crulogo_110x90Last fall, 102 megabytes of private emails, documents and other files were downloaded from servers at the Climate Research Unit at the UK’s East Anglia University. Included in the files are over a thousand emails between climate scientists, interactions seldom seen by the general public. Since the leak, climate skeptics have been in an uproar over the files, publishing innumerable posts parsing through the emails and exposing some of the more insidious elements within the files.

I read through them myself and a few things stood out.

First, the concentration on public relations in their work. In this email, not only do the scientists openly discuss how disappointing the BBC’s “What Happened to Global Warming”  is, but one scientist even goes to far to say that “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” Another suggests “we may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here?”

rsnzInfluencing public perception of a scientific theory seems to be, at least to this author, beyond the purview of scientists’ work. So, for a baseline of what was acceptable behavior for a scientist,  I searched for a scientist code of ethics and eventually found one at the Royal Society of New Zealand (find it here). Several of the ethics standards address the influence of public opinion, particularly the fifth tenet of the code, responsibility to community, specifically sub-tenets “f” and “g”:

f. avoid attempting to influence public policy in situations where the available scientific evidence is contradictory or inconclusive without making the state of that evidence clear;

g. support the publication and dissemination of all competent research even when the conclusions drawn by the authors are contrary to a member’s own opinions or to the currently accepted consensus.

The inconvenient fact is that there is contradictory evidence out there. They address in their own emails that their models do not account for the last 11 years of cooling; that fact contradicts their conclusions. Second, it is clear that they strive to suppress other critical opinions, a clear violation of tenet “g.” In this email its clear the author, Professor Phil Jones, seeks to suppress the work of well known climate change skeptic, Prof. Lindzen of MIT, saying “I wasn’t able to stop some comments being put in by Lindzen, but Tom has a paper as does Myles which are enough to ignore his and the Douglass papers. Cheers Phil.”

The attempted suppression of another scientist’s work is reprehensible and well outside the boundries of what is accepted ethical behavior for a scientist. Suppressing contradictory conclusions is antithetic to the goals of science. Beliefs should be challenged, pre-conceived notions should be questioned, it’s how we advance as a society.

The other thing that struck me was the lengths of which the scientists would go to attack the credibility of their critics. In one email, Tom Wigley openly writes that “Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels [sic], PhD needs re-assessing?”

Again, consulting the code of ethics from Royal Society of New Zealand, one finds a section on the treatment of collegues.

4. To care for collegues

Members must support ethical behaviour and high professional standards in their colleagues and must treat such colleagues with integrity and honesty.

These requirements mean, for example, that members must:

a. review the work of colleagues without bias and treat all information gained in such activity as privileged and confidential;

b. appropriately acknowledge the work and contributions of colleagues;

c. avoid falsely, vexaciously or maliciously attempting to impugn the reputations of colleagues or otherwise compromising or denigrating them in order to achieve commercial, professional or personal advantages;

d. support the career development of colleagues by providing honest, unbiased comment on their career prospects, on the conduct of their work or on their proposals, manuscripts and papers;

e. encourage and support the development of junior colleagues;

f. be aware that in the event of a challenge to a member over his or her past ethical conduct the retention of and ability to produce all the appropriate records may prove to be crucial.

Are climate scientists so entrenched in their groupthink as to insult or impugn anyone with differing opinion? I understand that the correspondance brought to light was never meant to be read by the public, but we as a public should at the very minimum demand that these scientists, many of whom are paid with taxpayer money, conduct themselves in a professionally honest and ethical manner. Lets hope that the publication of these emails forces introspection of those who participated in this correspondence and they begin to elevate the standards to which they hold themselves, both personally and professionally.

A searchable index of the files can be found here.

A copy of the Royal Society Code of Ethics can be found here.

Many of the scientists participating in the email exchanges contribute to the RealClimate blog found here.

The hacked database in its entirety can be found here.