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Climategate: NOAA in the clear, time to reclaim the debate

By Martin Leggett - 25 Feb 2011 11:33:0 GMT
Climategate: NOAA in the clear, time to reclaim the debate

The last of the debris surrounding the Climategate debacle has been swept away, with Thursday's release of a report from the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) - in essence it clears National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists of any wrong-doing.

The controversy was sparked by the release of stolen emails from the UK's Climate Research Unit. After accusations of misconduct, and even data manipulation, were thrown about by many in the climate skeptic camp, the OIG was hauled into the matter by Senator Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, early last year.

Nearly 300 of the hacked emails were between CRU and NOAA scientists, and it was those that were investigated by the OIG in this report.

Following (though not exactly hard) on the heels of other investigations that long-ago cleared the scientists involved (by UK authorities as well as US professional bodies) it's no surprise that this latest report finds a similarly clean slate.

The central plank of the more extreme end of the climate skeptic cabal, was that there was fabrication by scientists in some of the temperature datasets proving global warming was a fact. The implication was that even the consensus that temperatures are rising globally was false.

But the OIG states that such accusations are themselves are patently untrue - the Inspector General, Todd Zinser concludes ''In our review of the CRU emails, we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the GHCN-M dataset or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures.''

This is absolutely pivotal - the massive weakening in public confidence in the need to tackle global warming, can be traced the corrosive claim that it's not even happening.

However, this is not the end of the affair - it should mark the start of a counter-drive to reclaim the high ground in this debate - one that is critical to the future of the planet. And that means an open and honest dialogue between scientists and the public.

If there's one thing to be learned from the whole debacle, it's that perception is more important than truth. The one valid criticism leveled at the climate scientist community in the report, is that under pressure from the skeptics, they closed ranks and were too protective over their data. Openness is key to re-establishing public trust, and regaining the momentum to tackle the very real threat of climate change.