Monday, November 30, 2009

Climategate: scientific integrity compromised?

Global warming has been a hot topic in the news for several years now. And, there's been a lot of flap on the internet over the past week alleging skullduggery among some climate scientists. So, although what I know about global warming will fit on the head of a pin, the issue merits some comment.

In 2007, former US vice-president Al Gore, and the IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) won the Nobel Peace Prize for their fight against global warming. The IPCC is a UN organization that provides advice to governments on climate and climate change.

Gore's documentary film,"An Inconvenient Truth", won two Oscars, Best Documentary and Best Original Song. The film is being widely distributed to US schools, ostensibly to alert young people to the dangers inherent in man made global warming.

Said Gore: “We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity." As it turns out, that may not be the case. Politics may be playing a bigger part in the controversy over global warming than has been made public.

Proponents of global warming, which apparently constitutes a majority among climate scientists, insist that the alleged crisis is man made, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, their solution is to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly carbon emissions, around the globe.

But, no matter how the reduction in CO2 emissions is carried out, it is likely to adversely impact economies in the developed world.

Skeptics point out that variations in the earth's temperature are natural events that have occurred throughout the history of the planet. Some claim there is no evidence of trends that can be attributed to human causes; that variations in solar activity, not greenhouse gases are the true driver of climate change.

A global climate conference is scheduled to take place in Copenhagen from Dec. 7 to 18. The summit will be attended by many world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.

But some recently leaked documents from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (Great Britain) may prove to be something of an embarrassment to those promoting the doom and gloom scenario. The CRU is a world-renowned climate change research centre and a repository for much of the data on climate change.

The leaked (or hacked) documents contain more than 1,000 emails and 2,000 other documents which, in some circles, are being interpreted as proof of "the greatest act of scientific fraud in history".

In the UK, there have been calls for the head of the CRU (Phil Jones) to resign over the scandal. The former chancellor, Lord Lawson, who has launched a new think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation to challenge the consensus on global warming policy, is calling for a full-scale public inquiry.

The hijacked e-mail exchanges appear to indicate that scientific data has been manipulated to strengthen the case for man-made global warming. In addition, some e-mails refer to efforts by those scientists who believe man is responsible for global warming, to exclude contrary views from important scientific publications and also attempts to avoid queries under freedom of information legislation.

One e-mail, from CRU director Phil Jones, suggested to climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University that research from skeptics was unwelcome: “We will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

A Wall Street Journal article by Keith Johnson notes that:: “The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a large professional organization, expressed concern that the hacked emails would weaken global resolve to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The association believes "that climate change is real, it is related to human activities, and the need to counteract its impacts is now urgent," said Ginger Pinholster, an association spokeswoman. She added that the association's journal, Science, evaluates papers solely on scientific merit.”

Johnson's article also notes that: “John Christy, a scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville attacked in the emails for asking that an IPCC report include dissenting viewpoints, said, "It's disconcerting to realize that legislative actions this nation is preparing to take, and which will cost trillions of dollars, are based upon a view of climate that has not been completely scientifically tested."

And, therein lies the crux of the matter.

If those scientists promoting the theory of man made global warming have the evidence they claim, why would there be a need to manipulate data and stifle dissenting views? If global warming is such a grave threat to humanity, why not share their data with the skeptics and encourage a full and open debate?

Deceit and deception will not further their cause. It will adversely impact on their own credibility and the integrity of science in general.

The public deserves better from the scientific community, especially on such an important global issue.

Additional reading:
Climategate: The Fallout Continues (Wall Street Journal Online)
And, check out this weeks video on the same topic

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