In a December 9 report, ABC correspondent David Wright advanced misleading claims about the emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, including the claim that the emails show scientists using a “trick to hide the decline in temperatures” and that a scientist called it a “travesty” that they couldn't explain a temporary lack of warming. Wright also misleadingly cropped Jon Stewart's comments on the emails, removing Stewart's statement that “of course” the information contained in the emails doesn't “disprove” global warming.
Wright misleads on email that mentions “trick” “to hide the decline”
Wright: “One of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' in temperatures.” Despite airing Penn State scientist Michael Mann statement, “Imagine somebody going through all of the emails you've ever sent looking for a single word or phrase that could be twisted,” Wright reported: “One of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' in temperatures.”
“Decline” refers to unreliable tree-ring data, not actual temperatures. In a November 26 article, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, reported that Penn State scientist Michael Mann -- whose “trick” was referenced in Jones' email -- “said his trick, or 'trick of the trade,' for the Nature chart was to combine data from tree-ring measurements, which record world temperatures from 1,000 years ago until 1960, with actual temperature readings for 1961 through 1998” because “scientists have discovered that, for temperatures since 1960, tree rings have not been a reliable indicator.” In a November 20 post, RealClimate.org's staff, which is comprised of several working climate scientists, including Mann, similarly stated:
As for the 'decline', it is well known that Keith Briffa's maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem” -see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while 'hiding' is probably a poor choice of words (since it is 'hidden' in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.
Several scientists have stated that the word “trick” is being misinterpreted. The (UK) Guardian reported in a November 20 article that Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said of Jones' email: “It does look incriminating on the surface, but there are lots of single sentences that taken out of context can appear incriminating. ... You can't tell what they are talking about. Scientists say 'trick' not just to mean deception. They mean it as a clever way of doing something -- a short cut can be a trick.” RealClimate also explained that “the 'trick' is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term 'trick' to refer to ... 'a good way to deal with a problem', rather than something that is 'secret', and so there is nothing problematic in this at all.”
Wright cited “travesty” comment in stolen email but not context for comment
Wright claims that scientists “are on the defensive.” Wright reported that in one email, National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth wrote: “The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.” Wright concluded: “Global warming may be a scientific issue but it's also a hot button political debate. So right now the scientists aren't the only ones on the defensive: Politicians are too.” Wright went on to air Trenbreth's assertion that the emails “show human nature at work but I don't think it throws any, casts any aspersions on the science,” but did not explain how his “travesty” comment was taken out of context.
Trenberth's email referred to “inadequate” system of observing short-term variability, not long-term trend. In the October 12 email, National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth cited “my own article on where the heck is global warming” and wrote: “The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate” [emphasis added].
Trenberth published similar comments in the journal article he cited in email. Wired's Threat Level blog reported that Trenberth “says bloggers are missing the point he's making in the e-mail by not reading the article cited in it. That article -- An Imperative for Climate Change Planning (.pdf) -- actually says that global warming is continuing, despite random temperature variations that would seem to suggest otherwise." RealClimate.org similarly stated in a November 23 post that "[y]ou need to read his recent paper on quantifying the current changes in the Earth's energy budget to realise why he is concerned about our inability currently to track small year-to-year variations in the radiative fluxes." Indeed, the Trenberth article referred to what he called an “incomplete explanation” of short-term climate variations, and maintained that “global warming is unequivocally happening.”
Wright misleadingly cropped Jon Stewart's comments on stolen emails
Wright ignored Stewart's statement that “of course” emails don't “disprove global warming.” After stating, "[A]s the controversy heats up, the consensus about making the tough choices to curb carbon emissions threatens to crumble," Wright showed Daily Show host Jon Stewart saying: “Poor Al Gore. Global warming completely debunked via the very Internet you created.” But Stewart went on to say of the content of the emails: “Now, does it disprove global warming? No, of course not,” but it is “catnip” to “denier[s].”
From the December 1 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show:
STEWART: Poor Al Gore. Global warming completely debunked via the very Internet you invented. Oh, the irony, the iron-y. Actually, the real story is not quite that sensational. Basically, emails stolen from scientists at one of the leading study centers for global warming show them discussing them discussing their work a bit -- how do I put this -- casually.
WENDELL GOLER (Fox News White House correspondent) [video clip]: He wrote, “The fact is we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.
STEWART: See, it's nothing. He was just using a trick to hide the decline. It's just scientist-speak for using a standard statistical technique recalibrating data in order to trick you into not knowing about the decline. But here's what's great about science. In disagreement, we go back and look at the raw data.
GOLER [video clip]: University scientists say raw data from the 1980s was thrown out.
STEWART: Oh, for fuck's sake. Why would you throw out raw data from the '80s? I still have Penthouses from the '70s. Laminated. What did you keep?
GOLER [video clip]: The scientists say the kept something called value-added data.
STEWART: Value-added data? What is that? Numbers fortified with art? Truth plus, now with lemon? It doesn't look good. Now, does it disprove global warming? No, of course not. But it does put a fresh set of Energizers in the Senate's resident denier bunny.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE [video clip]: The fact that this whole idea on the global warming, I'm glad that's over, gone, done. We won, you lost, get a life.
STEWART: All right. We knew Inhofe was going to say that. I mean, that guy thinks global warming is debunked every time he drinks a slushee and gets a brain freeze. “If global warming is real, why does my head hurt?” But by the way, that quote was before he found out about the leaked email story. But that's the point. if you care about an issue and want to make it your life's work, don't cut corners. It's disheartening for people inclined toward the scientific method, and it's catnip to these guys, who are going to end up celebrating tonight drunk, roaming the Arctic Circle trying to skull-fuck polar bears, which are quickly disappearing because of rising oceans caused now, apparently, by God's tears.