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It's gettin' hot in here
Global warming
Feverish dreams
Hot-headed goons
Yet when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative — See! The global warming story is falling apart! — to be reinforced by the media. It doesn't matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading "thinkers" in this movement.
Johann Hari[1]

"Climategate" is the most common term that the media and blogosphere gave to a relatively effective manufactroversy (in the US, at least) that followed the November 2009 release of thousands of illegally-obtained e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. Global warming denialists immediately pounced on the story, claiming that much of the data supporting the existence of global warming were fabricated. The media quoted many of the e-mails[2] out of context[3] to make it seem as if there was huge disagreement among climatologists and that they'd faked or hidden their data.

By 2011, nine separate investigations by the British government and multiple independent ethics committees had been completed. None found any evidence of fraud or manipulation of data. The CRU data was also independently replicated.[4][5]

In fact, the real story — in so much that there even was a story — was that a big scientific project caused people to curse, disagree and sigh. Who knew?

Trick or treat?[edit]

Much of the Climategate furor was over the use of the word "trick," especially when Phil Jones of the CRU wrote:

I've just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.

While the denialists see this as some sort of conspiracy,[6] it is a mathematical way of dealing with a problem (a mathematical "trick") and reflects scientists interacting with each other (the "decline" also refers to tree ring density, not global temperatures).[7] The quote is used out of context to alter its original meaning.

The "trick" in question is quite simple, and is the result of how to go about time-averaging (e.g., "five year moving average") graphs and statistical trends.[8][9] In order to make a moving average, it's sometimes necessary to pad out the data series beyond its end point with model statistical data to get the smoothed out average to run up to the edge of the time period. So, if a data series ends in 1980, then 4-5 years of model data, which is projected from the local statistical trends (rather than some form of PIDOOMA method) needs to be incorporated to get a reliable moving average to end in 1980, rather than 5 years previously.

The problem faced by Michael Mann and co. back in their 1998 paper — and what Phil Jones was talking about in his email — was that with the proxy data they used there is a well-documented divergence of some tree ring density (specifically, proxies selected from high latitudes) from the recorded temperature and other proxies exists starting around 1960. The time-averaged temperature began to decline towards 1980 due to these known inaccuracies as well as some statistical outliers.[10] Mann's solution, the "Nature trick" was to augment this proxy data with real, and reliable, instrumental data in order to reconstruct the end series of the time averaging. There was no manipulation of actual recorded temperature data, only how the reconstructed proxy data was processed to more closely match the accurate data.

Sounds pretty sneaky, eh? In fact, the "hide the decline" issue was so cleverly hidden that it was discussed by several authors and glaringly published in IPCC AR4 Chapter 6 onwards.[11] The denialists also called for the data to be released, despite the fact that 95% of said data was already available.

Further trickery[edit]

While most of the squawking in the denialist camp has been about using "tricks" to "hide the decline," they pulled out some other quality quote mines as well:

  • "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." Climatologist Kevin Trenberth is referring to the fact that his climate models couldn't totally reconcile the overall global warming already occurring with surface temperature measurements. He sneakily covered this up by publishing a paper on it in a scientific journal.[12]
  • Criticism of Patrick Michaels was mined to make it appear as if the scientists were conspiring to have his Ph.D. pulled (though Ben Santer did write in one e-mail that he would be "tempted to beat the crap out of" him[13]). Another quote about "redefining the peer-reviewed literature" regarding Michaels and Ross McKitrick's 2004 paper purporting to demonstrate the "urban heat island effect" is another common mining job. This was a sarcastic comment about keeping that paper out of the IPCC report; the paper in question happened to be published in a third-tier journal and reached its conclusion by mixing up radians and degrees in the statistical analysis.
  • Quote mines about Yamal Peninsula tree ring proxy data.
  • "No warming since 1995." This was actually not in the e-mails but was a quote mine from a subsequent interview given by Phil Jones in which he said that his calculations were just short of statistical significance for the HadCRUTWikipedia's W.svg dataset from the period of 1995-2009. He does, however, note that the long-term warming trend is significant.[14] This is obviously not the same thing as "global warming is a hoax!" This is usually chucked in with Climategate quotes for bonus deceit points.


RealClimate, one of the the leading blogs on climate change, describes the content of the e-mails:[15]

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP,'Wikipedia's W.svg no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no 'marching orders' from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.


From the scientific community[edit]

In the light of the controversy, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science reaffirmed its support for the existence of anthropogenic global warming.[16][17] The editors of Nature did not think that the hacking required a review of papers published in the journal: "It is Nature's policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies."[18] Jones temporarily stepped down as head of the CRU until investigations were finished.

The harshest criticism in any of the investigations claimed that the scientists were slow and occasionally non-compliant in filling Freedom of Information Act requests (mostly in relation to Steve McIntyre spamming them with FOIA requests) and one lamented that they ideally should have worked more closely with statisticians.[19] What an astounding cover-up!

From the climate change denialists[edit]

A miracle has happened.
—An early commenter on Climate Audit.[20] (Sorry for the disappointment.)

In a memorable editorial in the Telegraph, Christopher Booker, author of The Real Global Warming Disaster[21] called Climategate "the greatest scientific scandal of our age."[22] Predictably, Glenn Beck lambasted the e-mails.[23] Anthony Watts, among many other deniers, quoted writer George Monbiot saying that some of the climate scientists should resign,[24] but failed to mention that he also said, "But do these revelations justify the sceptics’ claims that this is 'the final nail in the coffin' of global warming theory? Not at all. They damage the credibility of three or four scientists. They raise questions about the integrity of one or perhaps two out of several hundred lines of evidence. To bury manmade climate change, a far wider conspiracy would have to be revealed."[25]. (Monbiot later retracted his call for Jones to resign.[26]) Everyone's favourite airhead, Sarah Palin, wrote a long Facebook post urging Barack Obama to boycott the Copenhagen conference on global warming, because (with full irony) "Policy should be based on sound science, not snake oil."[27]

From the intelligent design community[edit]

In a not-so-bizarre twist, Denyse O'Leary managed to try to link "climategate" to the "conspiracy" of Darwinism, writing "Our reason for watching this brief is rather the extent to which scientists may have collaborated to prevent a full and fair evaluation of the evidence. If they do it with climate change, they might also do it with Darwinism, cancer research, and any number of other areas."[28] The IDosphere's conspiracy accusations make you wonder what they think of the Wedge Document.[29]

Impact and fallout[edit]

Cross-national comparison of news media content reveals that climate denialism is treated far more seriously in the British and American press than elsewhere.[30]

A number of newspapers issued retractions about insinuations or outright accusations of scientific fraud after investigations cleared the scientists.[31] Naturally, Climategate is still proof of the massive scientific conspiracy among the denialist crowd. The incident (along with other issues that have been taking a forefront in the media as a more pressing concern, like the ongoing financial crisis), helped sway public opinion toward denial. A 2010 Gallup poll showed public split about evenly between attributing warming to man-made and natural causes and 10% replied warming was not happening at all, while 36% were unsure.[32] A 2011 Rasmussen poll reported 69% of those surveyed said it was likely that scientists "falsified" data (though the poll's wording has been criticized for being vague).[33]

The controversy has also given a boost to the Religious Right, which seeks to insert denialism into school texts along with creationism. Creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have voiced their support for these plans.[34][35] So thanks, global warming "skeptics," you've opened the floodgates for more creationist stupidity.

Climategate also led to a number of mini-manufactroversies, especially those mentioned in the leaked e-mails (listed below), and helped resuscitate quite a few points refuted a thousand times.

Climategate 2.0[edit]

In November of 2011, hackers released a number of new e-mails held back from the original batch of Climategate e-mails, mixed in with some of the first batch, possibly to boost their numbers.[36] As was to be expected, these were widely quote mined throughout the denialist echo chamber, further "proving" the existence of a vast Warmist scientific conspiracy. Many of the comments (again taken out of context) were in reference to an early draft of the 2007 IPCC report, which the denialists neglected to mention.[37] However, much of the mainstream media neglected to cover the second release, with it breaking headline status in the United States, but making no appearance in the news, even among right-wing denialist circles, in (for instance) Australia.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Climategate Claptrap, Hari in The Nation
  2. You can see what apparently were the original e-mails here.
  3. For a clear example, see here.
  4. Skeptical Science provides links to the documents produced by the ethics investigations and committees. (See also Climate Progress for a copy of the latest investigation by the NSF.)
  5. What We Have and Haven't Learned from Climategate, Grist
  6. The blogger that broke the story, James Delingpole, specifically calls this quote "manipulation of evidence."
  7. A detailed explanation can be found in this video.
  8. Clearing up misconceptions regarding "hide the decline", Skeptical Science
  9. CRU Hack, Real Climate
  10. Tree-ring proxies and the divergence problem, Skeptical Science
  11. CRU November press releases
  12. Kevin E. Trenberth. An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2009, 1:19–27. (Further commentary here.)
  13. Actually, not that uncommon of a statement.
  14. Phil Jones says "No global warming since 1995", Skeptical Science
  15. The CRU Hack, Real Climate
  16. Impact of CRU Hacking on the AMS Statement on Climate Change, AMS
  17. AAAS Reaffirms Statements on Climate Change and Integrity, AAAS
  18. Climatologists under pressure, Nature
  19. FOI requests and climate scientists, Skeptical Science
  20. Climate emails: were they really hacked or just sitting in cyberspace?, The Guardian (The Norfolk police ultimately confirmed a "sophisticated" breach, but couldn't find the perpetrator.)
  21. The full title is (take a deep breath) The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession with "Climate Change" Turning Out to be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History?
  22. "This is the Worst Scientific Scandal of Our Generation", The Telegraph
  23. Glenn Beck on Climategate
  24. "Monbiot Issues an Unprecedented Apology", LOLWUWT
  25. "The Knights Carbonic", George Monbiot
  26. George Monbiot (7 July 2010). "The 'climategate' inquiry at last vindicates Phil Jones – and so must I". https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/jul/07/russell-inquiry-i-was-wrong. 
  27. Sarah Palin Facebook note, get ready to lose brain cells.
  28. Climategate money laundering, Uncommon Descent
  29. The Discovery Institute's Climategate Crescendo, The Sensuous Curmudgeon
  30. Is Climate Scepticism a Largely Anglo-Saxon Phenomenon?, The Guardian
  31. Newsweek, newspapers retract Climategate claims, but damage still done, Climate Progress
  32. Americans Global Warming Concerns Continue to Drop, Gallup
  33. 2011 Rasmussen Poll (and Media Matters criticism of the poll)
  34. Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets, The New York Times
  35. Climate Deniers Copy-Paste Creationist Tactics
  36. Climategate 2.0: Will the Media Do Its Job This Time? Mother Jones
  37. Second Batch of Stolen "Climategate" Messages Emerges, Scientific American