A shower of meteors is preferable to a global editorial

The news alerts, the backgrounders, the live blogs from Copenhagen- all great stuff. But is a single campaigning editorial line from 56 papers in 45 countries just what we need to launch it ? On the contrary, there’s nothing like a big chorus of unanimity to set off the discordant voices and stoke the comforting paranoia of grandstanding sceptics the Telegraph’s blog editor sympathises with in a – wouldn’t you know it? – last minute tilt at the BBC. Personally I’ve had it up to here with Climategate. Is there anybody who seriously believes the future of the planet depends on what happened over a few emails in the University of East Anglia? Recognise a PR gift to sceptics for horning in on the debate when you see it. Human failings is what they trade in, not scientific data. The subject is too vast for either a uniform approach or the old left-right divide to tackle. We need openness and integrity all the way- no slick shortcuts.

  • Jud

    Brian – you seem to be appealing to authority on this and it surprises me.

    I think the skeptics have some very reasonable questions and points, and the email correspondence – far from being irrelevant- shows seriously bad behavior around the dataset that is central to the case.

    Why not release the raw data for the 1000 year record?
    Why not release the methods that have been applied to the data to produce the charts we are all so familiar with?
    Why is it ok to refuse FOI requests for said methods and data (and apparently destroy it rather than release it)?

    I’m not saying AGW is not happening – just that the evidence for it has not been produced.

    The emails show a concerted effort to hide, manipulate, and even destroy the data.

    Surely it is fair to see the evidence before taking such major public policy steps?

  • Until the mid-1990s it was widely believed that temperatures were higher during the Medieval Warm Period than they are today.

    This was a problem for the Artificial Global Warming argument, as it would suggest that the rise in temperatures post 1970 is within the natural fluctuations of the earth’s temperature and therefore nothing to get alarmed about.

    This is the significance of the Climategate emails, as they describe a finessing of the data relating to the historic temperature record.

    The historic temperature record is something which is not backed up with large volumes of evidence. The reconstructions of historic temperature using tree rings and bristlecone pines are quite weak evidence on which a lot of the AGW case rests.

  • Brian Walker

    JUD, Why not release all the data? Good question.I’m still puzzled how the emails had such an impact. Faking results has always played some part of vast research programmes, but usually without much impact in the end. Peer review provides the protection. The timing plays a part of course. What we were told – and I haven’t seen it refuted ((a verb which means dismissed as fact not just denied)- is that an inexperienced programmer put in a code to rectify an error and in doing so created a new error in what seems to have been a poor storage system for the uni’s Climate Research Unit, one of the world’s leading datasets on climate change.. and the error got out in emails..

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/jeff-poor/2009/12/05/bbc-exposes-fudge-factor-climategate-global-warming-computer-programming-

  • anne warren

    Single campaigning editorial.
    For the first time – one voice.
    Whatever the rights and wrongs on AGW, are newspapers not supposed to report the news as it happens? Should they propagandise, promote agendas and/or create their own news?

  • Jud

    Yes Brian.
    I have looked through the software and it is pretty nasty. There are ‘magic numbers’ galore adjusting temperatures up and down with no way to know why such ‘fudge factors’ were arrived at.

    That said, there is no way to know what this software was actually used for – it may not be central to the published record.

    I’m more concerned about the data. The actual temperature values that are the starting point for the published records and temperature trends have been ‘lost’. Seriously – there is no way to independently reconstruct these charts. I find it very hard to get past that point.

    And don’t underestimate the importance of the CRU data – it is quite literally the tip of an inverted pyramid.

    Also, if there is one thing to take from the emails, it is that peer review has been corrupted in this field. A small clique has effectively taken control of what can be published in only the journals of which they approve.

    Like I said before, I can’t say one way or another if AGW has been reasonably established. I can only say evidence has not been made available for external evaluation.

    But that is a big deal in the field of science.