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Investigators may be Closing in on Climategate Suspect

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Two years ago, the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 private emails between prominent climate scientists raised questions about climate science research, and came to be known as "climategate." While six investigations have since cleared the climate scientists of wrongdoing, the culprit(s) responsible for pilfering the emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain has eluded investigators. That may be about to change, thanks to the unauthorized release of still more emails from the original stolen trove of correspondence.

Although the climategate culprit still remains at large, the most recent hacking may have left a case-breaking digital clue. Credit: Brian D Perskin/flickr. 

In the runup to the most recent round of United Nations climate change negotiations, which were held in Durban, South Africa in December, more emails from the original batch were released, leading to a much smaller kerfuffle regarding the work of the same group of climate scientists. This time, however, the hacker may have left enough of a digital trail for investigators to follow.

As the New York Times reported on Jan. 1, British and American law enforcement agencies are focusing on digital logs from websites where the second batch of emails were first posted. In the U.K., agents confiscated two laptops from a blogger, although that person is not being considered a suspect.

As the Times reports:

"But November’s leaker left additional clues behind as well. Not much — an encrypted file and a note ending in what seemed to be a taunt — but enough to revive fervent speculation about what sort of person might be behind the stunt.

The note, somewhat cryptic, seemed to suggest that efforts to fight global warming siphoned money from worthy causes like fighting poverty. “Every day nearly 16,000 children die from hunger and related causes,” it said.

Then the note’s author seemed to dangle a challenge for hackers and programmers, saying that even though he was releasing 5,000 e-mails, “The rest, some 220,000, are encrypted for various reasons.”

“We are not planning to publicly release the pass phrase,” the note added coyly."

The Times story includes reactions from the environmental community as well as climate skeptic groups. Some skeptics have long claimed that the email release was not the work of an outside hacker, but a leak from within the University of East Anglia itself. That argument may be fading, however, in the wake of the second round of emails. Myron Ebell of the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute told the Times that he now thinks the email releases were designed to cause "the maximum possible anxiety" for the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit. "It is like knowing your building has a bomb in it that could be detonated at any time," he said. 

Comments

By Hector M.
on January 2nd, 2012

Suppose the police actually find the hacker/leaker/whatever. But the impact on public opinion of the email themselves, and what transpires in them, does not depend on whether that person is found or not. It depends on the contents of the emails.
It does not depend, either, on the outcome of the various inquiries held in the States and the UK, both in academic institutions (like the UEA and Penn State) or in the British Parliament on matters surrounding those emails. All said inquiries were rather cursory. Even so, some of them actually found things to have been improper on the part of the scientists (for instance, in the UK it was found that scientists violated freedom-of-information rules, but no further legal action was possible because of the short period allowed by the FOIA statute of limitations in the UK). The main damage to the credibility of climate science, in fact, comes from the evident effort to conceal data and code from possible critics, and maneuvering to have certain papers admitted into the references for the next IPCC report while keeping other papers out, either out of the IPCC list of references or altogether not published. Another matter of concern was that doubts on various scientific issues, expressed in private by the relevant scientists writing the emails, awkwardly contrasted with the bold certainty on the same issues displayed by the same scientists in their public writings and utterances.
Thus, finding or not finding the hacker/leaker/whatever is not really all that important. The most important matter is the analysis of the emails themselves, and their implications. To my knowledge, none of the inquiries did that. The contents of the emails have been scrutinized mostly in the blogosphere, most notably on Climate Audit but also elsewhere.

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By bjedwards
on January 2nd, 2012

Hector M.,

While you seem content to excuse a crime please feel free to give us your “analysis of the emails themselves, and their implications.”

We’ve waited all this time listening to climate science deniers claiming the emails revealed “scientific hoaxes” and “big conspiracies of thousands of climate scientists over several decades” but we have yet to have anyone actually get around to enlightening us on an “analysis of the emails themselves, and their implications” to the science of climate change and the reality of AGW.

Here’s your chance, Hector.

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By Hector M.
on January 2nd, 2012

BJEdwards.
I do not excuse anything. What I say is that the identification of the person responsible of putting those email under public examination will not do anything towards the questions arising from the emails themselves. It would not add weight either to the arguments of those criticizing the scientists or to the arguments in the opposite camp.
I do not think anybody has suggested any “conspiracy of thousands of climate scientists over various decades”. Igf anything, there has been talk of several “conspiracies”, all among a very small number of scientists, and spanning a short period of time (one decade at most among the several “conspiracies” taken together.
This is not the place to discuss the content of the emails themselves. I advise reading the relevant analyses, most of which are archived at the Climate Audit blog and also at the Climate Etc blog maintained by Judy Curry. Posts in both are quite technical and detailed (not necessarily all the comments, I am afraid, but that comes with the territory in the blogosphere: see for instance your use of “climate science denier” referring to a range of people with very different opinions about the reality of anthropogenic climate change, most of them believing that temperatures have been rising and that GHG cause temperatures to rise (their technical differences are much more subtle, regarding specific estimates and methods). 
To my knowledge and recollection, the discussion of Climategate mails by Steven McIntyre is just part of a wider discussion which is not about “denying climate change”, or even about expressing skepticism about it, but about several specific technical issues (such as, among others, the use of specific temperature proxies for paleo-reconstructions of temperatures, and the statistical techniques applied to those data); the Climategate mails arrived relatively late in that discussion (which is very well reflected in Andrew Montford’s book The Hockey Stick Illusion).The emails are interesting to McIntyre mainly because they illuminate how the technical criticisms raised against some paleo-reconstructions were handled within the very small number of scientists alluded before. They also showed how some of the criticisms were shared by some of those very same scientists, in their private emails, though not in their public manifestations; they also showed that technical criticism was far from welcome as a contribution to clarifying technical issues: it was actively fought against, by refusing to share data and code allowing the criticized results to be replicated, and by trying to get those criticisms out of the published literature (and, on the contrary, trying to get refutations of those criticisms inside the published literature within the time limits to be considered in the IPCC AR4 report, “even if we have to re-define peer review” as one of the emailers put it).
They show, altogether, a small group of scientists very much preoccupied with the possibility that criticisms of their work may endanger the climate-change-mitigation policy agenda, and also with the possibility that somebody may find wrong with data on which they had spent years working.
Other analysts, e.g. Judy Curry in her Climate Etc blog, have used the mails to show how uncertainties were systematically underplayed in scientific publications and IPCC reports, whilst they were more freely expressed in the emails. Probably the most important lesson of this saga is that uncertainties about several important tenets of recent climate science are much larger than many people were led to think.
Nothing is more informative that reading the stuff itself, and following the various threads in it. If you have not yet done so, it is quite useless to try and convey their import in a brief comment.

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By bjedwards
on January 2nd, 2012

Hector M.,

While I was expecting you to reveal the “implications” of the emails to the science of climate change and the reality of AGW instead you have just revealed that you depend on the confirmation bias of a small number of known “skeptics” and deniers, none of whom have (yet) demonstrated anything wrong with the science.

And you seem particularly naive in missing the point entirely that “Climategate” was touted from day one as evidence of a conspiracy to “fake the science” on a grand scale in order to influence the upcoming Copenhagan talks - which it certainly succeeded in doing. That you don’t understand the politically motivated denialism of AGW that is behind those you are listening too is exactly what they are counting on.

All I can recommend is that you make an effort to question the claims of those you have so willingly chosen to believe and to make an effort to listen to and understand the 97% of scientists who you have seemed to have missed.

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By hank_
on January 2nd, 2012

Anyone trying to downplay the overall effect of these emails on the advancement of the AGW agenda is clearly in denial. That agenda took a huge hit to its credibility in November of 2009 and has not recovered since.
If I read Hector’s comment correctly, he is simply stating that outing the whistleblower/hacker will have little bearing on the shift in public opinion that has occurred since the release of the emails.

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By Hector M.
on January 2nd, 2012

BJEwards,
Of course there are political motivations, on all sides, from rabid conservatives rejecting anything that smells of new taxes, to green liberals trying to advance a green policy agenda. That the 2009 release of the emails may have had Copenhagen in view (or Durban in the second release) is probable, but also not relevant to the context in which the content of those emails has been proceeding.
I agree with Hank and his interpretation of my comments.

On the other hand, no serious climate skeptic denies “the reality of AGW”. Not indeed the ones I cited. All accept that world temperatures have been rising at least since the 1970s, and all agree that GHG emissions increase planetary temperature.

The discussion (as far as serious skeptics is concerned) is not about that, and framing the discussion in those terms (the “reality of AGW”) is highly misleading. Of course, there are members of the public who do not “believe” in AGW, just as there are members of the public who do not “believe” in evolution, but the entire educated discussion related to the Climategate emails does not concern those people (except insofar as they use this debate to advance their cause, just as others may use a heat wave in Moscow to advance theirs).

The discussion, which has been generally conducted in a polite and austere way (most notably by Steve McIntyre)  is not about the “reality” of AGW but about the details, where as you know the devil dwells: the how, the when, the by how much. It is, in my opinion, a very interesting scientific discussion, if one accepts to put the political discussion aside for a moment (which includes not paying attention to the illiterate militant comments, in both directions, that often plague those blogs).

I am mainly interested in the scientific debate per se. But besides that, it is also important to note, as Hank does, that the impact of this episode on public confidence in science (especially climate science) has been enormous. It would be foolish to become a ” loss-of-confidence-in-climate-science denier”.

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By bjedwards
on January 2nd, 2012

I guess Hank missed my clear statement on the impact of the Climategate emails on public opinion. He also missed the reason why.

Additionally, he missed that we are not discussing the relative merits of whether the thief is caught or not.

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By bjedwards
on January 2nd, 2012

Hector M.,

If you are truly interested in “scientific debate” then I can only restate my last sentence to you in my previous comment to you. I think it would benefit you to take a real skeptic’s attitude toward what you believe and what you are stating re: Climategate and Stephen McIntyre.

Do some research on your own.

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By Edwardio
on January 3rd, 2012

bjedwards on January 2nd, 2012

” but we have yet to have anyone actually get around to enlightening us on an “analysis of the emails themselves, and their implications” to the science of climate change and the reality of AGW.”

That is such a preposterous statement I laughed out loud.

There are only two possibilities. Either you have deliberately avoided everywhere those discussions have taken place or you are making up your own reality.
Anyone slightly interested could have read many enlightening discussions of the emails and how they relate to AGW science.
More are popping up all the time.
Here is a current one:

http://tinyurl.com/emailsAGW

ClimateGate Email 1738
“However, there are bounds to dendrochronology, as there are to every field of investigation, and the discipline has spilled over way outside of those bounds, to the point of absurdity.”

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By Dan (Montana)
on January 3rd, 2012

If you ever want to put a stop to the anti-science types claiming “climategate”, here’s how to do it:

Ask them which specific published papers were affected or which specific parts of which e-mail they wish to focus on.

They will change the subject so fast it’ll make your head spin.

They can’t cite any specific papers affected because there are none. They don’t want to talk about specific parts of specific e-mails because when read in context,  the reality is obvious - there is no global conspiracy, there isn’t even a mini-conspiracy.

The e-mails between climate scientists are no different than e-mails between physicists who have to deal with crackpots telling them that “Einstein is wrong and they can prove it absolutely” or cosmologists who have to deal with “UFO conspiracy” e-mails. They get tired of it, they ridicule them and justifiably so.

To shut any anti-science type up on any subject, simply ask this question: “In your own personal opinion, what evidence would have to be presented to convince you that AGW theory is correct?”

It works every time.

Reply to this comment

By Edwardio
on January 4th, 2012

Dan (Montana)on January 3rd, 2012
“They don’t want to talk about specific parts of specific e-mails”

Really? Is that your play?

Are you saying you haven’t seen ANY of the abundance of talk about specific parts of emails and how they apply to the science and AGW movement or are you telling people the talk doesn’t exist?

Either way that is ludicrous and you’re completely disconnected from reality.  Lengthy and numerous discussions with a plethora of specifics and “context” abound.

So why is it you can’t simply engage and defend your perspective without declaring that contrary opinions and specific discussions don’t exist?

Please provide some direction to anywhere any skeptics changed the subject so fast they made your head spin.

Where have you or anyone else ever “put a stop to the anti-science types claiming “climategate”, by simply asking about specifics?

You made that up.

Reply to this comment

By jim karlock (portland, or 97212)
on January 4th, 2012

here is a list of some of the original emails and why they are significant:

http://www.sustainableoregon.com/selectedemails.html

Thanks
JK

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By bjedwards
on January 4th, 2012

Edwardio,

I note that you too are unable to articulate any implications to climate science and the reality AGW despite your protestations that such “implications” exist.

This peculiar arm-flapping seems to have become an epidemic amongst some of you. Perhaps you can sit still for a moment and explain in detail how the massive scientific data and evidence for AGW has changed as a result of your “Climategate”.  Perhaps you can list the names of those thousands of scientists who themselves must have been “duped” as your narrative requires - or who, as most of your compatriots whine, are part of a massive conspiracy to foist “false science” on all of us.

Unfortunately, Edwardio, a common characteristic of your thinking is the inability to extend the logic of what you believe and claim into a plausible narrative. None exists and no intent was ever designed for there to be one. The theft and release of the e-mails was entirely political in nature; only the “suggestion”, with ample cherry picking, that a “conspiracy” of climate scientists to fake science existed was sufficient. Right before Copenhagan.

Don’t be so naive, Edwardio. If you can’t show us how the Climategate e-mails actually changed the massive evidence and science of AGW then you should consider that you took the wrong fork in the road.

Reply to this comment

By Edwardio
on January 5th, 2012

By bjedwards

Are you capable of comprehending that the thorough articulations of the implications are readily available and ongoing?  Yo appear to be playing some asinine game that if they are not all brought over here they do not exixst.

I already showed you one of the countless discusssions and you ignored it while continuing to chant they do not exist..

Who is the naive one?

Go look in the mirror. And while you’re at it check your imagination. It’s running away with you.

Why on earth you pretend the the emails have not been and are not being quoted in detail how they specifically rebuke much of the AGW movement is beyond me.

Here is a new one happening right now.
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/01/05/abrupt-changes-in-station-level-temperature-records-contradict-the-anthropogenic-global-warming-agw-claims/

“Inspired by a statement by Dr. Kevin Trenberth in the e-mails referred to as Climategate 2.0 (#3946 discussed here), it is hoped that climate scientists will have “an open enough mind to even consider” that the global warming of the 20th century could have occurred mainly as abrupt changes in mean temperature linked with natural events. Observational data supports that claim, at variance with the AGW “consensus view”.”

Why don’t you waltz over there and post one of your chants?

Is the “massive evidence and science of AGW” obstructing your faculties?

And how is it that no one from NOAA et al is concerned about any of the many revelations like this one.

Is the drum beat that mandatory? Get a grip. You ignore the width and depth of damning content in the emails at your own humiliation.

Claiming there is no problem at all is bizarre.     

Reply to this comment

By bjedwards
on January 12th, 2012

Edwardio,

You’re confirmation bias and politics have gotten the better of you. When you get around to understanding that “Climategate” did not change the science and reality of AGW you’ll feel a lot better.

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By Lannie Yasuda
on May 20th, 2012

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