ClimateGate Whitewash

There is now a desperate effort afoot by assorted climate alarmists to explain away the revelations of the incriminating e-mails leaked last year from the University of East Anglia (UEA). A concerted whitewash campaign is in full swing to save the IPCC and its questionable conclusion that the warming of the last thirty years is anthropogenic. But ongoing investigations so far have avoided the real issue, namely whether the reported warming is genuine or a manufactured result by scientists in England and the United States who manipulated temperature data.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has repeatedly characterized anthropogenic global warming (AGW) as a "hoax" -- and he may soon be vindicated. Certainly, the remedies invoked to "fight" AGW are a cruel hoax -- mainly a tax burden on low-income households who will pay more for electricity, food, transportation, and other necessities of life.

The UEA's "internal" investigation has largely absolved Dr. Philip Jones, the head of its Climate Research Unit (CRU) and author of most of the e-mails, of any misdeeds. (The UEA has also commissioned an "independent" investigation by Sir Robert Muir-Russell, due in August.) Pennsylvania State University (PSU) has merely slapped the wrists of Dr. Michael Mann for various ethical offenses but sees nothing wrong with the science. The United Nations, at the urging of the Royal Society and U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has launched a supposedly independent investigation of IPCC procedures to be conducted by the InterAcademyCouncil (IAC), a creature of the science academies. It is likely to backfire and lower further the public's opinion of the academies -- and indeed of science generally.

The latest report, by the British House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee, received testimony from many sources, conducted hearings, and largely absolved Jones. How can we tell that it's a whitewash? Here are some telltale signs:

  • It refers to the e-mails as "stolen."
  • It did not take direct testimony from scientifically competent skeptics,
  • Yet it concludes that there is nothing wrong with the basic science and that warming is human-caused -- essentially endorsing the IPCC.

These investigations have focused mainly on procedural issues and scientific ethics, including the withholding of data, preventing skeptical scientists from publishing their results, pressuring editors of scientific journals (often with their ready connivance), and generally misusing the peer review process. None of the investigations have gone into any detail on how the data might have been manipulated -- nor were any of the panels competent enough to do so. But this is really the most important task for any inquiry, since it deals directly with the central issue: Is there an appreciable human influence on climate change in the past decades? 

Instead, much of the attention of newspapers, and of the public, has focused on secondary issues involving climate impacts, not causes: the melting of Himalayan glaciers, the possible inundation of the Netherlands, deforestation of the Amazon, crop failures in Africa, etc. While these issues are important and demonstrate the sloppiness of the IPCC process, they cannot decide the cause of warming: natural or anthropogenic. 

So what do the e-mails really reveal?  We know that Jones and his gang largely succeeded in "hiding the decline" of temperature by using what he termed "Mike [Mann]'s trick." Most assume that this refers to CRU tree-ring data after 1960, which do show a decline in temperature. However, I believe that it refers to Michael Mann's "trick" in hiding the fact that his multi-proxy data did not show the expected warming after 1979. So he abruptly cut off his analysis in 1979 and simply inserted the thermometer data supplied by Jones, which do claim a strong temperature increase. Hence the "hockey-stick" graph in his Nature (1998) paper suggesting a sudden major warming period since the late '70s. 

Only a thorough investigation will be able to document that there was really no strong warming after 1979, that the instrumented record is based on data manipulation involving the selection of certain weather stations (and the omission of others that showed no warming), plus applying insufficient corrections for local heating. 

How to confirm this? The only possibility may be an investigation by the U.S. Congress. Not this Congress, of course. But after the November 2010 elections, control of important committees like Science may change. Hearings that use real experts can then unravel ClimateGate, demonstrate the manipulation of temperature data, and once and for all destroy the "warming trend" on which the IPCC has based its fanciful conclusion of anthropogenic global warming.

Once accomplished, it will become possible to do away with the myth that CO2 is a pollutant and all of the controls and regulations that are based on this mistaken notion. Yes, that includes EPA's Endangerment Finding on CO2 and all cap-and-tax legislation. The nation, and indeed the world, will be better off. 

The writer, an atmospheric physicist, is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He co-authored Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 years, a NY Times bestseller.