Hacked E-Mail Investigations Show Continued Trend Toward … ‘Not Guilty’

Climate scientists sucked into the black holes of advocacy-driven allegations since last fall’s hacked e-mails controversy erupted may now be seeing some light at the end of the long tunnel they’ve been reluctantly traversing.

Commentary on the News

As a series of independent and seemingly authoritative reviews one-by-one exonerate them of any serious wrongdoing, the scientists are engaging each other with some heart-felt congratulations for what they insist they knew all along to be the case: Not guilty as charged, despite some knuckle-wraps calling for more openness and transparency in the way they conduct their science. Repeated findings along those lines have of course failed to stem the condemnations of persistent and highly vocal climate deniers and contrarians, whose drumbeat of unsubstantiated criticisms unquestionaby will continue.

Also see:

Scientist Ben Santer Expresses His ‘In an Ideal World’ Vision

The second and final such review by a Penn State University-appointed team exonerated the university’s Michael Mann of a final unsettled accusation, just as the university’s prior investigation had exonerated him of earlier related accusations. While berated, not surprisingly, as a “whitewash” by those whose minds had been made up long before, the most recent Penn State findings left Mann — most closely identified with the iconic “hockeystick” research and graphic — still facing a direct challenge brought on by the attorney general of Virginia, now increasingly (like the polar bears?) seen as standing on thin ice.

The bigger domino to fall came with an exoneration clearing managers and scientists associated with the hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. An Independent Climate Change Email Review, headed by respected and now-retired British civil servant Sir Muir Russell, gave a series of thumbs-down assessments to a slew of accusations alleging scientific wrong-doing. The report faulted the university and the scientists for being inadequately open and transparent in their work, but it found no evidence that they prejudiced their advice to policymakers or undermined conclusions of IPCC assessments, and found that “their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.”

“The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU’s work in this area could be trusted and should be relied upon, and we find no evidence to support that implication,” the report’s authors said. While calling on the university and those involved with CRU to ensure more transparency, including providing availability to materials they rely on but do not own, the report rejected claims that the peer review or editorial process had been subverted.

Pointing to the changing world of communications in the “blogosphere,” the British report urged “all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand …. it demands openness and access to data …. Like it or not, this indicates a transformation in the way science has to be conducted in this century.”

That’s a take-home message the responsible climate science community will do well to remember and take seriously even while they rightly celebrate the overall findings exonerating them of wrongdoing.

The report from the group lead by Sir Muir Russell is, alas, not the last in the ongoing series of independent investigations. An important upcoming assessment by the Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council is to be submitted to the United Nations by August 30. That report, initiated in the wake of the hacked e-mails controversy and findings of some factual errors in IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, is to be “an independent assessment of IPCC processes and procedures” for preparing its assessments, and it is likely to be the most singularly important and sweeping of all the various investigations born of the hacked e-mail and IPCC controversies.

Once that shoe drops, and however it does drop, can one then expect die-hard climate”gate” bloviators to get back to the real work of climate science and policy? Don’t count on it.


Scientist Ben Santer Expresses
His ‘In an Ideal World’ Vision

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Ben Santer acknowledges that he has been opening his e-mails with some trepidation in the months since the hacked e-mails controversy put him and some of his colleagues in the cross-hairs of climate deniers’ contempt.

June 8 was a welcome exception, Santer explained in something of an open-letter to colleagues Phl Jones and Keith Briffa, of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and other science colleagues. A facile writer with a commitment to education and communications unusual not widely found throughout the science community, Santer, a past winner of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, expressed his support for his fellow scientists and his hopes in “an ideal world.” His letter, with italics added, is published below with his permission:

The first e-mail I opened contained the final report of the Muir Russell inquiry. It was extremely gratifying to read the bottom-line findings of the report:

1.3 Findings13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

For the third time, you, Keith Briffa, and other CRU scientists have been exonerated. Your “rigour and honesty” was never doubted by those privileged to know you, to collaborate with you, to call you a colleague and a friend. Now your rigour and honesty is in plain view of the whole world.

In an ideal world, the individuals who devoted months of their lives to participation in the four “Climategate” inquiries(*) would now receive public thanks. They would not be publicly vilified.

In an ideal world, individuals who have falsely — and very publicly — accused you of professional misconduct would now publicly acknowledge that their accusations were without substance.

In an ideal world, their apologies would be sincere, and would be motivated by real comprehension of the anguish they have caused you and your family.

In an ideal world, “Climategate” will have given your critics some understanding of the true scientific importance of your research.

In a ideal world, the events of the last nine months will have alerted many different parties — politicians, the media, the public, our professional scientific societies, your employers, those who fund your research — to the serious difficulties you have had to overcome in order to do your work.

In an ideal world, steps will now be taken to make it easier for you to do the job you are paid to do (scientific research). You will not be asked to spend most of your time doing a job you are not paid to do (responding to a continuous barrage of Freedom of Information Act requests).

In an ideal world, there will now be expert assistance in helping you to deal with “orchestrated” Freedom of Information Act requests. There will be explicit clarification of which material is subject to such requests (and which material is not).

In an ideal world, your long and dedicated service to the scientific community will be recognized with the highest of civilian and scientific honors.

Phil, you Keith, and Mike Mann have been through the “worst of times” in the last nine months. You have come through these times with your honor and integrity intact. Those who know you – and many who do not – have even greater respect for you. You have shown great courage and professionalism under the most trying of circumstances.

I hope that “the best of times” lie ahead for all of you, and that some of my “ideal world” scenarios will become a reality.

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