As it became obvious that Climategate II was the release of more emails from the same 2009 leak many prominent news outlets have tried adopting an ‘ostrich position’. But just as with Climategate 1.0 the contours of the climate debate change right in front of our eyes. The change is leaving some of the expert pissants stranded in their own wake.
The slow drip-drip release of emails has had quite an unfortunate effect on the knights of the consensus— every leak gives them just enough rope to hang from, at the time of the next leak.
When the dust settled from Climategate part I, there was still a hastily hacked-out path back to the old (pre-2005) comforting fetal position. Many activists, journalists and scientists resorted to taking this path. Clues to this type of thinking are evident in RealClimate’s latest post where it still imagines of going back to the good old days:
We anticipate normal service will be resumed shortly
But, ‘normal service’ never resumed at Realclimate even the last time around. A few thoughtful ones of course, broke ranks. One fine day Judith Curry suddenly found herself cut off and facing the rabid wrath of the consensus. Top Amazon researcher and modeller Richard Betts though firmly in the consensus speaks his own mind. So does Jonathan Jones. So do Hans von Storch and Eduardo Zorita. von Storch in particular must be blinking at the trick pulled on on him when he was briefly editor-in-chief at the journal Climate Research.
In any event one of the key messages that news and opinion outlets tried promulgating was this: ‘Yes, there have been some leaks. But the leaks do nothing to damage the consensus in climate science. Scientists are unanimous in their belief of anthropogenic global warming’. But Climategate II emails paint a completely different picture unrolling behind the scenes.
So the message changes as well. Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia in a rapid response item to Climategate II says (emphasis mine):
Reading down these selective quotes, what comes across to me is that climate scientists are a diverse, complex and argumentative bunch, much like any other group of people. They argue about the data and trash the models. They bitch about their colleagues. Some see global warming as a “cause” and all are passionate about the importance of their work, but they worry and complain that the science is becoming distorted by the politics. Some feel that their religious belief requires them to promote the stewardship of the Earth; others feel that their critics are driven by religious zealotry.
So what to make of all that? That they are diverse, sometimes contradictory, and have multiple motives. Well, so what? Welcome to the human race!
New York blogger Keith Kloor goes one step further:
But before we move on, there is one notable observation shared by all sides, which deserves greater attention. And that is the healthy display of outright skepticism in many of the highlighted [Climategate II email] exchanges.
Seriously gentlemen, when you talk about a diverse, contradictory bunch who argue about data and trash the models and display outright skepticism, are you sure you are not referring to climate deniers who akin to Holocaust deniers ought to be tried for crimes against humanity?
I particularly loved Watson’s ‘Welcome to the human race’ comment. Climate scientists belong to the rarefied elite who alone are capable of reading the tea leaves of IPCC models, and yet belong to the entire human race when they make mistakes.
Watson however left out one inconvenient bit from his description though – that some climate scientists were just as political and motivated as the rest of the human race is. But such an admission would be the deathknell to science’s credibility, as Christopher Caldwell at the Financial Times points out (via Junkscience.com):
But that is everything. Voters in a democracy do not argue about science. They argue about the authority of scientists. And scientists’ claim to authority comes from the perception that, in fact, they do not let their vanities and rivalries influence their work. Where others pursue their grubby little self-interest, scientists pursue only the truth. The emails of 2009, however, showed that some prominent members of the climate-change establishment were not operating in a spirit of openness. Defending a scientist’s furtiveness on the grounds that “his science is good” is like defending a politician’s blunder on the grounds that he “did nothing illegal”. The emails were damaging because they undermined the scientists’ claim to be speaking as scientists rather than as interested parties.
If scientists are shown to be colluding to arrive at a given result, then the halo around science dissipates. Any voter who does not want to be duped must suspend his scepticism. He must listen to scientists with no more deference than he does any other interest group.
To those outside the climate establishment part of the problem have long seemed obvious.
This brings us to the central problem – current deficiencies and uncertainties in climate science are not allowed to become part of everyday discussion. This is obviously because they are seen as damaging to the strength of the dominant paradigm. ‘Dominant paradigm’ is of course something we are all familiar with – “the earth is warming, humans are the cause and while there are some minor questions, most of the science is settled”.
“Let us make our case strong first”, the climate establishment thinks, “and then we can discuss our questions and doubts”. This is both wrong and foolish. You make your case strong by openly discussing doubts. But then of course, in order to do that, a measure of confidence in your own science and data is needed first.
In the statements by journalists and scientists above one can see the slow, painful by inexorable move to the same position. Keep your problems, your data and your methods out in the open. Your case may take a while to take root (and there is a chance it might not have any takers at all), but the support you get will be much stronger and long-lasting. Climategate II should be an eye-opener for establishment scientists still chasing illusions of UN-conference-mediated global policy change, wrought by their own science.