I am not so naïve as to think it will go away. Years from now we will still be hearing the same baseless accusations of fraud and arrogance that made Climategate the non-scandal that it was.
But now at least we can try and move on.
Now that a series of independent panels have cleared both climate researchers and the conclusions of climate science, we can get back to thinking about the response to those conclusions rather than who said what to whom in private e-mails. Just to be clear here us a summary of the investigations by Curtis Brainerd in the Columbia Journalism Review:
A report from British parliament’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee at the end of March and an independent investigation by Lord Ronald Oxburgh in April also cleared the climate scientists at the University of East Anglia of any misconduct on malpractice. Likewise, in two separate reports released in February and July, investigative panels at Pennsylvania State University absolved scientist Michael Mann, who was also caught up in the "Climategate" affair, of wrongdoing.
There have been other investigations, like the one from the Netherlands Environmental Agency (if only their soccer had been as accurate), and they have all reached the same conclusion: The science stands.
So what have we learned from this ridiculous diversion? Here are a couple points that everyone should consider as the debate evolves.
- There are political forces at work in this that have nothing to do with science or reason. Remember that this mess began with stolen emails. This is level at which the debate will be fought unless we are all mindful to stay focused. The questions before us are not so much about science. There are still many open issues but the basic conclusions of climate science are strong: things are going to change. The real question we face is one of policy. What do we do in the face of a climate future that we can predict with only so much accuracy? We know things are changing but there is a range of change from "difficult" to "unmanageable". What will actually happen? Much of what we face are questions of risk management.
- Increased openness is a must. The scientists in the climate-non-gate had developed a kind of bunker mentality after enduring endless attacks. Given that they trained to be scientists and not politicians it’s understandable. But finding ways to allow people to understand the workings of climate science and the pathways to it conclusions can only help IF it is done correctly. As I have written before, there are real issues of competency in dealing with data analysis. Would you want your neighbor performing your brain surgery? How does the world deal with an open storehouse of climate data? The Climate-Wiki idea that many people have suggested seems like it might be a good idea if it is done responsibly.
- The most difficult issues we face are our own collective imaginations and their inability to grasp change in our lifetimes at this magnitude. We are up against our inability to plan in-depth and in-detail on scales of 100 years or more. That is a new idea for our species and derailing that effort will be very easy.
It's time to move on now as best we can and deal with reality. Hopefully we can handle the truth.