by Judith Curry
I’ve just been informed that WIREs Climate Change invited two articles on this topic, and also editorial commentary.
On the previous thread, we discussed the paper by Grundman. A second paper was invited:
The legacy of climategate: undermining or revitalizing climate science and policy?
Edward Maibach, Anthony Leiserowitz, Sara Cobb, Michael Shank, Kim M. Cobb and Jay Gulledge
Abstract. In mid-November 2009, emails were removed without authorization from a University of East Anglia server and posted to the internet; within 24 h an international scandal was born—alleging fraud by leading climate scientists—which almost immediately became known as climategate. Multiple investigations concluded that no fraud or scientific misconduct had occurred. Despite the exonerations, however, the email controversy has had impacts, both negative and positive. On the negative side, a small minority of the American public and a somewhat larger minority of American TV news professionals—mostly political conservatives—indicated that the controversy made them more certain that climate change is not happening, and undermined their trust in climate scientists. Conservative organizations and politicians continue to cite the controversy in justifying their opposition to government action on climate change. On the positive side, the controversy impressed upon the climate science community the need for improved communication and public engagement efforts, and many individuals and organizations have begun to address these needs. It also reminded the climate science community of the importance of transparency, data availability, and strong quality assurance procedures, stimulating many organizations to review their data management practices. Although it is too soon to gauge the lasting legacy of the controversy, if the climate science community takes it as an opportunity to improve its already high standards of scientific conduct—as well as improve its less well-developed approach to public engagement—the long-term prognosis is good.
[link Maibach] to full text of the article.
The abstract does a good job of summing up the main points of the articles. Here are some excerpts:
[JC note: the following text is included under Negative Impacts]. The email controversy provided a useful weapon for organizations that wanted to sow doubts about climate change in the public’s mind. The ground was already fertile: Americans tended to view even established facts about climate change as uncertain and open to debate, possibly in part as a result of years of news coverage that erroneously suggested disagreement among climate scientists.
Exploiting this public uncertainty, Republican controlled state governments, led by Texas and Virginia and supported by petitions from the US Chamber of Commerce, cited climategate in a challenge to EPA’s December 2009 Endangerment Finding, a finding which determined that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions endangers human health and welfare and requires regulation under the Clean Air Act. The Virginia Tea Party followed suit stating that climategate confirmed that cap-and-trade legislation was a political non-starter, while the Texas Tea Party called climategate a ‘disgraceful scientific chronicle’, adding that climate scientists had failed to prove that carbon dioxide causes warming and climate change.
The Tea Party’s small-government, antifederalism ideology aligned with and amplified mainstream Republican opposition to climate policies. Rick Perry, Republican Governor of Texas, and a presidential candidate, sued the EPA over its decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions saying he was defending Texas against federal overreach, citing climategate as evidence that regulation was unwarranted. These themes have also played out among Republican presidential candidates, with Newt Gingrich calling for the elimination of the EPA, Michelle Bachmann pledging to have EPA’s doors locked and lights turned off, and even mainstream Republicans calling the EPA a job-killer. Presidential contenders Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman each called climate change a hoax, and front runner for the Republication nomination, Mitt Romney, radically altered his position from acknowledging human-caused climate change and supporting reduction of greenhouse gases to stating that the cause of climate change is unknown and opposing high cost measures to reduceCO2 emissions.
[JC note: the following text is from Positive Impacts.] Many climate scientists devote a portion of their time to promoting public understanding through these sorts of collaborative efforts, as well as through individual activities. Some climate scientists have even attempted to engage constructively with climate ‘skeptics’. Climate scientist Judith Curry—through her blog Climate Etc.—has engaged with (and encouraged other climate scientists to engage with) interested members of the public, including climate skeptics; similarly, atmospheric scientist Scott Denning presented at the 2011 Heartland Institute conference on climate change (a leading conference of climate skeptics). Although Curry’s efforts pre-dated the CRU incident, she cites it as a key reason to increase openness and dialogue in climate science. Both Curry and Denning conclude that such efforts help to build trust and promote thoughtful issue engagement.
Scientific and professional societies whose members deal with climate change issues are not immune to the conflicts about climate change that play out in society at large; dealing productively with those conflicts has been challenging. In 2010, the American Meteorological Association and the National Weather Association began using conflict resolution techniques to promote dialogue and engagement among their membership, providing them an opportunity to share their differing perspectives and experiences, with the aim of reducing conflict between groups who hold strong, but divergent opinions about climate change. These efforts at conflict resolution— conflicts that pre-dated but were exacerbated by the CRU email controversy—are not intended to change members’ perspectives on climate change, but rather to support dialogue between members who hold differing perspectives, which in turn creates the opportunity for exchange, learning, and collaboration.
[From the Conclusion:] Despite the difficulties, the climate science community must enhance its efforts to engage with both policymakers and the broader public. Some climate science organizations and scientists appear to have responded to the CRU email controversy by increasing their public engagement efforts, engaging in dialogue with skeptics, and implementing conflict resolution among divided professional groups. Additionally, the IPCC and the US NCA have taken significant steps to enhance transparency, data traceability, and quality assurance. However, our informal survey of individual scientists found little evidence that university based researchers are considering major changes to their institutional data management practices. If such efforts are underway, members of the community are not widely aware of them; it would benefit the climate science community to organize initiatives to share data management strategies and best practices.
Now that the formal inquiries are closed, and the scientists involved in the CRU incident have been cleared of scientific misconduct, one hopes that the community has the courage and confidence to distil and heed the lessons of climategate and other attacks on the integrity of climate science. Universities, funders, and journals are the likely focal points of implementation and enforcement of best practices, but any cultural or procedural shifts that may be warranted will require leadership from within the climate science community and the institutions that support the field. We suggest that professional scientific societies should study the issues raised by this controversy, develop a set of recommendations, and set the agenda to improve data transparency, availability, and quality control, as well as stronger efforts to engage the public and policymakers.
WIREs Editorial Commentary
Myanna Lahsen’s article ‘Climategate and the virtue of the scientific community: an editorial commentary on the Maibach et al. and Grundmann opinion articles’ can be found [hereLahsen]. Some excerpts:
Maibach et al.’s examples of how politicians used the incident to justify anti-environmental positions are exactly what climate-concerned social scientists do not want to fuel through their analyses, and why the IPCC may be less transparent than it claims to be or even may desire to be. After more than two decades of climate politics, many have learned that the anti-environmental coalition will use any available (appearances of) scientific authority as fodder in their efforts to combat effective climate policy, often distorting original facts and arguments in the process. These social scientists are therefore reluctant to turn their deconstructive frameworks lose on IPCC-sanctioned climate science, scientists, and assessment processes. As a result, relatively little peer-reviewed literature probes critically the political dynamics of the IPCC, even in the field of science and technology studies.
One may question: is it possible that such ‘circle the-wagons’ attitudes have the unintended—and ironic—effect of increasing public receptivity to anti-environmental arguments and thus heighten the impact of events such as Climategate? That is, does the scarcity of sociological analyses of the IPCC, together with the portrayals of the IPCC from its defenders as being transparent and objective, have the effect of maintaining idealized understandings of the IPCC and of climate science as a whole? If so, it would be bolstered by already existent tendencies in contemporary societies toward ‘fundamentalist’ understandings of science as provider of Truth with capital T. Might these idealizations and omissions have the unintended effect of making publics more, rather than less, inclined to be persuaded by charges that the IPCC is corrupt? It certainly would seem that the persuasiveness of the outrage and conspiracy charges advanced by the staunchest politically motivated critics of climate science depends on propagating expectations of sound science as wholly independent of social, political, and cultural factors—the kind of purification Bruno Latour and innumerable historical and contemporary case analyses in ‘science studies’ have identified as illusory, however much they may serve as ideals.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that these two WIREs opinion articles perform the kind of self scrutiny that is one of the strengths and nobler dimensions of science. Whether or not one agrees with the perspectives put forth, the two articles are, in effect, examples of the scientific community scrutinizing itself, a scrutiny that can serve to improve the community and the knowledge it produces. Ultimately, both articles suggest that Climategate had negative dimensions but that it served to identify problematic behavior within scientific practice, behavior that needs attention and repair. Subsequent developments in climate science should increase transparency, accountability, and otherwise seek to address the problematic practices revealed by the Climategate affair.
JC comments: This exchange hosted by WIREs is of the same format is the Null Hypothesis exchange by myself and Trenberth. Its an interesting format, and definitely a good one to provoke discussion in the blogosphere.
Maibach et al. raise some good points, but which you might choose to put on the ‘positive’ vs ‘negative’ side of the ledger will vary with your overall perspectives on this. Maibach et al. describe the already high standards of scientific conduct [of the climate science community]; I would like to see their response to the specific issues raised by Grundman re scientific conduct revealed by the emails. I find it interesting (and gratifying) that the article discussed the efforts at Climate Etc. and also Scott Denning’s engagement with Heartland. IMO, the last paragraph of the conclusion is the most important statement in the Maibach piece. Maibach et al. was presumably selected to reflect the viewpoint of the ‘consensus scientists;’ given that, I think they did a much better job on self-reflection than I have seen previously from this community.
Lahsen’s essay raises the important question re whether the ‘circle the-wagons’ attitudes have the unintended—and ironic—effect of increasing public receptivity to anti-environmental arguments and thus heighten the impact of events such as Climategate? I suspect that the answer to this question is ‘yes.’