Thursday, 23 February 2012

Digging for the truth

I have long thought that it is going to be nearly impossible to get to the truth - if anything can be defined as the 'truth' - of the AGW debate. Partly this is because of the problems of modelling the future in a system as complex and little understood as Earth's, and partly because our actions and other effects can combine to make those models redundant.  For this reason, it will always be a best-guess estimate.

However it is interesting to see how both sides (*) are fighting each other. The AGW-proponents do themselves a disservice by lumping all critics into a 'global warming denier' grouping, where the spectrum of sceptic views are far more varied than that. Likewise, some sceptics tend to extrapolate from small problems rather than look at the big picture.

First, I would like to make a big proviso: the events in this blog post are recent and events are moving fast; I have had to look at many different sources to produce it, some of which are contradictory. I have tried to be as even-handed as possible, but that is not always possible. The links I have added should allow you to do your own research and form your own opinions.

'Climategate', the release of rather embarrassing emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, was well covered in the media. At best they showed the researchers at the CRU as being obstructive and more interested in the politics of climate change than getting to the truth, which they seem to have predetermined. As part of that crisis, allegations of hacking led to an expensive criminal inquiry by the police. This was despite it being distinctly possible that the documents came from a publicly-accessible server (i.e. they had essentially been published). As far as I am aware, no charges have been bought with regards to the 'hacking'.

Last week some documents were released from an American anti-global warming group called the Heartland Institute (HI). The documents made some claims that some AGW proponents jumped on, claiming shadowy organisations funded the HI (**). However, pretty soon some people, notably at Watts up with That and elsewhere, noticed that the document that showed the HI at it worst was stylistically different from the others. There is also some doubt about the contents of some of the other documents, although HI have only claimed one is an out-and-out forgery.

The HI soon said that one of the documents had been faked; strangely enough this was the one that others had noted as being different. Further research by sceptics showed that aspects of the faked document were stylistically similar to those produced by Peter Gleick, the head of the American Geophysical Union's Task Force on Scientific Ethics. Strangely, Gleick stood down from that position shortly afterwards.

A few days later Gleick admitted that he had got the confidential documents by deception: the accusation is that he impersonated a member of HI's board to get them. Instead of then doing an analysis under his own name, he then leaked them to a pro-AGW website. Although he denies it, he is also accused of faking the most damaging document.

The AGU do a great deal of good work; coincidentally I read several of their excellent blogs on geology and geography; I respect them far more than I do the CRU. However it is staggering that a scientist working for such an august and well-respected body can use deception to steal documents, then publish them. AGUs reaction has, so far, been good.

When the CRU emails were leaked the pro-AGW groups used (unproved) accusations of hacking to divert attention from the embarrassing contents. The HI scandal (and it s a scandal) involves impersonation and likely fakery. Potentially worse, allegedly some of the documents contained personal information about HI's employees.

Richard Black on the BBC has behaved disgustingly. When the CRU emails were released he refused to discuss the contents; in contrast he jumped on the HI's leak with gusto. Even his latest blog entry (on the BBC website) tries to paint over what Gleick did; instead he concentrates his fire on the HI. Black is purposefully missing the real story: one of deception and forgery, and instead attacks the victim. Well done, BBC.

It does not have to be this way. Judith Curry is an unusual scientist - she takes a rather different line to most, and gets shot at from both sides. She believes in AGW, but dislikes the way her fellow proponents are treating the science. Her blog post on this topic is far better, and compares Gleick's actions with his previous words as head of Scientific Ethics. BBC: get rid of Black and hire someone like Curry instead.

The truth matters. All Gleick and his supporters have done is make the truth harder to discern.

(*) Both sides is actually a misnomer - there are many different aspects and opinions in the debate.

(**) I find this interest in the funding of the HI funny - they have a small budget of $5 million a year, a tiny fraction of what pro-AGW organisations spend each year.


Alan Sloman said...

Spot on, David.

The BBC have never played an impartial role in the discussion on AGW and Richard Black is one of the chief culprits.

The truth *is* out there. But is certainly not as black & white as our IPCC are trying to make out.

I am sick & tired of being accused of being a "denier" (with all the nasty connotations associated with the holocaust deliberately implied) when in fact I just want an open intelligent debate without "sides" being taken.

Follow the money: Thatcher set up the IPCC when Britain was labelled "the Dirty Man of Europe" to gain the chair and the moral high ground. The vast sums of money spent on scientific research is defended to the death by these scientists, as to question what they say might reduce their funding.

As you rightly say, the tiny amount of funding of the Heartland Institute is a flea on the camel's back compared to all the money spent by pro AGW science.

Kevin said...

Richard Black can behave disgustingly, while Judith Curry believe in AGW. Everybody has different opinion on the topic. The important thing is to distinguish what the truth is.

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