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Climategate: storm in a thimble?

January 17, 2010

If the CIA and MI5 were staffed by climate change deniers and decided to launch a disinformation counter-offensive, they couldn’t have done much better than this. At a moment when we need clarity and calm heads, we have the perfect storm in a thimble instead.

The issue is not about science, it is about people who do science becoming confused by their roles, their responsibilities and their duties. Most damning in my opinion is the attempt to delete information subject to FOI requests. Has data been deleted, and if so, why was it considered so ‘hot’ it should be hidden?

What was in the deleted material? We may never know, of course. And attempts to conceal data, manipulate public information and suppress opinion or fact they find inconvenient is a fine demonstration of where good intentions take us, for I do not believe these people had bad intentions (or are part of any global conspiracy), but I do find they were overtaken by misguided zealotry. They strayed into the domain of political spin, a tricky and fraught world into which they had no right to wander.

I don’t think the emails are evidence of much at all except that scientists are human beings and subject to the same virtues and vices we all display. But the trouble is, we should and must hold climate change scientists to a higher standard. What they are saying and doing could have profound consequences for how our societies proceed, what shape they take, what constraints we must suffer and what standards we can achieve. Unless they are seen to be above reproach, any progress towards climate change mitigation is hindered by the very people advocating it.

I feel they have let me down. It isn’t that anything really material came out of the emails to the detriment of climate change science. It is that these scientists clearly did not act – and in writing for God’s sake – with probity. They do not demonstrate the virtue I expect of them given the seriousness of their responsibility. I expected more, (fool perhaps that I am) and am therefore very disappointed.

Their data should be made public because until it is we have no way of knowing how good it is, what assumptions have been made, and what the data really tells us. If their work is valid and sound, it will stand up to scrutiny by other scientists. Science depends wholly on scrutiny. It is the bedrock of the scientific method – publish, be damned or lauded – and climate change is so serious an issue the data should be available to all who wish to see it.
No matter what the intention or the belief, there can be no collusion without suspicion when it is discovered. The contents of the emails, which I have studied, demonstrate a willingness to engage in political manoeuvring in the name of science. This is unacceptable and it should stop.

We warmists complain bitterly about the tactics of denialists. If we are to cast the first stone, we must be prepared always to ensure we are not merely breaking glass. If we are not prepared to put our own house in order when we are found to be less than candid about the science, we cannot blame the public for mistrusting the theory and those that propound it.

But one last thing, less my post be taken as capitulation, which it is not. Yesterday the Guardian published a telling story about the increasing loss of ice mass. The release of the emails in question did not change the mass of the ice. The glaciers did not regrow overnight. Deserts did not shrink back. The hottest 9 years in a 150 year record are still in the last 10. We have been let down by a small group of scientists who really should have known better, but worse still would be for us to indulge in the wilful self-deception that somehow, climate change is now debunked. It is not. It just got a bit harder to sort out, that’s all.

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