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Thursday, December 3, 2009

ClimateGate is About Corruption Not Science

I was at Thanksgiving dinner with a professor that also believes in global warming. They minimized the consequences of climategate. They told me that in almost every research endeavor you will find so called outlier data and that in their opinion this was being blown out of proportion. It isn't. What these professors did is inexcusable and unforgivable. In fact, what they've done is make all research on any subject less credible. If these scientists hid vital data, how can we trust any data? I did a story a few months back about Dr. Charles Nemeroff. Dr. Nemeroff took millions in payments from major drug firms like Pfizer all while writing positive research papers on their drugs. He almost always failed to disclose the payments when writing his papers.

There is an unfortunate level of corruption in academia that often leads to compromised research. I spoke to Nemeroff's colleague Dr. Doug Bremner and Dr. Bremner told me that while he was unaware of Nemeroff's corruption prior to its disclosure, it was in fact common place for such conflicts of interest to occur.

In our media culture however, all stories have become politicized. So, this story, which should be about corruption, has turned into science and politics. These emails, which took place at East Anglia University, have been used as the centerpiece of a full frontal attack on the science of global warming. Conservatives are now claiming that the release of this data proves that climate change is bunk.

That's a bit disingenuous. After all, conservatives already thought that global warming was bunk and had a mountain of evidence to prove it. That's why I never understood this line of attack. The opinions on climate change vary. The evidence varies, and the only place that this has become a settled matter is in the minds of those that treat global warming as a pseudo religion. So, nothing in these emails changes that.

Defenders of climate change have used this sort of response.

Nevertheless, I think it is important for scientists to clearly state that if basic data were withheld, or if there was unprofessional tampering with the peer-review process, we do not condone these acts. It is equally essential to emphasize that alleged problems with a few scientists' behavior do not change the consensus understanding of human-induced, global climate change, which is a robust hypothesis based on well-established observations and inferences.


That's a bunch of nonsense. Nothing is established. For every scientist convinced that there is global warming I can find just as many dubious or flat out saying there's no such thing. It isn't an established fact now, it wasn't then, and these emails don't change that one bit. Those that claim this is a "settled matter" simply want to dismiss countering opinions, hypotheses and data much like the corrupt scientists at the heart of the scandal.

That's what's at the heart of this scandal. All these scientists were so committed to a hypothesis that they simply refused to consider anything that ran counter to that hypothesis. That's not science but propaganda. That's at the heart of this scandal, and unfortunately, this is a far too common occurrence in academia.

Like almost all stories in our media today, it's become politicized. The right can't get enough of it and thus have used it as a club to beat the concept of global warming. Meanwhile, the left is afraid of the story because of what the right is doing, and thus ignoring it. Much like most stories, the media isn't reporting on it but rather using it for ideological purposes. The scientists involved have become an afterthought. Most people following it couldn't even name. (please don't name them, I said most not all and google is a wonderful thing) Instead, the focus is on the administration, the science itself, rather than the unforgivable corruption they committed. That's the unfortunate thing. In fact, what Dr. Charles Nemeroff did was much worse. He took millions for more than two decades from drug companies and allowed that to influence his research to the point it was worthless. That story received scant attention, despite a Congressional investigation, because he did it in a field most media don't care about. So, his corruption went largely unnoticed. Because this corruption occurred in an area the media does care about, this story took off. Of course, the corruption itself is an after thought.

As such, we are missing an opportunity to lift the veil on academic research corruption. That corruption is a cancer in the community and this is an example. Delving deeper into that problem we'll find all sorts of problems with data on many subjects, not just climate change.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting opinion about how science has been intermingling with postmodernism. I not only find it interesting, it does seem to make the connection as to why many global warming/climate change believers will not consider contrary evidence. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/12/03/science_is_on_the_credibility_bubble_99388.html