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December 14 2011


DeSmogger "Caught" in Climategate Emails

The heretofore anonymous blogger Tom Nelson REVEALED today that even the DeSmogBlog has been caught in the talons of the DenierMobsters who are responsible for stealing the Climategate emails (two years ago) and retreading the bumptious "scandal" this year.

The (partial) quote now making the rounds (see also Mark Morano's fantasymill at Climate Depot), is from an email I sent to Michael Mann in 2007. It goes like this:

I'm a DeSmogBlog writer [Richard LIttlemore] (I got your email from Kevin Grandia) and I am trying to fend off the latest announcement that global warming has not actually occurred in the 20th century.

It looks to me like Gerd Burger is trying to deny climate change by "smoothing," "correcting" or otherwise rounding off the temperatures that we know for a flat fact have been recorded since the 1970s, but I am out of my depth (as I am sure you have noticed: we're all about PR here, not much about science) so I wonder if you guys have done anything or are going to do anything with Burger's intervention in Science.

I'd like to confirm that this quote is accurate - that Gerd Burger WAS playing fast and loose with his analysis, that I am NOT a scientist and that, accordingly, I check my facts with people who are reputable, knowledgeable and widely respected in the scientific community (thank you Mike).

I'd also like to say that getting so fleeting a mention in the Climategate emails ranks down there with the deepest-discount cheap thrills. I cherish the moment … seriously. (Okay, not.)

November 30 2011


Skeptics Prefer Pal Review Over Peer Review: Chris de Freitas, Pat Michaels And Their Pals, 1997-2003

Imagine for a moment that climate change skeptics actually submitted their anti-science arguments for publication in a credible peer-reviewed journal. Now imagine that, after thorough examination and debunking by their peers, these skeptics finally admitted their many false claims and assumptions, and perhaps some or all moved on to contribute meaningfully to the vast body of science confirming manmade climate change?

Ok, back to reality.

Instead, the skeptics' greatest and most-often cited (by them) "peer-reviewed studies" appeared in the journal Climate Research between 1997-2003. This journal has been considered credible at certain points in its history, and many fine papers have appeared there.

But according to my new analysis [PDF] of the papers published in Climate Research, there is a very clear gap in credibility during the years 1997-2003 when Chris de Freitas served as one of the journal's editors. During this time, de Freitas oversaw the publication of 14 papers from notorious skeptics - half of them authored by fossil fuel industry pal Pat Michaels - many of which would not have survived rigorous and honest peer review at any other credible journal. 

A few months ago, another journal's editor resigned over a paper that should not have been accepted due to a poor peer review process. It reminded many of us of the more drastic case of Climate Research (CR), where several editors resigned in 2003 in the wake of a colossally poor paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, accepted for publication by none other than Chris de Freitas.

It was certainly not the first de Freitas-endorsed paper to pass weak editorial processes at Climate Research, but when incoming Editor-in-Chief Hans von Storch suggested the paper should not have been published, he endeavored to fix editorial processes to prevent such problems.  The publisher did not agree, so von Storch and other editors resigned.

At the time, climate scientists were rightly concerned that CR had become a magnet for poor science. When the hacked CRU emails appeared in 2009, climate skeptics tried to invert reality, claiming that several widely-published climate scientists had conspired to subvert peer review. 

The skeptic echo chamber lauded Chris de Freitas as a noble martyr, a cry that has grown louder this month in the aftermath of the so-called "Climategate 2.0" illegal release of more of the CRU scientists' emails.

This isn't a novel experience when it comes to skeptic "science" efforts. Recall The Wegman Report for example, which attempted to criticize legitimate climate science for "bad" peer review, although it had no such peer critique itself.  A follow-on article, which also had bypassed peer review, ultimately earned a retraction for plagiarism.  

If there seems to be a pattern here, there is. Reality bites back, and it appears set to do so again now.

Last June, Pat Michaels wrote "Pal Review and Peer Review…" This inspired me to revisit the Climate Research episode in a more detailed fashion, and I began checking 700+ papers published there.

As it turns out, the problem was more pervasive than climate scientists had suspected at the time.

My analysis of the Climate Research papers shows that:

  • From 1990 to 1996, CR published zero papers from any of the pals:
    Sallie Baliunas, Robert Balling, John Christy, Robert Davis, (Chris de Freitas), David Douglass, Vincent Gray, Sherwood Idso, PJ Knappenberger, Ross McKitrick, Pat Michaels, Eric Posmentier, Arthur Robinson, Willie Soon, and Gerd-Rainer Weber. DeSmogBlog readers may recognize these names, since most appear in the DeSmogBlog Research Database. They have long histories of cooperation in climate anti-science.
  • Chris de Freitas became an editor and then accepted 14 papers from the pals between 1997-2003. With de Freitas as an editor, Climate Research provided a platform which the pals would quickly embrace to sneak through anti-science papers.
  • After the mass resignation of CR editors in 2003, no more pals’ papers were accepted via de Freitas. After a few more papers via others, the pals published no more in CR.
  • But clearly the Climate Research + Chris de Freitas combination presented a skeptic-friendly opportunity to publish questionable papers, while it lasted.

Not all papers were bad, but some others were dubious.  Even reasonable-looking pals papers often included mesages that might not be justified by the text, but that might make nice quotes for doubt-production.

Michaels authored 7 of the 14 papers, about half of his total "peer-reviewed" production during that period.  Perhaps Michaels might fairly be called "King of the Pals."

The attached PDF analysis shows the chronologies and social networks of the pals, followed by summaries of the papers in the context of Michaels' and de Freitas' publications.  The Excel spreadsheet lists the papers and their attributes.

The scientists were defending peer review from abuse, as was their responsibility to science. de Freitas a martyr for good science?  I don't think so.


Image credit: John T Takai / Shutterstock.

AttachmentSize pal.review.papers.xls184.5 KB Pal-review-by-John-Mashey.pdf1.58 MB

November 22 2011


East Anglia SwiftHack Email Nontroversy Returns: What You Need To Know

The desparate attempt by climate change deniers to sully climate scientists returns today with the release of 5,000 emails stolen back in 2009 during the original "Climategate" hacking of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit email servers. 

Other than a great attempt at ruining another Thanksgiving holiday for American scientists, the bottom line conclusions on this story are identical to the 2009 release: 

1. There is nothing in these emails that in any way disproves the enormous body of peer-reviewed climate science. As even the Koch-funded BEST study recently showed, climate change is real, global temperatures are rising and human activities are responsible.

2. The 'new' emails appear to come from the same batch stolen from the University of East Anglia in 2009.  The denialosphere blogs are trying to frame it as ‘Climategate 2’. Cherry-picked quotes from the emails are once again being taken out of context by skeptic bloggers and irresponsible media like the Daily Mail in a last ditch attempt to smear climate science, and derail COP17 talks in Durban.

3. It's not a coincidence that this new release of hacked emails comes just days before the Durban COP17 climate conference, much as the first release from the hacked files came just before Copenhagen. When the world’s governments start to make progress toward climate action, the polluters panic and resort to desparate measures.

4. Remember that this was an illegal hacking of emails, and this second batch represents a continued breach of privacy of these scientists whose personal emails were released to the public.  The UK police investigation into the hacking is still ongoing, and this new episode should compel them to redouble their efforts to find out who these criminal hackers are, and bring them to justice.

As one climate scientist told Joe Romm at ClimateProgress:
“Two years ago, emails were released and the American people were lied to about their content.  Now, we are expected to be gullible enough to believe the original liars a second time.”

Gavin at RealClimate.org is calling this "Two year old turkey" and has this to say: 

A couple of differences in this go around are worth noting: the hacker was much more careful to cover their tracks in the zip file they produced – all the file dates are artificially set to Jan 1 2011 for instance, and they didn’t bother to hack into the RealClimate server this time either. Hopefully they have left some trails that the police can trace a little more successfully than they’ve been able to thus far from the previous release.
But the timing of this release is strange. Presumably it is related to the upcoming Durban talks, but it really doesn’t look like there is anything worth derailing there at all. Indeed, this might even increase interest! A second release would have been far more effective a few weeks after the first – before the inquiries and while people still had genuine questions. Now, it just seems a little forced, and perhaps a symptom of the hacker’s frustration that nothing much has come of it all and that the media and conversation has moved on.

Media Matters has an excellent post that every journalist covering this story should read: Memo to Media, Research First, Then Report on Climate Emails.

Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress has another must-read: Climategate 2.0: Have Journalists Learned Their Lesson?

Union of Concerned Scientists issued a fantastic response, including this great quote from Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Scientific Integrity Program:

These leftover emails should be met with a collective yawn. It’s time to condemn the real perpetrators in this story: the hackers who stole and released university property. The hackers and their allies are resorting to desperate measures to distract the public when our focus should be on how to respond to climate change.”

The University of East Anglia reaction, as seen on the Washington Post

 “These emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks. This appears to be a carefully-timed attempt to reignite controversy over the science behind climate change when that science has been vindicated by three separate independent inquiries and number of studies – including, most recently, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group.”
“As in 2009, extracts from emails have been taken completely out of context,” the statement added. “Following the previous release of emails, scientists highlighted by the controversy have been vindicated by independent review, and claims that their science cannot or should not be trusted are entirely unsupported. They, the University and the wider research community have stood by the science throughout, and continue to do so.”

Skeptical Science has the rundown of the nine independent investigations which cleared the climate scientists:

  1. In February 2010, the Pennsylvania State University released an Inquiry Report that investigated any 'Climategate' emails involving Dr Michael Mann, a Professor of Penn State's Department of Meteorology. They found that "there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data". On "Mike's Nature trick", they concluded "The so-called “trick”1 was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field."
  2. In March 2010, the UK government's House of Commons Science and Technology Committeepublished a report finding that the criticisms of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) were misplaced and that CRU’s "Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community".
  3. In April 2010, the University of East Anglia set up an international Scientific Assessment Panel, in consultation with the Royal Society and chaired by Professor Ron Oxburgh. The Report of the International Panel assessed the integrity of the research published by the CRU and found "no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit".
  4. In June 2010, the Pennsylvania State University published their Final Investigation Report, determining "there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann".
  5. In July 2010, the University of East Anglia published the Independent Climate Change Email Review report. They examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred and concluded that "The scientists’ rigor and honesty are not in doubt".
  6. In July 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency investigated the emails and "found this was simply a candid discussion of scientists working through issues that arise in compiling and presenting large complex data sets."
  7. In September 2010, the UK Government responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, chaired by Sir Muir Russell. On the issue of releasing data, they found "In the instance of the CRU, the scientists were not legally allowed to give out the data". On the issue of attempting to corrupt the peer-review process, they found "The evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers".
  8. In February 2011, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails and found "no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data".
  9. In August 2011, the National Science Foundation concluded "Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed".

Image credit: Cory Thoman / Shutterstock.

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