Climate-Gate: Conspiracy, Or Just Poor Argument

I don't often get off the subject of space or wax political about anything, but the recent so-called "climate-gate" affair involving hacked emails from climate scientists has piqued my curiosity - although since climate science involves the use of satellites it's technically still about space...

So, what's all this about then?
Recently, thousands of emails between a group of climate scientists going back over the last 13 or so years were hacked. Climate change "deniers" picked up on two seemingly suspicious phrases within the emails and claimed they alone invalidate decades of climate science that overwhelmingly points to a warming planet caused by the activity of man. Yep, that's right, from thousands of private emails, two phrases were removed from context and presented as the death blow to climate change theory. Now color me skeptical (chortle chortle), but you have to be pretty desperate about the chances of your argument to wield such a tiny piece of fluff as the ultimate weapon of Armageddon.

These are the two phrases in question:

"I've just completed Mike's nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline." - Phil Jones, Director Climate Research.

"The fact is we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." - Kevin Trenberth, Climate scientist.

This is the best evidence they could find of widespread fraud about climate change from thousands of emails over 13 years. This is the evidence of a conspiracy. The word "trick" is widely used in science to denote an innovative or clever method of analyzing data. Tricks that work go on to become regularly used methods in successful theories. The word is in no way indicative of fraudulent activity. Not being able to account for something is not unusual in science, and it quickly becomes an invalid statement once something is found to be accountable. As evidence of fraud, this is an EPIC FAIL!

So aside from the inanity, let's give it a little bit of context. Imagine a collection of letters was discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, and in those letters he revealed he had to play about with some numbers to make his equations about gravity work properly. Proof that gravity is a hoax, right? Well, no it isn't. All it proves is that it took some work to come up with a valid theoretical construct to accurately describe the facts of gravity. Now of course Newton's theory has been mostly superseded, but any invalidation was the result of new evidence and research, not by isolating his tribulations as a scientist. The same applies to climate theory; any invalidation will have to come from evidence and research, not from sensationalizing a few errant quotes mined from a mountain of private chatter between people in the midst of a scientific process.

So, is global warming all a big fraud then?
Of course not. Just as the theory of gravity is an ever-evolving logical construct that we use to describe and act upon the facts of gravity, so is climate theory an ever-evolving logical construct that we use to describe and act upon the facts of climate change. I do of course grant that climate theory and the theory of gravity are not as well supported by facts as the theory of evolution, but that in no way makes them any less viable. If I drop an apple, it falls to Earth - fact. Opposable thumbs have traceable evolutionary lineages - fact. Burn a fossil fuel and I contribute to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere - fact. These facts remain, whether I like them or not, and more importantly whether I agree with them or not - for all I gain by disagreeing with them is the right to call myself a denier.

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy said it perfectly on his blog: "You may not like it, but in modern climatology, global warming is accepted as the standard. It’s not up to me or anyone to prove it right at this point, it’s up to scientists to show it’s wrong. To do that you’ll need a lot of really good evidence, and from what I have seen and read that evidence is not there [in the emails]." And I agree with him completely when he says: "I don’t cling to AGW because of political bent or any ideology. I think global warming is real because of the overwhelming evidence pointing that way."

Phil's post is a very informative read on the subject. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/12/04/global-warming-emails-followup/

I rarely get opinionated, but this kind of nonsense snaps something in my happy place and I just have to do something to fix it. Much as I would love to, I can no more deny that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a reality, than I can deny that there are people who think money spent on space exploration is actually spent - in space. It would please me no end to find that Global Warming was a massive hoax, because despite the fact that it is littered with whackaloons and nutjobs, I actually have something of an affinity with my species. I think we have incredible potential - if we can just weed out the whackaloons and nutjobs.

Try not to stay too globally warm, Spacers!

Digg this