The Tragedy of Climategate
Published 25th November 2009 - 29 comments - 3876 views -
Hundreds of hacked e-mails stolen from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (a scandal inevitably being dubbed "Climategate") are, as George Monbiot writes, nothing if not a "major blow." Coming right before the COP-15 conference in Copenhagen, it looks like their release has been carefully timed to cause maximum damage.
"Climategate does not mean that there is no warming trend or that mankind is not responsible for some of it," writes Eamonn, "but it is clear that one branch of climate science — paleoclimatology — has become so politicized that it engaged in unethical and possibly illegal acts."
Yes, yes, hacking into computers is also illegal. Nonetheless, unethical practices may have been exposed. The Real Climate blog has been on damage control, going through the e-mails and trying to explain them and put them into context.
George Monbiot has, amazingly, publically apologised and said: "I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely."
This a big deal. But not because it rips up the science of climate change.
Is it the final nail in the climate change coffin?
I hope not. Because if it is the final nail in the coffin, then it will have nothing to do with the science.
This is a tragedy because it so damages the reputation of science. No matter the truth behind the e-mails, this will confirm the suspicion in every sceptics' mind that this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. Climate scientists all sit around in darkened rooms, falsifying data and preventing real scientists from publishing their findings. Sceptics of all sorts will take cheer from this episode. Perhaps evolutionary biologists are doing exactly the same thing?
This is not a good day for science.
Science is built upon trust. It is built upon reputation. When the science becomes so complicated that you need a PhD to properly understand it, then most people are going to have to trust the word of scientists. This trust is shored up by the peer-review process, but it is also based on the idea that scientists are individuals whose only interest is in finding the truth.
A naïve view of science, perhaps. Especially with something like climate change, when policy choices are so important. But now the science doesn't matter anymore. The science could continue (and does continue) to point towards man-made global warming... but nobody will believe it anymore.
It is science itself, and not just climate change, that has taken a hit in this scandal.
As I said, this is not a good day for science.
About the author
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