Our favourite wingnut conspiracy theorists Ian Wishart and Cameron Slater must have had to buy in additional stocks of adult diapers over the weekend, such was their excitement over the release of emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.
Now, lets start with what happened. Someone hacked into the University of East Anglia’s mail server and stole – yes it is a criminal offence – a 61MB mail file. Does it not occur to Wishart, Whale and the other right wing climate cranks that someone sufficiently dishonest to hack a mail server and steal a mail file is also likely to be sufficiently dishonest to doctor a few of the emails to enhance the effect before release. No, that wouln’t fit their conspiracy theory, would it.
Whale blathers on about:
…an elite group of climate scientists have conspired to massage data, dodging scrutiny, hounding out sceptical editors, fudging figures, the possibly criminal destruction of data under FOI request, tax avoidance, gloating over a sceptic’s death, character assassination of sceptics. admissions of using “tricks” to “hide” inconvenient trends, farming grants, private admissions of grave doubts in their own public warming warnings, close collusion with green groups, the joint concocting of the most alarmist announcements and much more.
Well, a 661MB mail file contains thousands of emails, and I don’t have the time to read all of them. Nor would Wishart, Whale and their fellow cranks. But from what I have read, and it seems that the emails have been selectively released, there is nothing to justify the extravagant claims they are making.
Take the using “tricks to hide inconvenient trends” bit. That’s been thoroughly debunked at RealClimate:
Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “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) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.
Good science, rather than the deception the cranks would have us believe.
None of the other generalised allegations stack up either, although I have to admit the email about possibly destroying data to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests, if it was genuine, was unwise (although I’ve seen no evidence that any data was actually destroyed, and I can understand the frustration of scientists having to deal with a never-ending flood of infromation requests from cranks).
Wishart likes to think of himself as an investigative journalist. Perhaps he could turn his skills to investigating who stole the University of East Anglia’s mail file and what their motive was, rather than use the episode to promote his thoroughly discredited crank book.