Politics & Policy

Climate of Fraud

What do hacked e-mails tell us about global-warming research?

The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit’s e-mail account was hacked earlier this month, exposing communications among CRU faculty members and researchers that reveal their willingness to distort climate-change data. Do those e-mails mark a sea-change moment in the global-warming debate? National Review Online asked environmentalism experts to weigh in.

H. STERLING BURNETT

Why anyone should be surprised by this, I don’t know. Twenty years ago, Steve Schneider of Stanford stated that to be effective advocates on the issue of global warming, scientists would have to “offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” His disciples have tried to suppress criticism of the “hockey stick” graph; when that proves impossible and researchers such as Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick expose the graph’s deep flaws, they settle for ignoring or downplaying the problem.

And all of this with the cooperation of the mainstream media. Even when errors are found and admitted to, “legitimate journalists” such as those at the New York Times and the Washington Post, rather than asking hard questions of the scientists who have made the errors or conducting independent investigations, have simply given these scientists a platform to say, “Yeah, we were wrong, but the error was not important.” The reporters never question the claim that the errors aren’t important.

Whether these e-mails are game-changers depends largely upon two things. First, the willingness of other scientists to stand up and speak out about the way these researchers’ deception, professional malfeasance, and attempts to suppress dissent and subvert the peer-review process undermine the credibility of science in general and climate science in particular. Second, the ability of analysts and other concerned parties to force this issue from the blogs into the mainstream media. So far, it’s same old, same old: The Times and the Post give climate alarmists a forum in which to downplay the incident, and broadcast media largely ignore it. We need a Van Jones moment, a moment in which people at CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, the Post, the Times, and the AP have to admit that there is a significant story and hard questions should be asked. So far, they’ve been focusing on whether the e-mails were obtained legally — which shouldn’t be an issue, since most of the disclosed material should have been available under FOIA request.

At the very least, the scientists featured prominently in these e-mails should be precluded from participating in further efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for the sake of the IPCC’s integrity, if nothing else. Their continued involvement with the IPCC can only serve to raise a cloud of suspicion over future IPCC efforts and publications.

– H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

DANA JOEL GATTUSO

While many may regard the release of the e-mails a major victory, particularly on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit, it is and should be viewed as a tragedy.

How else can one describe the intentions and acts of leading climate scientists who, if the e-mails are authentic, conspired to censor scientific research that didn’t conform to their vision of a global-warming crisis, illegally plotted to conceal their own data from climatologists with different findings, and perhaps even manipulated data for what one of the e-mails refers to as the “common goal”?

Moreover, this episode illuminates how one of the world’s leading climate-research institutions — the CRU provides key data and studies to the IPCC, thereby greatly influencing environmental policy worldwide — put its agenda far above the science, cherry-picking studies and gagging experts who disagreed.

If there is a win here, it is that extremism and alarmism in the debate on climate change may be put to rest, or at least put on leave for a time. No longer can these scientists, who have driven and dominated the climate debate, speak with authority or credibility.

– Dana Joel Gattuso is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

KENNETH P. GREEN

The recently released documents from the CRU may not mark a sea change in the debate over anthropogenic climate change, but they will certainly increase the public’s skepticism. They will also stiffen the spines of those who have long doubted climate science but have found it expedient to accede to the science and simply argue about policy.

The purloined letters show a climate-science community in full tribal mode, conspiring to suppress contrary findings in the peer-reviewed literature; excluding contrary peer-reviewed publications from IPCC reports; concealing the shoddy nature of climate data; colluding to hide data and destroy correspondence; and using mathematical tricks to produce ever more alarming-looking charts.

While much of the CRU material is banal, some of it clearly suggests intentional subversion of the scientific process by an incestuous group of scientists from major climate-research centers in the U.S. and U.K. Now, more than ever, we must demand transparency from the climate-science community, whose research is being used to justify Al Gore’s “wrenching transformation” of our technological civilization.

– Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

BEN LIEBERMAN

The wheels were already coming off the cart of the global-warming crisis before Climategate hit. But the recently released cache of e-mails and other documents showing that data were manipulated to hide a lack of warming, that other data were suppressed, and that contradictory research from “skeptics” (the pejorative term for those who dissent from climate-change dogma) was shut out of the debate just accelerates the process.

Those in the media and elsewhere straining to argue that Climategate is no big deal have had quite a bit of practice making far-fetched claims. For example, temperatures have been fairly flat since the late 1990s, but some have treated the complete lack of warming over this decade-plus stretch as a non-issue. The upcoming Copenhagen climate conference is tasked with replacing the supposedly inadequate provisions from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but, ironically, temperatures have barely budged since then.

If influential scientists’ being caught manipulating and suppressing data is no big deal, and if the absence of any additional warming since the late 1990s is also no big deal, one wonders what if anything would be a big deal.

With Copenhagen coming up in two weeks, the revelations are very timely. As with cap-and-trade legislation currently stalled in the Senate, international efforts to ratchet down fossil-fuel use would be enormously expensive and likely ineffective even if global warming really were a serious threat. And now there is even more reason to believe that the costs will be for nothing.

– Ben Lieberman, a specialist in energy and environmental issues, is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

JIM MANZI

A set of very damaging e-mails have apparently been hacked from the Hadley Climate Research Unit; they purportedly show climate scientists there manipulating and deploying historical climate data to reach predetermined conclusions, coordinating messaging, and attempting to control the definition of expertise in order to marginalize those who disagree with them.

I have not read the full set of e-mails, nor have I seen authoritative evidence of their provenance, but for the sake of argument let’s assume the allegations are correct. None of this surprises me. I argued over two years ago that: 1) Long-term climate reconstruction was one of the two key trouble spots in climate science; 2) mathematically sophisticated critics had debunked the methodology used to reconstruct long-term climate evidence that is the basis for the famous “hockey stick” increase in global temperatures; and 3) excellent evidence had been presented to the U.S. Senate that, in climate reconstruction, academic peer review meant, in effect, agreement among a tiny, self-selected group of experts. The root problem here is not the eternal perfidy of human nature, but the fact that we can’t run experiments on history to adjudicate disputes, which makes this less like chemistry or physics than like economics or political science.

In human terms, the scandal is obviously a PR disaster for those who believe that climate reconstruction is “science” in the sense we normally use the term, but what it does not change is the basic physics of how CO2 molecules interact with radiation. As I have always argued, this is the real basis for rational concern about greenhouse-gas emissions, and is a key reason that all the major national scientific academies agree that the greenhouse effect is a real risk. Recognizing this risk, however, does not entail accepting the political conclusion that we need laws to radically reduce emissions at enormous cost.

– Jim Manzi is a contributing editor of National Review.

HENRY PAYNE

Do the Climate Research Unit e-mails mark a sea-change moment in the climate-change debate? They certainly constitute one more leak in the hull of a global-warming movement that has been taking on water recently from allegations of faulty science and political hypocrisy. But given the vested interest that media, governments, and rent-seeking industries have in CO2 regulation, even news of cover-up will not easily turn the juggernaut.

Consider what we already know about global-warming science. Its advocates have a 40-year track record of crying wolf, from warnings of pesticide-induced species extinction to predictions of the world’s running out of food by the 21st century to warnings of a global freeze.

Its lead advocate, Al Gore, lives in a 10,000-square-foot home while pushing government subsidies that will boost his profits from business investments. Even green journalists privately concede that the movement’s leading climatologist, James Hansen, is a nut — a view whose soundness was dramatically illustrated in 2008 when he testified on behalf of Greenpeace activists that power plants should be vandalized. Contrary to predictions, the Earth hasn’t warmed in a decade.

Yet this January, the Detroit Auto Show will be themed green as automakers hype their tiny, government-subsidized electric-hybrid vehicles, designed to meet federal miles-per-gallon standards — while show attendees freeze through one of the coldest decades in Midwest history.

And the assembled green media will ignore the irony and write the hype.

Henry Payne is an editorial writer and cartoonist with the Detroit News.

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