FactCheck.org weighs in against falsehoods surrounding stolen climate research emails
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In a December 10 analysis, the nonpartisan Factcheck.org debunked several claims made about emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and noted that news coverage "may have contributed to public confusion on the subject":
[M]any of the e-mails that are being held up as "smoking guns" have been misrepresented by global-warming skeptics eager to find evidence of a conspiracy. And even if they showed what the critics claim, there remains ample evidence that the earth in getting warmer.
Even as the affair was unfolding, the World Meteorological Organization announced on Dec. 8 that the 2000-2009 decade would likely be the warmest on record, and that 2009 might be the fifth warmest year ever recorded. (The hottest year on record was 1998.) This conclusion is based not only on the CRU data that critics are now questioning, but also incorporates data from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). All three organizations synthesized data from many sources.
Some critics claim that the e-mails invalidate the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world scientific body that reaffirmed in a 2007 report that the earth is warming, sea levels are rising and that human activity is "very likely" the cause of "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century." But the IPCC's 2007 report, its most recent synthesis of scientific findings from around the globe, incorporates data from three working groups, each of which made use of data from a huge number of sources - of which CRU was only one. The synthesis report notes key disagreements and uncertainties but makes the "robust" conclusion that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." (A robust finding is defined as "one that holds under a variety of approaches, methods, models and assumptions, and is expected to be relatively unaffected by uncertainties.")
Claims that the e-mails are evidence of fraud or deceit, however, misrepresent what they actually say. A prime example is a 1999 e-mail from Jones, who wrote: "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline." Skeptics claim the words "trick" and "decline" show Jones is using sneaky manipulations to mask a decline in global temperatures. But that's not the case. Actual temperatures, as measured by scientific instruments such as thermometers, were rising at the time of the writing of this decade-old e-mail, and (as we've noted) have continued to rise since then. Jones was referring to the decline in temperatures implied by measurements of the width and density of tree rings. In recent decades, these measures indicate a dip, while more accurate instrument-measured temperatures continue to rise.
News converage of the e-mails and the various claims about what they supposedly show may have contributed to public confusion on the subject. A Dec. 3 Rasmussen survey found that only 25 percent of adults surveyed said that "most scientists agree on global warming" while 52 percent said that "there is significant disagreement within the scientific community" and 23 percent said they were not sure. The truth is that over the 13 years covered by the CRU e-mails, scientific consensus has only become stronger as the evidence for global warming from various sources has mounted. Reports from the National Academies and the U.S. Global Change Research Program that analyze large amounts of data from various sources also agree, as does the IPCC, that climate change is not in doubt. In advance of the 2009 U.N. climate change summit, the national academies of 13 nations issued a joint statement of their recommendations for combating climate change, in which they discussed the "human forcing" of global warming and said that the need for action was "indisputable."
Leading scientists are unequivocally reaffirming the consensus on global warming in the wake of "Climategate." White House science adviser John Holdren said at a congressional hearing on climate change: "However this particular controversy comes out, the result will not call into question the bulk of our understanding of how the climate works or how humans are affecting it." The American Association for the Advancement of Science released a statement "reaffirm[ing] the position of its Board of Directors and the leaders of 18 respected organizations, who concluded based on multiple lines of scientific evidence that global climate change caused by human activities is now underway, and it is a growing threat to society." The American Meteorological Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists have also reiterated their positions on climate change, which they say are unaffected by the leaked e-mails.