Climategate — the Real War on Science?

The huge pile of emails purloined or leaked from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) last week does indeed “give every appearance of testifying to concerted and coordinated efforts by leading climatologists to fit the data to their conclusions while attempting to silence and discredit their critics,” as the Wall Street Journal stated yesterday. However, the main issue brought to light by these emails is even more serious.

In a column posted yesterday on Anthony Watts’s blog, amateur scientist Willis Eschenbach documents the many ruses and excuses CRU director Phil Jones and his allies employed over several years to deny outsiders access to the CRU gang’s temperature data and computer codes.

Skeptics have been accused of waging a “war on science” because they frequently question the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) interpretation of the rapidly expanding field of climate change research.

 But science is not a set of dogmas certified by government-funded bodies. Rather, as Mr. Eschenbach points out, science is fundamentally an “adversarial process” whereby competing scientists attempt to reproduce — that is, invalidate — each other’s results. This process absolutely depends on each combatant allowing the others to examine his data and methods. Tactics designed to hide data and methods are anti-science even if — nay, especially if — those resorting to such tricks are big-name scientists.   

“Science,” writes Eschenbach, “works by one person making a claim, and backing it up with data and methods they used to make the claim. Other scientists then attack the claim by (among other things) trying to replicate the first scientist’s work. If they can’t replicate it, it doesn’t stand.”

This means, says Eschenbach, that researchers who hide their data and computer codes to prevent others from replicating/invalidating their results “attack . . . the heart of science.” Such behavior is unethical and, as Eschenbach notes, likely illegal as well.

If you read only one commentary on Climategate, read this one. It is an eye-opener.