Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hottest Scandal In Ages

What may turn out to be the biggest scandal in the climate change debate since that debate began has exploded across the internet. If you haven't seen the headlines yet, it appears that an unknown Russian hacker broke into the database of The University of East Anglia's (England) Hadley Climatic Research Centre and published to the internet thousands of documents and emails, all related to climate research and all previously unseen by the public. (I should state here, for the record, that the hacker is assumed to be Russian because the original ftp source for the leaked documents was on a Russian server, but no one, to my knowledge, has yet claimed credit.) I haven't gone through the documents myself - according to sources, there are nearly 4,000 documents, not counting emails - but excerpts indicate that there are numerous discussions of hiding or manipulating data, deleting potentially troublesome emails, uncertainties among the scientists themselves, and methods for discrediting and sidelining scientific journals not supportive of prevailing theories.
That all sounds pretty juicy, though everyone is still quick to tack on the "alleged" part, since no one has actually confirmed that the documents are real. Of course, no one has actually denied the legitimacy of the documents either. In fact, Philip Jones, the Director of the CRU and frequent star of the emails in question, has confirmed the reality of at least some of the emails, though he has claimed, both, that they are taken out of context and that he does not remember the context. How does one make both of those claims at once?
The spin is already out. The skeptics are cherry picking the documents; it's a publicity stunt to derail the upcoming Copenhagen talks; scientists may say things more openly in "private" emails but that doesn't undermine the research itself; etc.
I'll point out again that we're talking about 4,000 documents plus emails. The hack (which, by the way, has been confirmed) took place three days ago. The documents were released today. What kind of army would be necessary to cherry pick through that many documents in such a short time? More to the point, how many documents were actually acquired if they were cherry picked and that many were still released?
I have no doubt that the timing - and thus the accusations of publicity stunt - is quite real and intentional, but so what? If you were trying to get out a message that so many people refuse to hear, wouldn't you time your move for maximum impact as well? I'm sure it makes the spinners feel better, but it doesn't really change the argument.
As for the underlying research, that's a joke. The whole problem is the shoddy nature of the underlying research. Part of what's being discussed in those emails is the very real (and embarrassing) fact that real world data has not conformed to predicted data. Predictive models only have value if they can accurately plot the past and/or their predictions accurately model the ongoing present. Neither of these has ever been true in the ongoing climate change debate! There has not been a single climate change model that has accurately plotted climate patterns of the past and there has not been a single climate change prediction that has come true. Not one! They have been using, updating, and "improving" these models since the 1970's, and they haven't gotten a prediction right yet.
The alarmists will continue to spin and they will do their best to dismiss this scandal, but there is a growing number of people who have legitimate doubts. This scandal may mean much to them. If nothing else, it will underline and exclamation point the fact that the alarmists are not the neutral, honest, scientific observers they claim to be.

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