The do’s and don’ts of modern communication?

by webmaster on May 10, 2010

For any of you readers who listened to the recent Science Chat podcast about the hacked e-mails in the Climate Research Unit in University of East Anglia, you will know of the significance of the requests being placed on the climate scientists for their data under the Freedom of Information (FOI) act.
While the concept of freedom of information itself is laudable, and while it is perhaps even more important that information such as that which is so hotly debated and so important for future policy (like climate data) should be freely available, I imagine those who first put the term FOI were unaware of what it would actually mean.
Now, the concept of e-mails is far more interesting I think. An e-mail has probably the opportunity to be the most important communication method of the twenty-first century – as far as we’ve got into it anyway. But this form of communication has an inherent problem too, and one which I’ve fallen foul of many times before, I’ll come back to that later.
Imagine what our forbears would think of a form of immediate communication that also provides you with the ability to write with great consideration like in the written letters of long ago. Now I’m not suggesting that the e-mails I receive are reminiscent of the written communications of yesteryear, but it does give the writer the chance to properly order their thoughts, select phrasing and language, and to compose thoughtfully structured messages. So it’s much better than the immediate communication of a phone call for instance.
But this is where e-mail really comes into its own – it is also immediate. Even though you can spend time composing the message, once you send it, it’s available for the recipient to open and read, and its this benefit over traditional letters that also provide it’s risk that I mentioned earlier. Once you send it, it cannot be recovered. Even back in the days when mail was delivered by man on horse, there was always the chance of overtaking it and stopping it being read – this can’t be done with an e-mail.
The other big problem is what if it falls into the wrong hands? And it can, as we know.
So (and in light of what I started this blog off with) maybe people should think twice before sending e-mails. Maybe we should hark back to olden times – maybe use pigeons? Then if we realise as soon as we send something that it was a bad idea – out with the musket and no more problem…
Back to freedom of information, and notwithstanding the dangers of providing data under FOI, it occurred to me today when reading the open letter in defence of climate research from members of the US National Academy of Science that for the purposes of controversial science such as this, maybe it would be better to give them what they ask for.
Sure, some of them could probably still misuse it if they wished, but by providing all the data – and I mean all the data: everything… – openly and freely available to anyone, it would be quite easy to see if anyone with vested interests was intentionally selecting or omitting data.
Anyone with any respect for the amount of data and knowledge behind climate research knows that human actions are the major cause of the climate changes that we are seeing now and have been seeing since the industrial revolution. But if the climate contradictors believe that it’s not caused by man, give them the data and allow them to join in the scientific process themselves.
Here are our claims; here is the data behind them; if you wish to contend that we are wrong – prove it!

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