February 14, 2010

The Guardian has produced some detailed analysis of the “climategate scandal”. It has taken the unusual step of publishing the entire investigation document and inviting readers and experts to analyse and comment. I would strongly advise anyone who thinks there is a cover up or someone is trying to hide the truth to read the lot, or at least the commentary.

Just focussing on one thing: the “trick” email. As Fred Pearce points out, if the newspapers and lobbyists had simply published a few more lines it would be obvious that there is nothing dodgy happening at all.  My understanding is this, and I will put it so simply that even Sarah Palin could understand this:

Phil Jones of UEA has spent many years looking at historic records of global temperatures. We all know that tree rings are a good way of doing this. 2,000 years ago, nobody had a thermometer but the width of tree rings faithfully records the climate in each year. We know it works because when you start to get into the period when people did have thermometers there is a good correlation between what the thermometers say and what the tree rings say.

But there is a problem. In recent years the thermometers have been telling us something different to the tree rings – the correlation has broken down. Nobody knows why.  Back in 1999 Phil Jones found this caused problems because when he brought the tree ring data right up to the modern day, it showed different results to what thermometers were telling him across the world. Which to believe? The tree rings or thousands of temperature detectors? The only answer is the temperature detectors.  So, as I understand it,  he used a technique to show global temperatures over hundreds of years, but the last few years he used real data instead of tree rings. This was not his idea – he was using someone  else’s technique.

Another word for technique is trick. “There’s a bit of a trick to getting my car started in the mornings.”.

So this is what his email said:

“”I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith [Briffa]’s, to hide the decline.”

So not only was this not a cover up, it was a sensible solution to dealing with two data sets, one of which is known to be correct and the other considered to be inaccurate.

Unlike the lobbyists who are trying to knock climate change scientists, I will declare an interest here: I am a graduate in Environmental Sciences from UEA. In 1978 we were learning about peak oil, sustainability, and the role of big business in blocking measures to reduce environmental impact while Sarah Palin was just another kid shooting bears.

Thanks to my old friend Mike Stonard for pointing me in direction of the Guardian articles.


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