Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"Climategate" comes to Arizona

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe has sent intimidating-sounding but somewhat vacuous letters to University of Arizona dendrochronologist Malcolm Hughes and paleoclimatologist Jon "Peck" Overpeck. Something a bit more substantial was directed to U of A General Counsel Lynne Wood.

To Wood:
Recently a large number of alleged CRU documents and e-mails were released to the public. These documents and e-mails outline disturbing trend of actions, which, at the least, imply activity to create a false impression of the certainty of climate change science. I will be conducting an investigation into these matters.

I am requesting that you secure, as soon as possible, all documents and records related to the communications or other interactions with CRU. This would include materials directly and reasonably related to CRU documents, e-mails, and its subject matter. Should you discover that other employees in your agency/organization have interacted with CRU or have furnished information which may be used in communications with CRU, please secure those documents as well.

Very interesting doublespeak there: "Released to the public." Meaning "somebody committed a computer crime, downloaded information from a mailserver, and then released the stolen information to the public."

And the e-mails don't really "imply activity to create a false impression of anything", at least not to a reasonable person familiar with academic science, when put in their proper context. The stolen e-mails may contain evidence that U.K. scientists ran afoul of that country's Freedom of Information laws, at least enough to merit investigation. There's nothing in the e-mails pointing to wrongdoing by any U.S. researcher. Claims to the contrary have all fallen apart upon critical inspection.

But to the point: Inhofe is requesting communications between U of A scientists and those at the CRU--and the "and its subject matter" bit can only mean that he is requesting all documents and records pertaining to climatology done at the U of A, from all labs!

The letters sent to Overpeck and Hughes were clearly both showboating and a smear. The stolen e-mails not imply a single act of wrongdoing by either man, but Inhofe's letters serve a way to imply that their activities are suspect without making an accusation.

The request for all information, however, is clearly nothing but an harassment tactic, designed to prevent scientists from spending their time doing science. Can the "legal eagles" clarify to what extent this request must actually be met?

Overpeck and Hughes are both holding their own in the Daily Star. Those who bother to read can confirm: no wrongdoing here.

If you stop at "We need to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period", yes, it looks bad, but stopping there is simply lazy. When reputations are at stake due diligence is a moral obligation. That's something Inhofe doesn't understand. (And I'd love to see him cross the line to libel, so Overpeck can sue him off the planet!) Overpeck makes due diligence easy:
Overpeck said last week that he had searched through his e-mails dating back a decade, and could find none like Deming referred to. Overpeck pointed out that he has written papers dating to the late 1990s saying that various records, including tree rings, stretching back 1,200 years, confirm earlier assertions that the Medieval period was warmer than today in the North Atlantic and northern Europe — but not globally.
"My papers are the record of fact, and in this case, I obviously did not try to get rid of the MWP," Overpeck said. "Instead, I have tried hard to be clear what it likely was and was not."

As I said: no scandal here, just a mal fide twisting of a scientist's words, a treatment of informal private communications as though they trump what Overpeck actually contributed to the scientific record.

If any Arizona scientist ought to be investigated regarding climate it's probably ASU's Robert Balling. Funding sources do not necessarily or even usually control scientific outcomes, but there are clear tail-wags-dog cases, like Fred Singer and the late Fred Seitz, who went from tobacco denialism to ozone hole denialism to global warming denialism. Balling doesn't publish his arguments against the scientific consensus (meaning, consensus of those with current scientific arguments) in the meaningful sense of "publish" but spends an awful lot of time directing them at a noncritical public. Just what is it that the Western Fuels Association pays him to do?

Balling, of course, will never be investigated by Inhofe, because he's a "skeptic". "Skeptic" in Oklahoman must mean "one who disagrees", without the implications of reason, caution, and modesty that the word usually carries. A skeptic, and most scientists are skeptics, who agrees with the only position compatible with what we know now--as Overpeck does--doesn't count. Being a real skeptic, that gets your research interrupted by a showboating Senator who has an ideological or psychopathological beef with the implications of your work.

No word yet on whether Inhofe's request for anything and everything pertaining to climatology has yet hampered research at the U of A. But Arizona taxpayers and donors to the U should be mad as hell. Being a U.S. Senator shouldn't mean that your peculiar form of crazy be nursed, in the form of a frivolous investigation, at the expense of a university.

Have questions? Readers should follow the instructions in Inhofe's letters and direct them to (202) 224-6176.

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