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Climategate and the First Rule of Holes

When you are in one, it is best to stop digging.

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

December 8, 2009 - 12:05 am
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All right, class, what’s the First Rule of Holes? That’s right: “If you are in one, stop digging.”

Events this weekend suggest that this isn’t covered in the usual climatology graduate program.

You may recall the ongoing Climategate scandal (or if not, then pop over to the PJTV Climategate roundup page and check it out). There are many details, but the short summary is that the Climategate files contain emails, program code, and climate data that suggest a small group of climate scientists massaged the data in order to make a stronger case for CO2-driven global warming than the data really supports; conspired to prevent their data from being released under the freedom of information laws in the U.S. and UK; and went to great lengths to control publications about climate science, so that dissenting scientists weren’t published in the “peer-reviewed” literature, and so that journalists were properly identified and disciplined in order to make sure the correct views were presented.

Of those, the attempt to subvert peer review and control the discussion are probably the biggest offenses, at least from a scientist’s point of view; as I argued a few days ago, those are violations of the social contract that underlies the whole of science.

You might imagine that once the scandal was well and truly launched, there would be some attempt to recover — and certainly there have been some. The UK Meteorological Office announced it was making all the raw data it holds available to outside researchers, while they started a three-year project to reevaluate that data in light of the questions raised by the emails. The National Climatic Data Center announced an open-access data policy. Mike Hulme, one of the CRU climate inner circle, wrote a limited mea culpa in the Wall Street Journal in which he allowed that the sense of the science being “settled” was overstated and itself unscientific.

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