Have You Heard the One about the Climate Scientists’ Emails? (Getting tired of the same joke?)

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | November 22, 2011, 5:19 pm EDT
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: computer hackers steal thousands of emails among climate change scientists from a university. They release the emails publicly just days before important climate change negotiations are set to begin. Climate change-denying bloggers and their friends in Congress take the emails out of context to accuse climate researchers of scientific misconduct and justify their conspiracy theories, and the media plays along.

Multiple subsequent independent investigations (found here, here, here, here, here, and here) find no evidence of wrongdoing by scientists, but by then, the climate negotiations have passed. And the ridiculous circus sideshow continues for months, because, predictably, the climate change deniers will not accept the findings of these exhaustive investigations.

That’s what happened in 2009, when part of a batch of emails stolen from Great Britain’s University of East Anglia were published anonymously on the Internet.

Skyline in Durban, South Africa

Computer hackers are again attempting to confuse the public about climate change science on the eve of international climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Photo: Flickr user Vanessa Stephen

And today, shortly before international climate talks are to begin in Durban, South Africa, the hackers released some of the leftovers from that batch, approximately 5,000 messages in all. Last time, the emails received a lot of undeserved attention. This time, as my colleague Francesca Grifo says, the release “should be met with a collective yawn.”

But it’s not enough to dismiss the latest release. The British government, and the media, need to focus on holding the computer hackers accountable for their illegal acts.

Scientists must have the ability to discuss contentious ideas with each other. Indeed, we all deserve a certain level of privacy to be able to develop and refine our understanding of complex subjects. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical of research.  But stealing private correspondence is not the way to challenge the ideas of those with whom one disagrees.

And certainly, discussion over the content of private email correspondence isn’t going to prevent dangerous extreme weather and other consequences of climate change.  Hopefully, elected officials and the press have learned from their previous mistakes and will focus instead on how the world can tackle the challenges posed by global warming.

Posted in: Global Warming, Scientific Integrity Tags: , , , ,

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  • Nick

    I have read/heard that current non fossil energy generating products use more conventional energy in their manufacture than they will pay back in their useful lifetime. Are there exceptions to this “rule of thumb”?

  • lucien locke

    Never mind the noise from idiot blogs and their supportive news feeds, hands in both pockets mouth open to catch a fly congressmen, religious automatons…..anyone interested in the people who paid to have those e-mails Hacked? Of course not…that’s not really a crime..is it? The Earth’s climate will wait for no man…you can be sure of that, even if you are not…. now.

    [email protected]

    p.s. any of you dimwits want to argue the point we can take it out in private e-mail correspondence, no need to display your ignorance in public

    respectfully submitted,
    lucien locke

  • B. L. Knott, at your service

    This comment has been removed by the moderator.

  • B.Leaf Naught knot

    Why is the above ad hominem attack supposed to instill confidence, that you are a genuine scientific iconoclast with sound and consistent arguments against the validity of global warming claims? “I know you are but what am I?” does not seem to be a valid criteria with which to attack any argument or theory, by UCS or anyone else…

  • MJ

    Michael, your article hits the nail on the head. These skeptics have every right to be skeptical, but they are really taking information out of context. Even without their efforts, I think the Durban talks will accomplish nothing and that humanity is collectively shooting their grandchildren in the feet. My father is a skeptic and has sent me stuff for years. And none of it is from a legitimate source. He even complained about the urban heat island effect of a climate station in someplace like Baffin Island. I pulled the picture of it from the internet, and the station is 5km from the nearest community, surrounded by snow and ice. Yet, he did not even acknowledge that I had a point. That is just poor science. And attacking the integrity of thousands of scientists who have worked, and who are working on the IPCC documents the way he has shows he has no understanding of scientific integrity himself. Blame 800 researchers – even the work they are working on now – based on emails taken out of context. Makes no sense, unless you have a non-science based agenda.

  • Allan

    Geez, I see plenty of references is the article above. They refer to plenty of other articles which in turn also have references. If I felt like I had the time to get into a long drawn out debate with you, I’m confident I could come up with some evidence to back up my assertions. You on the other hand are doing exactly what you accuse UCS of doing. The only thing I think you are referring to is the thesaurus (I like the word sophist, thanks!). What respectable peer-reviewed sources are you using, I ask you again?
    In response to your question, I hope the answer is yes, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by frivolous rock-throwers whose only apparent goal is to delay and side-track progress.

  • A.S.

    “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

  • B. Leif Knott

    Undercover “gotcha” investigation and misrepresentative spin is a mainstay tactic of cranks like those affiliated with UCS. Why, all of a sudden, is that time-honored tactic vilified by activist muckrakers? Surely you do not intend to reform yourselves and adhere only to fact-based, well reasoned consideration of peer-reviewed publicly released data? What will become of UCS and other alarmist agenda sophists if your complaint isn’t simply the pot calling the kettle black?

    • Allan

      Interesting comment, b lief knott. Care to back up your assertion that UCS does not adhere to fact based well reasoned peer reviewed data? I “b lief” that is exactly what UCS does, rather than make assertions unsupported by evidence like you have just done. You are the pot here.

      • B. Leif Knott

        Kindly reference to quality peer-reviewed scientific sources for all UCS’s future stories, then, and we shall both be satisfied (and I shall be very surprised, indeed!). You might accidentally make a worthwhile contribution to our mutual “concern” for science by showcasing the best of high quality science instead of spinning the worst of populist faux-science. By properly referencing all stories your bold assertion of scientific credibility can be demonstrated…and that is the only way. Are you and your professional co-alarmists at UCS up to the challenge going forward? Feel free to begin right away. Only time will tell who is the “pot”.