the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

The Perspective of a Scientific Skeptic

Posted by Jeff Id on November 23, 2009

I’ve had an amazing inrush of guest post requests recently.  There are several which will be put up in the coming days.  Ryan O, sent me a copy of this letter written to Andy Revkin’s recent article in the NYT.


Dear Mr. Revkin,

I am writing to you to express my concerns with the content of the emails and documents that were recently obtained and released from the University of East Anglia. In my opinion, many of the comments in the blog articles about this incident have taken extreme positions that cloud the importance of the information that is contained in the documents and emails. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to describe what I feel are the critical lessons that can be learned from this incident.

So that you understand my perspective, I have been labeled as a climate change skeptic, a contrarian, anti-science, and denialist. I have been referred to in a derogatory fashion (and have even been the subject of an entire, somewhat condescending post on RealClimate concerning analyses I had done on the Steig Antarctica paper) because I have questioned the results of several influential articles on climate change. I feel these characterizations are unfair, as I believe that humanity is contributing in a meaningful fashion to the observed rise in global surface air temperatures. I have witnessed several of my contemporaries being labeled in similar fashion in spite of the fact that they, too, believe the same.

This illustrates the polarization of the climate change debate that is a dangerous impediment to the science. It appears that unless one believes that catastrophic consequences will necessarily result unless a certain set of draconian measures are taken, that one is dismissed as a crackpot, a liar, and is insinuated or directly accused of having been paid off by corporate interests. This produces a destructive environment for discussing the science of climate change.

As a skeptic, I can say in no uncertain terms that the emails and documents from the University of East Anglia do not show that AGW is a falsehood or hoax. Claims that “global warming is dead” (as I have seen) are not supported by those documents. On the other hand, claims that “the science is settled” are shown to be an exaggeration.

While vocal skeptics such as Steve McIntyre have been vilified by several influential scientists, the content of the emails demonstrate quite clearly that many of the concerns were legitimate and that this was known by the scientists who repeatedly and publicly denied the veracity of those claims. These include, but are not limited to:

· The concern that the significance statistics for MBH 98 were benchmarked to an inappropriate type of noise. Despite public claims to the contrary, Dr. Mann states clearly in email 1059664704.txt that the calibration residuals were “significantly red” for at least two cases. This validates the McIntyre & McKitrick criticism that the confidence intervals and benchmark significance statistics were incorrectly calculated and that MBH claimed greater statistical significance for their reconstruction than was supported by the data.

· The concern that the WMO 1999 main graphic, MBH 98, and several other reconstructions included in the IPCC spaghetti graphs had inappropriately spliced instrumental temperatures onto the end of the reconstructions. Despite Dr. Mann publicly stating that “No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, ‘grafted the thermometer record onto’ any reconstrution. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum,” on RealClimate, it is quite clear that this is exactly what was done in emails 0966015630.txt and 0942777075.txt.

· The concern that without either stripbark foxtails, bristlecones and/or the Yamal chronology that the hockey stick shape in the 20th century was greatly reduced. Despite pre-publication discussion and disclosure of review comments of the Wahl & Ammann and Ammann & Wahl defenses of MBH in which the McIntyre and McKitrick claims were dismissed as “total crap”, none of these individuals checked WA and AW closely enough to see that they performed not a single reconstructions that did not include at least one of the offending chronologies. They also express concerns that there are methodological problems with MBH, but were more concerned with defending MBH than disclosing factors that they know may partially undermine the result or increase the uncertainty of the result. This may be seen in emails 1102956446.txt, 1108248246.txt, 1122669035.txt, and others.

· The concern that the Yamal selection used in Kaufman 2009 and other papers was only a subset and, if the full chronology is used, that the answer changes in a non-trivial fashion. In a string of emails, it can be seen how several of the most influential scientists begin discrediting this concern before they had even researched the claim to see if it is legitimate. As it turns out, it is a legitimate concern, though claims of fraud by some bloggers do not seem substantiated. Rather, confirmation bias seems far more likely. These are in emails 1256760240.txt, 1256735067.txt, 1254756944.txt, and others.

As you may be aware, this is only a partial list.

These serve to illustrate not that the scientists involved are engaged in fraudulent behavior for personal gain, but rather that they feel that it is their right or duty to be the gatekeepers of what information is allowed to be seen. I think it is clear that the scientists believe that they are correct. I think it is clear that they use this belief to justify actively engage in censoring their own results (and pressure others to censor theirs) to prevent full disclosure of the uncertainties involved in the methods they employ. I think it is clear that they use this belief to justify attempts to discredit legitimate criticisms, in some cases with the knowledge that those criticisms are accurate. I think it is clear that they use this belief to advocate suppressing free expression on the internet. I think it is clear that they use this belief to attempt to manipulate the peer review process to present their results in a way that lends more credibility to their conclusions than otherwise would be the case. This is advocacy, not science. It in no way invalidates AGW theory, but it does call into question the certainty with which these scientists claim to understand the magnitude of the AGW effect – and, by extension, the magnitude and timing of the anticipated consequences.

This naturally leads into another important lesson: the insular nature of this relatively small, yet incredibly influential, group of scientists leads them to believe that it is their right to decide who should be privy to data and code. As a party to several of the FOIA requests of the University of East Anglia and CRU, I find myself appalled at the cavalier manner in which several key individuals handled FOIA requests. Some of the most telling emails are 1106338806.txt, 1212009215.txt, 1212063122.txt, 1214229243.txt, 1219239172.txt, and 1228412429.txt (among others) which indicate coordinated activities to prevent release of the data due to who was requesting it rather than the legitimacy of the request, to delete or destroy relevant data, and collusion with the FOIA officers to deny requests without properly examining whether the request was legitimate. While I do not believe that this activity should result in any kind of criminal prosecution whatsoever, I do believe that it should result in some form of corrective and/or disciplinary action by the appropriate institutions.

It is my hope that the above issues, not the unsubstantiated claims that AGW is “dead” or AGW is a “hoax”, are the issues that have traction. Otherwise, it is possible that these irresponsible claims – which are easily dismissed – will drown out the very real need for reforms to make climate science more open and accessible. Conversely, it is possible that these irresponsible claims could derail grants for additional research and damage support for many important mitigation activities that to this point were seen as not controversial (such as increased recycling efforts, development and increased commercialization of alternative energy, and similar efforts).

This letter is not intended for you to publish (though you may, as long as you do not quote it out of context). It is intended to provide you with a perspective from a “skeptic” who feels that the important lessons of this incident have not been well-carried by either the blogs or the media coverage. I write to you specifically because, although we may differ in our opinion of whether AGW is a presently a “crisis” and what the ideal mitigation/prevention activities might be, I have read enough of your column to believe that you are honest and forthright, and that you welcome hearing multiple sides of the climate debate. I enjoy your work (even when I disagree with your conclusions) and wish you continued success.

“Ryan O”

40 Responses to “The Perspective of a Scientific Skeptic”

  1. Ryan O said

    Have you regretted having your own blog yet, Jeff? So many opinions, so little time . . . hahahaha!

  2. Slayer said

    IMHO, this letter is worthless as sent to the New York Times – why? Because the NYT and their allies on the Left have NO interest in real science. It’s all about money.
    So any complaining you do only makes them work harder to screw everyone so that they make more money with this scam.
    However, this letter, if seen by many others who are not in on the hoax, is quite revealing.
    Great work, guys! Keep it up!

  3. ThomasL said

    Great post, RyanO. The only criticism I might have is that if it is true (an important if) that FOIA requests were essentially ignored, I do not agree that criminal prosecution should be out of bounds. If the recipients of such requests can disregard them, destroy the information requested, and refuse to comply for no other reason than to protect personal reputation, than the entire legitimacy of FOIA-like measures is undermined. For it to be compromised in an area as important as climate science would be bad on its own, but it would certainly not stop there once it became apparent that FOIA requests could be ignored with perfect legal safety by the recipients.

  4. Ryan O said

    To be honest, Revkin is doing a pretty good job with this one, #2. Here’s Revkin’s latest:

  5. 40 Shades of Green said


    A very thoughtful and thought provoking piece.

    I would make two comments. The first is to agree with ThomasL that deliberate evasion of FOI requirements is illegal and deserves criminal prosecution.

    The second is that you may not have as yet processed the Harry Read me file. From what I can see, the only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the HADCRUT series must be thrown out and someone else, not the CRU, needs to steward it.

    I would be very interested in your take on Harry.

    40 Shades

  6. Dan Hughes said

    Outstanding, Ryan O, outstanding !!

  7. Thom Scrutchin said

    Ryan, you are too kind. The evidence in these emails is that they would do ANYTHING to silence you.

    I am with ThomasL about FOIA charges. If there is no penalty, then there is no FOI.

    And finally I think that the effect should be a bit more than unsettling the science. I would ask the question from the other direction. Is there any evidence left for AGW that is not tainted by these emails? If we tossed out all the papers co authored or peer reviewed by this cabal, would there be anything left that could justify spending trillions of dollars?

  8. Ryan O said

    #5 I’ve read the Harry file. As with everything, the important and unknown item is magnitude. It seems fairly certain that there are portions of the CRU code that do not work properly and that some rather dubious adjustments have been made. However, until we know the magnitude of those mistakes and adjustments, it’s difficult to state for certain what the impact will be.
    On the FOIA issue, it appears to me that the scientists in question were operating under guidance given by the FOI officers – albeit after they convinced the officers that Climate Audit and others were to be ignored. Because of that, it will be difficult to prove a criminal case. Besides, in the end, I think it is less important to exact judgement than it is to improve the situation going forward.
    Look at it this way . . . assuming that the scientists involved get burned in some fashion out of this, how many of them do you think will conspire to avoid FOIA requests in the future?

  9. amac78 said

    My own very limited experience strongly supports Ryan O’s analysis. I can only comment knowledgably on the meaning of the Lake Korttajarvi varves, their erroneous use in Mann et al (PNAS, 2008), and the failure of peer reviewers, editors, and authors to catch these mistakes, or address them, once made.

    The only reason that episode drew any attention was the persistence of McIntyre and McKitrick.

    If correct and in context, email 1252154659.txt shows that Mann’s colleagues privately accepted the analysis of mcIntyre and McKitrick, even as Mann et al. publically scorned it as “bizarre.”

    By their actions, these parties show that they accept an outcome where erroneous methods and conclusions persist in the peer-reviewed literature–if the alternatives are professional embarrassment and/or possible challenges to established AGW consensus.

    This appears to be another example of the tendencies Ryan O describes in his letter to Andy Revkin.

  10. Squidly said

    I am sorry that I do not quite share some of the views here. I see absolutely no excuse for any of this, for it has been some of my hard earned tax dollars that have gone into this debacle, and quite likely much more of my hard earned tax dollars will continue to fund this crap. Our economic health and stability, our liberties and our very way of life are all at stake here in the long run. Billions of dollars have been spent with trillions more on the line. Anything less than absolute integrity and perfection is NOT acceptable, period!

  11. stan said


    You have the burden of proof exactly backwards. The Team advocates draconian changes to the basic fabric of our lives. They have the burden of proving the necessity of the pain they demand. Their case, feeble as it was on the merits before the release of the files, has been destroyed. AGW may be real, but their work certainly doesn’t support it.

    Mann and Jones are revealed to be extraordinary liars and frauds. You may wish to give them every benefit of the doubt with an ends justify the means type argument, but they are guilty of gross misconduct that violates every standard of morality and ethics. Given the stakes for billions of the world’s poor, they deserve to be set loose in a large crowd of said poor after they have been told what Mann and Jones intended for them (i.e. denial of the cheap energy needed to improve their lives and save the lives of half their kids). I say give the two a chance to explain and let them deal with the consequences from the crowd.

  12. TerryMN said

    Very nicely done, Ryan. Looking forward to the paper too! :)

  13. Alex said

    On the FOIA issue, it appears to me that the scientists in question were operating under guidance given by the FOI officers – albeit after they convinced the officers that Climate Audit and others were to be ignored.

    Sorry Ryan, but you clearly have it backwards. Jones was determined from the start to subvert the FOIA process, that’s clear from Jones own reply to Steve M, “why should I give you the data…” The emails are clear that Jones et al engaged in a overt effort to win the FOI officers over to their view that the requester, not the request be denied.

    Whether or not that’s the basis for prosecution I can’t say, I’m and engineer, Ryan, not a lawyer. However, it is clear from the emails that Jones and his crew were going to use any means necessary to deny any FOIA request from McIntyre and McKitrick or any other individual they didn’t feel was on the “team.”

  14. Ryan O said

    #13 Agree wholeheartedly that they had no intention of giving McIntyre any data, and I do not need the emails to tell me that. ;) I doubt, however, that a criminal prosecution would be successful, though. It is the responsibility of the FOI officer to ensure compliance with the law – that’s why he’s there. If he succumbed to the pressure from Jones, et al., well, then he didn’t do a very good job. Jones, et al., are likely in the clear at that point. Speaking legally, not ethically. ;)

  15. Jeff Id said

    #13, I think we agree on this point.

    The government response to FOIA was intentionally manipulated by some quick talking scientists and perhaps a too willing government official. I don’t know how they decide to ignore the law if there is a reason for it and I think Ryan is quick to dismiss liability. The FOIA laws are there for the difficult and important information first and foremost. If they were in place for the easy stuff we wouldn’t need the law.

  16. Jeff Id said

    #14, cross post.

  17. Ryan O said

    Not sure if Gavin realized this was in the link to Hans von Storch’s explanation of why he stepped down as Editor-in-Chief at Climate Research, but I think many of you will enjoy it. :)

    The RealClimate link:

    The News page (which you can get to from that link) and has a brief and not-so-flattering assessment of Mike Mann:

  18. curious said

    15 – yes, agreed. This is a test of the point of FOI/EIR.

  19. Brian B said

    –If he succumbed to the pressure from Jones, et al., well, then he didn’t do a very good job. Jones, et al., are likely in the clear at that point.–

    As long as the “pressure” did not include misrepresentations you are probably correct. However the emails do not indicate misrepresentations are exactly off limits.

    On a slightly different topic, the emails and code primarily deal with the proxy stuff, but Jones’ duplicity, not too strong a word I think, does not instill confidence in his involvement with HADCRUT. And GISS’ dubious adjustments are already well known.
    What, if anything, does any of this portend for the GCM’s which rely on the accuracies of their hindcasts, as measured by GISS and HADCRUT, to forecast?

  20. Ryan O said

    #18 Don’t know, but I suspect there will be some effect. Just as there would be some impact for UHI and land use effects, both of which are routinely dismissed by this same set of scientists. How big the impact will be . . . time will tell.

  21. Ryan O said

    Oops. Should have been #19.

  22. Jeff Id said

    Forgot to say, fantastic letter. It gets to the heart of the issues. I hope Andy Revkin considers doing something with it.

  23. Joe NS said

    #17 or anybody:

    Any thoughts, speculations, fanciful or otherwise, as to who “whistleblower” is or might be? “Whistleblower” implies that there is more than one of him. I’m not computer savvy, so I have to ask those who are if it’s more likely than not that whistleblower is plural?

    I ask this as purely a human-interest matter. In more ways than the obvious one, it is potentially a very important questions to address in the whole business.

    My opinion is that he works at or for UEA, a contractor perhaps, or, more intriguingly a colleague of Jones et al.

    Naturally I shall stipulate that he has broken the law and merits prosecution, but so was the UK hacker who broke into the US DoD computers a few years ago, and that hasn’t stopped a great many people from defending him over there. I myself rather admire “Whistleblower.” Of course any non-silly assessment of his crime must await our seeing what Jones et al. seem to be “hiding” in their files beside a potential decline in their own reputations as scientists worth listening to. If “Whistleblower’s actions lead to clarifying the scientific record, whether or not it supports the claims of CRU/affiliates staff or damns them, I for one cannot see any reason to regret that he did what he has done.

  24. Jeff Id said

    #23, If it’s a whistleblower he/she didn’t necessarily break the law.

  25. Paul said

    Today in the New Zealand parliament our government are rushing through under “urgency” an ETS which will cost every tax payer, every citizen of this country money as from July next year. It is being rushed through for Copenhagan. Our Climate Change Minister (yes, we have one) states that the government relies on the IPCC assessments for it’s stance on climate change. Given the fact that these scientists were heavily involved in the IPCC assessments and the outcomes etc it is hard not to be angry at their “science”. You can pontificate all you like but there are people who are going to suffer financial hardship because of these idiots and the other idiots (politicians) who follow their every word. Our climate change minister stated yesterday “the science is settled”.

  26. Joe NS said


    Agreed. I see that my statement that he committed a crime, which was intended ironically, didn’t translate very well. In saying that, I was trying to forestall eliciting boring, self-righteous, boilerplated fulminations such as “It doesn’t matter. He’s a criminal! Who must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the blah blah blah!” Crap like that, which seems to be UEA’s and the left-liberal blogosphere’s most animated response to the present predicament, as if not much else happened here besides a second-rate hack.

    Still, my question still stands: Who do you think it was?

  27. David Alan said

    I think Revkin has made a considerable effort not to be biased, regarding AGW. Sending him a letter could do no harm, because I think he needs all the encouragement to continue his unbiased approach on this matter.

    Having done a little research, I have been somewhat enlightened to Revkins plight.

    One site has compiled a large collection of articles regarding climategate, with both pro and con AGW views:

    Quite a few different takes on the whole climategate scenario. One link did provide my updated view on Revkin though.

    Here’s an excerpt from that post:

    [...] The NYT’s Revkin has a piece whose headline and lede, typically, misses the entire point, “Hacked E-Mails Fuel Climate Change Skeptics.”  Note to Andy:  Everything fuels the disinformers! And that includes studies and data that prove the exact opposite of what they assert.
    Who cares that, as Revkin says in his opening (!) sentence, this is “causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change”?  This was a chance for Revkin to make up for his misinformation-filled post from September [see "NYTs Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation"].[...]

    I suppose when pro-agw posters start turning on each other, its only fitting to save the ones that dare to challenge the ‘team’.

  28. Ryan O said

    #26 My money is on someone from within UEA. The type of material on that zip is not something, in my opinion, that would be easy for an outsider to put together. The amount of work that would require is simply too daunting and too painstaking for an outside hacker to have done it. The guy would have simply lost interest. So I’m betting all the collation was someone on the inside. Perhaps even the “stupid” theory being circulated at WUWT . . . though, I’m not sure why something prepared as a legit FOIA response would have included 1073 emails, most of which don’t have any bearing on any specific FOIA request that I know of. So I’m guessing a dissatisfied party within UEA.

    #27 Yah, Revkin’s taken a lot of heat – unjustly, I think – for trying to be honest. I often disagree with his conclusions, but he doesn’t seem to blindly spew forth the AGW theory. He seems genuinely concerned with finding out the truth, so I give him a lot of credit for that. Letters to Revkin are a good idea, IMO. ;)

  29. Dennis O said

    Bearing in mind that I’m not a barrister, IMO, it looks like FOIA in the UK doesn’t have harsh penalties for non-compliance. A quick perusal of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 available online at the Office of Public Sector Information website revealed there is a penalty for those found guilty of taking certain actions with the intention of preventing the disclosure of applicable information. And, as best I could determine, the associated fine would be £5,000. A trivial amount when compared to the prestige and remuneration to be lost by disclosure. The stigma of a guilty conviction itself, however, could be of consequence.

    77 Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure

    (1) Where—
    (a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and
    (b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the [1988 c. 29.] Data
    Protection Act 1998, the applicant would have been entitled
    (subject to payment of any fee) to communication of any information
    in accordance with that section,

    any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters,
    defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority,
    with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of
    the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

    (2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by,
    is an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.

    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a
    fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

    (4) No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be instituted—
    (a) in England or Wales, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent
    of the Director of Public Prosecutions;
    (b) in Northern Ireland, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent
    of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.


  30. 40 Shades of Green said

    One thing that amazes me is just how intelligent (or not) Dr Jones is.

    Imagine sending an email with “FOI” as the subject line telling people to delete emails in case of FOI requests. If Homer Simpson did it, you would not believe it. If this is how smart the guy is, and how little he knows about computers, then how good is the software programme that calculates world temperature records.

    Oops, we know the answer to that. Read Harry’s ReadMe file.

    40 Shades

  31. 40 Shades of Green said


    You ask above how representative of the entire code base is the Harry ReadMe file. From what I understand poor Harry spent three years trying to figure it out, so I suspect it is the whole thing. But if we assume it is only 10% then what should happen. Well if it was the Pharmaceutical Industry and an FDA inspector found evidence of, lets be charitable, Data Manipuluation, in an audit of a 10% sample; they would not just halt production of that batch, or production line; they would shut down the plant.

    They would also potentially prosecute the CEO.

    At a minimum, the offending plant would be put on a “consent decree”. That is, it would only be allowed to produce product if an independent auditing agency, paid for by the Pharma company, signed off on every batch produced.

    Bring in the FDA

    40 Shades

  32. 40 Shades of Green said

    And while I am on a roll.

    I think I was a bit harsh on Homer. I think a better comparison for Mr Jones is to Montgomery Burns – the CEO of the Nuclear plant. Can’t you just see Jones rubbing his fingers together as he conspires to thwart the safety inspectors.

    Homer is in fact very moral. I could see Homer assembling the emails and code, with Lisa’s help, and then Bart figuring out how to get them onto a server in Russia.

    40 Shades :-)

  33. pete m said

    OMG they’ve found Harry!

  34. Phil said

    “Look at it this way . . . assuming that the scientists involved get burned in some fashion out of this, how many of them do you think will conspire to avoid FOIA requests in the future?” – Ryan

    Why are global temperatures like Dr Jones and crew?

    Because both ought to be going down for a good few years.

  35. Murray said

    Ryan O, I certainly appreciate your effort to keep the discussion at a higher level, and I agree the the people involved were motivated primarily by their beliefs (but suspect also that funding was a non-negligibel motivator). However their efforts go well beyond advocacy. Advocacy implies honest, (even if less than balanced) promotion of a point of view. What we have here is known and intentional distortion and deception, which at the most charitable is propaganda. When the deception is continued and even reenforced by threat, to the point of affecting government policy, it becomes fraud. I believe a good case can be made that at least some of these perpetrators, especially Jones because of his position of leadership, were knowingly acting fraudulently.

  36. Bob H. said

    Ryan, one positive aspect of this whole sordid affair is it may allow more “skeptical” papers to be published, as they should be. This would include your antarctic analysis, of course. Before these emails, I rated your chances of getting published as slim to none. Now the editors will be pressured to take a less biased position, otherwise they will be looked at very, very suspiciously.

  37. mrtipster said

    “Despite Dr. Mann publicly stating that “No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, ‘grafted the thermometer record onto’ any reconstrution. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum,” on RealClimate, it is quite clear that this is exactly what was done in emails 0966015630.txt and 0942777075.txt.”

    Did Mann ever make this false statement to a Government Committee or review hearing?

  38. IanH said

    #14 The FOI officer has certain duties and responsibilities, but the individuals involved are not absolved of their’s merely because the FOI official has made a statement on a matter. The people involved knew they didn’t have the data, knew their code wasn’t fit for purpose, whether this was made clear to Palmer I don’t know, but they all knew they were creating a false prospectus, the law can look through that.

  39. [...] The Perspective of a Scientific Skeptic « a Air Vent [...]

  40. nice article.

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