On Friday, November 20, the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) acknowledged to the BBC that its email account had been hacked. The night before, word had gone out on Pajamas Media drawing attention to the release of about 172 megabytes of data that had been anonymously posted to a German website. The email correspondence was from faculty members and researchers involved in the study of climate change and the promotion of the idea that global warming is caused by human activities. It showed researchers willfully distorting data to promote their own views, collusion aimed at suppressing or marginalizing discrepant material, including attempts to prevent the publication of competing scientific ideas, and a general attitude of zealotry for a cause. The CRU files have already blossomed into a fetid international scandal.
The National Association of Scholars has never taken an official position on anthropogenic global warming. Our work on sustainability, however, has brought us into contact with scientists who have complained bitterly about the strong-arm tactics used by global warming theory proponents to impede other lines of research. It has become increasingly apparent that the ideological fervency that NAS has documented in the sustainability movement has extended into the scientific journals and funding agencies.
The CRU files go a long way towards documenting the bad faith of the agenda-driven pseudo-science of some of the global warming proponents. The revelations in the emails are certain to be seized by global warming skeptics as proof that the theory is entirely mis-founded. That is, of course, not necessarily the right conclusion. Shoddy science and dubious behavior on the part of some global warming proponents doesn’t mean that the theory itself is specious. What we need is good science—and that requires a fair-minded hearing for those who present alternate hypotheses and data that runs counter to the global warming thesis.
This is not to minimize the CRU scandal. CRU is one of the most important and influential academic centers for climate research. Its views have been granted exceptional weight by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s most vociferous proponent of global warming theory. CRU’s pronouncements have also substantially shaped the views of Americans who are attentive to the climate change debate. The discovery that numerous scientists at CRU have distorted data, misled the public, and behaved in numerous ways counter to principles of academic and scientific integrity must be weighed very seriously.
Broadly speaking, this scandal will alter the burden of proof. From this point on, proponents of global warming theory will receive no benefit of the doubt. Wanton extrapolations, reliance on models in which data can be endlessly readjusted to fit the thesis, and attempts to stigmatize critics as scientifically illiterate will have to stop. Ad hominem attacks on critics suggesting that they are in the hire of “big oil” or other interests will be seen for the shabby evasions they always were. Let’s hope that the result of this scandal is a restoration of principled inquiry to an important public policy debate.