I've been following the Climategate blow out with a fair amount of interest recently. For those of you who haven't heard, basically some one hacked the emails at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and then published the emails on the internet.
And the emails released were incredibly damaging both for climate science and the climate scientists involved.
Now, I'm not a hard scientist. So when Real Climate explains this email by Phil Jones
"I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."
by noting that:
"The ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all."
I'm pretty much willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although, scientists, if you actually use the term "trick" to mean "way to solve a problem," you ... really shouldn't. It's not jargon, it's just stupid. If it ain't a rabbit appearing from your top hat, it's not a trick.
So, I'm willing to cut the climate scientists some slack and acknowledge that "insider language" that may look damaging to an outsider could very well have been used in private emails destined for colleagues.
But there isn't really any good way to explain why Professor Jones tried to delete emails that were requested under the Freedom of Information Act
. And while Real Climate tries to defend some of the less than polite emails by noting, "Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person
," I'm not sure that that's such a great excuse.
Indeed, a mere couple weeks before the ClimateGate blow out, another blow out took place over the internet, in which Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute
contested that Joe Romm of Climate Progress
had repeatedly resorted to McCarthy tactics to smear anyone who disagreed with Romm at all about climate change or the policy implications thereof
As a frequent reader of climate blogs, I have to say, it is a little shocking how much these blogs do descend into ad hominem attacks on fellow colleagues. The unprofessional impoliteness is not limited to private emails, and in any case, as everyone knows, in the digital age, nothing is private. I get that all scientists do not get along. I understand that science is competitive, and I do not expect the world's top scientists to be singing "Kumbaya" and holding hands with each other. But the lack of professional courtesy is out of control.
If there is something to be taken away from this PR disaster it's this:
Nothing sent over the internet is ever private.
Professional discourtesy will come back to bite you in the ass.
There is a need for transparency in science.
And the biggest take away:
Science is political.
It's useless to deny it. There is no such thing as completely objective science, at least not in a highly charged and uncertain science like climate science. And the sooner we start acknowledging this, the better.
For a brilliant analysis of ClimateGate, check out Mike Hulme's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal