Data theft was the only real crime in climategate

In late November 2009 data stolen from the University of East Anglia was posted to a Russian FTP server.  It includes computer code, documents including drafts of published papers, and 1,073 e-mails totaling over 150 megabytes of data, all belonging to the Climatic Research Unit, a global leader in climate science.  Official investigations have subsequently cleared Dr. Michael Mann, Dr. Phil Jones, the entire Climatic Research Unit and all involved scientists.  Absolutely everybody who has been accused of anything connected to "climategate" is innocent of all misconduct allegedly "revealed" in the stolen data.  That fact was covered with much less enthusiasm by the mainstream press than the original reports of controversy from far-right and known denier sources.  Despite the fact that the controversy has now been proved to have been based completely on falsehoods, the corporate media never owned up to their errors and the abysmal fact-checking failures that led them to report so many lies as fact.

Of course, that should never have been a surprise to anybody since the one thing known from the start was that the whole story was literally acquired by theft.  Assuming that the thieves must have had some good reason and repeating all their claims as fact almost tells the whole story.

The corporate media reported that "leaked" or "hacked" e-mails suggested scientists had fudged data and committed various offenses like interfering with peer review against other scientists who deny global warming.

That is not what really happened.  First and foremost, data were stolen from University of East Anglia, not "leaked" and no "whistle blower" has come forward to explain why he or she stole and illegally published the data.  Besides remaining anonymous, posting the stolen data to an FTP server favored by criminals in the first place is also inconsistent with the "whistle blower" claim, because a real whistle blower would have given the data to for publication and eventual reporting by the press, or to a mainstream, legitimate climate reporter directly, such as Fred Pearce of The Guardian or Richard Black of BBC.  Instead, amateur 'bloggers got access to the data before professional reporters had time to examine what the e-mails actually said, so amateur 'bloggers and climate denier hacks like James Delingpole and Anthony Watts set the narrative before their lies could even be checked by any responsible reporters.

Real whistle blowers are defined largely by their motive, which is to tell the truth, but the manner in which the stolen East Anglia data were reported prevented the truth from being told.  The police are still investigating the theft as a crime, and at last report, Russia's FSB, the new KGB, are the primary suspects.

Due to the rampant blogosphere chatter about the stolen data, the negligent media habit of "covering the controversy" and plain laziness, the media clamored to all reach the same conclusions from a few phrases, picked by climate denial 'bloggers from 1,073 separate e-mails and 150 megabytes of data, for the ability of those snippets to imply controversy, not for their relevance to the state of climate science.  The interpretations presented seemed reasonable at the time to many who are not full-time climate scientists, because of the excerpts that were reported and the context which the reporting implied, but the reporters' choice to use those excerpts from all the data they had, was certainly not reasonable, nor accurate, and probably is libelous unless they're completely scientifically incompetent.  Now, I'll examine each of the "smoking gun" phrases and compare how they were reported, what they really mean in scientific terms, and most importantly, how much effort was necessary to determine what the scientists were actually talking about in each case, which will prove that the press abjectly failed to do its job.

"Hide The Decline"

There is no decline that any scientist would want to hide.  Cherry-picking a few years of temperature data to try to show cooling is a very old trick, which all competent climate scientists and all honest climate science journalists know is bunk.  The Sun's output varies over cycles of 9-14 years, and from the peak of those cycles to their nadirs climate science predicts minor declines such as can be detected if one starts measuring from a record hot year, such as 1998.  The tired claim of a short-term temperature decline is so often repeated that every conscientious climate reporter already knows that temperature trends require decades to establish, and would discard out of hand the silly nonsense that pervaded the media, that Dr. Phil Jones was talking about a way to "hide the decline" in temperatures since 1998.  That is a minor, known decline, which does not contradict the predictions nor the observations, of a much greater warming trend since ~1970.

Now, let's see what work would have been required to get to the truth, without referring to subsequent reporting.  In other words, here is how little a reporter would have had to do to get to the truth using only records that were available in November 2009, the day the stolen data were made available.  First, the "controversial" excerpt "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick ... to hide the decline"  was deliberately clipped to look incriminating.  The entire sentence reads "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from  1961 for Keith's to hide the decline" and the phrase "adding in the real temps" should strongly suggest to anybody familiar with the techniques of climate science that the "trick" was a mathematical method of temperature reconstruction.

Now consider a hypothetical climate reporter who really doesn't get the science, but does know the big names of climate science.  Before very long, such a climate reporter should have supposed that the "Mike" who Dr. Jones meant is Michael Mann, who without a doubt is the biggest name in climate science.  (Not climate policy, that's Al Gore.  In climate science, it's Michael Mann, hands down.)  Now, suppose that this diligent, scientifically mediocre science reporter (or climate reporter or environment reporter, etc.) knows only that the quote involves Michael Mann, and a quote about some "decline" which might be controversial, or might be just a harmless discussion of technicalities, beyond the reporter's understanding.  The easiest way to start to check is to search Google Scholar for "Michael Mann decline."  This very simplistic search reveals that another author named Michael Mann is an accomplished political scientist, but near the bottom of the first page of results is a paper on which the climatologist Michael Mann is the third listed author.  Then text-searching that document for the word "decline" takes the reader to section 4, which clearly discusses a decline in the quality of temperature proxies.  By itself this is not conclusive, but the point is that this minimal effort would have put any diligent reporter onto a line of inquiry toward what we now absolutely know is the truth which is that "the decline" is a decline in the responsiveness of certain tree rings, which makes them poor temperature proxies after 1960, and the "trick" is to apply a sort of weighted average which reduces the weight given to known-bad data, and of course one is supposed to "hide" bad data in science, not just mix it up like toxic mortgages into AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities.

A half day of hard work by any reporter, not necessarily even one with any particular background in science, should have been enough to get the story right within one day after the story "broke."  Instead, the corporate media got the story wrong for months, pretending the stolen data showed a conspiracy among scientists to fake global warming, or suggested a conspiracy, or implied some climate scientists interfered with the proper peer review process, none of which is true nor even remotely supportable by any real evidence as proven by official investigations that have cleared Michael Mann, Dr. Phil Jones, and all climate researchers at the Climatic Research Unit of all accusations.  But after the months that those deliberate investigations required, The Story was too "cold" for front page corrections of the events that the same papers got wrong, on their front pages, for weeks.  It turns out that they never had any excuse to have gotten it so wrong in the first place, and it's a travesty that they did.

"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"

Again, there is no "lack of warming" of the globe, nor any "lack of warming" of any kind that climate scientists ever tried to hide.  Because global warming is caused by radiative forcing by CO₂ and other greenhouse gases, when global warming was established as the scientific consensus decades ago, we started comparing incoming radiation from the Sun to outgoing "longwave" radiation to confirm that heat is being trapped. And indeed, it is, but the satellite data show a wider discrepancy than even our direct measurements of temperature record. It so happens that we do know most of the heat that we have measured is stored in the oceans and we know that we have not been taking measurements deeper than 2000 meters.  So, the thermal energy which satellite measurements tell us must be on Earth somewhere, but which we have been unable to detect, must be somewhere that we have not measured, and logically, the first place to look is in the one place we know we're unable to measure.  And Kevin Trenberth considers it "a travesty that we can't" get equipment that measures ocean temperatures deeper than 2000 meters.

Now, let's re-consider the same hypothetical climate reporter who really doesn't get the science, but does know the big names of climate science.  Now, instead of making this poor fool figure out the context of the one cherry-picked phrase, let's be more realistic and recognize that he or she would have downloaded the stolen data, not rely on other media's reporting of just the one phrase.  

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.  The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong.  Our observing system is inadequate.

So, the corporate media who reported the story knew that this e-mail by Kevin Trenberth referred to the lack of direct measurements of warming based on CERES (satellite) measurements and not to the lack of warming occurring, just by reading the e-mail, which, having been stolen, is and was easily available.  But even a journalist unwilling to download stolen files from a strange server, but interested in getting their facts straight knew from others' reporting that the author of this e-mail is Kevin Trenberth and that the seemingly "controversial" phrase was missing heat, so obviously, the correct search for any legitimate use of that phrase in his previous research would have been and that would have taken any scrupulous reporter to "Using atmospheric budgets as a constraint on surface fluxes" by Trenberth in 1997, "Earth's annual global mean energy budget" by Kiehl and Trenberth in 1997, and many other papers, all or most of which deal both with satellite measurements of incoming and outgoing radiation energy, and direct temperature measurements, and comparing the two quantities.

So, just like the "hide the decline" phrase that we now all know was reported untruthfully, reporters have no excuse for having gotten "it's a travesty" wrong, not even the day the story broke.  It's much too easy to get the story right to believe that any professional "journalist" got it wrong by accident.  No, they intentionally fabricated a controversy to sell papers.