Two swallows don't make a summer, two cold winters don't make an ice age, and a handful of mishaps in the IPCC and UEA should not discredit the entire body of climate science. But the questionable behaviour of a small number of scientists, whether deliberately devious or naively innocent, has been made sufficient to break the trust between the public and the scientific community, according to a BBC survey.
In response, some commentators are calling for "greater transparency" by having all the raw climate data published on-line. An understandable knee-jerk, but how will it help? Any non-specialist who is remotely concerned about climate change might reasonably yearn for someone to resolve the differences with the so-called sceptics and to "make everything clear to them". But that is not the kind of "transparency" that access to the raw data will provide. Far from it, unless they already have the skill to interpret it for themselves. How many such commentators have trained even as scientists, let alone developing as climate specialists?
Other commentators call for a fresh start "from the bottom up" to re-establish the validity of climate science. But where is the point in that? For the past three years I have sought to provide some degree of transparency regarding these issues for the benefit of readers of the Newsletter. Only you could say whether I have had any success, but I do not see any point now in reiterating everything I have ever written, and I am sure you would agree. Instead, therefore, I will offer a topical analogy from everyday life to illustrate why we should not allow our trust in climate science to be shaken.
This winter has been perhaps the coldest in thirty years or more, sufficient to test the robustness of the new breed of super-efficient gas boiler, the 'combination condensing' variety. They efficiently extract so much heat from the burnt gas that it condenses into water which drains away through an external condensate pipe. This winter many such boilers have been reported to be failing owing to the condensate pipe freezing solid in the sustained sub-zero temperatures, resulting in the boiler flooding with the condensed water which can no longer drain away. I know this from first-hand experience. I bought such a boiler four or five years ago and I watched the engineer install the condensate pipe, and questioned at the time whether it should have been inclined at a greater angle to drain the water away more effectively. He said not, and I trusted him, and sure enough it was fine in last winter's freezing weather (coldest for only eighteen years) so I assumed all was well.
Until the boiler failed only days before last Christmas when the temperature plummeted. And the reputable company which installed the boiler had ceased trading in the hostile conditions of the recession.
If that happened to you, you might be both angry and disappointed. But would you rip out the entire central heating system and start again? Or demand greater transparency in the design of central heating boilers? Or re-train as a gas engineer so that you wouldn't have to rely on trusting others?
Neither did 1. Another company fixed the boiler and rectified the installation of the condensate pipe. And I was able to get on with enjoying Christmas. The boiler was perfectly sound, the underlying principles were sound, and only the questionable practice of the original installer was at fault.
The reported mishaps in the pursuit of climate change science represent only a tiny fraction of the total effort and the people involved worldwide. By all means the errors should be thoroughly investigated, but meanwhile the important work should be allowed to progress. The very process by which science progresses puts it beyond having to trust the word of individual scientists or sceptics. Or is there perhaps a perverse eagerness to find reason to doubt what is becoming increasingly evident?