On Wayward E-mails and Public Perceptions

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.

2 thoughts on “On Wayward E-mails and Public Perceptions”

  1. The AMS annual meetings are typically at the same time as Martin Luther King’s celebration. The MLK holiday is honored by banks, post offices, and in the South, the holiday is also honored by universities and school systems. In the same way as we would not consider holding the AMS meetings on Christmas day, it is hard to justify (dollars and cents should not be the primary concern, just as it is not when we exclude the Christmas holiday from the potential dates in the calendar). When these meetings are held in the south where MLK is such a revered name, the choice of dates lack sensitivity.

  2. Thank you for raising this important point. AMS is meeting in Atlanta this week at the request of the City. Normally AMS does not schedule the meeting on a holiday weekend, and in fact we had scheduled the meeting for later in January (back when the contracts were signed in the early 1990s). However, a couple of years ago the City of Atlanta urged AMS to reschedule to be here during the holiday week. They offered the requisite incentives to offset the inconvenience. AMS organized special programming on Monday, emphasizing diversity, African-American participation in the sciences, and service to society, which of course is a key theme of AMS, the holiday, and Dr. King’s legacy.

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