RICHARD NIXON said he wasn't a crook. O.J. Simpson said he didn't kill his wife. The scientists who run the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia say they are "committed to scientific integrity ... and ... respectful and informed debate" with climate-change skeptics.
But as Nixon and Simpson eventually discovered, truth has a way of undoing even the most determined stonewall. Now it is the turn of the CRU's climate scientists -- especially its director, Phil Jones -- to learn that uncomfortable lesson.
Amid the uproar over the email scandal, the University of East Anglia's Phil Jones stepped down as director of the Climatic Research Unit.
Assuming that the purloined emails are genuine -- something the University of East Anglia and the CRU don't dispute -- they are nothing short of scandalous. They reveal celebrated climate scientists apparently conspiring to corrupt the peer-review process, to suppress or finesse temperature data at odds with global-warming alarmism, to silence or discredit climate experts who criticize their work, and to hide or eliminate the raw data on which their own much-trumpeted claims have been based.
For years, climate alarmists have insisted that their views are validated by the peer-review process, which ensures that only research of the highest quality gets published in leading scientific journals, or in reports of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There is no reason to heed global-warming skeptics, they have argued, since their findings haven't appeared in peer-reviewed publications.
Behind that smug public appeal to scientific authority, however, was what now looks like a concerted private effort to blackball the skeptics. In a July 2004 email, for example, CRU director Phil Jones dismisses as "garbage" the work of two dissenters. "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report," he assures fellow scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University. "Kevin and I will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"
In another email, Mann fumes because the peer-reviewed journal Climate Research published a paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "This was the danger of always criticizing the skeptics for not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature.' Obviously, they found a solution to that -- take over a journal!" The only thing to do, he suggests, is to rig the peer-review system: "I think we have to stop considering 'Climate Research' as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal."
Even more disturbing than such contempt for legitimate disagreement is the thread of emails in which Jones and other climate scientists discuss how best to evade requests for the raw data underlying their published work -- including requests made under Britain's Freedom of Information Act. There are repeated recommendations that records and correspondence be destroyed. "Mike," wrote Jones last year in an email to Mann regarding the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, "Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?" Earlier, referring to requests by global warming skeptics for the meteorological station data used to build the CRU's global temperature record, Jones had written that if the critics "ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone."
On Sunday, the Times of London reported that the CRU's raw temperature data was in fact thrown out years ago, which means "other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years."
You don't have to agree with the skeptics on whether climate change is or isn't a crisis to be appalled by such anti-scientific behavior.
The CRU documents make it only too clear, IPCC contributor Eduardo Zorita said last week, that too much climate-science research "is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion. . . . The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas." British environmentalist George Monbiot, though a fierce critic of global-warming skeptics, vented his fury over the Climategate revelations. "Opaqueness and secrecy are the enemies of science," he blogged. "No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last."
Amid the uproar, Jones stepped down yesterday. As Nixon and OJ could have told him, stonewalling rarely succeeds.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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