Feeds

Climategate: A symptom of driving science off a cliff

You just couldn't make it up

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Analysis I got some pushback from readers on the more skeptical side of the climate issue for describing Climategate as 'a tragedy'. There was clear evidence of cynicism and dishonesty, they argue - doesn't this let them off the hook? Not at all. But we need the bigger picture. Let's try this as a thought exercise.

Demonising or exonerating individuals, based on fragments from emails, only takes us so far. One of the striking things about the exchanges is that the climate scientists' private behaviour was so different to their public statements.

Why would this be? Just as the characters in 19th and early 20th century naturalistic novels were trapped by their circumstances, we may look at the circumstances around Climategate to explain the political mechanics of the time.

The second archive FOIA2011.ZIP is much broader than the first, and shows a high volume of detailed interaction between civil servants and the scientists. There's little doubt already that the East Anglia emails will become a primary source for future historians to try to understand public policy-making in this period. The archive spans a period from 1996 to 2009, when global warming went to the top of the policy agenda, and it appears that almost every significant email sent to and from this institute that was archived over this period will now be made public.

Climate science broke away from meteorology in the early seventies. The Met Office's Professor HH Lamb set up the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in 1972, making CRU a pioneer. But what happened to "climate science" over this period is merely an analogue of what took place in other fields. The relationship between science and public policy making is now very different to what it was 40 years ago, and climate research reflects those changes.

What we see now is a dynamic that looks rather like this. I have used a non-climate example. It's a circular process, that feeds in on itself, your preferred 'starting point' may be at any point of the cycle. I have chosen one in particular, because it will be very familiar to you: it's the pattern several major science stories have followed in recent years.

Firstly. An obscure researcher or scientist will make a dramatic claim.

The media picks up on this, and a reporter is assigned to the story. The reporter will have no scientific background – but looks to the state and the bureaucracy to do something. Anything.

The hapless minister is then hauled on to explain the inaction. He will be intelligent – he is likely to have a PPE from Oxford, like the presenter – but no specialist knowledge. He, too, trusts the scientists.

A pledge is then made to increase funding for the scientist who makes the claim.

A pledge is also made to act – by introducing legislation or other regulations. Perhaps a task force or committee will also be involved:

Illustrations: Andy Davies

The bandwagon is now rolling.

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.