Climategate: Disdain for the Scientific Method

It has become a common defense of global warming alarmists against the Climategate scandal to argue that the emails, leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), show science working -- perhaps at its best. Yet a judicious reading of the emails shows that nothing could be farther from the truth. The emails display a disturbing disdain for the scientific method itself.

Specifically, the emails indicate that some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists have abandoned the basic scientific principle of subjecting empirical evidence, and the treatment of that evidence, to external scrutiny, so that findings can be verified and -- when necessary -- abandoned or revised.

The scientific method relies on the observation of empirical evidence in order to arrive at new truths. While some scientific “truths” may be considered true as a practical matter once they have undergone extensive scrutiny, the questions they address can never be considered closed and must always remain open to challenge. This means that empirical evidence marshaled by scientists must be made available for critical appraisal and that skeptics must be allowed to engage in honest debate without being subject to intimidation or smear.

The released emails clearly show how the scientists at CRU sought to hide behind confidentiality agreements in order to avoid disclosing data and violated the law by seeking to delete emails subject to requests under the UK Freedom of Information Act.

The emails also show how these influential scientists attempted to shut out dissenting scientists by trying to force the editors of two journals, Climate Research and Geophysical Research Letters, to shut out the dissenters or resign. In one email, Michael Mann wrote to Phil Jones: “I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” So much for Phil Jones’s claim that “I’m a very apolitical person. ... I let my science do the talking.”

Why are these scientists so frightened of the prospect of their work being subject to critical analysis?

Compare the obfuscation and arrogance from CRU to the openness and humility of Albert Einstein. After the publication of “Gravitation and the Principle of Relativity” in 1918, Einstein insisted that his theory would only be valid after empirical testing.  Even after Frank Dyson’s 1919 analysis of photographs of a solar eclipse satisfied the requirements of two of his three tests, Einstein still refused to accept his own theory until the third “red shift” test was met. “If it were proved that this effect does not exist in nature, then the whole theory would have to be abandoned.”

CRU defenders argue that the results obtained by CRU were validated by other scientists. However, the emails indicate that the other scientists were part of an inside group of paleoclimatologists who backed each other up and discussed how to avoid anyone outside the gang interfering with their work.

Thus, the emails validate the conclusion of Dr. Edward Wegman, chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, who testified before Congress in 2006: “[A]uthors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface.”

Climate science -- like all science -- must be open to challenge in order to advance. Otherwise, global warming proponents can hardly complain when the public ignore and question their findings and expensive policy recommendations.

In the meantime, the claim that the science of anthropogenic global warming is “settled” has been discredited. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied on the CRU for its data.  Now that the coordinated effort of Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and others to suppress data and subvert the peer review process has been exposed, the IPCC’s own findings are in doubt.

For public policy, this means that the question of whether the recent global warming is unusual or unprecedented is open once again. That question, in turn, is crucial to the decision of whether to spend large amounts of public money on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations carry on their carbon emissions control efforts as if nothing has happened. They should postpone any such actions. The scientific method deserves at least that much respect.