Fox & Friends coverage of CRU emails disregards facts, context

Fox & Friends hosts Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, and Gretchen Carlson have repeatedly advanced the right wing's distortion of emails reportedly stolen from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) by hyping a litany of falsehoods that climate skeptics have propagated about the emails without any regard for facts or context. In fact, despite the hosts' claims, the content of the emails do not “prove” the scientists doctored or destroyed data, nor do they undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activities are causing global climate change.

Fox & Friends claims emails “prove” that scientists are “fudging,” “doctoring” numbers

Kilmeade: Hackers “found out” that scientists “are fudging the numbers and massaging the statistics to get conclusions.” On December 2, Kilmeade said: “This is huge. They hacked into some accounts -- I don't know how they did it -- but they found out that those people who say that we're in the middle of global warming, climate change, it's cataclysmic if we don't act soon, well, are fudging the numbers and massaging the statistics to get conclusions that would alert the whole world that we have to quickly act.” As Kilmeade spoke, the following on-screen graphics aired:



Doocy claimed the emails “prove” scientists were “doctoring” data. On December 3, Doocy said to Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson: "[I]t's interesting, so these emails -- apparently they got them -- somebody hacked into that university's thing. And essentially it proves that over the last number of years, members of academia, the science community who say global warming is caused by man, have been doctoring the figures and facts and stuff like that." Also during that segment, Kilmeade read both emails again and commented, "[H]ide the decline in temperatures? That's called cooling." [Fox & Friends, 12/3/09]

Kilmeade: “They actually say the word 'trickery.' ” On December 3, Kilmeade said: “I understand that people don't have their whole lives to dedicate to climate change, but if you read these emails, you don't need to be a scientist to understand. They actually say the word 'trickery' when it comes to numbers and to reach conclusions.” In a later segment, Kilmeade referred to the “damning” emails and said: "[N]ow we understand that the scientists have fudged numbers and massaged statistics in order to make it seem like the world is indeed heating up. ... [N]ow that these emails are out you have to wonder, does the Earth need saving?" Doocy and Kilmeade continued:

KILMEADE: The debate is this. We don't know and they don't know. And the statistics that backed up their thesis are fudged and massaged, and they talk about using the term “trickery” in order to get the conclusions that have people like Al Gore get very very rich.

DOOCY: Because all these scientists had said it's clearly man doing it, and now you look at the stuff, and you're not so sure. [Fox & Friends, 12/03/09]

But the emails cited by Fox & Friends don't support their claim that the scientists “fudg[ed] the numbers ... to get conclusions”

Several scientists have stated that the word “trick” is being misinterpreted. Contrary to Kilmeade's claim, the email does not use the word “trickery”; rather, it states, “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) amd from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.” 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 Phil 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.”

“Hide the decline” refers to unreliable tree-ring data, not actual temperature readings. 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.” Jones has also stated that it is “well known” that tree ring data “does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960,” and the CRU has said that "[t]he 'decline' in this set of tree-ring data should not be taken to mean that there is any problem with the instrumental temperature data." In a November 20 post,'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.

Scientist's “travesty” email referred to “inadequate” system of observing short-term variability, not long-term trend. In the October 12 email, Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, 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. 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." 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.”

Kilmeade also advanced dubious claim that scientists “dumped” raw data to hide distortions

Kilmeade: "[T]hey dumped out the data from the '80s." Tucker Carlson claimed that “we don't even know what the basic data are because most climate researchers don't release the raw data for others to assess. This whole thing is a house of cards, and it's coming down now.” Kilmeade responded: “Right. And they dumped out the data from the '80s.” Kilmeade is presumably referring to the conservative media's claim that CRU scientists intentionally “threw out” or “destroyed” the raw temperature data on which man-made global warming theory is based. [Fox & Friends, 12/03/09]

Original data is still held by meteorological services. In fact, according to the scientists, the raw data is still available at the meteorological services where they obtained it; director Phil Jones said, according to an October 14 Greenwire article, CRU simply did not keep copies for “less than 5 percent of its original station data” in its database because those “stations had several discontinuities or were affected by urbanization trends.” Jones also said, according to the article, “We haven't destroyed anything. The data is still there -- you can still get these stations from the [NOAA] National Climatic Data Center.”

Scientists say the illegally obtained emails do not undermine climate change science

Distortions of illegally obtained documents from one group of scientists do not undermine overwhelming consensus. In a statement on the reported theft of the emails, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated that “no individual or small group of scientists is in a position to exclude a peer-reviewed paper from an I.P.C.C. assessment.” From Pachauri's statement:

In summary, no individual or small group of scientists is in a position to exclude a peer-reviewed paper from an I.P.C.C. assessment. Likewise, individuals and small groups have no ability to emphasize a result that is not consistent with a range of studies, investigations, and approaches. Every layer in the process (including large author teams, extensive review, independent monitoring of review compliance, and plenary approval by governments) plays a major role in keeping I.P.C.C. assessments comprehensive, unbiased, open to the identification of new literature, and policy relevant but not policy prescriptive.

The unfortunate incident that has taken place through illegal hacking of the private communications of individual scientists only highlights the importance of I.P.C.C. procedures and practices and the thoroughness by which the Panel carries out its assessment. This thoroughness and the duration of the process followed in every assessment ensure the elimination of any possibility of omissions or distortions, intentional or accidental.

IPCC: “Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis.” The IPCC, which is a scientific body established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization, has established that "[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal." The IPCC “reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide,” and its reports are the product of contributions from "[t]housands of scientists from all over the world."

Nature: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real.” A December 2 editorial in the science journal Nature stated: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real -- or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.” Also from the editorial:

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers' own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a 'trick' -- slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature's policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.

AMS: Impact on climate change science of emails “very limited.” Following the release of the stolen emails, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) reaffirmed its Statement on Climate Change, stating that it “is based on a robust body of research reported in the peer-reviewed literature.” AMS further stated: “For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true -- which is not yet clearly the case -- the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.”

UCS: “The e-mails provide no information that would affect the scientific understanding of climate change.” The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has stated that "[t]he e-mails provide no information that would affect the scientific understanding of climate change, as many contrarians are falsely claiming. For years, thousands of scientists working at climate research centers around the world have carefully and rigorously reached a consensus on the extent of climate change, the urgency of the problem, and the role human activity plays in causing it." UCS further stated: “The findings of the USGCRP, IPCC and other scientific bodies are based on the work of thousands of scientists from hundreds of research institutions. The University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) is just one among many such research institutions. Even without data from CRU, there is still an overwhelming body of evidence that human activity triggering dangerous levels of global warming.”

Peter Kelemen: "[A]lleged problems with a few scientists' behavior do not change the consensus understanding of human-induced, global climate change." Kelemen, a professor of geochemistry at Columbia University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, wrote that “I think it is important for scientists to clearly state that if basic data were withheld, or if there was unprofessional tampering with the peer-review process, we do not condone these acts. It is equally essential to emphasize that alleged problems with a few scientists' behavior do not change the consensus understanding of human-induced, global climate change, which is a robust hypothesis based on well-established observations and inferences.” Kelemen further wrote: “Outspoken critics often portray climate science as a house of cards, built on a shaky edifice of limited data and broad suppositions. However, it's more realistic to think of the science as a deck of cards, spread out, face up. Some data and interpretations of those data are more certain than others, of course. But pulling out one or two interpretations, or the results of a few scientists, does not change the overall picture. Take away two or three cards, and there are still 49 or 50 cards facing you.”

NASA's Gavin Schmidt: “There's nothing in the e-mails that shows that global warming is a hoax.” Wired's Threat Level blog reported on November 20 that Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “There's nothing in the e-mails that shows that global warming is a hoax. ... There's no funding by nefarious groups. There's no politics in any of these things; nobody from the [United Nations] telling people what to do. There's nothing hidden, no manipulation. It's just scientists talking about science, and they're talking relatively openly as people in private e-mails generally are freer with their thoughts than they would be in a public forum. The few quotes that are being pulled out [are out] of context. People are using language used in science and interpreting it in a completely different way.” Schmidt is a contributor to the Real Climate blog, which has stated that some of the stolen CRU emails “involve people” at Real Climate.