The Wall Street Journal

Free the Data, Save the Science
A small victory for transparency in climate research.

Official investigations into climate researchers' tactics and methods have so far mainly cleared the climategate scientists of wrongdoing. But behind the scenes, last fall's explosive leak has started to change how at least some of those scientists do business.

One case in point is independent researcher Douglas J. Keenan, who recently scored an unheralded but significant victory in a long-running battle with Queen's University Belfast. The University happens to be the keeper of a continuous 7,000-year record of tree-ring measurements from Ireland, and Mr. Keenan has a theory that those rings could tell us something about the climate long ago. But QUB has stonewalled him for years, and the government agency charged with enforcing the U.K.'s freedom of information act wasn't much help either—until last month, when it finally sided with Mr. Keenan in his appeal against the university.

The University has until Monday to appeal the ruling, and has yet to release the data. It would tell us only that it is still "considering its position."

It's hard to imagine what's left to consider of the University's "position," given that the Commissioner struck down every reason it cited for not disclosing the data. Neither its charge that Mr. Keenan's request was "manifestly unreasonable," nor its protest that releasing the information would harm its intellectual property rights, held any water with the Commissioner, which "recorded a number of procedural breaches in the public authority's handling of the request."

Mr. Keenan hopes that now-retired professor Michael Baillie's tree-ring research could be used to determine historical temperatures, though Mr. Baillie disputes that. In an email explaining why he is "very unhappy" about the Commissioner's ruling, Mr. Baillie sheds some light on the real objection to sharing raw data with the world, lamenting that his data now could be "handed out to a non-aligned non-academic probably climate denier."

Mr. Baillie and Queen's University are hardly alone in their desire to keep their work under wraps. In the U.S., where last year's Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulated climate-change research to the tune of $35.7 billion, there exist few enforcement mechanisms for those seeking to examine the fruits of that investment. That helps explain why it took Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Christopher Horner more than two years, and the threat of legal action before he finally received temperature information as requested from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Climate researchers are well aware that public trust in their work is falling fast. So all the more reason to put their best case forward to us "non-aligned non-academics"—an effort that starts with open debate and full disclosure on the data that underpins their research. Obstructing their critics, on the other hand, only enforces the suspicion that climate-change research has no business calling itself "science." We can't say whether Mr. Baillie's data will confirm Mr. Keenan's theory or not. The point is, scientists shouldn't fear his attempt to test it.

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