One certainty has emerged from Sir Muir Russell's inquiry into the stolen emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit: science in the age of the internet has changed for ever. No longer can publicly funded scientists assume that "their" raw data are gathered for their eyes only if their research is of international importance.
The members of the inquiry repeatedly stated science has to be open to public scrutiny, and this means by the public themselves. In the age of the internet, anyone with a laptop and a kitchen table can and should be able to access the raw data on which important scientific conclusions are based.
Professor Geoffrey Boulton, a geologist who sat on the inquiry, pointed out yesterday that we have to move to science being a public endeavour with the direct involvement of the public. His colleague, Professor James Norton, an IT expert, put it more succinctly: researchers in the public sector do not own their data; at most, they have a brief lease on it.
The "climategate" affair has shown that the proprietorial attitude of scientists towards their life's work has to change. Professor Phil Jones, the climate scientist at the centre of the storm, has been completely cleared of any misconduct, but he encapsulated the closed attitude of scientists when in one angry email exchange he said: "We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"
In an age where anyone can access the raw scientific data on the climate for themselves, it is highly likely that there will be a growing number of people who will want to find something wrong with any evidence suggesting that they should have to change their lifestyle. But scientists should welcome this, rather than decry it.
Anyone who has practised science knows that, by its very nature, it is open to question and dissent. The uncertainties should never be minimised, but neither should they be used by "sceptics" to pour cold water on the entire canon of climate-change literature.
Nothing has been found that fundamentally undermines the basic tenets of climate science. Carbon-dioxide concentrations are rising as are global average temperatures, and it is highly likely man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are largely responsible. We must do something about it, or live with the consequences.Reuse content