Leading scientists say that the recent controversies surrounding climate research have damaged the image of science as a whole. President of the US National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone, said scandals including the “climategate” e-mail row had eroded public trust in scientists.
His comment came at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego.
Dr Cicerone joined other renowned scientists on a panel at the event.
‘Distrust has spread’
He said that the controversial e-mail exchanges about climate change data had caused people to suspect that scientists “oppressed free speech”.
His fellow panel members, including Lord Martin Rees, president of the UK’s Royal Society, agreed that scientists needed to be more open about their findings.
“There is some evidence that the distrust has spread,” Dr Cicerone told BBC News. “There is a feeling that scientists are suppressing dissent, stifling their competitors through conspiracies.”
Recent polls, including one carried out by the BBC, have suggested that climate scepticism is on the rise.
Dr Cicerone linked this shift in public feeling to the hacked e-mails and to recently publicised mistakes made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in one of its key reports.
He said he was convinced that these events had had a wider knock-on effect.
“Public opinion polls are showing that the answers to questions like: ‘how much do you respect scientists?’ or ‘are they behaving in disinterested ways?’, have deteriorated in the last few months.”
He said that this crisis of public confidence should be a wake-up call for researchers, and that the world had now “entered an era in which people expected more transparency”.
“People expect us to do things more in the public light and we just have to get used to that,” he said. “Just as science itself improves and self-corrects, I think our processes have to improve and self-correct.”