Moderator: Henry D. Jacoby
'76, PhD '78
Ronald G. Prinn
December 10, 2009
The hacking of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in November rocked the world of climate change science, energized global warming skeptics, and threatened to derail policy negotiations at Copenhagen. These panelists, who differ on the scientific implications of the released emails, generally agree that the episode will have long-term consequences for the larger scientific community.
“What we have here,” says Kerry Emanuel, are “thousands of emails collectively showing scientists hard at work, trying to figure out the meaning of evidence that confronts them. Among a few messages, there are a few lines showing the human failings of a few scientists…” Emanuel believes that “scientifically, it means nothing,” because the controversy doesn’t challenge the overwhelming evidence supporting anthropogenic warming. He is far more concerned with the well-funded “public relations campaign” to drown out or distort the message of climate science, which he links to “interests where billions, even trillions are at stake...” This “machine … has been highly successful in branding climate scientists as a bunch of sandal-wearing, fruit-juice drinking leftist radicals engaged in a massive conspiracy to return us to agrarian society…”
Richard Lindzen professes he has “no idea” what Emanuel is talking about -- if a “machine” exists, it’s on the “other side,” marginalizing those who disagree on the science. The release of emails is likely due “to a whistleblower who couldn’t take it anymore.” Lindzen sees evidence in the correspondence of “things that are unethical and in many cases illegal,” including the refusal to allow outsiders access to data, and the willingness to destroy data rather than release it. He believes that since it’s hard to read the documents “and not conclude that bad things are going on,” this will have a negative impact on “popular support for science.” There are “scandals, cheating and arguments” over research dealing with tiny increments of temperature change, Lindzen speculates, because so many scientists and ordinary people are invested in the idea of dramatic, human-based warming -- “People are being thrown catastrophes.”
“The imprudent language in the email cache reflects scientists’ enormous frustration with the tactics of their opponents,” says Judith Layzer. Climate change poses a serious new challenge for scientists: “On the one hand, they perceive it as sufficiently urgent that they’re willing to go to great lengths, use language they wouldn’t ordinarily, to try to persuade the public. On the other hand, they face the most sophisticated campaign of skepticism ever assembled, and one that consistently violates protocols they’re accustomed to.” The moderate language of science, with its emphasis on the weight of evidence, can’t compete with attacks that discredit models, “which by their very nature are fishy to nonscientists.” Careless email communications gave the public a harsh reminder that scientists “are human, fallible and not always judicious.”
The email controversy, says Stephen Ansolabehere creates uncertainty about the scientific debate, and will lead to greater scrutiny by the public – which is “healthy.” Since climate change is a grand scale problem with impacts on multiple dimensions of society, the “question we must ask ourselves now is, “Who will police science and how can science maintain credibility as it gets into public debates?” Scientists, as private citizens, are free to engage in political debates, but “must be especially careful about maintaining research standards and methods.” Scientists will find in the future “they must be even more scrupulous about maintaining research standards because more is at stake than getting the next paper published…”
After combing through the emails, Ronald Prinn has reached several conclusions: Some exchanges dealing with modeling natural variability in temperatures over hundreds of years were “personal in nature,” and “unprofessional.” The research of the scientists accused of manipulating data is not central to the argument for anthropogenic climate change, nor has it compromised the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, although the public perception of climate science has certainly been affected. Climate researchers, Prinn concludes, “must step back from the tendency to polarization.” More important, they must communicate better to the public that multiple approaches and critical analyses are the norm in climate science and that legitimate science is found in peer-reviewed literature, “not in blogs or in opinion pieces that go into newspapers.”
About the Speakers
Moderator: Henry D. Jacoby
Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management
Co-Director, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, MIT
Henry "Jake" Jacoby studies policy and management in the areas of energy, natural resources, and the environment, writing widely on these topics, including five books. He is a former Chair of the MIT Faculty, and former Director of the Harvard Environmental Systems Program, former Director of CEEPR, and former Associate Director of the MIT Energy Laboratory. He currently serves on the Scientific Committee for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program and on the Climate Research Committee of the U.S. National Research Council. His current research is focused on economic analysis of climate change and greenhouse gas mitigation, and the integration of this work with the natural science of the issue.
Jacoby received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1957, an M.P.A. in Public Administration from Harvard University in 1963, and a Ph.D. in Economics, also from Harvard University, in 1967.
Kerry Emanuel '76, PhD '78
Breene M. Kerr Professor of Atmospheric Science, Department of Earth, Atmospheric Science and Planetary Sciences, MIT
Kerry Emanuel has been on the faculty of MIT since 1981. He was previously at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on tropical meteorology and climate, with a specialty in hurricane physics. His interests also include cumulus convection, and advanced methods of sampling the atmosphere in aid of numerical weather prediction. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and two books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, (2005, Oxford University Press).
Emanuel received his S.B. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT, and earned a Ph.D. in Meteorology from MIT in 1978.
Judith Layzer PhD '99
Edward and Joyce Linde Career Development Associate Professor of Environmental Policy, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Judith Layzer focuses on the roles of science, values, and storytelling in environmental politics, as well as on the effectiveness of different approaches to environmental planning and management. Now in its second edition, Layzer’s book, The Environmental Case: Translating Values Into Policy (CQ Press, 2006) describes 16 prominent cases of environmental policymaking. She has also published Natural Experiments: Ecosystem Management and the Environment (MIT Press, 2008).
With JoAnn Carmin, Layzer co-directs the Environmental Policy and Planning group’s Society, Business and the Environment Project. She also directs the soon-to-be-unveiled Urban Sustainability Project @ MIT.
Professor of Political Science, MIT
Professor of Government, Harvard University
Stephen Ansolabehere studies elections, democracy, and the mass media. He is coauthor (with Shanto Iyengar) of The Media Game (Macmillan, 1993) and of Going Negative: How Political Advertising Alienates and Polarizes the American Electorate (The Free Press, 1996). Ansolabehere is also a member of the Cal Tech/MIT Voting Project. which was established in 2000 to prevent a recurrence of the problems that threatened the 2000 US Presidential election.
Ansolabehere received a B.S. in Economics and B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.
Ronald G. Prinn SCD '71
TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT Director, Center for Global Change Science; Co-Director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change
Ronald Prinn's research interests incorporate the chemistry, dynamics, and physics of the atmospheres of the Earth and other planets, and the chemical evolution of atmospheres. He is currently involved in a wide range of projects in atmospheric chemistry and biogeochemistry, planetary science, climate science, and integrated assessment of science and policy regarding climate change.
He leads the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE), in which the rates of change of the concentrations of the trace gases involved in the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion have been measured continuously over the globe for the past two decades. He is pioneering the use of inverse methods, which use such measurements and three-dimensional models to determine trace gas emissions and understand atmospheric chemical processes, especially those processes involving the oxidation capacity of the atmosphere. Prinn is also working extensively with social scientists to link the science and policy aspects of global change. He has made significant contributions to the development of national and international scientific research programs in global change.
Prinn is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a recipient of AGU's Macelwane Medal, and a Fellow of the AAAS. He co-authored Planets and their Atmospheres: Origin and Evolution, and edited Global Atmospheric-Biospheric Chemistry. Prinn received his Sc.D. in 1971 from MIT; and his M.S. and B.S. from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT
Richard Lindzen studies the role of the tropics in mid-latitude weather and global heat transport, the moisture budget and its role in global change, the origins of ice ages, seasonal effects in atmospheric transport, stratospheric waves, and the observational determination of climate sensitivity. He pioneered the study of how ozone photochemistry, radiative transfer and dynamics interact with each other. He is currently studying what determines the pole to equator temperature difference, the nonlinear equilibration of baroclinic instability and the contribution of such instabilities to global heat transport. He has developed models for the Earth's climate with specific concern for the stability of the ice caps, the sensitivity to increases in CO2, the origin of the 100,000 year cycle in glaciation, and the maintenance of regional variations in climate.
Lindzen is a recipient of the American Meteorological Society's Meisinger, and Charney Awards, the American Geophysical Union's Macelwane Medal, and the Leo Huss Walin Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He is a corresponding member of the NAS Committee on Human Rights, and has been a member of the NRC Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and the Council of the AMS. He has also been a consultant to the Global Modeling and Simulation Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Lindzen received his A.B., S.M., and Ph.D. from Harvard University.