Keith seems to have an odd position on the CRU-water episode (more like Whitewater than like Watergate, some minor embarrassments irresponsibly spun into a criminal conspiracy by political opponents). He says the press has no choice but to cover it, but that we participants in the field shouldn’t get worked up about it because it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. At least, that’s if I understand correctly, though of course I probably don’t. (Generally people whose positions you find baffling don’t much care for the summaries you provide, I’ve noticed. But really, that’s the best I can do.)
Well, here’s what TIME has to say about it today:
Has any field suffered a faster drop in public confidence than climate science? Two and a half years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was finishing up its widely acclaimed fourth assessment on global warming, which made an unequivocal case for the threat of man-made climate change. For its work, the IPCC was rewarded with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize — shared with Al Gore for his green advocacy — and polls showed strong concern over global warming, even in the U.S. By the time of President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, the stage seemed set for climate science to go from the professional journals to the stuff of legislation.
But that was then. Thanks in part to the events of Climategate last November — when someone hacked into and released thousands of e-mails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s East Anglia University — climate scientists now find themselves under fire. The Climategate e-mails revealed that scientists used terms like trick while discussing climate modeling techniques, which was enough to set off skeptics, who considered it proof that scientists were bending data to reach their conclusions, and making climate change seem worse than it really was. In the aftermath of Climategate, critics also uncovered factual errors — small and few, but real — in the IPCC’s fourth assessment. (See how alternative energy sources were discussed at the World Energy Technologies Summit.)
It energized global-warming skeptics. Most recently, on April 23, Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli launched a civil investigative demand (CID) with the University of Virginia (UVA), searching for information on the climate scientist Michael Mann, who once worked at UVA. Mann, who now runs the Earth Systems Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, authored many of the controversial e-mails at the center of Climategate.
The cost of these assaults is real. Despite the fact that a parliamentary inquiry in Britain looked into Climategate and in March exonerated Phil Jones, the head of CRU, of any wrongdoing, the damage had been done. A British survey in February found a 30% drop over just one year in the percentage of adults who said climate change was “definitely” real, and polls in the U.S. have found a similar decline.
Of course it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And of course TIME ends up waffling in its report. “Climate change is too global a problem to be left to the academy, and if scientists are to be trusted, they need to be held accountable.” That is the opposite of analysis, a deliberate conflation and confusion of many issues. Thanks for that exsight (opposite of insight) TIME. But there’s no waffling about whether “Climategate” has been important in weakening public sentiment to cope with the greenhouse gas issue. That’s the sort of thing where you’d still expect TIME’s opinion to carry some weight, and they say yes, this thing really did take a bite.
They aren’t, of course, acknowledging the fact that they were, in effect, active participants in the process. As far as I’m concerned that’s the main problem.