On Tuesday evening, two journalists from well-regarded media institutions accused the academic science community of remaining locked up in ivory towers during a panel discussion on climate change. The basis for this accusation was ‘Climategate’ (sigh, I’ll keep the scandal+’gate’ rant for another post), where UEA scientists were accused of manipulating climate research data to hide flaws. Not only did scientists refuse to answer FOIs, but hid in ‘ivory towers’ as the scandal broke, they said. (I wrote more about this here).
Impossible, they said, to keep the stories balanced because scientists were so reluctant to communicate. Ironically, the one actual scientist scheduled to appear on the panel didn’t turn up.
The research community rightly deserves some flak for its lack of transparency and the House of Commons investigation seems to agree:
It is not standard practice in climate science and many other fields to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. We think that this is problematic because climate science is a matter of global importance and of public interest, and therefore the quality and transparency of the science should be irreproachable.
Indeed. But it’s astonishing journalists got away so lightly with their coverage of events. Like this from the Daily Mail which covers the infamous phrase used by the research unit’s director, Prof Phil Jones, in an e-mail:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.
Lordy, what a kaffuffle that caused. With no further research as to what exactly this phrase might mean, the Mail on multiple occasions assumes without question (or indeed any sources) that this equates to dishonesty and the manipulation of research statistics. Viz:
The scientist at the heart of the climate change email scandal tried to hide flaws in key data, it is claimed.
Ah. It is claimed. Claimed by who?
Since then, the HoC investigation concluded, quite firmly, that there was no funny business:
Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words “hide the decline” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous.
In short, the HoC’s main recommendations were to increase transparency in research departments; something (surely) Prof Jones could hardly be expected to handle entirely on his own, given the rules governing the publication of scientific data and copyright. There was no implication that Phil Jones’ scientific reputation should have been called into question.
Still – fact-checking rarely bothers the Mail which took a swipe at his credentials in this editorial at the earliest possible opportunity for its own rabidly anti-green agenda:
How many other so-called scientists are suppressing inconvenient truths?
That’s three sentences after accusing the BBC of ‘biased zeal’ on climate change.