ClimateGate – the scandal that never was

Jim Hansen, NASA scientist and bogeyman of climate change denialists, has offered his thoughts on a scandal manufactured by those with a political axe to grind, and contempt for science and the scientific process. In an essay titled “The temperature of science”, Hansen discusses errors in temperature databases, and the consequences of such when it comes to journalistic reporting, blogging and political lobbying.

Deniers go on about the need for public access to data and analysis code, but how is this implemented in practice? Whatever the field of scientific investigation, occasional errors in data are inevitable, and it is entirely reasonable that scientists responsible for the data be given time to check their integrity before putting them into the public domain. This applies to social and economic statistics as well as scientific data, and for very good reason.

Hansen on data flaws and quality control checks…

“…even a transient data error, however quickly corrected provides fodder for people who are interested in a public relations campaign, rather than science. That means we cannot put the new data each month on our web site and check it at our leisure, because, however briefly a flaw is displayed, it will be used to disinform the public.”

“…to minimize the chance of a bad data point slipping through in one of the data streams and temporarily affecting a publicly available data product, we now put the analyzed data up first on a site that is not visible to the public… if anything seems questionable, we report it back to the data providers for them to resolve. Such checking is always done before publishing a paper, but now it seems to be necessary even for routine transitory data updates. This process can delay availability of our data analysis to users for up to several days, but that is a price that must be paid to minimize disinformation.”

On intimidation and obstruction…

“The recent ‘success’ of climate contrarians in using the pirated East Anglia e-mails to cast doubt on the reality of global warming* seems to have energized other deniers. I am now inundated with broad FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for my correspondence, with substantial impact on my time and on others in my office. I believe these to be fishing expeditions, aimed at finding some statement(s), likely to be taken out of context, which they would attempt to use to discredit climate science.”

“*By ‘success’ I refer to their successful character assassination and swift-boating. My interpretation of the e-mails is that some scientists probably became exasperated and frustrated by contrarians – which may have contributed to some questionable judgment. The way science works, we must make readily available the input data that we use, so that others can verify our analyses. Also, in my opinion, it is a mistake to be too concerned about contrarian publications – some bad papers will slip through the peer-review process, but overall assessments by the National Academies, the IPCC, and scientific organizations sort the wheat from the chaff.”

Filter out the political bluster, and it’s clear that the denialists have no case…

“The important point is that nothing was found in the East Anglia e-mails altering the reality and magnitude of global warming in the instrumental record. The input data for global temperature analyses are widely available, on our web site and elsewhere. If those input data could be made to yield a significantly different global temperature change, contrarians would certainly have done that – but they have not.”

The deniers may have been energised by the East Anglia email hack, and they have succeeded in inflicting a substantial degree of short-term political damage. But already the dissembling of climate contrarians has been exposed for what it is. With the farce that was Copenhagen climate summit, the debate has since moved on to the lack of adequate political action on a very real problem.