Climategate: The Truth Hurts When It Hits You in the Head

The joke on the internet these days is "What do Tiger Woods and Phil Jones of East Anglia University in Britain have in common? They both got hit in the head by a model."

In 2007, Professors David Douglass, John Christy, Benjamin Pearson, and Fred Singer wrote a scientific paper in the International Journal of Climatology, which compared Global Climate Models (GCMs) with real observed data. GCMs were theoretically designed to forecast how greenhouse gases (GHGs) are warming the planet. 

There are certain rules that must be followed in scientific investigations in order to ensure that the results and conclusions are not erroneous. Basically, the process requires an investigator to operate under multiple hypotheses so that he is not blinded to facts that might contradict one of his hypotheses and leave him with a dead end. An investigator should start by working from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, and always bend the theory to fit the facts -- not the other way around. This is exactly how the four scholars led by Professor Douglass conducted their investigation into the accuracy of the GCMs.

The GCMs were touted by the now-discredited Dr. Jones as accurate predictions of how the planet is responding to GHGs, but no serious published work had been done to compare these GCMs with real observations to find out if the theoretical models agreed with the established facts. The results of these comparisons done by Prof. Douglass and his team were found to be significantly divergent. The paper states the following:

Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean.

In English, that says that the models could not be trusted. This news publicly enraged the gang led by Dr. Jones. They fired off more than 29 e-mails concerning this one paper. But the real story is that these findings did not surprise them. In one of the recently uncovered Climategate e-mails from Dr. Fred Pearce to Dr. Keith Briffa, dated the 13th of October, 1996, Dr. Pearce delivers the bad news that the data does not agree with the models.

The models' error was not, perhaps, too surprising. As Barnett points out, they do not include vital "forcing" mechanisms that alter temperature, such as solar cycles and volcanic eruptions. Nor can they yet mimic the strength of the largest year-on-year variability in the natural system, the El Nino oscillation in the Pacific Ocean, which has a global impact on climate.

This statement means that as far back as 1996, the Jones Gang knew that the GCMs were producing significant errors and problems. This resulted an inability to reconcile the forecasts with reality. They seemingly knew that specifically excluding solar and El Niño influences would cause the forecast to be untrustworthy. But apparently they wished to keep these problems a secret. So to accomplish this, they chose to deal with the problem in a surprising way, as the e-mail further states:

Of course we don't have to believe the proxy data.

So now are they suggesting that they alter or ignore the data rather than bend their theory to fit the facts? In other words, are they completely disregarding the scientific method?

When trying to come up with a response to Prof. Douglass's International Journal of Climatology paper, Dr. Ben Santer wrote to Dr. Jones and admitted that the basic premise of the work done by Prof. Douglass and his collaborators was correct. They had run head-first in to the cold, hard truth (ouch), as revealed in Sater's e-mail, dated the 12th of December, 2007, when he stated the following:

It is difficult to identify a subset of models that consistently does well in many different regions and over a range of different timescales.

What Dr. Santer is saying here is that clearly, the GCMs are broken, but that even a broken clock is right twice a day. As any forecaster at the National Hurricane Center will tell you, the only forecast models that they trust are models that consistently perform well. When lives are on the line, you don't take chances by using an unreliable forecast model.

So in response to their dilemma of having to deal with the truth, the Jones Gang seems to abandon all scientific methods and decides to proceed down the rabbit hole and embrace the tactics of attorneys. In law school, they teach the students that if the law is on your side, argue the law; if the facts are on your side, argue the facts; but if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, then you have no choice but to try to discredit the witness.

The difference between scientists like Prof. Douglas and lawyers like Al Gore is that scientists seek the truth, while lawyers find the truth to be a simple matter of convenient choice to be used or obscured as needed. 

The choice that the Jones Gang appears to make is to impugn the reputation of these scholars by referring to them as charlatans and pondering how to get them fired, as is detailed in this e-mail Dr. Tom Wigley sent on the 10th of December, 2007, to Dr. Santer:

... what Douglass has done would cause him to lose his job.

It is true that five hundred years ago, when a scientist challenged the prevailing accepted view of things, he would lose his job (and even get locked up like Galileo), but this is the twenty-first century! The inquisition is over...or is it?

The apparent plotting seems to take shape as this cabal begins to scheme and set traps for Prof. Douglass's collaborators, as is suggested in this e-mail from Dr. Wigley, dated the 29th of December, 2007:

Dear all,

I was recently at a meeting in Rome where Fred Singer was a participant. He was not on the speaker list, but, in advance of the meeting, I had thought he might raise the issue of the Douglass et al. paper. I therefore prepared the attached power point -- modified slightly since returning from Rome. As it happened, Singer did not raise the Douglass et al. issue, so I did not use the ppt. Still, it may be useful for members of this group so I am sending it to you all.

Please keep this in confidence. I do not want it to get back to Singer or any of the Douglass et al. co-authors.

If this were some floor fight in Congress, where the "honorable" members are duking it out over some piece of legislation, this kind of language could be expected, but these are supposedly scientists. Men of science are supposed to be ethical and motivated only by the pursuit of truth. These e-mails seem to paint a very different picture of the Jones Gang.