Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned green campaigner, has described the climate debate as “settled”. Yet the science, say critics, has not been tested to the limit. This is why the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia is so significant.
Its researchers have built up records of how temperatures have changed over thousands of years. Perhaps the most important is the land and sea temperature record for the world since the mid-19th century. This is the database that shows the “unequivocal” rise of 0.8C over the last 157 years on which Mann’s hockey stick and much else in climate science depend.
Some critics believe that the unit’s findings need to be treated with more caution, because all the published data have been “corrected” — meaning they have been altered to compensate for possible anomalies in the way they were taken. Such changes are normal; what’s controversial is how they are done. This is compounded by the unwillingness of the unit to release the original raw data.
David Holland, an engineer from Northampton, is one of a number of sceptics who believe the unit has got this process wrong. When he submitted a request for the figures under freedom of information laws he was refused because it was “not in the public interest”.
Others who made similar requests were turned down because they were not academics, among them McIntyre, a Canadian who runs the Climate Audit website.
A genuine academic, Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, also tried. He said: “I was rejected for an entirely different reason. The [unit] told me they had obtained the data under confidentiality agreements and so could not supply them. This was odd because they had already supplied some of them to other academics, but only those who support the idea of climate change.”
IT was against this background that the emails were leaked last week, reinforcing suspicions that scientific objectivity has been sacrificed. There is unease even among researchers who strongly support the idea that humans are changing the climate. Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: “Over the last decade there has been a very political battle between the climate sceptics and activist scientists.
“It seems to me that the scientists have lost touch with what they were up to. They saw themselves as in a battle with the sceptics rather than advancing scientific knowledge.”
Professor Mike Hulme, a fellow researcher of Jones at the University of East Anglia and author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, said: “The attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organisation within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”
There could, however, be another reason why the unit rejected requests to see its data.
This weekend it emerged that the unit has thrown away much of the data. Tucked away on its website is this statement: “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites ... We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (ie, quality controlled and homogenised) data.”
If true, it is extraordinary. It means that the data on which a large part of the world’s understanding of climate change is based can never be revisited or checked. Pielke said: “Can this be serious? It is now impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. [The unit] is basically saying, ‘Trust us’.”
UPDATE: Neil Hamilton has written a good column in this week's Sunday Express on this issue HERE.