CREDIBILITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH
Certain events in late 2009 caused an erosion in public confidence and trust in the climate science community. In November, unknown hackers stole more than 1,000 emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit -- some of which proved embarrassing to their authors as they vented their frustrations, questioned the peer review process, or objected to repeated requests for raw data. A few emails were taken out of context, and others were misinterpreted to cast doubt on the scientists and the science of climate change.
Various analyses of these emails have now put them into perspective, including this analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Several formal investigations into the appropriateness of the scientific conduct of some of the email authors were undertaken and eventually cleared the scientists of wrongdoing. Pennsylvania State University, for example, conducted a two-part investigation into the allegations against one of its faculty members, Dr. Michael Mann, and found no evidence to substantiate the claims made.
One result of the email controversy is likely to be an even higher level of transparency as well as greater availability of the data and of the computer codes used to arrive at scientific conclusions.
Adding to the credibility problem, a few minor errors were discovered in one of the three 900-plus-page assessment reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. In one case, an assertion was made that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 -- much earlier than is in fact likely. The Summary for Policymakers and the final Synthesis Report did not include this claim, however, and the IPCC has acknowledged that its "well-established standards of evidence ... were not applied properly" in this instance.
A UCS backgrounder discusses the allegations and provides support for the basic science presented by the IPCC.
In addition, the United Nations Secretary-General and the chair of the IPCC asked the InterAcademy Council (IAC) to review the processes and procedures of the IPCC and to present recommendations on possible changes. The IAC, a multinational organization of the world's science academies, presented its report and recommendations in August 2010. The IPCC subsequently instituted a number of changes to its rules and procedures in response to the IAC review.
Last updated: 1/3/2012