Monday, July 12, 2010

Climate Gate over?

Some of you may remember a post i did a this last December ago around the Copenhagen Summit regarding Climate Gate and a subsequent post relating Jon Stewart's take on it. For those who don't remember, right before the Copenhagen Climate Conference the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia's system was hacked an thousands of emails and other documents were leaked to the internet. A large controversy arouse from the interpretation of a few unfortunate paragraphs. From Wikipedia's entry on it;
Many commentators quoted one email referring to a "trick" used in Mann's graph to deal with the well-known tree ring divergence problem to "hide the decline" that particular proxy showed for modern temperatures after 1950, when measured temperatures were rising. These two phrases were taken out of context by climate change sceptics including Senator Jim Inhofe and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as though they referred to a decline in measured global temperatures, even though they were written when temperatures were at a record high.[35]
After a media frenzy and a 6-month long inquiry the panel that had examined the alleged falsification of data and misrepresentation of science came back to give a relatively clean bill of health. From the Guardian;
Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led a six-month inquiry into the affair, said the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) were not in doubt. His investigation concluded they did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism and that key data was freely available and could be used by any "competent" researcher.

The report expectorated the scientists in question but raised an interesting question of Science in the modern age that needs to be touched upon. Since the advent and explosive use of Social Media and various other technologies and techniques, the ways to connect and share (or steal) information have developed to a point where information is instantly spread on the global system. This mixed with sunshining efforts in not only government but also scientific institutions lead to information that could easily be misinterpreted being put into the hands of those most likely to take it out of context. It appears that the real effects of Climategate are on the way information and the conversations surrounding that information in the scientific world is going to be handled. From Newswire;
On the wider issue of how science is to be conducted in a new world of openness, accountability and what Russell called "citizen involvement in public interest science" the panel found that there need to be new ways of making results and data available.

"There need to be ways of handling criticism and challenge, of responding to a range of different sorts of criticism and getting into a more productive relationship with critics than we have sometimes seen in this case," Russell advised.
This was not even a concern or thought at the time the situation occurred, at least it was not mentioned where I noticed it. At the time the most forefront were fears that this incident would derail the Copenhagen talks and cause the entire process to fail and while it may eventual prove fact that Climategate has fueled the climate change-denier movement, many people in the business seem to remain unconcerned. Also from the Guardian;
Jacobs, now a research fellow at the London School of Economics, adds: "Since Copenhagen it's very difficult to tell. There's no question that climate agnosticism has increased, but I think that has more to do with a backlash to all the hype around Copenhagen. We were worried about the impact [of the emails] on public opinion but government action on climate change is not driven by public attitudes, but that it is the right thing to do. Public consent is important but not essential so long as there is not downright opposition. Governments introduce plenty of things that are less popular than action on climate."
There is actually a really well written Blog by George Dyorsky of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies that looks into the reasons behind the perceived failure of Copenhagen Climate Summit which is noteworthy. The main thought around the scientific Climate researcher world is that, over all Climategate hasn't had a major effect in the science or the politics of Climate change;
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: "It hasn't in any direct way affected the political process. Governments have scientific advisers who know this is just a storm in a teacup."
The report has been mentioned here and there throughout the blogosphere but the importance of this needs to be reiterated, we have to remember that this is just the first instance of science and how it operates in the modern open world.

On the other side of the argument a very interesting opp ed by Pat Michaels, a former professor of environmental sciences and senior fellow at the Cato Institute came to light in the Wallstreet Journal entitled The Climategate Whitewash Continues;
This purportedly independent review comes on the heels of two others—one by the University of East Anglia itself and the other by Penn State University, both completed in the spring, concerning its own employee, Prof. Michael Mann. Mr. Mann was one of the Climategate principals who proposed a plan, which was clearly laid out in emails whose veracity Mr. Mann has not challenged, to destroy a scientific journal that dared to publish three papers with which he and his East Anglia friends disagreed. These two reviews also saw no evil. For example, Penn State "determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community."
For those unfamiliar with the Cato Institute, it is a Libertarian think-tank. It's mission and moto is "Promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peaceful international relations. " They are Libertarian oriented and are also considered a "non-partisan" group by many. They have written extensively on Global Warming and some groups have criticized Cato's work in that regard. For most, it appears that their behavior has been in the Climatechange doubters camp. In one example, PBS Frontline gave an expose regarding prominent Climate Change doubters entiled the Doubters of Global Warming where they discovered that three out of five "Doubters of Global Warming" interviewed were funded by, or had some other institutional connection with, the Institute. The Cato institute is the framework from which Pat Michaels is writing this Opinion Editorial. He continues;
Climate Research and several other journals have stopped accepting anything that substantially challenges the received wisdom on global warming perpetuated by the CRU. I have had four perfectly good manuscripts rejected out of hand since the CRU shenanigans, and I'm hardly the only one. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, has noted that it's becoming nearly impossible to publish anything on global warming that's nonalarmist in peer-reviewed journals.

Of course, Mr. Russell didn't look to see if the ugly pressure tactics discussed in the Climategate emails had any consequences. That's because they only interviewed CRU people, not the people whom they had trashed.
If it is accurate that journals have begun to curb the perspective of those who they publish that is their prerogative but it does not lend itself to open discussion which is what is always needed in a progressing society. While I agree with the concept of seeing both sides of the perspective. The Cato institute's past does taint Mr. Michaels' argument.

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