Late last year, we made it clear that we were going to ignore Climategate, the release of emails from the University of East Anglia. Some interpreted those emails as indicating that the science behind climate change had been cooked up by scientists looking for grant money.
We read the most incriminating emails – and a fair number of others, too – and a lot of the commentary - and concluded that there wasn’t enough there to change minds on either side of the debate. Anyway, to quote ourselves:
But there are some investigations going on. Let’s wait for the results and then let’s choose sabers or pistols.
And that brings us to:
A British panel on Wednesday exonerated the scientists caught up in the controversy known as Climategate of charges that they had manipulated their research to support preconceived ideas about global warming.
Now, cooking the books and general bad behavior are different things and the investigators did think the scientists engaged in too much of the latter:
Echoing the findings of an earlier report by a parliamentary committee in London, the reviewers criticized the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit for consistently “failing to display the proper degree of openness” in responding to demands for backup data and other information under Britain’s public-record laws.
This is true – this is the part of the scandal that did bother us, even before the release of the emails. Information is always better free; in fact, it’s crucial for good science.
There are other niggles, too, but they are not very important. In our mind, this sums ups our problem with this episode:
“The emails don’t at all change the fundamental tenets of the science,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado. “But they changed the notion that people could blindly trust one authoritative group, when it turns out they’re just like everybody else.”
Most people learn this far earlier than this episode. The University of East Anglia was not the only source for climate change data. No one had to trust it exclusively.
But that’s beside the point. It will be neither sabers nor pistols, but only thermometers, trending ever upward.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson notes the news and nicely summarizes why the idea behind global warming isn’t difficult to grasp:
Scientists understand how molecules of carbon dioxide act to trap heat. They know -- not through inference but from direct measurement of air bubbles trapped long ago in Arctic and Antarctic ice -- that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in the last half-million years, perhaps the last million years. The simplest and most logical explanation of why there's suddenly so much carbon in the air is that humans have put it there by burning fossil fuels. This is what has changed.
He also makes the point that arrogance and bad behavior do not in themselves disprove a theory or make it less likely, as the science isn’t dependent on the personality of the scientist, only on the quality of his work. (Boy, is this ever true! We spent a good portion of our career working with researchers in the medical field – you become quite expert at distinguishing between the genuine genius and the ghastly social skills that can reside in the same person – not that such a combination was really so common.)
Robinson sums it all up thusly:
It's time to end the silly "argument" over whether climate change is real.