Coal Tattoo

What to make of ClimateGate?

My buddy Jim Bruggers at the Courier-Journal in Louisville wondered that very question his blog, WatchDog Earth, in writing about those stolen e-mails that are embarrassing some of the world’s top climate scientists and fueling the folks who say the whole global warming thing is just a hoax.

I’ve heard from a few coal industry officials and from some other non-coal climate change skeptics, mostly complaining that the Gazette hasn’t given this issue enough attention. One industry source wondered why I haven’t given the same coverage on Coal Tattoo  to this as I have to the coal lobby faking letters to Congress.

Bruggers cites a Guardian column by George Monbiot saying:

But do these revelations justify the sceptics’ claims that this is “the final nail in the coffin” of global warming theory? Not at all. They damage the credibility of three or four scientists. They raise questions about the integrity of one or perhaps two out of several hundred lines of evidence. To bury man-made climate change, a far wider conspiracy would have to be revealed.

And the respected Union of Concerned Scientists had a lot of say about the issue in this statement issued yesterday:

In their ongoing campaign to distort the facts and deceive the public, climate policy opponents are misrepresenting illegally obtained e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain. Opposition groups are taking passages out of context to try to undermine public confidence in climate science.

The e-mails provide no information that would affect the scientific understanding of climate change, as many contrarians are falsely claiming. For years, thousands of scientists working at climate research centers around the world have carefully and rigorously reached a consensus on the extent of climate change, the urgency of the problem, and the role human activity plays in causing it.

The group also says:

While it’s not clear any wrongdoing has actually taken place, scientists should do more to address concerns about openness.

Science flourishes in an atmosphere of transparency and free and open dissent. Suppressing legitimate scientific dissent is wrong. However, it is not clear from the purloined e-mails that the scientists involved actually attempted to hinder the free exchange of scientific information.

The most troubling messages refer to deleting e-mails to avoid disclosure in the event of a freedom of information request. If such deletions did occur, that would be a serious breach of scientific ethics and public trust. The author of the emails, Phil Jones, has stated that he never actually “deleted any emails or data.” The University of East Anglia is investigating this matter and, in the meantime, Jones has temporarily stepped down from his post at the school.

Science works because exchanging ideas and criticism helps researchers better understand the world. Scientists have a stake in the credibility of their institutions, including scientific journals, the process of peer review, and consensus reports.

On such issues as global climate change, the scientific community has a special responsibility to the broader public to provide objective, credible information that informs the democratic process. Given the content of some of the e-mails, now is a good time for scientists to recommit to the principles of transparency and scientific integrity.


Industry-funded groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) are mischaracterizing the e-mails to advance ludicrous conspiracy theories about climate science, and many bloggers, as well as radio and TV personalities, have been parroting their message. Their intent is to undercut an international climate summit in Copenhagen that begins later this week.

After decades of failing to poke holes in the substance of climate science, opponents of taking action have turned to attacking climate scientists. They have resorted to twisting the words of scientists from illegally obtained e-mails to manufacture doubt about climate science.

Meanwhile, oil and coal companies and their allies continue to spend millions of dollars to confuse the public on climate science and climate solutions. They are the real sources of disinformation and spin in the climate debate.

The files involved can be downloaded here.  If Coal Tattoo readers have specific emails they’d like to discuss, have at it …