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Climate Research – Integrity Challenged




Phil Marks, 13th December 2009

The ruckus over the alleged editing of the climate warming data at the University of East Anglia in the UK is another episode in the continuing saga of academic dishonesty that has beset scientific research so publicly in the last decade.

We have seen cases of fixed clinical trials of drugs, manipulation of data and false reporting in the MMR vaccine scandal (which led to the  striking-off of a doctor) and numerous other examples of scientific fraud.

I am aware of an unreported case of the doctoring of Ph.D. research data to support a specific theory – the data being edited to fit a theoretical curve.

It is by no means a new phenomenon – cases go back many years. Piltdown Man, for example, was a notorious tale of scientific duplicity. This originated in 1912 and was not exposed as a forgery until 1953. A skull reportedly discovered in 1912 in a gravel pit was purported at the time to be evidential of the ‘missing link’ between Man and Apes. Whilst some people might have built reputations and careers based on the discovery, there was arguably little real harm done by the forgery.

However, in the case of the MMR scandal, some children may have suffered as a result of not being appropriately vaccinated on the basis of the evidence presented by the researcher – at the time it caused a lot of worry for many parents who avoided the triple vaccine for their children because of the alleged link (proven to be completely false) with autism.

Now, on a massive scale, we have the potential for a similar scandal. With more than 170 nations attending the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen there is a huge bandwagon in motion and vested interests (on both sides of the argument) almost on a planetary scale.

For me, the case for man-made global warming is not yet proven (I do have some background in physics and oceanography). Certainly, there is significant evidence to suggest that industrial and societal emissions are contributing to global warming, but the significance of that contribution is, for me, still open to question.

The specific data which has been challenged relates to atmospheric temperature records. Just recently, we have heard that the last decade has been the warmest since records began 150 years ago. Well, current understanding is that the earth is some 4,500 million years old, so a timespan of 150 years is relatively speaking, not even a gnat’s whisker. I appreciate that the climate may well be warming, and that there are significant dangers to countries and to human population in countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldive Islands, and even the East Coast of England. It does concern me though that we may well be misusing our resources in bringing industry and society into line on carbon emissions, when those resources could better be used in building defences (in the broadest possible sense) against planetary climate change which may well be outside human cause or control.

In the case of Piltdown Man, for example, there were several eminent detractors from the hypothesis of the missing link, but their voices were drowned in the groundswell of excitement surrounding the topic. I do hope that the same is not happening over climate change, with dissenting voices being silenced and the whole peer-review process under a cloud. Additionally, the reported inability of climate-change dissenters to get published in the leading scientific journals is a cause for serious concern. Rigorous research and robust and honest peer-review are essential components in the progress of science (and mankind) – without them we are really in trouble.

We need solid, objective research, and quickly, to determine the scientific significance of man-made carbon emissions in relation to the natural background climate change.

© Phil Marks 2009. All rights reserved.


 

 

 

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