Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Climate-Gate"?

Stephen Dubner of  Freakonomics fame and Tyler Cowen have very different takes on the so-called "Climate-Gate" scandal here and here. I agree with Dubner that one's take on the affair is likely to be heavily influenced, if not determined, by one's prior commitments. Of course, his own take is hardly immune from that observation. He asserts that Australia's proposed cap-and-trade measure was the first casualty of the Climate-Gate scandal, but I've seen no evidence to suggest that it played a significant role in the outcome. I do not doubt, however, that those who illegally hacked the University East Anglia's servers and leaked the e-mails were motivated to affect domestic and international political processes. At the very least, the timing of the leaks is suspicious, with the Copenhagen climate meetings only a couple of weeks away.

Overall, I am more sympathetic to Tyler Cowen's assessment of the scandal. Admittedly, his account conforms to my own priors. But I also believe that, if a large number of scientists were conspiring to portray the climate data in such a way as to paint an overly-bleak picture, other scientists would have had  great incentives to provide corrections. Decentralized science is, after all, a competitive enterprise, as Tyler points out.

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