If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The "Climategate" Affair

Since the news broke about the release into the wild of hundreds of emails and a ton of data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at UEA, I haven't said much about it all. Firstly, this was simple self-preservation, as with a rapidly-developing story there is the risk of being behind the curve and merely stating what is already common knowledge. And secondly, the story was already being covered excellently by many other bloggers, and anything I could add would be superfluous. So I have waited until the dust has settled a bit, and Copenhagen is over, and the process of incorporating the new information into the public consciousness has started. At this point, I may be able to add something of value, even if it only a personal perspective.

I would first wish to state that I am not a climatologist, nor even a scientist, and I am not in any way qualified to judge the issue from a technical viewpoint. But I was lucky enough to be educated in the 1960s and early 1970s, when even Arts students like me had to do three science subjects to O-level, and when an understanding of scientific principles, even at a basic level, was considered to be an essential part of Secondary education. And one of the concepts that most pleased me, because of its logicality and essential reasonableness, was the scientific method. My understanding, and I am sure that it is correct, having spoken to many scientists in the intervening 40 years, is that the scientific method is something which scientists hold almost sacred. They approach their work with humility and openness, because it is the science which is important, not the individual scientists. And it is this humility that enables us to trust what scientists do, because we have this belief that they are conscientious seekers after truth, not grubby seekers after profit or fame.

Whether the emails and data were 'hacked' (and this is now apparently the fault of the Russians, which muddies the waters further) or were released by a UEA employee (which seems to me the more likely), is completely irrelevant. When the dust has settled, there will be plenty of time to investigate how the information was obtained, and if necessary to punish those guilty of any offence. But the implications of the information are so huge that following this aspect of the affair right now is a complete red herring.

I have read the emails, and I have followed the Harry_Read_Me text file until I started to lose the will to live, and some things appear to me to be catastrophically bad. I will publish a list of sources at the end of this, and anyone interested can follow this as far as they wish - where they will find the information dissected and discussed far better than I can. But there are several things that really trouble me:
  • There appears to be a mindset of 'us and them', at times almost hostile, which is surely inimical to any serious and fair-minded scientific enquiry;
  • There is clear evidence of an intention to destroy data that has been the subject of an FoI request, and of requesting others to do the same - as far as I am aware, this is actually a crime in UK law;
  • There is evidence that periodicals were 'leaned on' to dismiss papers from scientists who were not in the magic circle, and even to sack people who were not part of the 'tribe';
  • The Harry_Read_Me file is enormously troubling, as it suggests that scientists were trying to reconstruct missing data - important data that the whole AGW theory rests on - and failing, because of sloppy work, with casual manipulation of the data, lack of version control, and poor record-keeping.
So, from the CRU data I am able to see a lot of evidence that the science was not being pursued as it should have been, and the possibility that these people were effectively working backwards - find the conclusion, and then manipulate the data to give the evidence. If that is the case, then the whole thing is a scandal, and people deserve to be in prison. And of course there is the missing data. The data showing climate change was based on proxy data (such as tree rings) for the thousands of years when we didn't have satellites and reliable thermometers. I can understand that. The proxy data had to be adjusted so that it fitted in with the known records and made sense as a data series. I can understand that too. But then the original data was erased, deliberately - apparently because they didn't have enough storage. Whaaaat? To expect people not to be suspicious when you say, in effect, 'we had the data, we manipulated it, and then we lost the originals, and you'll have to trust that we manipulated it honestly, even though we can't even reproduce the algorithms we used because they weren't properly documented', well, pull the other one. It's got bells on. No scientist should expect that to be taken seriously.

Lke many people of my age, I was made aware of the 'Environmental' movement back in the early 70s, and I like to think that I have maintained that mindset in the years since. I am not in the pay of Big Oil, I don't like pollution, I try to waste as little as possible and recycle when I can. I believe that we should make as little impact on the planet as possible, not for religious reasons, but because the Earth got along quite well before we arrived, and interfering as little as possible means fewer chances to mess things up. All in all, I would say that I was at least light green.

But because I don't swallow the whole AGW concept, suddenly I am a 'climate-denier'. I object most strongly to this term, echoing as it does Holocaust denial. Every talking head from the IPCC to Gordon Brown is now on record as saying that people who don't accept the full AGW argument are flat-earthers, silly, uninformed, wilfully ignorant. Well, sorry, guys, but I am none of those things. But I have long suspected, and now have reason to do so, that the AGW thing is a scare story, and driven far more by political ideas than by cold, hard, unequivocal science.

One thing that made me dubious a long time ago was hearing an interviewee on Radio 4 say that "the science is settled". No it isn't, I screamed at my radio. Science is never settled. That's the whole point with science. You find a theory that seems to fit the facts, and survives the test of your experiments, and you accept that as the best theory going, until you are proved wrong and have to go back to the drawing board. That's how it works. The people who told Columbus that his voyages were dangerous because he might find the edge of the world and fall off - they thought the science was settled too. The scientists at the end of the 19C who believed that Newton had explained it all, and that there was little else for science to do, thought that too - until Einstein upset it all with his weird theories. If anyone tells you that 'the science is settled' or that 'there is no debate about this', then they are lying, and demonstrating that they know nothing about how science works. (Incidentally, there was another scientist on the programme, whose name escapes me, and he was arguing that man-made climate change was a myth - the first time I had ever heard anyone in the mainstream media putting forward that viewpoint. The presenter treated him and his views with open derision, and it was that programme that made me think that perhaps there was more to climate change than just the temperatures.)

And then, of course, there is the infamous 'hockey-stick' graph. Two things about this: one is that, so I understand, the algorithm is such that any data - literally any data - fed into it will produce a hockey-stick shape. And the other is that it is so impressive because of the careful exclusion of certain time-periods. Set against the last 100 or so years, it certainly shows that the Earth is heating up, and quickly. But then include the temperature data going back a thousand years and you see the there was the Mediaeval Warm Period (no nasty 4x4s then), where temperatures were warmer than today, and in between the 'Mini Ice Age' of the 16-17C, when fairs were held on the frozen River Thames. And before that, the warmth of the Roman period, when vines were grown in Northern England. As always with statistics, it is possible to prove anything if you are allowed to set your own parameters.

The temperature sensing sites appear to have been manipulated too. Far too many of them were originally sited in rural areas, and as populations have grown are now close to urban heat sources: of course they show that temperatures are rising. Some of the tree-ring proxy data seems to have been cherry-picked too. In all, it doesn't pass the nose test.

For what it's worth, my view is that the Earth's climate has always changed. Currently, the Earth is warming up. As we are still technically at the end of the Quaternary Ice Age, this is not a surprise. Man may be having an effect on the speed of the change, but I believe that any effect is trivial. When volcanoes supply over 90% of the atmospheric CO2, an increase of a couple of percent in the rest is hardly significant.

Then, of course, there is the old legal question of cui bono? Who benefits?

We have a situation where politicians seem to believe in AGW, and therefore will give grants to scientists to study that. But, as far as I am aware, there is no record of a scientist getting a grant by saying "hey, I need a couple of million to further my research which shows that AGW is a hoax". All the research money has gone to the pro-AGW researchers. And of course, with all that grant money and respectable careers riding on the AGW bandwagon, they are hardly likely to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, are they?

And then there are the financial interests of those involved with AGW at a higher level - the Al Gores and the Dr Pachauris. The complex web of involvement between the leaders of the AGW movement and the companies making billions out of cap and trade policies is something that beggars belief. In any other area of life, to have people arguing for policies, when they personally benefit financially from the outcomes of those policies, would lead to charges of corruption. But apparently, these people are beyond all that - their motives are pure, and therefore any money they make out of it is their just reward for being Good. I haven't had time to go into this in any detail, but what I have seen is very disturbing.

In summary, here are a few observations from a non-scientist who walks around with his eyes open:
  • Climate change is happening. It always has. It is an entirely natural process.
  • If man has any effect on climate change at all, it is tiny, and the economic catastrophe that will follow from major changes to try to alter that is wholly disproportionate.
  • The AGW argument is seriously flawed, and the balance of the evidence is so far that the data has been manipulated to give a political answer, not a scientific one.
  • Unless and until I see clear evidence (where the 'corrections' to proxy data are publicly available and the data management is open), I reserve the right to believe that we are being scammed by possibly the biggest and nastiest hoax ever to be perpetrated on the human race.
I attach a list of sources and references below. I am sorry if they are a bit general. I have been following this for several weeks now, and didn't think to keep records of what I saw and where I saw it (but then, I am not a government-funded scientist, so I can admit that). You may have to dig a bit within the sources to find the AGW stuff, but it is there. Later, I will do a bit of a trawl and post the links in better and more helpful detail.


That'll start you off. More later, but I have work tomorrow and need my rest.

1 comment:

  1. I have always been sceptical on both the man-made contributions to climate change and, should it actually be the case, the scope for somehow managing it. I struggle, in fact, to think of a single successful human intervention in simple ecosystem management, never mind something as complicated as the entire planetary weather system.

    That said, I was willing to credit the scientists, if not the politicians, with some integrity on the issue. Until the layers of obfuscation started to come into play, that is.

    It is pretty much an accepted maxim of science that a hypothesis, once published, is put into the public domain along with the underlying data and methodology and thrown open to anyone to either refine or disprove the hypothesis. That process, often, is of more value than the original hypothesis itself.

    I do know a little whereof I speak, in that I hold a degree in sciences (Biology and Statistics) and spent several years in mainframe computer programming (statistical analysis of national databases). Which is why I am genuinely appalled at the sheer front of the pro-GWers to present this utter dog's dinner as anything like fact.

    They do not have reliable or consistent data to underpin any of this work. Even the measured historical data - as opposed to that obtained by extrapolation, inference or sheer guesswork - has been adjusted to even make it comparable. And that was before losing great tracts of it.

    They do not have a methodology: even those responsible for the original figures have no idea how they reached them.

    It is an interesting premise, therefore, that "Harry" spent his time attempting to force a recreation of the original results by manipulation of any or all of the data and code until it fitted. Not, for example, in taking what was there and reanalysing from first principles to see if the original results were even correct.

    Who benefits? Well, everyone who needs a cause celebre that can never be disproven. We will none of us be around in a hundred years time to ask why the planet hasn't drowned. In the meantime, of course, it's a legislator's dream, a whole new (carbon) economy, a chance to preach the salvation of mankind...power, ego and control all round.

    But proven science? Only in the minds of glib liars, new-age zealots and mindless sheep.


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