Should we close the Climategate?

Phil Jones has put on weight again. He must also not take drugs anymore; he looks almost as healthy as a year ago. In general, he believes the worst is behind him. This you can read at the first anniversary of “Climate Gate” not in the Yellow Press, but in an article of the nature-publisher David Adams [1], who had spoken with the British climate researcher on this occasion.

A year ago, Jones was in the headlines because unknown hackers had stolen e-mails from him and his colleagues and published them. Reading these e-mails one can understand very well how climate scientist, probably just like their colleagues in other disciplines, deal with colleagues who represent other standpoints and how they try to suppress their views and to cover up their own weaknesses.

The official investigations have been completed. They pointed out that Jones and his colleagues can not be accused of any criminal behaviour. There is also evidence that they do not behave differently from others, either in terms of trying to suppress dissenting views by taking advantage of the scientific peer-review process, nor with regard to their approach to criticism of their work: Questions are not answered, data will not be published, so that trials are not traceable – it all seems to be operating in the scientific life, which ought to count only the force of the argument, the logical reasoning and the hard empirical facts.

Has Jones drawn any lessons from the Climate Gate, does he handle anything different today than a year ago? Oh yes. He thinks longer of what he writes in e-mail, a personal conversation not recorded seems to him now better suited for open words as an e-mail because you do not know who saves it in what location. And anyway, you can also delete old e-mails, eventually you have to keep the e-mail masses under control.

That Jones is in the evaluation of work of other scientists, which are submitted to peer review, now more concerned about the plausibility of scientific reasoning and does not want to worry about the proximity to their view, he does not say, nor that he is been more open in the provision of data and other information. On the contrary: When answering questions, he thinks, produces always just more questions, and they have no more time for their research. That the public, the citizens who ultimately pay Jones’ research could also have a right to understand its results, this is not in his mind.

The editors of nature provide an other point of view in their editorial [2]. They have not the first time indicated that the peer-review process, which some like to call the gold standard of quality assurance in science, has long been weaknesses. But that is be complaining for a long time without showing alternatives.

In the editorial nature refers also the possibility of providing the basic data of the research to the public. That would be an important opportunity to build trust and to make results traceable. For publicly funded research, the public has a right to access all information, not just results, or even only to the conclusions derived from their results by the scientists themselves, but also to the output data and the tools of the scientists. Why would the program code of the climate simulations are not in principle be open source? If in the future not only storage but also nearly unlimited computing power for anyone is available (think about cloud computing), then non-commercial private groups and organizations will certainly like the quality of scientific results operating with great commitment. Scientists should not misinterpret this as an intrusion into their hallowed halls of the mob, but as a welcome opportunity to build trust and to find a supplement to peer review.

[1] Adam D (2010). Climate: The hottest year. Nature, 468 (7322), 362-364 PMID: 21085150

[2] Nature Editorial (2010). Closing the Climategate. Nature, 468 (7322) PMID: 21085128

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3 Responses to Should we close the Climategate?

  1. Martin says:

    Presumably (heh) a typo: “They pointed out that Jones and his colleagues can be accused of any criminal behaviour”

    should be “cannot be accused…”

    I replied directly to the nature articles, but agree with much of what you say here. It is indeed particularly refreshing to see a major peer-reviewed journal start to accept that peer review might not be the gold standard. Some way to go yet before they accept that it’s really not any standard at all…

  2. Jörg Friedrich says:

    Martin, thanks for the correction, and for the comment too.

  3. One of the reasons the data has not been shared is that it was not collected by these scientists but lent to them by other countries which still view this data as being vital to their national security. I think it’s more complex than just their willingness to share. Are you sure the scientists are at liberty to share the data you are talking about?

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