Reflecting on Climategate, Tyler Cowen has come up with this:

Good vs. evil thinking causes us to lower our value of a person's opinion, or dismiss it altogether, if we find out that person has behaved badly.  We no longer wish to affiliate with those people and furthermore we feel epistemically justified in dismissing them.

Sometimes this tendency will lead us to intellectual mistakes.

Take Climategate.  One response is: 1. "These people behaved dishonorably.  I will lower my trust in their opinions."

Another response, not entirely out of the ballpark, is: 2. "These people behaved dishonorably.  They must have thought this issue was really important, worth risking their scientific reputations for.  I will revise upward my estimate of the seriousness of the problem."

I am not saying that #2 is correct, I am only saying that #2 deserves more than p = 0.  Yet I have not seen anyone raise the possibility of #2.  It very much goes against the grain of good vs. evil thinking:  Who thinks in terms of: "They are evil, therefore they are more likely to be right."

Hum. Concerning whether #2 is in or out of the ballpark, the nature of the dishonorable behavior would seem to be relevant. If they lied about the evidence (which they deny, of course) and are found out, then people will be less inclined to trust what they say about the evidence, regardless of their motives. That would seem to be that.

Leaving the realm of epistemic speculation, what many climate scientists do actually say is that the Climategate correspondents were true to their justified conviction about the larger picture, and did not want to confuse the public with their little local difficulty with tree-rings, or whatever. Some are happy to go even further than that, and tell you, on or off the record, that the main thing is to get the public scared enough to act. Exaggerate for the public good. Propaganda becomes the responsible scientist's duty. Whatever it takes, including cooking the books. A question to keep Tyler entertained would be: is that dishonorable behavior?

Still reeling over what is in those emails, I can't say that question interests me much. Once scientists set out to mislead the public, they can no longer expect to be trusted. End of story.

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