This Wednesday sees the publication of the Muir Russell report into the conduct of scientists from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), whose emails caused a furore in November after they were hacked into and published online.
Critics say the emails reveal evasion of freedom of information law, secret deals done during the writing of reports for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a cover-up of uncertainties in key research findings and the misuse of scientific peer review to silence critics.
But whatever Sir Muir Russell, the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, concludes on these charges, senior climate scientists say their world has been dramatically changed by the affair.
“The release of the emails was a turning point, a game-changer,” said Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. “The community has been brought up short by the row over their science. Already there is a new tone. Researchers are more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties, for instance.” And there will be other changes, said Mr. Hulme. The emails made him reflect how “astonishing” it was that it had been left to individual researchers to police access to the archive of global temperature data collected over the past 160 years. “The primary data should have been properly curated as an archive open to all.” He believes that will now happen.
Bob Watson, a former chair of the IPCC and now chief environment scientist for the British government, agreed. “It is clear that the scientific community will have to respond by being more open and transparent in allowing access to raw data in order that their scientific findings can be checked.” In addition, Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Researchers have to accept that it won’t just be their science that is judged but also their motives, professionalism, integrity and all those other qualities that are considered important in public life.”
Researchers outside Britain say a row that began in Norwich now has important implications for the wider scientific community round the world.
“Trust has been damaged,” said Hans von Storch of the KGSS Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany. People now find it conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and understand that scientists need societal supervision as any other societal institution.” The climate scientist most associated with efforts to reconciling warring factions, Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the idea of IPCC scientists as “self-appointed oracles, enhanced by the Nobel Prize, is now in tatters”. The outside world now sees that “the science of climate is more complex and uncertain than they have been led to believe”.
Some IPCC scientists are in denial on this issue, she said, arguing that they would like to see the CRU incident as “an irrelevant blip” and to blame their problems on “a monolithic denial machine”, but that won’t wash.
Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado agreed that “the climate science community, or at least its most visible and activist wing, appeared to want to go back to waging an all-out war on its perceived political opponents.
“Such a strategy will simply exacerbate the pathological politicisation of the climate science community.” In reality, he said, “There is no going back to the pre-November 2009 era”.
Dr. Curry exempted from this criticism Phil Jones, CRU director and the man at the centre of the furore. Put through the fire, “Jones seems genuinely repentant, and has been completely open and honest about what has been done and why... speaking with humility about the uncertainty in the data sets,” she said.
The affair “has pointed out the seamy side of peer review and consensus building in the IPCC assessment reports,” she said. “A host of issues need to be addressed.” The veteran Oxford science philosopher Jerome Ravetz says the role of the blogosphere in revealing the important issues buried in the emails means it will assume an increasing role in scientific discourse. “The radical implications of the blogosphere need to be better understood.” Curry too applauds the rise of the “citizen scientist” triggered by climategate, and urges scientists to embrace them.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010