Exploring Fallout Of Climate E-Mails

Host Guy Raz explores some of the fallout from the "climate-gate" e-mail hack with Dr. Judith Curry, chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech. And she says the e-mails reveal a lack of transparency and a lot of "locker room talk" in the climate research community.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, host:

Now, you wouldn't expect a well-known climate change scholar to post an article on a blog run by global warming skeptics. But Judith Curry recently did just that. Curry is a scientist at Georgia Tech, and she has no doubt about global warming. What she has a problem with is the behavior of her fellow researchers in the Climategate scandal.

This all started when someone hacked into thousands of emails and documents from prominent climate change scientists. Skeptics of global warming have seized on the content of those emails. And as for the tone:

Dr. JUDITH CURRY (Chairwoman, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Tech): You know, there's a lot of scientific locker room talk in there that, you know, was never intended for the´┐Ż

RAZ: Scientific locker room talk.

Dr. CURRY: Yeah, that was never intended to be made public. It's - you know, when somebody is emotional or annoyed about something, they say something sort of nasty about somebody else or they use slang and jargon and some words that aren't very scientific.

RAZ: How much damage have these emails caused for people like you who study and research climate change?

Dr. CURRY: Well, I mean, I believe that this was a blow to the credibility of our science. And I'm concerned particularly in the context of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, Fourth Assessment Report. You know, 1,000 scientists contribute to this from 130 different countries. It's a process that takes several years.

So the IPCC is really the authoritative assessment of our science for policymakers. And some of these emails do mention the IPCC and trying to keep certain journal articles or papers out of the IPCC, and I think that's wrong.

RAZ: Let me interrupt you for a moment. You have spent time reading some of these emails.

Dr. CURRY: Yes.

RAZ: Is there something that you read, in layman's terms, that particularly bothered you or worried you?

Dr. CURRY: Okay. The things that bothered me were the discussions about trying to deny Freedom of Information Act requests. There were things in there related to trying to unduly influence the peer review process of some skeptical papers, trying to keep them out of the published literature. And this is done because the IPCC will only consider peer-reviewed journal articles in the assessment. So trying to keep certain things out of the literature is a way of keeping them out of the IPCC report.

I don't believe that these scientists are deliberately cooking the data. But I do believe that if everything was more transparent, and the data was more publicly available and their methods, scrutiny by other scientists would lead to improved methods of doing this and it would speed up the scientific progress.

RAZ: How do you think scientists should combat uncertainty and denial raised by those who call themselves skeptics, global climate change skeptics?

Dr. CURRY: Okay, there's two classes of skeptic here. You know, one is scientists who are actually doing work, okay, and that's the kind of skepticism we need. Without that skepticism, our science would be much weaker. And then there's another class of skeptics who get their climate science from talk radio. They don't really understand any of the science or the physics, but they don't believe climate change.

But the failure to distinguish between, like, the advocacy group, talk radio kind of skeptics versus scientists, researchers and even people on blogs who are actually doing analysis, you know, technical people analyzing the data and doing analyses, I think all of that kind of skepticism needs to be looked at, rather than trying to dismiss it in the way that I'm seeing, you know, in these emails.

RAZ: Dr. Judith Curry is the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

Dr. Curry, thanks for joining us.

Dr. CURRY: Guy, thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.