The Meaning of 'Climategate'

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Almost anyone who can read has heard about the u201CClimategateu201D scandal in which emails between the scientists that have been at the forefront of promoting the apocalyptic views of u201Cclimate changeu201D were hacked and then made public. The snippets I have read confirm my worst fears, as we are seeing exactly what happens when the political process completely hijacks science.

As an Austrian economist, I don’t worship at the feet of the u201Cscientific community,u201D in large part because the u201Cscientific communityu201D is able to engage in trickery but defend its actions in the name of u201Cpreserving science.u201D However, because of my own experience in publishing papers in refereed journals and knowing the experiences of others, I can see what has been happening over the past decade in u201Cclimate science,u201D and I can tell you that while it is not rigged, it is close to being so.

Modern science is all about receiving grants, and the biggest checkbooks are those wielded by governments, and governments expect certain results. For example, the government two decades ago funded research into the alleged u201Cacid rainu201D problems and the researchers reached very different conclusions than what the U.S. Government, and especially Congress and the George H.W. Bush administration (and his William Reilly-led EPA) had wanted to see.

Acid rain, apparently, was not going to destroy U.S. forests, lakes, and rivers, and the government was ticked, really ticked. The EPA attempted to destroy the career of one scientist, Edward Krug, who had a paper in the prestigious Science in 1983 that demonstrated that lakes with high acidity were located in watersheds where the soil happened to be acidic. Furthermore, as Krug and other researchers noted, acid lakes existed in many places around the globe hundreds of years before u201Cindustrial societyu201D became the norm.

This researched u201Cwatershed-basedu201D conclusion (which now is the accepted theory of lake and stream acidification, not u201Cacid rainu201D) was unacceptable to the EPA, and the agency engaged in a shameful campaign against Krug, something I documented in a January, 1992, cover story article in Reason. During my research for the article, one person told me that there would be no such government study for u201Cglobal warming,u201D indicating that the government would ramrod through the policies it wanted whether or not they actually were necessary.

However politicized u201Cacid rainu201D might be, it did not fire up the environmentalist and leftist communities like u201Cglobal warmingu201D (later changed to u201Cclimate changeu201D). This was not the first time that the environmentalists had tried to claim that capitalism was creating hazards with the weather. In 1975, Newsweek had a cover story in which it claimed that industrial society was pushing the globe into a new Ice Age. However, in a move that mirrored George Orwell’s 1984 in which the people of Oceania are told that they are not at war with Eurasia, but rather East Asia, and that Goldstein had tricked them, in little more than a decade, the movement had turned not from cooling but to warming.

All the movement needed was a figurehead, and to the forefront came two men, James Hansen, a NASA scientist, and Al Gore, who had been a U.S. Senator, Vice-President to Bill Clinton, and the loser of a highly-controversial U.S. Presidential election. Gore already had published his apocalyptic tome, Earth in the Balance, before becoming Veep, in which he claimed that industrial society was killing the planet and only a global u201CMarshall Planu201D complete with near-dictatorship by the authorities could u201Csaveu201D us.

Gore had latched onto the u201Cglobal warmingu201D mantra in the late 1980s, and championed Hansen who told a congressional committee in 1988 that a drought that year was being caused by u201Cunprecedented global warming.u201D (The summer of 1989 was cool and wet, but the True Believers also laid that situation at the feet of u201Cclimate change.u201D) However, the people-are-causing u201Cglobal warmingu201D advocates needed something to jump-start their campaign, and three researchers, including Michael E. Mann of Penn State, came to the rescue, the infamous u201Chockey sticku201D study.

Anyone who was familiar with the history of climate is familiar with the Medieval Warm Period of 1,000 years ago, as well as the u201CLittle Ice Age,u201D a period of cooling that lasted from the mid-1500s to the late 1800s. These periods of warming and cooling occurred long before what we know as a modern economy with its supposed u201Cspewingu201D of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which means that both of these climate patterns could not have been caused by human activity.

Obviously, this was of huge concern to those who claim that people are causing the changes in temperature, so the u201Cscientistsu201D simply made the Medieval Warm Period disappear by tricking the data. In 1999, three scientists, including Mann, published a paper which showed average global temperatures to be relatively steady for thousands of years, but suddenly shooting up in the last few decades, a u201Chockey sticku201D approach. Gore and his environmental allies now had the ammunition they needed.

In his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth (which departed from the truth in many places), Gore used the u201Chockey sticku201D graph as u201Cproofu201D that the discussion over global warming needed to end. The results were in, and now what was needed was action, ACTION! The fact that the scientists refused to release the data used in their study, which is a fundamental breach of what is supposed to be scientific method, was shooed away as being something akin to a conspiracy theory by the u201Cdeniers,u201D who were labeled Enemies of the People. Scientists who dissented found themselves being bullied, journals refusing to publish their papers, and being denounced by environmentalists, other scientists, government officials, and, of course, Gore and Hansen. (Both Gore and Hansen have called for criminal prosecutions of corporate executives of companies that have helped to fund any study that disagrees with what Gore and Hansen declare to be the truth.)

In the Climategate emails, the scientists described their strategy of reviewing each others’ papers, shutting down scientists who disagreed, hiding their data, and admitting to fudging the numbers in order to obtain the results they wanted. Furthermore, because many of them were using funds allocated by U.S. Government agencies, what they did was fraud, and many people have gone to prison for much less.

Austrian economists are quite familiar with the drill here. First, the advocates of a position, be it mainstream economics or human-caused climate change, make sure that no dissenting papers can be published. Second, after having successfully shut out the opposition, they claim that the theories of the Austrians or dissenters u201Cfail the market testu201D because their views don’t appear in the mainstream literature. The logic is circular, but it sure appeals to the True Believers.

It is interesting to see the response of Gore, the New York Times, the White House, and others who have been demanding that modern life be shut down for an economic regime that is more to the liking of the global-warming crowd. (The economic and political elites pushing these bogus theories have wonderful futures planned for us; they just have no intention of joining us for meals in unheated buildings, while we eat our gruel. Heated and cooled residences with plenty of good food will be their future.)

So far, the response from The Usual Suspects has been a repeat of the u201CWizard of Ozu201D in which the wiz bellows, u201CPay no attention to the man behind the curtain!u201D The Times recently editorialized:

The theft of thousands of private e-mail messages and files from computer servers at a leading British climate research center has been a political windfall for skeptics who claim the documents prove that mainstream scientists have conspired to overstate the case for human influence on climate change.

They are using the e-mail to blast the Obama administration’s climate policies. And they clearly hope that the e-mail will undermine negotiations for a new climate change treaty that begin in Copenhagen this week.

No one should be misled by all the noise. The e-mail messages represent years’ worth of exchanges among prominent American and British climatologists. Some are mean-spirited, others intemperate. But they don’t change the underlying scientific facts about climate change.

Funny, when the Times runs stories using material that has been stolen, they never refer to it as u201Cstolen.u201D Indeed, as one who has published many academic papers (and I always make my data available for inspection), I can smell a fix as well as the next person.

Of course, with the Times, it only gets better. The public editor who defended the newspaper’s abysmal and utterly dishonest coverage in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape Case, had this to say about the recent events:

As governments are meeting in Denmark for yet another u201Cclimate changeu201D summit, I am reminded that what really is happening is that the economic and political elites have decided they have had enough of the rabble and are going to put us in our places. That their actions are violent and fraudulent and have been duly exposed clearly is not a hindrance to them.

Keep in mind that I am not presenting my own u201Chockey sticku201D view of global temperatures. Indeed, for the last century or so, global temperatures have risen, but one must remember that the period preceding them was very cold, and cold weather means crop failures and starvation. Furthermore, the issue is not whether we have seen changes in temperatures around the world, but whether or not the human issuance of a gas that makes up approximately 0.04 of one percent of the atmosphere is the cause.

However, instead of wanting to know the truth, the elites have decided what we are supposed to believe as the truth. In my view, the release of these emails is as important in exposing the dishonesty of the u201Cclimate changeu201D crowd as the Pentagon Papers were in exposing the dishonesty of the U.S. Government as it was ravaging Vietnam.

December 7, 2009

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.

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