of how an unfortunate programmer named “Harry” — possibly the CRU’s Ian “Harry” Harris — was tasked with resuscitating and updating a key temperature database that proved to be problematic. Some excerpts from what appear to be his notes, emphasis added:

I am seriously worried that our flagship gridded data product is produced by Delaunay triangulation – apparently linear as well. As far as I can see, this renders the station counts totally meaningless. It also means that we cannot say exactly how the gridded data is arrived at from a statistical perspective – since we’re using an off-the-shelf product that isn’t documented sufficiently to say that. Why this wasn’t coded up in Fortran I don’t know – time pressures perhaps? Was too much effort expended on homogenisation, that there wasn’t enough time to write a gridding procedure? Of course, it’s too late for me to fix it too. Meh.

I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. There are hundreds if not thousands of pairs of dummy stations, one with no WMO and one with, usually overlapping and with the same station name and very similar coordinates. I know it could be old and new stations, but why such large overlaps if that’s the case? Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight… So, we can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!

One thing that’s unsettling is that many of the assigned WMo codes for Canadian stations do not return any hits with a web search. Usually the country’s met office, or at least the Weather Underground, show up – but for these stations, nothing at all. Makes me wonder if these are long-discontinued, or were even invented somewhere other than Canada!

Knowing how long it takes to debug this suite – the experiment endeth here. The option (like all the anomdtb options) is totally undocumented so we’ll never know what we lost. 22. Right, time to stop pussyfooting around the niceties of Tim’s labyrinthine software suites – let’s have a go at producing CRU TS 3.0! since failing to do that will be the definitive failure of the entire project.

Ulp! I am seriously close to giving up, again. The history of this is so complex that I can’t get far enough into it before by head hurts and I have to stop. Each parameter has a tortuous history of manual and semi-automated interventions that I simply cannot just go back to early versions and run the update prog. I could be throwing away all kinds of corrections – to lat/lons, to WMOs (yes!), and more. So what the hell can I do about all these duplicate stations?…

As the leaked messages, and especially the HARRY_READ_ME.txt file, found their way around technical circles, two things happened: first, programmers unaffiliated with East Anglia started taking a close look at the quality of the CRU’s code, and second, they began to feel sympathetic for anyone who had to spend three years (including working weekends) trying to make sense of code that appeared to be undocumented and buggy, while representing the core of CRU’s climate model.

One programmer highlighted the error of relying on computer code that, if it generates an error message, continues as if nothing untoward ever occurred. Another debugged the code by pointing out why the output of a calculation that should always generate a positive number was incorrectly generating a negative one. A third concluded: “I feel for this guy. He’s obviously spent years trying to get data from undocumented and completely messy sources.”

Programmer-written comments inserted into CRU’s Fortran code have drawn fire as well. The file briffa_sep98_d.pro says: “Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!” and “APPLY ARTIFICIAL CORRECTION.” Another, quantify_tsdcal.pro, says: “Low pass filtering at century and longer time scales never gets rid of the trend – so eventually I start to scale down the 120-yr low pass time series to mimic the effect of removing/adding longer time scales!”

It’s not clear how the files were leaked. One theory says that a malicious hacker slipped into East Anglia’s network and snatched thousands of documents. Another says that the files had already been assembled in response to a Freedom of Information request and, immediately after it was denied, a whistleblower decided to disclose them. (Lending credence to that theory is the fact that no personal e-mail messages unrelated to climate change appear to have been leaked.)

For its part, the University of East Anglia has posted a statement calling the disclosure “mischievous” and saying it is aiding the police in an investigation.

The statement also quotes Jones, CRU’s director, explaining his November 1999 e-mail, which said: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” Jones said that the word trick was used “colloquially as in a clever thing to do” and that it “is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward.”

Also unclear is the ultimate impact of the leak, which came before next month’s Copenhagen summit and Democratic plans for cap and trade legislation.

On one hand, over at RealClimate.org, Gavin Schmidt, a modeler for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been downplaying the leak. Schmidt wrote: “There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research … no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords.”

On the other, groups like the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, the target of repeated derision in the leaked e-mails, have said: “We have argued for many years that much of the scientific case for global warming alarmism was weak and some of it was phony. It now looks like a lot of it may be phony.”

ScienceMag.org published an article noting that deleting e-mail messages to hide them from a FOI request is a crime in the United Kingdom. George Monbiot, a U.K. activist and journalist who previously called for dramatic action to deal with global warming, wrote: “It’s no use pretending that 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.”

Complicating matters for congressional Republicans who’d like to hold hearings is that East Anglia, of course, is a U.K. university. The GOP may intend to press the Obama administration for details on how the EPA came to rely on the CRU’s predictions, and whether the recent disclosure will change the agency’s position. Another approach lies in e-mail messages discussing grants from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to East Anglia; one says: “We need to show some left to cover the costs of the trip Roger didn’t make and also the fees/equipment/computer money we haven’t spent otherwise NOAA will be suspicious.”

The irony of this situation is that most of us expect science to be conducted in the open, without unpublished secret data, hidden agendas, and computer programs of dubious reliability. East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit might have avoided this snafu by publicly disclosing as much as possible at every step of the way.

Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CBSNews.com. He can be reached at declan@cbsnews.com and can be followed on Twitter as declanm. You can bookmark Declan’s Taking Liberties site here, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

ClimateGate: The skeptics are vindicated

“We are at present working discreetly with all our might to wrest this mysterious force called sovereignty out of the clutches of the local nation states of the world.”

– Professor Arnold Toynbee, in a June l931 speech before the Institute for the Study of International Affairs in Copenhagen.

The Ottawa Citizen | Nov 25, 2009

By David Warren

A computer hacker in England has done the world a service by making available a huge quantity of evidence for the way in which “human-induced global warming” claims have been advanced over the years.

By releasing into the Internet about a thousand internal e-mails from the servers of the Climate Research Unit in the University of East Anglia — in some respects the international clearing house for climate change “science” — he has (or they have) put observers in a position to see that claims of conspiracy and fraud were not unreasonable.

More generally, we have been given the materials with which to obtain an insight into how all modern science works when vast amounts of public funding is at stake and when the vested interests associated with various “progressive” causes require a particular scientific result.

There is little doubt that the e-mails were real. Even so warmist a true-believer as George Monbiot led his column in the Guardian yesterday with: “It’s no use pretending this isn’t a major blow. The e-mails extracted … could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.”


35 Inconvenient Truths

The global-cooling cover-up

Leading Global Warming propagandist “deeply shaken”, admits science now needs “reanalyising”

He went on to rekindle his own faith in the “settled science,” however, by revealing that he will not give up on the global-warming hypothesis until he sees an e-mail that reveals a specific conspiracy over the centuries by a secret fraternity of “knights carbonic” to seize planetary power and install a Communist World Government.

Behind this sarcastic little face-saving joke is a disheartening reality. For, as we glean from the hacked documents, supporters of the hypothesis have been able to reverse the onus of proof. In the last resort, their argument comes down to: We say the planet is warming. And anyone who says the contrary must “prove the negative” beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt. And we will be their judges.

Nigel Lawson (a.k.a. Baron Lawson of Blaby), the former British chancellor of the exchequer, who is among prominent persons demanding a full and open public inquiry, summarized the content of the e-mails in this way:

“Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that (a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals. …

“There may be a perfectly innocent explanation,” he continues with that impartial aplomb for which we have always adored British lords, but then he reminds just how much government spending and bureaucracy, in Britain and all over the world, has been mounted entirely upon this dubious research; and thus how far-reaching the implications if the obvious turns out to be true.

For the correspondence that has been hacked is not mere backroom gossip. It includes incriminating exchanges between some of the biggest names in the “global warming” business. In its attempt to resist an inquiry, a British Meteorological Office spokesman effectively acknowledged as much. He fell back on the traditional clinching argument of persons “dressed in a little authority”: that the sublimity of their office and the splendour of their robes puts them beyond the possibility of suspicion:

“It’s a shame that some of the skeptics have had to take this rather shallow attempt to discredit robust science undertaken by some of the world’s most respected scientists. The bottom line is that temperatures continue to rise and humans are responsible for it. We have every confidence in the science and the various datasets we use. The peer-review process is as robust as it could possibly be.”

The same spokesman alleged it was no coincidence that the incriminating materials had been released on the eve of the United Nations’ Copenhagen climate conference. But, of course, that is exactly what the hacker was doing: getting a story out that could be released in no other way and at the best possible moment to draw attention. Those would be the first two laws of journalism.

It is amusing to see mainstream media sources such as the New York Times, which thinks nothing of publishing purloined government documents that will endanger the lives of U.S. soldiers in the field, and compromise vital intelligence operations, suddenly become all jowly and uptight about publishing the e-mails in question because they were “illegally obtained.”

Other media — which have played a leading part for years in giving credibility to “global warming” claims — are now maintaining the silence of Iago on the revelations. We will see how long this can be sustained.

Climate Smokescreen At The New York Times

AIM | Nov 25, 2009

By K. Daniel Glover

When holier-than-thou New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin decided not to publish e-mails that expose climate scientists as frauds because they were obtained illegally, Times watchers (including this one) rightly cried “Hypocrisy!

One recent and one distant case of the newspaper rejecting Revkin’s new standard of journalistic ethics leapt to mind. In December 2005, the Times ran a front-page expose on the Bush administration’s covert wiretapping program against presumed terrorists even after being warned that it could jeopardize national security. And in 1971, the Times made history by publishing the Pentagon Papers about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

But a far better example of the paper’s hypocrisy has escaped notice — until now. In May 1994, the Times published a series of stories about the tobacco industry that were based on the pre-Internet equivalent of leaked e-mails. The paper’s coverage later led to a book by reporter Philip J. Hilts titled Smokescreen: The Truth Behind The Tobacco Industry Cover-up.

The circumstances surrounding the tobacco industry then and the climate science community now are remarkably similar, yet the Times reached exact opposite conclusions about how to cover the news. This time Revkin and the paper, as well as much of the mainstream media, have created a smokescreen to protect fraudulent scientists whose agenda they support.

Tobacco under fire

Democrats began targeting the tobacco industry after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., led the charge as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Waxman’s probe led to a dramatic April 14, 1994 hearing where top executives from tobacco companies swore under oath that nicotine is not addictive. At about the same time, a whistleblower contacted Hilts and handed over internal memorandums that proved the Brown & Williamson tobacco company had known the health dangers of tobacco for decades.

Like “hide the decline” from the hacked global warming e-mails, the Brown & Williamson documents had a memorable money quote: “Moreover, nicotine is addictive. … We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug.”

Hilts described the revelations in an interview with PBS for its “Smoke In The Eye” special:

Once we got these papers in hand, it became very clear that they knew a lot very early on, that they were deliberately hiding things, and that they were deliberately trying to keep them out of court and so on — at the same time saying these things were not true, saying cigarettes are not addictive, and yet they have their own studies which show how addictive it is and exactly how the addiction works and so on. … They did all kinds of studies on the hazards of cigarettes and inhalation of tobacco and so on and found a lot of problems. Well, we never heard about this, but they knew it all early on.

Brown & Williamson, along with the rest of the tobacco industry, understandably wanted to quash publicity of the documents. The company convinced a judge in tobacco-friendly Kentucky to impose an injunction against their release because Merrill Williams, a temporary paralegal assigned to Brown & Williamson, allegedly stole them.

The company felt compelled to fight release of the documents. “They’ve been hiding this for years,” Hilts told PBS. “It would make them lose case after case in court.”

But the Times, motivated by a commitment to journalistic integrity and the First Amendment, defied the injunction and published its stories. “Oddly enough there were virtually no legal concerns at the Times,” Hilts said, adding that “all the way along, the lawyers … were very supportive. They really wanted to see the stories in the paper.”

Hilts criticized ABC for not reporting on the documents even though the network had them before he did. “Lawyers for the entertainment business are more skittish, are more difficult,” he told PBS, “and in fact they get involved in the news more, probably more than they should. … I don’t think, in newspapers, reporters would put up with that.”

Hot global warming e-mails

Print reporters without links to the entertainment industry may well be more committed to battling media lawyers in order to break major news, but they clearly are not immune to self-censorship. Unlike Hilts, Revkin chose not to post the global warming e-mails.

His defense: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye.” If Hilts and other journalists had neglected their duty like Revkin and company are in covering “ClimateGate,” the tobacco industry never would have been forced to settle with state prosecutors in 1998 and might not have been subjected to federal regulation this year.

Michael Moore, the former Mississippi attorney general who led the legal fight against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, called the Brown & Williamson papers “probably still the most damming documents ever produced against the industry.” Hilts said they “probably are the single-most important pieces of paper in the history of tobacco versus public health.”

The global warming e-mails revealed last week are just as significant. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” climate expert Patrick Michaels said. Even British writer and environmental activist George Monbiot acknowledged that the e-mails are a “major blow” and urged Phil Jones, the head of the climate research unit that was hacked, to resign.

The timing of the climate e-mail hacking also is reminiscent of the tobacco timeline in 1994 — and thus equally newsworthy. Just as whistleblowers started pushing documents into the media while the Food and Drug Administration and Congress weighed tobacco regulation, the global warming e-mails were posted online days before world leaders gather in Copenhagen next month to ponder draconian rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

And as with the tobacco documents, the global warming e-mails focus on scientific research. “These behind-the-scenes discussions among leading global-warming exponents are remarkable both in their candor and in their sheer contempt for scientific objectivity,” Rochester Institute of Technology professor Ivan Kenneally wrote in The New Atlantis.

“There can be little doubt after even a casual perusal that the scientific case for global warming and the policy that springs from it are based upon a volatile combination of political ideology, unapologetic mendacity and simmering contempt for even the best-intentioned disagreement.”

It’s the news judgment, stupid

The hacking angle to ClimateGate is a legitimate one to pursue, but it is not the most important angle. The appropriate response is for journalists at The New York Times and elsewhere to behave as they did after Hilts exposed the stolen tobacco documents in 1994.

“We had more papers after that,” Hilts said. “We went around and found more stuff. More people started coming out of the woodwork and so on. So it was a pivotal moment.”

Fourteen years ago, the Times scolded CBS for self-censorship when it decided to spike an interview with tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, who later became the central character in the 1999 movie “The Insider.” The network later reversed course and aired the interview.

Hopefully Andrew Revkin and the Times will redeem themselves and do likewise by giving the global warming e-mails the scrutiny they deserve.

(Author’s note: I covered the 1994 tobacco debate for Congressional Quarterly and attended the game-changing hearings with Hilts. Thanks to blogger James Joyner for jogging my memory.)

K. Daniel Glover is the online communications strategist for AIM for Accuracy In Media. He has worked as an editor, writer and new media specialist in the Washington area since 1991, spending most of that time at National Journal and Congressional Quarterly.