Monday, May 04, 2009

Climate Fraud?

That's the hot topic over at Anthony Watt's place, discussing the charge of fraud leveled by UK mathematician Douglas Keenan against noted University of Albany climate scientist Professor Wei-Chyung Wang. Read more here.

To make a complex story as short as possible, the professor co-authored a paper years ago about the effect of cities on weather stations using a group of Chinese sites for reference. He claimed the sites were all stable--no big moves had occurred in their physical location over time--yet when pressed for the data by Mr. Keenan he refused. The university did its own investigation and stunningly found Mr. Wang innocent of any fraud but refused to give Mr. Keenan access to the data as is university policy. The university has been the beneficiary of about seven million in grants over the years thanks to the professor.

Mr. Keenan's charges are currently being reviewed by the New York Attorney General's office pending further action.

Why is this important? One, if true it would put at least a small crack in the veneer of invincibility touted by the likes of Al Gore (science is settled, flat earth etc) and two, it could possibly challenge the underlying premise that urbanization isn't at least partly responsible for some of the warming seen over the past 100 years. That's what professor Wang's paper was investigating.

Nevertheless, anti climate change zealots should proceed cautiously. Nothing has yet been proven and one potentially bogus paper doesn't equal wholesale refutation of the theory (although it would be a delicious snack). Additionally, the university's stalling doesn't automatically mean the data is bad. There could well be financial or political angles in play.

Keep in mind McIntyre and McKitrick's allegations about the broken "Hockey Stick" are still in dispute even if the IPCC removed from hockey stick iconography from its reports. But vigorous debate is supposed to be the nature of science regardless of what we are told about matters being pre-settled.

The most troubling aspect of the case centers around the alleged refusal to release underlying supporting data or methods, and of course the grant money angle. It's ironic that some scientists would resist full disclosure since only a few years ago NASA climate doyen James Hansen, lately an advocate for putting dirty fuels executives on trial and who called coal trains "death trains", accused Bush of trying to muzzle government scientists who were predicting a man-caused disaster.

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