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  1. This transcript is for educational purposes only.
  3. "Climategate Revisited" Broadcast on BBC4 radio on October 31st 2012 at 9pm GMT:-
  5. Continuity announcer: This is BBC Radio 4. Three years ago thousands of documents were obtained from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia and released online in the affair that became known as Climategate. Chris Vallance examines the continuing legacy of this incident in "Climategate revisited".
  7. Gavin Schmidt: So I woke up on - I think it was a Tuesday morning - and at the time the first thing that I would do on waking up would be to check the blog. And so I tried to log on and I couldn't log on for some reason and I thought "Oh, there's something odd there".
  9. Chris Vallance: On November 17th, 2009, New York based NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt discovered a break-in in progress. His blog - RealClimate - was being hijacked.
  11. Gavin Schmidt: We interrupted them just as they were about to go live. They were drafting a post that would have announced the emails to the world from our site. There was a big file of all these emails and so I started looking through this and going "Oh, this is very strange, I wonder where this came from?". It was quite clear that it came from the University of East Anglia and so I notified some colleagues there and I said "You guys - I think you've been hacked".
  13. Chirs Vallance: Although Schmidt had slammed shut the water-tight doors to RealClimate the flood of information could not be stopped. Thousands of private documents and emails obtained from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit were soon posted elsewhere online. A global media storm was about to break and it quickly became known as Climategate.
  15. News reader: The headlines this morning: The UN says it will investigate claims that British experts manipulated scientific data about the effects of global warming.
  17. News reporter: In one of the emails the unit's director Professor Phil Jones talked of using "a trick" with data - though he says the word was meant as "a clever device".
  19. Another news reporter: ... are calling this Climategate. They point to requests to delete email correspondence and apparent attempts to keep raw temperature data away from the public.
  21. Another news reporter: Climategate set to break wide open; new developments today involving those hacked emails from Britain suggesting scientists are fudging data to make their case.
  23. Chris Vallance: Previously undisclosed emails between leading climate scientists were revealed and quoted with glee by their opponents around the world; such as the Fox News presenter Glenn Beck:
  25. Glenn Beck: Kevin Tentberth [sic] - he's a climatologist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research - he wrote "The fact is we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it's a travesty that we cant". How about Phil Jones? "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is." Here's Phil Jones writing Michael Mann - the scientist that came up with that hockey stick graph - he said "Mike, can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith RE: AR4. Keith will do likewise".
  27. Chris Vallance: The thousands of documents covered everything from detailed scientific technicalities to caustic views on criticism from sceptics and tactics on how Freedom of Information requests should be handled. To some the emails lifted the lid on a murky world of scientific misconduct. To others these were informally-worded exchanges misrepresented to further a political agenda. And the dispute was bitter.
  29. Steven McIntyre: I know the ins-and-outs of what happened in that diagram as well - or better - than anybody and I can guarantee you it was a deceit.
  31. Chris Vallance: That's Steven McIntyre; a Canadian mathematician and a prominent sceptic blogger. Next is Michael Mann; a scientist caught up in the controversy and a leading American climatologist:
  33. Michael Mann: These lies about us as climate scientist, these lies about the science of climate change being used in such a disingenuous way to try to essentially hijack the discussion of what to do about climate change.
  35. Chris Vallance: For him there is nothing in the disclosures to undermine the core scientific consensus.
  37. Michael Mann: There are certain propositions that are about as accepted as anything in science when it comes to climate change and one of those is that we are, in fact, warming the planet. The science is in on this - the national academies of all the major industrial nations, including the UK - are on record as stating that human-caused climate change is real and that it does represent a threat.
  39. Chris Vallance: The story broke just before a major United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen. It was now an international incident. Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory of Norfolk Police swallowed hard and launched an investigation.
  41. Julian Gregory: It was a case that caused me to take a deep breath. When I was first briefed - one night at home - it was very apparent to me that there would be significant global interest in it. If you then make the link through to the publication of the data in a way which would appear to have been intended to influence the climate conference - and world-wide debate on climate change - you then get right to the highest level that this has got the potential to influence every person on this planet.
  43. Chris Vallance: Some argue Climategate was the work of a leaker, a whistle-blower, but the police investigation treated it as a criminal breach of the Computer Misuse Act. But nearly three years later, in July of this year, they admitted defeat. The inquiry was closed.
  45. News reader: Police described the hacking as sophisticated and orchestrated and said there was no realistic chance of finding those responsible within the three-year time limit imposed by the law.
  47. Chris Vallance: Back in 2009 Climategate stoked the fires of an already white-hot dispute between some climate change sceptics and mainstream scientists. Sceptic bloggers like Steve McIntyre had been trying for some time to get scientific data from the University of East Anglia: submitting a barrage of Freedom of Information requests. Now there was a deluge of material sitting on a Russian webserver. One of those interested was Andrew Montford: a sceptic who's written books on Climategate and calls his blog Bishop Hill:
  49. Andrew Montford: I found out probably three or four hours after the news first broke. So I got hold of the emails and basically spent the next 24 hours reading them and writing blog posts about them. My initial reaction was that it was too good to be true: there could be traps in there, there could be fakes. But once people realised the magnitude of the email disclosures it was fairly clear that they couldn't have been faked; there was simply too much detail in there.
  51. Chris Vallance: Was there a lot of excitement within what one could call the sceptic blogosphere?
  53. Andrew Montford: Absolutely. There was huge excitement. This confirmed what we had saying for years and, yes, it was vindication.
  55. Chris Vallance: NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt, from RealClimate, wasn't so excited:
  57. Gavin Schmidt: There were a lot of my emails in there and suddenly we had to be providing context and explanations for all sorts of random, out-of-context, quotes.
  59. Chris Vallance: What was the immediate impact?
  61. Gavin Schmidt: A tsunami of misinformation.
  63. Chris Vallance: The point of this programme is not to assess the rights and wrongs of the dispute. Instead, three years on, we're looking at some of the continuing consequences of the affair on politics, the media, public opinion and science. And exploring why the person, or persons, behind it may never face criminal prosecution. We begin with one result of Climategate; observable to anyone who tries to visit the academic team at the heart of the controversy. ... I'm at the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. There's a steady stream of students coming past but this was the centre of the Climategate row and here at the door is some evidence of how heated an issue it became. The intercom has been covered by a block of wood. The door: a new key entry system and it's kept locked and University of East Anglia staff here say that's because of the level of press interest from media organisations in the UK and around the world. At the CRU there's still an air of mistrust of the media. Why, we were asked, did we want to dredge up this issue again? The scientists most involved did not want to record interviews about their recollections of the time. The Unit's head - Professor Phil Jones - who's emails attracted some of the fiercest criticism has talked of receiving death threats and admitted to buckling under the pressure. Professor Andrew Watson is a close colleague in the UEA school of environmental sciences:
  65. Andrew Watson: It rapidly became something of a nightmare and the really emotionally draining thing is that the internet explodes against you and some of it was very disturbing. Everybody felt under siege and we were called together and told that the Daily Mail was camped outside and we shouldn't talk to them and all that kind of stuff. And we found ourselves painted as villains, as conspiracists [sic]: as the dark side.
  67. Chris Vallance: However in a lab not far from the Climatic Research Unit another UEA scientist - Paul Dennis - thinks both sides need to moderate their language. He's a geochemist who says he's open-minded about the extent of the human contribution to global warming:
  69. Paul Dennis: The key problem is that it's often presented as a majority of scientists and then the minority are whackos or deniers or something else. They're not. They're intelligent people who are coming to a different conclusion from the same sets of data. I've seen horrific language on both sides of the debate. It's not very pleasant if it's directed against you as somebody who's active in climate science. It's not very nice if it's directed against you as somebody who is on the sceptic side of the debate as well.
  71. Chris Vallance: As the CRU scientists struggled to cope world leaders were gathering for the Copenhagen climate change summit which took place in December 2009. The Danish politician Connie Hedegaard - now EU Commissioner for Climate Action - presided over the conference well aware of the Climategate disclosures.
  73. Connie Hedegaard: It came at a time that it was very, very hard to consider that that should have been a coincidence. That was, at least, very much how I saw that also in Copenhagen.
  75. Chris Vallance: Did it have an effect on the negotiations?
  77. Connie Hedegaard: I do not know if it had an effect on the negotiations but I think it had an impact on what came after. I still think that what lacked in Copenhagen in the end that was the political will of the parties but I think that in the time after Copenhagen it was so easy for people just to point to this and say "Oh there is doubt". And I think that it also impacted the press. So in that sense it also made a negative impact.
  79. Chris Vallance: So even if the Copenhagen summit failed for other, more fundamental political, reasons is Hedegaard right that a longer-term legacy of Climategate was a change in the media?
  81. Bob Ward: So we're in my office and in front of me is a filing cabinet and on top of it are three big stacks of newspaper here, yellowing newspaper, then it's the collection of coverage of climate change in the months around the big UN ...
  83. Chris Vallance: Bob Ward is from the London School of Economics.
  85. Bob Ward: ... and it includes that coverage of the Climategate controvesy itself.
  87. Chris Vallance: Do you mind if we dip in at random?
  89. Bob Ward: Sure. So this is basically The Times from the Janurary the 28th 2010. Here's a headline - it's on the front of The Times: "Scientists in stolen emails scandal hid climate data". So that was an example of the kind of front-page coverage that these controversies were getting which caused so much damage to public trust.
  91. Chris Vallance: And, he says, the impact has continued:
  93. Bob Ward: Surveys of the media show that the UK newspapers have become far more sceptic in the last two years and I think that's definitely a direct result of the emails.
  95. Fiona Harvey: I'm Fiona Harvey. I'm the environment correspondent for The Guardian. I think it had a huge impact on the press. It came as a major shock in climate change terms. In terms of sort of the way people who were looking at the science. The other way in which it changed things was that there was a lot more pressure to put climate sceptics in the story. Now; in some ways that's a good thing but in other way it can be rather distorting.
  97. Chris Vallance: And where was that pressure coming from?
  99. Fiona Harvey: From editors. I think editors all over the place were thinking that.
  101. Chris Vallance: There was suddenly a feeling that you couldn't just have the view of scientists: you had to have the other side in the story as well?
  103. Fiona Harvey: Yes; and more prominantly. And in some ways it's good to have a range of voices but you have to acknowledge that, actually, to give equal weight to climate sceptics - given the mainstream view of climate science - is a distortion.
  105. Chris Vallance: So what do sceptical bloggers think? Andrew Montford shares his thoughts with the world at his blog, Bishop Hill:
  107. Andrew Montford: The media have realised as a result of Climategate that there is a huge pool of knowledge out there that they can tap into. We can tell them the other point of view and I think that's extremely important. For the first two or three years I think there was a lot more openness toward sceptics. In the last six months to a year there has been a big pushback against that and particularly the BBC now talks about false balance a lot and doesn't like to give sceptic views an airing.
  109. Chris Vallance: Nigel Lawson founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2009 in part to encourage the media to become more balanced in its coverage of climate change. The foundation has caught flak from some quarters for demanding transparency in science while being merely translucent about its own sources of funding. So where does the money come from?
  111. Nigel Lawson: Well I started, or course, with friends of mine, as one would, and my wealthier friends obviously. They tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person; that's why they can see the flaws in the conventional wisdom.
  113. Chris Vallance: Last year a BBC review of its science coverage concluded that it should avoid giving as much exposure to marginal viewpoints as to the mainstream scientific consensus. Lord Lawson is not impressed with the BBC's reporting:
  115. Nigel Lawson: I think, with the exception of the BBC: which on this issue is a completly propagandist outfit and has no objectivity at all, with the exception of the BBC - and I'm glad you're allowing me to say this on your programme - there has been a marked move in the media.
  117. Chris Vallance: For some Climategate had another effect on the media. Fiona Fox is from the Science Media Centre which provides media support for scientists:
  119. Fiona Fox: All of us felt like this is a critical moment and to some extent something changed and those journalists have since been scrutinizing climate science to a greater degree. And you know what? I think that's good. I'm really conscious that when we ran climate science briefings - prior to that - people quite often packed up before the end of the hour and went to file because they had; "We're close to the tipping point", "It's worse than ever before", front-page story, catastrophic climate change. But what they didn't do was say "Show me that graph again". Briefings now: they do that. And one of the things I kept saying throughout this is "Everything I know about climate science, that I've learned in this job, is that it can stand up to better journalism. And if the outcome of this is better journalism, more scrutiny then good: bring it on.
  121. Chris Vallance: And it has been brought on. In print and online Climategate still generates interest, discussion and all-too-often anger. But away from the lab and the laptop how far has this detailed and complex scientific row filtered down to the man or woman in the street? What impact has Climategate had on public opinion? Peter Kellner is from the polling organisation YouGov:
  123. Peter Kellner: The immediate impact of Climategate was to make millions of voters in Britain, America and other countries sceptical of the scientific consensus. YouGov found that just after Climategate broke that only 41% of the public trusted the scientists on climate change and that distrust seems to have carried on.
  125. Chris Vallance: For Lord Lawson the explanation is simple:
  127. Nigel Lawson: It affected public opinion on two grounds. First of all it showed that scientists, or at least some scientists, were not the paragons of rectitude which they wished to present themselves as. And also the ordinary person feels - if they had such a good case - why would they engage in such tricky and disreputable behaviour?
  129. Chris Vallance: And you think that view persists?
  131. Nigel Lawson: I suspect it does, yes, and understandably.
  133. Chris Vallance: But for the prominent sceptic Steve McIntyre, who runs the Climate Audit blog, it was more to do with how climate scientists behaved after the disclosures:
  135. Steven McIntyre: The climate community - if they wanted to maintain the public regard for their field - needed to be offended by things like tricks to hide the decline. They needed to say, "This is not how we do things in this field and if we have done it in the past we're sorry: we're not going to do it in the future". And the same with the refusals of data and all that they'd say, "Look; this is unacceptable". They've drawn back into a situation where they say, "Well our only problem is climate communications".
  137. Chris Vallance: The LSE's Bob Ward disagrees with McIntyre about the reliability of the science but when it comes to the issue of openness there is some common ground:
  139. Bob Ward: Despite there being a number of independent investigations - which pretty much cleared the scientists of any suggestion that they'd been fiddling their data or behaving inappropriately in terms of the science - it's quite clear that they weren't being as transparent as they should be. And I think that is a long-standing legacy. The problem is that when you lose the public's trust you cannot expect it just to go back to what it was before. You have to work very hard to earn that confidence and trust again.
  141. Chris Vallance: As Ward indicates there have been a number of inquiries into various aspects of the affair. These have rejected the charges of falsifying data but upheld some other accusations against some of the scientists: such as a lack of openness. The sceptics and the scientists disagree, unsurprisingly, on how good the reviews were. Here's Steve McIntyre, followed by the climatologist Michael Mann and the blogger Andrew Montford:
  143. Steven McIntyre: I wasn't interviewed by any of them. Any inquiry that is seriously trying to resolve a situation has to involve all the concerned communities and interests. So it's a pretty unimpressive performance.
  145. Michael Mann: The very individuals who were claiming that these leaked emails indicated impropriety, misconduct and such; they were allowed to make input into the inquiry process. The critics would like you to believe that their voices weren't heard but it simply isn't true and so in their mind the fact that their charges are found to be without merit simply must indicate that the entire system is corrupt. I mean it's the sort of conspiracy theory spiral that undermines the possibility of talking about anything factual.
  147. Andrew Montford: I think there's absolutely no doubt that there was no conspiracy. All the inquiries were deficient for their own reasons. So if I was running the country there would be a public inquiry into Climategate because the people who have been tasked with investigating it have failed to do so.
  149. Chris Vallance: But has all this made any difference to scientific practice? The scientists argue that the email releases do nothing to undermine the fundamentals of the science. The work at UEA on the temperature records was only one particular aspect of climate research; although an important one. But perhaps there's a broader question. Mike Hulme is another professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia:
  151. Mike Hulme: If we look at the three years leading up to Climategate, and we look at all the papers that were published in the scientific literature about climate change, and then we look at all the papers published in the three years after Climategate - and then we say, "What proportion of those papers about climate change also in their abstract used the phrase 'uncertainty'?" There's a 50% increase. And I would suggest that that is a direct consequence of the sort of readjustment in practice that occurred after the controversies around Climategate. The climate scientists were much more careful not to over-claim.
  153. Chris Vallance: Okay, Professor Hulme, but could that be a small increase from a low base?
  155. Mike Hulme: Well, okay so, the figures are roughly around about from 6% of all papers to 9%. Whether that's low or high depends on how you interpret the data.
  157. Chris Vallance: As he says; that's up to you. Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre thinks Climategate may lead to healthier debate:
  159. Fiona Fox: Some of the really intelligent debates that have come out of Climategate have been those where people admitted, "I, as a scientist, didn't want to be as open about the uncertainties" because of this war they were in. They were on a war footing and rather than thinking about communicating the best possible science in the most accurate and measured way they were also thinking over their shoulder about how it would be recieved by the sceptics. But they have to somehow work out a way of behaving as scientists rather than behaving as if we're in a war. Because that would distort the best science. And that will be exposed.
  161. Chris Vallance: Last November in the run-up to another UN climate conference a second batch of thousands of emails from the Climatic Research Unit was released on the internet. It was called "Climategate II". But these were less dramatic than the first set and attracted much less attention. There are still many more CRU internal documents locked up in a password-protected file which could be unveiled at any moment. Perhaps, judging by previous events, this might happen ahead of this year's climate summit in December. Somewhere someone will be weighing up that decision now knowing that the police have given up trying to identify the perpetrator. ... We're just across from a roundabout, behind us is a garden centre and in front of us is the tall radio mast and the red brick of Norfolk Police Headquarters. In November 2009 this building because the hub for a global cyber-crime inquiry. Responsibility for piecing together the story of how the emails were obtained fell on the shoulders of Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory. He was convinced it was a breach of the Computer Misuse Act. ... So this is the Climate Research Unit's website as it would have looked back in 2009. The front page shows a picture of the unit, there's also a graph showing a rise in global air temperature from around the 1860's up to the past decade. Julian Gregory's account of what happened begins with the computer - the webserver - that hosted this site:
  163. Julian Gregory: The attacks were into a webserver in the Climate Research Unit and from there access was gained through to a back-up server and that's where, if you like, everybody's machines backed up on a single server and that's where the data was taken from.
  165. Chris Vallance: And how did they get into the servers?
  167. Julian Gregory: Without going into the specific detail: an attack was made on a password file.
  169. Chris Vallance: Intriguingly Gregory revealed that there was an attempt to frame an innocent party - someone who had the right to access the system - by leaving a false trail in the logs or records of activity on the servers:
  171. Julian Gregory: There was some attempt to mislead us: to point us in the direction of another individual legitimately accessing the webserver so we followed that line of inquiry and were able to eliminate that person.
  173. Chris Vallance: So who was this sophisticated attacker? Speculation continues online that this was an inside job: a leaker or a whistle-blower. Many such incidents are. The police, too, considered the possibility:
  175. Julian Gregory: We spoke to people who were connected with the Climate Research Unit but once we'd established that it was an attack from the outside then obviously that line of enquiry took on a lot less significance. So I can't 100% say that it wasn't an internal person or a whistle-blower or whatever you like to call it but all the indications were that it wasn't.
  177. Chris Vallance: Although, of course, an insider could decide to hack in from the outside perhaps in order to disguise their identity. But Gregory does see a possible link to the series of Freedom of Information requests sent to the CRU:
  179. Julian Gregory: I'm hypothesising here: you know I can't say for sure that the apparently orchestrated campaign of FOI requests is directly linked to the hack. But there is a potential link.
  181. Chris Vallance: There's, if you like, an association between the FOI's and the hack that is suggested?
  183. Julian Gregory: Yes that would be right. It's suggested but we can't prove it.
  185. Chris Vallance: It's a theory roundly rejected by Steve McIntyre who encouraged his blog readers to make requests:
  187. Steven McIntyre: I think that's about as misguided a theory as exists and I think that the police wasted a lot of time pursuing the FOI inquirers. So, for example, I was interviewed by a British anti-terrorist officer about my views on climate and my first reaction was, "Well shouldn't you be investigating Al-Queda or something like that?"
  189. Chris Vallance: The inquiry had assistance from counter-terrorism specialists and other teams but it was still unable to build a chain of evidence from the crime to a perpetrator. Is there somebody you suspect?
  191. Julian Gregory: No. No the hypothesis, unfortunately, remains today where it started. It ranges from a lone individual through to commercial and governmental interests. You know; you look at a subject matter and it could have been anyone on that spectrum. We can't say.
  193. Chris Vallance: So the police investigation ran out of evidence and it ran out of time. Prosecutions under the relevant part of the Computer Misuse Act have a three year time limit. In a few weeks the hacker, or leaker or whoever they are will be beyond the reach of that law. With the second tranche of emails that appeared online last year the person responsible also included a text statement of their own; read here by my laptop:
  195. Synthetic voice: Today's decisions should be based on all the information we can get and not on hiding the decline. This archive contains some 5,000 emails picked from keyword searches ...
  197. Chris Vallance: With the threat of prosecution soon over perhaps the mysterious instigator of Climategate will choose to step out of the shadows. Then they can explain to supporters and critics alike what they see as the real legacy of Climategate.
  199. Continuity announcer: "Climategate Revisited" was presented by Chris Vallance and produced by Martin Rosenbaum.
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