Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Robert Shelton weighs in on UA "Climategate" involvement.

This is why it is good to have a scientist as a University president: he knows how to evaluate popular controversies about science.

In full:

TO: UA Employees
FROM: Robert N. Shelton, President
SUBJECT: Email Messages on Climate Change
DATE:Dec. 9, 2009

The University of Arizona takes very serious any allegation of impropriety, academic or otherwise. As soon as news accounts surfaced about selected emails that were illegally obtained from a British university computer server and posted publicly, the UA reviewed the material with the full cooperation of UA faculty whose names appeared on some of those messages.

We firmly believe there is no substance to the negative allegations regarding the content of the emails. To the contrary, the work of our professors is contributing substantially to humanity's growing understanding of the origins and nature of global climate change.

As a matter of course, our faculty adhere to the highest standards of research ethics. Their data, once published, are available to other scholars as required by the journals publishing the work, and in most cases are posted online and hence are freely available for download. Their research conclusions are cross-examined through vigorous rounds of peer review. In the case of collaborative research by the UA's Malcolm Hughes, independent studies by other research groups and critical reviews, including by the National Academy of Sciences, have confirmed both the integrity of their research methods and their basic findings.

The research area in question - global climate change - is the subject of vigorous, worldwide debate. The implications of the findings being produced by the world's scientific community are profound. Naturally, there will be those who will not fully understand or be prepared to accept scientific conclusions that may be upsetting. This is an expected part of our faculty's work. Their response is to inform and explain their research methods as transparently and dispassionately as possible.

The UA faculty mentioned in these stolen emails have done so admirably. For that reason, the leadership of the UA has full confidence and pride in both the scientific methods they have employed, and the conclusions they have reached.

Unlike the Arizona Daily Star's false balance--Ross McKitrick is neither a "skeptic" nor a credible person nor one making reasonable accusations--and the Wildcat's parlay of this into an actual accusation by the paper itself of scientific wrongdoing, Shelton nicely gives weight where weight is due. Shelton is not a journalist and not acting as one, but nevertheless, his use of good sense is exemplary and the note is a show of fair-mindedness. Word to the Washington Post and the Star: Impartiality doesn't require you to give equal time (or, in the Post's case, well more than equal time) to the ridiculous. Most of the time, you do not do so!

What we should see from Hughes and Overpeck is a public lecture. They don't owe it to anyone, but it would go a long way to restore confidence, unfairly lost or not.

No word yet on whether or not either scientist plans to hit back. Maybe the Wildcat crossed the line and maybe it didn't--what's "potentially" supposed to mean?--but there have been things written in the blogosphere, especially about Hughes, that are outright libel. Being upset with a scientist's finding does not justify allegations of "fraud", even if one can cite private e-mails out of context to justify this post hoc. "Fraud" is an allegation of fact, not of opinion.

No comments: