Saturday, 20 February 2010

How Skeptics Distorted the CRU Emails In the Name of "Climategate" (Part 1)


Global warming skeptics have published and propagated an analysis of the CRU emails which is shockingly biased.
http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/reprint/climategate_analysis.html

This report was is based on an online analysis that was spotted and packaged up by the Science Public Policy Institute (SPPI), a global warming skeptic organization. It was then propagated uncritically through various skeptic blogs and political think-tanks of the world.

It is very revealing given how poor the analysis of the emails is, that it was accepted uncritically even by the bigger skeptic names. This makes it a good read for fence-sitters who might appreciate an insight into how global warming skeptics are prone to accepting, and indeed spreading, any garbage that supports their position. I therefore recommend that fence-sitters are referred to the report to "decide for themselves" whether the interpretations reflect the emails fairly.

I will continue my critical analysis of this report, email by email. I will try to stick to the following formatting to make things clear:
Parts in this color and in bold are the reports own words. Parts in this color and in italics are quotes from the CRU emails. All other parts are my own analysis.

email 0842992948

The report describes this email as such:

"We now turn to Keith Briffa, one of the more curious University of East Anglia characters in the Climategate saga. Gary Funkhouser of the University of Arizona writes to Briffa about some data that was collected in the late 1980s. Briffa makes it clear that he is only interested in the data if it can be used to “sell” the climate change message to the general public:"

To back this allegation up the report quotes this part of Briffa's email, which as you see does not back up their allegation at all:

Briffa: "The data is of course interesting but I would have to see it and the board would want the larger implications of the statistics clearly phrased in general and widely understandable (by the ignorant masses) terms before they would consider it not too specialised."

My interpretation of the email, which I think reflects what any unbiased person would see, is that there is a report for public consumption being produced. Briffa is stating that whatever goes into that report cannot be too technical. If it's aimed at the public it must be understandable by the public. It must be summarized and what goes in there must be relevant. This is all standard stuff that any technical group will do if producing a report for a lay audience.

The skeptic interpretation is nonsense. There's no hint that what is being discussed can be used to “sell” the climate change message to the public, let alone that Briffa is advocating any such bias. Not only have the skeptics interpreted this in a way that is unsupported by the text, but they have the gall to claim their interpretation is "clear" from what Briffa says!

If the skeptics have a genuine case, why must they resort to misinterpreting emails such as this? If they aren't just out to smear scientists and science, why do they seem they so willing to do so in the case of this email? I assure you this isn't an isolated example. The SPPI report is full of these kind of misinterpretations and I plan to continue demonstrating this email by email.

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