"Climategate" debunking is (or should be) major news

The e-mail "scandal" burned scientists on front pages last winter. But editors have buried a series of rebuttals

Published July 8, 2010 11:20PM (EDT)

A boy walks near water spraying from an open fire hydrant in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 5, as temperatures soared toward 100 degrees.
A boy walks near water spraying from an open fire hydrant in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 5, as temperatures soared toward 100 degrees.

There is more than a degree of poetic justice in the release of two reports exonerating the "Climategate" scientists during this brutal heat wave -- especially because so many of the broadcasters and journalists who popularized the bogus scandal are trying to stay cool in stifling New York and Washington. The rest of us suffer along with them, alas, so at the very least they ought to devote as much attention to the debunking as they did to the original accusations.

By restoring the reputation of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the reports released by a  Netherlands environmental agency and a special British investigative panel should do much to dispel the widespread doubt generated by hackers who  pinched nasty e-mails from the computers of climate scientists associated with the IPCC.

Or the reports would dispel doubt,  if only the mainstream media showed sufficient interest in correcting the record. For what the probers found is that those embarrassing e-mails, considered in context, undermined neither the basic integrity of the scientists who authored them nor their dire conclusions about the potential impact of carbon dioxide pollution.

As Curtis Brainard observes in the Columbia Journalism Review, the new reports noted minor mistakes by some of the scientists, as well as their excessive secrecy, but those findings were only the latest in a series of exculpatory statements by independent bodies:

A report from British parliament’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee at the end of March and an independent investigation by Lord Ronald Oxburgh in April also cleared the climate scientists at the University of East Anglia of any misconduct on malpractice. Likewise, in two separate reports released in February and July, investigative panels at Pennsylvania State University absolved scientist Michael Mann, who was also caught up in the "Climategate" affair, of wrongdoing.

In other words, a clear pattern is emerging that reverses the false media verdict of last winter, which held climate scientists guilty of manipulation and deception -- even of perpetrating a gigantic hoax. While editors and producers can hardly be expected to feature every institutional rebuttal of the climate deniers at the top of the news, they might be expected to pick up on a consistent trend. Newspapers, magazines and newscasts ought to be informing the public,  fairly and dispassionately, about the series of events that cast fresh doubt on the doubter lobby. As Brainard suggests, and as the hellish weather ought to remind them, that is supposed to be their responsibility:

Indeed, with so much material to work with, it is safe to say some front-page coverage -- from The New York Times on down to local papers -- is warranted, if not long overdue. It has been a bewildering year where climate science is concerned, and readers need to understand that while there is plenty of room to improve the research and communications process, its fundamental tenets remain as solid as ever.


By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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