The hundreds of e-mails being made public after someone hacked into Phil Jones’ Climatic Research Unit (CRU) computer system offer a revealing peek inside the IPCC machine. It will take some time before we know whether any illegal activity has been uncovered (e.g. hiding or destruction of data to avoid Freedom of Information Act inquiries).
Some commentators even think this is the beginning of the end for the IPCC. I doubt it.
The scientists at the center of this row are defending themselves. Phil Jones has claimed that some of the more alarming statements in his e-mails have been taken out of context. The semi-official response from RealClimate.org, a website whose roots can be traced to George Soros (which I’m sure is irrelevant), claims the whole episode is much ado about nothing.
At a minimum, some of these e-mails reveal an undercurrent of elitism that many of us have always claimed existed in the IPCC. These scientists look upon us skeptics with scorn. It is well known that the IPCC machine is made up of bureaucrats and scientists who think they know how the world should be run. The language contained in a draft of the latest climate treaty (meant to replace the Kyoto treaty) involves global governance and the most authoritarian means by which people’s energy use will be restricted and monitored by the government.
Even if this language does not survive in the treaty’s final form, it illustrates the kind of people we are dealing with. The IPCC folks jet around the world to all kinds of exotic locations for their UN-organized meetings where they eat the finest food. Their gigantic carbon footprints stomp around the planet as they deride poor Brazilian farmers who convert jungle into farmland simply to survive.
Even mainstream journalists, who are usually on board with the latest environmental craze, have commented on this blatant display of hypocrisy. It seems like those participating – possibly the best example being Al Gore — are not even aware of how it looks to the rest of us.
The elitist attitudes exist elsewhere, too. While the skeptics’ blogs allow those who disagree to post opinions as long as they remain civil about it, RealClimate.org routinely ignores or deletes posts that might cast doubt on their tidy worldview. The same thing happens at Wikipedia, where a gatekeeper deletes newly posted content that departs from the IPCC party line.
A few of the CRU e-mails suggest that manipulation of climate data in order to reduce the signature of natural climate variations, and to exaggerate the supposed evidence for manmade climate change, is OK with these folks. Apparently, the ends justify the means.
The defense posted at RealClimate.org actually reinforces my point. Do the IPCC scientists assume that this is how all climate scientists behave? If it really was how the rest of us behave, why would our eyebrows be raised up to our hairlines as we read the e-mails?
If all of this sounds incompatible with the process of scientific investigation, it shouldn’t. One of the biggest misconceptions the public has about science is that research is a straightforward process of making measurements, and then seeing whether the data support hypothesis A or B. The truth is that the interpretation of data is seldom that simple.
There are all kinds of subjective decisions that must be made along the way, and the scientist must remain vigilant that he or she is not making those decisions based upon preconceived notions. Data are almost always dirty, with errors of various kinds. Which data will be ignored? Which data will be emphasized? How will the data be processed to tease out the signal we think we see?
Hopefully, the scientist is more interested in discovering how nature really works, rather than twisting the data to support some other agenda. It took me years to develop the discipline to question every research result I got. It is really easy to be wrong in this business, and very difficult to be right.
Skepticism really is at the core of scientific progress. I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong about all my views on manmade global warming. Can the IPCC scientists admit the same thing?
Year after year, the evidence keeps mounting that most climate research now being funded is for the purpose of supporting the IPCC’s politics, not to find out how nature works. The ‘data spin’ is increasingly difficult to ignore or to explain away as just sloppy science. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…