Wise man: same within and without

An ancient description of a wise man is that he is the same on the inside and the outside. That means that as he thinks, so he speaks and acts. There are other things that might be said of the wise, but this simple description comes to us now as the essence of the modern term “transparency”.

It means that there should be no disjunction, no blemish in concept or communication and nothing obscured when it comes to public decisions and action.

The leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia involve just a small coterie of scientists. However, they have been at the centre of climate science for a long time and their views, aspirations and activities have had effects far beyond their immediate working environments.

Now that some of their private communications are exposed a dichotomy has become visible between their public pronouncements and their private thoughts, agreements and schemes. As they lie strewn before us they make an ugly landscape.

But in the midst of this mess we’ve come across the New York Times cutting sceptics some slack for a change. In commenting on the leaked emails from the CRU at East Anglia they acknowledge some positive results from some of the “cranks and pests” asking reasonable questions and identifying genuine problems.

John Tierney puts together a good summary of the discoveries from the emails and code that is worth reading. Here are some thought-provoking remarks from his conclusion.

Contempt for critics is evident over and over again in the hacked e-mail messages, as if the scientists were a priesthood protecting the temple from barbarians. Yes, some of the skeptics have political agendas, but so do some of the scientists. Sure, the skeptics can be cranks and pests, but they have identified genuine problems in the historical reconstructions of climate, as in the debate they inspired about the “hockey stick” graph of temperatures over the past millennium.

It is not unreasonable to give outsiders a look at the historical readings and the adjustments made by experts like Harry. How exactly were the readings converted into what the English scientists describe as “quality controlled and homogenised” data?

Trying to prevent skeptics from seeing the raw data was always a questionable strategy, scientifically. Now it looks like dubious public relations, too.

In response to the furor over the climate e-mail messages, there will be more attention than ever paid to those British temperature records, and any inconsistencies or gaps will seem more suspicious simply because the researchers were so determined not to reveal them. Skeptical bloggers are already dissecting Harry’s work. As they relentlessly pore over other data, the British scientists will feel Harry’s pain:

Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight.

Is it necessary to point out that those in NIWA and the Royal Society of NZ, with the connivance of the Minister for Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, who resist the release of New Zealand’s temperature records for independent examination, risk similarly magnified scrutiny just because of their resistance?

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