A correspondent asks me privately what I think about the East Anglia email 'scandal'. Here's my reply:

Basically, I can't get excited until a major scientific publication retracts a paper based upon clear evidence of scientific misconduct.

This does happen, even though it leaves the journal with egg on its face. Science and Nature have both famously retracted papers due to fraud in recent years. One case was a high-energy researcher who had been cooking his data for years to make it easier to publish, the other was the string of papers from the South Korean lab involving stem cell research. The latter case was a national scandal for South Korea and a serious blow to embryonic stem cell research, and there were significant pressures in the Korean government and in scientific circles to look the other way and not blow the whistle.

Nevertheless, the whistle was blown, adjudication took place, papers were retracted, careers and research programs were ruined. Both of the lead scientists in question got in big trouble:

Jan Hendrik Schon, who fabricated claims about semiconductors, fled the US to avoid criminal charges. Back in his native Germany, Schon's doctoral degree was revoked and he was essentially prohibited for working with any scientific agency for eight years. He apparently took a job with an engineering firm and is simply trying to disappear from public view.

Meanwhile, Hwang Woo-suk, who fabricated claims about therapeutic cloning, was expelled by his university, defunded by the government, and serving a two-year sentence for embezzlement.

Oh, and did I have to mention that both of these gentlemen's scientific careers are over, finished, kaput? Obviously!

So the stakes are really high for individual researchers involved in scientific fraud. The IPCC reports are not, however, based upon the privately-circulated opinions of a few individuals, but thousands of published papers with multiple authors. To believe that the furor over emails seriously undermines the credibility of climate change modeling by the IPCC seriously overstates the effect of any misconduct and at this time could only be considered premature. If there is scientific misconduct, I am confident it will eventually come out because the innocent associates of any fraud have so much to lose. But this will never take place on the time scale of scandal-mongering news cycles, so chances are most people won't pay attention to whatever the real outcome is unless it can be spun for some other political agenda.

1 comment:

Cathy Davis said...

Nice article. Would be back for more reading.