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  • Writer's pictureDarien Smith

Research Integrity

Analysis of the ‘Climategate’ crisis through Nolan’s principle

Climate change: The worst scientific scandal of our generation - The Telegraph, 28th Nov, 2009

Climate sceptics rally to expose 'myth' – BBC, 21 May 2010

A Superstorm for Global Warming Research – Spiegel, 1st, April 2010

For those that don’t know, these are the headlines for the reports of the supposed manipulation of scientific data regarding climate change in 2009. I am of course referring to ‘Climategate’, the name created by the media to refer to the hacking and subsequent data leak of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.

These reports threw the scientist’s objectivity, honesty and integrity into question. Naturally, this had a big impact on the trust between the public and the scientific community.

However, climate change sceptics had their own objectivity and integrity pulled into question. it was argued by many of the ‘nefarious’ scientists’ emails were cherry-picked, rearranged, and taken out of context by the climate change sceptics

The climate change sceptics were said to be selecting particular emails, driven by bias in order to fit their own agenda, thereby distorting the truth in order to uncover a distortion of truth; ironic, no?

Conducting further research into Climategate, I found an article from CNN that talks about a report led by Muir Russell about the scandal. The report states that the scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) did not in fact manipulate data on climate change, clearing the scientists of their accused dishonesty and restoring their integrity (Whiteman, 2010)

The 160-page report did however find that the CRU scientists had failed to display "the proper degree of openness" when it came to dealing with public requests for information (Russell, 2010), calling into question the scientist openness and duty as public servers.

This whole ordeal threw not only the trust of climate scientists into question but the scientific community as a whole. Regardless that East Anglia's Climatic Researchers were cleared of any wrongdoing, news companies around the world prematurely presented and often exaggerated this story with statements such as “climate change: The worst scientific scandal of our generation” (The Telegraph, 2009), this was likely enough to have left an impression of distrust between the public and the scientific community for quite some time.

Following Climategate there have been reports of threats and harassment dealt to many climate scientists, including late-night doorbell ringing, dead rats on porches, and verbal threats (Bohan, 2010). Had the news companies looked into the emails themselves, or waited for someone else to analyse them such as Muir Russell did, this misinformation would have never reached the public and the scientific communities ethics and integrity would have never been unnecessarily scrutinized.

On December 2010 following Climategate, Geoffrey Boulton, a previous faculty member of environmental studies at the University of East Anglia signed a petition insisting that the researchers he was investigating had adhered to the highest levels of professional integrity (Bailey, 2010)

The controversy surrounding Climategate created some serious questions within the scientific community about the investigations involving the ethics of science and the transparency researchers should uphold. The Climategate controversy has forced researchers to become more cautious about what is said in their emails and across the web. It has also been suggested that all research data is promptly put on the Web or made public in some form in order to be as transparent as possible and retain the public’s trust (Burum, 2010). As a direct result of Climategate, scientists started to speak out about the need for more transparency and precision when conducting research and started actively working towards getting the public to understand what their scientific research is all about (Curry, 2010).


Bailey, B. (2010, March). Climate crackup. Reason. pp. 28-35.

Bohan, S. (2010). Attacks on climate scientists heat up. St. Paul Pioneer Press. p. 2A.

Booker, C. (2009, November 28). Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation. The Telegraph.

Burum, J. (2010). Climategate 2009 and Scientific Transparency and Communication. National social science proceedings. Volume 46. Reno Professional Development Conference. pp. 27-34.

Curry, J. (2010, April). Where does climate science go from here? Discover Magazine. pp. 56-60.

Evers, M., Stampf, O., Traufetter, G. (2010, April 1). A Superstorm for Global Warming Research. Speigel.

Harrabin, R. (2010, May 21). Climate sceptics rally to expose 'myth'. BBC News.

Whiteman, H. (2010, July 7). 'Climategate' review clears scientists of dishonesty. CNN.

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