Friday, January 1, 2010


I reserved commenting on the events of Climategate until all necessary information was present and accounted for. A lot of individuals from the scientific community rushed forward to support the climate scientists. Opponents of anthropogenic global warming took advantage of the opportunity to exploit the leaked emails and proclaim global warming to be a hoax.  Most people seemed to agree that the scientists had done something wrong, but could not reach a consensus regarding what that something was and the extent to which it was wrong.
The fact that a small handful of climate scientists may have tampered with data didn’t impress me. The case for global warming is strong. It’s effects can be immediately and empirically verified, and experts from numerous disciplines can present data that would be consistent with global climate change.
(For you clever readers, I do understand that evidence of climate change is not necessarily evidence of anthropogenic climate change. However, if we agree that there is a symbiotic relationship between climate and the biological life it supports, it would be hard to imagine that altering an ecosystem or environment to the degree that man has in many cases had absolutely no consequences. It would be counterintuitive to believe that altering or destroying features that play a role in regulating the planet’s climate would not effect the climate at all. That‘s silly.) 
So I wasn’t moved to try to persuade the masses that climate science was valid, because a few emails doesn’t significantly undermine years of inter-disciplinary research. It seemed to be a crisis that would blow over quickly, and not have much impact on public opinion.
However, then the full report of the emails was released, following review by the AP.
It concluded what every reasonable person already expected- ‘Climategate Emails Do Not Reveal Fraud’. I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that I had been correct. Then I read the article. They may not have committed fraud, but the emails were nonetheless troubling. They showed how angry the climate scientists had grown with their skeptics, and the degree to which they were frustrated by FOI requests and public opinion.
But was there response justified? One quote taken from the emails, regarding the death of a global warming skeptic, said “In an odd way this is cheering news!".  Another said that the best way to address critics was  by "continuing to publish quality work in quality journals (or calling in a Mafia hit.)" There were allusions to attempts to keep skeptics from obtaining data. A third scientist said of a critic "I'll be tempted to beat the crap out of him. Very tempted." Those remarks seemed more damaging and embarrassing to science than any of the excerpts alleging fraud.
It was a clear reminder that all scientists are human, and sometimes humans behave rather badly.
It bothered me that once the angry shouts of ‘fraud’ died down, no one had anything to say about what actually transpired.
There is a common expectation for scientists to be objective in all their endeavors and, of course, that’s impossible. Scientists are people… blah, blah, blah. But we aren’t talking a spat with the missus or an angry email to a sister. It isn’t unreasonable to expect that scientists should demonstrate objectivity towards the data they’ve gathered. While it’s understandable to not waste your time indulging laymen, the emails pertained largely to skeptical colleagues- fellow climate scientists. Part of being a scientist means being able to retain objectivity when evaluating data and having your own data/conclusions scrutinized.
If being objective and scrutinized isn’t your strong suit then maybe you should find a different job, because chances are, you’re not cut out for research science.
(I hear hotel management is a nice field…)
The same goes for the responses of the scientists in question towards FOI requests. If it’s your intention to tell people that they’re going to be microwaved by their own planet (which seems to be the prevailing idea of global warming’s end result, at least in the public’s imagination), then you should be prepared for scared people to argue up and down that you’re wrong, and frightened people will do nearly anything to avoid reaching the conclusion that terrifies them. This includes filing frivolous FOI demands.
Human evolution sparks the same angry controversy and the same degree of terror in it’s opponents. Implying that humans evolved on this planet, rather than being designed or created, is tantamount to saying there’s no God in the eyes of extremists. That’s a scary thought for them.
If that type of response is not something you’re prepared to deal with then maybe you should become a receptionist, or at the very least work in a less controversial field of science.
The appropriate response to the emails should have been a unanimous rebuke of the scientists in question. After all, I doubt anyone would tolerate comments like that coming out of  their children (they call that cyber bullying now). I find it hard to imagine that it’s more acceptable when it’s coming from highly-educated, grown-ups with access to crucial information regarding an issue that effects the whole of our species.
Of course, all of this would mean more coming from me if I didn’t get so agitated with creationists  who demand an explanation of our primate lineage, solely so they can try (as best they can) to pick it apart. I  quickly learned how to deal with those people. I just tell them Jesus told me humans evolved on the planet, and he wrote it down on a napkin. Buddha signed it, but then my dinosaur ate it.
It’s an absolutely ineffective way to persuade anyone of anything- but then again, who says it’s possible to persuade them? Creationists and global warming doubters have such an investment in their beliefs that if the overwhelming evidence already available hasn’t convinced them, it’s doubtful that me (or climate scientists) restating it will have any impact on their views.
Attempting to convince people who have made up their mind to not be convinced is pointless (and it will give you a migraine).
As science becomes a more important fixture of our society, it becomes necessary for us to define societies relationship with it. That could mean restricting FOI requests, or creating new penalties for avoiding  submitting to them. Numerous solutions would make sense. It doesn’t make sense to allow scientists to get away with behavior that would be unacceptable by virtually anyone else.


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