Is environmental science now beyond repair?
First, I really like George Monbiot's blog today, but he doesn't say it all so I'm just adding my own comments. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/nov/25/monbiot-climate-leak-crisis-response
Like many other people right now (including Monbiot), I am very angry that some so-called scientists in climate research are getting in the way of protecting the environment. Some seem far too concerned about winning research funding, furthering their careers, indulging their egos, polishing their halos, and being seen on moral pedestals to make proper contributions to science. Although they make a lot of noise about their efforts to protect the environment, they have corrupted and obstructed the scientific method, distorted and destroyed data, and consequently their own results are worse than worthless, and their output has badly polluted the field of environmental science. And like Monbiot, I am also just as concerned that other environmentalists seem to be in denial and using technicalities to justify the behaviour rather than jumping instead to defend the scientific integrity that we will need if there really is a major climate problem to be dealt with. I feel very sorry for the many excellent scientists out there working hard to protect the planet, almost certainly the vast majority. All of them will now find that their work will be harder and their outputs less respected until the problems are dealt with.
The recent scandal is extremely worrying, because if the stolen emails are indeed real, and Phil Jones has already admitted that at least some of them are, then it suggests that some of the science we thought was true is actually false, some might not be true, and some of the holes have been papered over. It has been created with contempt for the scientific method and pushed using marketing tools and bullying in place of reasoned argument. Having read a selection of the emails at random, and some of the other documents hacked from the site, I was deeply shocked. Anyone should expect a little inevitable distortion in the field because of the height of emotion felt by researchers, but I really never though it was so bad as it is. I am disgusted that Jones hasn't already been suspended by the university pending a full investigation, which says a lot about the UEA's regard for integrity and proper scientific principles. I certainly won't be recommending anyone to study there from now on. The UEA's reputation has been trashed already, whatever the truth of the emails' validity, and if the emails do indeed turn out to be genuine, many of the supposedly top climate scientists have been shown not to be real scientists at all by their obvious contempt for the scientific method.
This is just a small group of researchers of course, but they were highly regarded in climate science and hence highly influential, and their theories have been widely proliferated and accepted in the field. Their methodology of trying to obstruct access to data, and hiding data that doesn't conform to the dogma also now seems to be quite common. Again, if the emails are real, then some journals and boards have been corrupted by excluding those who don't agree with the dogmatic line. And the damage has permeated the media, much of which has polarised along dogmatic lines. The whole field does seem to have become more like a religion than a scientific discipline. Even at recruitment stage, it seems to be prone to strong emotional and political bias, something that doesn't affect other branches of science. I think the credibility of the existing structure of climate science is beyond repair. We have to throw it away and start again, salvaging whatever bits match up to proper scientific standards. And at the moment, we really have no idea how much of it that is. It will cost a lot, but the costs of doing the wrong things based on bad science might be much worse. But science works, and good scientists give their allegiance to the scientific method, not to their emotions, so with effort it can be done. Eventually, professionalism will win.
The proper scientific method needs to be fully enforced in the field, starting now, and a major review of all the existing work undertaken, by every research centre. Research centres must share all of their data freely with anyone who requests it. Journals should dismiss and re-appoint their editorial boards with due diligence, making sure that reviewers and editors are selected purely on technical competence and professionalism, and purge any bias towards any particular view. Bodies such as the IPCC should be similarly re-staffed from the ground up. Any grants for future research must be on condition of proper due diligence with regard to scientific integrity.
I've said many times that environmental groups should be applauded for encouraging people to care about the environment and protect it, but once they've done their work, they should get out of the way and let scientists figure out how the environment works and the nature and extent of any problems, so that engineers can develop proper working policies that will actually help keep it in good shape. The we can all live in a better world. But making policies based on emotions and bad science will get us nowhere.