The real issue is fear that a fundamental change in the energy economy will cause a massive collapse in living standards. This fear is justified, but if mainstream climate science is right, we will need to make that change sooner or later, and the longer we delay, the harder it will be to get this change right without economic chaos. This fear is leading to a campaign that is not attacking the science as much as the scientists, which is why I set up a pro-science petition.
In response to my petition, Tim Curtin sent me a list of questions, which I repeat here with his permission:
You say: (1) "Stealing emails...", You have no evidence any were stolen, either they were up for grabs on ftp, or an insider blew the whistle.
(2) "magnifying the significance of errors" - actually the errors are beyond magnification, eg tippexing Roman glory days and the MWP
(3) "and invoking conspiracy theory" - the emails are very strong evidence of a well-organised conspiracy to pervert the progress of science
(4) " is no substitute for reasoned evidence-based debate" - a non sequitur. Actually Jones and his CRU abetted by Mann & Co took every possible means to suppress evidence-based debate (e.g. by preventing access to the evidence)...
(5) "Yet in the field of climate science...no one has presented a credible alternative theory, the usual approach to overturning a scientific theory". Actually there is overwhelming evidence from multivariate regressions that radiative forcing from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere has no statistically significant impact on changes in mean max or min temperatures anywhere on earth once changes in surface solar radiation are taken into account. Watch this space, as not a single climate journal (eg Nature, Science, PNAS, JoC etc etc) will ever publish any paper on this, given that all their boards are controlled by friends of Jones et al (eg Schellenhuber, Rahmstorf, Schneider, Schmidt, Hansen, et al ad infinitum).
Let’s take this from the top.
An archive of emails from an institution appears on the Internet in various places. The authors of the emails have not given their permission for their private emails to be published. By any reasonable definition, that’s theft. It doesn’t matter who did it or how, or whether someone left the front door open. The police are investigating. The police generally only investigate crimes.
The “Roman glory days and the MWP”: The most obvious response is that human society is vastly different today, with huge cities and vast impoverished agricultural societies a few metres above sea level. In Roman or Medieval times, if the local climate became unsuited to human society, people could and did migrate. We don’t have that option today.
I’ve studied a number of temperature reconstructions. The further back you go, the bigger the uncertainties. I had a look at the papers flagged as containing the most reliable data on the medieval warm period on a contrarian web site (CO2 science) that collects material on this stuff. The earliest and latest peak were 600 years apart. While it is quite likely that the odd spot around the world was much warmer than it is today at some point in the past, that does not mean the global average was much higher. An increase in the global average is important because it has consequences like sea level rise, and pushing habitats uphill and away from the equator. If it was warmer during the MWP or Roman period than it is now, there would be evidence that sea level was higher at that time (at least very similar) whereas the only evidence I’ve seen (admittedly with very big error bars – but current sea level is outside those error bars) shows current sea level as the highest in 3,000 years.
Next: “emails are very strong evidence of a well-organised conspiracy”. I don’t agree. All we see is comment about how poor some other people’s work is (common backroom banter in science) and some conversations that are open to sinister interpretation but checking in the real world shows such sinister intent didn’t materialise. For example: talk of keeping certain work out of the IPCC did not lead to that work being excluded (it is in fact cited). Similarly for the “hide the decline” comment: it refers to the fact that tree ring reconstructions fail to match temperatures in the later half of the twentieth century, a problem Mike Mann describes in a paper in Nature – hardly concealment. This inconsistency between tree ring records and thermometer readings would be a problem for credibility of tree ring reconstructions if they were not cross-checked against many other measures. I don’t see the big conspiracy. I see scientists not watching every word in emails between colleagues. If that is a sinister conspiracy, you have a vivid imagination.
Then: “Mann & Co took every possible means to suppress evidence-based debate”. I agree they could have made a bigger effort to make everything public (e.g., CRU’s computer code) but this claim is an exaggeration. The data they did not make public is data that is not theirs to make public. The remedy for anyone wanting it is to go to the original source. In science, while maximum openness is useful and I fully support the concept, the best check on integrity of results is if they are independently reproduced from scratch, ideally with independently derived data. NASA provides full data sets and software for download. If I download everything and run the software exactly as NASA did in one of their papers, all I am doing is replicating their exact steps including their errors. Anyone who thinks the CRU temperature reconstruction flawed is welcome to start from scratch from publicly available data sources and show that they get an inconsistent result. This is how science normally proceeds. An astronomer reports a new star. Other astronomers use their own telescope to verify the find. They don’t demand a computer dump of the data generated from the original telescope.
Finally: “overwhelming evidence from multivariate regressions”: let’s see that evidence. You don’t have to publish in Nature to get your work out. There are many journals out there, and there is no evidence that those with a strong anti-AGW agenda cannot publish. Certainly, the likes of Richard Lindzen are able to publish, and what strikes me about the contrarian papers I’ve seen is that they are usually rather easy to debunk (even to the point of attracting a rebuttal in one case from a contrarian site). Are you suggesting there’s a bias where only the rubbish contrarian papers are published, and the good ones are not? That is implausible: it’s easy to publish a good paper (sound methodology, original results, defensible conclusions) as long as you are not fussy about where it’s published (a good journal, not necessarily top tier).
Thanks for sending me the questions. I am happy to have discussion on this site. I do not snip comments, and only delete spam (but to cut spam, response to older articles are screened). I have absolutely no objection to attacking the science with better evidence, better theories, or both. This is how any scientist works. Attacking the scientists, not the science, is not constructive – hence my petition.
It further worries me that a large part of the lobby against climate science is attempting to reduce science to a matter of opinion. It is not. If a theory fits the evidence, it’s good. If it doesn’t, we need a better theory. If a new theory fits the evidence better, it replaces the old one. This methodology may be strange to those schooled in the arts or social sciences, but it’s a damn good one, and has taken us out of superstition to a worldwide technological society. Let’s not throw it away just because we are faced with a really hard problem if we accept the mainstream theory: the biggest change in the energy economy in over 100 years.