Science is not pretty!
By now most of us have heard about the e-mails stolen from servers used by climate researchers. The Associated Press recently posted their analysis of the e-mails. They had five journalists and three climate researchers they categorized as "moderate" read all the e-mails (over 1 million words of text). A link to the story is below:
I'd like to have a discussion about the scientific method and process discussed in the story. Let's keep the politics out of it and try not to comment on whether we think global warming is real or not. If you want to have that discussion, feel free to start a new thread about it. But let's not do that here.
The AP story illuminates some interesting aspects of professional scientists at work (by "professional", I mean they are paid for their work...) and raises some interesting questions. I recommend reading the entire article first. But I'll quote just pieces here:
"The e-mails show that several mainstream scientists repeatedly suggested keeping their research materials away from opponents who sought it under American and British public records law. It raises a science ethics question because free access to data is important so others can repeat experiments as part of the scientific method."
I use that as an example of when limiting data access may make sense. We decided not to do it. But I could see why other organizations may have felt differently. In this case, researchers were concerned that others would take the data and mischaracterize it. That is obviously easy to do. I'm sure everyone here knows how easy it is to tell lies with statistics.
Thus, Question No. 1: If you were in their shoes, would you open your data up to your opponents? Do they have just cause for being protective?
The next quote:
"This is Arizona State University. "We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here."politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds," said Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at
The climate research field is obviously much larger and more explosive, politically, than the astronomical community. But if you would like to read about similar "fun" regarding the Hubble Space Telescope check out "The Hubble Wars" (full disclosure: the author is my physics advisor at Tufts). I once missed a plane flight because I was so engrossed in the book I didn't hear a gate change announcement!
The interesting part of this debate is that it seems to be more about scientists vs. nonscientists than scientists vs. scientists. That is, except for the quote about boycotting a journal that published a competing paper. I have never heard of that kind of thing before (but that perhaps may just reflect my naïveté!). Usually, one would submit a competiting analysis of the data and, in sensitive situations, the journal would allow an editorial rejoinder (this is more common in the social science research where interpretation of results is more flexible than in the natural sciences).
And, Question No. 2: What responsibilities do professional (governmental and non-governmental) scientists have regarding communicating with non-scientists?
Finally, Question No. 3: Regardless of the political ramifications, is the release of these e-mails good or bad for the debate over global warming?
Feel free to post your own comments and questions as well. Just remember, let's not debate whether global warming is real or not in this thread. Let's stick with the issue of the scientific method, process and ethics.