Contrarians using hacked e-mails to try to fool public on climate scienceby the Union of Concerned Scientists, December 1, 2009
In their ongoing campaign to distort the facts and deceive the public, climate policy opponents are misrepresenting illegally obtained e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain. Opposition groups are taking passages out of context to try to undermine public confidence in climate science.
The 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.
Science flourishes in an atmosphere of transparency and free and open dissent. Suppressing legitimate scientific dissent is wrong. However, it is not clear from the purloined e-mails that the scientists involved actually attempted to hinder the free exchange of scientific information.
The most troubling messages refer to deleting e-mails to avoid disclosure in the event of a freedom of information request. If such deletions did occur, that would be a serious breach of scientific ethics and public trust. The author of the emails, Phil Jones, has stated that he never actually "deleted any emails or data." The University of East Anglia is investigating this matter and, in the meantime, Jones has temporarily stepped down from his post at the school.
Science works because exchanging ideas and criticism helps researchers better understand the world. Scientists have a stake in the credibility of their institutions, including scientific journals, the process of peer review, and consensus reports.
On such issues as global climate change, the scientific community has a special responsibility to the broader public to provide objective, credible information that informs the democratic process. Given the content of some of the e-mails, now is a good time for scientists to recommit to the principles of transparency and scientific integrity.
Evidence for climate change is incontrovertible.
Multiple, independent lines of evidence point to the fact that burning fossil fuels and destroying forests is overloading the atmosphere with carbon and rapidly changing the climate for the worse. This evidence, along with independently developed climate models from many sources, indicates that the more we reduce emissions, the lower the future risks from climate change.
The world's leading scientific bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), have affirmed the evidence. In fact, the latest scientific data indicate that climate change is occurring more rapidly than the IPCC previously projected.
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.
Contrarians are desperately promoting conspiracy theories.
Industry-funded groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) are mischaracterizing the e-mails to advance ludicrous conspiracy theories about climate science, and many bloggers, as well as radio and TV personalities, have been parroting their message. Their intent is to undercut an international climate summit in Copenhagen that begins later this week.
After decades of failing to poke holes in the substance of climate science, opponents of taking action have turned to attacking climate scientists. They have resorted to twisting the words of scientists from illegally obtained e-mails to manufacture doubt about climate science.
Meanwhile, oil and coal companies and their allies continue to spend millions of dollars to confuse the public on climate science and climate solutions. They are the real sources of disinformation and spin in the climate debate.
More information about individual claims from the e-mail is available from the scientists themselves.
- Real Climate has been following the hacked e-mail story with posts from scientists explaining what phrases in various e-mails mean.
- Phil Jones did an interview with the The Guardian on the e-mails.
- Michael Mann covered several of the claims on DeSmog Blog.