Fellowship of the Tree Rings: An Immoral Tale

The Climategate furore shows no sign of dying down and the big questions now are “Was it a whistleblower?, “Is there more to come?” and “What next?”.  While the skeptical blogs are thriving on discovery of long-suspected foul-play, the exchanges on climate ‘insider’ sites such as RealClimate seem to be from a different planet, and take a “so what” smooth-it-over theme; however, these waters are boiling and no amount of oil will calm the maelstrom. (For anyone who is new to the scientific controversy over climate data I would highly recommend Jeff Id’s WordPress site “The Air Vent” where he currently has a reposting of his excellent Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Hockey Sticks).

I stick by my previous analysis that individually the emails are boring, don’t say much and are easy to wave off, but when you read again and again phrases that do not sit well with honesty and scientific integrity it is hard to view this collaborative group in any favourable light. So just what has come out?  Bishop Hill summarises the many of the discoveries succinctly – I’ve pulled off a few relevant to my theme (click to read), but do read the original:

Scientific Integrity

Autocrats to their research groups, academics often have big egos. It is their prerogative to promote their own research and developed theories, and academic rivalry happens but it seldom gets this nasty. Hell, if they were sportsmen they’d be up against their International Association for calling the sport into disrepute.

Consider for a moment one of the final lines of the Hippocratic Oath (modern version): “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling…”. Not that there’s a scientific equivalent. A US National Science Foundation report (link) says that (in 2000) public confidence in leaders of the scientific community was second only to that those in medicine; it quotes a UK survey:

The adjectives used most often to describe scientists and engineers were “intelligent, enquiring, logical, methodical, rational, and…responsible”


Not this lot. They believed their own propaganda, used their goal to justify their means.  On one hand Ben Santer says in an email “They [skeptics] seem to have no understanding of how science is actually done – no appreciation of the fact that uncertainty is an integral part of what we do.” On the other hand we read various emails discussing ways to ‘improve’ results that contribute to the uncertainty and ensure that the science supports warming and is presented as a consensus.

If this was just research understanding how climate affects the growth of trees we probably wouldn’t care. But these guys have had millions of public money, tax-payers money, to develop and propagate the very science, the uncertain science that would now change whole economies and all our lives.

Details of the funding to the lead scientist’s group was released and is on the web for all to see:

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Apparently this is a every bit as impressive as it seems.  When I started my science career in the late 1980s, a first job in a university paid about £12,000; a quick search of  academic job sites suggests it would now be at least £26,000, and academic contacts tell me that the full cost of such a post on a grant proposal currently (salary and overheads only) can be £80,000 per year.

On Friday a new website (http://www.anelegantchaos.org/) appeared, allowing an interface to the emails searchable by keyword; what a gift to the blogosphere.

Excerpts from the lyrics of Julian Cope’s “An Elegant Chaos”:

Looking down
At the carefully laid out infamy
Take a scythe, take a scythe,
To the rotting core
Of man-vegetation
Now I sigh
At the cool cool attitude to ignorance

Hmm. How appropriate.

“Thisis a truly shocking indictment of what passes for science within the climate world. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and no amount of spin can disguise what they have been doing over many years.” (a comment on blog Harmless Sky by Tonyb earlier today). I couldn’t have said it better.

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