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DATA WITHOUT THE DOUBTS


The Climategate furore has galvanised the scientific information community to make data more open, transparent and accessible than ever, as Archana Venkatraman reports


C


limategate has rocked the scientific information community. The name refers to the immense conspiracy theory that


became big news after computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) were hacked last November, and more than a 1,000 confidential emails posted on the internet.


The documents showed, or so it was claimed, that CRU’s scientists were involved in a massive information fraud. They stood accused of exaggerating the data about anthropogenic global warming, illegally destroying embarrassing information (CRU no longer had the raw data on which it had based its global warming predictions),


manipulating research results and suppressing evidence.


Three separate independent inquiries were set up to investigate the allegations. And by the beginning of this summer, they had all reported, exonerating the CRU researchers of scientific dishonesty and concluding that their integrity was not in question. However, the House of Commons’ science and technology committee called on climate scientists to make more efforts than ever to make available all their supporting data – right down to the computer codes they use – to allow their findings to be properly verified and thus avoid a repeat of Climategate’s data tampering allegations. The committee also called for more openness from


INFORMATION WORLD REVIEW SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2010


the scientific information community to help science emerge stronger from the controversy.


Understanding the urgency to


regain public confidence following the media storm, academics, scientists and scientific institutions are working towards the common goal of opening up access to research data and making


information more easily available, as recommended by the Climategate reviews. They are also determined to improve scientific research, pledging to collaborate more with other researchers, share information on climate science, use cutting-edge tools to find updated information, and honour any freedom of information requests that relate to climate science.


A NEW CHAPTER


So as the climate science community gets back on track, is it a case of back to business as usual? No, say academic institutions, research support committees and environmental info pros, who claim they are going the extra mile to implement open data strategies. Responding to authorities’ calls for greater transparency, JISC has extended its support and cooperation for more openness in environmental research information. Malcolm Read, executive secretary of JISC, the IT in further and higher education body, says: “We fully support openness between researchers in sharing information, processes and outputs. We need to move away from a culture of secrecy and towards a world where researchers can benefit from sharing expertise throughout the research lifecycle.


“Digital technologies like social networking sites, online open access repositories and the use of virtual research environments are cost- efficient and time-saving ways for universities to promote this kind of collaboration and get more for their money when it comes to research.” The organisation is launching a number of projects to improve the way UK university researchers manage their data. It has started working on up-to-date guidance for researchers and universities on freedom of information and how it affects the way people manage


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