[Note 11/23/11: Another cache of hacked emails from this source was just released prior to a big meeting of climate scientists advocating for the AGW hypothesis.]
It was only a matter of time before the controversy over global warming, political and ideological as it is, should generate a scandal of its very own. Can we say that day has arrived with the recent release of private emails from the Climate Research Unit in the UK? Andy Revkin, has a story about it on the front page of the NY Times.
Beyond the dueling news-bytes (“will backfire on the skeptics…shows the integrity of the scientists” vs. “not a smoking gun – it’s a mushroom cloud!”) is the real story, in the details that will no doubt be publicized as people go through the tremendous cache of documents. As one pro-AGW scientist rightly said, it “will be great material for historians.”
Note: Thanks to one commenter on Revkin’s blog who pointed to this blog that traces one controversy through the emails – very illuminating. Too bad we have to get this stuff from right-wing fans of George Bush, but facts are facts. Certainly, Revkin is not tracing the threads in this stuff.
The advocates of the AGW point of view often like to associate themselves with the greats of scientific history – Newton, Darwin, Einstein – and to claim that their critics are destined for history’s dustbin along with the foolish people who refused to accept the validity of these scientists’ greatest work. Along these lines, Gavin Schmidt, at RealClimate.org defends the tone of the email exchanges – often rude and quite impolite about critics – by saying
Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him.
Well, Feynman was quite a character, and could be quite short with others, but as far as I know, he had a deep understanding of and commitment to the scientific process, and the free-wheeling openess and criticism it requires. Newton, on the other hand, towering genius that he was, had a sense of self-worth approaching the delusional, and he was an absolutely arrogant S.O.B. His efforts to scuttle the reputations of competitors, to suppress their work, his endless litigations to quash recognition for others, and his generally secretive behavior did nothing to advance the cause of science, and may have hindered it temporarily in some areas. Great scientist, but not quite a role model for today.
My guess is that nothing much regarding the science will be found in these files that hasn’t been pointed out already by detail-oriented critics of the AGW position. Focusing on the “gotcha lines,” such as one writer’s use of the word “trick” to describe another scientist’s success at smoothing out a discrepancy in the data is fun for bloggers, but is irrelevant. Practitioners of all kinds have informal ways of talking about what they do to save time and keystrokes. Outright fraud is not likely to be discovered, I think.
What is clear, however, is that the scientists working to support the AGW point of view don’t seem to care about openess and transparency, they comprise a rather closed community of researchers with contempt for those who disagree, and they are willing to do what they can to cook the peer review process in their favor (check out this email at the searchable online database of the emails), not the least by withholding information, because, after all, they know they’re right and the fate of the world depends on it. This undermines their credibility and it should be publicized as such. The first commenter on Revkin’s blog sums it up nicely, see below.
The Editor’s Selections, highlighted comments that the Times considers especially thoughtful and valuable, and supposedly representing a range of views, so far includes only one from an academic specializing in the sociology of science who pooh-poohs the whole thing. Notably, he concludes his dismissal with the familiar claim that the theory of AGW is beyond dispute.
Raven – no. 1 comment on A. Revkin’s blog, DotEarth
CanadaNovember 20th, 20098:22 pm
The ‘privacy/illegal activity’ argument is ultimately a partisan one and therefore irrelevant. If someone believes such disclosures help whatever political position they have then they will argue the public good trumps the wrong. If the disclosures hurt their position they will argue for privacy to be respected.
Most of the people protesting privacy violations today would be gladly ignore such concerns if the email exchanges were between executives at oil companies.
I think the media needs to focus on the bits that do undermine the integrity of the scientific establishment. Specifically the attempts to manipulate the peer review process and the willingness to delete data in order to prevent it from be analyzed by ‘unfriendies’.
Frankly, I do not see anyone can seriously argue that the peer reviewed scientific literature is an unbiased source of information on climate change at this time and that revelation has huge implications for public policy.