Friday, November 15, 2019

Climategate Retrospective

Tempus fugit. It's been 10 years since the hacked emails of Climategate were released. (Wikileaks has the files.)

It was an interesting chapter, and it may have scuttled anything meaningful coming out of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which was held only a few weeks after the hack, which was its apparent goal. IFIRC there was a lot of hope going into that conference, and maybe the world was ready then to follow Al Gore and do something meaningful to address climate change. Would it have mattered? I don't know, but given that it's 10 years later and we're still struggling to do anything meaningful about climate might indicate a solid agreement at Copenhagen wouldn't have mattered much -- or, at least, not more than the Kyoto Protocol, whose targets were blown right past. I think the world would still be doing as little as it is today to address climate change even if the hacked emails hadn't been released -- the people making the big decisions aren't motivated by the science or what scientists wrote to each other about the science, they're motivated by (it seems to me) keeping the fossil fuel industry happy. (Even Obama, who wanted it both ways.) But maybe I'm wrong.

I was mentioned four times, I think, in the Climategate emails. They were very minor and I'm not going to pretend I mattered and I only got a couple of harassing emails from it. (Who know what it would be like if it happened in today's Internet environment.)
From: "Chris de Freitas" <>
To: Inter-Research Science Publisher <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 13:45:56 +1200
Subject: Re: Climate Research
Priority: normal
X-mailer: Pegasus Mail for Win32 (v3.12c)
Otto (and copied to Mike Hulme)
I have spent a considerable amount of my time on this matter and had my integrity attacked in the process. I want to emphasize that the people leading this attack are hardly impartial observers. Mike himself refers to "politics" and political incitement involved. Both Hulme and Goodess are from the Climate Research Unit of UEA that is not particularly well known for impartial views on the climate change; The CRU has a large stake in climate change research funding as I understand it pays the salaries of most of its staff.  I understand too the journalist David Appell was leaked information to fuel a public attack.
Presumably this pertains to an article I was reporting for Scientific American about the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper that came out 6 days after De Freitas's email. But his claim was untrue -- I was never leaked any information. (If only I was so fortunate.) Any information I had I received by simple reporting -- making phone calls and sending emails. I don't consider that article an "attack," just journalism. You can see that in another email, by Ross McKitrick:
From: Tim Osborn <>
To: "Phil Jones" <>,"Keith Briffa" <>
Subject: Fwd: Re: McIntyre-McKitrick and Mann-Bradley-Hughes
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003 16:12:53 +0000
>From: "Sonja.B-C" <>
>Date: Fri, 7 Nov 2003 15:58:06 +0000
>To: Steve McIntyre <>
>Subject: Re: McIntyre-McKitrick and Mann-Bradley-Hughes
>Cc:, Tim Osborn <>,
>         Ross McKitrick <>
>Priority: NORMAL
>X-Mailer: Execmail for Win32 5.1.1 Build (10)
>Dear Steve
>Please send your material for comment direct to Tim, Osborne.I
>would like to publish the whole debate early next year, but
>'respectful' comments in the meantime can only help and the CRU people
>seem genuinely interested and have integrity. I have never heard of
>such bad behaviour here as appears to have been the case between
>Sallie and Soon and the rest..the US adversarial system and too many
>As you know ,the  contact is Tim Osborn <> and I take
>the liberty to forward this to him now. You seem to suggest that this
>is welcome and are making make direct comments on his remarks to me
>concerning your paper.
>We shall get the printed proof, as a  single electronic file today, and
>shall look through it early next week. I am sure you do not want to see
>your paper again?  I think that adding anymore now (the exchanges
>between you and Mann/Bradley and perhaps now Tim as well)  is  premature
>and we shall wait until the next issue. Mann is said to be writing
>something, but he has not yet contacted me, though I just hang up on
>that journalist Appell who keeps on ringing. I told him that I will
>deal only directly with Mann. What cheek, after threatening me with
>litigation...Just keep me in the loop. Thanks.
The other mention was something I'm proud of:
From: Keith Briffa To: "Michael E. Mann" , Tom Wigley , Phil Jones
Subject: Re: Soon et al. paper
Date: Tue May 20 16:07:41 2003
Cc: Jerry Meehl
, Caspar Ammann ,

Mike and Tom and others
My silence to do with the specific issue of the Soon and Baliunas conveys general strong agreement with all the general remarks (and restatement of many in various forms ) by Tom Crowley, Mike Mann, Neville Nichols and now Tom Wigley regarding the scientific value of the paper and its obvious methodological flaws. I have to say that I tended towards the "who cares" camp , in as much as those who are concerned about the science should see through it anyway . I also admit to thinking that some of you seem a little paranoid (especially in the implication that Climate Research is a pro sceptic journal) but I am changing my mind regarding the way the "meaning" of the BS paper is being presented to the wider public - in response to some very poor recent reporting in the British press and several requests from the US that indicate that those of you who work there can not simply rely on the weight of good science eventually showing through as regards the public perception . As Tom W. states , there are uncertainties and "difficulties" with our current knowledge of Hemispheric temperature histories and valid criticisms or shortcomings in much of our work. This is the nature of the beast - and I have been loathe to become embroiled in polarised debates that force too simplistic a presentation of the state of the art or "consensus view". Having read Tom W's and Mike's latest statements I now agree about the need to make some public comment on BS . (I too have given my personal view of the work to David Appell who I assume is writing a balanced view of this paper for Scientific American).
I'm proud that a good scientist like Briffa assumed I would be writing a balanced article, because that's what I always try to do. ("Balanced" doesn't mean a 50-50, he-said she-said article type.)


Finally, when Climategate v2.0 broke in November 2011, I wrote some things that were way wrong and I don't mind admitting it. I regret not taking more time to think about things. I wrote:
On a second reading of the stolen UAE UEA emails leaked today, and just reading the README file emails, these sound worse than I thought at first – their impact will be devastating.
Their impact wasn't anything like "devastating." I should have known better.

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