The Science and Technology Committee appointed by the UK House of Commons released their report on the recent Climategate scandal a couple of days ago (HTMLPDF). It’s quite an interesting read of what happens when politics and science collide, and is highly relevant to those involved with science in any capacity – especially controversial science.

If you’re hazy on what the scandal was about in the first place, the report provides a nice introduction:

“On Friday 20 November 2009 it was reported across the world that hackers had targeted a ‘leading climate research unit’ and that e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU), one of the world’s foremost centres of climate science, had been published in the internet. The story of the substantial file of private e-mails, documents and data that had been leaked helped ignite the global warming debate in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference in December 2009. As reported by the press, exchanges on the internet alleged that data had been manipulated or deleted, in order to support evidence on global warming.”

Of course, at no point was there unequivocal evidence that such tampering had occurred, nor did the actions of a scant few have any effect on the science overall, but that was a minor aside in the circus that followed.

The committee’s report comes to three main conclusions:

1. On the issue of access to information, the negative attention paid to the Climate Research Unit and its head, Phil Jones, is misplaced.

2. Unlike what was trumpeted in the media, there was no scientific dishonesty on the part of Jones or the CRU.

3. Because it’s such an important topic, climate science bears a great(er) responsibility to be “irreproachable”.

Even though the first two conclusions will largely be ignored in the coming days, they do clear up the scandal rather handily. What concerns me, however, is the third one. I think the recommendation to be “irreproachable” with published science is a nice ideal, but it’s just that – an ideal. I’m not convinced that science, especially climate science, can ever be irreproachable insofar as I understand the definition of the word. This kind of language is reserved for religionists and ideologues who do not have to contend with, and embrace the underlying uncertainty that characterizes the chaotic systems scientists investigate.

Greater transparency? Sure. Certainty beyond reproach? Fantasy.

Hat tip: PharyngulaWatching The Deniers