Public scrutiny of science and the scientific method can never be a bad thing, especially when the research involves something as important as climate change. But there must come a time when the results are accepted by all reasonable people. This time has surely come in the case of the "Climategate" emails stolen from the University of East Anglia and posted on the internet last autumn with the evident purpose of discrediting scientists at the centre of the effort to understand climate change.
Yesterday, we were able to see the third and most detailed report on the affair, written by an expert team led by Sir Muir Russell. It broadly came to the same conclusion as the two previous reports, by the House of Commons science and technology committtee and by a scientific panel led by the distinguished scientist Lord Oxburgh. All three inquiries have failed to find any evidence of scientific misconduct, or any suggestion that the scientists were somehow engaged in a conspiracy to mislead their scientific colleagues, or the public, about the nature of climate change. Two inquiries by Pennsylvania State University have also exonerated the American scientists at the other end of the email exchange.
There are, of course, important lessons to be learnt from this affair. The first, most general one, is that scientists must, in the age of the internet, be more open to public scrutiny, rather than relying solely on the peer-review process. Informed bloggers have played an important role in identifying errors and misconceptions within mainstream science, just as they have in other spheres of life. Scientists must learn to live in this new atmosphere and open their notebooks and computer algorithms to inspection.
There is a corollary to this. Professional scientists have a right to conduct their research in a way that permits justifiable confidentiality. They have a right to privacy, but that does not mean that their data should forever remain private.
The most important message to emerge from the three British and two US inquiries, however, is that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the view that climate scientists set out to manipulate or falsify data in order to boost the case for climate change. There is now a wealth of perfectly acceptable evidence the other way: to support the main conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We should not be distracted any further from formulating effective policies to deal with it.Reuse content