Thursday, 26 November 2009

Climate science emails

Peter Watts writes about the recent climate change email disclosure controversy (quoted on boingboing):
Science doesn't work despite scientists being asses. Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process. Haven't any of these guys ever heard of "peer review"? ... That's how science works. It's not a hippie love-in; it's rugby.
My comment :
Peter Watts implies that the bickering and backstabbing in the recent email disclosures are a good thing.

But science usually works better than this. Though it is true that all scientists gossip and complain about peer review, science is usually more cooperative than rugby. Rugby is a zero sum game. Science is usually a positive sum game, where each team's discovery advances that team's interest in part and the collective interest of all competing teams in part.

There a couple reasons why the climate scientist's emails showed more bickering and backstabbing than usual. Climate science is more intertwined with partisan politics than most science is, and the future of civilization is at stake. I think those folks are playing a rougher ballgame than scientists usually play.

In contrast with Peter Watts, with hindsight I think they would all have scored better if they had played a more fastidiously high-minded game.

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