For those of you not following the detail of ‘ClimateGate’ here’s a nice video explaining the meaning of the two most cited “conspiracy-proving” emails. Peter Sinclair also wades in with a short video covering the affair.
While this sort of accurate rebuttal is important, it reminds me of something Randy Olson argues in Don’t be such a scientist – that scientists often obsess too much about substance and accuracy, in every sphere they operate in. Olson even suggests that a scientist’s natural response to being called a bastard would be to present their birth certificate as counter evidence! Now that might be an exaggeration but when you watch and read the scientific response to ClimateGate you start to get his point! That’s why George Marshall’s comments in the Guardian are so important:
I believe that Jones should speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend his science. He ought to clearly state that he is not prepared to have his hard-working and committed colleagues around the world defamed or slandered by the kinds of people who illegally hack into computers. This is a desperate, last-ditch tactic by fanatics who have lost the rational debate.
Sadly, due in part to the lacklustre response, I am sure that these wretched emails have now entered permanently into the mythology of climate denial. Scientists are going to have to be a lot more savvy and on the ball in future.
This is a desperate, last-ditch tactic by fanatics who have lost the rational debate.
But that immediately bumps you in to an excellent Nature commentary on the issue:
Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.
In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.
Scientists need more communications support. I’m not talking about them hiring PR firms, rather engaging with groups that already have such expertise, more on that later.