Climategate story fizzles out by Peter Judge
Remember Climategate? Using emails stolen from climate scientists, the “climate skeptic” community tried to bring down the theory of global warming in 2009 to 2010. Well, it’s finally over - but the fall-out is disappointing.
Three years ago, 6000 private emails and other files were stolen from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and posted online by an outfit which was little known at the time, called WikiLeaks.
The CRU scientists were using temperature records and other data to test and document the theory of man-made global warming. They were pretty much under seige from a vocal and brutal lobby of politically-motivated commentators.
Let’s not call the attackers “skeptics”. They started from a conviction that there was no such thing as climate change. It was science versus anti-science - because anyone who starts from a conviction about anything apart from scientific method is straying from a scientific discussion.
The emails revealed a bunch of scientists who were working hard on complex and incomplete data, while suffering harassment: ill-informed and biased attacks, and vexatious freedom of information requests.
From the stolen emails, the deniers picked out where the scientists were expressing their feelings about the attacks, or making sense of difficult parts of the data. Conflating these two, the anti-science barbarians spun up their theory that global warming was a conspiracy, where free-loaders were getting fat.
This picture was not just wrong, it was pretty much the reverse of the truth. Climate science is usually funded by hard-pressed government and operates as an academic discipline. It’s out in the denier community that you find pretty clear evidence of funding by interested parties, to opinionated bodies like the Heartland Institute.
After a few months of attacks based on Climategate material, the thing fizzled out, as inquiry after inquiry came down on the side of the CRU scientists.
And now, we are left with the footnotes. This week the Norfolk police force announced it has closed its investigation into who stole the emails, saying it was a “sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack” which didn’t leave enough evidence to follow, so we will never know who stole them.
The police did not expose the “whistleblower” that the anti-scientists claimed had leaked the data. On the other hand, nor did it find any paymasters from oil companies or polluting governments who might have funded the job.
In the intervening years, the consensus around man-made climate change has become more solid - aided by a more open publication of climate data, by work such as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) scheme. Professor Phil Jones, who suffered the worst personal attacks during the fiasco, is still research director at CRU, and the work continues,
The depressing fact is, that the attacks also continue. “The lesson here is that scientists who work in a field with significant relevance to public policy should be prepared for unethical attacks like these,” said Michael Halpern, manager of the Scientific Integrity programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Climate scientists still face harassment by email and phone calls, and even death threats, he said.
And websites still try to discredit climate research.