Climategate and the Irish Church scandal

Climate Change / Religion / Science

Last week, while most of us here in the states were busy spending time with family and friends, the ongoing scandal of “Climategate” took a couple of new turns.

Climategate is the popular term referring to the release by a computer hacker of a large body of private emails written by climate researchers. As people have combed through the emails they’ve found a number of questionable statements regarding the data the researchers have been citing to support their contention that Earth is growing warmer.

Note that there’s a variety of terms and causes that are typically included under the popular phrase “Global Warming”. People use that term to imply that human beings, by using fossil fuels, are causing a global rise in temperatures that will have deleterious, even catastrophic effects on our climates.

But, more accurately people can speak of climate change (which means that some places are getting warmer and others are getting colder), anthropogenic change (which means human caused change), global warming in general (which means a rise in average temperatures on the surface of the earth), and rising Carbon levels (which can both be of natural cause and/or human origin) that can contribute to global warming.

How these different things lead to one another, or even interact is not well understood. It’s not even clear that there’s anything we as humans can do to change the system or that we’re driving whatever change is being observed. But all of those questions are dependent on what has, until now, been a broadly accepted set of data that show that whatever the cause or mechanism, global temperatures are getting higher.

But that data is being called into question because of some references within the emails referred to above. These references have caused broad calls that the raw data about the temperature rise be fully published. Until last week, these calls were being rejected.

That changed over the weekend:

“The U-turn by the university follows a week of controversy after the emergence of hundreds of leaked emails, ‘stolen’ by hackers and published online, triggered claims that the academics had massaged statistics.

In a statement welcomed by climate change sceptics, the university said it would make all the data accessible as soon as possible, once its Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had negotiated its release from a range of non-publication agreements.”

From here.

This is critically important, and frankly should have happened long ago. The scientific method fundamentally depends upon transparency. The worst sin a scientist can commit is to fake data. Data points need to be published, and the methods used to obtain them fully disclosed so that the data can be verified and if not, errors can be identified.

The fact that there are loud critics challenging results is no reason at all to hold back on the publication of raw data. If anything it all the more reason to be scrupulously honest. If there are errors, the opponents are going to be the most likely people to find them. And if they’re found, they can be corrected. Which will lead to better data, and better understanding of what is happening. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I can add that I believe the same thing to be true about pretty much any human endeavor, including theological thinking and church governance.

There’s been a great deal of human mischief done to people by the Church because of the sense that the institution needs to be protected from harsh questions. Take the situation in Ireland right now. A series of four archbishops have acted to cover up many many cases of sexual abuse by clergy inflicted upon children throughout that country. Their need to protect the church from “scandal” and not the children, has allowed the abusers to continue to have free access to more victims.

A transparent and public airing of the scandal from the very beginning would have been very embarrassing for the Church. But it would have saved the lives of many children. There’s no doubt what Jesus would do.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Christopher says

    Unfortunately what this will mean in practice, if RC precedent is any auger, is that accountability of the leaders and institution will be shifted to blaming gays. I very sadly doubt we will see a shift to true transparency and the responsibility and accountability that come with that.

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