The recent ‘climategate’ flap – regarding some leaked e-mails suggesting that science has manipulated data to under-exaggerate global warming – has caused quite a stir within the field of science, and more importantly, outside of it.
In an op-ed in the Short Stack of the Washington Post, Ian I. Mitroff addresses the ‘climategate’ scandal. Mitroff attributes the commotion surrounding climategate to science’s inability to educate the public about how scientific research is actually conducted. While science is often seen as a completely objective field of knowledge, what people have to bear in mind is that in reality science is conducted by real humans with, understandably, real opinions and biases. This fact, however, does not make science any less respectable or true.
As Mitroff says in his book Dirty Rotten Strategies: How we Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely, (co-author Abraham Silvers) “Although science is certainly one of the best ways that humans have ever invented for producing knowledge, it is not the only way.” What Mitroff wants us to take away from the 'climatgate' flap is not that science is flaky and fallible but that scientists do have social considerations and biases that actually allow their data to be better tested and proven over time. From Mitroff’s piece in the Short Stack: “ It's not just that opposing biases cancel out -- which they do -- but that opposing passions prod scientists to collect more data and invent new theories to see who's right. Without such passions, science would grind to a halt. After all, science is done by all-too-human beings.”
Scientists must now be unafraid to bring the social aspects of the field into the light of the public. Then, perhaps, we might have a better understanding of their methods and a better chance of dealing with the important issues that lie in our future.