In the last few days climate scientists have found themselves back on the front pages, and once again it’s for all the wrong reasons. The furore this time has been prompted by an eminent climatologist named Lennart Bengtsson, who agreed to join the Academic Advisory Council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Nigel Lawson’s sceptic think tank.
Within days of his agreement, Bengtsson felt obliged to resign, apparently having been subjected to a wave of protests and threats of ostracisation from colleagues, one of whom publicly insinuated that the 79-year-old Bengtsson was senile. When it also emerged that a reviewer of one of Bengtsson’s scientific papers had recommended its rejection because, among other reasons, its findings might be helpful to sceptics, the story started to go viral.
The rights and wrongs of the paper’s rejection are hard to gauge since few have seen the paper. But the Bengtsson affair is only adding to the sense that something is very wrong with climatology and the way that some climatologists conduct themselves. The flood of allegations that emerged from Climategate – the 2009 publication of internal emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia – were at the root of these misgivings, with one of the most important claims being that scientists appeared to be involved in attempts to ‘nobble’ journal editors so that papers by sceptics never appeared in print. What actually happened has never been uncovered, because the Muir Russell inquiry into Climategate completely failed to examine these allegations, but the impression that problems were being swept under the carpet was hard to avoid.
Now that we have seen the public and private pressure put on Bengtsson and the political justification given for rejecting his work, it looks very much as if the problems with climatology continue unabated.