Climategate: This Time It's NASA

Iain Murray & Roger Abbott

The "Climategate" scandal, which broke in November 2009, revealed what many skeptics had privately suspected. Prominent climate scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) had collaborated to keep data out of skeptics' hands, subverted the peer review process, and used questionable methods to construct the temperature record on which the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) based its recommendations.

Now a new "Climategate" scandal is emerging, this time based on documents released by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in response to several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suits filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The newly released emails further demonstrate the politicized nature of climate science, revealing a number of questionable practices that cast doubt on the credibility of scientific data provided by NASA.

The emails reveal that GISS, like CRU, has done a poor job of preserving and managing its data. Although there is no evidence that GISS has destroyed its data, as CRU did in the late 1980s, Dr. Reto Ruedy of GISS admits in an email that "[The United States Historical Climate Network] data are not routinely kept up-to-date." In another email, he reveals that NASA had inflated its temperature data since 2000 on a questionable basis. "[NASA's] assumption that the adjustments made the older data consistent with future data… may not have been correct," he says. "Indeed, in 490 of the 1057 stations the USHCN data were up to 1C colder than the corresponding GHCN data, in 77 stations the data were the same, and in the remaining 490 stations the USHCN data were warmer than the GHCN data."

Unfortunately, it seems that the discrepancy privately highlighted by Dr. Ruedy was not coincidental, but part of a broader pattern of misrepresentation on the part of GISS. Between 2002 and 2005, GISS chief James Hansen issued press releases headlined "2005 Warmest Year in a Century;" "2006 was Earth's Fifth Warmest Year;" and "The 2002 meteorological year is the second warmest year in the period of accurate instrumental data." In other words, global warming is happening and that immediate action is necessary.

However, as Canadian researcher Steve McIntyre points out, these releases were inconsistent with other NASA documents that suggest that the warmest year in U.S. history was actually 1934. In response to McIntyre, Hansen emailed Dr. Donald E. Anderson, saying that, "If one wished to be scientific, instead of trying to confuse the public … one should note that single year temperatures for an area as small as the U.S. (2% of the globe) are extremely noisy." In a similar email to Dr. Anderson on August 14, 2007, Hansen described the previously touted temperature "records" as "minor," "negligible," and "less than the uncertainty."

In fact, further corrections revealed by the emails indicate that U.S. temperatures on average had only increased by 0.5 degree Celsius since 1934, rather than 1 degree, as originally claimed.

The released emails from both the University of East Anglia and NASA illustrate how far the "scientific consensus" on climate change has been politicized -- to the point of unreliability. Dependent on an alarmist atmosphere for continued government funding, state-sponsored scientific organizations have a strong incentive to hire ideologically committed partisans.

Taken together, these revelations all show that we actually know much less about the workings of the climate than politicized scientists and advocates like Al Gore say we do. Yet virtually all calls to "action" to prevent climate change are based on the belief that the extent to which greenhouse gases have overwhelmed natural forces in affecting the climate is a settled question.

Despite all this, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is forging ahead with its politically motivated finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and need to be expensively regulated. Thankfully, as the evidence of the bankruptcy of much of the "settled" climate science continues to accumulate, public outcry may help bring this politically motivated agenda to an end.


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