Friday, April 16, 2010

East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit: Science Okay; Reporting, Not So Much

"Climate scientists at East Anglia University cleared by inquiry"
Times Online (London) (April 14, 2010)

" Climate scientists at the centre of the row over stolen e-mails acted with integrity and made no attempt to manipulate their research on global temperatures, an external inquiry has found.

"Their research was, however, misrepresented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which failed to reflect uncertainties the scientists had reported concerning the raw temperature data.

"An inquiry panel of leading scientists, nominated by the Royal Society, said that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit may not have used the best methods for analysing temperature records.

"The unit had also failed to store all its data and keep full records of exactly what it had done, preventing other scientists from checking all its findings.

"But after interviewing the unit's scientists and studying 11 of their reports, the panel concluded: 'We found them to be objective and dispassionate in their view of the data and their results, and there was no hint of tailoring results to a particular agenda...'...."

I'm inclined to take the Times Online article at face value. It's not that I have blind faith in scientists, and think that they are a breed apart which simply cannot be wrong.

Particularly in a post-Watergate world, I really didn't want to believe that a bunch of scientists could have, cold-sober, cooked up ersatz climate data and then shredded the evidence. If nothing else, I'd think that if they were lying - they'd be sharp enough to fake the records.

Data getting lost or destroyed in a move? Yeah: that I can see happening. Accidentally.

I'm not surprised that their research was "misrepresented" by a others. Like so much else that serious researchers deal with, the temperature data included uncertainties.

I can see the panel's point of view, sort of. When you've got a particular result that you just simply know has got to be true because you know it is - it'd be awfully easy to forget about bothersome uncertainties.

Have I No Heart? Am I Not Appalled At the Impending End of the World?

That four-chambered pump in my chest is still operating within normal parameters. And, addressing the metaphor, yes: I care. I think it's a good idea to have rules for how waste is handled. I even think that building codes are, on the whole, a good idea. (As Haiti found out, the hard way.)

But I'm not upset that it's impossible to get fresh trilobite these days.

I have no doubt that the climate is changing. When I was growing up, some folks were convinced - based on a trend or two - that another ice age was coming.

They could be right about that: The last I heard, the jury is still out on whether we're still in the most recent of Earth's major periods of continental glaciation, or just coming out of it. A few thousand years from now, with more data and (I hope) better analytical methods, we'll be in a better position to opine.

For the last several years, we've been told that global warming will doom us.

Let's put it this way: I live in Minnesota. Even in August, it's hard to work up a serious fear of longer summers.

And yes, I know: terrible, awful things could happen.

Or, not.

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