Climategate Clearings Fail to Convince

As chronicled in this space, several British reviews and several more in the United States have largely cleared the institutions and individuals implicated in the East Anglia hacked e-mail imbroglio. It's becoming clear, however, that the reviews have not put to rest concerns about the process of climate science and climate policy formulation.

Writing this week in the Financial Times, a newspaper by the way that has consistently advocated strong global action to address global warming, former British Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull says that complaints about climate science cannot just be "brushed aside as the rough and tumble of academic discourse." Turnbull points out that the UK has made a commitment, enshrined in legislation, that implies each unit of national product must be produced emitting one-twentieth as much carbon dioxide in 2050 as today. That's not chopped liver, as we say in New York. The commitment rests, Turnbull continues, on a string of scientific claims that are open to challenge at every link.

It appears that I have more faith in the major claims scientists make about our climatic history and future, and maybe because that's because I've never attached any special imortance to Michael Mann's hockey stick graph or Phil Jones's averaging of current global temperatures. But that's neither here nor there. Turnbull is not the only one expressing concerns about the incestuousness of climate science and calling for reform.

Another is Clive Crook, also an occasional columnist for the Financial Times, cited by Turnbull in this week's column. Earlier in the summer Crook wrote a long column for The Atlantic magazine, in which he denounced what he called "an ethos of group think" in the climate science community. Taking care to first point out that he takes global warming seriously and thinks it calls for action, Crook gave example after example of conspicuous flaws in the various reviews: cases where committees dismissed allegations of misconduct without truly investigating them, said peer review procedures had worked because after all they involved peers, and upheld the reputations of individuals because we all know they're so reputable.

What is to be done? Turnbull calls on the British government to require full implementation of recommendations made last month to reform the IPCC. The evaluation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, arguably a much more serious one that the other reviews that Crook subjected to such withering criticism, was produced by a larger blue ribbon panel under the leadership of former Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro (photo). It called for rotation of IPCC committee leaders, the establishment of an executive director, and a more rigorous and common-sensical approach to fact checking, among other things.

POSTSCRIPT (10/4)

In a letter to the FT responding to Turnbull (above), Simon Buckle of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College, London, seconds the call for IPCC reform and makes additional suggestion. They strike me as cogent and constructive. Buckle proposes that IPCC should divide its regular assessments into two parts rather than three. Specifically, instead reporting on science, impacts, and mitigation, it should report on science and policy. Further, suggests Buckle, it should decouple the two assessments in time, so that conclusions from the one can be fully assimilated into the other (science into policy, policy into science), and so as to spread out the work.

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