Climategate Won't Go Away, but a Climate-Wiki Might Help Clear the Air

Last Updated Jul 30, 2010 7:44 PM EDT

Climate-change scientists besieged by accusations last year of conspiring to hide data and distort conclusions on human-caused global warming were exonerated for a third time recently -- but you'd never know it. The blogosphere is still ablaze a week after the Independent Climate Change Emails Review -- the final independent review of hacked emails of Climatic Research Unit scientists -- found no evidence of subversive behavior that would undermine conclusions of human-caused global warming, more formally called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report.

Unfortunately for the folks who'd like Congress to pass climate-change legislation, these scientists weren't totally innocent either. The review, headed by Sir Muir Russell, was highly critical of lack of openness and transparency. And for good reason. Climate-change scientists were less than open with their data in hopes of steering clear of their harshest critics, many of whom exist in the blogosphere. But that has only created more doubt and allowed skeptics to dominate the conversation.

Russell's acknowledgment of the blogosphere's power produced one of the more interesting suggestions. The Russell review called for some sort "of public space where these issues can be aired, in an atmosphere that is at the same time unthreatening and properly challenging."

What exactly would this public space look like, and is it even possible to have an open forum that is both nonthreatening and challenging? The Russell review doesn't outline how this would be done, but the idea of a Wikipedia-style climate change forum has come up in the past. John Christy, lead author on the IPCC's Third Assessment Report and a climate skeptic, has long-suggested that the IPCC is an echo chamber for unilateral thinking on how human activity is affecting the climate. His solution would be the creation of a Wikipedia-IPCC that would give the public a closer look into climate science.

The Wiki idea received some positive response, but never went anywhere. But with this latest criticism of a lack of openness, the Wiki idea will be floated again. And this time, it could survive.

The quick backstory:

  • Someone hacked a computer server at the CRU and published more 1,000 private emails from some 160 different people.
  • Global warming skeptics seized on the emails as evidence of scientific chicanery and Climategate was born.
  • The most serious claims were accusations that scientists purposefully manipulated raw temperature data to get the outcome they wanted.
What the latest independent review found:
  • The rigor and honesty of the scientists are not in doubt. Specifically, the reviews got a hold of raw temperature data and in a trial sample created a graph similar to a challenged temperature chart.
  • They didn't find any evidence of behavior that would undermine conclusions about human-caused global warming;
  • Scientists displayed a lack of openness/ More seriously, some emails might have been "deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them." There is little detail about these deleted emails, as the FT frustratingly noted. In this case, the Russell review fails to provide the kind of openness it calls for, and now even more questions and doubt remain.
Photo from NASA