I hate to say it, but on rare occasions it is difficult to figure out where science ends and politics begins. I have always believed there is a clear distinction between scientific findings and public policy. But a few members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change blurred the line, whether we like it or not.
I just finished reading a 12-part series about Climategate published in The Guardian, a British publication. The series includes annotated comments written by those close to the issue.
If you care about climate change, you probably should pay attention to politics surrounding this issue. That means you probably should know about the controversy surrounding the stolen e-mails of a few key climate scientists.
This series, by reporter Fred Pearce, offers context that one
cannot get by reading the e-mails alone. I was impressed by the
balance that Pearce brings to the issue, neither defending nor
attacking the scientists for their apparent failings. But he does
comment on the personalities of the scientists as well as the
skeptics who constantly stirred the pot.
scandal incident does not discount the accumulated evidence
about climate change on many fronts, but these researchers did
refuse requests for data from climate-change skeptics and they may
have interfered with the normal peer-review process. It is also
possible that we may never see another “consensus” report on
climate change like those written in the past, Pearce says.
In a note introducing the 12 articles, The Guardian editors call this series a “unique experiment,” and an “attempt at a collaborative route to getting at the truth.” In addition to the normal comment section from readers, the series includes sections of text highlighted in yellow. These annotations link to comments provided by people judged to be close to the situation. As I understand it, the record remains open for knowledgeable people to make comments.
As the editors state, “We hope to approach that complete account by harnessing the expertise of people with a special knowledge of, or information about, the emails. We would like the protagonists on all sides of the debate to be involved, as well as people with expertise about the events and the science being described or more generally about the ethics of science.”
Fred Pearce paces his story for dramatic effect, which makes the series an enjoyable read. Here are his opening paragraphs:
“This story is dark; there are no heroes. Environmentalists will be distressed at what happens in the labs; many may think we should not publish for fear of wrecking the already battered cause of fighting climate change. But some of it, according to the British government’s Information Commissioner, may have been illegal.
“Remember two other things. First, this was war. The scientists were under intense and prolonged attack, they believed, from politically and commercially motivated people who wanted to prevent them from doing their science and trash their work. And they had, as their most vocal protagonist Professor Michael Mann puts it in one email, “dirty laundry one doesn’t want to fall into the hands of those who might potentially try to distort things …”
“Meanwhile, their attackers came to believe that the scientists were fraudsters. In many ways, what follows is a Shakespearean tragedy of misunderstood motives.”
Read on in Part 1 of the series.