Monday, March 18, 2013

ClimateGate 3.0

The Czar of Muscovy emailed asking my take on the latest disclosure in the ongoing ClimateGate saga.  First, a recap for those who haven't been following along at home.

1. November 2009 saw the release of a large number of emails and some computer source code from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit by a person calling himself "FOIA".  The CRU was the organization most central to the UN IPCC reports on climate that drove the Kyoto Protocol in 1999.  The emails were very damaging to the reputation of the CRU scientists; most notorious was the email remarking that they had figured out how to "hide the decline" in recent temperatures.  This was ClimateGate 1.0.

2. The timing of the release scuppered any hopes for a follow on treaty to Kyoto.  December 2009 saw a global meeting in Copenhagen to discuss a new treaty, but the bombshells revealed in the ClimateGate release made the situation politically radioactive and encouraged already existing political opposition.  Copenhagen passed without any new agreements, and Kyoto expired.

3. Last year saw the release of a large encrypted archive of additional material.  Speculation was that this was FOIA providing himself political cover - if threatened with prosecution he could always threaten to release the password that would allow the encrypted archive to be unscrambled.  This was (rather absurdly) called ClimateGate 2.0.

4. FOIA has just emailed the password (along with a political manifesto) to a dozen high profile skeptical climate bloggers.  None of the bloggers has released the password, at FOIA's request.  Some are looking through the archive, although this is slow going (the uncompressed archive is 880 MB in size).  This is what people are calling ClimateGate 3.0.

My take is that it doesn't really matter.  We know who the corrupt scientists are already.  People who refuse to be convinced (for tribal and political reasons) that these scientists are not corrupt are unlikely to change their current position based on new information.  The public has already lost its support for major investments in climate change mitigation; while "hide the decline" was important here, the lousy economy is likely a bigger factor.

In short, the new release doesn't change the facts on the ground at all.  It may be that there is new damaging information yet to be released, but my take is that any impact will be around the margins.

As always, click on Clint in the upper right hand corner of this blog for my take on what the state of the science really is.


kotetu said...

a Finnish documentary also discusses bad data in the IPCC report:

Old NFO said...

Good point, the crooked ones are still at it...

Goober said...

Anecdotally, I have noticed a marked reduction in mentions of AGW in the media and in my day to day. Wonder what's going on there?

Borepatch said...

Kotetu, this is interesting, in that it's from 2009 right around the time of the failed Copenhagen Accord.

Old NFO, they sure are.

Goober, this is a sign that the public isn't buying the story.

kx59 said...

The global warming climate change climate disruption believers are like fish. Once the hook got set in their mouths they cannot shake it. The bait was one or two main stream media hand wringing "news"stories about how the whole earth will turn into a desert and we will all starve.
What I've found is that the true believers are disconnected from "current events" to an unbelievable degree. The most perfect example of the low information voter.
The greatest achievement of mankind is our advanced technology. The greatest failing of mankind is our advanced technology. It negated the process of natural selection that weeded out morons in the very early years of our species.

William Newman said...

The OP wrote "the public has already lost its support for major investments in climate change mitigation; while 'hide the decline' was important here, the lousy economy is likely a bigger factor."

I see two more factors as possibly as important as the economy.

I think the divergence of the observed global temperature average away from the IPCC predicted result is an important factor. I will be quite interested, in a morbid sort of way, to see what happens politically if a fluctuation happens to reduce that embarrassment for a few years. I'm pretty sure both that the long term trend is much below the IPCC forecast and that the variability outside the trend is considerably greater than their embarrassingly tight fit in hindcasting. So in the long term, the variability should become less and less likely to rescue any given year's prediction, and even when one year is rescued the large excursions should be increasingly strong evidence of overfitting. But that trend isn't so strong that fluctuations couldn't make things look significantly less embarrassing for the IPCC's flagship prediction in 2015 or 2019: I'd guess there's at least a 20% chance we'll experience at least one year of that sort so we'll get to see how much of a difference it makes to political perceptions.

And I can't quite tell how significant it is now (or long it will take) but another factor is (or will be) that eventually people become impatient with fortune-teller tricks. Humans are wired in such a way that you can get a surprising amount of mileage by taking credit for explaining things in retrospect, or by taking credit for making bold nearly-unfalsifiable predictions like "phenomena will fluctuate." However, at least since the development of cheap publishing, mass audiences have tended to burn out on any particular fortune teller after a moderate amount of exposure to this schtick. Today their habit of taking retrospective credit for unanticipated weather fluctuations gets mocked by active critics of the IPCC coalition. Judging from the observed lifecycle of fortune tellers, at some point all but a rather small hardcore fraction of their audience will tend to start spontaneously mocking the climate change seers for themselves. Maybe "climate scientists" will get a partial reprieve from this doom because so few people have any idea which other mysterious prestigious scientific propositions make which falsifiable claims. (E.g., I doubt that even 10% of USAians could give a good answer to "and this is different from relativity how?" Or for quantum mechanics or even, perhaps, for evolution by natural selection.) But I think it should be no more than a partial reprieve.

kx59, if you read more stuff written before Gutenberg, it might cheer you up. Notice how e.g. fortune tellers are treated there. Or notice other things, like ideas about plagues, or human sacrifice. Or notice bizarre science misconceptions (that I only dimly remember) from Aristotle and Ibn Khaldun. It seems to me that if dumbification pattern you see is real, communications technology must be winning the race against dumbification, because if anything people tend to be less delusional than they used to be. (That's damning with faint praise, yes, but less damning than "more delusional than they used to be.")