Newspapers Retract ‘Climategate’ Claims, but Damage Still Done

I’ve been blogging about the climate change issue for some time now. Here’s the latest, which responds to the exposure of private e-mails in which a climatologist is accused of acknowledging deliberately tweaking the data in order to make a stronger environmental case.

[N]ot only did British investigators clear the East Anglia scientist at the center of it all, Phil Jones, of scientific impropriety and dishonesty in April, an investigation at Penn State cleared PSU climatologist Michael Mann of “falsifying or suppressing data, intending to delete or conceal e-mails and information, and misusing privileged or confidential information” in February. In perhaps the biggest backpedaling, The Sunday Times of London, which led the media pack in charging that IPCC reports were full of egregious (and probably intentional) errors, retracted its central claim–namely, that the IPCC statement that up to 40 percent of the Amazonian rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change was “unsubstantiated.” The Times also admitted that it had totally twisted the remarks of one forest expert to make it sound as if he agreed that the IPCC had screwed up, when he said no such thing. —Newsweek

I warn my freshman writing students that activist groups (no matter how well-meaning and noble their goals) tend to post on their websites only those studies that offer the best claims in favor of their position. Science often leads to conclusions that are far too complex and nuanced to fit into a bumper sticker (or the thesis statement for a 3-page freshman research paper), and sloppy science reporting does not help the situation.

One thought on “Newspapers Retract ‘Climategate’ Claims, but Damage Still Done

  1. An update on this old story, which captured only a very small part of a complex story.

    Just because a news article reports someone has been charged with something does not mean that person is guilty. Journalists, like scientists, adjust their understanding of the truth when they encounter new evidence. Any account of the “climategate” gate controversy is incomplete if it doesn’t acknowledge that journalists don’t have crystals balls, and websites don’t retract old news articles to reflect recent developments in the story. It’s up to us, as news consumers, to spot when an article we are reading was published while events were still developing, and look up how the story developed over time. When the news is that accusations have been made, or files have been charged, that’s just part of the story.

    “However, the review found that the researchers concerned, led by the Director of UEA’s world-renowned Climatic Research Unit (CRU), Professor Phil Jones, could not be faulted for their “rigour and honesty as scientists”, and there was no evidence that they had behaved in a way that might undermine the conclusions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

    ‘Conspiracy theories finally laid to rest’ by report on leaked climate change emails

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