Climategate: Of thumbnails, big pictures and timing

In the first of a two-part series related to the dervishes being whipped up in Durban, the National Post‘s Peter Foster notes:

The moral climate

Climate change is a scientific issue, not a moral issue
This is the first of two parts. Tomorrow: In a “moral” science climate, skeptics are classed as ­“crackpots.”

The 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that begins this week in Durban isn’t expected to see much progress in replacing Kyoto.

For those who believe that the Kyoto process is politically dangerous, economically destructive and based on dubious science, this is a good thing. Nevertheless, there is bound to be plenty of hand-wringing over the failure of rich countries to hand over more cash to poor ones as “compensation” for the climate catastrophe to come. This is one of the reasons why Al Gore and Archbishop Desmond Tutu maintain that climate change is a “moral issue.” The psychological roots and practical consequences of this claim have received much less attention than they deserve. [...]

Lord Andrew Turnbull, a former head of the British Civil Service, has become profoundly concerned about the corruption of climate science by moralism. “There is a strong alignment,” he told me, “between those who subscribe to anthropogenic global warming as the preponderant driver of climate change, and those whose view of the world is fundamentally anti-market and anti-capitalist. That climate change should have become part of the battle of political ideas is not surprising. What is profoundly shocking is the way large parts of the scientific community have allowed themselves to be co-opted into this movement.”

Lord Turnbull notes that the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ­IPCC, the alleged fount of objective climate science, “have formed a tight-knit circle which seeks to portray their explanation of changing climate as the unique and correct one, while at the same time seeking to obstruct or suppress the views of those with other viewpoints.” He points out that large parts of the mainstream media “have trotted along uncritically behind the consensus.”

The recent release of a second round of hacked emails to and from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia further confirms Lord Turnbull’s take. [emphasis added -hro]

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I cannot find anything in Lord Turnbull’s views, above, with which I might disagree. As self-condemning of the correspondents as this second “tranche” of emails is proving to be (at least in the eyes of those who have actually examined them), it is also not surprising that the handmaidens of Big Green (aka the so-called Mainstream Media) are choosing to either ignore this latest release, or to propagate the, well, unsustainable party-line that the emails have been “taken out of context” and/or that this release was deliberately timed to “disrupt” Durban.

These are the very same (and lame) excuses that were being touted two years ago: at that time, we were being given the same “out of context” nonsense as well as the trumped-up charge that somehow this was a scheme of the evil Big Oil funded “skeptics” to derail Copenhagen. As I had noted a few months ago, notwithstanding the multitude of “it’s worse than we thought and happening faster than we thought” articles churned out in the lead-up to Copenhagen, there was considerable evidence that the great expectations were not going to materialize. And they didn’t!

In the pre-Durban run-up, we have seen similar outpourings from the “it’s worse than we thought, and it’s happening faster than we thought” crowd; but this time, the expectations are – somewhat more realistically – very much on the low side.

In the intervening two years, we have seen some very poor excuses for “enquiries” conducted at both the University of East Anglia (home of major protagonist, Dr. Phil Jones, aka “Poor Phil”) and at Pennsylvania State University (home of another major protagonist, Dr. Michael Mann, aka Michael <how dare you question the validity of my hockey-stick> Mann).

There were approximately 1,000 emails released two years ago in the event that quickly came to be known as Climategate (now fondly referred to as Climategate 1.0 or CG1 for short), and approximately 5,000 emails on November 22 (now known as Climategate 2.0 or CG2 for short.) CG2 does contain a number of emails that were also found in CG1; CG2 also includes a “passphrase” protected zip file that contains considerably more data.

The tone of the explanatory notes from The Saint (as I prefer to call the leaker) is quite different:

FOI2009

We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps.

We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.

This is a limited time offer, download now:

FOIA2011:

“Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”

“Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”

“One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.

“Poverty is a death sentence.”

“Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”

Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on hiding the decline.

This archive contains some 5.000 emails picked from keyword searches. A few remarks and redactions are marked with triple brackets.

The rest, some 220.000, are encrypted for various reasons. We are not planning to publicly release the passphrase.

We could not read every one, but tried to cover the most relevant topics

It may (or may not) be significant that the smaller of the two releases is called “FOI2009″. FOI (Freedom of Information) is typically used in the U.K.; while FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) is an acronym more commonly used in the US. The Saint has used the pseudonym “RC” (linked to a never-proven alleged “upload” of a file named “foia.zip” on the RealClimate website). And The Saint has also used the pseudonym “FOIA” when alerting the skeptic blogosphere to the releases and providing the initial links for downloading the files.

It may (or may not) be significant, that after two years the Norfolk Constabulary have been unable to point the finger at anyone who might have copied the files from the UEA server. Yet, in their most recent uninformative statement, part of their excuse for the delay includes:

The enquiry team has, however, been determined and persistent in following all relevant lines of enquiry, some of which have been international in nature. [emphasis added -hro]

As for the “international nature” of the Norfolk Constabulary’s “enquiries”, it may (or may not) be significant that Michael Mann and his supporters are investing megabucks on running litigious interference in order to prevent disclosure in accordance with the provisions of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. I wonder if the Norfolk Constabulary have anything to say about the alleged “log files” Gavin Schmidt told the NYT’s Andy Revkin circa July 6/2010 (in the only reference I’ve ever been able to find to the existence of any such log) he had sent to the “Norwich” police:

I was interviewed by Norwich police back in December and I sent them log files of the RC hack

In the same article, Revkin also reported:

I asked Schmidt whether a criminal investigation was ever conducted into the Real Climate hack. Here’s his reply:

It would have been up to us to report it, and I didn’t think it was worth it – If you recall, we were kind of busy. ;)

Setting aside the fact that this alleged hack for the purpose of uploading a file “into the enemy camp” prior to intended distribution elsewhere is devoid of credibility … Since this alleged RC “hack” occurred in the very early hours of Nov. 17, 2009 almost three days before any emails were actually released into the wild, couldn’t Schmidt have saved himself (and CRU) an awful lot of trouble by simply giving his good friend Andy a call and saying “Hey, Andy … have I got a scoop for you! Wait till I show you what those idiot contrarians have done … and I’ve got the logs to prove it. Here, let me show you.” Yet he didn’t do this – and the best he could drum-up (beginning on Nov. 20/2009) was an ever-changing story.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture (or, more to the point, non-picture … I’m sure the log traffic data would have made a wonderful graph!)?

What to make of all the above?! Well, in my view, CG1 could be considered a “thumbnail” in which we caught a glimpse of high profile climatologists in action. Amongst other concerns, there were hints of the utter arrogance of the protagonists and their “team members” – much of which has been displayed quite publicly (particularly by Michael Mann) in the last two years. CG2 shows us the “big picture” – and it is far from pretty. Both Jones and Mann reveal themselves to have begun a pattern of intellectual dishonesty and appalling bullying behaviours long before “global warming”, aka “climate change”, crossed the radar of many who are now much more attuned to their tactics (including yours truly).

CG2 provides much additional context for many of the more revealing emails in CG1 – and at least one from CG2 in which the writer probably depended on no one ever checking the context – as well as indications that during the various enquiries (very conveniently held behind closed doors), the protagonists and/or their defenders had been less than forthright. The general (you should pardon the expression) “consensus” in the skeptic blogosphere is that this latest release provides more evidence (as if any were needed) that the IPCC insiders were, indeed, very active in sidelining and denigrating those whose views differed from the “party line” – even if there were those in their own circles who had similar questions about their work.

Which makes one wonder if the InterAcademy Council’s continued silence (regarding the missing 180+ responses to the questionnaire on which they based their report on the IPCC’s Policies and Procedures) might be an indication that, in fact, the IPCC big picture is even worse than they would have us think (but that’s a post for another day!)

When he gave an interview to New Zealand’s Ian Wishart on Nov. 20, 2009, Jones said:

“It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago that someone had hacked into our system and taken and copied loads of data files and emails.”

“Have you alerted police” [he was asked]

“Not yet. We were not aware of what had been taken.”

Jones says he was first tipped off to the security breach by colleagues at the website RealClimate.

Real Climate were given information, but took it down off their site and told me they would send it across to me. They didn’t do that. I only found out it had been released five minutes ago.” [emphasis added -hro]

I’ll give Poor Phil the benefit of the doubt on this one. I suspect he really didn’t know (even though Gavin Schmidt had evidently known for about three days). But in November 2010, Nature‘s David Adam (who at that time seemed to know more about the source of the leak than the Norfolk Constabulary), reported that:

Jones and others connected to the CRU fear the hackers may be sitting on more stolen e-mails, but Jones feels confident the worst is behind him. “It really is not somewhere I would like to go through again. But having been through it once, I think I am a bit hardened to it.” [emphasis added -hro]

This would strongly suggest that (contrary to the impression that UEA attempted to convey during a recent press conference) that by November 2010, CRU/UEA had a very good idea what was contained in the files – or at least those that they could confirm came from their server(s).

Considering his responses at the recent press conference (asserting “context” with nothing to substantiate it) one would have to agree that Jones had, indeed, become “a bit hardened”. However, considering that they’ve had two full years to review the full “payload”, UEA’s Vice-Chancellor, Acton’s claim that:

The university hasn’t finished going through the 5000 e-mails, but “nothing so far leads me to believe it raises issues not raised 2 years ago,” UEA Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton said at a London press conference. “Different phrases, same issues.”

has a distinct ring of untruth to it. Although I suppose it’s possible that they’ve been too busy “redefining” all kinds of words – not the least of which is “context” – to pay much attention to the actual content.

Which brings us (almost!) to the matter of The Saint’s timing – both then and now. The blogger known as Pointman has two very well-worth reading eassays. In the first, which he wrote in December, 2010, he offers a repost of a profile of the whistleblower. The second, written a few days ago, includes his thoughts and questions regarding CG2.

I very much agree with most of Pointman’s … uh … points! With a few notable exceptions. In his profile essay, he makes the mistake of attributing to a BBC post by Paul Hudson an implication that Hudson had received CG1 sometime in October 2009. In his more recent essay, Pointman writes:

I said in the original profile that I thought FOIA started out being very innocent politically and I’d have to stick to that assessment. There’s simply no other credible explanation for trying to offer CG1 to a news organisation like the BBC that’s so chronically biased when it comes to anything to do with the environment.

However, this was an early surmise on the part of some in the skeptic blogosphere due to a misreading of Hudson’s Nov. 23/09 post:

I was forwarded the chain of e-mails on the 12th October, which are comments from some of the worlds leading climate scientists written as a direct result of my article ‘whatever happened to global warming’. The e-mails released on the internet as a result of CRU being hacked into are identical to the ones I was forwarded and read at the time and so, as far as l can see, they are authentic.

However, on Nov. 24/09, Hudson made a second post in which he was more specific:

As you may know, some of the e-mails that were released last week directly involved me and one of my previous blogs, ‘Whatever happened to global warming ?’

These took the form of complaints about its content, and I was copied in to them at the time. Complaints and criticisms of output are an every day part of life, and as such were nothing out of the ordinary. However I felt that seeing there was an ongoing debate as to the authenticity of the hacked e-mails, I was duty bound to point out that as I had read the original e-mails, then at least these were authentic, although of course I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the others. [emphasis added -hro]

Pointman’s hypothesis is that the currently encrypted files in CG2 contain the missing links (my words not his) to the high-level political connections. Although Pointman would not necessarily have known it at the time he wrote his post, a few of those would appear to have already surfaced – at least on the U.K. side of the pond. Bishop Hill has a very intriguing find with a series of emails full of, well, political intrigue. Strangely enough, CG2 also presents a much clearer picture of UEA’s Mike Hulme – whom I’ve always considered to be somewhat teflon-coated, and I’ve always wondered why the Muir Russell review made a conscious choice not to review any of his emails. But he does seem to have a number of friends in high places (including the BBC). But I digress …

Although Pointman does not mention it, my speculation is that at least some of the encrypted files will give considerable insight into the files that Mann is so desperately trying to keep hidden. Hence FOI2009 (U.K.), The Saint’s choice of nym (FOIA) and FOIA2011 (U.S.)

As for the timing, well, I’m inclined to think that The Saint had no illusions about “derailing” either Copenhagen or Durban. But he knew that all enviro-journalist hands would be on deck. Agendas for such meetings are set well in advance – there was no chance whatsoever that Climategate would have any impact on such proceedings. But I do believe that s/he recognizes that the general public is far smarter than politicians and media mavens give them credit for. And I further believe that the choice of “timing” was simply to get mentioned. Call it “stealth PR”, if you like … and more power to her/him! As journalist Fred Pearce wrote in early December 2009:

I have been speaking to a PR operator for one of the world’s leading environmental organizations. Most unusually, he didn’t want to be quoted. But his message is clear. The facts of the e-mails barely matter any more. It has always been hard to persuade the public that invisible gases could somehow warm the planet, and that they had to make sacrifices to prevent that from happening. It seemed, on the verge of Copenhagen, as if that might be about to be achieved.

But he says all that ended on Nov. 20. “The e-mails represented a seminal moment in the climate debate of the last five years, and it was a moment that broke decisively against us. I think the CRU leak is nothing less than catastrophic.”

And the view from here is that this could well turn out to be much, much worse than this un-named “PR operator” ever thought.

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One thought on “Climategate: Of thumbnails, big pictures and timing

  1. IOW, FOIA now has their knackers in a vice. And his finger on a power drill’s trigger, ready to spin the handle.

    The Saint be blessed!

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