The Piltdown Man walks

Monday, November 23, 2009
A lot of the posting about the CRU document hack revolves around how it will play in the press. There is a certain amount of cynicism that, because of the investment in AGW, the press and politicians tied to its cause will ignore or explain away the documents as best as possible. While I have no doubt that is true, I don't think it matters. What really matters is how the Climatologists and other Science Departments view it.

In 1908 the first fragments of the Piltdown Man skull were reportedly found. By 1912 the news of the discovery reached the popular press. While scientists outside of Britain were at first skeptical of the find, many were converted when, in 1917 it was announced that Piltdown II had been discovered.

The Piltdown skulls were of course hoaxes. They were a combination of fragments of a medieval man's skull, a orangutan's jawbone and chimpanzee teeth. However, the hoax wasn't unmasked until 1953. Prior to that date other hominid skulls had to fit into a sequence that included Piltdown man, and that resulted in a highly distorted family tree for modern man and his ancestors.

The revelation of the hoax badly damaged the reputation of the science of Anthropology. I remember sitting in Anthropology classes in the 1970s where the Piltdown hoax still cast its shadow -- there was a definite stress that the digs had to be done scrupulously, and the findings judged carefully, to avoid another such embarrassment.   

I think the leaked documents are absolutely devastating, not only to the AGW theory, but to the reputation and credibility of  Climatology in general. If the emails detailing the filtering of data to get the desired results hold up, and I expect what will turn out to be ludicrous computer programs and shaky primary data turn out to be true, then it will mean that the reputation of Climatologists as serious scientists has been brought into question and found wanting.

It is hard for me to imagine that climate scientists felt comfortable walking onto campuses Monday morning after word of the hacked documents spread. It is not what is reported in the press that will matter as much as how their peers view the scandal. It is that censure that matters. They have a lot of work ahead of them to repair the reputation of their discipline, and that reputation will not be repaired by spinning more alarm out of vapor in the Sunday supplements.

If nothing else, it is not often the Social Scientists can laugh at how sloppy a so-called hard science is with its facts.

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