Responses to "Climategate"--the leaked e-mails from Britain's University of East Anglia and its Climatic Research Unit--remind me of the line "Are your feet wet? Can you see the pyramids? That's because you're in denial."
Climate catastrophists like Al Gore and the UN's Rajendra Pachauri are downplaying Climategate: it's only a few intemperate scientists; there's no real evidence of wrongdoing; now let's persecute the whistleblower. In Calgary, the latest fellow trying to use the Monty Python "nothing to see here, move along" routine is Prof. David Mayne Reid, who penned a column last week denying the importance of Climategate.
Unfortunately for Reid, old saws won't work in the Internet age: Climategate has blazed across the Internet, blogosphere, and social networking sites. Even environmentalist and writer George Monbiot has recognized that the public's perception of climate science will be damaged extensively, calling for one of the Climategate ringleaders to resign.
What's catastrophic about Climategate is that it reveals a science as broken as Michael Mann's hockey stick, which despite Reid's protestations, has been shown to be a misleading chart that erases a 400-year stretch of warm temperatures (called the Medieval Warm Period), and a more recent little ice-age that ended in the mid-1800s. No amount of hand-waving will restore the credibility of climate science while holding onto rubbish like that.
Climategate reveals skulduggery the general public can understand: that a tightly-linked clique of scientists were behaving as crusaders. Their letters reveal they were working in what they repeatedly labelled a "cause" to promote a political agenda.
That's not science, that's a crusade. When you cherry-pick, discard, nip, tuck, and tape disparate bits of data into the most alarming portrayal you can in the name of a "cause," you're not engaged in science, but in the production of propaganda. And this clique tried to subvert the peer-review process as well. They attempted to prevent others from getting into peer reviewed journals--thus letting them claim skeptic research wasn't peer-reviewed--a convenient circular (and dishonest) way to discredit skeptics.
Finally, people know that a fish rots from its head. The Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was considered the top climate research community. It was the source of a vast swath of the information then that was funnelled into the supposedly "authoritative" reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
If scientific objectivity is corrupt at the top, there's every reason to think that the rot spreads through the entire body. And evidence suggests it has. A Russian think-tank recently revealed the climate temperature record compiled by the Climatic Research Unit cherry-picked data from only 25 per cent of Russia's climate monitoring sites, the sites closest to urban areas, biased by the urban heat island effect. The stations excluded data from 40 per cent of Russia's total land mass, which is 12.5 per cent of all the Earth's land mass.
Reid's indignation about Climategate is beyond ludicrous. "It is wrong," intones Reid, "to castigate people for things said in private, and often taken out of context." He equates the response to Climategate with a "lynch mob." Funny, the professor seems to have highly selective indignation; he is apparently unaware of the unremitting attacks on people skeptical of climate science or policy by climate scientists and politicians.
People skeptical of any aspect of climate change have long been called "deniers," an odious linkage with Holocaust denial, and various luminaries have called for them to be drowned, jailed, and tried for crimes against humanity. One prominent columnist called skepticism treason against the very Earth itself.
As for indignation about the release of private correspondence, where was Reid's indignation when Greenpeace, looking for something to spin into an incriminating picture, stole skeptic Chris Horner's trash? Where was his indignation a few years ago when scientist Steve Schroeder showed a routine letter of mine to another climate scientist (Andrew Dessler), who posted it to the Internet where it was spun into the scurrilous accusation that I was trying to bribe UN scientists? Reid's indignation is the chutzpah of a man who kills his family then wants pity because he's an orphan.
The Climategate scandal, like others in biology and medicine erodes the credibility of both the scientists involved, and the institution of scientific research. And it should: it has become evident that there is a lot of rot going on in the body of science, and too little effort made to fix it.
A start could be made. They should start by practicing the scientific method: release all data, and release all assumptions and methods used to process the data at the time of publication. Make it available to researchers (even lay researchers) who are outside the clique so the work can be checked. Had the researchers involved in Climategate done this from the beginning, instead of circling their wagons and refusing to allow outsiders to check their work, they would have taken less hectoring. As a bonus for them, Climategate would never have happened.
Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at AEI.