He argues that we cannot make any strong conclusions from a fraction of a scientific unit’s emails taken out of context. We get much more out of inquiries that probe the details behind these emails and that are grounded on a better, more comprehensive data collection, including input from the people involved. There’s been several of these inquiries already, all of them exonerating the climate scientists.
This kind of inquiry is what we did for each of the bug records in our case study. As I summarize here, we found that a deeper analysis of the interactions behind bug records provides a much-needed context to understand important aspects of their stories. Their electronic traces paint an incomplete (and often misleading) picture, and it’s risky to use them on their own. Overall I don’t think this is a particularly surprising finding; it simply was a necessary study in our field, considering the recent trend to mine data out of context.
I guess that some people feel suspicious about official inquiries performed by strangers and coming out empty handed—it feeds their conspiracy paranoia. But objectively speaking, we can’t just read a bunch of emails and expect to come even close to the level of understanding of people that get to examine all the evidence and to talk to the people behind it.
(Thanks to Steve for tipping off Brian about our paper!)