Open letter defends the integrity of climate science and hits out at recent attacks driven by 'special interests or dogma' •
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 May 2010 19.00 BST
A group of 255 of the world's top scientists today written an open letter aimed at restoring public faith in the integrity of climate science.
In a strongly worded reproof of the recent escalation of political assaults on climatologists, the letter, published in the US Journal Science and signed by 11 Nobel laureates, attacks critics driven by "special interests or dogma" and "McCarthy-like" threats against researchers. It also attempts to set the record straight on the process of rigorous scientific research.
The letter is a response to negative publicity following the release of thousands of hacked emails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and two mistakes makes by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN climate body.
The letter sets out some basic features of the scientific method. "Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of 'well-established theories' and are often spoken of as 'facts'," it says.
The document, citing theories including the age and origin of the Earth, the Big Bang and Darwin's evolution by natural selection, says that anthropogenic climate change is now so well-supported by evidence that it has achieved the same status. It adds that owing to science's adversarial nature, "fame" awaits any scientists who can prove the theory wrong.
"There is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change," the letter says.
The authors – who are all members of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the country's premier scientific institution – include some of the academic community's most distinguished climate researchers. But the list also includes top anthropologists, biochemistists and physicists who have felt the need to defend climate science in the wake of what they regard as politically motivated attacks. Three senior scientists from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester have also added their endorsement. All of the scientists signed up in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the National Academy or on behalf of their institution.
"Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence," the letter says.
Its call for an end to "McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association" appears to be jibe at Republican senator, James Inhofe, who has called for a criminal investigation into US and British climatologists whose email exchanges were stolen from UEA. The letter also condemns the "harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them."
The letter's co-ordinator, Peter Gleick, of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland, California, said: "[It] originated with a number of NAS members who were frustrated at the misinformation being spread by climate deniers and the assaults on scientists by some policy-makers who hope to delay or avoid making policy decisions and are hiding behind the recent controversy around emails and minor errors in the IPCC."