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Climategate: Never Forget (President-elect Trump hasn’t)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 29, 2016

“[Climate change is] a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know…. they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the [Climategate] scientists…. Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind.”

– President-elect Donald Trump, “Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” November 23, 2016. Quoted in Joe Romm, “Trump Fools the New York Times on Climate Change, ThinkProgress, November 23, 2016.

It has been seven years this month since the intellectual scandal erupted called Climategate. With President-elect Trump’s recent reference to the scandal, it is timely to recall some of the more salient quotations. Two books of particular interest in this recollection are A. W. Montford’s Hiding the Decline and Steve Gorham’s The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism. (Also see the research site here.)

Climate scientist Judith Curry reassessed her thinking about the state of climate science in response to the grotesque context of the emails. And the scandal got worse after the fact when, according to Paul Stephens, “virtually the entire climate science community tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.”


On November 19, 2009, an internal whistle-blower or hacker downloaded more than 1,000 documents and e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University (United Kingdom). Posted on a Russian server, these documents were soon accessed by websites around the world.

These e-mails were a subset of confidential communications between top climate scientists in the UK, the United States, and other nations over a 15-year period. Those involved developed surface temperature data sets, promoted the “Hockey Stick” global temperature curve, and wrote or edited the core of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports.

The email release, branded “Climategate” by British columnist James Delingpole, provide insight into practices that range from bad professionalism to fraudulent science. Bias, data manipulation, dodging freedom of information requests, and efforts to subvert the peer-review process were uncovered.

Some of the more salient quotations follow (followed by an appendix on the importance of Climategate for the so-called ‘skeptic’ movement).

Man-Made Warming Controversy

“I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple.”

—Dr. Keith Briffa, Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Sep. 22, 1999.

“Keith’s [Briffa] series…differs in large part in exactly the opposite direction that Phil’s [Jones] does from ours. This is the problem we all picked up on (everyone in the room at IPCC was in agreement that this was a problem and a potential distraction/detraction from the reasonably consensus viewpoint we’d like to show w/ the Jones et al and Mann et al series).”

—Dr. Michael Mann, IPCC Lead Author, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Sep. 22, 1999.

“…it would be nice to try to ‘contain’ the putative ‘MWP’ [Medieval Warm Period]…”

—Dr. Michael Mann, IPCC Lead Author, disclosed Climategate e-mail, June 4, 2003

“By the way, when is Tom C [Crowley] going to formally publish his roughly 1500 year reconstruction??? It would help the cause to be able to refer to that reconstruction as confirming Mann and Jones, etc.”

—Dr. Michael Mann, IPCC Lead Author, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Aug. 3, 2004.

“I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, but it’s not helping the cause, or her professional credibility.”

—Dr. Michael Mann, IPCC Lead Author, disclosed Climategate e-mail, May 30, 2008

“Well, I have my own article on where the heck is global warming… The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

—Dr. Kevin Trenberth, IPCC Lead Author, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Oct. 12, 2009.

Manipulating Temperature Data

“I’ve just completed Mike’s [Mann] Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s [Briffa] to hide the decline.”

—Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Nov. 16, 1999.

“Also we have applied a completely artificial adjustment to the data after 1960, so they look closer to observed temperatures than the tree-ring data actually were….”

—Dr. Tim Osborn, Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Dec. 20, 2006.

“If you look at the attached plot you will see that the land also shows the 1940s warming blip (as I’m sure you know). So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say 0.15 deg C, then this would be significant for the global mean—but we’d still have to explain the land blip….”

—Dr. Tom Wigley, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, on adjusting global temperature data, disclosed Climategate e-mail to Phil Jones, Sep. 28, 2008.

“We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

—Climatic Research Unit web site, the world’s leading provider of global temperature data, admitting that it can’t produce the original thermometer data, 2011.

Data Suppression; Freedom of Information (FOI) Avoidance

“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try to find something wrong with it.”

—Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, email to Warwick Hughes, 2004.

“I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act.”

—Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, Feb. 21, 2005.

“Mike [Mann], can you delete any e-mails you may have had with Keith [Trenberth] re AR4? Keith will do likewise…. Can you also e-mail Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his e-mail address…. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.”

—Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, May 29, 2008.

“You might want to check with the IPCC Bureau. I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 [the upcoming IPCC Fifth Assessment Report] would be to delete all e-mails at the end of the process. Hard to do, as not everybody will remember it.”

—Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, on avoiding Freedom of Information requirements, disclosed Climategate e-mail, May 12, 2009.

Subverting the Peer-Review Process

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin [Trenberth] and I will keep them out somehow, even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

—Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, disclosed Climategate e-mail, July 8, 2004.


Appendix: Implications

“Climategate was a turning point,” Professor Judith Curry remembered, where “pronouncements from the IPCC were no longer sufficient.” She continued:

Institutionally, Climategate triggered the formation of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which has become quite influential in UK climate policy and to some extent internationally.

And more:

The skeptical climate blogosphere has thrived and expanded, largely triggered by Climategate (Climate Etc. was triggered largely by Climategate).  Whereas the ‘warm’ blogosphere for the most part has waned (notably RealClimate), with the exception of Skeptical Science.  It seems that most of the ‘action’ on the warm side has switched to twitter, whereas skeptics prefer the blogosphere.

The growth of the technical skeptical blogosphere (pioneered by Steve McIntyre) has challenged traditional notions of expertise, i.e. credentials and sanctity of journal publications, through Climate Audit’s blogospheric deconstruction of many publications, particularly related to paleo proxies.  While the technical skeptical blogosphere seems to have provided the motive for the Climategate ‘hack’, the technical skeptical blogosphere has thrived, and many of these sites are followed by the media and decision makers of various stripes.


  1. John W. Garrett  

    You are absolutely correct in identifying the Climategate emails as the critical moment in reversing the momentum of the pseudoscience juggernaut.

    Will the public ever comprehend just how close this country came to enacting laws that would have severely damaged its economy on the basis of superstition and propaganda masquerading as science?


  2. Ed Reid  

    “We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

    —Climatic Research Unit web site, the world’s leading provider of global temperature data, admitting that it can’t produce the original thermometer data, 2011.

    Once data have been “adjusted” (value added?), they cease to be data. Instead, they become merely estimates of what the data might have been, had it been collected timely from properly sited, calibrated, installed and maintained measuring sites; or, perhaps, estimates of what those “adjusting” the data wished the data had been.


  3. Mike Black  

    Cherry-picking much…
    Global temperatures are rapidly increasing and you seem focused on the plateau in the 2000s…which was caused by now-known phenomena offsetting the increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
    Now, in the 2010s, those other phenomena are in the opposite direction.

    Underlying the yearly ups and downs is a clear trend of increasing temperatures due to increased levels of CO2 emissions. H2O, CO2, CH4, and CFCs are known greenhouse gases and there are known positive feedback mechanisms that enhance the effects of our GHG emissions. These positive feedback mechanisms are: (1) melting polar ice caps increase the amount of sunlight that can be absorbed, (2) warmer water holds less CO2 (for a given partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere), and (3) a warmer climate will increase the water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere, and hence significantly increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    You can try to deny what’s happening by focusing on the emails from a select few scientists, but eventually you will be forced to face reality. Temperatures are increasing, ocean levels are increasing, and the pH of the ocean is decreasing…all due to the significant amount of GHGs that humans emit…and to the positive feedback mechanisms that amplify our emissions.


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