Saturday, December 12, 2009

WaPo's Michael Gerson on "Climate-Gate"

This op-ed in the Washington Post dovetails nicely with my own views on what the hacked emails (gotta love how so many are so willing to trust the veracity and conclusions of people who would do something like that) from East Anglia University mean — and what they don't mean — and how that fits into the big picture:
Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found not only in East Anglian computers but also in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over millennia, the climate shifts in natural cycles. But we seem to be increasing the pace of change so rapidly that plants, animals and humans may not be able to adequately adjust.

The claim of recent global cooling is deceptive. It is true that 2008 was cooler than 1998. But 1998 was the hottest year recorded since the advent of reliable records in the 1800s, while 2008 was the ninth-hottest. Despite yearly variations, the overall trend goes in one direction. All 10 of the hottest years on record have come since 1997.

But the hacked e-mails are not irrelevant. They reveal another sort of warming -- an overheated academic world in which hard science melts into politics.

Some prominent climate scientists involved in these e-mail exchanges have clearly abandoned a profession for a cause. They appear to exaggerate their public certainty on disputed issues, shade the presentation of information for political effect, tamper with the peer-review process, resist reasonable requests for supporting data and urge the destruction of e-mails to avoid embarrassment. Other scientists in these e-mail chains resist these abuses. But the dominant voices are ideological. The attitude seems to be: Insiders can question, if they don't go too far. Outsiders who threaten the movement are "idiots."
In some ways, the overzealousness of the East Anglia scientists reminds me a lot of the enthusiasm and adulation with which Dr Hwang Woosuk, he of Snuppy fame, was greeted. But just as Hwang's fall from grace did not disprove the viability of cloning nor derail the effort to clone human embryos, I don't think that Climate-Gate — which is not at all the slam dunk its praisers seem to think it is — negates human-induced climate change. But like Hwang's case, I hope it will lead to a harsher eye of scrutiny being cast on the scientists behind this.

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