The Sciences

Why "ClimateGate" Ain't Nothing

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyNov 23, 2009 3:58 PM


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By now you've probably heard (New York Times, Washington Post, RealClimate). A server at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was hacked; hundreds of emails from climate scientists are now public due to this despicable act. Global warming deniers are having a field day, because in some of the emails, the scientists are acting like, you know, people. They are also acting like scientists under fire, which is what they were and are. The Climate Research Unit is headed by Phil Jones, who has been involved in the highly public and seemingly unending "hockey stick" battle--and so peering into the emails lets the skeptics and deniers once again claim there was some kind of bad science involved in this one particular study, a claim they've been making for almost a decade now. Of course, none of this is at all relevant to the climate issue today. It's a nasty, ugly sideshow. The science of climate change doesn't stand or fall based upon what a few scientists said in emails they always thought would remain private. And as for the "hockey stick"; well, fully four years ago, in The Republican War on Science, I explained why the right was using this as a distraction from the real issues:

...although it might create good publicity, the Right's selective attack on [hockey stick study lead author Michael] Mann's work ultimately presents a huge diversion for policymakers trying to decide what to do about global warming. Mann points out that he's hardly the only scientist to produce a "hockey stick" graph--other teams of scientists have come up with similar reconstructions of past temperatures. And even if Mann's work and all of the other studies that served as the basis for the IPCC [2001] statement on the historical temperature record are wrong, that would not in any way invalidate the conclusion that humans are currently causing rising temperatures. "There's a whole independent line of evidence, some of it very basic physics," explains Mann.

That's even truer now than it was in 2004, when I interviewed Mann, or 2005, when The Republican War on Science actually came out. The fact is that no matter what a few scientists may have said in emails, we have to go to Copenhagen and deal with our warming, melting planet. That's what matters. The rest of this is hot air, and--unless it can somehow be channeled to power a few wind turbines--it doesn't do us or the planet any good.

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