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Climate sceptics mislead the public over hacked emails inquiry

United Kingdom
The Guardian
By Bob Ward

Andrew Montford who is conducting an investigation into the UEA inquiry has a history of omitting evidence to suit his arguments


Self-proclaimed climate change sceptics are preparing to reignite the controversy over the emails hacked from the University of East Anglia, but there is clear evidence that they have misled the public about the significance of the messages.

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The Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, with amazing timing, was officially launched by Lord Lawson of Blaby just three days after the emails first appeared on the web on 20 November 2009, has commissioned an investigation into the three official inquiries about the messages.

These inquiries, by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, an independent panel chaired by Lord Oxburgh, and an independent review led by Sir Muir Russell, largely cleared climate researchers of allegations of misconduct or fraud, but criticised a lack of transparency over data and methods.

However, the foundation dismissed the findings of the inquiries and commissioned Andrew Montford, author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science and Bishop Hill blogger, to investigate how they were conducted.

The choice of Montford is ironic given the serious misrepresentations and inaccuracies in his book, which grew out of a paper he produced that summarised posts on Climate Audit, a blog run by Stephen McIntyre. McIntyre, a Canadian mining consultant, has been a fierce critic of the scientists who produced the 'hockey stick' graph of global temperatures over the past millennium which shows a rapid warming during the 20th century.

The book has received fawning reviews from the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph but its account of events has created so much dissent that its Wikipedia entry has been protected from further editing until disputes over it have been resolved.

Montford's entertaining conspiracy yarn reaches two apparently devastating conclusions about the work of climate scientists, partly based on his analysis of the hacked email messages.

First he claims that "senior climatologists have sought to undermine the peer review process and bully journals into suppressing dissenting views".

Montford tries to justify this assertion in his first chapter by highlighting the "difficulty in getting into print any result that went against the idea of catastrophic global warming".

He claims that a paper by Shaopeng Huang and co-authors on proxy temperature reconstructions from borehole measurements "never appeared in print" after being rejected by the journal Nature in 1997 because it showed that the medieval warm period had higher temperatures than today.

However Montford strangely neglects to tell the reader that the rejected paper was revised and published in the same year by the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and that the authors published other papers in Nature in subsequent years.

Furthermore, Montford neglects to mention a later acknowledgement by Huang and his co-authors that their 1997 work had excluded readings from the upper 100 metres of boreholes, and so provided "virtually no information about the 20th century". They noted in a paper in 2008 that when all of the borehole data are considered, the global average temperature today is shown to be higher than during the medieval warm period. However, Montford simply omits awkward truths like this which would get in the way of his conspiracy theory.

Elsewhere, Montford quotes selectively from some of the hacked email messages, hinting strongly at a conspiracy to "get rid of" Hans von Storch as editor of the journal Climate Research because it published a paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas which concluded that "the 20th century is probably not the warmest nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium."

Montford notes that von Storch resigned his journal post in 2003 and asks: "Did the Hockey Team act on their plans? At the moment we cannot say for certain, although it certainly appears that they planned to do so."

Yet, nowhere does Montford find space for von Storch's own explanation, published on the web, that he had resigned "to make public that the publication of the Soon & Baliunas article was an error" because it suffered from "severe methodological flaws".

The other charge that Montford lays against climate scientists is that the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "represent the outcome of a process in which a relatively small group of scientists produce a biased review of a literature they themselves have colluded to distort through gatekeeping and intimidation".

Montford attempts to substantiate this allegation by citing one of the hacked email messages that had been written by John Mitchell, chief scientist at the UK Met Office who was a review editor for the chapter on palaeoclimate in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

The email message from Mitchell, dated 21 June 2006, discusses how the IPCC report should deal with the "divergence" problem, in which some proxy measurements of temperature, including tree-ring records, suggest a cooling during the 20th century whereas weather stations show a clear warming.

Montford concludes from Mitchell's email that "proxy records do not now show any warming has been suppressed". This is quite simply false. Page 472 of the IPCC report states:

"Several analyses of ring width and ring density chronologies, with otherwise well-established sensitivity to temperature, have shown that they do not emulate the general warming trend evident in instrumental temperature records over recent decades, although they do track the warming that occurred during the early 20th century and they continue to maintain a good correlation with observed temperatures over the full instrumental period at the interannual time scale. This "divergence" is apparently restricted to some northern, high-latitude regions, but it is certainly not ubiquitous even there."

Given such glaring inaccuracies and misrepresentations in his book, it would perhaps be wise to treat with some scepticism Montford's assessment of the validity of the inquiries into the hacked email messages.

• Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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