I was saddened to read about the e-mail hacking into the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. I feel I have a special connection to UEA CRU because it is in Norwich, the town of my roots, and because it was founded by H.H. Lamb, the father of a family friend, Norman Lamb, who is the Lib-Dem MP for North Norfolk and a shadow minister.
Of course, although I haven't actually read many of them, I feel I can comment on the e-mails, anyway! They seem to reveal scientists refusing to disclose data and ganging up on a journal and other scientists.
Well, disclosing data can be a tricky problem. I myself will not often let data we have or papers we are writing out of the lab until the work has been accepted for publication.
The reason for this is primarily that I don't want to release results until I feel we are reasonably sure they are reliable and that we have done our best to fully understand them. Otherwise, one runs the risk of having to confusingly and damagingly retract hastily-drawn conclusions. In the case of UEA, the data concerns work after publication, which should normally be released (although we all know of many cases where scientists keep crucial data to themselves even then!). However, it seems the data concerned were not UEA's to pass on, anyway.
In another set of e-mails Phil Jones, the present CRU director, is revealed strongly criticising other scientists, and even a journal as being not a legitimate peer review affair etc. All this seems par for the course as far as I can see: normal scientist private chit-chat. I wouldn't be surprised if, in my own e-mails sent over the last 15 years there were evidence of lopsided views, bias, and discussions with collaborators as to cunning strategies to get our own work pushed on the community at the expense of other, competing scientific philosophies!
How does science overcome the scheming, biases and collusion? By working with fact-based consensus. Occasionally, even a leading scientist who has published respected work may then publish something he/she believes is rigorously demonstrable and proven but in fact is unfounded, wrong and has simply slipped through the peer-review process (the reviewers didn't recognise the problem). Plenty of papers in top journals qualify as such. However, if the work seems important several other groups, maybe from all over the planet, will independently take it up, repeat it, do other experiments/calculations that test it, and fail to substantiate it. The work is then naturally consigned to oblivion or moved to the slow-burner. Only by fact-based reinforcement do ideas gradually receive a solid consensus.
With climate change, as UEA stress in their recent post, the reinforcement exists in multiple strands of evidence: not only their own work, but also long-term retreat of glaciers in most alpine regions of the world, reductions in the area of the Northern Hemisphere (NH) snow cover during the spring season, reductions in the length of the freeze season in many NH rivers and lakes, reduction in Arctic sea-ice extent in all seasons, but especially in the summer, increases in global average sea level since the 19th century, and increases in the heat content of the ocean and warming of temperatures in the lower part of the atmosphere since the late 1950s.
Although I am not a climate expert, my knowledge of the system leads me to believe that it is impossible that climate change be some kind of massive hoax or collusion or that the consensus is fundamentally wrong. UEA CRU, starting with H.H. Lamb (who, according to Norman, did not himself believe in anthropogenic climate change) , have played an important role in helping reveal the facts. May the illegal hackers be themselves excoriated.
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