Climategate Anniversary

Today is the 5th anniversary of the start of the ‘Climategate’ incident. Here’s a brief summary of what happened, plus IPCC-related issues raised and some thoughts on how it affected the opinion of scientists and the public.

On 17th November 2009, comments appeared on a number of sceptic blogs such as here at the Air Vent. The comment started with the text

“We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps.
We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents.
Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.
This is a limited time offer, download now:”

This was followed by a link to the file of emails and a brief summary of some of the contents.

Two years later, a second file was released, with links posted on six blogs. This included a README.txt file (converted to pdf since wordpress does not allow .txt files) which gives some insight into the motivation:

“Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”
“Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”
“One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.
“Poverty is a death sentence.”
“Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize
greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”
Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on
hiding the decline.

This included about 5000 emails, plus an encrypted file containing over 200000 emails.

A third announcement was made in March 2013. This said that the person who hacked/leaked the emails acted alone, without any oill funding or political support, and hints at a past academic career.

Climategate and the IPCC

Here are some of the emails relating to the IPCC:

Phil Jones writing to Michael Mann:
“The other paper by MM is just garbage – as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well – frequently as I see it. I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !”
[MM = McIntyre & McKitrick. In fact their paper was cited by IPCC AR4!]

Jones to Mann again:
“Mike, Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise… Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same?”

Tom Wigley says that
“In my (perhaps too harsh) view, there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC.”

Climate scientists Heinz Wanner says that he was a reviewer of the IPCC TAR (2001) and criticised it’s extensive use of the Mann Hockey Stick picture, but his comments were ignored.

Peter Thorne writes in regard to preparation of IPCC AR4,
“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.”

IPCC TAR Chapter 3 author Phil Jones repeatedly breaks the IPCC rules
“I’m not supposed to send these out, so you got them from Albert.”

Hans von Storch writes
“Stupid, politicized action by IPCC, not MBH’s responsibility. IPCC did one more of these silly oversellings – by showing the damage curve by Munich Re without proper caveat in the fig caption”

Phil Jones comments on political bias in the IPCC SPM
“He says he’ll read the IPCC Chapters! He hadn’t as he said he thought they were politically biased. I assured him they were not. The SPM may be, but not the chapters.”

Climategate and opinion

Contrary to the nonsense on the subject in the Wikipedia article, Climategate had an impact on the opinion of both scientists and the general public.

Climate scientist Judith Curry described in an interview how “Climategate and the weak response of the IPCC and other scientists triggered a massive re-examination of my support of the IPCC, and made me look at the science much more sceptically”.

Berkeley physicist Richard Muller discusses the notorious “hide the decline” graph here, saying that you don’t do this and that there’s now a group of scientists whose work he doesn’t trust.

At a meeting in Nottingham, Physicist Philip Moriarty said that he and colleagues were shocked by Climategate, and used the word “anathema” in relation to the withholding of data.

Mike Hulme wrote an interesting essay After Climategate … Never the Same in which he discusses the impact on science and scientists. He also notes the impact on the opinion of Guardian writer George Monbiot (who called for Phil Jones to resign) and the general public, saying that a survey soon after the event showed a significant decline in concern about climate change and public trust in climate science.

A paper by Leiserowitz et al, “Climategate, Public Opinion, and the Loss of Trust” found a significant decline in Americans’ climate change beliefs between 2008 and 2010 (from 57% saying human activity was causing warming to 47%). They also asked specific questions about climategate, to confirm that this was a significant factor.

Other papers on Climategate include Reiner Grundmann’s “Climategate” and The Scientific Ethos, which discusses the issue in relation to traditional (“Mertonian”) and more policy-linked ways of thinking about science; The legacy of climategate, by Maibach et al, who say that it increased the partisan divide in US politics; and Climate change and ‘climategate’ in online reader comments by Koteyko, Jaspal & Nerlich.

Climategate did not change my own views very much, but made me more confident that my assessment that climate change is exaggerated and politicised was correct. To me, the real scandal was not so much that two or three climate scientists behaved badly, but that virtually the entire climate science community tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Lewandowsky’s Loopy Logic

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try to ignore the Lewandowsky nonsense, but  occasionally  an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss. In The Conversation this week there’s an article “Are you a poor logician? Logically, you might never know” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Richard Pancost. Yes, Lewandowsky, the Chair of Cognitive Psychology at University of Bristol, who writes papers on his pre-determined conclusions without apparently noticing that his data doesn’t support them, has written an article about people who aren’t very good at thinking logically, and who over-rate their own competence; the article goes on to stress the importance of “introducing accurate scientific knowledge into public debates”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

So I posted the following comment at The Conversation (and knowing the tendency of The Conversation to delete comments that don’t support their agenda, promptly took a screen shot).

Lewandowsky’s logical blunder has been reported on numerous occasions, by Steve McIntyre here, here and here, by ManicBeanCounter, by Jose Duarte and by Brandon Shollenberger, who showed how Lewandowskyan logic can be used to show that people who are concerned about climate change are pedophiles. Here is Brandon’s plot of Lewandowsky’s data, which nicely illustrates the error (small random numbers have been added to the responses so that they show up individually):

This is the data that Lewandowsky used to justify his notorious paper “NASA faked the moon landing—therefore, (climate) science is a hoax”. Despite the obvious errors, and calls for retraction, the journal Psychological Science has so far stubbornly refused to take any action.

After the section on logical thinking and the Dunning-Kruger effect, of which Lewandowsky himself is such a fine example, the remainder of the Lewandowsky-Pancost article sinks further. There is an unfair personal attack on Anthony Watts, saying that he thinks hot buildings contribute to warming, when in fact, as the authors are well aware, his concern has been with the poor siting of weather stations. Then there is the false analogy of smoking causing lung cancer – at the risk of stating the obvious, tens of thousands of people die every year from lung cancer, almost all of them smokers, so the link is perfectly clear, unlike the claims about future warming based on speculative computer models that are increasingly failing to match reality.

My comment was deleted by the Conversation’s moderators, and I received an email giving their guidelines – none of which were broken by comment. It can’t really be seen as off-topic, since it’s about logical thinking, and there are other comments that are much more off-topic that survived. Presumably the excuse would be that pointing out Lewandowsky’s errors counts as a “personal attack” – though he himself is allowed to attack Anthony Watts. (My comment survives at this blog where the article is copied). Several other comments were deleted and the comment thread was rapidly closed.

A future post will deal more specifically with the so-called Conversation, its censorship of comments, its abuse of public funding, and its bogus claims of “Academic rigour” and being “free of political bias”.

Update 10 Nov:

Some more links:

Ben Pile has an article on Lewandowsky’s Logic and what he aptly terms the “Nonversation”. He also notes the failure of the academic community to act as a check, and how this then reflects badly on the entire field.

Ben links to a series of three recent posts at by Andy West at WUWT. One of Andy’s main points is that Lewandowsky, and the climate movement generally is a prime example of the cognitive bias failings that he accuses others of – similar to the point I am making here.

Brandon Shollenberger reminds me that he wrote a longer document on the statistical error.

Finally, the LiveFromGolgafrincham blog has been fortunate to procure a special guest post from the man himself, in which he explains that the latest Conversation article was in fact intended to be a humorous parody, which makes a lot of sense.

Update 13 Nov: Latest Lewpy Logic

Another own goal by Lewandowsky appeared yesterday. A short, content-free opinion piece by him was published by IOP (have they forgotten what the P stands for?). It is the latest instalment in his “every-one-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-conspiracy-theorist” canon. His paper draws attention to climategate, by claiming that sceptic blogs show a “continued and growing fascination” with it.
Yet again, the man exposes his clueless lack of self-awareness.
Needless to say, Lewandowsky’s claim of “continued and growing” sceptic fascination is nonsense. The above link shows that Climate Audit has had one article on Climategate in 2014, none in 2013 , and one in 2012. The much more active WUWT blog has had 4 in 2014, 2 in 2013, 16 in 2012, and 22 in Nov-Dec alone in 2011, following Climategate 2. Maybe someone can do a more thorough investigation?
ATROSTO again, it is he, by publishing this inane article, who exhibits “continued and growing fascination”, and “continued conspiratory obsession”.

As Judith Curry wrote on twitter, “New paper by Lewandowsky once again projects his own conspiracy ideation onto skeptics”.

In her latest blog post, We are all confident idiots, she writes “Lew is so busy dissecting the ‘bias’ of climate change skeptics that he misses his own rather glaring biases.”

WUWT writes “More insane conspiracy theory from Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University”

IPCC Synthesis Report – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The last gasp of IPCC AR5, the Synthesis Report, was published on Sunday, Nov 2nd. There is a full report , 116 pages, and a concise 40-page Summary for Policymakers. There’s also a short press release. The idea of this report is to summarise and collate the main points from the reports of the three working groups that have already been published, so there shouldn’t really be anything new here, though there may be a change in tone or emphasis.  The comments here are based on the full report.  There seems to be a sequence of non sequiturs between the different sections of the report, and between the report and the way it has been reported in the media – the usual game of climate chinese whispers.


The report starts well on “Topic 1″, the basic observational data. It says there has been a warming of about 0.85 [0.65-1.06] C since 1880.  It acknowledges that there’s been virtually no warming over the last 15 years, and that Antarctic sea ice has increased. It says that the current rate of sea level rise is very similar to that in the early 20th century.

On extreme weather events, the report claims very little. It says that warming causes warming – the number of cold days has decreased and warm days have increased, which reminds me of this quote. In a similar vein they say that heat-related deaths have increased while cold-related deaths have decreased.  There is a rather tentative claim about heavy precipitation events, saying that it is likely that there have been more increases than decreases.  But exactly what is a heavy precipitation event, how is it measured, and how accurately and when and where have they been measured? They say there’s ‘low confidence’ in anything to do with flooding, droughts and tropical cyclones, which ought to quieten down the Green Blob claims of storms being caused by global warming, but probably won’t.


The report deteriorates sharply when it gets on to Topic 2, “Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts” (p 18). This starts with the bold claim that “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”.  No uncertainty is expressed, there’s just the word “will”. No mention is made of the fact these are projections based on speculative computer models that have completely failed to predict the slow-down in warming or the increase in Antarctic ice discussed in the previous section.

There’s a prediction of 0.3-0.7C of warming over the period 2016-2035, which they say does not depend on emissions but would depend on any major volcano’s or changes in the sun’s output.  The scare-quote above about “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” is repeated, leading on to claims of severe ill-health, food and water insecurity, loss of ecosystems, droughts and floods, and even violent conflict.

Topic 3 on adaptation and mitigation makes similar overconfident claims, repeating yet again the threat of severe impacts scare unless we undertake mitigation. Here the IPCC comes close to breaking its own guidelines, that it is “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive”.


The next step in the exaggeration game is how the report is described in the media. The BBC said

“Fossil fuels must be phased out by 2100″

This was the headline of an article on the BBC website. The IPCC said no such thing (which would have been a clear breach of their policy guidelines) – the word ‘must’ does not appear anywhere. The BBC changed the word ‘must’ to the slightly less misleading ‘should’ – possibly as a result of a tweet I sent to them. But this incorrect statement has been widely copied, for example in the Mail. The Guardian headline is “rapid carbon emission cuts vital”, with the obligatory misleading picture of white water vapour from a cooling tower back-lit to make it look black. The Independent says it’s a “final warning” and also picks up on the fossil fuel phase-out by 2100. Even the normally more reliable Emily Gosden in the Telegraph writes incorrectly that “Global emissions must fall by at least 40 per cent by 2050 and be cut to zero by the end of the century, the report from the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change warns”.

What the IPCC actually said about phasing out fossil fuels was (main report p 51, SPM p 19): “In the majority of low‐concentration stabilization scenarios… fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100.”

Update Nov 4: Coverage elsewhere

In Spiegel Online, Axel Bojanowski says the IPCC has put alarm before accuracy, citing examples where the summary is more alarmist than the main report, in particular on the danger of extinction (comments in English here).

Jo Nova says the IPCC is recycling its message of doom, despite being consistently wrong.

Carbon Brief reports on “What’s new and interesting in the IPCC synthesis report” – which ought to be a very short blog article.

RTCC has several articles, including a summary in tweets and a claim that the report was watered down.

James Delingpole summarises the IPCC message as “Buy our snake oil or the world gets it”.

Marcel Crok has a blog post “IPCC bias in action”, saying that there is much less discussion of climate sensitivity than in AR4 (no mention at all in the SPM).

Matt Ridley says the IPCC high emission scenario “makes wildly unrealistic assumptions” and exaggerates future warming.

IPCC meeting to prepare Synthesis Report

The world’s news media have been agog with excitement this week over the latest IPCC meeting, taking place in Copenhagen. Well, I found one BBC article about it.  The purpose of the meeting is to finalise the AR5 Synthesis Report – an overall report that summarises and synthesises the main points of the AR5 reports from the three working groups that have been published over the last year. The Synthesis report will be published on Sunday, and the BBC article says it’s to be the guiding document for the save-the-planet climate talks in Paris next year.

There is a press release which includes the rallying cry “it is not hopeless”, and an opening statement by the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri that ends with the famous Gandhi quote “First they ignore you … then you win”. In view of the absence of media coverage, I wonder if it’s the other way round.

Even the Green Blob organisations seem to have little enthusiasm, either not discussing it at all or adopting a jaded tone – at RTCC, Richard Black says “You may think that you’ve been here before” and wonders why he should bother to read the report; the blog comments underneath are mostly dismissive.


Owen Paterson’s speech

Yesterday Owen Paterson gave a speech to the GWPF, “Keeping the lights on”. The full transcript is here at GWPF and here at the Spectator with comment thread.

It’s getting quite a lot of publicity – perhaps the most high-profile expression of climate scepticism for some time. It was mentioned on the BBC Radio news, and Paterson was interviewed on the Radio 4 Today Programme. It has been covered at the BBC, Telegraph, Mail, though some of these articles were written before the speech was given, based on pre-released snippets. The Times (£) focuses on Paterson’s comments about alleviating poverty. Bishop Hill attended the talk and has a post on it.

The Green Blob has rallied its armies to attack Paterson, with all the usual suspects having a go, Bob Ward, Carbon Brief, Carbon Brief again. RTCC declares that it’s a debate but “not the one the public want”. The Committee on Climate Change has also responded. The Green Blob seems particularly reluctant to allow anyone to see what Paterson actually said. Carbon Brief, for example, have no link to the text of the speech – a link misleadingly entitled “Owen Paterson gives his views on climate and energy” links to the CCC criticism. Business Green has an interview with Ed Davey.

Greenpeace “scientist” is a golden rice denier

The brazen dishonesty of some activists never ceases to amaze.
This morning, Greenpeace’s “Chief Scientist” Doug Parr was interviewed on the Today Programme (go to about 1:33). [Update: Alex Cull has now produced a transcript.]

The story started with stem cell research, then moved on to golden rice, the topic being introduced by Patrick Moore. Golden rice is engineered to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency, which is a serious problem in many parts of the developing world.

Parr claimed that

“let’s also be clear that it doesn’t actually exist yet”.

As anyone can check, from the Wikipedia article linked above or from numerous other sources, golden rice has existed for a decade or so.

It has undergone trials, some of which have unfortunately been vandalised by those misled by the irresponsible idiocy of people like Doug Parr. The activists who attacked the trial even lied about who had carried out the attack.
It is not yet in widespread use, thanks to the opposition from Greenpeace and others, and according to one study, delay in its implementation has cost over a million life-years in India alone.

gp It’s clear from Greenpeace’s website, with it’s weird picture of a man with a top hat and moustache,  that their objection to golden rice is based on their view that it’s a money-making scheme for (Victorian?) western businessmen – which is incorrect, as philanthropic organisations like the Gates Foundation are now supporting golden rice development.

But why fib about its existence to millions of Radio 4 listeners?

When climate scientists criticise each other

One of the complaints regularly made by climate sceptics is that climate scientists do not speak up and publicly criticise exaggerated or alarmist claims from within their own community. This post discusses a recent example where this did happen, leading to a complaint and a dispute.  As well as being of interest to the climate debate, the incident also raises questions about the use of social media such as twitter by scientists. Ex-climate scientist William Connolley has a blog post on this, which I largely agree with.

The Royal Society held a meeting on Sept 22-23 on Arctic sea ice reduction.  During the meeting, tweets were sent out using the hashtag #RSArctic14.  Many of these came from Mark Brandon (@icey_mark), one of the organisers of the meeting, but other participants including Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) and Ed Hawkins (@Ed_Hawkins) also joined the twitter discussion, as did some journalists (Jonathan Amos and Jonathan Leake), along with the official Royal Society twitter account, and others who were not at the meeting. All of this indicates that the use of twitter provided an effective outreach mechanism for the conference.

One talk was given by Prof Peter Wadhams, who is known for his statements that the Arctic ice will disappear completely around 2015, often promoted unquestioningly by irresponsible journalists. When Wadhams gave his talk, a number of climate scientists sent out critical tweets, as noted at the time by Bishop Hill. Here are a few of these:

@icey_mark: Wadhams uses photos and anecdote to imply state of sea ice across the Arctic.

@icey_mark: Wadhams: uses UK submarine data to look at thickness but very very data poor. Not credible plots

@ClimateOfGavin:  Wadhams still using graphs with ridiculous projections with no basis in physics.

@ClimateOfGavin:  Wadhams clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations.

@Ed_Hawkins: Good to see Wadhams extreme views challenged by other climate scientists. Disappointed he didn’t agree to bet on 2015 sea-ice!

@ClimateOfGavin: In case there was any ambiguity, statements by Wadhams on arctic sea ice/CH4 trends are *not* widely agreed with by scientists

@nathanaelmelia:  Entertaining break with Wadhams. Back to science now

@jamesannan: Hasn’t Wadhams already predicted 4 of the last 0 ice-free summers?

Wadhams (who does not tweet) heard of this, and wrote a number of letters of complaint (I have extracted these from a potentially confusing longer document produced by Mark Brandon). The first complaint letter is addressed to the Royal Society and is aimed mainly at Brandon.  It  was also sent to the head of Brandon’s university and the head of co-organiser Sheldon Bacon’s institute.  Wadhams claims that Brandon and Bacon “actively ridiculed” his presentation, and referred to “sarcasm” and “snickering”.  The letter is followed by a list of Brandon’s tweets, which show that Wadhams’s complaint is without foundation.  A second complaint letter from Wadhams is addressed to NASA, where Gavin Schmidt has recently been appointed Director of GISS.  Schmidt’s tweets are more critical than Brandon’s, and some could be regarded as sarcastic in tone, but he is well known for his outspoken style, so his comments are not surprising or unusual.  Wadhams makes no attempt to address the scientific content of the criticisms.

In response, Bacon, Brandon and Schmidt wrote a six-page memorandum, where they note, among other things, the informal nature of twitter, and also point out they did defend Wadhams when someone (in fact another climate scientist) asked why he had been invited to speak. They also say that they regard Wadhams’s actions – writing to the heads of their institutions – as intimidation and bullying. They also wrote a much longer supplementary document (the one I referred to as potentially confusing, as it does not say it is written by them) where they go through each of the controversial tweets, explaining the context, and in some cases “in jokes”, behind them.  This must have been a great deal of work for them.  In this documents they twice make the point that I started with:
‘Climate scientists are often accused of not being critical of work presented by “their own”.’
‘we re-iterate that climate scientists have long been criticized for not speaking against those who some may consider “extremists” within our community.’

 Update 17th Oct

Mark Brandon has been saying for a few days that he has received a further complaint from Peter Wadhams, and he has now made this public, together with annotations in response by him (Brandon).  Again Wadhams sent his complaint to the President of the Royal Society and other senior figures, which seems excessive. This complaint includes the suggestion  of a legal threat: “These may well be defamatory, a question on which legal counsel may be taken”.  He also includes the tweets that he finds most offensive, which are mostly from Gavin Schmidt. Some of Wadhams’s comments are absurd, as pointed out in Brandon’s annotations:  for example he says that an apology would have been appropriate and then we could have moved on, but his original complaint did not make a request for an apology. He claims that twitter is “not open to all”, and suggests that tweets should have been sent to him by email or regular mail!

In case anyone cares or is wondering exactly where I stand, I’m 80% in support of Brandon, Bacon & Schmidt. Wadhams’s complaint is ridiculously over-the-top. But I do think that some of Gavin’s tweets were a bit too rude and he probably should avoid this tone when tweeting from conference talks in future.

Also, there is more discussion at the blogs of Doug McNeall, Victor Venema and Bishop Hill.

Update 27th Oct

On twitter, Mark Brandon reports that the Royal Society has responded. The whole response has not been made public but here are some quotes:

“The Royal Society believes that there is benefit in making the proceedings of our meetings widely available, including publishing audio recordings and through the use of social media. This helps to ensure that debate is more possible and engages not only those at the meeting but also others who are not able to attend…”

“it is clear that the vast majority of the tweets from the meeting were written to help keep people informed … this is to be welcome.  A small number [of tweets] were lacking in courtesy and could easily be perceived as being inappropriate for scientific debate. We are looking at our guidelines concerning tweets in discussion meetings … to see if they need to be modified”.

Their view seems to agree with what I said above.