Climategate vs. the Heartless Institute?


Image by: ~Britt Anderson~

How about a little light weekend reading for climate hawks? (courtesy of @drgrist)  You’ve probably heard about the much ballyhooed publication of climate denial schemes from the Heartland Institute (A national nonprofit research organization dedicated to finding and promoting ideas that empower people. {Incredulous emphasis mine.}) which were released earlier this week.  A group of climate scientists caught me off guard with their pointed response.  Their thoughts seem highly relevant as they know a thing or two about having their private information stolen.  Some, including the folks at the Heartland Institute, are questioning the veracity of one of the documents, but more about that at the end.  First, here is the climate scientists’ response letter.

An Open Letter to the Heartland Institute

As scientists who have had their emails stolen, posted online and grossly misrepresented, we can appreciate the difficulties the Heartland Institute is currently experiencing following the online posting of the organization’s internal documents earlier this week. However, we are greatly disappointed by their content, which indicates the organization is continuing its campaign to discredit mainstream climate science and to undermine the teaching of well-established climate science in the classroom.

We know what it feels like to have private information stolen and posted online via illegal hacking. It happened to climate researchers in 2009 and again in 2011. Personal emails were culled through and taken out of context before they were posted online. In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said.

Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails. When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.

So although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilizing and distorting emails stolen from scientists.
We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to “think about what has happened” and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.

These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become. Major scientific assessments from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United States Global Change Research Program and other authoritative sources agree on these points.

What businesses, policymakers, advocacy groups and citizens choose to do in response to those facts should be informed by the science. But those decisions are also necessarily informed by economic, ethical, ideological, and other considerations. While the Heartland Institute is entitled to its views on policy, we object to its practice of spreading misinformation about climate research and personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.
We hope the Heartland Institute will begin to play a more constructive role in the policy debate. Refraining from misleading attacks on climate science and climate researchers would be a welcome first step toward having an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change.

Ray Bradley, PhD, Director of the Climate System Research Center, University of Massachusetts
David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
Michael Mann, PhD, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University
Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
Ben Santer, PhD, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Gavin Schmidt, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Kevin Trenberth, ScD, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research

(Source: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2012/02/17/heartland.pdf)

Mark Gunther posted an article on Sustainable Business Forum which suggests that bloggers have gone to far with suggestions of Heartland’s Big Oil connections, but also suggests they should be forthright with undisclosed sources of funding.

As for me I’ll side with the line from that old song by Coolio. You know the one…

If you can’t take the heat, get your ass out the kitchen.

If you think it’s okay to make hay with stolen information, you shouldn’t expect preferential treatment when you’re on the other end of the looking-glass.

Climategate: Case Closed


A new MIT study which will soon be released, “concluded that the (IPCC) forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it’s drifting twice as quickly.”  I’ve been thinking about this news the past couple of days and its potential implications.  The past two years have seen a steady diet of attacks on climate science and its practitioners.

For those who are not familiar, Climategate, as conservative media outlets lovingly referred to it, was the “controversy over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.”

I was digging through Brad Johnson’s (climatebrad of ThinkProgress.org) YouTube feed earlier and ran across the following interview of Stephen Dubner, the co-author of Freakonomics. (I normally link out to all the books I reference, but couldn’t bring myself to do so here.)

(Btw, I highly recommend subscribing to Brad’s posts on YouTube.  He regularly posts relevant content for those concerned with climate science and politics.)

The interview irked me for multiple reasons.  First, the interviewer, David Asman, opened with:

Well, politicians distort the truth all the time, but scientists are not supposed to do that. Still, it does happen. Stalin used to demand results from scientists that weren’t supported by evence — evidence, and of course Hitler did the same. But surely, we are above that, aren’t we? Well, “It can’t happen here,” as many people have said, but apparently it has.

Hat tip to Brad for calling this out in his response to the interview,  “After Asman compared climate scientists to Stalin and Hitler — we’re not kidding — Dubner jumped in to accuse “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”:” (Emphasis here is mine.)

Next, Dubner admits that the emails were “hacked” (i.e. they were illegally stolen), before positing two potential reasons for this:

“Someone either wanted to get in there because they knew there was something that you know should be read, or maybe there’s a whistle blower, at this point we really don’t know.”

With this statement, Dubner suggests that there is only one possible reason for the emails to have been stolen,  wrongdoing by the scientists whose emails were stolen, the only question is whether it was an inside job.

Asman then tees up the opportunity to wholly discredit the IPCC and Dubner swings for the fences.

ASMAN: Bottom line, we’ve got to cut to the chase. Who do you think is doing what to the evidence? Do you think that supporters of global warming and the UN are distorting evidence to prove their point?

DUBNER: Distorting evidence, probably yes. To what degree with don’t really know yet. We’re going to find out a lot more about that. Here’s what I think.

ASMAN: But doesn’t to any degree discredit their theories?

DUBNER: Yeah. You can’t —

ASMAN: If something has been made up you can’t rely on anything else.

DUBNER: You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that.

Dubner does give himself the safe out at the end with the “they may be” comment, but the damage was done when he said that their findings and predictions didn’t feel kosher.

“Climategate” Debunked

In the past two years, several investigations were launched to review the stolen data.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has a nice rundown of the results:

Investigations Clear Scientists of Wrongdoing

If you want to take a deep dive on the subject, check out the full UCS writeup, “Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the “Climategate” Manufactured Controversy.”  Along with the links shared above, the site features additional background information, links to press releases and further fact checking information, analysis from the UCS, and quite a bit more.

And What of the Accused?

The Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the group whose emails were stolen maintains three things on the home page of their website.
First, they list the list the outcomes of the following investigations:
  • “the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact” (House of Commons Science and Technology Committee)
  • “we saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit” (Lord Oxburgh Science Assessment Panel)
  • “their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt” (Sir Muir Russell Independent Climate Change Emails Review)
  • “careful examination of the e-mails and their full context shows that the petitioners’ claims are exaggerated and are not a material or reliable basis to question the validity and credibility of the body of [climate] science” (US Environmental Protection Agency)
For further information and the latest news, please see the Media and Communications site.
Next, they have the detail the organization’s purpose:
The aim of CRU is to improve scientific understanding in:
– past climate history and its impact on humanity
– the course and causes of climate change during the present century
– prospects for the future
Finally, they share a graphic which displays the average global temp since about 1850.  This seems a nice comeuppance (Something I’m a big fan of.) as they are displaying the data which received such close scrutiny.  To me this screams, “here it is, do your worst.  We can take it!”

Time For One More Investigation?

I had planned to make a case for investigating the embattled News Corp organization, but a quick Google search told me the Joe Romm had beaten me to the punch by nearly a month.   I highly recommend reading his insightful take on the case for further investigation into the hacking incident, “Could Murdoch’s News Corp be behind Climategate too?”  It’s not hard to mentally connect the dots with News of the World’s hacking escapades and illicit dealings with Scotland Yard going on at the same time that Fox News was hammering away at the IPCC over the stolen emails.  I’m not aware of a shred of evidence, so call this rampant speculation if you like, but recent events tell me it’s worth a look.

Closing the Door on Climategate

I opened this post with the news that arctic sea ice is melting four times faster than the IPCC scientists had predicted.  This is just one aspect of the IPCC’s research, but it is an important one as the melting ice has serious implications on global climate.  One study suggests that the melting ice could change ocean currents and severely impact the climate in Europe and North America.  “In any case, all researchers can agree that the Arctic ice has decreased by a third since 1979, and that Arctic ice hit a new monthly record low this past month.