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


A strong editorial in the journal Nature, statements from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society, and an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists set the record straight in countering the effort by the global warming denial machine to spin up a scandal over the climate scientists’ e-mail stolen from the University of East Anglia.


Nature 462, 545 (3 December 2009) | doi:10.1038/462545a; Published online 2 December 2009 [by subscription]


Climatologists under pressure

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.

The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall. To these denialists, the scientists’ scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial ‘smoking gun’: proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe.

This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. 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…

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden….

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers’ own papers….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….

In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.

American Association for the Advancement of Science:

AAAS Reaffirms Statements on Climate Change and Integrity

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has reaffirmed the position of its Board of Directors and the leaders of 18 respected organizations, who concluded based on multiple lines of scientific evidence that global climate change caused by human activities is now underway, and it is a growing threat to society.

“The vast preponderance of evidence, based on years of research conducted by a wide array of different investigators at many institutions, clearly indicates that global climate change is real, it is caused largely by human activities, and the need to take action is urgent,” said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science.

AAAS expressed grave concerns that the illegal release of private emails stolen from the University of East Anglia should not cause policy-makers and the public to become confused about the scientific basis of global climate change.

American Meteorological Society:

Impact of CRU Hacking on the AMS Statement on Climate Change

AMS Headquarters has received several inquiries asking if the material made public following the hacking of e-mails and other files from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia has any impact on the AMS Statement on Climate Change, which was approved by the AMS Council in 2007 and represents the official position of the Society.

The AMS Statement on Climate Change continues to represent the position of the AMS.  It was developed following a rigorous procedure that included drafting and review by experts in the field, comments by the membership, and careful review by the AMS Council prior to approval as a statement of the Society.  The statement is based on a robust body of research reported in the peer-reviewed literature….

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….

Union of Concerned Scientists:

Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails

The manufactured controversy over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit has generated a lot more heat than light over the past two weeks. Experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have concluded that while the emails “do raise some valid concerns about scientific integrity, they do not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised.”

UCS’s analysis of the emails and the debate surrounding them aims to correct popular misconceptions about what the emails say, put them in scientific context and explain the importance of scientific integrity….

At this time, there is no evidence that scientists “fudged,” “manipulated” or “manufactured” data. These unsupported claims, based on taking the emails out of context, are being promoted by long-time anti-science opponents of climate change legislation. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the University of East Anglia and Penn State University are separately looking into the contents of the stolen emails to assess these claims.

While the emails do raise some valid concerns about scientific integrity, the email content being quoted does not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised. Most importantly, nothing in the content of these stolen emails has any impact on our overall understanding that human activities are driving dangerous levels of global warming. Media reports and contrarian claims that they do are inaccurate….

The fact that groups opposing action on climate change are crying “conspiracy” shows how desperate they are to discredit scientists.

The thousands of stolen emails span more than a decade. Whoever stole them could only produce a handful of messages that, when taken out of context, might seem suspicious to people who are not familiar with the intimate details of climate science.

Opponents of climate action have been attacking climate science for years. The fact that out-of-context personal attacks on scientists are the most successful argument they can offer speaks volumes about their failure to gain any traction by arguing against the evidence.

Earlier posts:

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

Some sources on the controversy over the hacked files from the UK Climatic Research Unit

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