Peer-to-Peer Review (Part III): How 'Climategate' Marks the Maturing of a New Science Movement

PART III – A global warming skeptic receives the leaked files from an anonymous “Deep-Climate” insider. Release of files exposes gatekeeping and leads to the maturing of a new science movement – that of peer-to-peer review. Last in a series. Please click for Part I and Part II.

Few outside the climate skeptic circle have ever heard of Steven Mosher. An open-source software developer, statistical data analyst, and thought of as the spokesperson of the lukewarmer set, Mosher hasn’t made any of the mainstream media outlets covering the story of Climategate. But make no mistake about it – when it comes to dissemination of the story, Steven Mosher is to Climategate what Woodward and Bernstein were to Watergate. He was just the right person, with just the right influence, and just the right expertise to be at the heart of the promulgation of the files.

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One could even argue that Mosher is one of the few people with the right assortment of circumstances, and associates, to understand the significance of the Climategate files and the technical expertise to post them on various locations using open proxies, a method hackers use to hide their identities while online. Given that the Climategate files came from computers with IP addresses in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, open proxies is most likely the technique used by the person who posted the files and links on ClimateAudit, RealClimate, and the Air Vent.

Several days before the Climategate files were made public, Mosher says he had been given the files from an undisclosed source. “[The] file came to me in the form of a CD, and I was asked by people to take a look at it and give my opinion whether it was a hoax or not.”

Mosher, having participated in submitting requests for data and code to the Climate Research Unit (CRU), was the perfect outsider to authenticate the files. Mosher also successfully lobbied NASA to release temperature data and code in 2007. With the file in hand, “I didn’t sleep,” he said, while embarking on reviewing the emails to check timelines against various historical events, as well as calling colleagues to check the Climategate emails against the actual emails they received.

Having felt that it was highly unlikely that it was a hoax, Mosher went one step further. “Prior to [the emails] being public, I got confirmation from sources inside CRU that the files I held were real.”

Steven Mosher can now add muckraker to his long list of impressive capabilities.

Shortly after confirming the authenticity of the Climategate files, Mosher says he saw the link to the file on the Air Vent. “My first reaction to the link was relief,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the only person who had these files and the task of plowing through all the mails was overwhelming.”

Mosher understood the power of the peer-to-peer review network. The task of mining the emails for relevant data could only be undertaken by the group that had been closely monitoring the workings of the global warming establishment. Once the link was on the Air Vent, Mosher hit the ground running. He simultaneously informed Jeff Id and Lucia Liljegren of the existence of the link on the blog. He then posted some of the emails on Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit blog. “I did this with some fear because I knew it would probably take Steve’s site down, either through a [denial-of-service] attack or just traffic load.” Mosher was right, ClimateAudit grinded to a modem-era crawl in the hours after the post.

But by this time ClimateAudit’s slothy nature didn’t matter. The Climategate files were under the fierce scrutiny of the peer-to-peer review network at both The Blackboard and WattsUpWithThat. The origin of the term Climategate can even be tracked to the commenters of their first blog posts. By the time the story would reach the mainstream media, the peer-to-peer reviewers had already authenticated, named, packaged, and wrapped up the files in a nice little bow for the news outlets to either ignore or build upon. Within days, the files were fully searchable on the web for the reviewers to comb.

Regardless of how the news networks would handle it, the undermedia quickly recognized its soul mate and the story grew exponentially from there.

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The impact of the Climategate story on the public discourse over global warming legislation is an interesting tale that will be in flux for the foreseeable future. The back-story, however, is beginning to settle into a firm position. It is one of how a small group of lukewarmers applied pressure on the science of climate in a way that the peer review establishment did not…and could not.

The last email exchange within the Climategate files is November 12, 2009. Within the tight circle of climate skeptics, the significance of this date is telling. It is coincidentally the day before a crucial piece of information was denied to the peer-to-peer reviewers.

On November 13, 2009, a letter was sent by the Director of Information Services at the University of East Anglia to Steve McIntyre refusing his request for temperature data under the UK’s version of the Freedom of Information Act. The timing of the denial, which was a day after the last email in the Climategate files, and the fact that the files were titled FOIA.zip and FOI2009.zip, which are both abbreviated references to this Act, provides a striking indication to the impetus of the leak. This denial may have been just enough to incite someone from within the guarded establishment to give others a peak behind the green curtain.

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If the connection holds, it shows a fascinating circularity of how a denial of transparency actually led to a forced transparency – consequently displaying how a professional culture changes regardless of its resistance to change.

The establishment’s peer review process is one that subjects an author’s scientific research to the scrutiny of other experts in the same field of research. An author typically submits their research to a recognized peer review publication, and this publisher then sends the article to a select group of peers for critical review. The peer review literature is a lot like the mainstream media. It’s an old system where the spaces on its pages are guarded by a very select group of gatekeepers. It’s a control system of sorts – an elite group is the decision maker that designates which papers are to be, or not to be, considered serious.

As Climategate has shown, this process became compromised – causing an instability. As seen in the leaked emails, many within the climate establishment were interrelated and working together to ensure their message of global warming wasn’t diluted. There were even desires to redefine the peer review literature to punish journals that published skeptic’s papers.

The attempt to control the process dates back years, as seen in the emails, then continues at the time of the release of the files, with even bold attempts to control after the story had been blown wide open.

As mentioned in Part I, Gavin Schmidt emailed Lucia Liljegren, providing “a word to the wise” in an apparent attempt to halt Climategate’s promulgation. The connectedness of these climate scientists is also seen in this email. “Lucia, as I am certain you are aware, hacking into private emails is very illegal,” said Schmidt. “If legitimate, your scoop was therefore almost certainly obtained illegally.”

An interesting observation in this statement is his use of the words “if legitimate.” You may recall that the Climategate files had been uploaded to Gavin Schmidt’s site, RealClimate, approximately two days before the story broke on the Air Vent. “I had no idea where [the file] had come from or if they had been tampered with,” said Schmidt, when asked about the use of the term if legitimate. However, Schmidt could have easily authenticated their content because he was a participant in over one hundred of the email exchanges. The use of “if legitimate” appears to have been purposefully used in this correspondence with Lucia.

Even the mainstream media was not immune from the ire of the scorned climate scientists. According to Roger Pielke Jr., the New York Times writer Andy Revkin was threatened with the “Big Cutoff” from the climate science community by Michael Schlesinger, a climate scientist from the University of Illinois, for the sin of “gutter reportage” and for providing space in his Times blog for skeptics. This, coming after Climategate was fully exposed, shows the severity of the issue.

The global-warming establishment’s futile attempt to resist pressure from an opposing, grassroots collective caused a shift to occur – displaying a process known in certain scientific circles as self-organization. The new order that has emerged has placed a new definition on the label peer — that of an amorphous group of intelligent online observers, detached from the outcome, with an extremely solid grasp on the topic at hand. This peer-to-peer review network surrounds and attacks the study, in search of chinks in its armor. It’s not pretty, but through this social, open dialogue, problem areas inevitably rise to the top. In a case where politics comes into play, it appears that this review process is much more rigorous – it ostensibly sanitizes the outcome from the affects of interested parties.

This is the point that one must take from Climategate.

We no longer live in an age where a system can be entirely controlled. Information lacks the protective coat that it once had – bureaucracies can be infiltrated and cracked, and access to broadcast tools are pervasive. When a system is no longer operating correctly, pressures mount, causing an inevitable instability. And when the hands of Big Government play a part in molding the consensus, or in this case Big Global Government, the peer-to-peer review network and the undermedia will play the unavoidable role of getting to the truth – a truth desperately needed when crafting policy that will affect every living human and their offspring.

The Times’ Thomas Friedman recently stated, “The internet is an open sore of untreated, unfiltered information.” There is much truth in his statement. But when taken in context, it is spoken like a true gatekeeper. The quote came in response to how the undermedia exposed controversial information on former green jobs czar Van Jones.

Climategate was indeed an open sore – but it could only be seen on the internet, through the window of a tiny blog called the Air Vent, and treated by Steven Mosher, Steve McIntyre, and others through a new process called peer-to-peer review.

So take heed gatekeepers. The Undermedia has arrived. Peer-to-peer review has matured. Either operate effectively, or be self-organized out of existence.

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