Beck's “brand new reality” on climate change relies on distorting apparently stolen emails

Glenn Beck touted climate scientists' emails that were apparently stolen by hackers from the UK's Climate Research Unit (CRU) -- emails Beck claimed “someone released” -- to assert the existence of a “brand new reality” in which the fundamental legitimacy of global warming is in doubt. But in advancing his claims, Beck distorted the emails and took them out of context to suggest they indicated that climate change was a “scam,” ignoring climate scientists' subsequent statements to the contrary.

Beck claims emails are a “potentially major scandal” indicating climate change a “scam”

Beck: Emails indicate “yet another brand new reality” for climate change. From the November 23 broadcast of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: A potentially major scandal is unfolding after someone released thousands of emails and documents sent between prominent scientists of global warming debate. The New York Times has verified that these emails are legitimate, which wasn't too hard because some of them were written by and to one of their reporters.


This is what appears to be going on behind the scenes and literally trillions of dollars of policy decisions are being based on what these guys are telling us. If your gut said, “Wait a minute, this global warming thing, it sounds like a scam,” well, I think you're seeing it now. We told you this was going on, without proof, because we listened to our gut. You'd never believe me, but once again, here we are with yet another brand new reality.

NASA scientist: Emails do not show that “global warming is a hoax”

NASA's Gavin Schmidt: Critics “are using language used in science and interpreting it in a completely different way.” 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.

Beck takes Trenberth email of out context to suggest it undermines “so-called bulletproof consensus” behind global warming science

From the November 23 broadcast of Glenn Beck:

BECK: But first, let's start with the science that has been so settled for all these years. What do these guys saying behind closed doors about their so-called bullet-proof consensus? Well, Kevin Trenberth, he is a climatologist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, he wrote, quote, “the fact is we can't account for lack of warming at the moment and it's a travesty that we can't.” Incorrect data? Inadequate systems? Yeah. Travesty, pretty good word for it.

Wired reports Trenberth's response to leaked email: "[B]loggers are missing the point he's making in the e-mail by not reading the article cited in it." Wired's Threat Level blog reported on Trenberth's response to the leaked email:

But Trenberth, who acknowledged the e-mail is genuine, 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.

“It says we don't have an observing system adequate to track it, but there are all other kinds of signs aside from global mean temperatures - including melting of Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels and a lot of other indicators - that global warming is continuing,” he says. on Trenberth's email: “You need to read his recent paper” for context. A November 23 blog post on, purporting to “shed some light on some of the context which is missing in some of the discussion of various emails”, said of Trenberth's email:

You 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.

Trenberth email cited “my own article on where the heck is global warming?” in stating that “Our observing system is adequate” to identify current warming. Trenberth's October 12, 2009, email, which Beck quoted, reads:

Hi all

Well I have my own article on where the heck is global warming ? We are asking that here in Boulder where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record. We had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it smashed the previous records for these days by 10F. The low was about 18F and also a record low, well below the previous record low.

This is January weather (see the Rockies baseball playoff game was canceled on saturday and then played last night in below freezing weather).

Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth's global energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 1, 19-27, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [1][PDF] (A PDF of the published version can be obtained from the author.)

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.***

Trenberth article indeed referred to what he called an “incomplete explanation” of short-term climate variations, and maintained that “global warming is unequivocally happening.” In the article to which Trenberth referred in Wired, “An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth's global energy,” he wrote:

The global mean temperature in 2008 was the lowest since about 2000 (Fig. 1). Given that there is continual heating of the planet, referred to as radiative forcing, by accelerating increases of carbon dioxide (Fig. 1) and other greenhouses due to human activities, why isn't the temperature continuing to go up? The stock answer is that natural variability plays a key role and there was a major La Niña event early in 2008 that led to the month of January having the lowest anomaly in global temperature since 2000. While this is true, it is an incomplete explanation.


Given that global warming is unequivocally happening and there has so far been a failure to outline, let alone implement, global plans to mitigate the warming, then adapting to the climate change is an imperative. We will of course adapt to climate change. The question is the extent to which the adaptation is planned and orderly with minimal disruption and loss of life, or whether it is unplanned? To plan for and cope with effects of climate change requires information on what is happening and why, whether observed changes are likely to continue or are a transient, how they affect regional climates and the possible impacts. Further, to the extent that the global community is able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the climate change, then information is required on how effective it is. This article addresses vital information needs to help understand climate change.

It is not a sufficient explanation to say that a cool year is due to natural variability. Similarly, common arguments of skeptics that the late 20th century warming is a recovery from the Little Ice Age or has other natural origins are inadequate as they do not provide the physical mechanisms involved. There must be a physical explanation, whether natural or anthropogenic. If surface warming occurs while the deep ocean becomes cooler, then we should be able to see the evidence. It may be that there is insufficient data to prove one way or the other, as is often the case in the deep past. However, since 1979 there have been instruments in space tracking the total solar irradiance (TSI)3,4, and so we know it is not the sun that has brought about warming in the past 30 years5. Hence a key issue is the extent to which we can track energy in the climate system.

Jones email Beck read was distorted, “pulled out of context”

From the November 23 broadcast of Glenn Beck:

BECK: How about Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia? “I have just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years to hide the decline.” Yes, he is talking about a trick that another scientist previously used in a peer-reviewed journal to apparently hide the decline in temperatures. Incredible. Jones' email “pulled out of context.” In a November 20 post, Real Climate's staff, which is made up of several working climate scientists, cited Jones' 1999 email -- which Beck read -- as "[o]ne example" of “instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded 'gotcha' phrases [being] pulled out of context.” Jones' November 16, 1999, email reads:

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow.

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 [sic.] from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

Thanks for the comments, Ray.

LSE Prof: Scientists use “trick” to mean “a clever way of doing something.” A November 20 Guardian article reported 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.” “trick” Jones referenced is a method for making the “context of the recent warming ... clear” and isn't “problematic ... at all.” Noting that "[s]cientists often use the term 'trick' to refer to a 'a good way to deal with a problem,' " Real Climate explained:

No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “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.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and 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 “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. “hiding the decline” refers to method that is “completely appropriate.” Real Climate further explained:

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.

Jones reportedly “explained he was not trying to mislead.” The New Zealand magazine Investigate reported on November 20:

TGIF asked Jones about the controversial email discussing hiding “the decline”, and Jones explained he was not trying to mislead.

“No, that's completely wrong. In the sense that they're talking about two different things here. They're talking about the instrumental data which is unaltered -- but they're talking about proxy data going further back in time, a thousand years, and it's just about how you add on the last few years, because when you get proxy data you sample things like tree rings and ice cores, and they don't always have the last few years. So one way is to add on the instrumental data for the last few years.”

Jones told TGIF he had no idea what me meant by using the words “hide the decline”.

“That was an email from ten years ago. Can you remember the exact context of what you wrote ten years ago?”

Beck did not mention that emails were apparently stolen by a hacker

Beck said that “someone released thousands of emails and documents,” but did not note they were apparently stolen by hackers. On November 20, the UK Guardian reported that, “Hundreds of private emails and documents allegedly exchanged between some of the world's leading climate scientists during the past 13 years have been stolen by hackers and leaked online.” The Guardian further quoted a spokesperson for the University of East Anglia, where the CRU is located, as saying: "'We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites. Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all this material is genuine. This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation. We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and have involved the police in this inquiry.'"