Friday, November 27, 2009

Climategate/Climaquiddick

I haven't written about the CRU scandal yet, for a couple of reasons. I've been busy with actual work, for one thing, so that's limited my time, and there's a lot of information to go through. Another is that there's a tendency for initial reports to be wrong, and for people to get up in arms about something that turns out to be innocent or at least explicable. But as the story has developed, it has become clear that there is, in fact, a "there" there, and I've got a couple of things to say.

First, for those that haven't followed the story, some anonymous source, a couple of weeks ago now, posted a massive bundle of data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia on a (I think) Russian web server, from which the data has been uploaded and examined by people around the world. First reports attributed it to a "hacker," but the content of the file seems to indicate an insider, a whistle-blower, as the content is all relevant to the "climate change" research taking place at CRU. There is source code for the various models, some data, and a lot of emails between various "alarmists," proponents of massive and radical government action to curb global warming.

The emails got the first attention, and they paint a damning picture. The impression created is not that of a group of scientists committed to the truth. Instead, we see what seems to be a small cabal of high priests, committed to their religion, devoted to its truth regardless of the facts, willing to hide and potential defects in their story, fudge data to support it, and punish heresy wherever it appears. They don't come across well.

After a few days, people have also had a chance to look at the model code. It also doesn't reflect well on anyone. The code is poorly structured, poorly commented, and what commenting exists is fairly damning, talking about "fudge factors," and data manipulation tricks to get desired results.


Anyway, this has been the major story in the blogosphere for the past week. I was hesitant to post at first for a couple of reasons. One is that we all have a tendency to jump at information that confirms our pre-conceptions ("confirmation bias"), so I'm aware that I'll tend to credit information which disputes and/or disparages AGW. So I try not to go there, especially with something this big, until I've seen enough to be convinced that there's a real story. There's definitely a real story.

Another reason is that a lot of the early coverage focused on one e-mail, in which Dr. Phil Jones claimed to have "used Mike's Nature trick" to "hide the decline." Too much of the first wave of coverage was focused on the word "trick," which is not actually damning at all. We've all got "tricks." "What's the trick to getting that lawnmower started?" "My trick for getting those cookies that color is to bake them faster and take them out before they're done." So the focus on the word "trick" bothered me. That passed quickly, however, and "hide the decline" is a lot tougher to explain away.

So that's the background for those who haven't been following the story. (I'll have more links and more comments going forward.) The absolute best-case interpretation that you can put on what's been released, as near as I can tell, is this - the scientists pushing the "carbon is killing the world" message are sloppy, short-sighted, fanatical, petty, and willing to manipulate the data in order to present the most effective case to the world on a real danger. The worst-case is that they've lied for grant money, to the detriment of pretty much everyone else on the face of the earth.

Is it "the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'" as James Delingpole says? Or would "a far wider conspiracy ... have to be revealed," as George Monbiot claims?

I don't know. I do know this - in order to justify ANY kind of government action to reduce carbon emissions, there needs to be some compelling and convincing science done, science that we can all trust. I'm not aware of the existence of any thus far.

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