It was the “final nail in the coffin” of global warming science, declared James Delingpole of London’s Daily Telegraph, the moment you should start dumping shares in renewable energy companies.
Lord Monckton announced that it proved beyond doubt “the abject corruption of climate science”.
“The reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished”, thundered Lord Lawson and in the United States Senator James Inhofe went so far as to recommend that all those involved should be chased down for criminal prosecution.
Our own Lord of Blog Andrew Bolt declared it “a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science”, an outrage in which leading scientists were guilty of “conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more”.
Across the globe, denialists were cock-a-hoop. At last, the leaking of emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia had vindicated everything they believed, even the conspiracy theories about which they were a little embarrassed.
Except that the leaked emails that sent the denial industry into a heart-stopping frenzy have turned out to be the mouse that squeaked. That roar we heard was generated in the denialist echo chamber.
Today the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons brought down its report into “Climategate”. What did it find?
1. There was nothing untoward behind the “trick” used to “hide the decline” in the temperature record. The phrases were colloquial terms without any sinister implications. The Committee found that the “evidence patently fails to support” the claim that these words reveal a conspiracy to hide evidence that does not fit with global warming, and that CRU Director Professor Phil Jones has “no case to answer”.
2. The results and conclusions of CRU research have been independently verified by other methodologies and other sources of data. The Unit’s analyses “have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified”.
3. There is no evidence to suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process.
4. While 95 per cent of the CRU data have been publicly available for years and some of the remainder is subject to confidentiality agreements with overseas organisations, the report did find that CRU scientists had refused to hand over their data to climate “sceptics” and the University may have breached the Freedom of Information Act.
Despite this finding, the Committee wrote that it “can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.”
The University of East Anglia had submitted that in “July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU”, which helps to explain why the Committee noted a “culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics”.
The Committee blamed the failure to release data on the relevant officers at the University who should have stepped in to over-rule the scientists. “We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced”, concluded the Committee, and recommended Jones be reinstated.
So, no conspiracy, no collusion, no manipulation of data, no corruption of the peer-review process, no scandal; just an understandable reluctance to hand over data to dishonest people with a history of misrepresenting it.
Squibs don’t get much damper than “Climategate”. The most worrying aspect of the drama was the way in which most of the media ditched any attempt at assessing the claims and became caught up in the frenzy, when a couple of hours spent reading the emails and talking to one of two of those involved would have made the conclusions of the House of Commons inquiry entirely predictable.
Clive Hamilton is an Australian author and public intellectual.