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Moira Gunn Headshot

Friendly Ears ... and Not-So-Friendly Ears

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Any stand-up comic will tell you -- you can have material that kills, but get the wrong audience, and it doesn't matter what you say. They're not buying you, no matter what.

The same scenario plays out every day on the so-called "news" channels on television and similar venues on radio and the Internet. A public figure makes a speech or gives an interview, and while doing so, makes an actual or arguable flub. Those who are for him offer forgiveness and understanding; those against, respond with gloating confirmation of their original -- and obviously, negative -- opinion.

This covers more than people in the public eye; it also covers mainstream issues. Thus, the response to some 1,000 stolen emails from British scientists, the content of which appears to suggest they were playing fast and loose with their data.

Those supporting the premise of their work were understanding, while those against had a field day.

The hot potato in all this is the generally accepted scientific belief that global climate disruption is real and substantively accelerated by human activities, while a decidedly less scientific crowd believes otherwise. And the kicker? The verbiage in the email suggested scientific cover-up.

Well, heck -- any time a person uses a word like "trick," you look around for the trick. You can presume an intent to deceive, even if in the magician's case it's for your own entertainment. It's like yelling "fire!" and then asking what all the fuss is about.

No fewer than three separate and serious investigations have been launched, and at this writing, the first one is in. It's from the British House of Commons, specifically their Science and Technology Committee.

The findings considered all the words and phrases pointed to as evidence of deception to be simply the way the email writers communicated with each other in casual terms on an everyday basis. It wasn't the big reveal of a conspiratorial plot.

But the investigation did find that there were instances where the university limited and sometimes deleted its scientific data, so as to keep it out of the hands of climate change skeptics.

Now that -- well, that's not good.

The understanding and handling of scientific data is like anything else that's complicated. The less training one has in this, the more likely one is to come out with a misinterpretation or a false argument.

It's not unlike learning of a judicial decision which seems to make no sense at all to us non-lawyers, but then a lawyer steps in and explains what it actually means. And so it is the same with scientific data. It takes a proper skill set to see it.

When you have data which you know will be jumped on by people, many of whom do not possess the skills to interpret it -- and with their own clearly stated and opposing bias - you can see the reluctance to publish. Only, scientists working on publicly-funded or publicly-published research really have no choice.

The committee recommended full transparency: Release the data and the methodologies used to analyze it from here on forward.

And yes, that has to be the policy. As painful as it is for the researchers, it's like everything in life: If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

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