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Another important step to recovering from the tragedy of Climategate is to institute the kind of research transparency that should have been happening in the first place. "Climate data needs to be publicly available and well documented," argues Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry. "This includes metadata that explains how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data was omitted and why."
In a BBC News article, Michael Hulme, a climatologist at the University of East Anglia, and Jerome Ravetz, who is associated with an institute at Oxford University, warn that the tribalism revealed in the leaked CRU emails is damaging public trust in climate science. In addition, they believe that the usefulness of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which relied heavily on the work of CRU scientists, may have run its course. Hulme and Ravetz worry that the IPCC’s "structural tendency to politicize climate change science…has helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of knowledge production—just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive."
And greater transparency should not be limited to just temperature data, but to all aspects of climate science. In an email response to me, climatologist Pielke Sr. argues, "I completely support the view that the computer software [of climate models] must be available for scrutiny by independent scientists. Otherwise these models should not be used in climate assessment reports." Only through such transparency can other researchers determine whether or not climate models are adequate forecasters of future climate change or are merely prejudices made plausible.
One thing more transparency won't fix: the complications and uncertainty inherent in the policy debate about global warming. "In the end, I would hypothesize that the result of the freeing of data and code will necessarily lead to a more robust understanding of scientific uncertainties, [and] that may have the perverse effect of making the future less clear," emails Pielke Jr. "The inability to tolerate dissent has unfortunately destroyed the credibility of climate change science and I don’t know how it’s going to come back," laments climatologist and free-market Cato Institute fellow Patrick Michaels, who was frequently reviled in the CRU emails. "I don’t know how the public and policymakers will ever trust what climate scientists say in the future."
In their zeal to marginalize and stifle their critics, this insular band of climate researchers has damaged the very science they sought to defend. We all now are the losers. That’s the true tragedy of Climategate.
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.