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The mainstream alarmist posturing on climate change by the likes of Al Gore, regardless of whether it meets the demands of scientific accuracy or not, is resetting political priorities and imposing billions of dollars in costs for governments the world over.

Sustained inquiry, debate and scrutiny around the dealings of those involved — from scientific practitioners to powerful policymakers — are not only inevitable, but are also absolute imperatives. The taxpayer, after all, funds most of the climate research and his life is vastly affected by the domestic and international policies that it shapes. In particular, emerging economies across the world grapple with the burden of international pressures to “green up” versus their own aspirations to fully industrialize.

In that regard, the sensational November 2009 revelation of deplorable practices by leading climate change scientists cannot have been some blind chase driven by ideology, but a significant and irreversible turn in one of the greatest geopolitical debates of all time. Notwithstanding the supposed exonerations of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) scientists in question, their behavior remains unscrupulous. Moreover, for those manning the frontiers of an issue with such enormous global implications, “hiding the temperature decline” and destroying emails with critical evidence strikes me as just outright unacceptable.

Through his column, (“Scientific Misconduct,” September 1), David Sheffield ’11 would have us believe that the furor that arose from clear evidence of manipulating empirical data was misplaced — because no “scientific malpractice” was found by reviews. In other words, he renders the legitimacy of any criticism to the sole discretion of those tasked to “inquire” by the status quo, or those with zero incentives for objectiveness in the issue. The implications of this approach cannot be any trickier: all we need to settle this controversy is peer review by institutions whose credentials for objectiveness in this matter are questionable.

It should be noted that the implicated universities themselves — Penn State and the University of East Anglia — as the respective employers of the scientists in question, funded two of the supposedly independent inquiries into the CRU. Finding the scientists guilty on any count would also discredit these institutions and their status as the backbone of what Gore would like us to think as the “overwhelming scientific consensus” on climate change.

Sheffield’s focus on the underlying issue is quite generic in that he merely states the outcomes of the inquiries but not the accusations in question. But his judgment on “deniers” is a little more detailed and sharp. He tags the critics as “ideologically driven” and “anti-scientific” crowds who are out to achieve self-serving ends. But nothing, however, can be truer about the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change whose figured scientists were tainted in the scandal. No objective scientist but in fact one driven by ideology, can go to the same lengths that the CRU experts went in actively trying to manipulate highly consequential empirical data.

Apologists of the status quo scientists will point to the fact that the evidence (or the lack thereof) was acquired illegally by a hacker, the fact remains that the conventional climate change science is rooted in the highly secretive work of men who we now know have the capacity and sometimes, motive to tailor some of their findings to suit certain goals — or ideologies, if you wish.

That climate change has become a multibillion dollar industry is not a mystery, nor is the fact that millions of “green” dollars are lining the personal pockets of those with enough clout on environmental policy. From federal grants to windfalls from energy companies, many incentives have clouded this industry and left total objectiveness wallowing away from the top of priority lists.

Therefore, with the far-reaching implications of global environmental policies, it is mandatory to keep relentless scrutiny as an indispensable part of that matrix of interconnectedness.

To make those critical of the questionable practices of authoritative scientists appear repulsive by tagging them as “anti-scientific” borders on some sort of censorship. It is no wonder bigger climate change fundamentalists are quick to address anyone skeptical of their sensation-seeking rhetoric as a heretic, or in the words of Bill Nye, “almost unpatriotic”.

By analyzing both in the same side of his article, Sheffield paints climate change “deniers” with the same brush as those guilty of scientific misconduct, like disgraced academics of Marc Hauser’s sort. The only problem is that while Hauser’s case presents a black-and-white scenario whose verdict was easily delivered, the whitewash of the CRU by supposedly independent inquiries is not so simplistic. It is a mere microcosm of the fundamental global debate around global warming that is both complex, and far from over.

The jury is definitely still out on the so-called Climategate, and I don’t think it is time for us here at Brown to conclusively hit that gavel yet — especially at the lead of inquiries that may have well chosen convenience over objectiveness. The enormity of the stakes worldwide does not allow us that luxury.

The Brown Daily Herald, 7 September 2010