East Anglia Climate Debacle

By now, most everyone has heard of the scandal produce by the illegal break in and publication of private email contained on mail servers at the East Anglia Climate Research unit. In these stolen emails, there exist the childish banter that goes on between colleagues of any occupation, that hopefully are separate from public, and more internally regulated, activities. Yet, in more than 1000 emails, we get a few sound bites that supposedly indicate that scientists at the EACRU attempted to obfuscate or falsify results that could indicate that man’s connection to climate change worldwide.

Make it known, that I am highly skeptical that there is any sort of scandal here and beg that someone ask the question as to who staged the break in of private servers and to what end these mails were edited and disseminated on the internet for public viewing. I would also hope and assume that of the multiple publications listed on Phil Jones’ website, at least one would have been noted in the review process to contain suspicious results, assuming that wrongdoing truly occurred. What disturbs me here is not the content of the mail themselves, nor the possibility of wrongdoing, but the reaction of a public at large that the trend toward a climate that rejects and disparages scientists and scientific results.

Recently, I read the “Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby. While I do not necessarily agree with many points in her book , I do agree that the American populace overwhelmingly chooses to steadfastly maintain a status quo of unverifiable claims, fantasies tales of spirits, luck, coincidence and magical fantasies and a celebration of ignorance all the while claiming to have the answers for everything through the power of “folksy common sense”, whatever that is. It seems that every time I read the news, every single American is a qualified economist, a doctor, an epidemiologist, a military expert and an authority on history and theology but the people who are qualified in these fields are maligned as evil, conspiratorial enemies of humanity who are, in no certain terms, to be trusted. This East Anglia debacle along with the absurd conspiratorial nonsense spread about the H1N1 vaccine surely unveils more about the state of the education level of the public and it’s propensity to believe fantasies rather than facts. than anything else.

It is my opinion, that at no time in American history has the general public ever been more anti-science. During the 2008 presidential election, I can clearly recall the endless statements by politicians regarding the waste in scientific spending. Specifically, I can remember Sarah Palin’s rant against “fruit fly research in France”, all the while ignoring that the research itself was performed in conjunction with grape farmers in California dealing with falling profits from an infestation of fruit flys, a variety of which is similar to that which has been afflicting farmers in France as well. So stupid. Way to go Palin, pro business, but anti science, even when it seeks to protect important sectors of our local economies.

I believe the politicization of science to be a bad thing. Hence, the level of involvement and passion amongst climate related scientists in the public foray. politics in science inevitably leads to a desire to make statements in a manner such that support the claims to be made, and to downplay the details and uncertainties. The public does not deal with that which we scientists deal with on a daily basis, namely that the uncertainty is what drives us in this field. Withoutt the uncertainty, we would no longer be necessary and the constant checking and rechecking that is the norm in the world of scientific publication would no longer be required. Fortunately, policy does not work in this manner for if it did, nothing would get accomplished.

Now, what was I talking about?

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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