Skip to main content

The Climate Files – Fred Pearce *****

Books take a long time in production. A typical book will take at least a year to write, then another year from being submitted to the publisher to hitting the shops. So when a book comes out much quicker than this, you have to be a little suspicious of the quality of the content.
The Climate Files has, without doubt, been rushed out. It tells the story of the leak of emails and other materials from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) that has proved such fruitful fodder for those who want to attack the idea of a human contribution to global warming. The leak itself happened in November 2009 and we see references to events in March 2010 – but the book came out in June 2010. Quick work indeed.
But to be fair to Fred Pearce, a lot of the content is derived from material he had already amassed for the much quicker turnround of newspaper coverage (this is a Guardian Books title, and the newspaper the Guardian is central to Pearce’s work on this story). More importantly, the book doesn’t bear the signs of a rushed job – it is well structured, readable and doesn’t appear to be scattered with errors and typos (doubly amazing given the Guardian connection).
After a rather unnecessary long list of dramatis personae (I really can’t see why that’s there except that one of the problems of last minute books is you have to pre-guess the page length, and this could be a filler), Pearce plunges us into Phil Jones of the CRU appearing before a House of Commons committee. From there we go into all the elements that built up to the leaking of the emails – the key bits of science, how the scientists and global warming sceptics responded to each other, the infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph, the reasons why individuals were sceptics and the approach they took – and much more.
Finally, with the publication of the emails we see exactly how these have been used in an attempt to discredit both CRU and climate science in general. Pearce is fair and balanced throughout. He points out the errors the scientists have made. He shows how doubts over tree ring data have not really come through in the way the science has been presented. He highlights the proprietary approach taken to data that should have been available for checking. And at the same time he shows how information has been distorted by sceptics (particularly sceptical politicians), how the leaked emails totally fail to discredit the evidence for manmade climate change and how the behaviour of scientists has been misrepresented.
I think this is a crucial book because climate science is at a crossroads. After the ‘Climategate’ affair, and the errors on the subject of glacier melting in a recent IPCC report, there is widespread doubt about climate science. What we need is a clear picture of what parts of the science are doubtful and why, and a better idea of the risk attached to various predictions. At the same time we need to get away from the illogical response that just because some scientists behaved stupidly it somehow invalidates climate change science. The Climate Files gives us a unique opportunity not only to understand just what happened with Climategate, but also to get a better understanding of how climate science has worked and how it could be improved. It even gives useful material for discussions on the future of the peer review process. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in the truth and lies of climate change.
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…