July 19, 2010

Tale of 2 Editorial Boards on Climategate

Marc Comtois

The green smoke is emanating from Fountain Street where the ProJo editors celebrate the recent finding that Climategate really was much ado about nothing.

Britain’s Royal Society and a panel at Pennsylvania State University said that while a couple of researchers wrote nasty and inappropriate e-mails about climate-change skeptics and didn’t want to share certain data, their research itself was sound and there was no plot to squash other views.
Huh. Well, the Wall Street Journal editors lay out a case for why that is not exactly true:
Leading climate scientists were caught advising each other to delete potentially compromising emails, stonewall freedom of information requests and game the peer review process to exclude contributions from skeptical colleagues.

The Climategate emails also revealed a habit among climate scientists of trimming their scientific sails to the political winds, sometimes by emphasizing temperature and environmental trends at the alarmist end of the spectrum.

"I tried hard to balance the needs of the science with the IPCC, which were not always the same," wrote East Anglia climatologist Keith Briffa to Penn State's Michael Mann in April 2007.

In addition, contra the ProJo editors beatitudes about "settled science", claims that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, the Amazon rainforest would decline by 40% and the infamous "hockey stick" graph were all debunked thanks to the greater scrutiny generated by the Climategate fiasco. But the cheerleaders keep cheering.

The WSJ continues:

[L]ast week's "Independent Climate Change Email Review," commissioned and funded by the University of East Anglia and chaired by Muir Russell, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, amounts to a 160-page evasion of the real issues.

One such evasion concerns the science of climate change itself. The review insists that it found nothing "that might undermine the conclusions" of the 2007 IPCC report, to which the CRU was a significant contributor. But that's only because it explicitly refused to look. The review says its "concern is not with science, whether data has been validated or whether the hypotheses have survived testing," but rather with "the honesty, rigor and openness with which the CRU scientists have acted."

In other words, the review assumes the validity of the global warming "consensus" while purporting to reaffirm that consensus. Since a statement cannot prove itself, the review merely demonstrates a weakness for circular logic.

And downplaying the lack of credibility of some of the researchers:

Then there is the evasion—or maybe absolution is the better word—as it concerns the professional standards of the CRU scientists. The review does acknowledge that it found "evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable." And it faults the CRU staff for "[failing] to recognize . . . the significance of statutory requirements" concerning freedom of information requests. The review puts this down to a kind of naivete by the CRU scientists.

Yet it's hard to understand how researchers who were nothing if not meticulous in avoiding the FOI requests could have been unaware of their importance. In one now famous 2008 email, Mr. Jones wrote Penn State's Michael Mann as follows: "Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4 [the 2007 IPCC report]? Keith will do likewise." Good thing for these gentlemen that they didn't work for, say, Enron.

Further, as the WSJ points out, the review panel was hardly above reproach:
Perhaps the most significant evasion is the report's claim to be genuinely independent. Of its four panelists, one of them, Geoffrey Boulton, was a member of the University of East Anglia's faculty of environmental studies for 18 years and signed a petition last December insisting that climate researchers "adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity." Given that one of the problems exposed by the emails was a tendency for self-dealing, it's hard to see how this review will put suspicions to rest.
As seems to be the case with most of the AGW true believers, the ProJo editors continue to mistake skepticism of some of the science (especially of the hyperbolic claims mentioned above) for ignorance or self-interest or any number of poor character traits. So they ask:
So why do people keep denying the science? Mostly because to act in serious response to it will be very inconvenient and costly, though, of course, not nearly as costly (a few years out) as doing nothing. We’d have to cut back on some of our lifestyles, switch to tricky new energy technologies, watch while profits of some companies plunge, and force politicians into the painful role of demanding sacrifice from voters and so on. Quite unpleasant!

The short-term self-interest of just about anyone in power militates for arguing that we needn’t do anything serious about climate change now. The oil and coal industries especially are pumping vast quantities of cash into politics and PR to try to ensure that they and some other industries don’t have to grapple with climate change, at least within the tenure of current CEOs and politicians.

To which the WSJ editors offer this response (so to speak):
We realize that, for climate change true believers, last week's report will be waved about as proof that the science of climate change is as "settled" as the case for action. It's never hard to convince yourself of what you're already disposed to believe. But if their goal is to persuade an increasingly skeptical public about the science of global warming, and the need to restructure the world economy to ameliorate it, they need to start taking the politics out of the science.