Quantum Matrix Scribe

Climategate 2, Electric Boogaloo?

November 22, 2011 | 7 Minute Read

Probably not, but it’s back in the news again:

A new batch of emails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit has been released on the internet.

There are more than 5,000 emails, while other documents include working papers relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A similar release in 2009 triggered the “ClimateGate” affair and accusations of fraud that inquiries later dismissed.

Now, as then, the release comes shortly before the annual UN climate summit.

The university says it has “no evidence of a recent breach in our systems”, and says that the sheer number of documents – posted on a Russian server – makes it impossible to confirm that all are genuine.

“These emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks,” it said in a statement.

Well, that’s more than likely true. There’s all sorts of shenanigans that go on nowadays that aren’t being done by governments or large corporations. One thing the Internet and modern technology has done has empowered ordinary citizens, on the both the left and the right.

What I find very interesting, though, are some of these messages that indicate that “consensus” on climate change may not be so ironclad after all (via Tallbloke)

<1939> Thorne/MetO:

Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical

troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a

wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the

uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these

further if necessary […]

<3066> Thorne:

I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it

which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.

<1611> Carter:

It seems that a few people have a very strong say, and no matter how much

talking goes on beforehand, the big decisions are made at the eleventh hour by

a select core group.

<2884> Wigley:

Mike, The Figure you sent is very deceptive […] there have been a number of

dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC […]

I focus on this bit because I’m always hearing how “well all scientists agree on global warming” and how we totally have “consensus” on this issue (even though we actually don’t. Also, make sure to read about Ivar Giaever and Hal Lewis, two scientists who quit the American Physical Society over it’s support of climate change and labeling it “incontrovertible.” Now I realize they are not “climatologists,” but are physicists; but in that case, why would the organization of physicists in America take a stand on it, then? And isn’t physics the backbone of just about every scientific field, since it actually studies how the universe itself works? And maybe they’re just objecting to the process behind these claims? We can’t dismiss them out of hand.) Yet, it seems the consensus is somewhat fictive–nevermind the fact that it would be an example of the bandwagon fallacy to argue this way.

Don’t get me wrong; I definitely think there is global warming or climate change of some sort going on. Our planet is not a static snapshot, it changes frequently. What I disagree with is how bad everyone thinks its going to get, and I’m just not convinced it is necessarily anthropogenic (though I’m willing to accept that it might be.) When people are screaming that the polar bears will be dead by 2020, the coral reefs will all be gone by 2050, and we’ll be extinct in 2090, well, you have to take it with a grain of salt. 95% of the time, such hyped up claims of disaster turn out to be two things:

  1. Ridiculously exaggerated
  2. Plays for more power

This brings me to public choice theory, a form of economics that tries to answer questions posed by political science, namely, “Why on earth do these legislators act like such numbskulls?” (My first answer would be “Because they’re reptiles from Omicron Theta,” but that doesn’t really have the intellectual du jour for discussion.) Basically, the answer comes down to “to maximize their own self-interest.” Politicians do dumb things because they know it will be popular with voters and lead to them getting re-elected (mostly because voters are not educated on the issues.) It’s similar with scientists, unfortunately: most of them depend on government money in order to fund their projects, and will likely lean towards publishing reports that give a greater role to government agencies and a problem for them to solve, which will lead to more research funding for solutions to said problem.

When Climategate 1.0 emerged, I asked people: Why did these scientists massage the data? Why did they apply these algorithms and equations to the data in order to change it? I just wanted a straight answer, because I figured there would be some reason. However, all I received were very vague statements, handwaving, and “go read this site, it explains it”–which it didn’t. It convinced me that there was no scientific basis to it at all–it was political, in order to better obtain more and more funding from taxpayers.

Dwight Eisenhower knew exactly what I was talking about over 50 years ago. Next to his military-industrial complex was a government-science complex that he felt was just as dangerous (bolded emphasis mine):

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

This is what I’m seeing with some of those messages up there. “Political spin.” “Deceptive.” Some of these scientists are worried, and there’s now further evidence that what is going on isn’t actually “science,” but is actually “pseudoscientific, politically-driven propaganda.”

Of course, one will likely say “But you’re not a scientist, how can you critique them?” Well, I can certainly do so when we have stories such as the EU scientists claiming that water doesn’t cure dehydration (and then criminalizing such claims with two years in jail.) When you have such absurdities, the credibility of science just goes out the window. When the public has concerns about your science, you do nothing to dissuade them, and then resort to handwaving, then your credibility goes out the window.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for ordinary citizens to question scientists, particularly since science is all about questioning. We should do a lot more of it, both of our scientists and politicians (and businesses as well.) Hopefully, digging through these emails and documents will shed more light on the situation, and let us make a more reasoned determination as to what to actually do about it.