Climategate is being discussed widely in the British and international media. It has involved the publication of private emails sent by employees of the University of East Anglia's climatic research unit, emails that appear to show scientists colluding to ensure that facts do not stand in the way of their science.
Of course there is little doubt that advocacy research - research that is driven by an already desired policy goal - plays a key role in framing the discussion of climate change. But whatever one thinks of the morality of climate-change alarmism, it is important to understand that the people involved in this campaign honestly believe in their cause. This is not a movement that seeks to deceive or that conspires to fiddle the figures. It is a lobby driven by powerful convictions, which need to be taken seriously if the issues are to be clarified and understood.
I have my doubts that the second paragraph is entirely correct.Then the last four paragraphs:
In any case, no objective observer should be surprised by what the emails reveal. The emails do remind us, however, of one regrettable development in recent years: the politicisation of peer review. The emails reveal scientists having discussions about whose work should get the peer-review stamp.I have my doubts that the second paragraph is entirely correct.
In an ideal world, the system of peer review - where scholarly work is subjected to the scrutiny of other experts in the field - would ensure disinterested science informed public debate. Through peer review, the authority of science may inject public discussion with some useful ideas and facts. Unfortunately, however, this ideal is rarely realised. Even at the best of times the system of peer review is not entirely free from vested interests. Peer reviewing is often conducted through a mates' club, and all too often the matter of who gets published and who gets rejected is determined by who you know and where you stand in a particular academic debate.
Nevertheless, peer reviewing worked for many years as a more or less adequate system of quality control. In the end, the damage caused by cliquishness tended to be overcome through debate and the triumph of scientific integrity. But the situation has changed. Unfortunately, in some disciplines peer reviewing has become politicised. The way peer review is now used in public debate as a form of divine revelation - where we are told peer-reviewed science shows we must believe and do certain things - indicates how this institution risks being corrupted by advocacy researchers.
The politicisation of peer review in the climate-change debate raises issues that concern all scientists. We must depoliticise the peer review system and encourage scientists to think of themselves as disinterested researchers. That does not mean scientists can't have opinions or must not participate in political campaigns. It means that they do not confuse science with ideology. That way, they would not have to worry every time they send an email.