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Pop goes the hot air balloon

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

An embarrassing leak at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia could be the pin that finally pricks the bubble of hot air promoted by a close-knit group of prominent climate scientists.

It is with mixed feelings that I write this column. On one hand, it appears that vindication is at hand for sticking to the conviction that alarmism about anthropogenic global warming was at least distorted, and probably an outright fraud.

On the other, a veritable fountain of subject matter will dry up as a result. More seriously, the credibility of science, the people who practise it, and the politicians who act on it, will be called into question by a disillusioned public. And with good reason.

Here’s what happened.

Late last week, a large file found its way onto the internet, via a comment on Jeff Id’s blog, the Air Vent. It contains reams of e-mails, documents and code, apparently belonging to Philip Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. Jones told the TGIF edition of Investigate magazine: “It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago that someone had hacked into our system and taken and copied loads of data files and emails.”

It is too early for full-bore derision. It is possible, of course, that the purloined material was seeded with incriminating evidence in order to frame the prominent proponents of the theory of anthropogenic – that is, human-caused – global warming. Involved in correspondence with Jones are, among others, Keith Briffa, Malcolm Hughes, Ray Bradley, Tom Wigley, Tim Osborn, Jonathan Overpeck and Michael “hockey stick” Mann. However, no claims disputing the authenticity of anything in the archive have been made to date.

The East Anglia CRU is not just any research department. If it is discredited, it does not leave intact the credibility of the rest of the climate change bandwagon. It supplies data to the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office, and is one of a mere handful of contributors to the temperature data on which the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bases its authoritative Assessment Reports. It is the very epitome of a leading scientific climate change research organisation. It also depends for its funding on the notion that climate change is dangerous, is caused by humans, and requires urgent political action.

While it will take time to sift through the volumes of material, the evidence that has surfaced so far is damning. It seems to incriminate the “climate scientists” who work there in manipulating data, falsifying and destroying evidence, pursuing political rather than scientific goals, coordinating campaigns against sceptics, being doubtful about the veracity of their own public claims, siphoning funds into the private account of a sympathetic scientist, and corrupting the peer review process to exclude scientists who disagree with them.

The most-quoted e-mail is from Jones, in which he reports having “completed Mike [Mann]’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith [Briffa]’s to hide the decline.”

This is the only item that has elicited a defence to date. Jones wrote: “The word ‘trick’ was used here colloquially as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward.”

That may be so, but one would have thought “to hide the decline” might have struck him as rather more incriminating than “trick”. Comments discovered in related source code show that the “trick” was knowingly applied to ensure that temperature data derived by proxy from tree rings was “artificially adjusted”, because they would otherwise show a decline that contradicts the CRU’s official temperature records. That this “trick” was necessary casts doubt on either the proxy data, or the measured data, or both.

A detailed explanation of this particular issue was posted to Steve McIntyre’s site,, but due to traffic overload it is more likely to be found on Anthony Watts’s blog.

McIntyre has long been after the raw data used by the East Anglia CRU to compile its temperature record, as well as the formulae used to “adjust” this data. He expects that this data will help explain some curious anomalies and inconsistencies. When he did obtain a copy of an old version, via a mole inside the organisation, he was told that the data was so sensitive that it would “damage the trust that scientists have in those scientists who happen to be employed in the public sector”, and compromise Britain’s international relations to boot.

That’s true, if the data show the scientists were lying to the public.

Now, internal CRU e-mails suggest not only a high degree of reluctance to comply with requests under freedom of information law requests, but active collusion to use intellectual property arguments to resist such requests and to destroy related e-mail correspondence. Such obstructionism, besides being illegal, also runs counter to every principle of scientific research, which prides itself on peer review and being able to independently reproduce results.

The apparent conspirators at East Anglia also revealed the pressure they were able place on scientific journals which dared publish research that might be used to support the sceptical position, including threats to have editors ousted and editorial boards fired. In at least one case, that of James Saiers, the editor of Geophysical Research Letters, it appears to have been successful. If Jones, Mann and their crew at East Anglia have this much power to manipulate peer review at major scientific journals, it blows the lid off their appeal to peer review and consensus.

Other disturbing information in the archive is an admission by Kevin Trenberth to Mann that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”, a reference by Mann to Jones about his desire to “contain” the “putative Medieval Warm Period”, a note expressing Mann’s intent to complain to a sympathetic ear at the BBC about the publication of a piece that did not conform to warming orthodoxy, the description by Jones of the death of a prominent skeptic as “cheering news”, and a fantasy on the part of Ben Santer to “beat the crap out of” another.

The mainstream media’s response has been as muted as that of the CRU itself. The BBC buries it somewhere at the bottom of its science-and-environment page, below headlines about the Copenhagen global warming talks and a report about ice loss in the East Antarctic. It doesn’t bother to address the content of the leaked e-mails at all. Granted, the media should handle leaked information with caution unless it discredits George W. Bush or Sarah Palin, but the explosive nature of this file would make at least a cursory account of its content newsworthy.

The Guardian runs the story, but quotes only half a dozen people who have a vested interest in defending the innocence of the apparent fraudsters, ranging from a spokesperson for the University of East Anglia, to Greenpeace, to Michael Mann himself. One might have thought that Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre or Ross McKitrick, all of whom have long been working to get original, unadjusted data out of the very same CRU, would have been only too pleased to provide enlightening context. Viscount Monckton of Brenchley or Lord Lawson of Blaby would also have been entertaining peer reviewers.

Neither Time nor Newsweek have (yet) covered the story at all. That they will do so with reluctance would not be surprising. They have been leading cheerleaders for the theory that we sinned against Gaia and will inherit hell as a result. Global warming, for example, does not appear on Newsweek’s list of the top ten overblown fears of the last decade.

That may be because Newsweek is the magazine most frequently cited to illustrate the global cooling hysteria of the 1970s. If it swallowed the same class of politicised propaganda 30 years later, and editorialised relentlessly in support of the global warming cause, it would be doubly embarrassed.

The covers of Time are a case study in media hysteria, and should be taught at school. They will at least provide the kids with a good laugh about the credibility of the adults who try to indoctrinate them with the environmentalist mantra.

UPDATE (2009/11/24 8:50): It appears the BBC has been sitting on leaked e-mails from the CRU for six weeks. The upside is this appears to confirm their authenticity. Here is weather man and climate correspondent Paul Hudson’s brief article on the subject.


Further reading:

A full, searchable archive of the leaked data.

A selection by Mann-skeptic and author A.W. Montford, with links to originals.

Anthony Watt’s blog, WattsUpWithThat.

Steve McIntyre’s (mirrored) site, Climate Audit.

Jeff Id’s blog, The Air Vent.


See also: LETTER: Ivo Vegter hits a climate nerve, ‘should be fired’



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