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Climategate fallout runs deep as public discourse deteriorates further

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AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

Fallout around the event now known as climategate may run deeper than many people realize. Emails hacked from computers at the Climatic Research Unit in the U.K. show that some climate change researchers have tried to suppress data and tweak it in such a way as to obscure certain facts that seemed contrary to the theory of global warming.

Climate scientists filtering data is the antithesis of what science is supposed to be about. In psychology, filtering is a form of distorted thinking that can contribute to mental health problems. Distorted thinking takes place when people are emotionally involved in the issues, and can’t see reality through their emotionally held beliefs.

Here is an everyday example of filtering: A person believes that he is not very likeable. If no one talks to him at a party, he sees this and all similar events as evidence that he is not very likeable. If there is evidence to the contrary, for example if a waitress is particularly nice to the man at lunch, he either doesn't notice it, or will dismiss this by saying it’s just that this particular waitress is very friendly. Her attention to him will do nothing to shake his firm belief that he is unlikeable.

Science is designed to be the rational opposite of emotional distortion. When scientists engage in distortions such as filtering out any evidence that is seemingly contrary to a previously drawn conclusion, it gives people pause.  But, according to a New York Times blog, some of the scientists aren’t even owning up to core principles of science that were violated here.

According to the Times, “Several scientists whose names appear in the e-mail messages said they merely revealed that scientists were human, and did nothing to undercut the body of research on global warming.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What good is scientific theory about global warming - or anything else - if people don’t believe it is true and aren’t convicted to translate it into public goals and policies? If the public cannot trust the people at the very heart of the journey from scientific discovery to public policy, then the whole thing falls apart.

This is especially true for an issue as politicized as climate change. Have politics tainted science? Or is it the ugly public discourse that encourages people to vilify those with differing points of view - so much so, that our scientists can’t even bear to stay bonded together under the principles of their field and look at what the facts - all the facts - have to teach?

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