Climategate Scientists Exonerated; Time to Seriously Discuss Climate Change

The (non) controversy surrounding hacked emails between prominent climate change scientists should officially be declared dead. The University of East Anglia recently completed an inquiry into whether the controversy, dubbed Climategate, showed gaps in climate science conducted at the Climate Research Unit (CRU). The investigation concluded that while researchers and University staff didn’t always conduct themselves with the highest degree of integrity, their scientific methods were sound.

Skeptics held up the Climategate emails as the smoking gun that undermined all the work done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Two phrases in particular were held up as particularly damning: mentions of a “trick” and “hide the decline.” The findings of the inquiry, led by former civil servant Muir Russell, found that neither phrase had the negative connotations skeptics alleged them to have.

“Trick” was simply an offhand way of discussing a certain statistical approach to a problem. “Hide the decline” was simply a misleading statement that had no relation hiding a decline of a short term warming that many skeptics point to as proof that climate change is a hoax.

On the other hand, the scientists implicated in Climategate were chided by the report for their “unhelpful” behavior. The most troubling action researchers undertook were deleting emails that may have been made public under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) should a request have arisen.

This action is regrettable and certainly not in the spirit of the FoIA. However, it also raises questions about the increasingly blurry line between the public and the private. There are any number of reasons the climate change researchers might have acted how they did. None of them justifies their actions, though.

The real bottom line for the story is the veracity of the body of scientific work on climate change. The report finds,

“We do not find that their behavior has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behavior that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC.”

While good moral judgment might have been lacking, the bottom line is the policy advice for dealing with climate change and science it’s based on is accurate.

This report is the fifth of its kind to examine the Climategate emails. Just as the other reports, it finds some commonalities. Were the researchers prone to lapses in solid moral judgment? Yes. But are their scientific results any less compelling? No. Its time step over this mountain of a mole hill and move onto more pressing issues like how to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

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