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Climategate revisited

The BBC Radio 4 programme revisiting Climategate is on tonight at 9pm. Here's the blurb:

Climategate was the term quickly applied in 2009 to the mysterious appearance on the internet of large numbers of emails and documents belonging to some of the world's leading climate scientists.

This happened just a month before the Copenhagen climate change conference, which failed to meet the expectations of many for agreement on international action. The timing may not be coincidental.

For some climate change sceptics, the emails were a disturbing revelation of the real thoughts and manoeuvrings of scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Centre and their international colleagues. The scientists argue that while some of the phrasing may have been unfortunate, there is nothing in the documents to undermine the validity of mainstream climate science.

Climategate certainly inflamed the debate over climate change, in the UK, the US and elsewhere.

In 2012 the Norfolk Police announced they were abandoning their investigation into who hacked into the university's computer and then distributed what they found.

But what have been the longer-term consequences of this incident, for public opinion, media reporting and international policy-making on climate change? Chris Vallance investigates, asking if this was it a political crime, and, if so, how effective has it been?

As readers here know I was interviewed for the show as were Steve M, Tallbloke and Benny Peiser I think. CRU refused to take part, although Mike Hulme was involved.


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Reader Comments (65)

In how many ways will they misrepresent it shall we count

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

"large numbers of emails and documents belonging to some of the world's leading climate scientists"

Do they actually belong to the individual scientists?

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:07 AM | Registered Commentermatthu

A great list of potential contributors. What the editor and presenter have done with them we await with interest.

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Anything from the BBC has to be processed with the skills of an accomplished reader of Pravda or listener to Radio Moscow in the days of the USSR. I think such people did manage to glean some worthwhile snippets, aided by such guidelines as 'never believe anything until or unless it has been officially denied' (hat-tip Otto von Bismarck). I won't be able to hear the broadcast this evening, but I hope others will and perhaps spot any curiosities, clues from the kind of person allowed to speak freely, concepts allowed to be aired without denigratory labels or immediate 'rebuttals', absences of others who might possibly be no longer in favour and so on.

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Its the same BBC that is putting so much effort and so much taxpayers money into trying to keep secret a list a people at a meeting about how the BBC sales 'climate doom' . Anyone want to guess how this program will go , what's the odd on them getting the 'hide the decline ' totally wrong and painting team CRU as 'victims '

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Isn't the BBC simply considered a taxpayer funded pedophile support group at this point? (cf. Penn State).

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Mark S

Fraid the IBD make it very unclear...

Hide the decline, was about the proxies (for temp) going down, whilst real temps (as measure by thermometers were going up..

If your proxie for temp, doesn't work, when there are actually thermometers are around.

Basically they can't be used as proxies for temps, when there are no thermometers around.

Thus reconstructions of historic temperature, using them are shall we say just a tincy bit problematic (ie rubbish) because you have no idea when they are working as temp proxies or not.

#Luckily, Andrew Montford has written a book - called 'Hiding the Decline' perhaps if we all purchase a copy. ;-)

Oct 31, 2012 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Troll comments and follow-ups removed.

Oct 31, 2012 at 12:53 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

CRU refusing to participate is interesting: they are still acting guilty and evasive. If only our unknown friend would release part 3 of climategate......

Oct 31, 2012 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

CRU refusing to participate is more than "interesting".

I think the correct expression is: "There is no show without Punch!"

Oct 31, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Cave Troll is back, cave is smaller as the echo gap is smaller ;)

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

I would of thought Mr Moncktons treatment by the BBC would of given anyone pause for thought, we'll see tomorrow which way the re-editing went but I wouldn't keep my hopes up.

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Oh and my 2 tupence worth, they will focus on the stolen\hacked e-mails and not their contents.

Re-read the PR again.

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

I find it hilarious that when this was a truly international story and there were dark mutterings about Russian involvement that the case was handed over to the Norfolk Plods.

They surprisingly uncovered precisely nuffing about who had been interfering with Phil Jones compooter machine. No doubt hugely disappointed that this was their first non pornography investigation.

The effect of Climategate was to end any possibility that the Americans would sign a deal at Copenhagen. Hmmm.

What a stitch up.

Oct 31, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

From the meta data of the FOIA zip file in 2009 it follows that all Climategate documents and mails were modified (validly or default) on a computer with time zone settings -0400 or -0500. If the modification time is default, so is the zip access time. If a valid modification month is in the summer we have -0400, in the winter we have -0500. Valid modification hours point at a clock running in local American time. Perhaps it was a main frame computer, built in 1988 in America. Valid modification years of almost six thousand documents start in 1988. Top use was in 2000 and after 2004 only a few documents were modified. All mails have default modification year 2009 implying that they arrived a copies. Therefore, the computer was not a back-up server for the documents, which contradicts the official police report. Moreover, Briffa mailed from this computer on 18 February 2009. From the Harry-read-me document it can be inferred that the name of the computer was DPE1A, being a component of a distributed file system at CRU with server CRUA6. All valid access times of the zip are in GMT, implying that the zip was made on a computer with zero time zone setting. From the creation dates of the mails and zip access times it can be inferred that the minimum time FOIA needed for harvesting was 16 September 2009 - 13 November 2009, or about two months. All that time the dog did not bark, making it extremely implausible that Climategate was a hack.

Oct 31, 2012 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

Given that, in their own estimation, the CRU were the outraged and innocent victims of Climategate, it is bizarre in the extreme that they should not want to take part if only to proclaim, again, their innocence.

Oct 31, 2012 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

Mosher or McIntyre?

Oct 31, 2012 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

The Gift that keeps on Giving...........:o)

Oct 31, 2012 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

I suspect that the CRU's refusal to participate is because they do not want to be put in in a position where they might disclose something that contradicts the Norfolk Police's unsubstantiated (publicly, at least) claim that it was a hack and not a leak. If they were to do that, they might get investigated for perverting the course of justice (again).

Oct 31, 2012 at 5:44 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

The timing "just before Copenhagen" has now achieved meme status. But Copenhagen was still a month off, whereas my memory is that the release was within a day or two of the final rejection of a major FOI request. Seems more likely that that was the trigger. Perhaps the emails had been put together in preparation for complying, and then when the rejection occurred someone took advantage of that work and released (a portion of) the whole batch.

Oct 31, 2012 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterLance Wallace

I’m going to stick my neck out and bet that this programme makes a supreme effort to be fair to sceptics. Tony Newbery of Harmess Sky once remarked that the one thing journalists hate the most is being told what to say. This programme isn’t coming from the Beeb’s environmentalist team.
Ten euros against £8, or a used copy of the Hockeystick Illusion.
Any takers?

Oct 31, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff - forget the 10 euros. If the programme is anything but a total repeat of the usual conspiracy theories about us Evil People, it'll be a sign of the End of the World.

In all other circumstances the Wrath of Monbiot will fall upon the Beeb, with matter-of-fact comparisons between Savile and people worse than Savile, ie the journalist daring to suggest Climategate wasn't a conspiracy by us Evil People.

Oct 31, 2012 at 8:37 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Btw does anybody remember Obama Gordon and friends discussing late night in Copenhagen and making absolutely no mention whatsoever of Climategate?

Oct 31, 2012 at 8:41 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Gavin is dead right about a "tsunami of misinformation" although not in the way he intends.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Not to mention the blizzards, Connie.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

What did Paul Dennis say?

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Clueless plod.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

So the police are treating those who put in FOI requests as suspects and possible terrorists? That is scary.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJen

Good plug for the blog, are plod monitoring, perhaps there is an undercover agent present....... boing, here's Zeberdee.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I thought that was quite good, although I missed the beginning.

Had to laugh at the policeman, though to be fair he couldn't know that the emails weren't really news to sceptics and to an outsider Steve McIntyre's guesses were uncannily accurate.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Well, I think geoffchambers got it right: the programme did not push a specific agenda and was surprisingly fair to the sceptics. Pretty amazing from the Beeb. In particular, and knowing (from bitter personal experience) how easy it is to distort a recorded interview, I thought our host and Steve McIntyre were allowed to come over quite well.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:41 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Amazingly objective for the Beeb. They did allow warmists and sceptics to say their pieces. I got the impression that the unlabelled observers (perhaps assumed by the average uninformed listener to be neutral) tended to be died in the wool alarmists, but also amazingly, they were more measured in their bias than I would have expected.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction for the BBC, but the fact remains that the BBC Trust's policy on climate reporting is unacceptable and indefensible.

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

More balanced than usual, good comments from Andrew and Steve, interesting stuff from Paul Dennis. A few more details about the "hack" including an admission that the hack could easily have been done by an insider hacking in from outside. Most interesting bit was the statement that the hacker had tried to "frame" a UEA insider, presumably by assuming their identity for the early stages of the hack (which is of course standard practice in old style hacking, but they seemed to think it significant); the insider was interviewed by the police, and it seems to me that the program was implying that it was Paul Dennis, though I may be reading too much into the phrasing used (listening again I think I was over interpreting).

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:44 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Here are some instant reactions I jotted down along the way.

A Montford - very crisp throughout. Well done.
Andrew Watson - complete misuse of the word conspiracist. Or perhaps not.
Paul Dennis - excellent. Very good Paul was included from the heart of UEA.
Bob Ward - agree with him on the effect of CG1 on the media coverage
FionaHarvey - pressure from editors led to distortion. Rot. But interesting that editors were taking that line.
AM again - huge pool of knowledge to give other point of view. Well put.
Nigel Lawson - started with wealthier friends, more intelligent so saw the problems. Elitist but convincing!
Fiona Fox - critical moment, something changed, more scrutiny, catastrophe now questioned, climate science can cope with it. Yeah, if it really changes.
Peter Kellner - only 41% trusted after Climategate and has stayed the same since. Key witness.
Lawson - scientists not the paragons of rectitude, if they had such a good case, why make disreputable moves
Steve McIntyre - climate scientists needed to be offended by tricks to hide the decline, to say sorry and to stop. same with refusals of data. key moment.
Ward - some common ground on open data
Inquiries - SM not even interviewed, should have involved all interests
Mann - voices were heard but were found to be without merit, led to conspiracy theory spiral
AM - no conspiracy but inept for different reasons; Climategate needs public inquiry
Mike Hulme - three years up to Climategate and after: 50% increase of use of uncertainty; 6 -> 9%
Fox - scientists saying I didn't want to be as open about uncertainty because of war footing, have to get over this
CG2 less dramatic, attracted less attention
Norfolk Police - can't say not a whistleblower but basically ruled it out. nobody is suspected
SM - interviewed by anti-terrorism police, Al-Qaeda joke worked well
Use of computer-generated voice for 'FOIA' but carefully leaving out his motivation for the poor

Curate's egg. But I continue to chuckle at Andrew Watson saying that we were claiming he was a conspiracist. He meant conspirator. But I think we do think he's a conspiracist so well played that man!

Oct 31, 2012 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

It speaks volumes that I was pleasantly suprised how balanced a BBC programme can still be.

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

The End of the World is Nigh.
From comments, I think I won my bet.
Richard Drake
Many thanks for the summary. Reception of Radio4 via internet interrupted here in the south of France (due to seasonally bad climate?) (oh to be in England, now that we’re in for 6 months of unpredictable wind, floods and hailstorms).
The little I managed to hear (no Montford) sounded like a finger up to Patten and Prof. Steve Jones.
Message to readers here who see everything in terms of public versus private ownership: it’s not about the status of the BBC. It’s about journalism versus grovelling. You can do both, both in the public and the private sectors.

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:08 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Well I learnt one thing: the BBC don't transmit Radio 4 on digital TV after 5pm, so I have an hour of silence to listen to.

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:20 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

A couple of things niggled me - Bob Ward was introduced just as 'from the LSE' rather than as Grantham's PR man, and despite Paul Dennis saying otherwise, 'scientists' were depicted as being on one side.

Other than that I thought is was a major improvement on the BBC side. Perhaps now they might try to do the same with the actual science.

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

"Chris Vallance investigates, asking if this was it a political crime.."

What exactly is a political crime? And if there was one, who committed it, CRU or the Leaker?

Oct 31, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterNoblesse Oblige

Everything and anything that has been propagated by IPCC et al only considers radiation and assumes energy balance controls climate. This is such a mistaken belief that it is little wonder there was a "necessity" to cover up in the Climategate fiasco.

Those who still believe the carbon dioxide hoax need to come to realise that energy balance does not determine climate. It's the other way round. Climate determines energy balance. Climate itself is determined by the incident solar energy which fluctuates in long term natural cycles probably related to planetary orbits.

Earth's surface temperature cools as heat from the Sun is transferred back to the atmosphere. This process is dominated by sensible heat transfer, not by radiation which accounts for less than 30% of such transfers.

All that backradiation can possibly do (according to physics) is slow that 30% of cooling which is due to radiation. Meanwhile, the other 70% merely accelerates to compensate, thus leaving no net effect on the overall rate of cooling. What comes in from the Sun will get out again by one means or another. When there are long periods of natural warming there will of course be a build up of energy being retained. The thermometers tell us that, without even having to measure the energy balance. But the opposite is the case when cooling sets in.

Backradiation is not the cause, because it cannot transfer heat to a warmer surface. It can only slow radiative cooling. See my peer-reviewed paper on PSI recently cited by Joseph Postma in his October 2012 paper.

Doug Cotton


Oct 31, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Cotton

So what did you think Bish, did you get a fair crack at the whip?

My major concern was when sceptics were desctbed as none scientists which is to deny that there are scientists who are sceptics. And that is still the crux of the matter, any dissenting voice from within will neither be funded nor given a platform.

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterTooth Fairy


you are right. We need a public enquiry. Carthago delenda est

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinhead

A great shame that the Tallbloke interviews never made air, considering that his family home was raided by the Norfolk Police.

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger and out

Surprisingly non-judgmental for what I've come to expect from the BBC. Is this a sign of things to come?

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Sadly not yet been able to listen, is there any reason given as why Chris Vallance has chosen to revisit?

Also was he there in the first place?

Oct 31, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand


Well done. And thankyou.

I was pleasantly surprised considering it was the BBC.
Was the broadcast biased? Yes, but not by usual BBC standards.


Nov 1, 2012 at 12:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard S Courtney

omg has doug cotton returned from the grave?

Nov 1, 2012 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

How can these guys 'hide the decline' and yet be 'cleared by the investigations'?

The edifice of climate science is rotten. Cut the rotten part out. Heal thyself.

Nov 1, 2012 at 2:12 AM | Registered Commentershub

Good comments by Fiona Fox.

Nov 1, 2012 at 2:13 AM | Registered Commentershub

Colour me impressed. We can't have it all our own way, there are two sides to the debate, but this broadcast did what the BBC hasn't done for a long time, and that is to acknowledge this very fact. Paul Dennis's comments resonate regarding the validity and integrity of the sceptical approach to interpretations of data. I also take his point regarding the invective and vitriolic language indulged in, not just by the loony wazzock alarmist warmy scumbags, but also, on rare occasions, by us.. ;o)

Now what the BBC needs to do is partake of some introspection. Compare and contrast this team's standard of journalism with its environmental team's, to reveal the BBC's systemic environmental bias anomaly.

Nov 1, 2012 at 2:34 AM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

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