The two sides became increasingly hostile toward one another. They debated about whom they could trust, who was a part of their "team" -- and who among them might secretly be a skeptic. All those who were between the two extremes or even tried to maintain links with both sides soon found themselves under suspicion.
This distrust helped foster a system of favoritism, as the hacked e-mails show. According to these, Jones and Mann had a huge influence over what was published in the trade press. Those who controlled the journals also controlled what entered the public arena -- and therefore what was perceived as scientific reality.
All journal articles are checked anonymously by colleagues before publication as part of what is known as the "peer review" process. Behind closed doors, researchers complained for years that Mann, who is a sought-after reviewer, acted as a kind of "gatekeeper" in relation to magazine articles on paleoclimatology. It's well-known that renowned scientists can gain influence within journals. But it's a risky business. "The danger that deserved reputations become illegitimate power is the greatest risk that science faces," Weingart says.
From Peer Review to Connivance
In an e-mail to SPIEGEL ONLINE, Mann rejected the claims that he exercised undue influence. He said the editors of scientific journals -- not he -- chose the reviewers. However, as Weingart points out, in specialist areas like paleoclimatology, which have only a handful of experts, certain scientists can gain considerable power -- provided they have a good connection to the publishers of the relevant journals.
The "hockey team," as the group around Mann and Jones liked to call itself, undoubtedly had good connections to the journals. The colleagues coordinated and discussed their reviews among themselves. "Rejected two papers from people saying CRU has it wrong over Siberia," CRU head Jones wrote to Mann in March 2004. The articles he was referring to were about tree data from Siberia, a basis of the climate graphs. In fact, it later turned out that Jones' CRU group probably misinterpreted the Siberian data, and the findings of the study rejected by Jones in March 2004 were actually correct.
However, Jones and Mann had the backing of the majority of the scientific community in another case. A study published in Climate Research in 2003 looked into findings on the current warm period and the medieval one, concluding that the 20th century was "probably not the warmest nor a uniquely extreme climactic period of the last millennium." Although climate skeptics were thrilled, most experts thought the study was methodologically flawed. But if the pro-climate-change camp controlled the peer review process, then why was it ever published?
Plugging the Leak
In an e-mail dated March 11, 2003, Michael Mann said there was only one possibility: Skeptics had taken over the journal. He therefore demanded that the enemy be stopped in its tracks. The "hockey team" launched a powerful counterattack that shook Climate Research magazine to its foundations. Several of its editors resigned. Vociferous as they were, though, the skeptics did not have that much influence. If it turned out that alarmist climate studies were flawed -- and this was the case on several occasions -- the consequences of the climate catastrophe would not be as dire as had been predicted.
Yet there were also limits to the influence had by Mann and Jones, as became apparent in 2005, when relentless hockey stick critics Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre were able to publish studies in the most important geophysical journal, Geophysical Research Letters (GRL). "Apparently, the contrarians now have an 'in' with GRL," Mann wrote to his colleagues in a leaked e-mail. "We can't afford to lose GRL."
Mann discovered that one of the editors of GRL had once worked at the same university as the feared climate skeptic Patrick Michaels. He therefore put two and two together: "I think we now know how various papers have gotten published in GRL," he wrote on January 20, 2005. At the same time, the scientists discussed how to get rid of GRL editor James Saiers, himself a climate researcher. Saiers quit his post a year later -- allegedly of his own accord. "The GRL leak may have been plugged up now," a relieved Mann wrote in an e-mail to the "hockey team."
Internal Conflict and the External Façade
Climategate appears to confirm the criticism that scientific systems always benefit cartels. However, Sociologist Hans Peter Peters cautions against over-interpreting the affair. He says alliances are commonplace in every area of the scientific world. "Internal communication within all groups differs from the facade," Peters says.
Weingart also believes the inner workings of a group should not be judged by the criteria of the outside world. After all, controversy is the very basis of science, and "demarcation and personal conflict are inevitable." Even so, he says the extent to which camps have built up in climate research is certainly unusual.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from World section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH