Kate Mackenzie Climategate and suspicion of science

The news that the head of East Anglia University’s will temporarily stand aside over the ‘climategate‘ affair is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about the issue. Whether the independent review the university has flagged will change the debate much remains to be seen – the terms of the inquiry are yet to be announced.  Penn State University is also investigating Michael Mann, another scientist whose emails were leaked.

FT blogger Clive Crook says he doesn’t think the scientists involved can be trusted. Quite a few blogs, such as Chip Knappenberger at Master Resource blog, suggest that the whole peer review process might be at fault. Certainly a large proportion of people are suspicious of mainstream science – remember the MMR vaccine furore?

But there is more than just mistrust of scientists going on here. As Russell Gold writes at the WSJ,  it’s “all-out ideological warfare“.

We’ll leave the final word to Martin Wolf, the FT’s chief economics commentator, who argues that the delays in reaching a binding agreement on climate change should be used to make sure more effective action is taken. On the subject of sceptics, he writes today:

Yet it is not enough to argue that the science is uncertain. Given the risks, we have to be quite sure the science is wrong before following the sceptics. By the time we know it is not, it is likely to be too late to act effectively. We cannot repeat experiments with just one planet.

Fortunately, the evidence suggests that the costs of action should not be prohibitive. The World Bank’s latest World Development Report argues that the costs of tighter restrictions on emissions would be modest. On the benefit side, I would stress the importance of avoiding the danger of a climate catastrophe. We do not have a right to take such risks.

Nevertheless, sceptics perform an invaluable service. They remind us to keep monitoring actual climate developments. They tell us, too, that action has costs and some costs – leaving billions of people in poverty – would be intolerable. Fortunately, as the World Bank notes, poor people emit little. The reductions in emissions secured by switching the US fleet of sport utility vehicles into cars with European Union fuel economy standards would cover the emissions from providing electricity to 1.6bn people now without access.