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Posted at 06:39 PM ET, 11/22/2011

Climategate 2.0: Do new emails undermine global warming science?

Two years ago, much was made about the unauthorized release of thousands of emails featuring private conversations between a group of climate scientists. Dubbed Climategate, these emails showed a few climate scientists being irritable and clubby, and - in the eyes of some - controlling and even deceptive. Some research suggests the Climategate episode lowered the public’s trust in climate science and their belief in man-made global warming

Yet multiple inquiries, while calling for more openness in data sharing, found no evidence of scientific misconduct on the part of the involved scientists. And new scientific assessments and studies have re-affirmed the Earth is warming and human activities play a key role.

In a seeming effort to take another swing at the integrity of climate science, a second crop of emails was anonymously released Tuesday, apparently from the same place as 2009: Britain’s University of East Anglia.

The “new” emails (not new in that they are from 2009 and earlier) - while trumpeted by some climate skeptics as “spectacular” and draining life from the manmade global warming movement - mean little substantively from a scientific standpoint, just like the set that preceded them.

The climate skeptic blogosphere has been quick to cherry pick certain snippets from the emails they claim show dissension within the climate science ranks, perhaps to demonstrate scientists may express more doubt about their confidence in the science in private than they do in public.

They’ve also highlighted excerpts they say represent efforts by a few to control the message in key scientific assessments rather than let the science speak for itself.

And they’ve pointed to emails where a scientist discusses ways to avoid releasing data, suggesting he has something to hide.

Examples of this sort were all headlined by many of the same blogs in 2009, but ultimately offered little material basis to challenge the key conclusions reached in scientific assessment such as the U.S. National Research Council and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More often than not, excerpts from emails where scientists expressed reservations about certain results were taken out of context or misinterpreted. Sometimes they pertained to technical issues that had either already been resolved in academic journals or that were in­cred­ibly trivial.

Or, as MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said in an essay published by the National Association of Scholars, the emails demonstrated scientists being human, frankly discussing the quality of their peers’ work, usually nobly but with the occasional lapse:

... the emails in question were semi-private correspondence among scientists and that the vast majority of the email shows a high level of diligence and professionalism in conducting and reporting research. The few emails that have been the subject of so much heated rhetoric show that some scientists are occasionally prey to human pitfalls (shocking!).

It’s fair to say a couple of the scientists wrapped up in Climategate bruhaha could have been more forthcoming in releasing data. Although these scientists were understandably being protective of their time, some of the investigations have appropriately called for more open data sharing. Still, I haven’t seen a persuasive argument that unreleased data would significantly impact scientific conclusions.

Importantly, the players involved in Climategate emails represent but a small portion of climate scientists. The scientific case for manmade warming draws upon the work of a broader, diverse international community.

I could not agree more with Emanuel when he says the the contents of the Climategate emails are not the real scandal, but that it’s instead the effort to discredit climate change science.

The true scandal is ... to dismiss an entire scientific endeavor based on the privately expressed sentiments of a few (a very few) researchers working in an environment of ongoing harassment.

There are surely meaningful topics to debate in climate science. Competent people can disagree about how big of a problem global warming is. But the scientific community has largely moved beyond the scientific issues brought to light in the Climategate 1.0 emails and more emails on the same issues only serve as an unneeded distraction.

By  |  06:39 PM ET, 11/22/2011

Categories:  Latest, Climate Change

 
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