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Opening the Climategates

December 4th, 2009 by Bill Brown · 13 Comments · Environmentalism


The release of previously-sequestered emails, documents, and program code offered confirmation of what many anthropogenic global warming (AGW) skeptics always suspected: the politicization of climate science had utterly corrupted the findings. Those findings, viz. that global warming was taking place and that man’s actions had brought it about, formed the basis for broad international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Accord. The upcoming Copenhagen conference was intended to be the venue where the “alarms” were finally answered and the developed world was going to commence the sacrifices necessary to atone for their development.

But the emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England have cast unavoidable doubts as to the legitimacy of the long-heralded consensus that had found the science to be “settled.” World leaders, when they weren’t feigning ignorance of the controversy, began to backpedal from commitments due to the groundswell of grassroots outrage.

Efforts by the willfully-blind politicians and apologists who saw AGW as the sin for which the West could finally be reigned in and yoked fell on incredulous ears. This blatant stonewalling and sleight-of-hand further emboldened he opposition, for rarely are he leftists so brazen.

The politicians tried to downplay the motley CRU’s chicanery as unrepresentative of the majority of climate scientists. Carol Browner, Obama’s global warming czar, after first trying to dismiss the emails as trivial then stated baldly that she is “sticking with the 2,500 scientists. These people have been studying this issue for a very long time and agree this problem is real.” The reporter conducting the interview failed to follow-up on the obvious question begging: how many of those scientists were involved in the conspiracy to quash dissent and how many of those who weren’t would now still consider the conclusion unimpeachable?

Skeptics, naturally, failed to argue against science as a numbers game, which would’ve decimated this consensus. Instead they chose to trot out their own quantified contrapuntal consensus. The disinterested onlookers, however, can’t help but shake their heads at the one-upmanship and politicking. For the layman, science is collecting data, making theories, and verifying other scientists’ theories. This window into the sausage factory has exposed climate science as the scientific equivalent of cooking the books.

Climate scientists and the leftists who love them invoked the talisman of “peer review” in a vain effort to intimidate the public. Trading on the public’s superficial understanding of the peer review process, they tut-tutted the skeptics’ claims because they generally didn’t publish their works in peer-reviewed journals. They cited study after study in prestigious journals that supported their view that man-made carbon dioxide emissions were amplifying the greenhouse effect and causing catastrophe. When the peer-review process is open, anonymous, and intellectually honest, it is a decent way to gradually move science in the direction of truth and to maintain its focus on reality.

But the researchers in this instance did everything in their power to subvert the peer-review process. In email after email, they spoke of ousting journal editors who may have wavered in their commitment to the cause, of thwarting requests for their raw data or methodologies, and of coordinating with their fellow travelers to present a united front when conducting peer review. Any legitimate scientist should be disgusted at their behavior—and many are.

But peer review is not in itself a validation of the conclusions of any particular study. As Climategate has demonstrated, it is subject to manipulation and fallibility. The peers that review a paper ostensibly examine the author’s methodology, but unusual or controversial conclusions may appear invalid and so the review can lead to a creeping orthodoxy as these papers never see the printed page. So the rejection of skepticism by dint of a lack of publication is disingenuous when the rejectors are also the publishing gatekeepers. In the end, the only way to validate a finding is through reference to reality: does the conclusion follow logically from the empirical data? Is the empirical data collected in an objective, verifiable manner? Reality is the arbiter here, not men.

Worse yet are those who would sweep aside the scandal, ignore the lack of foundation for the AGW position, and fail to amend their support for far-reaching, global economic changes because of the researchers’ good intentions. You see this viewpoint appear in nearly any comment thread on any blog entry and it commonly takes the form “sure they were out of line but shouldn’t we be moving towards cleaner energy, less oil dependence, and renewable fuels?” The “trick” here is “we.” The “we” in question is not the gradual process of technological replacement that takes place when millions of individuals in the market act to buy cheaper, safer technologies; they’re invariably talking about the government enacting mandates on individuals and companies. The latter, because it is achieved through force, is not something we should be undertaking. If renewable energy is desirable, then it will be taken up by industries when it becomes profitable to do so.

The AGW crowd has not earned the benefit of the doubt. The mainstream media so far have turned a blind eye, but world leaders attending Copenhagen must not be allowed to pretend like Climategate never occurred. It is a sad day when the voices of reason are the Danes and the Saudis.

13 Comments so far ↓

  • Richard

    One interesting aspect of this is the influence of Post-Normal Science. Some of the top ranking officials involved in Climategate are also PSN advocates. PSN as I understand it says that social policy for the greater good is above truth and knowledge (read, science). PSN advocates openly state that “Climate change is too important to be left to scientists – least of all the normal ones.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/mar/14/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange

  • Bill Brown

    I have that same article (and a couple of other ones) bookmarked because I agree that PNS is especially fascinating, but it didn’t make the cut. I fully intend to do more research and write up a blog entry on this in the future.

  • Michael Labeit

    Here’s what I posted on Ed Cline’s blog about the scandal:

    “How much of this involves scientific debate and how much involves politics? I’m still convinced that the best way to discredit AGW theorists is by deconstructing their arguments and disproving their conclusions. It definitely *seems* like AGW is nonsense but I can’t *know* its nonsense unless its properly falsified. Vested interests certainly stink but they themselves don’t allow one to conclude that AGW theorists are con-artists (not that this was implied). How broad are the implications of the Climategate scandal? Surely they don’t indict all significant AGW theorists. In the end, we should make the maximum amount of logically permissible concessions and take the AGW arguments at their strongest, so when they’re refuted, the refutation is conclusive.”

  • Bill Brown

    The science on the skeptics’ side seems solid.

  • Bill Brown

    The other thing that I didn’t work in is how the AGW defenders are using classic misdirection techniques in their defense of Phil Jones’ use of the word “trick.” I have seen countless defenses of these emails being taken of context that rely on explaining how “trick” just means “useful technique,” while hoping that they’ve taken the focus off of “hide the decline.” If the damning part of Climategate consisted solely of his self-admitted “trick,” then it would mostly be a teapot tempest.

    But the only one’s buying this “trick” are the leftists themselves, who mentally “hide the decline” of the credibility of their arguments.

  • Grant

    AGW-theory done away with in one paragraph:

    AGW-theory proponents claim that current levels of economic activity are “unsustainable.” “Unsustainable” means that environmental changes will destroy people and property. If true, the solution (using government, instead of a backlash from nature, to decrease economic activity levels) will achieve the same result. What difference does it make who/what does it? None. Why, then, would someone advocate for government action to reduce economic activity levels? Political power.

  • Michael Labeit

    Grant,

    AGW theorists may rebut that the alleged harmful effects of AGW need to be mitigated against now “while there’s still time.” They would argue that if the probability of environmental disaster is high, then that governments should step in and coerce producers into reducing emission levels since, it seems, producers are unwilling to do this themselves. If water levels are going to rise to hazardous levels eventually, they say, why not begin the emissions reduction process now with government controls rather than wait until the flooding manifests itself.
    Of course, this argument is persuasive *if* its true that the probability of AGW-related destruction is indeed high. This is what is contested by skeptics. AGWers say government controls are a necessary response to the impending doom of AGW. Discredit AGW, and the government intervention becomes completely unnecesary, even counterproductive. AGWers don’t hold that government response would be equivalent to the natural response. They say it makes a difference who responds with what. They see government as a tool for an early, responsible approach because government reductions are mandatory.

  • Grant

    Michael,

    Maybe AGWers don’t hold that industry-destroying regulations would be equally as destructive as the (alleged) natural response to no regulations, but it would be. Which one was implemeneted would make a difference to who and what was destroyed, but overall the amount of destruction would be equal.

    But that’s exactly the point: they can’t escape the fact that in order for them to continue to exist as AGWers (either in academia, the media, government, etc), something, somewhere, has to be destroyed. They’d just prefer that it be rich people’s property, rather than poor people’s lives because ignorant poor people are more likely going to support them.

  • Mike

    Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that “If [AGW=TRUE] Then [Government is the solution]”. That’s the critical logical leap that climate change advocates are making that they hope people won’t notice.

    Notwithstanding the Anglia incident, there is enough better data out there to convince me that AGW may well be occurring on some scale. However, as one of the bloggers on this site (I forget which) noted, that doesn’t mean the solution is for government to impose increasingly costly and onerous controls into the lives of citizens with AGW as the excuse of the day. The private sector and scientific community will find the best ways to adapt, though it may not occur until the eleventh hour.

  • Bill Brown

    I don’t believe there is better data out there. It doesn’t take much effort to see glaring holes in the rationale for AGW. I’m not ready to concede the science here but if it were proven in a verifiable way, then I would take the tack that remediation can occur without sacrificing freedom.

    The only time I’d sacrifice freedom is to forestall an imminent, inexorable threat like an asteroid collision. At that point, here’s my money, grind up my car, whatever, just figure something out.

  • Grant

    My only point is that the scientific data is irrelevant. The entire premise is departed from emperical evidence. Not complicated scientific measurement, simple emperical evidence. If that evidence is interpreted through the correct philosophical framework, the concerns of the concerned are moot.

    The bottom line is this: The current amount of consumption – no matter how unevenly distributed globally – is what the AGW-believers say is “unsustainable.” If AGW is true, it would cause everyone in the 1st world to live how the most “eco-friendly” (the poor) live today, and that would allegedly reduce the level of consumption to something “sustainable” for everyone everywhere. We could keep the population levels we have now, but everyone would be consuming at a “sustainable” level (ie: everyone would be piss poor).

    But that scenario can never happen. It can’t be both ways. No matter what it is that causes the 1st world to live like the 2nd and 3rd worlds (AGW turning out to be true or government regulations preempting what is believed to be true), the latter two are going to experience severe population drops. Most of their populations exist precisely because they indirectly benefit from the 1st world’s excess (ie: beyond subsistence) production (and the excess consumption which incentivizes that production). The first worlders are going to end up living like the rest do today, but the rest are going to die. Flat out. So the very people the AGW-believers are trying to “sustain” – to protect from the “greed-induced” pollution of the 1st worlders – are going to die unless that pollution is allowed to continue.

    Destroying the whole topic doesn’t get any simpler than that. It’s not “much ado about nothing” simply because the science isn’t true. It’s because the entire thing is a desire for an effect without it’s cause (6 billion people existing without industry), and a proposal to do something that’s going to do something that’s thought to be going to happen anyways (they want to take away what they warn nature is going to take away anyways).

  • Bill Brown

    You forget the money the third world is going to siphon off the first. That’s going to provide some positive feedback for all. (More here.)

  • Bill Brown

    My mistake. Apparently, all of the preceding is “silly.”