May 152010

It seems that the German news magazine Spiegel  managed to do the impossible: provide an impartial, balanced assessment of the story behind Climategate.

And by “balanced”, I don’t mean balanced in the American journalist’s sense, giving equal weight to both sides, no matter how ludicrous one side happens to be compared to the other, but balanced in the sense of not taking sides, not assuming guilt, and assessing the faults of all the participants regardless of which side they represent.

What I am reading is very discouraging. Climate science should really be called climate politics, with a little bit of science thrown in just to provide fodder for arguments. Meanwhile, both proponents and opponents of climate change sometimes fail to get even the basic physics right; as a minor example, recently I felt compelled to write a short paper about the proper use of the virial theorem in a planetary atmosphere, after reading way too much uninformed discussion by supposed experts online.

Of course way too much is at stake. Trillions of dollars, for starters, and quite possibly the future of our planet. Could it be that this compelled some good people to embellish the truth a little? If that is the case, they did a huge disservice to the very cause that they champion. By compromising the one currency science really has, its objectivity, they increased the likelihood that the public won’t listen to them just when it matters most, should it prove to be the case that real sacrifices are necessary to keep the planet habitable.

That is not to say that taking climate scientists to court is the right answer. If that’s the cure, it’s worse than the disease. Worse yet, it will only ensure more entrenched positions and more secrecy, justifying the hostility towards “deniers”. That is not the way to do science. Informed skepticism should be welcome, but skepticism should be about questioning methods and deductions, not the honesty and integrity of researchers. Will climate science ever be like this? I sure hope so, otherwise we’re all in very deep trouble.

 Posted by at 4:41 am