“Which leaves researchers free to withhold information selectively from critics, as when CRU director Phil Jones told Australian scientist Warwick Hughes in a 2005 email: ”Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
DECEMBER 8, 2009, 7:20 P.M. ET.
The Tip of the Climategate Iceberg
The global-warming scandal is bigger than one email leak..
The opening days of the Copenhagen climate-change conference have been rife with denials and—dare we say it?—deniers. American delegate Jonathan Pershing said the emails and files leaked from East Anglia have helped make clear ”the robustness of the science.” Talk about brazening it out. And Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and so ex-officio guardian of the integrity of the science, said the leak proved only that his opponents would stop at nothing to avoid facing the truth of climate change. Uh-huh.
Mr. Pachauri and his allies are fond of pointing out that climate change science is bigger than East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and that other institutions’ research backs the theory. This is true. But it’s also the best argument for opening up to public scrutiny both the raw data and the computer code that lies behind pronouncements of looming climate catastrophe. Citizen-researchers—some of whom are, indeed, skeptics—have been after some of this information for years. CRU’s apparent obstruction of freedom-of-information requests, as revealed by the leaks, is only the tip of the iceberg.
In 2004, retired businessman Stephen McIntyre asked the National Science Foundation for information on various climate research that it funds. Affirming ”the importance of public access to scientific research supported by U.S. federal funds,” the Foundation nonetheless declined, saying ”in general, we allow researchers the freedom to convey their scientific results in a manner consistent with their professional judgment.”
Which leaves researchers free to withhold information selectively from critics, as when CRU director Phil Jones told Australian scientist Warwick Hughes in a 2005 email: ”Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
An interesting question. Often, when independents obtain raw temperature data or computer codes, they do uncover flaws, thus advancing climate science—the ”sunlight” now shining on CRU’s data and codes is doing just that. That’s what motivated Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Christopher Horner to request a slew of information from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which has already corrected its temperature records thanks to Mr. McIntyre’s probing. Mr. Horner told us he wants ”an entire accounting of rolling, relevant data, adjustments, codes, annotations and of course internal discussion about the frequent revisions.”
Two years later, the requests are unmet. A NASA spokesman said ”We’re clearly late, but we are working on it.” Probably wise, considering Mr. Horner is set to sue, and two U.S. senators have asked NASA’s Inspector General to investigate.
When it comes to questionable accounting, independent researchers cite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Climate Data Center (NCDC) as the most egregious offenders. The NCDC is the world’s largest repository of weather data, responsible for maintaining global historical climate information. But researchers, led by meteorology expert Anthony Watts, grew so frustrated with what they describe as the organization’s failure to quality-control the data, that they created Surfacestations.org to provide an up-to-date, standardized database for the continental U.S.
Mr. McIntyre also notes unsuccessful attempts to get information from NOAA. For the record, NOAA told us that it took quality-control ”very seriously,” as well as transparency, and that all of its datasets were available to the public—except those ”protected by prior agreement,” such as ”commercially purchased with limited distribution, proprietary for internal use only, researcher limited.”
Even politicians and activists—for whom robust wrangling is meant to be a specialty—resist open discussion about climate science. See Al Gore, and his repeated refusals to debate critics such as Denmark’s Bjørn Lomborg.
Which brings us back to CRU, and calls to prosecute whoever exposed its sanctum. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer has said ”email-theft-gate” requires ”looking at a criminal activity which could well have been coordinated.” Senator Boxer has so far shown considerably less appetite for investigating the various attempts to thwart or obstruct FOIA requests that the leaked emails have brought to light.
Most of the participants in Copenhagen seem intent on rushing headlong into a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But it would seem more fruitful at this point to redouble our efforts to figure out what we do and don’t know about the climate’s past, present and future. That includes casting some much-needed sunshine on the data on which so much importance is being placed, but which so far has remained shielded from public view.
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