Opinion: After three strikes, is the Climategate scandal out?


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The New York Times reports Wednesday that a third independent panel of experts has cleared the scientists behind the notorious ‘Climategate’ e-mails of any scientific improprieties. The report also defends the actions of East Anglia University administrators, and says the work there didn’t weaken the global warming evaluation made by the embattled Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change.

Will the new report shore up support for climate legislation in Washington? Not likely -- Climategate was the kind of political scandal (doctored evidence! cover-up! conspiracy!) that’s just too sexy to be beaten with white papers. But it’s worth noting how tall the pile of white papers is growing -- two previous inquiries also absolved the university and its scientists, and a Penn State University probe similarly cleared a scientist there of suppressing or falsifying data.


In summarizing the latest report, the panel’s leader -- Sir Muir Russell, a former academic and high-ranking government official in Scotland -- blistered the researchers for ‘a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness’ that risked the reputation of climate science in the United Kingdom. But he also said:

Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policymakers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the [United Nations IPCC assessments.

The debate will, of course, continue over whether climate is changing and, if so, how much humans have to do with it. But perhaps it can focus again on long-term climate trends and changes in the atmosphere, rather than a handful of researchers’ ethics.

-- Jon Healey