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Climategate 10 years later

20 Nov 2019 | News Roundup

On November 19, 2009 a trove of troubling emails from British and American climate scientists was leaked online. They sparked a worldwide frenzy of coverage of what appeared to be very dubious scientific practices: a “trick” to “hide the decline”; a determination to keep contrary evidence out of the IPCC report “even if we have to redefine what the peer reviewed literature is”; the “travesty” that scientists have no idea how to explain the lack of warming, and so forth. But the story slowly faded thanks to reassuring noises from official-sounding inquiries. Looking back, scientist Judith Curry explains why the investigations that supposedly vindicated the scientists did no such thing, leading instead to a troubling closing of minds and loss of trust.

Curry quotes from a lengthy report written in the aftermath of the Climategate inquiries by economist Ross McKitrick arguing that, to the extent the inquiries bothered to inquire, they found fault with the scientists. But more often they simply averted their gaze and whitewashed the problems. She also quotes from a legal brief filed by Canadian skeptic and hockey stick slayer Steve McIntyre showing that claims that Michael Mann was exonerated by the inquiries fall apart on close inspection. In short, prominent scientists were caught doing bad things and even though the passage of time has buried the story, recent attempts to claim they were innocent all the way along fly in the face of the facts known at the time.

Curry then reflects on how the climate debates have changed over the years. Back then the fights took place over blogs; now much of it has moved to Twitter. Back then a handful of major think tanks coordinated the policy battles. Now a handful of extreme populist movements (from the Yellow Jackets to Extinction Rebellion) dominate. Skeptics tend to focus on arguments about low climate sensitivity and the lack of warming-induced extreme weather, and they quote the IPCC a lot. Alarmists talk about the climate crisis and their rhetoric has gone over the top: they decry the IPCC as too cautious and muted in its warnings.

Curry also offers personal reflections about how Climategate affected her career, including ending her formal academic one. She emerged determined to communicate and engage with skeptics, which she hadn’t done up until then. And for a while there was more openness among her colleagues to doing so. But then the forces of reaction set in and, she says, the tribalism today is worse than a decade ago. The young generation of scientists, schooled in K-12 alarmism and lured by the funding – which all goes to the alarmist side, something about which they are in denial – are increasingly activist and militant. Their reticence about demanding policy action is gone; instead heated political rhetoric has become a ticket to scientific fame and prominence.

None of these developments are good news. But Curry sees a few signs of hope. First, irrational causes eventually wear themselves out (even if it takes a long time). Second, as time goes by, it is inevitable that people will notice the failure of the crazy apocalyptic warnings of the climate doomsters, and likewise the failed promises of wealth through green Ludditism. But in the meantime a lot of damage will have been done to climate science through the activist mentality of many of its practitioners. The trust thus once lost will take a long time to recover.

One comment on “Climategate 10 years later”

  1. I wrote this letter to the G&M responding to their fawning support for climate action, no doubt at the request of Gerald Butts. Of course it was not published given our lack of free press.

    “On the 10th anniversary of “Climategate” I was disappointed how this editorial personifies the media’s irrational belief in climate catastrophe despite all the evidence to the contrary.
    To remind your readers, in 2009 the UK’s Climate Research Unit was “hacked” and over 1000 emails between our ‘esteemed’ climate scientist were exposed. These emails revealed an astounding level of deceit, dishonesty, fraudulent manipulation of data, and attacks on the peer review process to silence critics.
    Despite these obvious red flags as to the veracity of the global warming science, mainstream media like the Globe & Mail have never challenge the orthodoxy.
    Climate models have continued to over estimate warming despite rising CO2. In fact apart from the impact of the 2016 El Niño there has been no significant warming since 1999. Other dire predictions such a zero arctic ice, the extinction of polar bears, increasing sea level rise, increased hurricanes and tornadoes have all failed to materialize. In fact the only statistically significant impact that CO2 has had is a 14% greening of the planet, an area twice the size of the continental US. (NASA
    2016) Because of CO2 fertilization,
    crop yields have increased and deserts have shrunk.

    According to the scientific method, when the facts do not agree with the theory, it is the theory that is wrong. It doesn’t matter how many famous people or politicians say otherwise. Likewise consensus has no place in science. Only the facts tell the truth.

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