The ClimateGate that wasn't

Peter
Peter Jackson
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

In the world of science, there's a colloquialism to describe desperate researchers fudging results to keep the grants coming.

It's called "painting the mouse."

The term stems from an incident in the early 1970s involving a promising dermatologist named William Summerlin.

Summerlin, who worked in Minnesota and later moved to New York, stunned the medical world in 1973 when he claimed to have implanted skin grafts from one individual to another without the aid of immunosuppressive drugs.

In the world of science, there's a colloquialism to describe desperate researchers fudging results to keep the grants coming.

It's called "painting the mouse."

The term stems from an incident in the early 1970s involving a promising dermatologist named William Summerlin.

Summerlin, who worked in Minnesota and later moved to New York, stunned the medical world in 1973 when he claimed to have implanted skin grafts from one individual to another without the aid of immunosuppressive drugs.

When scientists were unable to duplicate his results, Summerlin came under enormous pressure to prove his case.

One day in 1974, Summerlin was asked to demonstrate skin grafts he had supposedly taken from black mice and transplanted to white mice. At some point before the presentation, Summerlin slinked into his empty laboratory, picked up a couple of the mice, took a black felt marker from his pocket and darkened the transplanted patches of skin on each mouse.

His deceit was discovered later when a technician noticed the ink coming off with an alcohol wipe. An investigation ensued, and Sum-merlin's research - and reputation - went down in flames.

Last week, skeptics of human-caused global warming were convinced they'd uncovered a few ink-stained rodents in one of the world's most respected climate science institutes.

A hacker stole more than a decade's worth of e-mails and electronic documents from a server at Britain's University of East Anglia. Within the digital haystack were a couple of needles that seem to point to fraud and deceit - evidence of scientists playing games with the media and medical journals, and even manipulating results.

Some of the scientists involved have tried to explain it away, but the uproar from the skeptics' camp has drowned them out. The U.S. Congress is even considering an investigation.

Curiously, many mainstream media have ignored the story. There's not a whiff of it in The Globe and Mail, and only a couple of articles in The New York Times. The Associated Press filed a story or two. Scanning television news in the days after it broke, I don't recall seeing a single mention.

Why is this?

The skeptics have themselves worked into a lather, but the issue just doesn't seem to have gained traction. Ironically, the headlines on the eve of climate change talks in Copenhagen cite scientists who suggest the UN climate panel is understating the rate at which global warming is affecting the planet.

It would appear the hacked e-mails aren't the big "Aha!" some would like to think they are. Only a few of these illegally hacked exchanges contain incriminating remarks. And even those are open to interpretation.

What they do show is a scientific community under siege. These scientists are bombarded almost daily with hostile campaigns to discredit their work. They face a well-funded network of skepticism that will do and say anything to destroy the wide consensus of climate researchers.

It's hard to imagine what the motive for all this is, other than the two most obvious factors: industry-funded interference and the simple lure of notoriety.

But action and reaction are very powerful forces. Some of these scientists, confronted with reams of distorted and even blatantly false counter-arguments, have resorted to a fortress mentality. They don't want to enable their critics with raw or malleable data, and they struggle with the conflict between countering the spin and keeping things honest.

As a result, they've made a few missteps.

That, in a nutshell, is what the e-mails demonstrate. If you're curious to read a selection online, I recommend ClimateDepot.com. It's a rather shrill conspiracy website, but at least you'll get the most damning examples.

Some observers predict the great e-mail fiasco will actually backfire in the end. Because, apart from a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of communications show earnest scientists busily going about their peer-reviewed work. Where is the massive coverup, the conspiracy? If you put these few e-mails in context, you're forced to admit the bulk of research is genuine. And now, a few scientists are even advocating more openness by posting their raw data online. After all, they have nothing to hide.

The evidence for human-caused global warming is hardly toppled by this so-called ClimateGate. If anything, it's reinforced.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: University of East Anglia, U.S. Congress, Globe and Mail New York Times The Associated Press UN

Geographic location: Minnesota, New York, Britain Copenhagen

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Amy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I think if you read carefully you will see that Mr Jackson is not supporting secrecy. In fact he is pointing out how many scientists are now releasing data publicly.

    It's funny how a few small comments can undermine years and years of scientific proof. People always seem more inclined to believe in conspiracy rather than the truth. Especially in cases where a conspiracy would be more personally beneficial.
    Denying the truth means that we can continue on our way just as things are, and forget all about how we are destroying our environment. This is obviously the more desirable route for big businesses who are facing large profit losses if new regulations are imposed. Or even the normal person who does not want to experience a change in lifestyle. That is why these people are doing all they can to promote this climategate , even though the bulk of evidence is against it.

  • Keith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Some of these scientists, confronted with reams of distorted and even blatantly false counter-arguments, have resorted to a fortress mentality. They don't want to enable their critics with raw or malleable data...

    This is a very flimsy excuse for bad faith on the part of scientists, Mr. Jackson. If those who support the global-warming hypothesis are right, opening up their research and data can only buttress their case. Your apparent support for their secrecy and fortress mentality betrays your ignorance of , bordering on distaste for, scientific ethics, intellectual honesty, enlightenment principles, and the freedom to read.

  • Amy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    I think if you read carefully you will see that Mr Jackson is not supporting secrecy. In fact he is pointing out how many scientists are now releasing data publicly.

    It's funny how a few small comments can undermine years and years of scientific proof. People always seem more inclined to believe in conspiracy rather than the truth. Especially in cases where a conspiracy would be more personally beneficial.
    Denying the truth means that we can continue on our way just as things are, and forget all about how we are destroying our environment. This is obviously the more desirable route for big businesses who are facing large profit losses if new regulations are imposed. Or even the normal person who does not want to experience a change in lifestyle. That is why these people are doing all they can to promote this climategate , even though the bulk of evidence is against it.

  • Keith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Some of these scientists, confronted with reams of distorted and even blatantly false counter-arguments, have resorted to a fortress mentality. They don't want to enable their critics with raw or malleable data...

    This is a very flimsy excuse for bad faith on the part of scientists, Mr. Jackson. If those who support the global-warming hypothesis are right, opening up their research and data can only buttress their case. Your apparent support for their secrecy and fortress mentality betrays your ignorance of , bordering on distaste for, scientific ethics, intellectual honesty, enlightenment principles, and the freedom to read.