Posts Tagged ‘climategate’

Malcolm Gladwell, tipping points and Climategate: How a marketing buzzword changed the world

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell had a powerful impact on the way climate change was marketed to the public, without even knowing it. Gladwell’s marketing book, published in 2000, embedded the phrase “tipping point” into the public’s imagination, and this in turn was used to raise the urgency of climate change.

It seems ridiculous today, with climate sensitivity models being tuned downwards, natural variability recognised as increasingly important, and climate institutions talking about a period of long-term cooling. Much of the urgency went out of the window after countries failed to agree on a successor to the Kyoto agreement at Copenhagen in 2009, and the costs and taxes of “low carbon” strategies are political poison.

But back in the mid-noughties, it was very different. The idea that the climate was reaching a “tipping point”, and that global temperature would runaway uncontrollably, was rife. It created a sense of urgency that helped pass legislation such as the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008.

This story emerges from the FOIA2011 archive – the so-called Climategate 2.0 emails released last week. Although it hasn’t had the immediate and dramatic impact of the first leak two years ago, the breadth of social networks uncovered in these emails will keep historians busy for years – and whets the appetite for the 95 per cent of UEA emails still under wraps.

How ideas divide science and us

The idea of climatic tipping points is fascinating for several reasons.


The question of whether ecosystems are inherently stable – or unstable – preoccupied biologists for much of the last century – and was the subject of Adam Curtis’s film The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, in a BBC series for which I was assistant producer, and which Curtis summarised here. Fashions change, and so do myths. Arthur Tansley, who invented the word “ecosystem”, believed in “the great universal law of equilibrium”, and this was pursued for decades. Today, the idea that ecosystems are delicate and unstable instead dominates.
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New CRU emails: First Impressions

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

There was always an element of tragedy in the first “Climategate” emails, as scientists were under pressure to tell a story that the physical evidence couldn’t support – and that the scientists were reluctant to acknowledge in public. The new email archive, already dubbed “Climategate 2.0”, is much larger than the first, and provides an abundance of context for those earlier changes.

One civil servant wrote to Phil Jones in 2009:

“I can’t overstate the HUGE amount of political interest in the project as a message that the Government can give on climate change to help them tell their story. They want the story to be a very strong one and don’t want to be made to look foolish.”

Having elevated global warming to the most dramatic, urgent and over-riding issue of the day, bureaucrats, NGOs, politicians and funding agencies demanded that the scientists must keep the whole bandwagon rolling.

It had become too big to stop.

“The science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run,” laments one scientist, Peter Thorne.
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Doug Keenan on Open Data

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Doug Keenan, the statistician whose work highlighted severe flaws in the work of the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia, has welcomed the Sunshine order to open up the station records.

Scientists need the raw data to replicate temperature records, but CRU refused to release the data requested – a subset of weather station records from around the world – to a top UK Oxford physicist, despite having already shared the data with Georgia Tech in the United States.

The ICO comprehensively demolished the reasons CRU offered – including intellectual property and fear of jeopardising international relations. In doing so, it’s raised the standard for academics working across all UK sciences.
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Stringer: Parliament misled over Climategate

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Parliament was misled and needs to re-examine the Climategate affair thoroughly after the failure of the Russell report, a leading backbench MP told us today.

“It’s not a whitewash, but it is inadequate,” is Labour MP Graham Stringer’s summary of the Russell inquiry report. Stringer is the only member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology with scientific qualifications – he holds a PhD in Chemistry.

Not only did Russell fail to deal with the issues of malpractice raised in the emails, Stringer told us, but he confirmed the feeling that MPs had been misled by the University of East Anglia when conducting their own inquiry. Parliament only had time for a brief examination of the CRU files before the election, but made recommendations. This is a serious charge.

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Muir Russell: ‘Campaign to win hearts and minds’ needed

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

The University of East Anglia’s enquiry into the conduct of its own staff at its Climatic Research Unit has highlighted criticisms of the department and staff conduct – but clears the path for the individuals concerned to carry on.

 

The CRU played an important role in writing the UN’s IPCC summaries on climate science, so the issue is far from a parochial one. The most serious charge is poor communication; Sir Muir Russell even calls for “a concerted and sustained campaign to win hearts and minds” to restore confidence in the team’s work.

 

Russell was appointed by the institution to investigate an archive of source code and emails that leaked onto the internet last November. The source code is not addressed at all. His report suggests that the problems were of the academics’ own making, stating that they were “united in defence against criticism”. Yet the enquiry found that despite emails promising to “redefine” the peer review publication process, and put pressure on journal editors, staff were not guilty of subverting the IPCC process, and their “rigour” and “honesty” were beyond question.

 

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MPs on Climategate

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

To the dismay of its sole scientific member, the House of Commons Select Committee on Science has come to the aid of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit – the department at the centre of the Climategate scandal – giving the boffins and the institution a gentle ticking off.

Phil Willis, head of the committee, said it was outside the remit of the committee to examine “the science”. He concluded the affair was a product of the scientists’ own making, but recommended that Jones return to his post as Director of CRU.

“His actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community,” the report concludes.

In doing so, it’s considerably more charitable than some leading environmental campaigners. George Monbiot called for CRU Director Phil Jones to resign, while James ‘Gaia’ Lovelock said he was ‘disgusted’ by the behaviour revealed in the Climategate archive, and predicted it may be years before CRU could restore its reputation.

However, the only MP on the committee with a scientific background, chemist Graham Stringer, said that by doing so the committee had gone too far.

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Oops: Chief Climategate investigator failed to declare eco directorship

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Green trough

Exclusive The peer leading the second Climategate enquiry at the University of East Anglia serves as a director of one of the most powerful environmental networks in the world, according to Companies House documents – and has failed to declare it.

Lord Oxburgh, a geologist by training and the former scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence, was appointed to lead the enquiry into the scientific aspects of the Climategate scandal on Monday. But Oxburgh is also a director of GLOBE, the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment.

GLOBE may be too obscure to merit its own Wikipedia entry, but that belies its wealth and influence. It funds meetings for parliamentarians worldwide with an interest in climate change, and prior to the Copenhagen Summit GLOBE issued guidelines (pdf) for legislators. Little expense is spared: in one year alone, one peer – Lord Michael Jay of Ewelme – enjoyed seven club class flights and hotel accommodation, at GLOBE’s expense. There’s no greater love a Parliamentarian can give to the global warming cause. And in return, Globe lists Oxburgh as one of 23 key legislators.
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Ad industry: You write the cheques, we’ll drown the puppies

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The UK advertising industry has bravely decided it can continue to accept millions of pounds from the state to create alarming climate advertisements, despite inaccuracies and a storm of complaints from parents. The principled decision, from the admen’s self-regulatory body the ASA, follows 939 complaints about the UK energy ministry DECC’s “Drowning Dog” prime time TV and cinema ad (aka “Bedtime Story”) , which cost £6m, and four related posters.

Critics aren’t happy, and point out that the chair of the ASA, Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury, also chairs the Environment Agency, and is currently working closely with DECC.
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UK Physicists on Climategate

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The body representing 36,000 UK physicists has called for a wider enquiry into the Climategate affair, saying it raises issues of scientific corruption. The Institute of Physics doesn’t pull any punches in the submission, one of around 50 presented to the Commons Select Committee enquiry into the Climategate archive. The committee holds its only oral hearing later today.

The IOP says the enquiry should be broadened to examine possible “departure from objective scientific practice, for example, manipulation of the publication and peer review system or allowing pre-formed conclusions to override scientific objectivity.”

It deplores the climate scientists’ “intolerance to challenge” and the “suppression of proxy results for recent decades that do not agree with contemporary instrumental temperature measurements.”
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Gonzo science and the Hockey Stick

Monday, February 8th, 2010

An interview with Andrew Montford. Choice quote:

“You can throw away the bits that don’t give you the right answer. It’s an advantage ‘unique to climatalogy’”

Read more at The Register