Climategate is a media ruse based on sensationalism, not investigative journalism. When the climategate story broke, a number of people welcomed the news and eagerly offered their emotional support. Now that the scientists involved were vindicated by three investigations, one would expect to see retractions or at least addendums to the coverage. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Climategate refers the scandal that began when hackers penetrated the computers of the Climate Research Unit at the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, exposing thousands of e-mails. Climate change skeptics immediately claimed the e-mails brought into question the veracity of climate change science.
Popular media jumped aboard the bandwagon and climate change conspiracy theories abounded. There were a host of outlandish claims like suggestions that that global warming is a ‘hoax’ and climategate is the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of anthropogenic climate change. Other headlines did not mask their hostility, an example of which reads, “Climategate Conspiracy: Massive Coverup By UN’s IPCC Scumbags”.
Three separate inquiries have decisively proved these allegations to be false. The first inquiry, conducted by MPs, cleared the UEA scientists of wrong-doing. So did the second inquiry, from Lord Oxburgh in conjunction with the Royal Society.
The July 5, 2010 Independent Climate Change Email Review from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggested greater openness, but it cleared the scientists of wrongdoing and it further indicated that the science of climate change is sound. “We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” said Muir Russell, who headed the inquiry.
“The review is explicit in its finding that the key conclusions of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report are accurate, correct and supported entirely by the leading science in the field,” said Martin Parry, Co-Chair of AR4 Working Group II. He went on to say that, “none were found to contain any significant errors”. The Independent Climate Change Email Review clearly states that projections for the deleterious effects of climate change remain unchanged, “The Working Group II contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report shows ample observational evidence of regional climate-change impacts, which have been projected to pose substantial risks to most parts of the world, under increasing temperatures.”
In response to the Independent Climate Change Email Review report, the University of East Anglia said:
Nine months ago there was an unjustified attack on the scientific integrity of researchers at the University of East Anglia and, as a result, on climate science as a whole. Emails stolen from this university were selectively misused to make serious allegations about the work of the Climatic Research Unit and the people who worked there or were connected to it. Some people accepted those misrepresentations at face value without question and repeated them as fact. Today, for the third and hopefully for the final time, an exhaustive independent review has exposed as unfounded the overwhelming thrust of the allegations against our science. We hope that commentators will accurately reflect what this highly detailed independent report says, and finally lay to rest the conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings that have circulated. Sir Muir Russell’s team concludes about the staff of CRU that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt”.
Edward Acton, vice-chancellor chair of the University of East Anglia, where the research was carried out, told the BBC the review should “finally lay to rest the conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings that have circulated. We hope this exoneration of UEA climate scientists and their research collaborators around the world, some of whom have suffered considerably during this experience, will be widely reported.”
However, instead of retractions and apologies, many news outlets are grasping at straws to keep the story alive. After the release of the IPCC report, the Bloomberg News headline was “Climategate’ Scientists Wrongly Withheld Data, Probe Finds“. This is a blatant misrepresentation of the report. The report recommends being more open to scrutiny, it does not say that any information was withheld.
Bloomberg is not alone, other allegedly reputable sources like the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail and the Associated Press continue to place the onus on scientists. On July 5, 2010, the Associated Press reported that, “Dutch agency admits mistake in UN climate report”. A Wall Street Journal headline dated July, 6 2010 exclaims, “Review Finds Issues at Climate Panel”. Another Wall Street Journal article dated July 8, 2010 reads,”Report Backs Climate Data, Scolds Scientists”. A Daily Mail headline dated July 7, 2010 indicated that, Climategate scientists were “secretive” and “unhelpful“. Similar coverage can be found on many of the major networks.
Despite the vindication of climate change scientists and climate change science, deniers will continue to try to exploit this issue. Even after three investigations, climate skeptics are not ready to accept the facts. Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a skeptic think-tank, told the BBC the issue would “not go away with this report”.
To the scientific mainstream, this has all been a massive distraction. Recent research indicates that 98% of the leading climate scientists are convinced that human activities are behind global warming. But for those who have an emotional resistance to the facts there is still plenty of room for debate on the details.
There is no evidence of scientific malpractice, but popular media sources are helping to keep climate change conspiracies alive. Climategate is an important issue because it reveals how the media is willing to eschew the facts in favour of selling more copies or increasing ratings.
It is bad enough that the Fourth Estate presented this story as fact nine months ago, it is even more deplorable that they refuse to properly retract their irresponsible reporting now that three separate reports have vindicated climate change scientists and climate change science.
The coverage of the climategate issue panders to climate deniers with a vested interest in the old economy.
If there is a conspiracy, it is that climategate is a deliberate attempt to disrupt efforts to combat climate change.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.