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From Sam

I want to look at how it is some people use the term, “climate change denier”.

I look on it as a kind of “othering”, viewing a person as intrinsically different and alien. The use of the term arose, I think, when a small group of climate scientists began to find their work being challenged. Instead of confronting the challenge, this group became defensive. They refused to provide data and computer code to enable others to check their work. They failed to respond to, or rejected, Freedom of Information requests relating to data and codes. They sought to put pressure on scientific journals to exclude the work of those who wished to explore and question their work. 
There were doubts within the group about the uncertainties within their work. Also, there seem to have been problems with data retention and the quality of what data were retained. Deciphering some of the computer code seems to have been a major difficulty. These considerations might have affected their behaviours. 

None of this is acceptable science. Most Scottish universities at this time would regard such behaviour as unethical and subject to disciplinary procedures.

One of the scientists involved was a Lead Author within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. The IPCC does not do scientific research. It provides periodic reviews, called Assessment Reviews, of the scientific literature on climate science. Lead Authors perform that role for various aspects of climate science. 

“Hiding the decline” refers to an attempt by a group of scientists to reconstruct past temperatures using proxies for temperature such as tree rings. Not all trees or types of tree are suitable for this. Three reconstructions were to be used to support a claim of unprecedented warming in the 20th century, warmer than that in the Medieval Warm Period in an article to be published. It had already been decided that the published research would be a favourite for the IPCC Third Assessment Review.  More here.


One of the reconstructions was problematic. Presented graphically, the reconstruction showed declining temperatures after 1960s. In fact, the observed temperatures were rising over this period. This posed a problem. If the reconstruction was inaccurate in the modern section, why should it be regarded as accurate in the earlier period, when there were no measured temperatures?

The Climategate emails show the group of scientists discussing the problem. Leaving the reconstruction as it was would dilute the message. It would give “fodder” to the sceptics. In the end, the data that had produced the decline was deleted and the reconstruction altered by merging it with the measured temperatures over part of the modern period. None of this was disclosed in the methods section or anywhere else. The certainty of the science was not quite what it seemed to be.

There is an account of some of the IPCC process generally and in this  particular case here.

Judith Curry and John Christy whose accounts of Climategate issues are found at the link above were once mainstream climate scientists.  They were “in”. They are now outsiders and have been branded as “deniers”.
Here is what some of the Climategate emails say.

“So if we show Keith’s line in this plot, we have to comment that “something else” is responsible for the discrepancies in this case.”

That wasn’t done. Instead, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temperatures to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

While the intention was to show unprecedented warming (higher temperatures now than in the Medieval warm Period) there were doubts – kept back from policy makers. “I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.” This from another scientist, “I have growing doubts about the validity and use of error estimates that are being applied to reconstructions.”

When asked for data used in their work, some of the scientists were reluctant to provide it. This email was sent to another scientist. Not one opposed to the science and who had no wish to question the validity of the work. “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you when your wish is to try and find something wrong with it..”

When faced with the first published paper to question their science one said this. “Who knows what trickery has been pulled or selective use of data made… – only a shill for industry would have republished the original Soon and Baliunas paper as submitted to “Climate Research” without even editing it….”

Another took a different line. “I have just read the M&M stuff criticising MBH [Mann, Bradley, Hughes]. A lot of it seems valid to me. at the very least MBH is a very sloppy piece of work — an opinion I have held for some time. Presumably what you have done with Keith is better?– or is it? I get asked about this a lot…” 

The response was, “The attached is a complete distortion of the facts. M&M are completely wrong in virtually everything they say or do……
..Bottom line there is no way the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] (whenever it was) was as warm globally as the last 20 years.There is also no way a whole decade in the LIA [Little Ice Age] period was more than 1 deg C on a global basis cooler than the 1961-90 mean. This is all gut feeling, no science, but years of experience dealing with global scales and variability.”

Other emails show discussions about putting pressure on academic journals and getting evidence on editorial behaviour. “…basically this is just a heads up that people might be up to something here.What a shame that would be. It’s one thing to lose “Climate Research”. We can’t afford to lose GRL [Geophysical Research Letters]. I think it would be useful if people began to record their experiences w/ both Saiers and potentially Mackwell (I don’t know him – he would seem to be complicit with w is going on here). If there is a clear body of evidence that something is amiss, it could be taken through the proper channels…” Faint or nor so faint echoes of Nixon?
Other emails show a scientist prepared to delete data rather than release it to others. There is discussion of how to evade or obstruct requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

One interpretation (mine) of the behaviour of these scientists is this.These emails show scientists with huge dollops of confirmation bias in their work. Aware of the scientific uncertainties in their small field, they do not confront the uncertainties openly but wish to conceal them. The objective is to make the science seem more certain than it is. They wish to protect their positions and to do so are willing to contemplate, and perform, the doing of unscrupulous, unscientific actions. The IPCC system permits this group of scientists to act as gate-keepers, seeking to prevent the consideration of opposing views.

If that is true, then such attitudes are likely to have existed before the scientific challenge posed by McIntyre and McKitrick (M&M) came along to deepen them. Climategate opened up that behaviour to wider scrutiny and laid the basis for the insults that are traded back and forth. “Climate science alarmist” and “climate science denier”. Climategate saw people, including scientists with opposing views, either set up blogs or use existing blogs to put their opinions. Abuse became rife. It exists still. People with no knowledge of science can and do abuse scientists going about their work. To what useful end?

The scientists involved in the Climategate emails are/were  employed in British and American universities. After Climategate, the opportunity existed for the American and British governments to seek to change the IPPC process for the better: prevent gate-keeping, make the system operate more openly and transparently. That does not seem to have happened though I hope to be wrong. Given the membership of IPCC is 195 countries that might have been a difficult task.

It is, in my opinion, undeniable that the IPCC system does or did not work well. It permits or permitted gate-keeping. While transparent and open up to the Review stage, there are or were no checks and balances after that and Lead Authors may simply ignore reviews of their science and re-write reports. The system allows or allowed gate-keeping, confirmation bias and has/had no guard against conflict of interest.

The Summary for Policymakers is not produced only by scientists. The draft is subject, line by line, to political scrutiny until any amendments thought necessary are negotiated through.

Here are some comments by past contributors, Lead Authors, made to  a panel assessing the work of the IPCC.

“The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection  of authors and Bureau Members.Some experts are included or excluded because of their political allegiances rather than their academic quality. Sometimes the “right” authors are put in key positions with generous government grants to support their IPPC work, while the “wrong” authors are sidelined to draft irrelevant chapters and sections without any support.”
“…I have experienced the addition of lead authors  or authors [contributing] during the process who often seem to have come with a political mandate – generally from developed countries and as such they can be very disruptive – let alone the dubious nature of the science they contribute!”

“The team members from the developing countries (including myself) were made to feel welcome and accepted as part of the team. In reality we were out of our intellectual depth as meaningful contributors to the process.”
These remarks were made after Climategate so may be less appropriate now.

Climategate helped to set the way in which large groups of people see climate science. Scientists and others, undeserving of abuse, receive it. Judy Curry has written about the rhetoric surrounding climate science as well as the major uncertainties still existing. Here’s the link.


The evidence that the climate is warming is all around. Few people are likely to think now (not the case at Climategate) that the climate is not warming and that some or all warming taking place is due to the activities of mankind. What then does it mean to be a “climate change denier” or a “climate alarmist”? What is being denied and what is alarmism? What is your evidence to support your use of these epithets as appropriate and apposite remarks?