Unpredictable New York Times science columnist John Tierney has again struck a blow against conventional wisdom. His Tuesday column is a scathing piece on the treasure trove of damning emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University, a hub of climatologists who believe in the theory that global warming is caused by man -- and willing to use disreputable anti-scientific tactics to further that belief.
In "E-Mail Fracas Shows Peril Of Trying to Spin Science," Tierney made the mild and defensive criticisms of the CRU put forth by Times's environmental reporter Andrew Revkin look like weak tea.
The text box accompanying Tierney's column also came on strong: "Climate scientists, hacked files and risks of smug groupthink."
If you have not delved into the thousands of e-mail messages and files hacked from the computers of British climate scientists, let me give you the closest thing to an executive summary. It is taken from a file slugged HARRY_READ_ME, which is the log of a computer expert's long struggle to make sense of a database of historical temperatures. Here is Harry's summary of the situation:
That cry, in various spellings, is a motif throughout the log as Harry tries to fight off despair. "OH [EXPLETIVE] THIS!" he writes after struggling to reconcile readings from weather stations around the world. "It's Sunday evening, I've worked all weekend, and just when I thought it was done I'm hitting yet another problem that's based on the hopeless state of our databases. There is no uniform data integrity...."
Harry, whoever he may be, comes off as the most sympathetic figure in the pilfered computer annals of East Anglia University, the British keeper of global temperature records. While Harry's log shows him worrying about the integrity of the database, the climate scientists are e-mailing one another with strategies for blocking outsiders' legal requests to see their data.
While Harry is puzzling over temperatures -- "I have that familiar Twilight Zone sensation" -- the scientists are confidently making proclamations to journalists, jetting to conferences and plotting revenge against those who question the dangers of global warming. When a journal publishes a skeptic's paper, the scientists e-mail one another to ignore it. They focus instead on retaliation against the journal and the editor, a project that is breezily added to the agenda of their next meeting: "Another thing to discuss in Nice!"
Tierney explained well the "hide the decline" controversy (basically, two different sets of data grafted to each other without explanation to make it look as if temperatures have soared in recent decades), and concluded:
...the graph adorned the cover of a report intended for policy makers and journalists. The nonexperts wouldn't have realized that the scariest part of that graph -- the recent temperatures soaring far above anything in the previous millennium -- was based on a completely different measurement from the earlier portion. It looked like one smooth, continuous line leading straight upward to certain doom.
Near the conclusion, Tierney zeroed in on what so many found offensive about the Climate-gate emails:
Contempt for critics is evident over and over again in the hacked e-mail messages, as if the scientists were a priesthood protecting the temple from barbarians. Yes, some of the skeptics have political agendas, but so do some of the scientists. Sure, the skeptics can be cranks and pests, but they have identified genuine problems in the historical reconstructions of climate, as in the debate they inspired about the "hockey stick" graph of temperatures over the past millennium.