the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

A Climate Scientist Replies to ClimateGate

Posted by Jeff Id on December 4, 2009

As the undeniability of the problems in climate science exposed in these emails is beginning to be grasped by the public, scientists in the field have begun to speak out.  Today on a thread at Watts Up With That, a post from climate scientist who studied at Harvard was featured.  Sean is very clear, pulls no punches, and is worth the time of anyone who’s interested in climategate to read.

Posted by Sean December 2, 09 11:26 PM

I am a climate scientist, and it is clear that the evidence that “human activity is prominent [sic] agent in global warming” is NOT overwhelming. The repeated statement that it is does not make it so. Further, even if we accepted the hypothesis, cap-and-trade legislation does not do anything about it.

Here are the facts. We have known for years that the Mann hockey stick model was wrong, and we know why it was wrong (Mann used only selected data to normalize the principal component analysis, not all of it). He retracted the model. We have known for years that the Medieval Warm period occurred, where the temperatures were higher than they are now (Chaucer spoke of vineyards in northern England).

Continued below:

Long before ClimateGate it was known that the IPCC people were trying to fudge the data to get rid of the MWP. And for good reason. If the MWP is “allowed” to exist, this means that temperatures higher than today did not then create a “runaway greenhouse” in the Middle Ages with methane released from the Arctic tundra, ice cap albedo lost, sea levels rising to flood London, etc. etc.), and means that Jim Hansen’s runaway greenhouse that posits only amplifying feedbacks (and no damping feedbacks) will not happen now. We now know that the models on which the IPCC alarms are based to not do clouds, they do not do the biosphere, they do not explain the Pliocene warming, and they have never predicted anything, ever, correctly.

As the believers know but, like religious faithful, every wrong prediction (IPCC underestimated some trends) is claimed to justify even greater alarm (not that the models are poor approximations for reality); the underpredictions (where are the storms? Why “hide the decline”?) are ignored or hidden.

As for CO2, we have known for years that CO2 increases have never in the past 300,000 years caused temperature rise (CO2 rise trails temperature increase). IPCC scientists know this too (see their “Copenhagen Diagnosis”); we know that their mathematical fudges that dismiss the fact that CO2 has not been historically causative of temperature rise are incorrect as well. We have also known for years that the alleged one degree temperature rise from 1880 vanishes if sites exposed to urban heat islands are not considered.

We have long known that Jones’s paper dismissing this explanation (Jones, et al. 1990. Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land, Nature 347 169- 172) is wrong and potentially fraudulent (see the same data used to confirm urban heat islands in Wang, W-C, Z. Zeng, T. R Karl, 1990. Urban Heat Islands in China. Geophys. Res. Lett. 17, 2377-2380). Everyone except Briffa knows that the Briffa conclusions are wrong, and why they are wrong; groups in Finland, Canada (lots of places actually) show cooling by this proxy, not warming; the IPCC even printed the Finn’s plot upside down to convert the fact (cooling) into the dogma (warming).

Prof. McCarthy is, of course, part of the IPCC that has suppressed dissenting viewpoints based on solid climate science. His claim to support by “peer review” is nonsense; he has helped corrupt the peer review process. We now have documentary evidence that Jones, Mann, and the other IPCC scientists have been gaming peer review and blackballing opponents. On this point, the entire IPCC staff, including Prof. McCarthy, neither have nor deserve our trust.

We have tolerated years of the refusal of Mann and Jones to release data. Now, we learn that much of these data were discarded (one of about 4 data sets that exist), something that would in any other field of science lead to disbarment. We have been annoyed by Al Gore, who declared this science “settled”, refused to debate, and demonized skeptics (this is anti-science: debate and skepticism are the core of real science, which is never settled). The very fact that Prof. McCarthy attempts to bluff Congress by asserting the existence of fictional “overwhelming evidence” continues this anti-science activity.

All of this was known before Climategate. What was not known until now was the extent to which Jones and Mann were simply deceiving themselves (which happens often in science) or fraudently attempting to deceive others. I am not willing to crucify Jones on the word “trick”. Nor, for that matter, on the loss of primary data, keeping only “value added” data (which is hopelessly bad science, but still conceivably not fraud).

But the computer code is transparently fraudulent
. Here, one finds matrices that add unexplained numbers to recent temperatures and subtract them from older temperatures (these numbers are hard-programmed in), splining observational data to model data, and other smoking guns, all showing that they were doing what was necessary to get the answers that the IPCC wanted, not the answers that the data held. They knew what they were doing, and why they were doing it.

If, as Prof. McCarthy insists, “peer review” was functioning, and the IPCC reports are rigorously peer reviewed, why was this not caught? When placing it in context made it highly likely that this type of fraud was occurring?

The second question is: Will this revelation be enough to cause the “global warming believers” to abandon their crusade, and for people to return to sensible environmental science (water use, habitat destruction, land use, this kind of thing)? Perhaps it will.

Contrary to Prof. McCarthy’s assertion, we have not lost just one research project amid dozens of others that survive. A huge set of primary data are apparently gone. Satellite data are scarcely 40 years old. Everything is interconnected, and anchored on these few studies. Even without the corruption of the peer review process, this is as big a change as quantum mechanics was in physics a century ago.

But now we know that peer review was corrupted, and that no “consensus” exists. The “2500 scientists agree” number is fiction (God knows who they are counting, but to get to this number, they must be including referees, spouses, and pets).

The best argument now for AGW is to argue that CO2 is, after all, a greenhouse gas, its concentration is, after all, increasing, and feedbacks that regulated climate for millions of years might (we can hypothesize) be overwhelmed by human CO2 emissions. It is a hypothesis worthy of investigation, but it has little evidentiary support.

Thus, there is hope that Climategate will bring to an end the field of political climatology, and allow climatology to again become a science. That said, people intrinsically become committed to ideas. The Pope will not become a Protestant even if angel Gabriel taps him on the shoulder and asks him to. Likewise, Prof. McCarthy may claim until the day he retires that there remains “overwhelming support” for his position, even if every last piece of data supporting it is controverted. As a graduate student at Harvard, I was told that fields do not advance because people change their minds; rather, fields advance because people die.

51 Responses to “A Climate Scientist Replies to ClimateGate”

  1. Jeff Id said

    Fantastic letter, thanks Sean.

  2. Dash said

    Thanks, Jeff – great comments by Sean.

    The comment by Sean, though, was left at the boston globe site in response to the article there – not at wuwt.

    See comment #13.

  3. Jeff Id said

    #2 Thanks, I fixed the text.

  4. AndyL said

    Being sceptical here, do we trust this letter? Was it really written by a “Cliamte Scientist” I can’t see anything in it that could not be written by someone familiar with tAV and CA

  5. Jeff Id said

    #4, There is no proof except that he seems to know the issues.

  6. Jeff Id said

    Actually Sean, is not a denier either. His views on greenhouse gasses are very similar to my own.

  7. […] begrudge the skepticism it can only help the debate, one flaw that wipes out the crisis, a climate scientist responds to climategate, climategate goes uber-viral, Copenhagen IGNORES climategate, Climategate needs an independant […]

  8. AndyL said

    That kinda proves my point – *you* could have written it (not that I’m saying you did). There is nothing there that demonstrates any additional knowledge. Also there are far too many uses of the word “fraud” to be consistent with real scientific insight.

  9. Jeff Id said

    #8, I could have written it for sure. My thought on the F bombs is that someone is telling the truth. Mann’s work IS that bad. Briffa’s work IS that bad. Jones statements are that bad. So potentially fraudulent is a good statent. Calling the code fraudulent, yeah, I think so.

    It’s actual physical entering of values in the lines, it’s F bomb time if we’re going to be honest about it. Like you said though, no proof.

  10. Brian B said

    I’d venture to say he’s at least as much a climate scientist as Mann, Jones or Hansen even if his field of study turns out to be wheat.

  11. AndyL said

    Sounds like a case of confimation bias to me 🙂

  12. Jeff Id said

    #11 If what the guy says is scientifically correct, it’s hard to question his science cred. I can’t disagree with you though.

  13. stan said

    Even if Sean really isn’t a climate scientist, as an amateur, his level of expertise in the science is equal to Mann’s level of expertise in statistics and software development. If only professionals have sufficient expertise for us to rely upon, we have to throw out all the garbage code and strange statistics that amateurs Hansen, Mann, Jones, et all have foisted on the world.

  14. PrezBO shifting his date with Copenhagen;
    to a ‘more crucial’ period.
    AP sez Dec 18 now. (?)

  15. twawki said

    My models predict Carbonhagen will be warmer than any time in the last 2000 years – just imagine all the hot air there! Could we send someone like Sean there to cool them down!

  16. boballab said

    Actually that problem was fixed when the Goracle canceled his visit.

  17. Disappointing you published this as the statements of a climate scientist without evidence. Anonymous commenter would have been more accurate.

  18. Schiller Thurkettle said


    Looking out there at all the blogs and ‘bulk media’ and politicians commenting on what is now known as ‘Climategate’, one factor in the discussion stands out starkly: The defenders of AGW focus on the emails, while the skeptics focus on the computer code.

    If you focus on the emails, you get to complain about ‘privacy’, or make remarks about the ‘informality of carping scientists’.

    Trouble is, computer code either runs, or doesn’t. It’s unambiguous. If it runs at all, it generates the results it’s *told* to generate.

    I’m sure it would be possible to write a program that takes geographic and astronomic data, and produces evidence that the Earth is flat. Whether it’s disc-shaped, or octagonal, would be up to the programmer.

    I can see that providing a fine source of amusement, but is it ‘science’? Computer science, perhaps, but climatology, apparently not.

  19. Jeff Id said

    #17, If he’s not a climate scientist I would be surprised. There are too many paper references and an excellent knowledge of some of the flaws. Sean is not a name I’m familiar with on CA. I take him at his word.

  20. Pat Frank said

    #15 good point. Someone should collect a rural/urban data set and plot the Copenhagen UHI anomaly through the conference dates. Any over-under takers on the appearance of a spike?

  21. per said

    I spoke to a prof of environmental sciences today; a guy who has never followed the CA story. He had heard of the East Anglia fiasco, and he was concerned about the data availability and programming issues revealed. Scientists notice these things.

    most encouraging.

  22. FNC just confirmed that POTUS will be at Copenhagen on the final day.

  23. FNC also said UN has now decided to investigate UEA.

  24. boballab said

    @23 That is like having Manson investigate an Axe murder case.

  25. @24
    Agreed, but at least it reminds us that even ‘altruistic’ actors are only human, and UN record of ficuciary handling of $ is less than stellar…

    At minimum, it becomes ever more newsworthy; if the UN admits possible wrongdoing, you gotta know there’s more than a mere hint of trouble.


  26. Kevin Davis said

    The question as to whether or not Sean is actually a “climate scientist” is quite important.

    As a lukewarmer I agree with many of his points, but that’s not the point. The Air Vent and WUWT have both become prominent skeptic blogs. If it turns out that so many skeptics have unskeptically trumpeted the words of someone with fabricated credentials, it could prove to be very embarrassing.

  27. DG said

    Tim Lambert says there’s nothing to the code

  28. Jeff Id said

    #27, Tim is trying to gloss over a completely arbitrary correction by saying see there is still some decline. Briffa took a more physical approach and simply chopped data for publication.

  29. GeoWhizzix said

    Off-topic Carbonhagen alert:
    Tom Karl’s ppt presentations for 8 Dec can be downloaded at
    10,846,208 Copenhagen Extremes – NOAA – DOI TKarl.ppt
    15,884,288 Copenhagen Impacts – NOAA – DOI TKarl.ppt
    More of the same old – same old from June 09.

  30. Jeff Id said

    #26, If Sean is found to be a fraud himself, I’ll do a whole post on it. This blog only deals with the truth and will admit error when it’s discovered and be quite open about it. I’m not perfect but I beleive several aspects of his post give him credibility. If we find different I’ll do a whole post.

  31. Wansbeck said

    [sic] ???

    I’ve just looked at the original post and it contains “prominent [sic] agent”.

    It makes it look like a quote from somewhere else that has been marked-up.

  32. Wansbeck said

    I’ll take that back.
    It was a quote from the good professor.
    Too much beer again.

  33. j ferguson said

    Well gosh, Wansbeck. He put quotation marks around the sentence containing the words you reference. Doesn’t that make it clear that it IS a quote from somewhere else.

    I try to be most skeptical of the things I think I agree with – they make me nervous.

  34. Dash said

    #31 Note the 3rd paragraph of the original article: “The body of evidence that human activity is prominent agent in global warming is overwhelming. ”

    Even if he isn’t a scientist as claimed, he is apparently a very good proofreader

  35. Wansbeck said

    It makes it very clear if you can see the quotation marks.
    I must clean the screen but first I must find my glasses 😉

  36. j ferguson said

    Sorry,Wans. there’s never too much beer. cheers

  37. Douggerel said

    I thought this was a very nice summary. I am a little disappointed he didn’t include his name, but hey, maybe he has papers submitted to Nature. 🙂

  38. twawki said

    Ooops googlegate just got bigger!

    Google have launched this site to show your vote for Copenhagen

    But there is no option to vote against it! Hardly what I would call democratic. Also expands the meaning of Googlegate

  39. Kevin Davis said

    #30 – Thanks Jeff, and well put. You’re a standup guy.

  40. Mesa said

    My guess – grad student in a related field who never became a post doc or a professor. Nice post though.

  41. boballab said

    Well here is something from Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen.

    Very interesting read.

  42. Tom C said

    Sean makes an excellent point that gets lost in all the noise; namely, that the bulk of the predicted warming is purportedly due to the water vapor feedback triggered by the initial warming due to CO2. If that is the case, the same feedback cascade would occur, no matter what the source of warming. Taking the MWP as the established historical fact that it is, we can see that no runaway effect developed and no catastrophic melting, droughts, etc. occurred.

    The real locus of fraud has always been around the “get rid of the MWP” effort. This effort is incredibly brazen, up there with Soviet re-writing of history books. Fortunately it will fail.

  43. twawki said

    More here;

  44. kdk33 said

    I like to note, but no one ever bites…

    It’s been warming for ~200yrs and CO2 has been increasing for ~100yrs and human prosperity has never been greater. So all of the catastrophe-ism flies straight in the face of the observational data.

    So bring it on – the heat and the fertilizer!

    …just saying.

  45. boballab said

    Hmm it looks like Comcast buying up the majority share of NBC and MSNBC has caused a turn around in the message. On Dec 3 Comcast bought 51% of the NBC franchise and low and behold we get NBC’s nighlty news with Climategate on Dec 4th, but thats not all (people with weaks hearts or stomachs turn away from your screen all others please be seated)
    The far left Media Matters for America attacked them for it.

    Now don’t get up because this trip down the rabbit hole is not complete beacause: MSNBC went after a Warmer.

    Now just a little over 2 weeks ago who would have ever thunk of this.

  46. Fai Mao said

    I am not a climate scientist. I am a librarian, I have a PhD in Educational Philosophy and would be closer to a Meta-physicist than physicist. I did complete a Meteorology Merit-badge in the Boy Scouts back in the 1970’s. Thus I am probably one one of the least qualified educated people on Earth to talk about the science behind the AGW. But as Al Gore is less qualified than I and that didn’t stop him; here I go. (BTW, should the owner of this blog wish I will provide credentials including scans of my degrees and verification of my address.)

    I have thought AGW to be fraudulent for several years because there is an apparent logical disconnect between the problem and the remedy. If as the Warmist say “We may have as little as 10 to 20 years to solve this problem, and numbers like those regularly appear in print and broadcast media regarding AGW, then it would appear to me that it is too late. I live in Hong Kong and travel all over Asia and you will not see Indonesia or Malaysia or China or India reduce their emissions by enough to slow down much less reverse the process. I would also challenge the often quoted statistic that USA emits more pollution per person than any other nation. My God, I don’t know who gathers those statistics but they have never lived in China or India? It simply isn’t true. There is a very apparent brown cloud over the whole of the Asia-Pacific. Our best day here would be one of the worst you have all year in the US or Europe. The pollution problems here are well known, utterly immense and unbelievable to many who do not live here. I would assume that scientist would know of them and be aware of the less than complete reporting records in these places. Thus, I came to the conclusion that if AGW were a real phenomenon then the responsible politicians in the US and Europe would not be trying to cure it but rather find a way to live with it. They’d also be using labor laws and trade embargoes to move factories back to the US or Europe where they could monitor the pollution produced which would do more to reduce emissions than simply selling credit. More than that, if All Gore or the Obama administration or Gordon Brown’s UK or who ever REALLY thought there was a high probability of London or New York being being flooded in 10 to 25 years because of melting ice caps then they would be building a seawall rather than selling carbon credits.

    If the figures released by EAU-CRU are true, then it is too late; it is that simple. That means the measures taken by all the treaties and all the agreements to date are useless and will result in the deaths of tens of millions of people, maybe more.

    Thus, since most politicians are at least concerned enough about their constituents to not want millions of them to die, I concluded that the AGW promoters were lying. It is about tax money, because if it really were about saving the Earth, they’d advocate doing something else.

    The shame of it is, there are real issues with pollution that need to be solved. There are real issues with starvation and public health that need to be solved. The Warmist have just wasted 15 or 20 years that could have been used to solve those problems.

    Just my non-scientific thoughts

  47. Doug in Seattle said

    It would be nice if Sean outed himself, but if he truly is what he says he is, this would likely result in the cancellation of his career. At least at this point it would. Perhaps if the investigations into CRU and Mann lead to a cleansing of these frauds, it might be different, but for now I do see it as reasonable to doubt his claim. In the meantime, his letter is clearly knowledgeable about the issues and correct about the degree of corruption out there.

  48. David said

    Pardon a question–but why in this analysis are we to assume that the Earth radiates like a black body? What effect would we be seeing if it were to be assumed to be a less effective radiator (a “gray body”, which I believe to be a more accurate term in this case).

  49. Matt Y. said

    I wish he would give specific examples of the computer code he thinks is bogus. That could be much more damning than some off-hand comments about a “trick”. Won’t play as well in the soundbite media though.

  50. nvw said

    nice post Fai Mao.

    I also second Mesa #40 that Sean is someone who got off the train at the post-doc, junior faculty level and is still nervous about burning bridges.

  51. Carbon dioxide cause or effect?

    We should take the climate change seriously because these changes have created and destroyed huge empires within the history of mankind. However, it is a shame that billion dollar decisions in Copenhagen may be based on tuned temperature data and wrong conclusions.

    The climate activists believe that the CO2 has been the main reason for the climate changes within the last million of years. However, the chemical calculations prove that the reason is the temperature changes of the oceans. Warm seawater dissolves much less CO2 than the cold seawater. See details from:

    This means that CO2 content of the atmosphere will automatically increase, if the sea surface temperature increases for any reason. Most likely, carbon dioxide contributes to global warming, but it is hardly the primary reason for climate change.

    The magnitude of CO2 and water vapor emissivity and absorptivity are the same, however, the concentration of CO2 (0.04%) is much less than water 1% in atmosphere. In this mean the first assumption is that water vapor effect on the climate change must be much larger than CO2.

    The climate models may give wrong results, if they assume that the CO2 is the primary reason for the temperature changes, if they do not take into account the role of oceans, and especially if they are based on purpose-oriented CRU temperature data.

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