Ben Santer: Open letter to the climate science community

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Climate scientists are being subjected to slanderous attacks by demagogues in high office and the global warming disinformation campaign.  Climate Science Watch is posting here an “Open letter to the climate science community” by Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  Santer says: “We are now faced with powerful ‘forces of unreason’—forces that (at least to date) have been unsuccessful in challenging scientific findings of a warming Earth, and a ‘discernible human influence’ on global climate.  These forces of unreason are now shifting the focus of their attention to the scientists themselves.  They seek to discredit, to skew the truth, to misrepresent.  They seek to destroy scientific careers rather than to improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change.” 

Open letter to the climate science community

Dear colleagues and friends,

I am sure that by now, all of you are aware of the hacking incident which recently took place at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). This was a criminal act. Over 3,000 emails and documents were stolen. The identity of the hacker or hackers is still unknown.

The emails represented private correspondence between CRU scientists and scientists at climate research centers around the world. Dozens of the stolen emails are from over a decade of my own personal correspondence with Professor Phil Jones, the Director of CRU.

I obtained my Ph.D. at the Climatic Research Unit. I went to CRU in 1983 because it was - and remains - one of the world’s premier institutions for studying the nature and causes of climate change. During the course of my Ph.D., I was privileged to work together with exceptional scientists - with people like Tom Wigley, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, and Sarah Raper.

After completing my Ph.D. at CRU in 1987, I devoted much of my scientific career to what is now called “climate fingerprinting”, which seeks to understand the causes of recent climate change. At its core, fingerprinting is a form of what people now call “data mining” - an attempt to extract information and meaning from very large, complex climate datasets. The emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit are now being subjected to a very different form of “data mining”. This mining is taking place in the blogosphere, in the editorial pages of various newspapers, and in radio and television programs. This form of mining has little to do with extracting meaning from personal email correspondence on complex scientific issues. This form of mining seeks to find dirt - to skew true meaning, to distort, to misrepresent, to take out of context. It seeks to destroy the reputations of exceptional scientists - scientists like Professor Phil Jones.

I have known Phil for over 25 years. He is the antithesis of the secretive, “data destroying” character being portrayed to the outside world by the miners of dirt and disinformation. Phil Jones and Tom Wigley (the second Director of the Climatic Research Unit) devoted significant portions of their scientific careers to the construction of the land component of the so-called “HadCRUT” dataset of land and ocean surface temperatures. The U.K. Meteorological Office Hadley Centre (MOHC) took the lead in developing the ocean surface temperature component of HadCRUT.

The CRU and Hadley Centre efforts to construct the HadCRUT dataset have been open and transparent, and are documented in dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers. This work has been tremendously influential. In my personal opinion, it is some of the most important scientific research ever published. It has provided hard scientific evidence for the warming of our planet over the past 150 years.

Phil, Tom, and their CRU and MOHC colleagues conducted this research in a very open and transparent manner. Like good scientists, they examined the sensitivity of their results to many different subjective choices made during the construction of the HadCRUT dataset. These choices relate to such issues as how to account for changes over time in the type of thermometer used to make temperature measurements, the thermometer location, and the immediate physical surroundings of the thermometer. They found that, no matter what choices they made in dataset construction, their bottom-line finding - that the surface of our planet is warming - was rock solid. This finding was supported by many other independent lines of evidence, such as the retreat of snow and sea-ice cover, the widespread melting and retreat of glaciers, the rise in sea-level, and the increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. All of these independent observations are physically consistent with a warming planet.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The claim that our Earth had warmed markedly during the 20th century was extraordinary, and was subjected to extraordinary scrutiny. Groups at the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina (NCDC) and at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York (GISS) independently attempted to reproduce the results of the Climatic Research Unit and the U.K. Meteorological Office Hadley Centre. While the NCDC and GISS groups largely relied on the same primary temperature measurements that had been used in the development of the HadCRUT dataset, they made very different choices in the treatment of the raw measurements. Although there were differences in the details of the three groups’ results, the NCDC and GISS analyses broadly confirmed the “warming Earth” findings of the CRU and MOHC scientists.

Other extraordinary claims - such as a claim by scientists at the University of Alabama that Earth’s lower atmosphere cooled since 1979, and that such cooling contradicts “warming Earth” findings - have not withstood rigorous scientific examination.

In summary, Phil Jones and his colleagues have done a tremendous service to the scientific community - and to the planet - by making surface temperature datasets publicly available for scientific research. These datasets have facilitated climate research around the world, and have led to the publication of literally hundreds of important scientific papers.

Phil Jones is one of the gentlemen of our field. He has given decades of his life not only to cutting-edge scientific research on the nature and causes of climate change, but also to a variety of difficult and time-consuming community service activities - such as his dedicated (and repeated) service as a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Since the theft of the CRU emails and their public dissemination, Phil has been subjected to the vilest personal attacks. These attacks are without justification. They are deeply disturbing. They should be of concern to all of you. We are now faced with powerful “forces of unreason” - forces that (at least to date) have been unsuccessful in challenging scientific findings of a warming Earth, and a “discernible human influence” on global climate. These forces of unreason are now shifting the focus of their attention to the scientists themselves. They seek to discredit, to skew the truth, to misrepresent. They seek to destroy scientific careers rather than to improve our understanding of the nature and causes of climate change.

Yesterday, Phil temporarily stepped down as Director of the Climatic Research Unit. Yesterday was a very sad day for climate science. When the forces of unreason win, and force exceptional scientists like Professor Phil Jones to leave their positions, we all lose. Climate science loses. Our community loses. The world loses.

Now, more than at any other time in human history, we need sound scientific information on the nature and causes of climate change. Phil Jones and his colleagues at CRU have helped to provide such information. I hope that all of you will join me in thanking Phil for everything he has done - and will do in the future - for our scientific community. He and his CRU colleagues deserve great credit.

With best regards,

Ben Santer
——————————————————————————————————————
Benjamin D. Santer
Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Livermore, CA U.S.A.

See related posts:
Sensenbrenner IPCC witch hunt: Attempt to blacklist climate scientists must be rejected

Rep. Sensenbrenner projects “fascism” and “fraud” onto scientists, is rebutted at hearing

Stephen Schneider: Climate Denier Gate a case of Science as a Contact Sport

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Associated Press, FactCheck.org, and other sources

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail:  Nature, AAAS, AMS, Union of Concerned Scientists

Open letter to Congress from U.S. scientists on Climate Change and Recently Stolen Emails

IPCC statement on stolen emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia

Phil Jones and Ben Santer respond to CEI and Pat Michaels attack on temperature data record

Stephen Schneider comments on the CEI and Pat Michaels petition on the global warming data record

Scientists return fire at CEI and Pat Michaels for bogus charges on global temperature data record

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