You’ve heard about the “scientific method.” If your memory is excellent, and you took a lot of science classes in American schools, you learned two of them, because life science textbooks and physical science textbooks teach somewhat different concepts called “scientific method.” If you study the history of science, even at a superficial level, or do actual science, you will find that the “scientific method” you learned in high school, the very same “scientific method” people who either love or hate science, but are not scientists, and talk a lot about science, incessantly refer to, is not what scientists actually do. Neither the procedures for developing a study nor the inferential process of advancing understanding follow this method, or at least, not very often. Doing science is much more haphazard and opportunistic, nuanced and visceral, much less clean and predictable. Like the famous physicist once said, “The scientific method; that is what I fall back on when I can’t think of anything else do to.”
But there is one thing that is found common to most scientific endeavors, and without this thing science would not progress very quickly or very far:
The honest conversation.
Scientist talk to each other about their work. You see it best in lab meetings or seminars. Perhaps a visitor comes to a lab and presents on his or her research, research of interest to the lab group hosting the talk. Everybody listens. Everybody hears the scientists questions and concerns, and maybe finds problems of their own in the research being presented. Then they sit down for a meeting and talk. Turns out the magnetics expert has something to say about the sampling procedure, the the isotope person has some as yet unpublished insight on fractionation, the taphonomist knows of an old and nearly forgotten study of pollen rain dynamics in the tundra. Next think you know, the visiting scientist has a list of things to do with their lake cores that will help make sense of the as yet enigmatic results showing an increase in salinity as the lake level goes up (it should decrease) or some other thing.
A lot of these conversations happen by email these days. That is why email exists. The Internet was invented to extend the conversation among scientists across time and space, to fill in the gaps between visits and conferences. Email emerged as one of the better ways to use that resource. A great deal of science advances at the leading edge of wave after wave of emails.
Several years ago, nefarious science deniers intent on stopping action on climate change, presumably funded by the Koch Brothers or the likes, got their hands on a bunch of emails sent back and forth among climate scientists. They took lines out of the emails, and thus out of context, and made up fake stories about what the scientists were actually communicating about. You can read about that event and all that accompanied it in Michael Mann’s book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Professor Mann was one of the victims of that attack on science. (See also: The Serengeti Strategy.)
More recently, David Schnare, a science denier who gets paid to do this sort of thing, running a fossil fuel funded anti-science group, attempted to get even more emails out of Michael Mann, but lost in that effort in the Virginia Supreme Court. After losing that battle, Schnare went after other emails, in Arizona. According to scientist and anti-science victim Michael Mann, he
…targeted two other prominent climate scientists at the University of Arizona, Jonathan Overpeck and Malcolm Hughes (the latter being one of my longtime co-authors), seeking a total of 13 years of emails from them, including correspondence with or about me or my research.
I have spent much effort in the years since “Climategate” explaining why scientists’ research correspondence needs to be protected from legal bullying. Anyone who truly cares about the research can and should review the published papers and underlying data, directly evaluating a study’s methodologies, analyses, and conclusions. But seeking thousands of emails serves only to stifle collaboration and discourage the frank, creative exchange of ideas, and chill the candor needed during the confidential peer review process.
E&E Legal will no doubt post the Arizona emails once they receive them, distributing them online with a series of misleading and disingenuous mischaracterizations, choosing a few phrases here and there to misrepresent me and other scientists and to falsely accuse us of all manner of misdeeds.
Consequently, I am sharing my emails here (enter “mail_guest” for both username and password). Moreover, a group of independent climate science experts have gone through the emails providing context for interpreting the exchanges and discussions contained within.
So, at least some of the emails currently under attack are now available. Some of these emails, released by Michael Mann preemptively, have notes added to them to provide context. Some time later today (Friday) Schnare is expected to do his own release of all of the Arizona emails.
Do read his biographical notes at DeSmogBlog. And stay tuned.
See also: “But their emails!” by David Kirtley.