‘There’s a smoking gun? Where’s the body?’

smoke by aubergene

So Solid CRU

– ride wid us

The Frame
Sun Tzu
Habeas corpus

The story so far:

CRU research computer hacked, many emails copied, claims are made that they reveal broad scientific fraud;
Emails released, much sound and fury told by idiots, claims seem to be all innuendo and speculation;
More and more nothing as people search for something, anything of substance in the emails.

The climate change science community was caught off guard by this for obvious reasons. Initially most were quite understandably not willing to comment until they had at least seen the evidence. Now we have seen the evidence, or all that we know exists.

Aside: apparently what has been released is about 1/2 of the total copied from CRU. We do not know if what has been released is cherry picked and the remaining material fills in the blanks exhonorating everyone of any wrong doing, or if there is more to come. According to RealClimate, whatever is there, it will not be evidence of scientific malpractice such as tampering with data, and that’s good enough for me.*

*[UPDATE: some freepers are using this statement as evidence that I am “Accepting unsubstantiated statements, on faith and faith alone.” Yup, and clear about it too … not pretending that unsubstantiated statements are fact.

I could turn out to be wrong, but at least I am not lying to anyone else about what the basis for my position is. And if there is a subsequent release and it contains actual credible evidence of data tampering, I will say so]

The frame

Since seeing the emails we have been responding by:

pointing out that while some (and only a few) of them sound dubious, there’s no actual evidence of anything;
attempting to point out that in every case there are also perfectly innocuous interpretations;
putting these sorts of discussions in context*

*Carbonfixated’s Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’” is a brilliant example of this. Many climate bloggers have impressed me, surprised me, delighted me, but this is the first time I have felt actual envy I wish I’d done that piece. :(
Sun Tzu
Four problems with this strategy:
1) It’s not a strategy, it’s a tactic, and not even a good one. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu

2) It assumes that “the problem” is a scientific one. Pretty natural concern for the science community, but it is increasingly clear that the science is in no way affected. The battle going on now is political, not scientific, and we have to fight it as a political battle.

3) To date the Deniers are annotating the emails with “helpful explanations” ie total fictions making outrageous claims about the context. As such they are dictating the narrative and we are responding to them within that frame.

They keep throwing punches and all we do s try to block them. No matter how good we are, some will land; hence Sun Tzu’s dictum.

4) The problem with offering reasonable interpretations is that they are always going to sound apologetic and never quite convincing. Particularly as most of us were not actually there. As certain as we can be that there are perfectly innocent explanations, we do not know for certain that the explanations are innocent.


There is no there, there. Show us where the data is wrong, which papers are incorrect. Badmouthing a researcher does not alter climate change. Insinuation does not make warming go away.These are lawyer tactics and ones that get used by creationists all the time. Casting doubt may work in a murder case. It has little real impact on scientific facts. From Greenfrye’s here are some good ways to deal with these approaches, not only with climate change denialists but denialists of any sort:

One of the many holes in the Denier narrative is that they take it as a given that the climate science is false and that all that was left to do was to find the culprit. Their language is completely framed in terms of that assumption, hence the histrionics that the alleged “smoking gun” of the CRU emails seals the case.

Quite understandably the climate rationalist response has been to point out that the “gun” isn’t a “gun”, and it’s not smoking. Clearly Jones got hot under the collar at times, and different people were pretty steamed up about certain other people, but no smoking gun. That may be clear to us, but it’s not satisfying to the general public.

I suggest that we have change our response to “smoking gun? who cares? show us the “body!” Of course there is no “body”, or even “bullet holes” anywhere … ie no evidence that anything actually happened.

A great example of confirmation bias. If you are looking for something in particular, it is often easy to make it happen. It is something all humans do. One of the main things that scientists are trained in are processes that help diminish confirmation bias. But not deniers.

We need to switch from seeming to be defending the supposed culprit to demanding actual evidence of a crime, any crime. We need to be asking:

“Which studies were compromised, how? be specific. Cite papers and data sets. What is the evidence? where is it? what work is affected? how? show me the evidence that says so.

This supposed scandal involves perhaps a half dozen people, how does it affect the work of the 3,000+ others who’s work makes up climate science?

How does it affect the work that was done before the alleged culprits graduated from univeristy? the work from before they were born?

Of the 30,000(ish) studies that make up climate science, which ones are undone? where is the evidence? be specific … show us exactly how and why?” etc

Another part of the denialist toolkit, one seen with creationists all the time, is that if they can find something weird in just one thread of the scientific fabric, they can complete unravel the entire thing. But the world, and science, does not work this way. It is more like a building where even if you can turn off one light in one room, the rest of the building continues to be illuminated and still stand.

Because of course another hole in the Denier frame is thier certainty that the CRU hack topples climate science. Naturally they are taking advantage of the bobbhead credulity and the public naivete, which does work, but it also makes them vulnerable to it being challenged on it.

“You are certain it topples climate science? how? where? which studies? what evidence? You don’t know? then how are you certain?

Please run through a list of the studies you believe are affected? Hockey stick? what’s that? please refer to specific papers and studies.You don’t know? then how can you be certain?

Ahhh, Soandso 2004? so just how is it compromised? what part of the work? I thought you were certain?”

We need to hammer that and keep hammering it. Push hard, and not only the Deniers, but the media drones who brainlessly echo the Denier memes. Not hysterically or in anger, but with relentless defiant decency and certitude. Make it clear that they do not understand the science, and in fact have no idea what they think the emails actually mean.

We have to be the ones asking questions and demanding answers!

There’s a smoking gun? where’s the body?

Make them do a little work instead of just lobbing in little smoke bombs.

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