Scientists behaving badly

In my previous post, I discussed my take on global warming. While climate scientists have learned much, the science of predicting the future climate is not done (as some activists claim). In fact, it would be more accurate to say that it has yet to begin. This isn’t the fault of the climate scientists; they are doing the best they can, but you simply cannot test long-term models in the short term.

That was my position until a couple of days ago. In broad strokes, my position has not changed, but I’ve been forced to revise one aspect. In light of the leaked emails and documents from the Hadley Climate Research Unit, I can only say that most climate scientists are doing the best they can.

A hacker broke into the computer system at the Hadley CRU and obtained hundreds of emails, data sets, and other files, and then released them on the internet. At first there was some question whether the files were genuine, but it now appears that they are authentic, or at least substantially so.

The files show that the Hadley scientists and their correspondents have been behaving in a very unscientific manner. The best summaries I’ve found are by John Hinderaker (here and here) and Bishop Hill. They show:

  • These scientists worked very hard to control access to their data, allowing access only to those who could be trusted to support their conclusions. They were willing to forgo publishing in journals that required data to be made public. They were even willing to go so far as to delete data rather than release it to Freedom of Information requests. (In light of this article, I’m not as shocked by this as I might have been.)
  • The scientists failed to observe proper protocol refereeing papers.
  • The scientists plotted to discredit a journal that sometimes published articles skeptical of anthropogenic global warming.
  • The scientists took the debate personally and emotionally, even to the extent of celebrating the death of a prominent skeptic.

Some of the emails appear to admit fudging data, but we don’t know the context of the messages, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they have a benign explanation. I think it’s better to focus on the broader pattern.

The broader pattern is the scientists at Hadley are not behaving like scientists but as activists. Rather than subjecting their data and methodology to scrutiny, they are hiding them from it. Rather than welcoming new ideas, they are fighting to silence them. Their behavior is utterly unacceptable, and it has tarnished their entire field.

The field of climate science now needs to take a serious look at itself and figure out how it can restore its credibility. Releasing all their data would be a good — indeed, essential — first step. Alas, if the folks at are any guide, it’s not likely to happen. They argue that there’s nothing to see here; everything is fine. It’s not. If they think this sort of thing is okay, then their field has a bigger problem than just Hadley.

There are those of us who would like to defend the scientists and their work, even while we debate what can and should be done about it. But they’re making it a lot harder.

UPDATE: My point exactly:

Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that (a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals.

There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But what is clear is that the integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British Government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay.

There may be an innocent explanation for (a). I hope there is. But (b), (c), and (d) are certainly true, unless there is widespread forgery throughout the documents, and all indications are to the contrary. The climate science community (I’m thinking particularly of the Real Climate guys) need to get in front of this and take a serious, public look at themselves. If they persist in their failure to see how damning this is, they will seriously damage their field.

(Via Instapundit.)

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