Science & Technology

Sickness or Salvation at the CRU?


Last week, the Independent Climate Change Email Review panel headed by Sir Muir Russell released its report on the Climategate affair at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU). Reason's Ronald Bailey summarized the findings as follows: "All right, people. Move along. Nothing to see here."

Since its release, many critics have begun attacking the credibility of the committee charged with investigating the scandal. But was the report itself a whitewash or are global warming skeptics trying to push an agenda?

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Cato Institute scholar Patrick Michaels questions the commission's independence:

Mr. Russell took pains to present his committee, which consisted of four other academics, as independent. He told the Times of London that "Given the nature of the allegations it is right that someone who has no links to either the university or the climate science community looks at the evidence and makes recommendations based on what they find."

No links? One of the panel's four members, Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, was on the faculty of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences for 18 years. At the beginning of his tenure, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)—the source of the Climategate emails—was established in Mr. Boulton's school at East Anglia. Last December, Mr. Boulton signed a petition declaring that the scientists who established the global climate records at East Anglia "adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity."

Likewise, at least one British Member of Parliament (MP) feels that parliamentarians were misled about the university's ability to investigate itself. According to The Register:

Parliament was misled and needs to re-examine the Climategate affair thoroughly after the failure of the Russell report, a leading backbench MP told us today.

"It's not a whitewash, but it is inadequate," is Labour MP Graham Stringer's summary of the Russell inquiry report. Stringer is the only member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology with scientific qualifications—he holds a PhD in Chemistry.

Not only did Russell fail to deal with the issues of malpractice raised in the emails, Stringer told us, but he confirmed the feeling that MPs had been misled by the University of East Anglia when conducting their own inquiry. Parliament only had time for a brief examination of the CRU files before the election, but made recommendations. This is a serious charge.…

For Stringer, policy needs to be justified by the evidence.

"Vast amounts of money are going to be spent on climate change policy, it's billions and eventually could be trillions. Knowing what is accurate and what is inaccurate is important."

And this is precisely the point. During the 2008 presidential election, Sarah Palin was quoted as saying that regardless of "the reason for climate change," she felt it was necessary to "do something about it." This statement makes no sense. If greenhouse gases are not contributing to climate change, then there's no reason to curb emissions. We need to be very clear about the science if the solution is going to make any sense at all.

The problem is that most of the ideas on how to fix man-made global warming are antithetical to liberty. Governments hand-pick and subsidize green technologies that would otherwise not be profitable, while at the same time making the abundant sources of energy we currently use more expensive. Furthermore, most people do not want to change the way they live and governments around the world have engaged in massive social engineering campaigns to try and force them to change.

The solution to global warming may very well be worse than the problem itself and, considering the stakes, the public needs to feel confident that climate scientists are acting in an open, transparent, and accountable manner. In this regard, the Russell report leaves much to be desired.