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Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

U.K. Government: "Climategate" No Reason to Doubt Climate Change

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Smokestacks at a power plantYet another scientific body has jumped in to the so-called climategate fray to dispute that the leaked documents offer any reason to doubt that human activity is warming the planet.


Back in 2009, as you may recall, a number of e-mails and documents related to climate research were leaked following a server breach at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England. Climate skeptics, poring through the correspondence, latched on to a number of emails that they claimed undermined the scientific case for human-caused climate change, including the widely publicized assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The climate scientists, skeptics alleged, manipulated data and used underhanded methods to block the publication of conflicting research.


But those skeptical claims have been roundly debunked. First, UEA asked two independent review panels to assess the evidence. Both reviews were completed in 2010 and found no evidence for scientific malpractice. The panels' reports did make important recommendations about making climate science more transparent, but as the one of those reports concluded, "we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments." The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee in turn issued two reports on the UEA reviews, broadly accepting the panels' recommendations for greater openness and transparency.


Now the U.K. government, represented by the Government Office for Science, has produced its own response. In a May 5 memo to Parliament, the government wrote: "After two independent reviews, and two reviews by the Science and Technology Committee, we find no evidence to question the scientific basis of human influence on the climate."


A broad range of evidentiary sources in a landmark 2007 IPCC report and "an almost continuous body of publications in the academic literature" all point in the same direction, the governmental memo stated, showing that "the evidence for human induced climate change continues to grow and that the perceptions of future climate risk are not diminishing."


Ultimately, it is doubtful that the governmental proclamation will have any significant influence on the debate. Those who believe the planet is warming are already supported by scientific consensus and by a wealth of climate data, and those who believe a conspiracy is afoot to suppress conflicting data will hardly be swayed by a formal statement to the contrary from a government body.


Photo credit: © iStockphoto/acilo

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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