Saturday, December 05, 2009

Importance of Climategate

The ramifications of this episode within the scientific and political community are and will continue to be, huge, and this article from First Things looks at its significance.

An excerpt.

“I have always thought that the global warming, or “climate change” debate, was as much about social psychology as science. Now we have the perfect example in the unseemly row over a thousand purloined e-mails to and from the scientists of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain. It’s a significant scandal, and inevitably it is being called “climategate” (that ubiquitous metaphor). East Anglia is one of four centers worldwide which keep the more-or-less official records of world temperature and climate history. They were among the first to claim that human activity was causing global average temperatures to rise to dangerous levels, basing their claims on several research projects, notably on tree rings on an eastern Siberian peninsula; and they adopted Michael Mann’s infamous “hockey stick” graph which claimed to show a sharp upward tick in recent temperatures. When pressed to share their basic data with other scientists, who might in true scientific method see if they could reproduce the conclusions, they refused.

“As I recall (and forgive my faulty memory) their lead researcher Phil Jones, the director of the CRU, told an Australian climate researcher whom he feared was skeptical, something like “I have 25 years invested in this data base; why should I share it with you who are only trying to find fault with it?” Then a Canadian statistician, Steve McIntyre, showed that Mann’s graph was faulty and could not prove a sharp recent rise in temperature. And the Siberian tree rings turned out to have been cherry-picked (they weren’t cherry trees, though) to fit a premature conclusion, while most of the rest in the area told a different story. So the war was on.

“Now an enterprising hacker, unknown as of this moment, has released e-mails to and from the people at East Anglia which show some fairly surprising and dismaying unscientific behavior, dripping contempt for the scientists skeptical of the warming alarm and showing what appear to be attempts to manipulate data to yield a desired result. The unguarded, but now disclosed, ad hominem insults perhaps show the natural nastiness of academics whose theories, representing hard work and deep convictions, are challenged. It becomes personal. Maybe we can chalk that up to original sin. What’s really serious is the perversion of the methods of science to yield a result above all challenge. The CRU repeatedly refused Freedom-of-Information requests from other scientists for its data set. Jones and his colleagues discussed ways to manipulate figures and graphs to make the temperature record prove the anthropogenic-global-warming thesis. He even proposed organizing boycotts of journals that dared to publish anything that would undermine that thesis. And now all this shoddy academic, scientific behavior is on the public record, racing around the internet.”