Fact-Checking FactCheck on ClimateGate

Liberal damage-control efforts in the wake of ClimateGate have found a handy tool in this FactCheck.org report, which concludes that the leaked CRU emails “show a few scientists in a bad light,” but “don’t change scientific consensus on global warming.”  There’s obvious propaganda value in supportive articles from supposedly nonpartisan sources, especially to a movement constantly on the lookout for excuses to avoid honest debate.  But, like past FactCheck treatments of abortion and gun rights, this “debunking” desperately needs a fact check of its own.

FactCheck admits that the emails show “a few scientists…sometimes being rude, dismissive, insular, or even behaving like jerks,” such as Ben Santer’s desire to “beat the crap out of” Pat Michaels, but that’s as far as their criticism of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit goes.

They preface their defense of the CRU with a note that, whatever the emails show, they don’t change the scientific consensus on global warming anyway, because the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say the planet’s getting warmer, with the IPCC finding humans “very likely” to blame, and the CRU is only one of multiple sources of climate data.

What FactCheck doesn’t tell you: those other sources are questionable, too.  Substantive concerns have been raised over the data adjustments made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA’s Goddard Institute has had issues with both incompetence and data withholding.  As for the IPCC, which boasts “2,500 scientific expert reviewers,” FactCheck’s readers might be surprised to read this:

But what did those 2,500 scientists actually endorse? To find out, I contacted the Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and asked for the names of the 2,500. I planned to canvas them to determine their precise views. The answer that came back from the Secretariat informed me that the names were not public, so I would not be able to survey them, and that the scientists were merely reviewers. The 2,500 had not endorsed the conclusions of the report and, in fact, the IPCC had not claimed that they did. Journalists had jumped to the conclusion that the scientists the IPCC had touted were endorsers and the IPCC never saw fit to correct the record.

Or this:

A 2001 IPCC report presented 245 potential scenarios. The media publicity that followed focused on the most extreme scenario, prompting the report’s lead author, atmospheric scientist Dr. John Christy, to rebuke media sensationalism and affirm, “The world is in much better shape than this doomsday scenario paints … the worst-case scenario [is] not going to happen.” Clearly, the IPCC does not speak as one voice when leading scientists on its panel contradict its official position. The solution to this apparent riddle lies in the structure of the IPCC itself. What the media report are the policymakers’ summaries, not the far lengthier reports prepared by scientists. The policymakers’ summaries are produced by a committee of 51 government appointees, many of whom are not scientists. The policymakers’ summaries are presented as the “consensus” of 2,500 scientists who have contributed input to the IPCC’s scientific reports.

In one email, CRU’s Phil Jones writes, “Kevin and I will keep [two dissenting papers] out [of the IPCC report] somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”  But FactCheck dismisses this as a cause for concern, since those reports were cited, if not in the final IPCC report, but in one of the three working group reports from which the end product was synthesized.  Putting aside the obvious question of whether or not they got a fair shake in that working group, since when do we dismiss clearly-stated intent to do something, just because that intent was evidently unsuccessful?

FactCheck does the same with Tom Wigley’s clear speculation that they could try to get Yale’s James Saiers “ousted” from his post at the journal Geophysical Research Letters if he turned out to be “in the greenhouse skeptics camp.”  Saiers, it turns out, isn’t a skeptic and stepped down of his own volition. Again, the intent is still clear, and all FactCheck’s account indicates is that Wigley & Co. didn’t follow through because he was one of theirs anyway.  This is supposed to reassure us?

We’re also supposed to remain unconcerned by their attempts to find ways to dodge Freedom of Information Act requests, since most of the data is already freely available (citing, um, East Anglia), and if any data destruction did occur, well, the investigation is ongoing. For an organization devoted to checking facts, FactCheck seems curiously content to take East Anglia at their word regarding the conduct of their own people, and suspiciously disinterested in either independently verifying East Anglia’s version or exploring its inconsistency with their earlier admission that “We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

Last I checked, one of science’s most celebrated virtues was its constant self-reevaluation and complete transparency.  Given that, I’d expect a little more concern over these scientists’ contempt for the very thought of sharing data with critics, or their attempts to avoid doing so.  But maybe that’s just me.  In any event, I hope the conclusion of East Anglia’s investigation, and the critical scrutiny it subsequently comes under, sheds more light on just what information is available, and what has been destroyed.

The CRU revelation that has gotten the most media attention is Phil Jones’ “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”  FactCheck fully reaffirms the spin that Jones was merely talking about presenting the data so as to account for discrepancies in temperature measurement methods.  But Steve McIntyre offers a detailed analysis of the “trick,” which concludes that, while it was not an instance of outright data falsification, it was an attempt to package the data in an oversimplified way so as not to “detract from the clear message that the authors wanted sent.”

The media might have seized upon FactCheck’s piece to tell the masses “move along, nothing to see here,” but in the final analysis it seems terribly unimpressive, hardly objective, and a little short on checked facts.

*          *          *

For further background on ClimateGate, Power Line’s Scott Johnson has compiled a handy summary of ClimateGate resources here, including Steven Hayward’s excellent Weekly Standard summary, Power Line’s own careful analysis of several of the emails, and more.  The National Post’s Lawrence Solomon has an eye-opening account of RealClimate.org’s William Connolley and his work transforming Wikipedia into an eco-propaganda vehicle (more on RealClimate.org here).  Here is some background on the financial dimensions of the alarmism movement.

For continuing coverage of all things scientific from a skeptical perspective, Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit, Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That?, and National Review’s Planet Gore blog are tough to beat.

One Response to “Fact-Checking FactCheck on ClimateGate”

  1. Burton Haynes Says:

    Great information! Thanks!


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