Planet Gore

On the Horn with the Warming All-Stars

I joined a conference call today, hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP), featuring Penn State’s Michael Mann, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, and Princeton’s Michael Oppenheimer. CAP advertised the call as “setting the record straight” on this whole Climategate nonsense. Here are my notes from the call:
1. A tense-sounding Joe Romm, CAP’s global-warming head honcho, opens by reading from Nature’s editorial on Climategate: “‘Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real,’” Romm says, “‘or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.’” Romm argues that Climategate is a smear campaign based on a “misrepresentation of some illegally hacked e-mails.”
2. Mann also argues that Climategate is a smear campaign orchestrated by “a handful of people and organizations that have tried to cloud the debate.” Mann accused these individuals and groups of having no interest in “contributing to the scientific discourse,” because the science isn’t on their side. Instead, they’ve stolen e-mails, mined them for certain key phrases, and then taken those phrases out of context in order to foment public confusion. Schmidt and Oppenheimer make similar points.
3. The first question comes from Andrew Revkin of the New York Times. “You guys have worked really hard to keep yourself separate from the political process,” Revkin says, and yet CAP has a specific political agenda. Why do this call through CAP? Mann replies that the conference call was CAP’s idea, and that he agreed to it because CAP is “a wonderful venue for us to get out what the science has to say and to address these specious allegations.”
4. The second question is not about the leaked e-mails, and then it’s my turn. I ask Mann about the e-mail in which he wrote, “We have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal.” Mann replies, “It’s important to understand what peer review actually is. It’s not a license for anybody to publish in the scientific literature an article that doesn’t meet the high standards of scientific quality expected from the scientific literature.” With regard to Climate Research, Mann says, “There was an editor that appeared to be gaming the system to allow through papers that did not meet the standards of science simply because they expressed a contrarian viewpoint.”
5. I ask a follow-up about the e-mail in which Tom Wigley recommended that the group get the editor of another journal ousted. Schmidt fields this one. Again, he says, the problem was not that the journal in question published skeptical articles; it’s that the articles in question did not meet the “high standards” of the climate-science community. There were “frustrations with the fact that the peer-review process, which is supposed to screen out papers that do meet those standards, had failed here,” Schmidt says. But he hurriedly adds that the editor in question “was not pressured to resign.” The tactic recommended by Wigley “was not pursued . . . the guy did his full rotation as editor then rotated off.”
6. Another reporter asks Mann about reports that Penn State has opened an investigation into Climategate. He also asks about an e-mail that CRU’s Phil Jones wrote to Mann, requesting that Mann delete certain e-mails. Mann replies, “There is no investigation. Penn State is simply reviewing the evidence out there to determine if there is any reason for an investigation.” He adds that he welcomes the scrutiny. “I have nothing to hide, I did nothing wrong.” As for the e-mail evidence that he and Jones might have deleted information subject to FOIA, Mann says, “Frankly, the sending of that e-mail demonstrated unfortunate judgment on the part of that scientist,” and, “to my knowledge, nobody acted on it,” and, “I did not delete any e-mails and I felt uncomfortable receiving that request.”
7. Neil Munro of National Journal asks if the group would be willing to invite a group of outsiders to examine the data that the e-mails suggest was manipulated to “hide the decline.” Schmidt replies that the CRU database is “not the only database out there,” and that the differences between its data and those of organizations like NASA, etc., are “completely minimal.” Schmidt says, “Maybe it’s important that [CRU has] some of the older data, but any of the changes over the 20th century are available.”
8. Some themes throughout the call: A) The people making a big deal out of Climategate are smear artists who don’t have the science on their side. Despite having admitted that the e-mails demonstrate at least one instance of “unfortunate judgment,” Mann reiterates that the skeptics are “twisting the words of scientists in their private correspondence.” B) The e-mails do not disprove the theory of anthropogenic global warming or that it poses a massive threat that must be addressed by sharply reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. C) Despite Revkin’s assertion that these guys have “worked really hard” to steer clear of politics, the scientists repeatedly talk about the importance of their relationship with policymakers, which necessarily involves politics. D) Of course, they can’t stress enough that the e-mails in question were illegally obtained.
9. Schmidt ends the call by saying that the storm cloud of Climategate might have a silver lining: “Once all the gotcha stuff is worn out and the context has been established . . . there will be a record when you actually look at these e-mails of how science is actually done.” Hmm. If you say so . . .