Classic Groupthink Behavior Apparently Exposed in Leaked CRU Emails

Few understand or can believe the extent of corrupted science produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Data was altered, or completely ignored and research directed to prove their hypothesis that human’s were causing global warming. Emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in 2009 tell the story. People at the CRU were central to the Physical Science Basis Report of Working Group I of the IPCC and the Summary for Policymakers (SPM). The 2001 Report was most influential because it contained the “hockey stick”(HS). It was essential to protect it at all costs. On October 23 2003 Ray Bradley, one of the authors of the HS, illustrated how the group defended itself through asserting moral and intellectual superiority.

“Because of the complexity of the arguments involved, to an uniformed observer it all might be viewed as just scientific nit-picking by “for” and “against” global warming proponents. However, if an “independent group” such as you guys at CRU could make a statement as to whether the M&M (McIntyre and McKitrick) effort is truly an “audit”, and if they say it right, I think would go a long way to defusing the issue. If you are willing, a quick and forceful statement from The Distinguished CRU Boys would help quash further arguments, although here, at least, it is already quite out of control.”

The Group
Irving Janis developed the concept of Groupthink, which requires unanimity at the expense of quality decisions.

“Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.  A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision-making.”

The CRU/IPCC pattern appears to be a classic example.

Here’s a list of some symptoms of groupthink with examples from CRU/IPCC emails and actions.

Having an illusion of invulnerability.Content of the emails is a litany of arrogant invulnerability. Bradley’s email is a good example. Notice the capital letter on Distinguished. In a backhanded way Overpeck provides support for this position because he advised them on Sep 9, 2009 to

“Please write all emails as though they will be made public.”

Apparently he knew what they were saying was at least problematic. They didn’t listen because they believed they were invulnerable. After they were made public the comments continue the belief they did nothing wrong. Michael said,

“What they”ve done is search through stolen personal emails—confidential between colleagues who often speak in a language they understand and is often foreign to the outside world”,


“something innocent into something nefarious.”

CRU Director Phil Jones deflects saying,

“My colleagues and I accept that some of the published emails do not read well. I regret any upset or confusion caused as a result. Some were clearly written in the heat of the moment, others use colloquialisms frequently used between close colleagues,…”.

There is no confusion and it’s arrogant and wrong to suggest others do it, as if that make sit acceptable.

Rationalizing poor decisions.
Jones rationalized the decision to withhold Freedom of Information (FOI) to the University of East Anglia staff on December 3, 2008 as follows,

“Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA (in the registry and in the Environmental Sciences school – the head of school and a few others) became very supportive.”

The entire body of emails supports this claim. Rob Wilson wrote on 21 February 2006

“I need to diplomatically word all this. I never wanted to criticise Mike”s work in any way. It was for that reason that I made little mention to it initially.”

On 6 May 1999 Mann wrote to Phil Jones,

“I trust that history will give us all proper credit for what we”re doing here.”

So do I!

Conversely, Keith Briffa battled with Mann and became increasingly alienated from the group.
On 17 June 2002 he wrote,

“I have just read this letter and I think it is crap. I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series.”

The PR battle involved proving superiority in credibility, rigour and quality of published work. A March, 2003 email from Mann to Jones proves that exploitation of peer review was a deliberate strategy and a poor decision.

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”.

Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision. This takes the form of unethical comments of practice going without challenge because they were all doing it. On 19 September 1996 Funkhouser wrote,

“I really wish I could be more positive about the Kyrgyzstan material, but I swear I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk something out of that.”

Mann said in a March 2003 email,

“The Soon & Baliunas paper couldn”t have cleared a “legitimate” peer review process anywhere. That leaves only one possibility–that the peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board.”

They were doing the same thing and this is apparently made to justify it.

Exercising direct pressure on others. On 24 April 2003 Wigley wrote,

“One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word “perceived” here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about — it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.”

In a direct threat Phil Jones wrote,

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I”m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”

James Saiers, editor of Geophysical Research Letters, was removed. A best online casino later email reported

“The GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/new editorial leadership there.”

On the 14 October 2009 Trenberth expresses something to Tom Wigley that none of them ever dared say in public.

“How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are nowhere close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!”

Maintaining an illusion of unanimity. Briffa struggles to maintain the illusion when he writes to Mann on April 29 2007,

“I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same. I worried that you might think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties.”

On 6 May 1999 Mann wrote to Phil Jones,

“Trust that I”m certainly on board w/you that we”re all working towards a common goal”

Using mindguards to protect the group from negative information. On December 10, 2004 Schmidt gave the CRU gang a Christmas present:

“Colleagues, No doubt some of you share our frustration with the current state of media reporting on the climate change issue. Far too often we see agenda-driven “commentary” on the Internet and in the opinion columns of newspapers crowding out careful analysis. Many of us work hard on educating the public and journalists through lectures, interviews and letters to the editor, but this is often a thankless task. In order to be a little bit more pro-active, a group of us (see below) have recently got together to build a new “climate blog” website: which will be launched over the next few days:”

“The idea is that we working climate scientists should have a place where we can mount a rapid response to supposedly “bombshell” papers that are doing the rounds and give more context to climate related stories or events.”

This was Mann’s comment to the group about establishment of Realclimate to act as “mindguards”.

Some of the negative outcomes of groupthink also fit the actions of the CRU/IPCC group.
Examining few alternatives. They narrowed the options by the definition of climate change to only those caused by human activities. Of the three greenhouse gases almost all the focus is on CO2.
Not being critical of each other’s ideas. Not only were they not critical, but they peer reviewed each others work and controlled who they recommended to editors for reviewers. Mann to Jones 4 June 2003

“I”d like to tentatively propose to pass this along to Phil as the “official keeper” of the draft to finalize and submit IF it isn”t in satisfactory shape by the time I have to leave.”

On August 5, 2009 Jones wrote to Grant Foster in response to his request for reviewers for an article,

“I”d go for one of Tom Peterson or Dave Easterling. To get a spread, I”d go with 3 US, One Australian and one in Europe. So Neville Nicholls and David Parker. All of them know the sorts of things to say – about our comment and the awful original, without any prompting.”

Not examining early alternatives.
There was a graph of temperatures drawn by Lamb showing the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and used in the first IPCC Report. It was correct but contradicted their claim of modern warming. As Mann said to Jones on 4 June 2003,

“it would be nice to try to “contain” the putative “MWP”, even if we don”t yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back.”

They chose to rewrite history.

Not seeking expert opinion. Professor Wegman spoke directly to this problem in his report for the US Congress on the infamous hockey stick graph.

“It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community.”

Being highly selective in gathering information. Apart from only looking at human causes, the CRU emails have many examples of data selected to prove their point. Tim Osborn to the group on 5 October1999 speaks of the issue McIntyre identified of truncated records.

“They go from 1402 to 1995, although we usually stop the series in 1960 because of the recent non-temperature signal that is superimposed on the tree-ring data that we use.”

On the 19 March 2009 Santer wrote to Jones about the Royal Meteorological Society (RMS) asking for data used for a publication.

“If the RMS is going to require authors to make ALL data available – raw data PLUS results from all intermediate calculations – I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.”

On 27 September 2009 Tom Wigley wrote to Phil Jones about a problem with Sea Surface Temperatures (SST),

“So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 deg C, then this would be significant for the global mean – but we”d still have to explain the land blip.”

Not having contingency plans.
They never dreamed they would be exposed.

But they were exposed. Now most can’t believe scientists could ignore or deliberately manipulate data, distort procedures and not have more of them speak out. As Janis explains groupthink,

“occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.”

What went on at the CRU and the IPCC appears to be a classic example.

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