Climategate’s Ethics Heroes, Villains and Dunces

The hacked East Anglia University computer files are slowly revealing the ethical values of more than just the scientists. They are also serving as accurate detector of integrity or the lack of it; bias or fairness, honesty, accountability, and courage.

Almost every day, a public statement, op-ed or news item exposes a hero, dunce, or villain or in the climate change debate, like those nifty reagents and black lights they use in the  “CSI” TV show and its 37 spin-offs. Here are some who have appeared thus far:

Phil Jones, the head of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. VILLAIN. Jones, whose job was to make sure that important research with such significant implications for public policy was undertaken with absolute openness and integrity, 1) allowed, encouraged and participated in a text-book example of group-think run amuck 2) blocked access to the Unit’s data, requested by skeptics and others, and then admitted that much of the original data had been “dumped” 2) dishonestly attempted to excuse and obscure the clear implications of some of the messages. For example, Jones  argued that his own infamous message about using a “trick” to “hide the decline” in some temperature data was being unfairly misinterpreted, since he meant “trick” in the sense of a useful device and not as a means of deception. But when a “useful device” is used to “hide” something, it is by definition a means of deception. Jones has stepped down from his post. Good.

Steve McIntyre, creator and author of the ClimateAudit blog. HERO. Much derided by the “warmists,” McIntyre’s serious, careful and provocative blog has worked diligently to try to keep the pro-climate change juggernaut from slipping bad science through an uncritical news media and a gullible public to politically biased policy-makers.\

Carol Browner, White House “climate czar.”  DUNCE. Asked about her reaction to the e-mails, Browner said, “I’m sticking with the 2,500 scientists. These people have been studying this issue for a very long time and agree this problem is real.” Thus the person responsible for advising the White House on policy with extraordinary implications for the economy, the environment and the lives and occupations of millions of Americans treats her job and her vital area of responsibility as if she is picking sides in a Yankee-Red Sox game, while revealing her level of sophistication in the supposed area of her expertise as infantile. “The problem is real”? The issues raised by the e-mails are whether the scientists really know with sufficient certainty how large the problem is, how complex are the causes, how long is the likely duration, whether it is something mankind can realistically do anything about, and what the proper cost/benefit considerations are, given the uncertainty about these considerations. These are all affected by the scandal. Browner doesn’t care, and that is irresponsible, not to mention dumb.

The late Michael Crighton. HERO. In 2004, before Al Gore’s propaganda documentary, before the global warming movement underwent its Orwellian transformation to “climate change,” and before Nancy Pelosi announced that she had “seen global warming,” (I know I harp on this statement, but really!), Crighton wrote State of Siege, a best-selling novel in which he warned against “scientific consensus” generally and global warming consensus specifically. Crighton was trained as a medical doctor, but he was honest, diligent, brilliant, and a lifetime contrarian and truth-teller; his critique was smart and adept. It also was without a political agenda attached, unlike the scores of global warming advocates who attacked him and ridiculed the novel (which Hollywood, not surprisingly since its own liberal activists were skewered in it, had no interest in filming, unlike Crighton’s earlier hits.) In 2005, he gave this prescient speech on global warming skepticism.

Sen. Barbara Boxer. VILLAIN
Confronted with the doubts raised by Climategate (Boxer and Sen. John Kerry are the co-sponsors of a current climate change policy bill), Sen. Boxer’s response was to condemn the e-mail hacking as criminal and suggest that this, and not the content of the information, was the proper subject of congressional inquiry. It was criminal, of course, but Boxer is trying to delegitimize reasonable doubts and serious issues by attacking the messengers, when she should be concerned about finding out what the facts are. She is also a hypocrite who has been quick to cheer and use illegally obtained and leaked data when it suited her purposes.

Jon Stewart. HERO.  Stewart is very liberal, and his satirical barbs on “The Daily Show” disproportionately skewer Republicans and conservatives and ridicule their points of view. Lately, however, Stewart has grown in his role, perhaps in recognition of the sad but true fact that his comedy is taken as genuine news commentary by many in the under-30 crowd, and begun to emulate the great satirists of the past by aiming barbs at all sides when justified. While other liberals were trying to sweep the e-mail scandal under the rug, Stewart called it like it was.

Judith Curry, Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Tech. HERO.
While so many of her colleagues were denying, spinning and attacking, Prof. Curry was thinking, writing, being fair, and trying to take positive lessons from the fiasco.

Seattle Columnist Joe Connelly, et al. VILLAIN and DUNCE Connelly is an appropriate poster child for all the arrogant, contemptuous, scientific naifs among columnists and journalists who not only have made pronouncements about the  “findings” of extremely complicated scientific data they barely comprehend, but who condemn anyone who takes the responsible, unbiased path of keeping an open mind. Connelly also leapt into the East Anglia scandal by declaring it nothing but a distraction cooked up by Rush Limbaugh and the Mad Right, while some of the more cautious of Connelly’s  colleagues  (Hello, Maureen Dowd!) have had the sense to clam up as the unfolding of  “Climategate” shows that their previous outrageous attacks may warrant published apologies. Will there be any actual apologies? I wonder.

Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine’s science correspondent ; CBS blogger Declan McCollough; New York Times columnist John Tierney;  and others. HEROES. These commentators and reporters have been timely, balanced and critical on the climate change debate both before and after the e-mail scandal.

Al Gore. Somewhere between VILLAIN and DUNCE. If Gore had sufficient integrity, he would be condemning the implications of the Climategate e-mails and call for openness and ethical research practices. Instead, he has been silent, and apparently even hostile to inquiries. Gore is no scientist; throughout his career he has latched on to experts in scientific fields and been their advocate. He is hopelessly compromised on the climate change issue, financially, in reputation and emotionally. He is still accountable, however, for the aggressive, doctrinaire certitude of non-scientist climate change advocates, because he is their template.

Most of the news media. DUNCES The media’s uncritical, negligent and lazy coverage of the global warning debate is every bit as disgraceful as its conduct during the run up to the invasion of Iraq and its blatant cheer-leading for candidate Obama during the 2008 campaign. Back in September, it was admitted that the raw data behind most of the models and assumptions being presented by climate change scientists had been dumped, meaning that many of the research results could not be checked, duplicated, or criticized. This was outrageous, and should have set off every scientific ethics alarm in existence. Yet it was barely reported by any major news source. It was not until the Climategate scandal that the dumping became news. It was always news, because without the raw data, the scientists claiming the absolute certainty for their climate change research were asking us to trust them, without allowing skeptics access to enough information to verify that trust.

The climate change researchers. VILLAINS. To which I should add, FOOLS. Let us assume, as the scientists assumed, that everything they have been telling us about climate change is true. In that case, it would be vital that the research and findings showing it was true be unimpeachable: open, fair, self-critical. Instead, the scientists engaged in hyping, deceit, suppression of data, destruction of data, personal attacks, over-simplification, dishonesty and possibly fraud. Such conduct would throw into legitimate dispute any expert’s reliability and credibility. Entrusted with scientific knowledge that might hold the future of mankind, they degraded it by unethical conduct. We cannot trust them.

We also cannot trust anyone who says we should.

5 thoughts on “Climategate’s Ethics Heroes, Villains and Dunces

  1. Simply sublime.

    I could scarcely agree more, although Gore is clearly a villain. He is profiting monetarily off anthropogenic global warming alarmism, and although I am strongly supportive of the capitalist motive implicit in cashing in on the “hot” trend, it is his own contributions to alarmism that help drive his profits.

    Whether or not AGW is actually happening, agenda-driven science is bad science, especially when the main players stand to gain, either in reputation, research grants, or filthy lucre.

    We need openness in scientific debate, not an attempt to redefine what peer-review means. We need honest discourse, not pigeonholing of skeptics as “deniers.” We need our scientists to be skeptical of their findings — that is a critical part of true science.

    “Hiding the decline” and trying to make the data fit the the theory is not science, it is fraud.

  2. Yes, Glenn, my own instincts are to put Al in the “villain” camp as well, but I bent over backward to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have something of an old grudge against Gore, and I always try to cut him some slack as a counterbalance. Maybe its time to call a spade a spade.

  3. “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

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