Thursday, February 4, 2010

A healthier climate, for a change?

We blogged about the so-called 'climategate' scandal or incident a while ago, in the context of the way all people, scientists included, can manipulate the truth by various means to support their findings. The main complaints were about a professor in New York state and a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain, but they also involved a professor at our own university, Penn State.

The allegation, based on a release of some purloined email exchanges, was that data that went against the correspondents' view of climate change had been manipulated or even destroyed. This was said to be maliciously done because it misled the public to think that climate change was real, when the evidence (the accusers said) undermined that conclusion.

We never alleged any wrongdoing to anyone in this, because all we knew was what was in the news, but we thought the issue worth considering as a general lesson about human behavior. In any case, it is only just that we now report that a Penn State panel of inquiry has found no evidence for wrongdoing on the part of our faculty member, in three of four allegations, that had to do with falsifying data, concealing email communications, or misusing confidential information. They are apparently continuing to look at whether what happened violated best practices in science in regard to proposing conducting or reporting research--a rather vague idea of how things ought to be done, perhaps like making it difficult for critics to get hold of data--but not one related to fraud or serious offenses of that sort.

Whether there were wrongdoings on the part of others involved, appears still to be an open question under scrutiny, and we're not qualified to pass any judgments about it.

But maybe we can pass judgments on the anti-climatechange flat-earthers who seized on this as if it proved their case, without considering it in its larger context. In that context, even if the correspondents had done every wrong thing they were accused of, it would not change the overall evidence for climate change, nor for the apparent likelihood that current climate change is due in part at least to human acivities. So if it is unethical for scientists to cover or manipulate or falsify the truth, it is comparably unethical for those opposing someone's view to seize on unsupported allegations and use them for their own purposes.

Anyway, we wanted to make the point that the PSU faculty member, at least, seems to have done no mischief, as he has said all along.

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