Hacked E-Mails Add Fuel To Climate Naysayers' Fire
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When hackers released some emails a couple of months ago of some of the worlds leading experts on global warming, it caused them huge embarrassment. The messages revealed ugly sniping going on behind the public discourse. Climate-change skeptics have pointed to those emails as evidence that global warming is a hoax. And even believers say the emails raise questions about scientific conduct.
NPRs Jon Hamilton wanted to see just how hot things have gotten in the world of climate science, so he spent some time in Atlanta with researchers at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.
JON HAMILTON: The most notorious email seemed to discuss ways to prevent publication of research that challenged global warming. One also used the unfortunate word "trick" to describe a technique to massage temperature data. That sort of stuff has certainly made things more difficult for public figures trying to get limits on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.
But researchers in the trenches of climate science say theres really been no effect on the consensus that the Earth really is warming up.
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HAMILTON: The trenches at the Meteorological Society meeting can be found in a vast underground chamber at the Georgia World Congress Center. Its filled with seemingly endless aisles of so-called poster presentations and their authors.
Kevin Goebbert, of Valparaiso University in Indiana, is standing in front of his poster describing trends in Australian cyclones.
Mr. KEVIN GOEBBERT (Valparaiso University): Ultimately, I dont think there was anything within the emails that really, you know, caused a great debate within the scientific community about the validity of the climate science.
HAMILTON: Not far away, Dave Gutzler, from the University of New Mexico, has a poster about 20th century droughts in the U.S. Gutzler says he and his colleagues tend to focus on climate data, not commentary. And he says the data havent changed.
Mr. DAVE GUTZLER (University of New Mexico): There are multiple lines of evidence that involve both completely independent data sets, such as glacier retreat, plus a whole body of modeling, plus a lot of process-based research about measuring heat in the oceans, things like that, that all point in the same direction.
HAMILTON: But Gutzler says the emails have shown something most researchers already knew about climate science, but the public may not have.
Mr. GUTZLER: Its contentious; its sometimes nasty. Thats because we're people, and we are dealing with problems that people care about very intensely both for personal and professional reasons, and because the public cares about it.
HAMILTON: Marcus Williams(ph) is a graduate student at Florida State University whose poster describes temperature variability in the southeastern U.S. Williams says the nastiness of the emails has hurt the field, even if it hasnt undermined the science.
Mr. MARCUS WILLIAMS: It did take a hit on our credibility somewhat. I mean, its never good to have people kind of pushing false agendas out there.
HAMILTON: The emails werent part of the meetings formal program. But they did come up frequently in sessions about climate. And one question scientists had was how to restore their damaged credibility. Chris Folland, from the U.K.s meteorological office, says one way would be to let everybody see the data that scientists have been using.
Mr. CHRIS FOLLAND (U.K. Meteorological Office): It would be very good to make all the data sets available that contribute to that land-surface temperature data set and of course, the sea-surface temperature data set - and indeed, all the other major data sets as are used in climate science.
HAMILTON: Folland concedes that could be tricky, though, because much of the data is proprietary. Other researchers suggested a new focus on the ethical issues involved in publishing climate studies. They say the emails show that the peer-review process can allow personal views rather than objective evaluation to affect where a paper gets published. Bill Hooke is in charge of policy for the American Meteorological Society. He says climate researchers need to realize that they are now in a very bright spotlight and act accordingly.
Mr. BILL HOOKE (American Meteorological Society): This science has gone from a science thats a side show and human affairs to science that matters. Its a science where people are placing billion-dollar and even trillion-dollar bets, and that requires a certain level of professionalism and caution about all communication.
HAMILTON: Hook says the email incident has offered climate scientists a pointed reminder of just how much is at stake and how easily things can go awry.
Jon Hamilton, NPR News.
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