While I don’t have anything to link to yet, I’ve learned that the University of Virginia has responded in court to Ken Cuccinelli’s abusive legal move, opposing his discovery attempt on academic freedom grounds. Bravo! I hope to update this post with a link to the legal document as soon as I can.
After the large volume of climate skeptic/denier comments that came in yesterday disagreeing with my post on the relative insignificance of ClimateGate, I feel that more needs to be said. This time, let me couch my argument in a different format, so that perhaps it will be better understood.
Those of us who think this is all smoke and no fire are starting from the following position: There is a massive body of science, tested and retested and ratified by many leading scientific bodies, showing that global warming is real and human caused. So then we pose the following question: What would it take for “ClimateGate” to significantly weaken this body of evidence in a serious way?
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that all of the worst and most damning interpretations of these exposed emails are accurate. I don’t think this is remotely true, but let’s assume it.
Even if this is the case, it does not prove the following :
1) The scientists whose emails have been revealed are representative of or somehow a proxy for every other climate scientist on the planet.
2) The studies that have been called into questions based on the emails (e.g., that old chestnut the “hockey stick”) are somehow the foundations of our concern about global warming, and those concerns stand or fall based on those studies.
Neither one of these is true, which is why I can say confidently that “ClimateGate” is overblown–and which is why I’ve never been impressed by systematic attacks on the “hockey stick.” Even if that study falls, we still have global warming on our hands, and it’s still human caused.
My sense is that the climate skeptic commenters we’re seeing aren’t actually familiar with the vast body of climate science work out there, and don’t realize how most individual studies are little more than a drop in the evidentiary bucket. It is because of the consilience of evidence from multiple studies and fields that we accept that climate change is human caused, and it is because of the vast diversity and number of scientists, and scientific bodies, who find that evidence compelling that we talk of a consensus.
I don’t see how anything about “ClimateGate” changes this big picture significantly–and again, that’s even if we assume the worst about what the emails reveal.
By now you’ve probably heard (New York Times, Washington Post, RealClimate). A server at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was hacked; hundreds of emails from climate scientists are now public due to this despicable act. Global warming deniers are having a field day, because in some of the emails, the scientists are acting like, you know, people. They are also acting like scientists under fire, which is what they were and are. The Climate Research Unit is headed by Phil Jones, who has been involved in the highly public and seemingly unending “hockey stick” battle–and so peering into the emails lets the skeptics and deniers once again claim there was some kind of bad science involved in this one particular study, a claim they’ve been making for almost a decade now.
Of course, none of this is at all relevant to the climate issue today. It’s a nasty, ugly sideshow. The science of climate change doesn’t stand or fall based upon what a few scientists said in emails they always thought would remain private. And as for the “hockey stick”; well, fully four years ago, in The Republican War on Science, I explained why the right was using this as a distraction from the real issues:
…although it might create good publicity, the Right’s selective attack on [hockey stick study lead author Michael] Mann’s work ultimately presents a huge diversion for policymakers trying to decide what to do about global warming. Mann points out that he’s hardly the only scientist to produce a “hockey stick” graph–other teams of scientists have come up with similar reconstructions of past temperatures. And even if Mann’s work and all of the other studies that served as the basis for the IPCC  statement on the historical temperature record are wrong, that would not in any way invalidate the conclusion that humans are currently causing rising temperatures. “There’s a whole independent line of evidence, some of it very basic physics,” explains Mann.
That’s even truer now than it was in 2004, when I interviewed Mann, or 2005, when The Republican War on Science actually came out.
The fact is that no matter what a few scientists may have said in emails, we have to go to Copenhagen and deal with our warming, melting planet. That’s what matters. The rest of this is hot air, and–unless it can somehow be channeled to power a few wind turbines–it doesn’t do us or the planet any good.