The Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia is a leading research centre on climate change. They are known for the data that they provide, particularly their estimate of the annual, global mean surface air temperature since 1850 or so. One of their servers was hacked and some 1000 emails and 3000 documents were stolen, most of them 10 years old. These emails were posted on the web, and are now being scrutinised by every one who has a grudge against climate change or climate policy, and against people who harbour such grudges.
What has emerged? There is a lot of chit-chat, and bitching about colleagues (with perhaps ground for a defamation suit or two). There are attempts at blocking other people’s careers, but no signs of success. There are hints of data manipulation. None of this surprised me. There are also indications of a systematic obstruction of freedom of information requests.
What does this mean? Not much really, although some people may end up in jail for stealing data and others may lose their jobs for breaking legal and academic rules on transparency.
Doubt has been cast over the CRU data. Insiders never really trusted their data, and it is actually little used as an input to other climate research. The global mean temperature record is used for communication rather than research. Most of the temperature graphs you have seen in the newspaper are from the CRU, but independent research has corroborated their main findings. Statistical analyses similarly have used alternative data series, and the results are broadly the same.
Some people have portrayed the climate debate as noble scientists versus savage businessmen. That image is now shattered, but it was pretty naive anyway. There are bad apples on both sides of the debate.
So? Objectively, nothing has changed. Climate change is still real, and still a real problem. A carbon tax is still the right policy. Subjectively, things are different. It is harder to argue that wise scientists of impeccable standing recommend action. Proponents of climate policy have to make a real case. I do that here.
UPDATE (26 Nov)
This story keeps growing. The latest person to get entangled is John Holdren, the science and technology advisor of President Obama. While Holdren’s email contains nothing untoward (in fact, he’s remarkably patient and polite), it does demonstrate a closeness between Holdren and people who are tainted.
Another new development: One of the CRU emails has language that may be read as financial irregularity.
UPDATE (30 Nov)
CRU has belatedly agreed to open its data bases.
It appears that it deleted duplicate records. While that is fine for archiving reasons, combined with the poor documentation of CRU’s algorithms, it does imply that the CRU’s homogenized data cannot be reconstructed.
UPDATE (2 Dec)
Penn State U had already announced an internal inquiry into the conduct of Michael Mann, citing the results of an earlier inquiry (but omitting the results of another) in its press release.
U East Anglia has now also announced an internal investigation, and Phil Jones (whose mailbox was hacked) has temporarily stepped down as director.
My prediction that the mainstream media of Ireland will soon report on this matter, is unfounded.