ClimateGate

A few of you have asked what I think about ClimateGate.  Mostly I concur with Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson:  I have so far seen no evidence of the kind of grand conspiracy that some critics have charged.  Rather, to my mind this is about how real science (unfortunately) does sometimes get done. 

Scientists are human beings.  They react to pressure to "clean up" their graphs and data for publication, and they gang up on other people who they dislike.  Sometimes they're right--there's a "conspiracy" to keep people who believe in N-rays from publishing in physics journals, but that's a good thing.  But sometimes they're wrong, and a powerful figure or group of people can block progress in science.

I'd say that the charge that climate skeptics "are not published in peer reviewed journals" just lost most of its power as an argument against the skeptics.  But I don't see any reason to think that the AGW scientists have actually falsified data to create a consensus reality which is known to be false-to-fact.  What I see is that the people who are the custodians of the currently dominant paradigm have an unhealthy ability to exclude people who might challenge that paradigm from expressing those views in important forums.  Powerful scientists using their power to marginalize anyone who might challenge the authority of them, or their views, is sadly not uncommon in the history of science. 

That doesn't mean their paradigm is wrong; rather, it means we need to be less romantic about the practice of science.  No scientific consensus is ever as powerful as its proponents claim, because no scientists are ever as perfect as we'd like to imagine.

The more ardent defenders of the emailers are glossing over the fact that in some cases, they really seem to have behaved quite badly, and with less-than-stellar scientific integrity.  But I have yet to see the makings of a grand conspiracy, rather than the petty bullying of the powerful over the weak, the insider of the outsider.  I'll take the statements of this particular group of scientists with a little more salt in the future.  But as far as I can tell, the weight of the evidence--and what we know about the history of the planet, and carbon dioxide--still seems to be on their side.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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