Regardless of what the politicians decide at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the game has changed.
Thanks to the e-mail exchanges and other documents hacked from computers at the Hadley Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, we now know there has been a conspiracy among some in the science community to spread alarmist views of global warming and intimidate, if not silence, those who disagree.
Lets hope these revelations result in a sober reassessment both of academia, generally, and the scientific enterprise specifically.
For far too long, science has been shrouded in a cloak of unquestionable authority as the final arbiter of all knowledge (except, of course, when the research has been funded by business, which for some makes it necessarily suspect).
Such a status has resulted in the creation of enormous, government-funded institutions to examine seemingly every aspect of human existence, with climate science alone receiving $7 billion annually from the U.S. governmentmore than is spent on cancer and AIDS research.
Unlike business- or even independently funded research, the findings and recommendations of government-funded researchers have been viewed by many as sacrosanct.
The mania regarding global warming is Exhibit A, in which the alleged peer-reviewed findings of a consensus of scientists claim to have found the fact that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are creating an ecological holocaust, and only draconian controls on various areas of human activity can avert this calamity.
In the process, ethics, economic principles, contrary evidence and common sense are all swept aside.
As my colleague Robert Higgs noted last year in Nature magazine: The peer-review process is not, contrary to popular belief, a nearly flawless system of Olympian scrutiny. Any editor of a peer-reviewed journal who desires, for whatever reason, to reject a submission can easily do so by choosing referees who will knock it down.
Unfortunately, Higgs wrote, science, like other enterprises, can fall victim to personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion and irresponsibility.
With the revelations from what is now being called Climategate, many people are beginning to see a grand scam in which data were deliberately distorted; peer review was gamed by manipulating and stacking the process; critics were smeared, black-balled, de-funded and even fired; opposing papers were kept from publication; and politically savvy scientists worked in concert with journalists, politicians, bureaucrats and interest groups to deceive both opinion leaders and the public to further their agenda.