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To prevent another ‘climategate’, researchers need to embrace social media

Scientists discuss the needer for greater transparency in climate research

By James Dacey

Those scientists involved were careless and, to prevent this happening again, the research community needs to deal with the threat posed by new types of media. These were the conclusions of Harvard climate scientist James McCarthy when describing two recent climate scandals, which were both fuelled by viral activity in the blogosphere. McCarthy was talking today at the annual meeting of the American association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is taking place in San Diego, California.

Since that email scandal broke back in November, bloggers across the globe have chipped with strong criticisms of the scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK. You will remember that leaked emails revealed the researchers to have “sexed-up” certain aspects of their climate data to fit a general warming trend. Then, in January, came another blow to climate science when it came to light that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had included in their latest scientific report a near baseless claim that the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035.

McCarthy, who previously served as co-chair of an IPCC Working Group, strongly emphasized that these were two isolated incidents, with have no impact on the strong scientific consensus over climate change. However, he also recognises that the climate science community could have done more to deal with the allegations before the issues blew-up into fully-blown scandals. He feels that one way to do this is for researchers to start using social media themselves – which includes blogs, Facebook and Twitter – to disseminate research with the public. “I can tell you, a lot of groups are trying to think about creative ways of entering into the discussion,” he said.

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  1. steve crouch

    Given the many travails physicists (and their earlier cousins, the natural philosophers) have been obliged to endure from say: ~ the Roman Church, Joe Stalin and now creationists; I am a tiny bit disappointed by the tone and content of the McCarthy comments
    The fad of anthropogenic climate warming, now tarted up as “climate change” has not just erred in “two isolated incidents”; it is and remains essentially an enormous and egregious scam which has been sustained in part by a systemic & entrenched denial of any real science which might (or worse actually) disprove part or all
    Look no further than the Stalinist erasure of entire periods such as the Roman and Mediaeval Warmings, the latter from which the resulting fiction of the “hockey stick evolved; the removal of 6,000 terrestrial temperature stations in “inconveniently” cool to outright cold locations; the criminal fudging of remaining “inconvenient” data sets such as those from Darwin Airport and the truly voodoo physics which required the real physics of energy as expressed in Laws 1 and 2 of thermodynamics on its head in order to posit hots spots in the upper atmosphere
    Ditto outrageous claims of sea level rises, extreme storms, 6 degree C temperature increases by 2100, ever shortening last ditch deadlines from which there’ll be no return and all the rest as revealed in the ClimateGate saga; but most especially the dreadful canard that CO2 is a toxic gas and the encouragement of a mindset which encourages taxing fresh air
    Not good enough this time ’round boys (and girls too of course)
    A big “F” and consider yourself fortunate to have scored at all

  2. Eric Scher

    I’m sorry, but the thrust of the above text seems to be that the problem was that information got leaked, not that information was “massaged”.
    Scientists often forget that they amount to a sort of a secular priesthood, with their statements accepted on faith by the general populace because of their reputation for rigid honesty.
    Yes, I know scientists are just human too…
    My point is this: Most high school graduates have done the classic acceleration experiments that demonstrate the rate of acceleration at approx sea level being 32fps/ps. But how many are doing anything more than accepting advanced science like “Up/Down/Charmed/Strange” on faith?
    Say an educated layman asks a question like:
    “Given the effect on the climate caused by the mantle Plume event in Siberia at the Permian boundary and the magnitude of the event itself; how am I to believe that Humans can accomplish even 1/4 of that sort of temperature rise in only a century? Especially given that the event that caused the Permian extinction had a duration of a million years and involved sufficient magma release to cover 5% of the Earth’s surface to a depth of a kilometer or more, a trillion tons of burning coal and a methane release that has a CO2 equivalent of 10,000 Billion Tons?”
    If the answer that layman gets strikes him as contrived, what do you think the effect will be?
    It may be comforting for some to believe that AGW skepticism is generated solely by the political machinations of this party or that corporation. Whether that belief is realistic is another matter entirely.

  3. All McCarthy is touting to the AAAS, a science organization I once was a part of and thought was the cream of the crop, that science (scientists) simply need to get better at “spin” and collegial solidarity and “controlling the message” rather than getting back to good science rigor and ethics and finding out what is rather than playing the politics of $$ and power. Its true scientists have tried (fairly successfully) to pitch themselves as a “secular priesthood”, but to be priests they’ve had to come up with the doctrine and religion to sell to the public.
    Climate Change, a fact of all history, a fact that has largely powered evolution, and moved human societies on and off and about like tokens on a chessboard in the large writ of our own history, has unfortunately become the latest try to establish such a religion. Because it also fits the interests of the politics of “one world” (UN), and the politics of those who want to sieze permanent power and domnance in American politics.
    I think scientists ought think again, not as McCarthy advises, but as to whether they should hitch their fortunes to any party’s or political classes wagon. Too often we’ve seen the sad end of that track.


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