On Wayward E-mails and Public Perceptions

January 19, 2010 · 2 comments

The session yesterday summarizing findings from the recent report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, put some heat on authors when attendees asked about the impact of the leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia.

The discussion aired concerns about what scientists can do to overcome  public suspicions generated by the e-mail controversy. To the question, “What concrete steps can we take to get credibility back for our field?”, Tom Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center, replied:

I think that’s a very good question, and I don’t think there’s one magic silver bullet. I think the key to our success in this Society and science in general has been the peer review process, and making sure the peer review process is fully understandable not only by our colleagues and peers but the outside world who uses the work that we do. That’s number one.

Secondly, when we actually publish papers, the data upon which the paper is based and the algorithms that are used–we do not have a consistent policy in the world in terms of access to that data. That’s something in our AMS Council meeting we discussed yesterday as to just what our policy should be in making sure it’s explicit. It isn’t quite so clear.

So I think there are some steps that we can take forward. And of course, in addition, the more transparent we can be in making sure that when we do have a paper, we can point to where the data can be found and be accessed–I think those are all important steps, but I’m sure there are others. Again, I don’t think any individual one is going to work. We have to have a multiple front here, and it’s important because it affects all of our work, across the board.