I often write emails to pals of mine that are in shorthand, that take many things for granted, that begin with understood knowledge, and that if they were read out of context could be construed as damning.
It’s easy to produce indictments. It’s as simple as adding “in bed” to the end of Chinese fortune cookies. “You will have great success in the future” suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning for somebody intent on discovering an x-rated conspiracy among fortune cookie writers.
So, caution, friends. Be careful.
For those who don’t know, the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit was hacked and a series of emails and documents related to climate change were released on several FTP servers; now it’s on the torrent, and so it’s far too late to prevent their spread.
The hacking was undoubtedly illegal, as may be the reproduction of this private correspondence publicly. So again, caution, friends. Don’t get cocky.
The reason many might be daring is that the emails were written by the Big Cheeses in global warming: all the important names are there. They are discussing many topics, from computer code to how to handle skeptics and the press. But most curious are the long discussions of “Where is the warming?”
A lot of people in those emails are deeply concerned about the lack of observed warming (it has actually been getting just a little cooler). Some lay the blame at the feet of the certain components of the models, others try to dismiss the observed cooling, still more advocate statistical manipulation to mask the cooling so the public and its leaders don’t get confused.
It’s far to early to give a concise summary of this scandal. So, caution, friends. Don’t rush to judgment. It’s too easy in situations like this for statements to come back and bite you.
I have seen the files—not all of them, there are too many—and my early take doesn’t change the view I have already formed: climate models have no skill beyond about one year. The models predict warming, but the warming isn’t there, therefore the models are wrong. Why they are wrong is an interesting question, and worth investigating. Many of the emails responsibly take this tack. And they should.
I have not seen open acknowledgement that the premise that forms the models is false. That is, that it is possible, even with the observed small increase in atmospheric CO2, that that gas has at best a marginal effect. As far as I can tell by my early reading, all the folks in those emails truly believe their models (it’s the observations they don’t love).
There is no conspiracy, as far as I can tell. A conspiracy would obtain if the participants knew their stated beliefs were false, yet the still espoused them with the goal of winning either money, or power, or control, or whatever. My early, and admittedly incomplete, judgment is that all of these people really are convinced that catastrophic warming is on the way and that it will be caused by mankind. Further, they believe it fervently.
So, caution, friends. Try not to use the word “conspiracy” too readily. It is an extremely strong word—and it is beside the point. Or should be.
If, as a skeptic, you try to club the email originators over the head with conspiracy, they have the easiest defense: they believe. And people will see that they believe, that there is no conspiracy, and you will look like a brute and an ass. Meanwhile, what should really be at question—will it get hotter, colder, or can we know with sufficient precision—will be left unanswered.
Again, I see conviction in these emails, and strained attempts to tame and fix their creations, the models, so that the models’ outputs fall in line with what they believe. This sort of “experimenter’s bias” is fair game, and should be noted. It is the main story, I think.
But attempts to point out bias should be formed with compassion and not passion. This is not the time to settle scores, but to gain allies. We are dealing with a group of highly intelligent people and they can be convinced of mistakes where they exist.
So, caution, friends. Try to remain calm.