I suppose that it is inevitable that the sensational revelations in the hacked CRU emails have  been labelled Climategate, but is it reasonable to compare what is happening now with the Watergate scandal of nearly forty years ago?

Pat Michaels, climatologist and long-time global warming sceptic, certainly thinks so. When he was interviewed on Fox News by Stuart Varney he suggested:

The other side’s going to say that this story will go away. No! It’s not. There is so much in here its like Watergate. Things are going to come up, and up , and up, and up for the next year.


He may well be right that there are many more revelations to come from the CRU computer files that are now in the public domain. As I pointed out in a previous post, the amount of data is vast and assessing it will be a complex task. Although initial frenzied searches by sceptics have yielded many quotations that apparently reveal sensational wrongdoing, this is just the first stage. In the coming months far more detailed analysis will take place so that the complex relationship between various strands of the email exchanges and the extensive data files can be untangled. This process will takes time, scientific expertise, and a very great deal of patience. Such research is likely at the very least to prompt more questions about just what has been going on at  one of the world’s leading climate change labs.

So is this process likely to be analogous with the dogged investigation carried out by Washington Post reporters Woodward and Burnstein, which revealed the cover-up that was the most devastating aspect of Watergate scandal? It is tantalising to consider what might happen if the initial release of information from CRU emboldens some ‘deep throat’ to divulge even more damaging material, perhaps showing that the unacceptable culture that has been revealed at CRU is not confined to just one institution.Although Pat Michaels is no doubt right to make the comparison between Climate and Watergate on the grounds that this too is likely to be a ‘slow release’ scandal with new stories emerging over a long period, does the similarity end there.?

At the moment, it may seem ridiculous to think that the alleged misdemeanours of a few climate scientists, albeit at a very high profile research centre, could cause the kind of seismic convulsions that led to a US president’s resignation. On the other hand, when the Watergate break-in looked as though it was just the work of a few renegade Republicans, that too seemed pretty parochial. But even at this stage there is nothing parochial about the CRU scandal. The address headers on many of the emails read like a listing of all the great and good of climate science, and extend across the world to a multitude of similar academic institutions. And these lie at the heart of the IPCC process on which global politics depends for its understanding of climate change.

Considering the Wateregate scandal in its historical context, it resulted in the resignation of a single head of state and confirmation that politics in the US could still be a very dirty business. Dramatic, distasteful and prejudicial to the public’s confidence in political leaders this may have been, but essentially the damage was limited to the domestic politics of a single country and a certain tarnishing of its image abroad. In this respect, the potential global impact of Climategate differs markedly from the Watergate scandal.

For over a decade, concern about climate change has increasingly shaped international politics until we find ourselves swept along by a crescendo of demands for action to control Earths climate that will culminate in the Copenhagen Summit next month. This is not a parochial matter. Decisions taken at this meeting are likely to shape global economic well-being and the dynamics or intergovernmental relations for decades to come. This is not only a matter of committing hundreds of billions of dollars probably trillions in the long term to averting and mitigating climate change, on the assumption that this is both necessary and possible. Attempts must also now be made to address a new rift between the developing world, which justifiably claims that historically it has contributed little to Co2 emissions, and those in the developed world who are now requiring their poorer countries to take measures that will prejudice their economic growth so that the planet may be saved.

All the new policies that will be considered at Copenhagen have been dictated by what scientists, and their supporters in the eNGOs, have been telling politicians, policy makers, the media and the general public for a decade. If evidence emerges from the CRU files that experts worldwide have manipulated evidence, downplayed ignorance and uncertainty, and attempted to stifle dissent in the cause of presenting an illusion of consensus, that calls into question all the concerns that have led us down the long and weary road to Copenhagen via Rio and Kyoto.

The potential fallout from Climategate is capable of making Watergate look like a very puny storm in a teacup.

100 Responses to “CRU Email Hack – will Climategate be the new Watergate?”

  1. Brute (75)

    Met Office says:

    “The Met Office is confident that its analysis will eventually be shown to be correct. However, it says it wants to create a new and fully open method of analysing temperature data.”

    Declaring that they will make the method for analyzing future temperature data “new and fully open” is like declaring that they will now close the barn door (after the horse is out).

    The “analysis” of what went wrong in the past will only be meaningful if it is 100% open and transparent, with an outside auditor, such as Steve McIntyre, involved.

    Otherwise, it could just be a white-wash or cover-up, which will end up getting Met Office into even greater trouble than it’s already in.

    These guys have to realize that the game has changed. “Business as usual” (or “trust me, baby”)is no longer an acceptable alternate.


  2. Max,

    Yes, I know……an “internal” audit. I’m certain that it will be thorough and exhaustive.

    Wink, Wink.

    Although, on the bright side, at least they acknowledge that “something” did occur and now have to keep up appearances…………that everything is on the up and up.

  3. India ‘will not sign’ binding emission cuts…


  4. Hi Brute and Max

    I live close to the Met Office in Exeter. On Monday I will be personally delivering a letter addresed to Vicky Pope which contains details of my web site (updated yesterday)


    It includes temperature data pre 1850 plus numerous articles and links so they can back before the 160 years they mention.

    I will be asking the met office to re-examine their patently absurd position here;

    Extract “Before the twentieth century, when man-made greenhouse gas emissions really took off, there was an underlying stability to global climate. The temperature varied from year to year, or decade to decade, but stayed within a certain range and averaged out to an approximately steady level.”

    I will point out that the statement is against ALL the evidence demonstrated in temperature data and observations made for three thousand years.

    I will also invite Vicky Pope and her colleagues to travel a bare 15 miles North to Dartmoor, where some of the most famous examples in the world exist of previous climate chgange. Ruins from the Bronze age and medieval strip systems and farmsteads from the MWP were all abandoned when the inhabitants were forced to leave the moors when the climate cooled.

    I suspect that, like Peter Martin, they will steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the myriad strands of evidence out there that demonstrates that their scientists need to get outside more and stop relying on their computers and statistical manipulation of dubious statistics.


  5. Brute and TonyB

    You posts are spot on regarding the hypocrisy and facts, but let’s look at the human aspect here.


    It has been well established throughout history that success can eventually breed failure.

    Many examples show that individuals who become extremely successful in their fields can succumb to the notion that they are invisible and invincible, and therefore can get away with irresponsible and, in some cases, even illegal behavior without getting caught.

    Just look at some of the examples:

    Richard Nixon (outright illegal)
    Bill Clinton (not illegal, but irresponsible and immoral)
    Kenneth Lay (outright illegal)
    Elliott Spitzer (illegal and immoral)
    John Edwards (irresponsible and immoral)
    And now, sadly for the millions that admired him, Tiger Woods (also irresponsible and immoral)

    In the world of climate science we now have (at least) two more examples:

    Phil Jones
    Michael Mann

    Whether the acts they (and many other “insider” climate scientists) committed were illegal (using taxpayer funding to deceive the taxpayer), irresponsible or just extremely arrogant is still open for decision.

    Then there are the Nobel Prize winning leaders of the IPCC, as well as Al Gore, who has not only been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize, but also a Hollywood Oscar (for his AIT Film)

    Until just a few days ago these climate scientists and AGW proponents were riding high. They proclaimed that man-made warming was irrevocable, that “the science is settled”, that an overwhelming consensus of mainstream scientists support the premise that AGW is a serious threat (“trust us, baby”), that it is now no longer the time for debate, but the time for action.

    These arguments are now all a thing of the past. Cover-ups or simply ignoring the problem will no longer work. In the present time of instant information via the Internet (and sites such as CA, WUWT and Harmless Sky), public opinion is demanding a complete investigation by independent outside auditors, with total transparency.

    Even worse for proponents of the AGW premise is the unequivocal fact that it has been cooling for several years, both at the land surface and in the ocean, despite all-time record increases in atmospheric CO2.

    Despite all the political and media hype and the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, I am convinced that the AGW movement cannot survive this scandal, especially if it continues to cool for another few years, which now looks likely.


  6. Media is digging now! BBC: CRU’s programming ‘way below expected standards’


  7. Bob:

    Your #67: When I said that there was no proof of fraud in the emails I was thinking in terms of the test for a criminal offence: beyond reasonable doubt. Also, in order to prove that a fraud has been committed in this case it would seem necessary also to prove intent.

    The emails may well move things in the direction that you indicate, but until a court, or some other official body, has reached a verdict it is still risky, and I think unfair, to use the term fraud as though it is a fact, however persuasive the evidence may seem.

    Your #73 Patchauri has now spoken – see here:


    There seems to be general agreement that those who have sought to minimise the fallout from Climategate have done a poor job of damage limitation. Arguably, Pachauri’s announcement of an inquiry just days before Copenhagen is a blunder bigger than anything I could convince of.

    Max, #76:

    If the Met Office have any lingering hope that Climategate may blow over I think that this will be extinguished when the release the station data next week.

    So far as I can see from Anthony Watts’s report this will be a subset of 1000 stations out of a total of 5000. No doubt their intention is to retrieve the situation by a display of openness, but in the present climate of suspicion that the CRU emails have created the general reaction is likely to be, ‘How were they selected?’

    Trust in climate science has been destroyed and it will take many years to restore it. Until that happens every piece of new research is likely to be greeted with scepticism even when that is unjustified.

  8. Brute and Max My#79

    This next item really leads on from my intent to deliver a letter to Vicky Pope

    People can forget it if they think there will be any sort of objective investigation of the old temperature records;

    Front Page News in our local paper (covering the Met office area in Exeter) was

    “10 years to save the World” with an exclusive interview by non other than Julia Slingo chief scientist at the Met office!


    This highlights the arrogance we ’sceptics’ are held in and the buckets of whitewash that will accompany the Met office investigation.


  9. TonyN

    You wrote (83) f the proposed Met Office release of data:

    So far as I can see from Anthony Watts’s report this will be a subset of 1000 stations out of a total of 5000. No doubt their intention is to retrieve the situation by a display of openness, but in the present climate of suspicion that the CRU emails have created the general reaction is likely to be, ‘How were they selected?’

    Well, Nixon first released “edited transcripts” of his tapes, and when that didn’t work, three tapes out of the total.

    Déjà vu, all over again…


  10. Brute

    Your youtube on the latest BBC take: ‘CRU’s programming ‘way below expected standards’’ is very interesting, in that it appears to signal a growing interest of the UK MSM in Climategate, as it is starting to get legs.

    Some “take-homes” that I noted:

    “…some climate scientists are suggesting to government that the situation is potentially so damaging that they’d like to see the UK global temperature record re-analysed from scratch to clear the air. That might not be such a bad idea, given some of the fresh concerns about the quality of the programming in question.”

    “John Graham-Cumming is a software engineer; he is not a sceptic on climate change but he is shocked by what he’s seen in the programming.”

    Dr. Cumming stated,

    “If you look at the work that was done here in the alleged CRU files…it is not clearly documented, there is no audit history of what’s happened to it, so it would be below the standard you’d expect in any commercial software.”

    He tells of bugs and errors in the programming language resulting in lost data without any warning to the end user.

    When asked the question of whether he would be comfortable “betting billions or trillions of dollars on this software”, he states that he would not,

    “because it is not obvious what it is doing and why it’s doing it, and that needs to be made clear”.

    Looks like the attempted CRU whitewash (by releasing some of the station data to demonstrate transparency) will fall short of what will eventually be required.


  11. TonyB

    Your local paper article with the quotes by Julia Slingo just goes to show how much out-of-touch she (and Gordon Brown) have become.

    I remember Nixon’s “I am not a crook” Watergate speech, too.

    That was after Haldeman and Ehrlichman had already toppled and John Dean was scrambling to save his own hide.


  12. I picked this link up from the RealClimate website:


    You guys probably don’t go there, and may be unaware of it, but Peter Kelemen, Professor of geochemistry at Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Earth and Environmental Sciences is obviously a very bright guy and his opinion, even if you disagree with it, is well worth a read.

  13. TonyN, TonyB, Brute

    You have all commented on the UK MSM suddenly catching on. Here’s another one from the slowly awakening BBC News:
    “Himalayan glaciers melting deadline ‘a mistake’”

    The report cites a quotation from the latest IPCC AR4 report

    “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.”

    Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2035,”

    Turns out they got the timing wrong. Instead of “disappearing by the year 2035” (i.e. 28 years after the report was published), it now looks like the study upon which the IPCC statement was made said something quite different:

    “The extrapolar glaciation of the Earth will be decaying at rapid, catastrophic rates – its total area will shrink from 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2350.”

    That’s 322 years after AR4, not 28.

    Oh well, you can’t get them all right. But why do all of the errors have to go in the same direction?


  14. Sorry for typo (89). I’s actually 342 years from now (not 322)

  15. Peter M

    Yes, I have read Peter Kelemen’s treatise on the CRU emails from 1 December. It is a reasoned opinion. He does comment that the email advising destruction or withholding of data was unethical, but otherwise supports CRU.

    This is a fast-moving process and I think that more recent developments (Jones’ step-down, the poor CRU programming as exposed by BBC news, etc.) make Keleman’s comments a bit out-of-date already, though.

    What is required now is total transparency (as Keleman also states) and an independent audit, not a whitewash or cover-up job. It’s too late for that, because the cat is out of the bag.


  16. Peter M

    BTW I have been back at RC. Gavin is still censoring out some stuff that he feels is irrelevant or unsubstantiated (or he basically disagrees with), but has become much more open and incredibly active on his site as the CRU whistle-blowing (or hack) scandal is developing.

    Join in on the fun, yourself!


  17. Max, #89

    I’ve never seen anything quite like that on the BBC website before, with the possible exception of John Christy’s take on the IPCC. But then he could be written off as a sceptic.

    Perhaps someone on the top floor has panicked and wants some more balance fast just in case the BBC has to justify its coverage of AGW.

  18. TonyN, Reur 93, in part:

    I’ve never seen anything quite like that on the BBC website before, … …Perhaps someone on the top floor has panicked and wants some more balance fast just in case the BBC has to justify its coverage of AGW.

    Sadly, there is little interest here in the Oz MSM or the ABC yet that I’ve seen, which frankly, I find rather surprising, putting aside that the ABC radio “Science Show” host, main TV current affairs (Lateline) host, and a popular radio chat host are all rampant warmists.

    Andrew Bolt, of the Sydney Herald Sun is still plugging away though:


    BTW, I found Google hits on ‘Climategate’ somewhat higher than Andrew quotes, at ~31,300,000, a moment ago.

  19. I hate to be a wet blanket, really I do, but a look at today’s papers should dispel any idea that the mainstream media are seeing the light. On the positive side, Booker’s article in the Telegraph receives some excellent thoughtful comments, dispelling fears that Climategate would result in a diluting of the standard of sceptical discourse. It seems everyone with a science A-level is now a sceptic, which only leaves 95% of the population to convince – including all the journalists and politicians…
    On the other side, Nick Cohen in the Observer is saying that being sceptical about climate change is playing into the hands of Putin and Chavez (!?!) and the Independent is running the story from the IPCC vice-chairman that Climategate is the work of paid Russian hackers.

    But I do like these quotes from the Independent article:
    “.. the Copenhagen talks … will attempt to … hold the coming rise in temperatures to C, which is regarded as the limit of what the world can safely cope with.
    Professor Bob Watson, former head of the IPCC and Defra’s chief scientific adviser .. dismissed Britain’s goal of getting a C deal as a pipe dream: “I think unless we’ve got incredibly strong action almost immediately, it is going to get close to virtually impossible to meet a C target. We cannot stop climate change.”

    Environmental journalism in a nutshell. Write the article first, fill in the figures after (but don’t forget to fill in the figures – any figures).

  20. geoffchambers (95)

    Nick Cohen’s left-wing polemic tirade (“if you believe climate change is a lie, your logic will lead you into the arms of Putin and Chavez”) is hardly enlightening. It is a clear diversionary tactic to try to get eyes off of the “Climategate” scandal.

    But I did not see any reference to a Russian ex IPCC Vice Chairman.

    Presumably this would have been Prof. Yuri Izrael, who is quoted as having stated:

    “the Kyoto Protocol is overly expensive, ineffective and based on bad science.”

    “climate change is obvious, but science has not yet been able to identify the causes of it,” and, “there is no proven link between human activity and global warming.”

    “I think the panic over global warming is totally unjustified. There is no serious threat to the climate,”

    “There is no need to dramatize the anthropogenic impact, because the climate has always been subject to change under Nature’s influence, even when humanity did not even exist.”

    Strong talk, for an IPCC Vice Chairman.


  21. Manacker #96
    The unsubstantiated accusations from the (not Russian) vice chairman of the IPCC are at
    I’d hardly describe Nick Cohen’s tirade as left-wing. Stalinist, yes.

  22. Geoff:

    Re: The Independent article.

    Isn’t it amusing – and nostalgic – to read about ‘reds under beds’ again after all these years; particularly when you think about who is looking for them.

  23. geoffchambers

    Thanks for clarification on who made claim of Russian hackers.

    “This was not a job for amateurs,” said Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele”

    That appears certain, but whether the “non amateurs” were CRU insiders or Russian hackers is not substantiated in any way. Other sources have intimated that insiders were at work, but so far, no one really knows. An investigation may tell us more.

    It really doesn’t matter that much, either. Once Pandora’s Box has been opened by whistle-blowers, it is hardly important who opened it.

    As far as “left-wing” or “Stalinist”, I won’t argue semantics with you here. The article was a polemic tirade in either case.


  24. I’ve never seen modern climate science so clearly explained


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