"Climategate" Redux: Conservative Media Distort Hacked Emails ... Again

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG, JILL FITZSIMMONS & EMILEE PIERCE

Anonymous hackers recently released another batch of emails taken from a climate research group at the University of East Anglia in 2009, along with a document containing numbered excerpts of purportedly incriminating material. Many of these selections have been cropped in a way that completely distorts their meaning, but they were nonetheless repeated by conservative media outlets who believe climate change is a "hoax" and a "conspiracy."

Conservative Media Highlight Misleadingly Cropped And Out-Of-Context Emails

<4755>

Selectively Edited Email Implies Scientists "Left Out" Information To Fit A "Message." A December 2004 email from the University of Arizona's Jonathan Overpeck to Argentinian scientist Ricardo Villalba was cropped to say:

<4755> Overpeck:

The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guid[e] what's included and what is left out. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

Email Was Actually About Meeting Page Limits. The full email reveals that Overpeck is advising Villalba to edit a lengthy outline down to "0.5 pages of HIGHLY focused and relevant stuff." They are discussing a "Section on Modes of Variability" for the Palaeoclimate chapter of the draft 2007 IPCC report. From Overpeck's email:

I think the hardest, yet most important part, is to boil the section down to 0.5 pages. In looking over your good outline, sent back on Oct. 17 (my delay is due to fatherdom just after this time), you cover ALOT. The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guid what's included and what is left out. For the IPCC, we need to know what is relevant and useful for assessing recent and future climate change. Moreover, we have to have solid data - not inconclusive information.

[...]

So, the trick is for you to lead us (Dick, Keith, me - maybe Julie - ENSO expert) to produce 0.5 pages of HIGHLY focused and relevant stuff. Can you take another crack at your outline and then tell us what you need? [Email 4755, 12/16/04]

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<1939> and <3066>

Cropped Email Falsely Suggests Scientist Said Science Was "Manipulated" In IPCC Report. Emails by then-Met Office scientist Peter Thorne to Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in February 2005 were cropped to say:

<1939> Thorne/MetO:

Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary [...]

<3066> Thorne:

I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run. [Email excerpts, accessed 11/28/11]

Concerns Were Expressed About First Draft, Addressed In Final Version. This exchange was about the first draft, called the "zero order draft," of a section on upper-air temperatures in the 2007 IPCC report. Thorne said "we need to communicate the uncertainty" and later added:

At this stage I'm pretty sure we can reconcile these things relatively simply. However, I certainly would be unhappy to be associated with it if the current text remains through final draft - I'm absolutely positive it won't. [Emails 1939 and 3066, 4/2/05]

The final draft of the chapter noted that there is "substantial" "uncertainties" in this area, indicating that Thorne's critique was incorporated into the chapter by the time it was released two years later:

Within the community that constructs and actively analyses satellite- and radiosonde-based temperature records there is agreement that the uncertainties about long-term change are substantial. Changes in instrumentation and protocols pervade both sonde and satellite records, obfuscating the modest long-term trends. Historically there is no reference network to anchor the record and establish the uncertainties arising from these changes - many of which are both barely documented and poorly understood. Therefore, investigators have to make seemingly reasonable choices of how to handle these sometimes known but often unknown influences. It is difficult to make quantitatively defensible judgments as to which, if any, of the multiple, independently derived estimates is closer to the true climate evolution. This reflects almost entirely upon the inadequacies of the historical observing network and points to the need for future network design that provides the reference sonde-based ground truth. [IPCC AR4, WG1, Chapter 3, 2007]

The Thorne emails were quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<2775>

Cropped Email Falsely Suggests Scientists Manipulated Data. A December 2004 email from Phil Jones was edited to read as follows:

<2775> Jones:

I too don't see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we're choosing the periods to show warming. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

Email Was Actually About Color Schemes. A closer look reveals that this exchange is about what color schemes to use for temperature and precipitation maps for chapter 3 of the 2007 IPCC report, like the ones displayed at the bottom of these maps:

Color Schemes

[IPCC AR4, WG1, Chapter 3, 2007]

The emails discuss maps showing global data for 1901-2003 and 1979-2003. NOAA's David Easterling asked:

for the scales, do they need to be symmetrical on either side of zero or can the range from the lightest to darkest color for positive be different than for negative? For example, the range for precipitation go from 0 to 100% for positive (green) but go from 0 to -50% for negative? [Email 2775, 12/21/04]

From Jones' response:

The colour schemes that look good in its Fig 2 are D for temperature and C for precip (if the blue gets changed to a green). The blue would be better for colour blind people.

I too don't see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we're choosing the periods to show warming.

We seem to be agreeing on having two other colours (one for nearish to zero anomalies and for missing). If we go with your globally complete dataset, then this only means missing is over the oceans for precip - except for the confidence in the trends in data sparse regions. So I'd go for white (no colour) for missing as this will mean the oceans are blank for precip. Nearish to zero trends then have to be grey. [Email 2775, 12/21/04]

As it turned out, all of the Chapter 3 maps were symmetrical in the final version. When asked about this email, Jones said, "The full email exchange reveals that we were choosing colours for a chart covering periods that showed warming. The periods chosen were 1901 to 2005 (the long record) and 1979 to 2005 (the satellite record)." [University of East Anglia, 11/23/11]

This email was quoted out of context by National Review Online, 11/28/11

<4693>

Email Cropped To Falsely Suggest Scientist Wanted To Suppress The "Truth." An April 2002 email from then-Duke University professor Thomas Crowley to his colleagues at UEA was cropped to state:

<4693> Crowley:

I am not convinced that the "truth" is always worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

In Fact, Scientist Was Trying To Cool Down Heated Exchange Between Colleagues. The fuller context shows that Crowley was attempting to mediate a heated email dispute between colleagues:

I am concerned about the the stressed tone of some of the words being circulated lately. Such difficulties not only hamper collegiality (which I value greatly) but also the actual progress in our field.

I think you are all fine fellows and very good scientists and that it is time to smoke the peace pipe on all this and put a temporary moratorium on more email messages until tempers cool down a bit. After this maybe we can discuss things somewhere where each party comes to the meeting beforehand with a commitment to even-handed discussion and give and take.

I hope I have not offended anyone in this message -- it is of course a personal opinion. Maybe it is an illusion or prejudice on my part, but somehow I am not convinced that the "truth" is always worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships.... [Email 4693, 4/12/02]

In an email to Media Matters, Crowley explained that the purpose of his email was to "ameliorate a fuss among colleagues about whose paper [on temperature reconstruction] is 'more right.'" He added that "they could both be right... but the inference that one is right and the other wrong is what I was trying to temper." Crowley noted that "taking the sentence out of context makes it sound like I am trying to hide some 'truth' about, for example, global warming being wrong -- it could easily be very misleading."

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<3062>

Email Cropped To Suggest Scientist Tried To Paint Pessimistic Picture. A February 2008 email from Jones to Overpeck was cropped to state:

<3062> Jones

We don't really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written [...] We'll have to cut out some of his stuff. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

Jones Was Actually Criticizing The Omission Of "Good Honest Stuff, Warts And All." The email is in reference to a joint paper and shows Jones criticizing another author's (German scientist Michael Schulz) work. The Guardian reported that the email was about "Schultz's early work on a new way of reconstructing ancient climate through the oceans." [The Guardian, 11/24/11]

The full text of the email reveals that Jones wanted to emphasize, not downplay, uncertainty about the research. He asked for "good honest stuff, warts and all":

We don't really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written that sounds as though it could have been written by a coral person 25 years ago. We'll have to cut out some of his stuff. What we want is good honest stuff, warts and all, dubious dating, interpretation marginally better etc. [Email 3062, 2/15/08]

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<1788>

Email Edited To Suggest University Suppresses Dissenting Views. An August 2004 email from Phil Jones to Melissa Murphy of the University of East Anglia Communications office was edited to say:

<1788> Jones:

There shouldn't be someone else at UEA with different views [from "recent extreme weather is due to global warming"] - at least not a climatologist. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

Email Was Actually About Scheduling A TV Interview. The full email shows that in response, Jones is not saying that "different views" are unacceptable within UEA -- he is saying that most climate scientists agree that extreme weather is related to global warming. Indeed, a 2004 study concluded that human-induced climate change "doubled the likelihood" of the 2003 European heat wave that killed tens of thousands of people. [Nature, 12/1/04]

Murphy's inquiry stated that UEA scientist David Viner "is going to be featured" on a TV news segment to present "his view that recent extreme weather is due to global warming." She went on to ask if UEA would provide a scientist to argue "a different view":

I have received a call from David Reddings who is part of the show's team, asking if we have a climate expert who has a different view to Dr Viner - perhaps believing that recent weather has not been caused by global warming but is merely part of the 'natural variability' of the weather. Do we have someone at UEA? [Email 1788, 8/23/04]

Jones responded:

There shouldn't be someone else at UEA with different views - at least not a climatologist. It would also look odd if the two people interviewed with opposite views were from UEA. Maybe you should reply and say we can't find one, saying that most climate experts would take the same view as Dave. The programme could easily dredge someone up, but they wouldn't be an expert on the climate. This is the whole point of the debate recently. The people the media find to put the contrary view are not climate experts. [Email 1788, 8/23/04]

Jones says that in the email, he was stating the "view that I doubted if we could find anyone of that opposing view among my colleagues." [University of East Anglia, 11/23/11]

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<4716>

Cropped Email Highlighted Discussion About How To Communicate Climate Change. A September 2002 email from Cambridge geographer Bill Adams to Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia regarding an upcoming meeting with "BP delegates" was cropped to read:

<4716> Adams:

Somehow we have to leave the[m] thinking OK, climate change is extremely complicated, BUT I accept the dominant view that people are affecting it, and that impacts produces risk that needs careful and urgent attention. [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

Email Was Edited To Exclude Scientist's Instructions To Convey "Complexities And Uncertainties." But contrary to the implication that scientists are trying to promote a political agenda, Adams specifically says that the goal is "education not conversion" and stresses the need to adequately convey the complexity of climate science and "get grey tones across":

As I see it, the challenge is to get the delegates to think about climate change is a constructive way, so that they appreciate some of the complexities and uncertainties, but WITHOUT jumping to the conclusion that the IPCC is just a bunch of scientists with an axe to grind.

[...]

Interestingly, we avoided climate change for a long time because the BP people working with us on the programmes said it was old hat for senior BP staff. Our experience from the debate at BAS in March showed that this is not now true, if it ever was. In particular it may be that the AMOCO merger brought in a number of senior staff who are only now moving from a more EXXON-like position. If I am candid, my aim for the session is to help secure and encourage this move, while at the same time helping them understand something of the complexity of climate variability (i.e. education not conversion!).

The problem here is that the delegates are a pretty bright bunch, who are used to pushing through uncertainty to identify the core of arguments. This is great, but it makes for a world seen in black and white. It can be hard to get grey tones across.

Somehow we have to leave the thinking OK, climate change is extremely complicated, BUT I accept the dominant view that people are affecting it, and that impacts produces risk that needs careful and urgent attention. Or something like that! [Email 4716, 9/4/02]

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

<2009>

Email Edited To Falsely Suggest Scientist Admitted Making Unsupported Statements. A January 2005 email from Keith Briffa of the University of East Anglia was cropped to state:

<2009> Briffa:

I find myself in the strange position of being very skeptical of the quality of all present reconstructions, yet sounding like a pro greenhouse zealot here! [Email excerpt, accessed 11/28/11]

In Fact, He Was Soliciting Criticism. After explaining that he had attached a draft section of the IPCC report, Briffa asked for "critical comment":

I am attaching the short 2000 year section from the ZOD [Zero-Order Draft] of the IPCC report and the text of a "box" on the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] (both confidential for now) but if we can get more space , it needs expanding to cover SH [Southern Hemisphere] and more hydro. They also want an appendix on standardisation - so you will be involved in this also.

Really happy to get critical comment here . There is no doubt that this section will attract all the venom from the sceptics. I find myself in the strange position of being very skeptical of the quality of all present reconstructions, yet sounding like a pro greenhouse zealot here! [Email 2009, 1/20/05]

Responding to the release of the hacked emails, Briffa stated:

In email 2009, I am trying to reinforce the request to my co-author to provide a strongly critical review of the draft text. I believed that I had taken account of the considerable uncertainties in the evidence when producing the draft and still came to the conclusion that the late 20th century was unusually warm. I wanted to know whether he thought that this assessment was entirely valid. I would add that I was and still am acutely aware of the shortcomings of the palaeoclimate evidence but the conclusions of chapter 6 of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report were arrived at after taking these into account, as is made clear by the section on 'Key Uncertainties" (p. 483). [University of East Anglia, 11/23/11]

This email was quoted out of context by the following media outlets:

Right-Wing Media Predictably See "Climategate 2.0" As Confirming Their Beliefs About Climate Science

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Claims Emails Show Scientists "Fudging Data." In a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Climategate 2.0," James Delingpole argued that the hacker who released the emails deserves our "gratitude" and claimed that the emails show scientists "fudging data," without providing any support for that assertion. [Wall Street Journal, 11/28/11]

Limbaugh: Emails "Expose The Hoax" Of Global Warming. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that "another round of emails [...] expose the hoax, or the shenanigans, the lying, if you will, that climate scientists have engaged in to convince people that there is manmade global warming when there isn't." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/22/11]

Dobbs: Emails "Show How Prominent Scientists Actually Manipulated Data." On the November 29 edition of his Fox Business show, Dobbs said the emails were "Another set-back tonight for proponents of so-called climate change" and that they " show how prominent scientists actually manipulated data to support the theory that global warming is manmade. [Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 11/29/11]

Wash. Times: "Global Warming Is More Fiction Than Science." In a November 29 editorial, the Washington Times stated: "The latest release of 5,000 emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) reconfirms what the 2009's "Climategate" files established: Global warming is more fiction than science," adding, " The basic problem with climate research is that it is at best soft science, and this leaked correspondence demonstrate just how unsettled it is." [The Washington Times, 11/29/11]

Forbes: Emails Reveal That "Much Of The Science Is Weak." A Forbes.com column by The Heartland Institute's James Taylor claimed that newly released emails undermine climate science and show that "many of these scientists frankly admit to each other that much of the science is weak and dependent on deliberate manipulation of facts and data." [Forbes.com, 11/23/11]

Fox Business: Emails Show That "Much Of The Science Behind It Was Weak." Echoing the language from Taylor's Forbes.com column, Chris Cotter stated while guest-hosting Lou Dobbs Tonight: "Although these latest emails do not contain new revelations about climate research, they do show how scientists -- prominent scientists frame global warming as a political issue and admitted as much of the science behind it was weak. [Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 11/23/11]

Myron Ebell: "They've Been Involved In Essentially A Conspiracy." During a pre-taped report on the November 29 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute stated, "They showed the world that they have been concealing and manipulating data. They've been involved in essentially a conspiracy." The report also featured David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation asserting that "They seem to be wanting to bend the research toward their desired end and not be unbiased arbiters of the science." [Fox News, Special Report, 11/29/11]

Daily Caller: New Emails Involve The "Scientists At The Center Of The First Climategate Data Falsifying Scandal." A Daily Caller article compared the new email release to 2009 emails which it claimed "showed climate scientists conspiring to manipulate and obscure data." [Daily Caller, 11/22/11]

Investor's Business Daily: Emails Show "Vast, Global Green Conspiracy." An Investor's Business Daily editorial stated; "As we've discovered from a new trove of emails sent by leading European climate-change scientists, there has been a vast, global green conspiracy to silence scientific opposition to the idea -- even to the point of falsifying data and ruining others' careers." [Investor's Business Daily, 11/28/11]

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