Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The final nail in the “Climategate” hacked emails affair?

| »
Global Warming

You remember the event, known as “Climategate”, where thousands of emails from climate scientists were hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University and dispersed across the web, emails that Global Warming denialists great and small masturbated over for months and heralded them as “proof” that climate researchers were really just government shills and that Global Warming is nothing but a big global cover-up, all based on some dubious interpretations of some ambiguous terms and expressions contained in said emails? If so, then you may also remember some of the many thorough debunkings this pseudo-scandal has undergone since its launch. It all comes to show what has always been obvious: that cranks, reality-deniers and the scientifically illiterate will latch onto anything they can to support their weird, twisted claims and will take any opportunity they can get to inject as much noise as possible in order to try and screw up rational debates.

Well, in what may hopefully be the final nail in the “Climategate” coffin, an official investigation by the UK’s Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee into the affair has concluded that there is no evidence of any sort of a conspiracy or cover-up, and that the science behind anthropogenic global warming is sound.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—"trick" and "hiding the decline"—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that "global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity". But this was not an inquiry into the science produced by CRU and it will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel, announced by the University on 22 March, to determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built.

Wham-bam, another convoluted conspiracy theory shot dead. Hopefully.

However, it is true that the some of the scientists at East Anglia must take part of the blame for the affair. Not for faulty science or any dishonest behavior – as noted above, there’s neither to be found – but for failing to be open enough about their science, research and findings to allow for anyone, including the common people, to peruse the data and conclusions and make up their own minds. In fact, they were rebuked rather pointedly:

The Committee calls for the climate science community to become more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.

Phil Willis MP, Committee Chair, said:

"Climate science is a matter of global importance. On the basis of the science, governments across the world will be spending trillions of pounds on climate change mitigation. The quality of the science therefore has to be irreproachable. What this inquiry revealed was that climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes. Had both been available, many of the problems at CRU could have been avoided."

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones's refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.


On the mishandling of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, the Committee considers that much of the responsibility should lie with the University, not CRU. The leaked e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure, particularly to climate change sceptics. The failure of the University to grasp fully the potential damage this could do and did was regrettable. The University needs to re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in FoI requests is limited.

Owch. Sharp barbs indeed, but one cannot deny they’re well deserved. Science is all about openness to anyone and everyone. In limiting the availability of their data, the CRU researchers made it much easier for pompous cranks to cry “conspiracy!”, seeing as, in their minds, anyone who shields any information from the public can only be trying to mislead everyone. In this case, the cranks were wrong, as they normally are, but scientists shouldn’t make it any easier for them to start up the noise machine than it has to be. It’s more sensible and logical to simply hand them the information and prove to them they’re completely wrong than to try and hide it and have them rise their little fear and disinformation campaign.

Finally, Watching the Deniers has a short write-up of some of the other debunked anti-AGW claims, so be sure to check it out. As you well know: information is knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is what we need to defend good science and the honest individuals who practice it from irrational smears and attacks.

(via Pharyngula)