“Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct,” stated the Muir Russell
report into the Climategate scandal after it found the Climatic Research Unit at the UK’s East Anglia University guilty of “a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness.” This failure, the Russell report declared to wide agreement among climate scientists, led to harm “to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science.”
To ensure that climate scientists never again harm the cause of science in this way, the Russell report then recommended that scientists adhere to new standards of openness. “Without such openness, the credibility of their work will suffer because it will always be at risk of allegations of concealment and hence mal-practice.”
The Russell report was released last week. This week the UN’s Intergovernmental; Panel on Climate Change and other scientists have their first opportunity to apply the new standards by admitting to yet another gross transgression.
The opportunity comes via the latest revelation over Amazongate, a scandal that erupted in January, just two months after the Climategate scandal broke in November. The Amazongate story begins with a claim in the IPCC’s 2007 report that “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation,” leading to the forest’s conversion to savannah. The IPCC gave as its source a report by WWF
, the environmental lobby group. The press then dubbed this failure by the IPCC to rely upon peer-reviewed science “Amazongate.”
Last month, one of the media outlets that exposed Amazongate, the Sunday Times, retracted its story, apparently in the belief that the WWF had based its claim about the looming destruction of the Amazon on legitimate peer-reviewed science. If so, the IPCC’s error was trivial – it had sloppily quoted WWF instead of the actual peer-reviewed science.
With the Sunday Times retraction, most of the worldwide press and climate-friendly blogosphere jumped to the assertion that the IPCC had been exonerated. “Newspapers retract faulty climate reporting,” stated a Washington Post Huffington Post. Climate scientists everywhere supported the belief that WWF had based its views on peer-reviewed science.
One reporter, Christopher Booker at the London Telegraph, wondered where, exactly, was the peer-reviewed document that the WWF relied upon. When he was stonewalled in obtaining answers he dug and dug and finally found WWF’s source. As he explains, it “was not based on peer-reviewed science, as repeatedly claimed, but originated solely from anonymous propaganda published on the website of a small Brazilian environmental advocacy group.” Booker’s impressive sleuthing is described in detail here
The IPCC now has the opportunity to rise to Muir Russell’s challenge. He posed the following problem for science
in introducing his Climategate report to the press: “How is science to be conducted in a new world of openness, accountability and indeed what I might term citizen involvement in public interest science? … There need to be ways of handling criticism and challenge, of responding to a range of different sorts of criticism and getting into a more productive relationship with critics than we have sometimes seen in this case.”
Will the IPCC and others in the climate science establishment pass this, their first test in the new world of openness? I hope they do. I know they won’t.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.