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Donald F. Boesch
President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Donald F. Boesch

Donald F. Boesch, an oceanographer, is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Vice Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability for the University System of Maryland. ALL POSTS

A purposeful distraction

Q: Given the furor surrounding the pirated e-mails coming out of the University of East Anglia, what's the real takeaway lesson? Does it say more about the way renowned climate scientists work, or how climate skeptics have operated in shaping the public debate over global warming?

The widely posted Climate Research Unit e-mails are being misrepresented by climate change deniers as evidence that the science supporting human-caused global warming is fatally flawed or, worse, corrupt. By my reading, these informal communications among several leading scientists represent no more than banter among colleagues working to address vexing, data-interpretation challenges and reflect very human reactions to the intense political criticism under which they were working. They are an out-of-context peek into how scientists actually interact, revealing agreements, conflicts, personal feelings and frustration at misrepresentation and shoddy science. Furthermore, most of the scientific controversies discussed years ago in these e-mails are now largely resolved in the open literature.

Scientists are by principle and practice skeptical. However, it is unfortunate that ideological deniers of climate change continue to mislead the public. They focus criticism on scientific reconstructions of past temperatures or the meaning and intent of words in informal e-mails while surrounded by overwhelming array of evidence, much of it incontrovertible and sometimes obvious, that the Earth is heating up and will continue to do so unless we limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The physical realities are that humans are raising CO2 levels; the planet is accumulating heat; the Arctic Ocean is rapidly losing its ice cover; and the loss of ice from glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating, as is sea level. New research is published weekly showing that such changes are progressing generally more rapidly, not less rapidly, than forecast. Additional research predicts that changes in the climate are likely to continue centuries into the future as a result of the human emissions over just the past few decades.

While the CRU email furor reveals scientists as emotional human beings, it speaks volumes on how ideological deniers have misshapen the public debate over human disruption of the global climate. We should not let them distract us from the urgent need to limit that disruption.

By Donald F. Boesch  |  November 24, 2009; 7:35 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg     Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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waterguruguy:
A) Your continual insistence upon some sort of contrived "optimal temperature" for "the betterment of ALL lifeforms" reveals your underlying lack of science education. This mythical idea of a number doesn't even begin to make sense with even a basic understanding of biology or evolutionary ecology.
If you want to restate your point in the sense that a changing climate may [or may not] tangentially benefit humanity based on our current understanding of the repercussions of such a sudden temperature shift, you may do so. But please stop using such an inept straw man argument.
B) I sincerely doubt that the author would lose his position at a university for professing his opinion.
C) Well.. I guess rising sea levels that lead to even higher storm surges than the ones that already cause $5.1 billion and tens of deaths each year during hurricanes isn't that bad if you don't live near the coast and don't care about people who do? *Source: economics.noaa.gov
D) Yes, China and India have cleverly settled for a per-capita emissions reduction to help them develop more. This allows for the potential for unlimited growth, but does not in itself mean that unlimited growth will occur.
E) As you say, the UN declared that we would be above one of the projected positive feedback loops in a couple of decades. Does that mean we should just stop trying to alleviate carbon dioxide concentrations? I (truly, not sarcastically or ironically) do not understand the logic behind your argument.

CCwatson-craigsmith, I'm glad to see that even under the guise of internet anonymity you still debate like an adult. Good point about the Burger King. Seriously.
DBSinoakridge, I don't think a few errant scientists that screwed up actually hold a 'reign of terror' over science.
KGrubb2, you do make an interesting point that the author urges us to read peer-reviewed papers, and that part of the e-mails reflected an attempt to suppress the fairness of that process. However, a small, isolated, but highly publicized event can often disproportionately color one's perception of an overall issue and lead to unjustified generalizations. To suspect that all peer-reviewed papers are flawed because some scientists once talked about manipulating the process is akin to suspecting all Asians of being dangerous psychopaths after the Virginia Tech shootings.

Posted by: zFreed | December 7, 2009 12:19 AM
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presto668...'Sure. And maybe it can cause desertification of vast areas of farmland plus widespread flooding of low-lying areas. It's not something you want to gamble with. Would you want to get in on a raffle where you get $10 million if you win, but you get shot if you lose?'

umm...you never answered the question, you just posited another question..interesting

so you, like ALL scientist, have no idea what the 'optimal' temperature of the earth should be

nice analogy though, but somewhat flawed...flooding and desertification have been happening for centuries...and a new ocean may be forming in the afar desert in ethiopia

global change occurs over many generations, and anyone who tells me that the science is settled, or its the moral thing to do, scares me more than a little bit, and seems to be agenda driven (see galileo)

but if you want to follow, fine, but make sure you follow all the way and please don't cry when many unskilled people have no prospects for meaningful employment...except maybe cut my grass or clean my house, or get me fries with that order...since we decided to pump money into 'green' power generation and not subsidising higher education for ALL citizens

waterguruguy = independent thinking, libertrarian leaning, environmental remediation engineer

Posted by: waterguruguy | November 30, 2009 6:24 PM
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The obvious intent of this illegal theft of information is to try to seed further doubt in people's minds as to whether global warming is caused by us. The political opposition to climate change legislation is being paid for by the likes of Exxon-Mobile and other large energy and oil companies. This is clearly proven by looking at the parent organizations of some of the various websites that have jumped on the release of these emails, claiming it is proof that the scientific world has conspired to block publication of opposing views. Sites like climatedepot.com are all over these emails, in an attempt to raise doubt and influence votes on a future senate vote on the energy bill.

The same thing that happened with Health Care Reform is happening here. Blatant misuse of information, misrepresentations of factual data, and other sneaky actions are aimed at getting more Americans back on the side of the skeptics. We need to look at who is behind these websites, who they worked for, and more importantly, what they now have to gain, or lose.

Posted by: DavidG3 | November 30, 2009 4:43 PM
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The high priests for your religion, you call leading scientist. The skeptical scientist, you call ideological deniers. Then you say that your priest come under intense political criticism. Well, those of use with a brain call your priests frauds. The money wasted on this crap science is astounding, and I for one, want my money back. No mention from you about these priests using strong arm tactics to block skeptical scientists from having their work peer reviewed, but you say we should read the peer reviewed work out there. The jig is up dude.

Posted by: kgrubb2 | November 28, 2009 3:47 AM
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Upon examination, I assert that the quote:
"The widely posted Climate Research Unit e-mails are being misrepresented by climate change deniers as evidence that the science supporting human-caused global warming is fatally flawed or, worse, corrupt. " and what follows - in what I characterize as typing, not writing - in itself represents strong evidence of misrepresentation, is fatally flawed, and makes a strongest possible case in defense of the corrupt.
And that is just plain wrong and indefensible.
The emails ARE evidence of exactly what you weakly attempt to wriggle out of... lies and trickery so that a few can enhance their academic or financial fortunes,
This makes you a truth denier, and that's a very bad thing, is it not? They lied, They were busted and outed.
May their reign of terror against authentic science soon come to an end.

Posted by: dbsinOakRidge | November 25, 2009 3:30 PM
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waterguruguy:
"and could you tell me what the 'optimal' temperature for the betterment of ALL life forms on earth would be? i didn't think so...maybe, just maybe, elevated levels of CO2 would greatly enhance crop yeilds so we could feed the third of earths inhabitants that are starving...and the many more that are on their way in the next few generations"

Sure. And maybe it can cause desertification of vast areas of farmland plus widespread flooding of low-lying areas. It's not something you want to gamble with. Would you want to get in on a raffle where you get $10 million if you win, but you get shot if you lose?

"remember, if you debate with a closed mind, and not open to differing points of view"

This is true. However one's mind must not be so open that one's brains fall out.

Posted by: presto668 | November 25, 2009 3:30 PM
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Professor, I know that learning can sometimes be very difficult. I know it is hard to have to scrap a life's work because false premises were followed, but there is just too much at stake, like the integrity of science, not to mention the economy and our sovereignty,for the likes of you to continue to, knowingly or unknowingly, plot our ruin. I hear that Burger King is hiring.

Posted by: ccwatson-CraigSmith | November 25, 2009 1:59 PM
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rrelph...

excellent post!

i agree wholeheartedly

Posted by: waterguruguy | November 24, 2009 5:50 PM
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'deniers'...'warmistas'...typical ideological rubbish from both sides

global climate change is just that...global

and if i'm skeptical, than so be it...call me galileo and throw me in your jail

and of course you use terms like 'denier'...you're the 'vice chancellor of environmental sustainability', for pete's sake...can you not understand that valid concerns are raised in these emails?

i see, if you actually came out and said that there may be issues, you most certainly would lose your endowed title

maybe?

"...the Arctic Ocean is rapidly losing its ice cover; and the loss of ice from glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating, as is sea level..."

doom-and-gloom

is this a bad thing? and at what rate is the sea rising? 1.8 cm/yr? is this catastrophic? wasn't greenland green recently in geologic time?

and could you tell me what the 'optimal' temperature for the betterment of ALL life forms on earth would be? i didn't think so...maybe, just maybe, elevated levels of CO2 would greatly enhance crop yeilds so we could feed the third of earths inhabitants that are starving...and the many more that are on their way in the next few generations

you must understand that there will be no final accord or resolution on reduction of CO2 emissions that eminates from the talks at Copenhagen, right? China and India have already made a pact that they will show reductions per capita per GNP...which I believe means unlimited population and industrial growth...and China intends on building a new coal fired power plant every week for 10 to 12 years

and the UN has stated that CO2 levels will continue to rise until it peaks around 500 ppmv near 2040 (way past the tipping point of 350 ppmv declared by Hansen), with no stabilization until after 2050...and no one is certain we can lower the concentration below 350 ppmv

but nope, either you believe that the science is settled, or you're labled a 'denier'

it may be that you happen to be the 'denier' once the other shoe drops

as always, thank you for the forum to allow me to express my point of view, even though it may differ from yours or this news organization

remember, if you debate with a closed mind, and not open to differing points of view, you may end up becoming that which you so despise

waterguruguy = independent thinking, libertarian leaning, environmental engineer and avid nature lover and conservationist

Posted by: waterguruguy | November 24, 2009 5:48 PM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zOXmJ4jd-8&feature=player_embedded#

Watch and weep. Every fact you try to present is in really a lie or a twisting of data to fit your environmental "religion". The emails are just the icing on the cake.

Posted by: viperhaze | November 24, 2009 4:54 PM
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I'm sorry Dr. Boesch, but I have to ask: Have you actually read some of the emails?

There's no "science" involved in hiding data and discussing how to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests. That's ANTI-science.

In the "old days", when a scientist published a paper, all the data it was based on was made available to anyone (ANYONE) who asked. Not just "friends".

BTW, I agree that man-made climate change is real and I spend a lot of personal effort to limit my impact on climate. That said, climate models that can't accurately model the past shouldn't be trusted to model the future. Climate models that aren't "open source" are as unreliable as an oil company's shill.

I want answers. Scientific ones. Not political ones. It's great YOU are convinced. But science isn't about who is convinced. It's about the data.

A process that deliberately hides critical data IS corrupt. It may not be fatally flawed. It may even be 100% right. But it isn't trustworthy. And it isn't science. It's politics.

Posted by: rrelph | November 24, 2009 12:41 PM
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