The thing to understand about the scandal surrounding the e-mails leaked from Britain’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) is that it is actually three scandals. There is a scientific scandal, in which the leading lights of the climate-research cabal conspired to fudge data and silence skeptics. There is a media scandal, in which reporters and editors on the “climate beat” at the world’s most prominent news organizations acted as stenographers for the cabal and ignored the scandal when it broke. And there is a political scandal, in which officeholders here and abroad used the bunk science as a pretext for expanding their control of (and take from) the world’s energy markets.
The largest scandal is scientific. The e-mails show climate researchers at a handful of universities and think tanks engaged in unscrupulous behavior. Phil Jones of CRU, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and other leaders of the climate cartel discussed statistical tricks they used to “hide the decline” of atmospheric temperatures. Other data were fudged to cover up warm periods that didn’t fit their theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research suggested “correcting” ocean temperatures downward by 0.15 degrees Celsius “to partly explain the 1940s warming blip.”
Nor can the “uncorrected” data be recovered from CRU, which threw much of it away, allegedly to “save space.” The darker possibilty, which Jones hinted at in an e-mail to Mann, is that the data were intentionally erased. “If [global-warming skeptics] ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K.,” he wrote, “I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” Jones should have thought twice: The act penalizes deletion of any material subject to a FOIA request with fines of up to £5,000. (Considering the grant money he’s taking in, though, that’s perhaps not so sobering a sum.)
But the most troubling aspect of the scientific scandal is the corruption of the peer-review process for academic papers and studies on AGW. Jones and Mann have historically dismissed out of hand any criticism of their work that appeared outside of peer-reviewed scientific journals. “Those . . . who operate almost entirely outside of [the peer-review] system are not to be trusted,” Mann wrote in an e-mail to New York Times climate correspondent Andrew Revkin. (More on Revkin in a moment.)
At the same time, the leaked e-mails reveal that these men were working behind the scenes to narrow the definition of “peer-reviewed journals” to include only those journals that refused to publish any papers or studies questioning their consensus. “We have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal,” Mann wrote after the journal published a skeptical study. When Geophysical Research Letters did the same, Wigley (he of the 0.15 degree “correction”) popped up with another helpful fix: “We could go through official [American Geophysical Union] channels to get him [the editor] ousted.” He was, in fact, ousted.
The basic problem is that reconstructing historical climate data is such an inherently speculative endeavor that it barely qualifies as science, let alone “settled science.” The same can be said for the assumptions that must be piled on one another to create the dire scenarios that drive the political debate over global warming. The e-mails don’t discredit the basic idea of anthropogenic global warming — carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas — but they remind us how much we don’t know even as the Left rushes to action on the basis of an utterly false sense of certainty.
At the very least, all of this is newsworthy. But the second scandal is what the e-mails revealed about the watchdog reporters on the climate beat. They remind us of that old scary movie: When the phone rang at CRU with a reporter on the line, the call was usually coming from inside the house.
One of the group’s main media allies, the BBC, became “tangled in the row” over the e-mails when the Daily Mail revealed that one of the BBC’s reporters was tipped off to their existence more than a month before they were posted on the web. And on one occasion, when a critic of Mann’s work exposed a problem with the cabal’s data, Andrew Revkin at the Times told Mann in an e-mail not to worry. “I’m going to blog on this as it relates to the value of the peer review process and not on the merits of the . . . attacks,” he wrote, because peer review is “where the herky-jerky process of knowledge building happens.” Mann replied that he couldn’t have said it better himself (really?) — and that’s the problem.
Revkin also continues to cover for the CRU crew, playing up the angle that the e-mails might have been illegally stolen from CRU by hackers rather than leaked by a disillusioned insider. This sudden prissiness about the source of information would be rich coming from a reporter at any of the major dailies, but it is especially ridiculous in light of the Times’s open-door policy toward anyone willing to leak classified information about programs to tap the phones and track the finances of U.S.-based terrorist cells.
The final scandal is that the U.S. government came very close to turning the keys to the national energy sector over to these people, and still might. The cap-and-trade legislation that passed the House this summer has reportedly died in the Senate, but the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency — emboldened by a wrongheaded Supreme Court decision — maintains that it can unilaterally regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Obama himself has announced he will attend a climate summit this month in Copenhagen, after rumors that he planned to skip it.
Liberals like to say that conservatives are at war with science. But the leaked CRU e-mails show a subset of the scientific community at war with the conservative temperament, according to which projects to transform society through radical changes to our way of life ought to be approached with the utmost skepticism. Any process that treats legitimate skeptics as blasphemers to be purged is the opposite of scientific inquiry. This has been the conservative position in the climate-change debate for some time, but these scandals give the argument a new resonance.